July 13, 2007

Nummis potior amicus in periculis

In English: A friend is preferable to cash in times of trouble.

As in yesterday's proverb, I'm carrying on with sayings in praise of friendship. One important theme of friendship is mutual self-help, which we also saw in yesterday's proverb about friends having everything in common. Today's proverb makes a different kind of comparison along this same line: when you are in trouble, a friend can be more helpful to you than cash in hand. You might be able to use cash or a credit card to solve a problem, but a friend can help you in more than just material ways, comforting you, advising you, giving you a shoulder to cry on, etc.

The Latin word potior is a comparative form, so it can take the ablative case for comparison, nummis potior, "more preferable than coins."

You are more likely to encounter potior in the neuter form, potius, where it is commonly used as an adverb meaning "rather."

Unfortunately, the word potior is also the first person singular form of the deponent verb potiri, "to acquire, get possession of." This verb takes a genitive object, though, not the ablative. So as you are reading along in this proverb, nummis potior, the ablative nummis clues you in that the following word, potior is probably a comparative adjective (which wants an ablative!), as opposed to the verb (which would want to have a genitive noun instead).

But enough grammar! In addition to the short form of today's proverb, I wanted to share a little rhyming verse that expresses the same idea more fully. (As regular readers of this blog know, I am an inveterate fan of rhyme in Latin... and hence I find medieval Latin to be potior than the classical variety!) Anyway, here it is:
Plus valet in vico bene fidus amicus amico,
Quam nummis plena de quolibet aere crumena.


A truly faithful friend is more valuable on the spot to his friend
Than a purse full of cash from somewhere or other in the sky.
Although some odd details have crept in here in order to create the nice rhyme, you can still see the same proverbial theme at work: a friend is better than cash in a pinch.

So, hoping you are not facing any periculum that would allow you to test the truth of today's proverb, here it is read out loud:

693. Nummis potior amicus in periculis.

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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