September 04, 2007

Induis me leonis exuvium

In English: You are dressing me in a lion's skin.

Just like last week, I thought I would carry on with sayings that have a connection to a specific Aesop's fable. Today's saying, with the "lion's skin," can be found in Erasmus's Adagia, and Erasmus there interprets the saying in two possible contents - one based on myth, and one based on fable.

The mythical context is, of course, Hercules. In the iconic representations of that great hero, he was shown wearing a lion skin (an iconographic tradition later associated with Alexander the Great, in imitation of Hercules). So, the person who should be wearing the lion's skin is Hercules. If you are trying to make ME wear a lion's skin, that is not appropriate - I am not ready for some kind of Herculean task. So please don't make me wear the lion's skin; I don't want to have to go out and perform the labors of Hercules! Was Hercules wearing the skin of the ferocious Nemean lion, whom he killed in one of his labors? Ancient authors debated about whether that was the case; you can read more about that and see a beautiful Greek vase painting of Hercules in his lion's skin at this Perseus web page.

In terms of fable, Erasmus also suggests that this saying could allude to the story of the donkey in the lion's skin. The idea is much the same: just as a mere mortal should not be dressed up in a lion's skin like Hercules, a mere donkey should also not go around trying to look like a lion! There are many versions of this fable; one of my favorites is this one by Odo of Cheriton:
Asini viderunt quod homines male et dure tractaverunt eos, stimulando, onera imponendo. Viderunt etiam quod timuerunt Leones. Condixerunt ad invicem quod acciperent pelles leoninas, et sic homines timerent illos. Fecerunt sic. Asini igitur, induti pellibus leoninis, saltabant, discurrebant. Homines fugerunt credentes esse Leones. Tandem Asini inceperunt recanare. Homines diligenter auscultaverunt et dixerunt: Vox ista vox Asinorum est; accedamus proprius. Accesserunt tandem; viderunt caudas illorum et pedes et dixerunt: Certe isti sunt Asini, non Leones, et ceperunt Asinos et multum bene verberauerunt.

The donkeys saw that the people treated them harshly and badly, whipping them, putting burdens on them. They also saw that the men feared the lions. The donkeys agreed amongst themselves that they would put on lion skins, and thus the people would be afraid of them. So they did that. As a result the donkeys, dressed in lion skins, leaped and ran around. The people ran away, thinking they were lions. Finally the donkeys began to bray. The people listened carefully and said: That is the voice of donkeys; let's get closer! They finally got close to the donkeys and saw their tails and their feet and said: For sure those are donkeys, not lions! And they grabbed the donkeys and beat them most thoroughly.
So, the next time around, the donkeys need to invoke today's saying in order to protest: it's not easy to be a donkey, but it's worse to be a donkey in lion's clothing!

So, hoping you have not been asked to play the lion's role against your will today, here is the proverb read out loud:

1829. Induis me leonis exuvium.

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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1 comment:

CoolCat said...

Hey, this reminds me of C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle, in which a donkey really does get dressed up in a lion's skin, only without wanting to! Wonder if Lewis had read that fable.
~Aurelia