June 21, 2007

Fratrum concordia rara

In English: Agreement among brothers is rare.

Yesterday's proverb was about the proverbially rare phoenix, so I thought I would post another proverb about something rare: agreement, or "concord," among brothers.

I wish there were a word as nice as Latin con-cordia, "together-hearts," in English. The heart, cor, was not just a seat of sentiment and emotion in Latin, as it is for us ("sweethearts," "heartfelt," etc.), but was also a seat of intelligence and thought. So when there is concordia in Latin, it means people's minds are operating in unison, that they share the same thoughts and intentions, the same "hearts."

There is a famous Aesop's fable about a father who tries to teach his sons the value of like-mindedness, recognizing the truth of the proverb: brothers are prone to quarrel. This fable is best-known in the Greek tradition, with examples from Babrius and other ancient Greek writers. In the Latin tradition, there is no example of this story that I know of until the Renaissance, when the Greek fables became known again in western Europe, so here is an example from the Renaissance writer Hieronymus Osius, who published a collection of Aesop's fables in Latin verse in 1575:
Languentem senio cum mors vicina maneret
Agricolam, soboles cui numerosa fuit:
Et vexare frequens hanc mutua rixa soleret,
Ipse modo tali conciliare parat:
Vimine connexas in fascem frangere virgas
Praecipit, at vis has frangere nulla potest.
Ille datam cuivis unam tum frangere virgam
Iussit, at haec nullo fracta labore fuit.
Firma docens hoc quam res sit concordia facto,
Distractosque iuvent robora parva viros.
Praebet ut humanis vires concordia rebus,
Sic horum discors robore vita caret.

When approaching death awaited a Farmer who was weak with old age and who had numerous offspring, and since repeated mutual quarrels regularly afflicted these children, the Farmer prepared to reconcile them in this way. He ordered them to break some sticks that had been bound together in a bundle with a willow twig, and no power was able to break the sticks. Then he ordered them to break a single stick given to any of them, and this stick could be broken with no effort at all, showing by means of this deed how strong a thing concord is, and how when men are at odds with each other, a tiny bit of strength is all it takes. Just as concord supplies potency in human affairs, so a quarrelsome life deprives people of their strength.
I think this is a very powerful little story, which shows how teaching by simple physical examples can help people to reflect on the inner spiritual life.

So, hoping you are experiencing concord with your family and friends, here is today's proverb read out loud:

297. Fratrum concordia rara.

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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