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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randy said...

My son is fourteen months old. His favorite book right now is (the baby board book version of) Dr. Seuss' My Many Colored Days ... at least, this is the book he always pulls off the shelf and brings to us to read to him.

This book explores life's ups and downs like this proverb, but compares them to animals. "Brown days" are sad and lazy like a sleeping bear; "blue days" are light and airy like a flying bird. The book focuses on the inner mood of the person, not on the external events like this proverb.

Geisel ("Dr. Seuss") wrote the poem, while someone else did the artwork -- paintings instead of the typical Dr. Seuss cartoon illustrations. The book was published after Geisel's death.

Laura Gibbs said...

How cool! In terms of metaphors from nature, I probably take more comfort from changes in weather and changes in season than anything else. There is so much to learn from metaphorically reflecting on those events... and of course the proverbs about weather and about the seasons ABOUND. Probably I should some proverb to do today about the summer aestus, boiling hot heat wave, because that is what we have today in North Carolina!