Sunday, November 19, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 11

Group 11 contains nouns and adjectives from both the first and second declensions. As you will see, each of these proverbs has a preposition which takes the ablative case.

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 11

137. There is danger in delay. (The Latin word mora shows up in the English word "moratorium," which is a legal term meaning a postponement or suspension.)

138. A budget is late at the bottom. (In other words: when you've hit bottom, have reached the bottom of your purse, etc. If you have already spent your money, it's too late to economize! The phrase made it into Erasmus's Adagia 2.2.64, and you can also find it cited by the Roman philosopher Seneca, who attributes the proverb to ancient Roman tradition: ut visum est maioribus nostris, "as was clear to our ancestors.")

139. He is tranquil amidst stormy seas. (Be careful with the word order here. The preposition phrase saevis ... in undis is a prepositional phrase which wraps around the whole sentence.)

140. Blessed are the one-eyed in the land of the blind. (Some of you may already know the wonderful short story by H.G. Wells, "The Country of the Blind." There's a version available online, and if you have not read it, I recommend it. Great story.)

141. Wolf in the story. (This Latin proverb is equivalent to the English saying "Speak of the devil." This is a phrase commonly used in a joking way when you are talking about somebody, at a party say, and all of a sudden that person shows up. Still, the wolf and the devil are not exactly the kind of folks you want to run into, and this proverb is actually a warning, as you can also see in the fuller form of the English proverb: "speak of the devil ... and he will appear." An alternate version, even more scary: "Talk of the Devil, and see his horns." The idea is that by talking about the devil, or about the wolf, you somehow conjure him up with your words. So be careful!)

142. The donkey on the rooftiles. (This is something like a bull in a china shop. There is no reason for a donkey to be up on the roof, and there's nothing good that can come of it!)

143. Donkey on the throne. (In other words: instead of the king or the pope or the professor who is supposed to be sitting in the throne or the chair of honor, there's a donkey there instead!)

144. Instead of a perch, a scorpion. (In other words, somebody is expecting something very good, and instead he gets something very bad instead! This saying made its way into Erasmus's Adagia, 2.6.6. Compare the saying of Jesus in Luke 11:12, "or if he shall ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion?", ut si petierit ovum numquid porriget illi scorpionem.)

145. On behalf of our fatherland, our children, for our altars and hearths. (This phrase shows up in a speech of Cato reported in Sallust's Bellum Catilinae. The Latin word focus literally means "hearth, fireplace," but because the hearth and the fire were so central to family life, it also stands symbolically for the Roman family and home. This is also precisely where the English word "focus" comes from, as the hearth was the "focus" of the Roman home.)

146. From struggles, glory. (The plural adjective dura, "hard things," is being used here substantively, so I have translated it as "struggles.")

147. From a spark, a fire. (You can see the Latin word scintilla, "spark," in the English word "scintillating," which means "sparkling.")

148. There is wisdom beneath a sordid cloak. (Cicero cites this saying in a slightly different form: sub palliolo sordido sapientia, using a diminutive form of pallio. This proverb always makes me think of the famous philosopher Diogenes the Cynic who was famous both for being wise and for living in a barrel. You can read a story about Diogenes looking for an honest man and seeing a picture of him living in his barrel, looking very sordid indeed, at this Bestiaria Latina blog post.)

149. A drop of fortune is superior to a barrel of wisdom. (The preposition prae appears in English as "pre," meaning "before, in front of." The idea here is that a little bit of good luck is preferable to all the wisdom in the world.)

150. There is no wheat without chaff. (Compare a similar Biblical saying in Jeremiah: "what hath the chaff to do with the wheat," quid paleis ad triticum.)

151. There is no great talent without an admixture of madness. (The Latin word dementia means, literally, being "out of your mind" de-mentia. Seneca cites this saying in his treatise On Tranquility of Mind, attributing it to Aristotle)

152. Profit with at the cost of your reputation is a loss, not a profit. (I took this saying from John Harmar's Praxis Grammatica, published in 1623, which is available to online thanks to the folks at Saint Louis University.)

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

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