Thursday, November 23, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 101

In the past few days, I've introduced verbs from the first conjugation (present active indicative), using nouns and adjectives from the first and second declensions. Today's proverbs feature second conjugation verbs (present active indicative), using first and second declension nouns and adjectives.

I hope these notes will help you tackle this group of proverbs in Latin Via Proverbs. Please note: to read the proverbs in Latin, you need to acquire a copy of the book from! What I am providing here in the blog are notes to help people who are making their way through the book either in a Latin class or on their own.

Group 101

1318. The shadow teaches. (This is a saying often found inscribed on sundials. The idea is that the shadow teaches that time is passing.)

1319. He fears the shadows. (This is something like the English saying, "he's afraid of his own shadow." You can find this saying used by Cicero in one of his Letters to Atticus.)

1320. It stinks of the lamp. (The Latin verb olere, "to smell," can take a noun in the accusative case to mean "smell like something, smell of something." If something smelled of the lamp it meant that the person had worked too hard on it, staying up late into the night, overdoing it, and hence ruining the work by too much effort. It's kind of like the Roman equivalent of pulling an all-nighter!)

1321. Money does not stink. (This is a saying attributed to the first-century Roman emperor Vespasian. When he was criticized by his son Titus for having put a tax on public latrines, the emperor replied that money does not stink, no matter where it comes from.)

1322. Fortune bestows her favors on fools. (This goes along with the notion that Fortune is blind. Because she is blind or blind-folded, Fortune bestows her favors willy-nilly, at random, so that even fools may be the recipients of her favors. Even fools can, and do, win the lottery, after all!)

1323. Fortune bestows her favors on lazy people. (Although you can hope to achieve your goals by hard work, if you are lazy, you better hope that Fortune smiles upon you, because you will not succeed otherwise.)

1324. Fortune often favors the unworthy. (Notice that while the Latin verb favere usually takes the dative case, as you can see in the proverbs just cited, in later Latin this distinction breaks down and it may take the accusative case, as you can see here. Adding to this confusion in later case usage is the Latin verb fovere, very similar to favere, meaning "to cherish, nurture," which always takes the accusative case, as in the saying Fortuna quem nimium fovet, facit stultum, "The man whom Fortune cherishes too much, she makes a fool.")

1325. Experience teaches. (The idea is that you learn by experience, by "trial and error" as we would say in English. Note that there is a fuller form of this saying; see the next proverb.)

1326. Experience teaches fools. (In other words, because foolish people cannot reason through a problem, they have no choice but to learn by trial and error, figuring things out based on the consequences of their action, after the fact. Wise people, on the other hand, are able to use reason in order to choose the best course beforehand.)

1327. Wisdom shines eternally. (It is very common for a Latin adjective to be used where we in English would use an adverb. The Latin word aeterna is technically an adjective modifying sapientia, but in English it is probably best translated with an adverb. Latin has a strong adjectival system, but a much less extensive system of adverbs, so you will often find adjectives used in this way in Latin, modifying the subject of the sentence where in English we would use an adverb instead.)

1328. Nature shrinks away from a vacuum. (This scientific principle that "Nature abhors a vacuum" was made famous by the Greek philosopher Aristotle and in general the ancient Greeks considered a vacuum a kind of logical possibility. In the Middle Ages, the notion of a vacuum was viewed as a heretical idea, suggesting the idea that something could be empty of God.)

This blog post is part of an evolving online guide for users of the book Latin Via Proverbs.

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