May 29, 2007

Pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina

In English: Beneath the lamb's skin often lurks a wolf's mind.

After the delightful rhyme of yesterday's proverb, In vestimentis non est sapientia mentis, I wanted to do another rhyming proverb today: Pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina. Classical Latin avoided rhyme, but medieval writers embraced it, and I will confess to being very fond of rhyme myself, so I like today's proverb very much!

The motif of the "wolf in sheep's clothing" is very common, and even has a Biblical precedent, as in Matthew 7, when Jesus warns of false prophets: Adtendite a falsis prophetis qui veniunt ad vos in vestimentis ovium intrinsecus autem sunt lupi rapaces, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but who inwardly are ravening wolves."

I was also intrigued to find another saying with the phrase pelle sub agnina, but this one does not rhyme. Instead, it is an elegiac couplet:

Sub nive pix, et fel sub melle, lutumque sub auro:
Pelle sub agnina corda lupina latent.

Tar beneath snow, bile beneath honey, and mud beneath gold: beneath the lamb's skin the wolf's mind is hiding.

There's also a great Aesop's fable about a wolf in sheep's clothing - but this wolf gets caught, and hanged, by the shepherd, as you can see in this dramatic illustration by Francis Barlow. Here's the story:

Lupus ovis pelle indutus, ovum se emiscuit gregi, quotidieque aliquam ex eis occidebat, quod cum Pastor animadvertisset, illum in altissima arbore suspendit. Interrogantibus autem ceteris Pastoribus, cur ovem suspendisset, respondebat: Pellis quidem est ovis, opera autem erant Lupi.

A wolf, dressed in a sheep's skin, blended himself in with the flock of sheep, every day killed one of the sheep. When the shepherd noticed this was happening, he hanged the wolf on a very tall tree. When other shepherds asked him why he had hanged a sheep, the shepherd answered: The skin is that of a sheep, but the activities are those of a wolf.

I really like the fact that the other shepherds think that their colleague has hanged a sheep - not realizing that it's a wolf in sheep's clothing

So, hoping your flocks have been free of wolves, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1186. Pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina.

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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