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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