January 30, 2011

Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet. In English: "A learned person always has wealth inside himself."

The crucial phrase in this proverb is in se, inside himself. The wealth of learning is wealth that people carry inside themselves and which they always have with them. Unlike a big house or a big car or fancy clothes, these riches are invisible, an inner wealth that is part of your personal identity. There is an Aesop's fable which illustrates this idea. The story goes that the poet Simonides was in a shipwreck. The rich men on the ship tried to grab their money and other belongings, but this only weighed them down, and they drowned. The survivors of the shipwreck washed ashore, naked, hungry, friendless, and had to beg for food. Simonides, on the other hand, was a gifted poet, famous throughout all of Greece. He was able to "sing for his supper" (the ancient Greek poets were singers, not writers), and thus he was well clothed and well fed by the grateful people of the town who were delighted to have such a great artist in their midst. The learned Simonides, truly a homo doctus, carried his wealth inside himself. Like Simonides, I hope that I too have acquired some knowledge and skills that will help me survive life's shipwrecks, both literal and metaphorical. Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet.

In terms of Latin grammar, there is no getting around the fact that doctus is a masculine adjective. I personally don't have any problem with the masculine form being used in a proverb that is general and applies to any learned person. After all, the Latin here uses the noun homo, meaning "person," rather than the more exclusively male noun vir. Of course, if you want to apply the proverb strictly to the ladies, you can go ahead and do that, too: Femina docta in se divitias semper habet. :-)

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons:

Homo doctus in sē dīvitiās semper habet.


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