Sunday, December 03, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 16

Note for the month of December: You can find Latin Christmas Carols, with a new one for each day, at my Latin Carols Blog. December 3: Aquifolia Ornate, "Deck The Halls."

Here is another set of proverbs built on third declension nouns in the nominative 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 16

206. Virtue is a safe path. (Notice the nice sound play in the Latin. Remember that the Latin word virtus has a much wider range of meaning than the English word "virtue." In Latin, virtus encompasses the sense of moral virtue, but also physical prowess, resourcefulness, bravery, etc.)

207. The land is reliable, the sea unreliable. (The words fidus and infidus are opposites; since it is feminine, the word terra requires fida, while the word mare is neuter, and takes infidum. The ancients were notoriously suspicious of the sea and all the dangers it presented.)

208. Death is sure; its hour is not. (A fuller form of the phrase is certa mihi mors, incerta est funeris hora, "my death is certain, but the hour of the funeral is not certain.")

209. Your death, my life. (This proverb is for situations where one person lives at the cost of another person's life.)

210. A good name is a good sign. (Notice the nice play on words in the Latin: nomen...omen. Romans were quite superstitious about names. The idea here is, for example, that you would prefer to go to a surgeon named, saying, "Armstrong" rather than to a doctor named "Graves.")

211. New king, new law. (Notice the nice rhyme in Latin! You can find this phrase used in one of Erasmus's colloquies, with a Greek gloss.)

212. A wicked life, wicked character. (In other words, if someone leads a dissolute life, you can conclude that he has a dissolute character. You can read some comments about the Latin word mos at the Audio Latin Proverbs blog.)

213. Words of gold, heart of steel. (The words might be lovely and inviting, but the heart - or mind - of the speaker could be of an altogether different metal.)

214. Other people's perils are our warnings. (The idea is that we should learn to act prudently from the fatal perils that other people might face. You can see this saying used as an emblem for an Aesop's fable about the lion, the donkey and the fox who went hunting together.)

215. Money-grubbing father, spend-thrift son. (This is the opposite of "like father, like son." In this case, the father who is stingy with money ends up with a son who is overly free with money. And yes, it is from the Latin word prodigus that we get the "prodigal" in the phrase "prodigal son.")

216. The mother is certain, the father is always uncertain. (This basic biological principle has provided a serious dilemma for patriarchal societies. The ancient Romans had strict rules regarding the remarriage of widows, for example, in order to attempt to maintain some semblance of certainty in recognizing the father of any posthumous offspring.)

217. A true friend is a rare bird. (The Latin phrase rare avis, a "rare bird," could be used for any unusual object that was hard to find, such as a true - a really true - friend.)

218. Love is a companion by day and by night. (You can see an emblem for this motto from Otto Vaenius, Amorum emblemata, published in 1608.)

219. Death is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. (Nothing that the adjectives bonum and malum are being used substantively, as nouns. They cannot be modifying mors, because it is a feminine noun.)

220. The gods are slow but certain avengers. (This saying can be found in one of the Controversiae of the elder Seneca.)

221. From behind opportunity is bald. (This rather enigmatic saying is based on a famous depiction of "Kairos," the Greek word for the crucial moment, "Occasio" in Latin. The personified figure was shown with a lock of hair in front that you could grab, but bald behind. So, if you did not seize the oncoming moment, there would be nothing to grab hold of after the moment passed by. The Roman poet Phaedrus made this the subject of one of his fables in verse.)

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

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