November 28, 2008

Liber inops servo divite felicior

In English: A free man without wealth is happier than a rich servant.

I thought this saying about the dangerous attractions of wealth would make a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about the difference between money and true wealth: Neminem pecunia divitem fecit, "Money has never made anyone wealthy." Today's saying expresses the same paradoxical idea in slightly different terms: wealth, if it comes at the price of enslavement, is no wealth at all, and the only true wealth is freedom. Therefore, the man who is free, albeit poor, is more fortunate than a servant or a slave who is wealthy.

This is a sentiment that is near and dear to my heart, since many years ago I decided it was much better to abandon the career path I was on and to choose instead a greater freedom. The income I've ended up with is lower, indeed, but the freedom is priceless, and looking back on the choice now almost ten years later, I would not change a thing!

This saying is traditionally associated with one of the fables of Phaedrus, the story of the dog and the wolf. Although the words themselves are not part of the poem itself, they have often been adopted as a kind of "epigram" for the fable, as you can see in this edition of Phaedrus published in 1738 and in this schoolboys' edition of Phaedrus from 1808, in which there are numbers to the side of each line telling the reader in which order to construe the Latin in order to come up with a word order more like that of English!

As for the fable of the wolf and the dog, it is one of my favorites, and was the first Aesop's fable I created at the Tar Heel Reader site. So, you can read an illustrated version of the fable at Tar Heel (including a bilingual Latin-English version); here is the text of the fable as I told it there:
Ecce Lupus! Ecce silva! Lupus domum habet in silva. Lupus in silva cibum quaerit. Non multum cibum invenit. Lupus macer est. Quam macer Lupus est!
Ecce Canis! Canis domum habet in urbe. Canis Domino servit. Dominus cibum Cani dat. Dominus multum cibum Cani dat. Canis pinguis est. Quam pinguis Canis est!
Canis Lupo occurrit:
CANIS: Salve, amice!
LUPUS: Salve, amice! Miratus sum: quam pinguis es tu! Cibum semper quaero, sed saepe non invenio. Unde tantum cibum habes tu?
CANIS: Dominus meus cibum mihi dat. Cibum mihi dat de mensa sua!
LUPUS: Sed video in collo tuo cicatrices. Unde cicatrices in collo habes?
CANIS: Mi amice, hoc nihil est. Interdum me alligant catena. Catena cicatrices mihi in collo facit.
LUPUS: Quam miser es tu, Canis! Cibum habes. Sed cibus servitutis est. Vale, mi amice! Volo vivere in libertate, non in servitute.
As you can see, I've tried to make the story as simple as possible - in my opinion, this is a lesson that someone is never too young to learn!

So, hoping you are making the best use of your own freedom at this moment, here is today's proverb read out loud:

697. Liber inops servo divite felicior.

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 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, or you can sign up to receive the latest posts by email.
Aesop's Fables in Latin now available at

No comments: