July 26, 2007

Auriculas asini Mida rex habet

In English: King Midas has donkey's ears.

After the previous proverb, which also featured the proverbial ears of the donkey, I thought this saying would make a good follow-up!

Fans of the wonderful Latin text, Auricula Meretricula, will of course recognize the diminutive hear of Latin auris, "ear."Most people today associate King Midas with only one story: the "Midas touch," when King Midas foolishly asked for the power to make everything he touched turn into gold. This led to nothing but disaster, as he discovered when he tried to eat and drink; even the food he touched and the contents of his goblet turned into gold, so that he almost died of starvation as a result of his good fortune. Realizing his terrible mistake, Midas begged the gods to take away the power, and he was told to go bathe in the river Pactolus, which in turn became famous as a river blessed with gold deposits along its banks.

This, however, is not the end of Midas's troubles! He decides to abandon the city and go live in the country, where he had the bad luck to be present at a music contest between Apollo and the rustic god Pan. Although Apollo was declared the winner of the contest, Midas protested, claiming that Pan's music was superior. This made Apollo angry, and he cursed Midas by giving him donkey ears, as donkeys had proverbially no taste in music (a trait perhaps suggested by their raucous braying).

Well, Midas was not happy about those donkey ears, so he covered them up by wearing a turban. As a result, only his barber knew the secret. The barber simply could not keep the secret to himself, however, but he knew Midas would be furious if he were to tell any other person. So, the barber went and dug a hole in the ground and whispered the secret into the hole. Unfortunately, some reeds sprang up in that same spot and the reeds themselves whispered the words "King Midas has donkey ears." So the secret was out, and hence today's proverb!

The story does make an appearance in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but in that version it is not King Midas's barber, but his own wife who betrays his secret.

The story of King Midas and his donkey ears also has a special place in the history of Roman literature. When the Roman satirist Persius included this line about King Midas in one of his poems, it was clearly a veiled reference to the pretensions of the Emperor Nero, who aspired to be a great musician. The philosopehr Lucius Annaeus Cornutus supposedly had the line altered to read, Auriculas asini quis non habet?, "Who does not have a donkey's ears?", thus making the poem an indictment of the fact that each of us does have some deep, dark secret, as opposed to a specific critique of the reigning emperor and his musicianship. You can read more about that incident in this wikipedia article, which notes that in the end Cornutus was banished anyway - trying to appease the Emperor Nero was clearly a losing battle!

So, hoping you have got your turban on tight and a barber you can really trust, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1433. Auriculas asini Mida rex habet.

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

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio.
Keep up with the latest posts... Subscribe by Email. I also post a daily round-up of all the Bestiaria Latina blogs: fables, proverbs, crosswords, and audio.

No comments: