July 11, 2008

Et canis in somnis vestigia latrat

In English: A dog also barks at the trail when dreaming.

A fuller version of the Latin saying reads, et canis in somnis leporis vestigia latrat, "A dog also barks at the rabbit's trail when dreaming." I thought I would choose this for today's animal proverb, since a friend sent me an email this morning where he mentioned his little Beagle chasing rabbits in her sleep. Of course, cats do this too - my new cat spends a lot of time lounging on the porch, while chasing after lizards in his dreams (so far in real life, all the lizards in our garden have escaped his reach). The little et in the proverb, et canis, expresses the idea that dogs to this, too, just like humans.

I read somewhere in fact that all mammals dream (with exception of anteaters? there was some exception to the rule - I just don't remember which creature it was!). Dreaming is definitely a mystery in Darwinian terms, because sleeping is a quite dangerous thing for a creature to do, especially the deep sleep in which dreaming takes place. When animals, be they dogs or humans, are dreaming, they are extremely vulnerable to attack. So there has to be some huge advantage of dreaming, an advantage big enough to outweigh the vulnerability that goes with it. If you are curious about some of the science here, check out these researchers at MIT, and what they learned from studying the dreams of rats: Animals have complex dreams, MIT researcher proves. And for some mind-blowing ideas about dreaming in general, the best book I know is Ursula LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven - a genius combination of science fiction, dream physiology, and Eastern philosophy. Plus the Beatles. :-)

The Latin saying about dogs and their dreams comes from a poem which is preserved in a medieval (ninth-century) manuscript. It appears with two other poems that are found in the ancient novel by Petronius, the Satyricon, leading some scholars to believe that perhaps this poem also had its place in the novel, which has only survived in part. Since I was not able to find a handy version of the poem online (and no English translation at all), I've transcribed the poem here, with a rough-and-ready English translation:

Somnia, quae mentes ludunt volitantibus umbris,
non delubra deum nec ab aethere numina mittunt.
sed sibi quisque facit, nam cum prostrata sopore
urguet membra quies et mens sine pondere ludit,
quidquid luce fuit, tenebris agit. oppida bello
qui quatit et flammis miserandas eruit urbes,
tela videt versasque acies et funera regum
atque exundantes profuso sanguine campos.
qui causas orare solent, legesque forumque
et pavidi cernunt inclusum cordi tribunal.
condit avarus opes defossumque invenit aurum.
venator saltus canibus quatit. eripit undis
aut premit eversam periturus navita puppem.
scribit amatori meretrix, dat adultera munus.
et canis in somnis leporis vestigia latrat.
in noctis spatium miserorum vulnera durant.

Dreams, whose fleeting shadows toy with the mind, are not sent by the shrines of the gods nor by the divinities in heaven. Rather, each person dreams for himself: when sleep weighs upon the body's members stretched out at rest, and the mind is at play, free from weight, then whatever happened in day light unfolds in the darkness. The person who shatters towns with warfare and topples pitiable cities with fires - he sees weapons and the battle line routed and the deaths of kings and fields flowing with spilled blood. The people who plead cases by profession - they witness writs and courts and the tribunal enclosed within the coward's heart. The greedy man heaps up wealth and discovers buried gold. The hunter bursts through the thickets with his dogs. The sailor survives the waves or faces death, clinging to his overturned ship. The prostitute writes to her lover, the adulterer gives her gifts. The dog, too, barks at the rabbit's trail in dreams. The wounds of the afflicted last into the night time.

So, hoping you are able to follow your own dream trail in your waking life today, here is the Latin saying read out loud:

1163. Et canis in somnis vestigia latrat.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

If you are reading this via RSS: The Flash audio content is not syndicated via RSS; please visit the Latin Audio Proverbs blog to listen to the audio.
For more Latin proverbs, fables and commentary, visit the Bestiaria Latina blog, where you can subscribe to the latest posts by email or by RSS.

No comments: