November 10, 2008

Mons parturibat, deinde murem prodidit

In English: The mountain was giving birth; it finally brought forth a mouse.

The proverb of "the mountain giving birth to a mouse" is well-attested in ancient Roman sources, being found in both Horace (parturiunt montes; nascetur ridiculus mus, in Ars Poetica) and in Phaedrus. The story is a simple one: the mountain rumbles and groans, as if it is going to give birth, and all that scurries out is a tiny little mouse. The metaphorical application is clear: the proverb fits those who make all kinds of furious and loud blustering declarations, and then end up not producing anything worthwhile at all.

Here is the version as told by Phaedrus (For parallel versions, see Perry 520).

Mons parturibat, gemitus immanes ciens,
eratque in terris maxima expectatio.
At ille murem peperit. Hoc scriptum est tibi,
qui, magna cum minaris, extricas nihil.

Here is the poem in a more prose-like word order for easy reading:

Mons parturibat,
ciens immanes gemitus,
et in terris erat maxima expectatio.
At ille mons
peperit murem.
Hoc scriptum est tibi,
extricas nihil,
cum minaris magna.

For an English version, here is Christopher Smart's delightful rendering of Phaedrus:
The Mountain labor'd, groaning loud,
On which a num'rous gaping crowd
Of noodles came to see the sight,
When, lo ! a mouse was brought to light!
This tale 's for men of swagg'ring cast,
Whose threats, voluminous and vast,
With all their verse and all their prose,
Can make but little on 't, God knows.
So hoping you are not having to deal with any "men of swagg'ring cast" today - or any "noodles," for that matter! - here is today's proverb read out loud:

3332. Mons parturibat, deinde murem prodidit

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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