November 14, 2008

Ne ad pugnam vocet aquilam luscinia

In English: The nightingale should not challenge the eagle to a fight.

I figured after yesterday's proverb about hawk and the related story of the hawk and the nightingale, it would make sense to follow that up with this saying about the nightingale and the eagle. Although there is not an actual fable about a nightingale who challenged an eagle to a fight, the results are easy enough to imagine: the nightingale should not challenge the eagle to a fight, because the nightingale is sure to lose.

There's a similar saying about a nanny-goat and a lion: Ne capra contra leonem pugnet, "The nanny-goat should not go fight against the lion," or, in a more abbreviated Latin form, Ne capra contra leonem, where you can imagine any verb you like: whatever it is that a goat thinks it wants to do against lion, a goat should not do that!

Much of the proverb and fable tradition is based on the stereotypical oppositions between the animals. In today's proverb, for example, the nightingale is opposed to the eagle because the eagle is a big, war-like, predatory bird, while the nightingale is a small, sweet, good-tempered bird. You can find other birds playing this role in relation to the eagle, too, especially the quintessentially peaceful dove, as in the saying, Aquila non parit columbam, "An eagle doesn't give birth to a dove."

Yet in addition to being an opposite to the eagle, the nightingale can also be set in opposition to some other kind of bird. For example, consider the saying Pica cum luscinia certat, "The magpie is having a contest with the nightingale." In a singing contest, the mapgie is sure to lose to the tuneful nightingale. So, just as the nightingale should not go try to pick a fight with an eagle, the magpie should not challenge the nightingale to a singing contest!

So, hoping that all you nightingales out there have managed to stay clear of the world's eagles today, here is the proverb read out loud:

2686. Ne ad pugnam vocet aquilam luscinia

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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