November 21, 2008

Quaelibet vulpes caudam suam laudat

In English: Every fox praises its own tail.

There are many Latin sayings about self-regard - cuique suum, "to each his own" - and so on, but of course what I like about this particular version of that idea is that it involves the fox and its tail. Not only is this an animal proverb, which of course is something that meets with my approval (being a fan of animal proverbs), but "the fox's tail," in particular, is a wonderful folklore motif. Foxes do have quite lovely, bushy tails, and given that foxes are notable for their fine tails, the tail of the fox appears as a motif in two very funny Aesop's fables: the story of the fox and the monkey, and the story of the fox who lost its tail. The story of the fox that lost its tail you can read elsewhere; what I wanted to share today here is the story of the fox and the monkey, which is not a very well-known fable - but it deserves to be better known, I think! As you will see, the prominent use of the word "butt" in the fable has led to it being cast out of the traditional children's canon of fables, alas.

The fable of the fox and the monkey makes its first appearance in the Phaedrus tradition as the first poem in the so-called Perotti Appendix, although it also appears in the medieval Phaedrus paraphrases, including this medieval rhyming version in Goliardic stanzas (you can read the rhyming lines to the tune of "Yankee Doodle," while the final line of each stanza is a dactylic hexamter):

Turpis quondam Simia Vulpi supplicavit
Pro caudae particula, dicens quod optavit
Nates nudas tegere, quas pudens portavit.
Sed Vulpes misere poscenti cuncta negavit.

Ait Vulpi Simia: Multum praegravaris
Caudae longitudine, dum currens vagaris.
Obsecro particulam mihi largiaris,
Vt velox factus currens citius movearis.

Cui Vulpes: Hoc utinam tanto longaretur,
Vt prae magnitudine vix sublevaretur,
Et iam grossa fieret quod vix portaretur!
Quamvis sic esset, tibi pars hic nulla daretur.

Here's an English translation: Once upon a time, the ugly monkey begged the fox for a tiny bit of the fox's tail, saying that she wanted to cover her bare behind which shamefully was her burden. But the fox completely refused the monkey's wretched request. The monkey said to the fox: "But you are badly weighed down by the length of a tail when you are wandering around on the run. I ask that you give me a tiny part of your tail, so that you would become more speedy, moving more quickly as you run about." The fox replied: "If only my tail could be even longer so that on account of its greatness it could barely be lifted off the ground, and so gigantic that it could scarcely be carried! Even if it were so, no part of it would thus be given to you!"
As you can find in the fable tradition, despite the grammatical gender of the fox as feminine, the fox in our fable here is case as masculine (velox factus), which also happens in some Latin versions of the fox who lost its tail in a trap (where the foxes address each other as fraterculi, brethren). The fable is thus not cast as a swipe at female vanity in particular, but at the vanity that afflicts us all: despite the feminine gender of the fox in Latin, the saying Quaelibet vulpes caudam suam laudat is not just an indictment of the ladies!

So, hoping you are enjoying healthy self-regard today without, however, going to extremes, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1300. Quaelibet vulpes caudam suam laudat.

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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