August 31, 2007

Alis luporum catulos

In English: You are raising wolf cubs.

After yesterday's proverb about sheep, I thought a saying about wolves about be in order!

As with the other proverbs from this week, today's saying echoes an Aesop's fable with the same motif. Today's proverb is actually linked with a series of Aesop's fables about the foolishness of the shepherd faced with the wolf cub. These fables are attested in the Greek tradition, but no in Latin, so I will just supply you with the English translations (with a link to the Greek text for those of you who are interested!).

Chambry 313: A shepherd found some wolf cubs and he brought them up, thinking that the fully grown wolves would both guard his flock and steal other people's sheep to bring back to his sheepfold. But when the cubs grew up, the first thing they did was to destroy the man's own flock. The man groaned and said, 'It serves me right! Why didn't I kill them when they were little?'

Chambry 314: A shepherd found a new-born wolf cub. Taking it home, he raised it with his dogs. After the cub had grown up, he would join the dogs in the chase if a prowling wolf ever stole one of the sheep. When the dogs were no longer able to keep up with the other wolf and turned back for home (as sometimes happened), the wolf would continue the chase until he caught the other wolf and received an equal share of the prey, true to his wolf's nature. Then he too would go back home. If, however, no wolves came to seize the sheep, he would secretly slaughter one of the sheep and eat it together with the dogs. When the shepherd finally guessed what was happening, he hanged the wolf from a tree and killed him.

Chambry 315: A shepherd found a little wolf cub and raised it. Then, when the cub was bigger he taught it to steal from his neighbours' flocks. Once he had learned how to do this, the wolf said to the shepherd, 'Now that you have shown me how to steal, take care that many of your own sheep don't go missing!'

Each of these three fables imagines a different variation on the plot suggested by today's proverb, raising the cub of the wolf. In all three cases, as you can see, no good comes of doing that!

So, hoping you have not got a wolf in your sheepfold, wittingly or unwittingly, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1636. Alis luporum catulos.

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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