Don’t Be Half-Assed: Some Donkey-Proverbs for Our Time

While perusing some comic fragments and testimonia I came upon one which attributed a strange proverb to Cratinus.  I had to investigate at the source, the work of the lexicographer Photius.  What I found was exhilarating: a group of donkey proverbs.

Here is a short excerpt (yes, there’s more):

“A Donkey’s death”: A saying for those who tell stories about strange things

“A Tipping Donkey”: When a donkey leans in suddenly, hens are frightened and bust out of their pen. The owner of the birds brings a suit against the owner of the donkey. This is where the proverb comes from.

“Donkey Shearings”: A saying applied by Attic writers to endless and impossible things. These following sayings are similar: “washing a brick”; “plucking a wineskin”; “decorating a pot” and “fumigating an outhouse”. Aristarchus says that this saying developed because Cratinus imagined a man braiding a rope in Hades and a donkey eating it as he did so.”

Image result for Ancient Greek Donkeys

῎Ονου θάνατος: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀλλόκοτα διηγουμένων

῎Ονου παρακύψεως: ὄνου παρακύψαντος, ὄρνιθες πτοηθεῖσαι ἱστὸν ἀνέρρηξαν· ὁ δὲ δεσπότης τοῦ ἱστοῦ τοῦ ὄνου δεσπότηι ἐνεκάλεσεν· ὅθεν ἡ παροιμία.

῎Ονου πόκαι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνηνύτων καὶ τῶν μὴ ὄντων λέγεται ἡ παροιμία ὑπὸ τῶν ᾿Αττικῶν· ὥσπερ αἱ τοιαῦται· πλίνθον πλύνειν· ἀσκὸν τίλλειν· χύτραν ποικίλλειν· εἰς κοπρῶνα θυμιᾶν· ᾿Αρίσταρχος δὲ διὰ τὸ Κρατῖνον ὑποθέσθαι ἐν Αἵδου σχοινίον πλέκοντα· ὄνον δὲ τὸ πλεκόμενον ἀπεσθίοντα·

And More:


Zenobius Sophista, Proverbs

From horses to asses”: We use this proverb when we descend from pure matters to those less rarified, as when we stumble from grammar to daily affairs or to some other part of the most base pursuits”

᾿Αφ’ ἵππων ἐπ’ ὄνους: τὴν παροιμίαν ταύτην ἐροῦμεν ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπὸ τῶν σεμνῶν ἐπὶ τὰ ἄσεμνα ἡκόντων· οἷον ἀπὸ γραμματικῶν ἐπὶ πραγματικὰ, ἢ εἰς ἄλλο τι τῶν ἀτιμοτάτων.


Diogenianus, Proverbs

Ass’s Jaw”: Applied to people who eat a lot.

῎Ονου γνάθος: εἰς πολυφάγον.

A donkey’s shadow”: Applied to people who love to be honored and love to fight over nothing useful. For, someone has hired out a donkey, and when it has tired, they rest under the donkey’s shadow. But he argues, saying, I hired a donkey for you, not a shadow!”

῎Ονου σκιά: ἐπὶ τῶν μηδενὶ χρησίμῳ φιλοτιμουμένων καὶ φιλονεικούντων. ᾿Εμισθώσατο γάρ τις τὸν ὄνον· καύματος δὲ γενομένου ὑπὸ τὴν ὄνου σκιὰν ὑπέδυ· ὁ δὲ ἐμάχετο, ῎Ονον σοι, λέγων, ἐμισθωσάμην, οὐχὶ σκιάν.


Michael Apostolius

Fell off an ass”: Applied to those who try to ride horses, but aren’t even able to use donkeys”

᾿Απ’ ὄνου καταπεσών: ἀπὸ τῶν ἱππικῇ ἐπιχειρούντων, μὴ δυναμένων δὲ μηδὲ ὄνοις χρῆσθαι·


“Don’t wash a donkey’s head in soda”: a proverb applied to those who do unplanned things.”

῎Ονου κεφαλὴν μὴ πλύνειν νίτρῳ: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνάρμοστα ποιούντων.


An Ass among Bees”: A proverb applied to those who stumble into misfortune.

῎Ονος ἐν μελίτταις: ἐπὶ τῶν κακοῖς περιπεσόντων.


Someone was telling an ass a story, he moved his ears”: A proverb applied to people who are senseless.

῎Ονῳ τις ἔλεγε μῦθον, ὁ δὲ τὰ ὦτα ἐκίνει: εἰς ἀναισθησίαν τινῶν.











One thought on “Don’t Be Half-Assed: Some Donkey-Proverbs for Our Time

  1. Zenobius is my new hero for this gem: οἷον ἀπὸ γραμματικῶν ἐπὶ πραγματικὰ, ἢ εἰς ἄλλο τι τῶν ἀτιμοτάτων. I’ll use this one on my students the next time they interrupt me to ask about “grades” or something similar.

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