May 27, 2007

Sub pallio sordido sapientia

In English: Beneath a filthy cloak, wisdom.

This is yet another addition to the recent proverbs I've included about wisdom, sapientia. Today's proverb is about how looks can be deceiving. You might not expect to find wisdom in someone wearing a filthy cloak, but this proverb alerts you to that this is indeed where wisdom might be lurking.

There are many variations on this saying, such as the version quoted in Cicero's Tusculan Disputations: Saepe est etiam sub palliolo sordido sapientia, "It often happens that even under a filthy little cloak, there is wisdom." This version features the diminutive palliolo instead of pallio.

A famous example of wisdom lurking beneath a filthy cloak would be the cynic philosopher Diogenes, who delighted in scandalizing the public by his shabby lifestyle, residing, as he did, in a barrel! There are many wonderful anecdotes about Diogenes recorded in Diogenes Laertius's Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers.

For example, the story goes that Diogenes was inspired to his way of life by observing the habits of a mouse:
And when, as Theophrastus tells us, in his Megaric Philosopher, he saw a mouse running about and not seeking for a bed, nor taking care to keep in the dark, nor looking for any of those things which appear enjoyable to such an animal, he found a remedy for his own poverty. He was, according to the account of some people, the first person who doubled up his cloak out of necessity, and who slept in it; and who carried a wallet, in which he kept his food; and who used whatever place was near for all sorts of purposes, eating, and sleeping, and conversing in it.
Diogenes constantly sought to divest himself of anything material that he could do without. Just as he was inspired by the mouse, he was inspired by the way in which some poor children managed to do without the accoutrements of daily life:
On one occasion he saw a child drinking out of its hands, and so he threw away the cup which belonged to his wallet, saying, "That child has beaten me in simplicity." He also threw away his spoon, after seeing a boy, when he had broken his vessel, take up his lentils with a crust of bread.
Needless to say, his cloak became rather filthy in the process! Here's a story about what happened when he went into a rich man's fancy house:
Once, when a man had conducted him into a magnificent house, and had told him that he must not spit, after hawking a little, he spit in his face, saying that he could not find a worse place.
Diogenes was both a philosopher and a beggar, and he is supposed to have said this very wise thing about the difference between these two professions:
When asked why people give to beggars and not to philososophers, he said, "Because they think it possible that they themselves may become lame and blind, but they do not expect ever to turn out philosophers."
Ingenious!So, hoping you are feeling at home in whatever cloak you happen to be wearing, here is today's proverb read out loud:

148. Sub pallio sordido sapientia.

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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