July 25, 2008

Vade ad formicam, o piger!

In English: Turn to the ant, you lazy person!

Here's the latest in my ongoing series of animal proverbs in Latin, although this time the animal is not a furry creature, but instead a tiny insect - formica, the ant - and the source for this saying is not Roman, but rather the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible. The verse in the Book of Proverbs reads as follows: Vade ad formicam, o piger, et considera vias eius, et disce sapientiam.

The King James version renders the saying in English as "Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and consider her ways, and be wise." I especially appreciate how the King James Bible lets the ant keep her gender; in Latin, the ant, formica, is feminine, as she also is in Hebrew: ‎ nemâlâh. (Not so, however, in Greek: μύμηξ is masculine.)

Anyone who has watched ants working knows how busy they are, and the busy-ness of the ants provides the basis for one of the most famous of Aesop's fables - the story of the ant and grasshopper. Here is a simple Latin version of that story by the 13th-century scholar, Vincent of Beauvais:
Formica hieme frumentum ex caverna trahens siccabat quod aestate colligens coagulaverat. Cicada autem eam rogabat esuriens ut daret aliquid illi de cibo, ut viveret. Cui Formica: Quid faciebas, inquit, in aestate? At illa: Non mihi vacabat: per saepes oberrabam cantando. Formica igitur, ridens et frumentum includens, ait: Si aestate cantasti, hieme salta.

During winter the ant dragged out and drained grain from its hole which she had collected and conglomerated in summer. The grasshopper, on the other hand, was hungry and asked the ant to give her some of the food so that she could live. The ant said to her: What were you doing while it was summer? The grasshopper replied: I was very busy: I wandered through all the hedgerows singing. So the ant, laughing and shutting away her grain, said: As you sang in summer, so you must dance in winter.
The fable is good example of the harshness of Aesop's world: the ant's role in this story is not to help a fellow creature, but instead to point out her mistakes. If only the grasshopper had read the Biblical Book of Proverbs and learned to look to the ant, before it was too late!

So, hoping you are finding time for both singing this summer and preparing for winter (school starts in just a month - eee!), here is today's proverb read out loud:

2421. Vade ad formicam, o piger!

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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