June 08, 2007

Scabiosa ovis totum inquinat gregem

In English: A mangy sheep infects the entire flock.

I thought I would do one more proverb about the sheep, following up on yesterday's proverb. This time the proverb takes a different perspective. Here it is not the wolf that is the enemy, but the sheep themselves.

This popular Latin saying is roughly equivalent to the English "bad apple," in the saying "one bad apple spoils the bunch" or "one bad apple spoils the barrel."

At his astounding Frases Latinas website, Henerik Kocher has collected some nice variations on this saying. Quite a few of them put the emphasis on the fact that it takes just one mangy sheep to destroy so many: Una infecta ovis totum corrumpit ovile, "One infected sheep ruins the whole sheepfold," Grex totus in agris unius scabie cadit, "The whole flock in the fields falls because of the mange of a single sheep," Morbida sola pecus totum corrumpit ovile, "A single sick animal destroys the whole sheepfold," Unius pecudis scabies totum commaculat gregem, "The mange of a single sheep stains the whole flock," etc.

Other proverbs emphasize the idea that it is the "neighboring" sheep that causes the trouble, the contagious "contact" among the members of the flock that spreads the disease: Mala vicini pecoris contagia laedent, "The bad contagions of the neighboring sheep are harmful."

Another variant uses a participle to convey the sequence of events: Morbida facta pecus totum corrumpit ovile, "A sheep, having become sick, destroys the whole sheepfold."

Is there hope? This proverb tells you just how to handle the situation: Infecta ovis eiciatur, ne totum ovile inficiatur, "Let the infected sheep be cast out, so that it does not infect the whole sheepfold."

So, hoping you are not battling any mange, literal or metaphorical, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1172. Scabiosa ovis totum inquinat gregem.

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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