October 11, 2007

Arcum nimia frangit intensio

In English: Too much tension breaks the bow.

I thought this would be a good proverb to do in honor of a tiny vacation that we are taking this weekend, getting away to the coast to do nothing in particular for a couple of days! I've finally sent the Vulgate Verses book off to the publisher to get back real proofs for the final copy editing... but for now: it's time to take a break!

So, today's proverb reminds us that while the bow derives its power from tension, from stretching and from straining, it's also important to relax the bow at other times, or else you will break it - and a broken bow will not do anyone any good.

Phaedrus tells us a story showing how Aesop himself supposedly used this metaphor of the tense bow to teach a lesson about the need to relax and play:

Puerorum in turba quidam ludentem Atticus
Aesopum nucibus cum vidisset, restitit,
et quasi delirum risit. Quod sensit simul
derisor potius quam deridendus senex,
arcum retensum posuit in media via:
"Heus" inquit "sapiens, expedi quid fecerim."
Concurrit populus. Ille se torquet diu,
nec quaestiones positae causam intellegit.
Novissime succumbit. Tum victor sophus:
"Cito rumpes arcum, semper se tensum habueris;
at si laxaris, cum voles erit utilis."
Sic lusus animo debent aliquando dari,
ad cogitandum melior ut redeat tibi.

For an English translation, here's a fun version by Christopher Smart:

As Esop was with boys at play,
And had his nuts as well as they,
A grave Athenian, passing by,
Cast on the sage a scornful eye,
As on a dotard quite bereaved:
Which, when the moralist perceived,
(Rather himself a wit profess'd
Than the poor subject of a jest)
Into the public way he flung
A bow that he had just unstrung:
There solve, thou conjurer," he cries,
"The problem, that before thee lies."
The people throng; he racks his brain,
Nor can the thing enjoin'd explain.
At last he gives it up-the seer
Thus then in triumph made it clear:
" As the tough bow exerts its spring,
A constant tension breaks the string;
But if 'tis let at seasons loose,
You may depend upon its use."
Thus recreative sports and play
Are good upon a holiday,
And with more spirit they'll pursue
The studies which they shall renew.

So, hoping you can enjoy a few moments' relaxation and return with more spirit to your renewed studies, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1905. Arcum nimia frangit intensio.

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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