November 30, 2008

Pardus maculas non deponit

In English: The leopard does not set aside his spots.

Yesterday's saying warned us that even when the wolf changes his appearance, he is still a wolf inside (lupus pilum mutat, non mentem). Today's saying tackles the same dilemma from a different angle: Pardus maculas non deponit, which is to say that a leopard is always going to be a leopard, no matter what he claims or promises or swears to the contrary. So, if you are tempted to think that a leopard can change his spots, think otherwise! This is not a situation you are likely to encounter in a literal sense, but you might encounter it metaphorically, like when an alcoholic swears to you that he is going to get sober, or when a womanizer swears he will be faithful and true. You can be optimistic and hope for the best, or you can accept the more cynical advice of this proverb, which tells you not to expect any change.

This is the metaphorical sense of the saying as it appears in the text of the Bible, in the Book of Jeremiah 13: Si mutare potest Aethiops pellem suam, aut pardus varietates suas, et vos poteritis benefacere, cum didiceritis malum, "If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, you also will be able to do good, even though you have learned to do evil." Jeremiah is taunting his audience, of course - just as no one expects the Ethiopian to change the color of his skin or the leopard to change the color of its spots, so too the people who have learned to do evil will not begin to do good.

You might notice the different word used for the leopard's spots: maculas, in today's saying, and varietates in the Bible passage. This seems to be a case where the Latin text of the Bible, with its varietates, is following the Septuagint rather closely, ποικίλματα. The word macula, however, which means "spot" or "stain," is much better suited for the metaphorical implications of the saying, that the leopard's spots are a sign of something dangerous or bad, something that probably should be changed, even if the leopard himself is not going to do so. The macula that you see there is just what Mary was born without, thanks to the Im-maculate Conception, the conception that allowed her to be born without the stain of original sin. For a less lofty use of Latin macula, consider the "macchiato" you can buy at Starbucks: the Italian macchiato is from the Latin maculatum, spotted - just as the "macchiato" traditionally comes with a dollop or spot of milk.

So, hoping you have had yourself at least one good cup of coffee today, maculated or otherwise, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1661. Pardus maculas non deponit.

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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