July 06, 2007

Quo altior mons, tanto profundior vallis

In English: The higher the mountain, the lower the valley.

I thought this would make a good follow-up to yesterday's saying about the full and empty pots. What the two sayings have in common is their use of the altus, a quite tricky Latin word which can mean EITHER deep OR tall. In yesterday's saying the word referred to the "deeply" resonating pots, but in today's saying, it is a matter of height, the "altitude" of the mountain.

The quo...tanto construction in Latin is a very nice use of what is called, technically, the "ablative of the degree of difference." In other words, you could say that quo, "by which amount" the mountain is taller, tanto, "by such an amount" is the valley lower.

There are actually all kinds of great sayings in Latin that rely on the quo...tanto construction to express their meaning. For example, stercus quo plus moveatur, tanto plus foetet, "the more shit is stirred, the more it smells." Indeed!

Meanwhile, back to the mountain and the valley. There are variants on this saying which use a slightly different way to express the same idea. For example, si mons sublimis, profundior est tibi vallis, "if the mountain is lifted up, your valley is lower." There's also this one about the valley and the hill: Vallis optime collem monstrat, "The valley best shows the hill."

Of course, this is another one of those sayings that is not about geography; instead, the geographical features are just a metaphorical suggestion for how you could apply this to your own life circumstances. "The higher the highs, the lower the lows." I guess you could call it a proverbial formulation of manic-depression.

So, hoping that you are finding yourself on top of the mountain instead of down in the valley, here is today's proverb read out loud:

684. Quo altior mons, tanto profundior vallis.

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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