August 17, 2007

Asinus balneatoris numquam particeps balnei

In English: The bathhouse-keeper's donkey never gets to have a bath.

Here's another proverb about a donkey to add to the donkey proverbs of the past two days.

This is one of the proverbs included by Erasmus in his Adagia, and here are his comments: Dictum est in eos, qui ex suis laboribus ipsi nihil fructus caperent, "This is said about those who despite their own hard work are themselves not able to reap any of its benefits." In other words, the donkey works and works to make the bathhouse operate - carrying the wood, etc. - but the poor donkey himself does not get to enjoy the pleasure of taking a bath!

This is such a common situation, and the Latin proverb expresses it wonderfully. I am trying to think of some equivalent English proverbs, but I am not having a lot of luck. There is this abstract observation - Some shall reap that never sow, and some shall toil and not attain - but it lacks the vividness of the Latin. I'm thinking there should be something metaphorical in English - a cook who never gets to taste the soup?

If anyone has some thoughts on comparable English proverbs, please do post a comment here!

Meanwhile, we can add this saying to the larger collection of Latin sayings and proverbs in which the donkey is the embodiment of enslavement and exploitation. One of my favorite stories about the hard-working donkey is the one about the donkey who carries all the baggage of the traveling priests. Here is the version by Phaedrus:
Galli Cybebes circum in questus ducere
asinum solebant, baiulantem sarcinas.
Is cum labore et plagis esset mortuus,
detracta pelle sibi fecerunt tympana.
Rogati mox a quodam, delicio suo
quidnam fecissent, hoc locuti sunt modo:
"Putabat se post mortem securum fore:
ecce aliae plagae congeruntur mortuo!"
Just for fun, I thought I would include Christopher Smart's rhyming translation (as readers of this blog know, I'm endlessly enchanted by things that rhyme):
Cybele's priests, in quest of bread,
An Ass about the village led,
With things for sale from door to door;
Till work'd and beaten more and more,
At length, when the poor creature died,
They made them drums out of his hide.
Then question'd "how it came to pass
They thus could serve ther darling Ass?"
The answer was, "He thought of peace
In death, and that his toils would cease;
But see his mis'ry knows no bounds,
Still with our blows his back resounds."
Alas, the poor donkey! The bathhouse-keeper's donkey does not get to take a bath, and the donkey who belongs to the drum-playing priests is himself made into a drum!

So, hoping you have escaped the sad fate of the proverbial donkeys in your own labors today, here is the proverb read out loud:

313. Asinus balneatoris numquam particeps balnei.

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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Anonymous said...

How about "the shoemaker's daughter goes barefoot"? great blog!


Laura Gibbs said...

Thank you, Mike - that's PERFECT. I feel a bit badly comparing the shoemaker's daughter to the poor donkey, but that is the exact right match: wonderful!

Laura Gibbs said...

I found a variant on the shoemaker: "the cobbler's children are the worst shod."

Alex Moore said...

De-light-ful! and way to go, Mike --> I searched for something but found nothing.

Mary said...

I found "the shoemaker's son always goes barefoot" and an explanation at:

According to this, it's the wife who is "worst shod"

Laura Gibbs said...

Thanks, Mary! Lots of times there are little sound clues that suggest why one version is preferred to another - the WIFE is WORST shod could be because of the sound play with "w" - proverbs are struggling to make a strong impression on you so that they can be remembered (a proverb that is not remembered dies off!), and sound repetition is one way to reinforce that impression. :-)

CoolCat said...

Not to mention the "shoemaker -- shod" sound-play. So it's kind of a sh-w-w-sh pattern. Interesting. I wonder if any other proverbs have that kind of sound parallellism, with the second segment reversed?