August 01, 2008

Dimittis pullos sub custodia vulpis

In English: You're leaving the chickens in the care of the fox.

This is the latest animal proverb, and it belongs to that venerable set of proverbs about foolish behaviors. Leaving the fox to guard the henhouse is obviously a bad idea, and even if you don't have a henhouse you are trying to protect, there are all kinds of way you can apply this saying to modern life. In particular, there are all kinds of public, political situations to which it can be applied, such as having pharmaceutical companies conduct their own clinical trials, eh?

Although there is not an Aesop's fable where the fox is put in charge of the hens, there are some fine fables in which the wolf becomes aspires to become a shepherd! Here is one of my favorite versions, as told by the medieval preacher, Odo of Cheriton - I love how the shepherd plays detective to determine the wolf's guilt!
Contigit quod quidam Paterfamilias habuit XII Oues. Voluit peregrinari et commendavit Oves suas Ysemgrino, id est Lupo, compatri suo. Et compater iuravit quod bene conservaret eas. Profectus est statim. Ysemgrinus interim cogitavit de Ovibus et uno die comedit de una, altera die de alia, ita quod vix tres invenit Paterfamilias, quando reversus est. Quaerebat a compatre quid factum fuerit de aliis Ovibus. Respondit Ysemgrimus quod mors ex temperalitate venit super eas. Et dixit Paterfamilias: Da mihi pelles; et inventa sunt vestigia dentium Lupi. Et ait Paterfamilias: Reus es mortis; et fecit Lupum suspendi.

It happened that a certain man had twelve sheep. He wanted to go on a journey, and he entrusted the sheep to Isengrimus, that is, to the wolf, his associate. And his associate swore that he would take good care of them. The man departed immediately. Isengrimus meanwhile got to thinking about the sheep and one day he ate one sheep, and the next day he ate another sheep, and so on until the man found scarcely three sheep when he returned home. He asked his associate what had happened to the other sheep. Isengrimus answered that death had come upon them unseasonably. And the man said: Give me their skins, and the traces of the Wolf's teeth could be seen there. And the man said: You are guilty of a capital crime, and he had the wolf hanged.
There are all kinds of fascinating medieval details here, such as Isengrimus (Ysengrimus), the name given to the wolf in the beast epic tradition (for some nice illustrations, here is the German wikipedia article about that). Odo of Cheriton's fables are one of my favorite medieval story collections, and if you are not familiar with them, they are well worth reading, believe me - there's even a delightful English translation of Odo available in paperback!

Meanwhile, hoping all the hens in your henhouse are safe from the marauding fox or the wolf, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1846. Dimittis pullos sub custodia vulpis.

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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