May 29, 2008

Echinus partum differt

In English: The hedgehog postpones its giving birth.

Carrying on with the theme of proverbs related to Aesop's fables and to the animals who inhabit them, I decided to choose this marvelous saying about the hedgehog for today.

Obviously, since the hedgehog is a spiny creature, giving birth to baby hedgehogs seems like it could be an unpleasant experience. So, it makes sense that the expectant hedgehog might want to defer the moment of child-bearing, since giving birth to prickly little hedgehogs could hurt.

The real force of the proverb, however, is that the longer the hedgehog puts off giving birth, the spinier the babies get, and the worse the situation becomes! That is the ultimate message of today's saying: if you put off some unpleasant task (like giving birth to hedgehogs), that task will only get worse and worse the longer that you put it off (just as the hedgehogs get spinier and spinier, making the birth process even more painful).

Here is what Erasmus says about the proverb: De iis dici suetum, qui prorogarent quippiam suo malo: veluti, "This is usually said about those people who put off something to their own disadvantage." He then explains the logic of the saying as follows: Aiunt, Echinum terrestrem, stimulata alvo, remorari partum, deinde, iam asperiore, ac duriore facto fetu, mora temporis, maiore cruciatu parere, "They say that the hedgehog (the land animal, not the sea urchin), when her womb is feeling labor pains, delays giving birth, and then, because the baby becomes more pointy and unbending with the delay of time, she gives birth with even greater suffering."


There is also a great Aesop's fable about the prickly hedgehog - it's the story of the hedgehog who was a houseguest, sharing a den with a viper! Here's how the story is told in Abstemius:
Erinaceus hiemem adventare praesentiens, blande Viperam rogavit, ut in propria illius caverna adversus vim frigoris locum sibi concederet. Quod cum illa fecisset, erinaceus huc atque illuc se provolvens spinarum acumine viperam pungebat, et vehementi dolore torquebat. Illa, male secum actum videns, quando Erinaceum suscepit hospitio, blandis eum verbis, ut exiret orabat, quandoquidem locus esset ambobus angustus. Cui Erinaceus: Exeat, inquit, qui hic manere non potest. Quare Vipera, sentiens sibi locum ibi non esse, illi cessit hospitio. Fabula indicat, eos in consortia non admittendos, qui nos possunt eiicere.

A hedgehog, sensing that winter was coming, nicely asked the viper if she would grant him a place in her own den against the force of the winter cold. When the viper did this, the hedgehog, as he rolled this way and that, stung the viper with the sharp end of his spines and tormented her with a sharp pain. The viper, seeing that she had gotten herself into trouble when she took the hedgehog into her lodging, asked him, nicely, to leave, since the place was too narrow for the both of them. The hedgehog replied: Let the one go out who is unable to remain here. As a result the viper, realizing that there was no place for her there, yielded the lodging to him. This fable shows that we should not admit into our company those who are able to toss us out.
Although this is not a fable attested in the classical corpus of Aesop's fables, Abstemius has definitely made good use of the hedgehog and its spines in order to express a pointed moral to the story!Meanwhile, hoping that you can find the resolve to face whatever unpleasant tasks might confront you today, so that you won't put them off like the expectant hedgehog, here is today's proverb read out loud:

2209. Echinus partum differt.

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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May 22, 2008

Post nubila Phoebus

In English: After clouds, the sun.

Although this is not an animal proverb, it does have something in common with a famous Aesop's fable, which is why I have chosen it here. This use of the "clouds" and the "sun" as metaphors for life's ups and downs is a powerful truism. There is no denying that there each person's life has cloudy days and sunny days. The optimistic force of the proverb is that whenever there are clouds, you know that sooner or later the sun will come out again. A more cynical and pessimistic version of the proverb could likewise state, "After the sun, clouds." It's one of those glass half-full or glass half-empty situations. Being of the Pollyanna persuasion, of course I prefer the optimistic, sunny version of the saying, which we have here. Yet I also like the old joke about the Polish optimist, which goes like this: A Polish pessimist knows that things are bad, but a Polish optimist knows that they can always get worse!

Today's Latin saying actually got a new lease on life by being included in Enya's song Cursum Perficio, which consists of these lines in Latin repeated over and over again: Verbum sapienti, "A word to the wise," Quo plus habent, eo plus cupiunt, "the more they have, they more they want," and Post nubila, Phoebus, "after the clouds, sun."

The Aesop's fable about the power of Phoebus, the sun, is the famous story of the context between the sun and the wind to see who can make a traveler take off his cloak. I've always felt kind of badly for the wind in this contest, since he clearly doesn't have a chance - but then he never should have agreed to the terms of the contest, right? Here is the version of the story in Thomas Bewick's collection of fables, published in 1871:
Phoebus and Aeolus had once a dispute which of them could soonest prevail with a certain traveler to part with his cloak. Aeolus began the attack, and assaulted him with great violence. But the man, wrapping his cloak still closer about him, doubled his efforts to keep it, and went on his way. And now, Phoebus darted his warm insinuating rays, which melting the traveler by degrees, at length obliged him to throw aside that cloak which all the rage of Aeolus could not compel him to resign. Learn hence, said Phoebus to the blustering god, that soft and gentle means will often accomplish what force and fury can never effect.
Here Phoebus, Apollo, stands for the sun, while Aeolus, the legendary keeper of the winds made famous by Homer, is the representative of wind and cloud and cold. In most versions of the fable, it is Boreas or Aquilo, the North Wind personified, who does battle with the sun.

So, hoping it is Phoebus who rules your day today, and not Aeolus, Boreas or Aquilo, here is today's proverb read out loud:

88. Post nubila Phoebus.

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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May 15, 2008

Asinus in tegulis

In English: A donkey on the roof-tiles.

Following up on the previous animal proverb, I thought I would choose this saying about a donkey. Simply based on what we know about donkeys and what we know about the roof of a house, we can assume that a situation involving a donkey on the roof-tiles would be a ridiculous situation at best, and probably an outright disaster!

In the Greek fables of Babrius, there is a story about a donkey on the roof. He has ended up there as a result of foolishly imitating a monkey who did the same thing:
A donkey went up on the top of a house and while he was frisking about he broke some of the roof tiles. A man came running up and dragged the donkey back down to the ground, beating him with a club. The donkey, his back aching from the blows, said to the man, 'But just yesterday and the day before you were so amused when the monkey did the very same thing!'
This story closely resembles the better-known fable of the donkey who decided to imitate his master's pet dog by jumping up on his master and licking his face. Things did not turn out well for that donkey either, as you can read in Barlow's version of that fable.

For the Latin phrase asinus in tegulis, there is a tantalizing citation in Petronius's Satyricon. After the narrator has finished telling the famous werewolf tale, Trimalchio declares that he also has a story to tell: Nam et ipse vobis rem horribilem narrabo. Asinus in tegulis, "For I myself will tell you all a dreadful thing. A donkey on the roof-tiles." From this usage by Trimalchio, it seems that the donkey on the roof-tiles might have had some kind of sinister element, in addition to being something comical. It is, by implication, a res horribilis, something to make you shudder, something more sinister than "a bull in a china shop," as we say in English.

Within the context of that novel, it is worth pointing out that just previously there had been a strange commotion on the roof indeed, when Trimalchio amazed his guests by lowering the elaborate party favors down from the roof! Here is how the narrator describes that event: repente lacunaria sonare coeperunt totumque triclinium intremuit. Consternatus ego exsurrexi, et timui ne per tectum petauristarius aliquis descenderet. Nec minus reliqui convivae mirantes erexere vultus expectantes quid novi de caelo nuntiaretur. Ecce autem diductis lacunaribus subito circulus ingens, de cupa videlicet grandi excussus, demittitur, "All of a sudden the paneled ceiling began to creak and the whole room shook. Baffled, I raised myself up, and I was afraid that some sort of trapeze performer was going to come down through the roof. The rest of the party-goers were no less amazed, and lifted up their faces, expecting that this was a prelude to something weird from the sky. But look: the paneled ceiling drew back and suddenly a huge hoop, clearly loosened from a large cask, came down." The narrator goes on to explain how there were party favors dangling from the hoop which Trimalchio presented to all the guests at the party.

What I would like to contribute to the collection of stories about unexpected things on the roof is this delightful Islamic legend about the Sufi holy man Ebrahim ibn Adham who lived in the 8th century. He was a wealthy and powerful king, but was called by God to a life of poverty. Here is how that happens, as told by the great Sufi author, Attar:
Ebrahim ibn Adham’s saintly career began in the following manner. He was king of Balkh, and a whole world was under his command; forty gold swords and forty gold maces were carried before and behind him. One night he was asleep on his royal couch. At midnight the roof of the apartment vibrated, as if someone was walking on the roof. “Who is there?” he shouted. “A friend,” came the reply. “I have lost a camel, and am searching for it on this roof.” “Fool, do you look for the camel on the roof?” cried Ebrahim. “Heedless one,” answered the voice, “do you seek for God in silken clothes, asleep on a golden couch?” These words filled his heart with terror. A fire blazed within him, and he could not sleep any more.
In this case, the story is not about an actual camel on the roof, but instead about the absurdity of it. You should not expect to find a camel on the roof any more than you should expect to find salvation in a world of material comfort.

So, hoping that you have no large quadrupeds - donkeys OR camels - clattering about on your roof-tiles,here is today's proverb read out loud:

142. Asinus in tegulis.

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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May 07, 2008

Cicada cicadae cara, formicae formica

In English: Cricket is dear to cricket, ant to ant.

Summer has finally begun, so that gave me two good reasons for choosing today's proverb. First, since I will be working hard this summer on Aesop, finishing up my Aesop's fable book for Bolchazy-Carducci, I will be paying special attention to Latin animal fables and proverbs. So, this nice little proverb about crickets and ants falls into that category! Plus, in honor of summer, it seems only right to start off with one of the most famous Aesop's fables about how the ant and the cricket spend their summer time.

First, the proverb. The idea of one cricket being dear to another cricket while an ant is dear to another ant is a variation on the "birds of a feather flock together" type of proverb. The saying can be found in Erasmus's Adages, who cites a line from Theocritus: Τέττιξ μὲν τέττιγι φίλος, μύρμακι δὲ μύρμαξ, / ἴρακες δ᾽ ἴραξιν, which he then renders in Latin: Formicae grata est formica, cicada cicadae, / accipiter placet accipitri, "ant is pleasing to ant, cricket to cricket; a hawk pleases a hawk." Erasmus then adds a bit of natural history to go along with his Greek source: nota est formicarum politia, et cicadarum conventus, "the civic community (politia) of ants is well known, as is the gathering of crickets together." (I do have to point out, however, that hawks are not famous for flocking... although at least they do not prey on each other as they do on the lesser birds!)

What the proverb implies but does not state explicitly is that while ants get along famously with each other, or cickets with other crickets, there is no love lost between them, as the famous Aesop's fable about the ant and the cricket shows! Here is the version from Barlow's edition of Aesop:

Dum per aestatem Cicada cantat, Formica suam exercet messem, trahendo in antra grana et in hiemem reponendo. Saeviente autem bruma, famelica Cicada venit ad Formicam et mendicat victum; renuebat autem Formica, dictitans sese laborasse, dum illa cantabat.

For an English version, here is Caxton's marvelous 15th century rendering, where the cricket is referred to as the "sygall": It is good to purueye hym self in the somer season of suche thynges / wherof he shalle myster and haue nede in wynter season / As thow mayst see by this present fable / Of the sygalle / whiche in the wynter tyme went and demaunded of the ant somme of her Corne for to ete / And thenne the Ant sayd to the sygall / what hast thow done al the somer last passed / And the sygalle ansuerd / I haue songe / And after sayd the ante to her / Of my corne shalt not thou none haue / And yf thow hast songe alle the somer / daunse now in wynter /

So, hoping you have a summer worthy of both the cricket AND of the ant, with some forward-looking work but some fun times, too, here is today's proverb read out loud:

35. Cicada cicadae cara, formicae formica.

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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May 03, 2008

Sapit qui reputat.

In English: He is wise who thinks twice.

As those of you who are regular readers of this blog will notice, I've moved the address over to the hosting service at

I've done this in order to take advantage of the many great new blogging features that are available only with the blogging software associated with Blogger's hosted space. I've tried to clean up any mess I left behind as a result of changing the address. My apologies for the inconvenience if you are having to change any of your bookmarks or RSS feeds.

Meanwhile, I chose today's proverb in order to bolster my decision! I was reluctant to change simply because it is a lot of trouble, and the old system was working well enough... but as today's saying advises us, it's always good to think things over, re-putare, "to think back, think again." So, that's what I did!

As I was going through the rather tedious process of moving the blog and trying to make sure I left no broken links behind me, I definitely had plenty of time to think over what I was doing. Even though I was listening to a delightful book on tape (the wonderful science fiction novel Hominids, by Robert Sawyer), the process was time-consuming and a bit anxiety-producing as well, since I definitely have a horror of link rot. Yet as I went through my old directories file by file to redirect the old addresses I discovered to my horror two directories that I had never created, filled with hundreds of files: one called XANAX and the other called CIALIS. Yes, the evil hackers had somehow managed to create a directory in my webspace without my even knowing it. It's a bit like sweeeping out the garage and picking up an old newspaper or bag in order to throw it away, only to find a swarm of cockroaches underneath. Ugh! So while for several years I liked the idea of hosting the blog on my own server, I've thought it over (reputavi!) and decided that the advantages could not outweigh such the disadvantage of having to wage war against the forces of evil, the Xanax and Cialis spammers, and their ilk! I'll let Google and handle that for me from now on, thank you.

Given that the Latin word reputare obviously leads to the English word "reputation," I should probably quickly say something about that etymology here as well. Latin did have a noun, reputatio, which meant "thinking over." Yet by the time "reputation" entered in the English language in the Middle Ages, it already had the sense in which we use it today of the public estimate of a person's character. Chaucer uses it already with this meaning in the late 14th century. Moreover, the form "repute" is already in use in the 16th century, as in several examples from Shakespeare, e.g., "Let them be men of good repute and carriage." This English noun, "repute," is derived from the verb "to repute." (Compare the similar use of "dispute" as both noun and verb in English.)

So, hoping your day has been one of good repute (in both the Latin and the English senses of the word!), here is today's proverb read out loud:

2014. Sapit qui reputat.

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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Hello, everybody! To take advantage of the new features at, I'm relocating this blog to a new address:

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