December 26, 2007

Improbe Neptunum accusat qui iterum naufragium facit.

In English: The man who shipwrecks a second time unjustly accuses Neptune.

I thought this proverb would be a good one to include today as people begin the process of getting ready for those New Year's Resolutions, pondering what things you might have done wrong this year in order to try to get them right next year. As today's proverb reminds us, making a serious mistake once is something you might be able to explain away, blaming your first shipwreck on Neptune, the god of the seas. The second time around, however, you cannot just blame Neptune: you are going to have to take some responsibility for yourself.

An English saying with a similar message is "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." I always hear that particular English proverb with a Scottish accent since I remember learning it as a child when it was using by Scottie on Star Trek! Thanks to the bizarre miracle that is Wikipedia, you can read all about that particular episode of Star Trek here, including a reference to this particular proverb and its role in the show (the character Chekhov claims it is an old Russian saying, of course!).

The Latin saying, meanwhile, is one found in Publilius Syrus. I was also delighted to find the saying included in this book by the great English poet Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599), The Shepheardes Calender, which is available online, thanks to the University of Oregon. Here is the Renaissance English version of the saying: "The soueraigne of seas he blames in vaine, / That once seabeate, will to sea againe." The book even includes a Renaissance "Glosse" to aid the reader, citing the Latin saying from Publilius (who is here referred to by his professional calling, Mimus, rather than to his identity as a Syrian, Syrus): "The soueraigne of Seas is Neptune the God of the seas. The saying is borrowed of Mimus Publianus, which vsed this prouerb in a verse. Improbe Neptunum accusat, qui iterum naufragium facit."

The Latin saying also makes its way into a work by Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626), based on Publilius, under the delightful title, Ornamenta Rationalia, or Elegant Sentences: "He accuseth Neptune unjustly, who makes shipwreck a second time."

Not surprisingly, the saying shows up in Erasmus's Adagia, even if it is not one of the headings; this inclusion of the saying in Erasmus, attributed to "Mimus Publianus," was probably a key element in its Renaissance success. Erasmus locates the saying under the heading, Iterum eundem ad lapidem offendere, "To stumble twice against the same rock." In other words: it is your own fault to stumble twice over the same thing!

So, hoping you enjoy smooth sailing and no stumbling as we draw near here to the end of 2007, here is today's proverb read out loud:

2024. Improbe Neptunum accusat qui iterum naufragium facit.

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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