May 14, 2007

Nemo cum sarcinis enatat

In English: No one swims away with his bundles.

After yesterday's proverb about nemo est supra leges, I thought I would do some more proverbs with the wonderful Latin nemo, "nobody" (ne-homo, "no-man").

Today's proverb is cited by Seneca, and it is beautifully illustrated in a story about the poet Simonides, which is recounted in one of the fables of Phaedrus. As Phaedrus tells us, Simonides was able to "swim out" of a shipwreck to safety precisely because he didn't have any bundles to weigh him down:
A learned man always has rich inner resources. Simonides, that extraordinary author of lyric poems, found an excellent remedy for his straitened circumstances by travelling around the most famous cities of the Asia, singing the praises of victorious athletes in exchange for a fee. When he had grown wealthy in this venture, he was ready to take a sea voyage and go back to his native land (he was born, so they say, on the island of Ceos). He boarded a ship, but a terrible storm (plus the sheer age of the ship) caused it to sink in the middle of the sea. Some of the passengers grabbed their money belts, while others held onto their valuables and any possible means of subsistence. A passenger who was more curious than the rest asked the poet, 'Simonides, why aren't you taking along any of your own stuff?' He replied, 'All that is mine is right here with me.' It turned out that only a few were able to swim ashore, while the majority drowned, weighed down by what they were carrying. Then bandits arrived and took from the survivors whatever they had brought ashore, stripping them naked. As it happened, the ancient city of Clazomenae was not far off, which is where the shipwrecked people then turned. In this city there lived a man inclined to literary pursuits who had often read Simonides's compositions and who was his great admirer from afar. He recognized Simonides simply from his manner of speaking and eagerly invited him to his house, regaling him with clothes and money and servants. Meanwhile, the rest of the survivors carried around placards, begging for food. When Simonides happened to run into them, he took one look and exclaimed, 'Just as I said: all that is mine is right here with me, but everything that you took with you has now vanished.'
If you are interested in reading the Latin text, I've got the text and some reading tips at the LatinViaFables.com website.

This is a story that has a special meaning for me right now as I am in the process of moving. My preference when moving is to get rid of stuff and to take with me as little as possible - and I've never regretted the things I've gotten rid of in order to lighten my load when moving. So, as I get ready to "swim out" of Norman, Oklahoma sometime within the next month, I'll be trying to get rid of as many sarcinae as possible!

So, with a nod to Simonides, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1153. Nemo cum sarcinis enatat.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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2 comments:

Alex Moore said...

So, Jules Verne was really tipping the proverbial hat to Odysseus when he named his protag Captain Nemo? I never made that connection before...

Laura Gibbs said...

Absolutely!!! The name Captain Nemo fits in so many ways - it fits perfectly on its own terms in the sense that Nemo simply means "nobody," so it is a way for him to be mysterious and cut off from human society, from his own past and so on. But if you start working at the allusions in the name, it gets even better, with Odysseus being a great hero of the sea, etc. It's been a while since I've read that book, but it is a really fine book - I should read it again and see just where it seems like Verne is purposefully playing with the allusions! :-)