November 24, 2008

Suam quisque pellem portat

In English: Each carries his own skin.

Following up on yesterday's sayings about staying inside your own skin (in propria pelle quiesce), I thought this would be a good follow-up saying. The idea is basically the same: each person carries his own skin and, by implication, you will get into big trouble if you try to carry someone else's skin instead!

Aesop's fables abound in examples of animals who try to act like some other animal and get into trouble as a result. For a literal example of an animal who gets in trouble by wearing the skin of another animal, the most famous example is surely that of the donkey who wore a lion's skin. There are many variations on this story - so much so that Perry, in his index of the Aesopic fables, grouped the variations under two different numbers: Perry 188 and Perry 358.

My own personal favorite of the many versions of the donkey in the lion's skin is the one by Odo of Cheriton which I find especially charming because it features a mass action by the donkeys! Here you see not just one donkey, but many donkeys who have decided to improve their situation in life by donning the skins of lions:
Asini viderunt quod homines male et dure tractaverunt eos, stimulando, onera imponendo. Viderunt etiam quod timuerunt Leones. Condixerunt ad invicem quod acciperent pelles leoninas et sic homines timerent illos. Fecerunt sic. Asini igitur, induti pellibus leoninis, saltabant, discurrebant. Homines fugerunt, credentes esse Leones. Tandem Asini inceperunt recanare. Homines diligenter auscultaverunt et dixerunt: Vox ista vox Asinorum est; accedamus proprius. Accesserunt tandem; viderunt caudas illorum et pedes et dixerunt: Certe isti sunt Asini, non Leones, et ceperunt Asinos et multum bene verberaverunt.
For a segmented version of the Latin making it easier to read, see the Latin Via Fables blog. Meanwhile, here is an English translation:
The donkeys saw that men treated them harshly and badly, whipping them and putting loads on their backs. In addition, they saw that men were afraid of lions. So they agreed among themselves that they would put on lion skins and then the men would be afraid of them. That is what the donkeys did. Having thus donned the lion skins, the donkeys leaped about and ran here and there. The men fled, thinking they were lions. Finally, the donkeys began to bray. The men listened carefully and said: That sound is the sound of donkeys; let's get closer! Eventually they got close enough to see their tails and their feet and they said: Surely these are donkeys, not lions! And They began to beat the donkeys, and they did beat them very badly indeed.
You have to feel sorry for the poor donkeys: it was a disaster when they wore the skins of the lions, but at the same time, it was no picnic wearing their own skin to begin with.

So, hoping you are not feeling as overburdened as one of the poor donkeys in the fable, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1279. Suam quisque pellem portat.

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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