November 08, 2008

Noli irritare leones

In English: Do not provoke the lions!

I'm back to working my way through the proverbs in the Aesop's Fables in Latin book, and the one for today is about the lion, who is one of the most prominently featured creature in the fables of Aesop. To see a list of fables with lions in them, you can look at the Lion in this Aesop index: there are a couple dozen lion fables!

The advice to not provoke the lions is very good advice in any language. In Latin, there are some similar proverbs about other creatures whom you should not provoke: Octipedem excitare noli, "Don't arouse the octopus" (after all, it has eight limbs to fight back with, and you have only four) and Noli irritare crabrones, "Don't provoke the hornets" (hornets are smaller than lions, of course, but anyone who has messed with a hornets' nest knows that this is good advice).

For a fable about a creature who annoyed a lion, the most famous example would have to the story of the mouse and the lion. It is a surprisingly sweet little fable: the mouse accidentally awakens the lion who gets angry and threatens to kill the mouse, but the mouse begs for mercy and promises to return the favor, which only makes the lion laugh - but much to the lion's surprise, he is trapped in a net later on and escapes only thanks to the mouse, who gnaws through the cords and sets him free (Perry 150). More typical of the Aesopic tradition, however, is this story about a frog who unfortunately attracts the lion's attention, as you can read here in this little iambic by Desbillons (Dictionary Help)
Valde loquacem cum Ranam audisset Leo,
Timuit, et aliquod esse magnum animal putans,
Retro se vertit: at mox e stagno videt
Ranam exeuntem, quam indignans calcat pede.
English: "When the Lion heard a Frog croaking loudly, he was afraid and, thinking it must be some big animal, he turned around and went the other way, but suddenly he sees the the frog coming out of the swamp, and crushes it under his foot, outraged!"

Frogs, of course, are notorious for their annoying loud noise - but this frog made a fatal mistake to attract the lion's attention, since she ended up being crushed underfoot! Ouch!

So here is today's proverb read out loud - the frogs better listen up!

2545. Noli irritare leones

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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Anonymous said...

I love the "don't annoy the octopus" proverb, it's such a hilarious image and it applies to some people I have to deal with.
Thanks for it! M.A.

Anonymous said...

Correction: "Don't arouse the octopus",sorry, memory like goldfish, in fact, worse;goldfish can learn.M.A.

Laura Gibbs said...

Ha ha, thank you for your comments! For some reason the goldfish made ME remember something I forgot - another great Latin saying that goes with noli irritare leones is the Latin version of let sleeping dogs lie!

Irritare canem noli dormire volentem.