In the Shallows Now

Erasmus, Adagia 45 – In Vado

The proverbial metaphor To be in the shallows is used to mean: in safety, and beyond the point of danger. It’s taken from either swimmers or sailors. Terence has:

The whole affair is in the shallows.

Plautus, in his Aulularia, writes:

This business seems to be pretty much in the shallows of safety now.

The shallows are the lowest part of the water. Anyone who stands in them has already escaped the danger of being submerged.

45 – IN VADO

Metaphora prouerbialis In vado esse pro eo, quod est: in tuto citraque discrimen, sumpta a natantibus aut nauigantibus. Terentius:

Omnis res in vado est.

Plautus in Aulularia:

Haec propemodum iam esse in vado salutis res videtur.

Vadum autem est aquae fundus; in quo quisquis constiterit, is iam effugit periculum ne mergatur

Herd Immunity

Erasmus, Adagia 43:

Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν, that is, Even the bull has set off into the forest. This is a pastoral proverb, an ugly little allegory, signifying the separation and neglect of an old girlfriend. Even if it will be permitted to draw it in this way into a more modest use, if it is accommodated by a joke to those who seem to neglect their earliest friends and to have become unaccustomed to the flock of their familiars and peers. It may also be applied to those who separate themselves from their usual pursuits and follow a different course of life. Theocritus in his Idyll, entitled Theonychus, relates it in the form of a proverb:

Αἶνος θην λέγεταί τις ‘ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν’,

that is,

It was once said that ‘the bull is withdrawing into the forest.’

For the lover is complaining that he was long ago left behind by his girlfriend, and he shows that it was a lot of time that Cynisca, that is Catella (for that was the girl’s name) was entertaining herself with a certain Lycus, and showed no inclination to return to her former way of life, in much the same way that bulls, who themselves occasionally wander off from the crowd of cows and either hang out with other bulls or wander in solitude through the groves, touched by no desire for women.

Pastors refer to that withdrawal and that divorce-like neglect with the peculiar word ‘ἀτιμαγελεῖν’ (‘herd-forsaking’), with a sense clearly composed ἐκ τοῦ ἀτιμεῖν, τὸ ἀτιμάζειν καὶ καταφρονεῖν, which is to say from ‘to dishonor, to neglect, and to rate as worthless,’ and from τοῦ ἀγέλη, which means the herd. Bulls are said to ‘forsake the herd’ when, having been set apart from interaction with the cows, care for them so little that they not only don’t seek intercourse with them, but they don’t even wish to use the same pastures. In his sixth book of On the Nature of Animals, Aristotle demonstrates the custom of this animal and the nature of the word given to this phenomenon with these words:

Ὁ δὲ ταῦρος ὅταν ὥρα τῆς ὀχείας ᾖ, τότε γίνεται σύννομος καὶ μάχεται τοῖς ἄλλοις. Τὸν δὲ πρότερον χρόνον μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων εἰσίν, ὃ καλεῖται ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Πολλάκις γὰρ οἵ γε ἐν τῇ Ἠπείρῳ οὐ φαίνονται τριῶν μηνῶν ὅλως δὲ τὰ ἄγρια πάντα ἢ τὰ πλεῖστα οὐ συννέμονται ταῖς θηλείαις πρὸ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ ὀχεύειν.

We will consider rather than number these words in this way:

‘But the bull, when it is time for intercourse, will then share the same pastures with the cows, and will fight with the other bulls. For, before that time, they were out to pasture with each other, and they call this ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Indeed, the bulls in the province of Epirus often do not appear for a space of three months; further, all wild beasts (or at least, certainly, most of them) do not congregate at shared pastures with the females of their species before it is time to procreate.

It seems to me worth noting in the version of Theodore of Gaza, for the word ἀτιμαγελεῖν, which Latin is unable to express properly, we find the word ‘coarmentari’ or ‘to herd together.’ That little piece of a word has poured a bit of fog over even the most learned men, such that they think that the passage in Aristotle is corrupt, and they bring to bear an entirely different interpretation on it by changing the reading, and they think that Theodore has hallucinated not a little in translating it. But I have weighed this matter out more diligently, and I seem to see the sense of Aristotle’s words to square exactly on this side of the change of any word. Clearly, a bull may spend time in the same pastures with cows when the time for breeding approaches, and may not come together with the other herds of bulls (but rather, wage war with them), while at other times bulls may enjoy the same pastures with other bulls and not pursue a life shared with the cows, choosing instead to spend time with each other, which is the case for pretty much all other animals. Clearly, this society of bulls with bills while the herds of cows are neglected is called ἀτιμαγελεῖν or ‘herd neglect’.

Now I ask, what scruple is there, why should we think that the reading of Aristotle must be changed, unless we are offended by the changed number of the words ‘bull’ and ‘are’, which is a common enough occurrence in that word of Aristotle. It can’t be doubted that the word ‘coarmentari’ here is not appropriate, but spurious, and has entered the work either from the carelessness of booksellers or the temerity of some person who possessed too little education. I suspect that we should read ‘dearmentari’ or ‘abarmentari’ (‘to be away from the herd’). I cannot be led to believe that Theodore, a man so perfect in every mode of learning, could have slipped so, especially in a word which is neither that unnatural or unusual in Greek authors, and one whose force and meaning is clearly indicated by etymology, and which is further read in Theocritus, an ultra famous and common author in his Νομεῖ ἢ Βωκόλοις, that is in his ‘Pastor or the Flocks’:

Χοἲ μὲν ἁμᾷ βόσκοιντο καὶ ἐν φύλλοισι πλανῷντο Οὐδὲν ἀτιμαγελεῦντες

that is,

But these are in the pasture at the same time, and they wander in the tall grasses, and they seek no separation from the flock.

In reference to this, the Suda has ταῦρον ἀτιμάγελον signifying τὸν τῆς ἀγέλης καταφρονοῦντα, that is, ‘one who neglects the herd. It seems to me that Vergil alluded somewhat to this in his Silenus:

Ah, unfortunate maiden, you know wander in the mountains. He, reclining his snowy side on soft hyacinth grazes on the pale grasses below a dark rock, or follows another cow in a large herd. Close, nymphs, Dictaean nymphs, now close the woodlands, if by chance the wandering tracks of a cow bear themselves before our eyes. Perhaps some cows may lead him, captured in the green grass or following the herd, to the Gortynian stables.

For, when he says

He, reclining his snowy side on soft hyacinth grazes on the pale grasses below a dark rock

he intimates that the bull is ἀτιμάγελον (‘herd forsaking’). The same is true when he describes the ‘wandering tracks of a cow.’ The poet, however, is talking about the bull whom Pasiphae loved, is engaged in herd forsaking in such a way that he neglects his own herd and follows other cows.

Further, on the fighting of bulls at the very time of copulation itself, Vergil writes in the third book of Georgics:

Nor is it the custom for the fighters to dwell together, but one goes away vanquished to an exile far away on distant shores, groaning much of his ignominy and the blows of the arrogant victor, and then complains of the loves which he has lost unavenged, and looking at his abode, departs from his ancestral kingdom.

For my part, I think that this expression, if it is bent a little bit, is proverbial, like the words καπροῦν et ἱππομανεῖν (‘to be lewd’ and ‘to be horse-mad’), and Theocritus seems to have reflected on that the most when he notes that it is said proverbially, Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν’,  ‘And the bull has gone among the woods.’ The scholia on Theocritus have in this expression ἔβα κεν ταῦρος, with the conjunction καὶ changed to the explanatory κεν. They add that this is proverbially said of those who are absent and not likely to return. For if a bull flees once to the forest, he cannot be caught. For this reason, someone once elegantly said that a husband who has long been away from his wife is ‘herd-forsaking’, just as is a person who has ceased to visit his friends, and one who has abstained for a long time from the company of the Muses and his books. Similarly, one who abhors interaction with others and lives with himself may be called ‘herd-forsaking.’ And one who has wandered off and withdrawn from legitimate companionship will not wrongly be said to ‘forsake the herd.’ The expression of Aristophanes in Lysistrata is not far from this:

Οἴκοι δὲ ἀταυρώτη διάξω τὸν βίον,

that is,

I will live the celibate life at home, away from the bull.

For he has thus signified the celibate life of the woman neglecting the bull, that is, the husband. Thus Horace writes:

May Lesbia meet a bad end for showing you this impotent bull when you asked.


Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν, id est Abiit et taurus in syluam. Pastorale prouerbium, allegoria subturpicula, significans diuortium ac neglectum veteris amicae.Tametsi licebit in vsum verecundiorem trahere hoc modo, si per iocum accommodabitur ad eos, qui pristinos amicos negligere videntur et a familiarium congerronumque grege desuescere. Aut in illos etiam, qui a solitis desciscunt studiis diuersumque vitae sequuntur institutum. Theocritus in Idyllio, cui titulus est Theonycho, nominatim etiam prouerbii vice refert:

 Αἶνος θην λέγεταί τις ‘ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν’,  id est Fertur et hoc olim in syluam secedere taurum.

Queritur autem amans se iam pridem ab amica relictum plurimumque iam esse temporis ostendit, quod Cynisca, id est Catella, nam id erat nomen puellae, sese Lyco quodam oblectet neque omnino curet ad pristinam redire consuetudinem, non magis quam tauri, qui et ipsi nonnunquam a vaccarum armentis secedunt et aut reliquis aggregantur tauris aut solitarii per nemora vagantur nullo foeminarum desiderio tacti.

Eum secessum eumque vaccarum neglectum quasique diuortium, pastores peculiari verbo vocant ἀτιμαγελεῖν voce nimirum composita ἐκ τοῦ ἀτιμεῖν, τὸ ἀτιμάζειν καὶ καταφρονεῖν, quod est despicere negligereque ac pro nihilo ducere, et ἐκ τοῦ ἀγέλη, quod armentum sonat. Ac tum ἀτιμαγελεῖν dicuntur tauri, cum segregati a vaccarum commercio adeo non curant illas, vt non modo coitum non appetant, sed ne pascuis quidem iisdem vti velint. Hunc animantis morem simulque vocem ipsam ei tributam rei demonstrat Aristoteles libro De natura animalium sexto his verbis: Ὁ δὲ ταῦρος ὅταν ὥρα τῆς ὀχείας ᾖ, τότε γίνεται σύννομος καὶ μάχεται τοῖς ἄλλοις. Τὸν δὲ πρότερον χρόνον μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων εἰσίν, ὃ καλεῖται ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Πολλάκις γὰρ οἵ γε ἐν τῇ Ἠπείρῳ οὐ φαίνονται τριῶν μηνῶν ὅλως δὲ τὰ ἄγρια πάντα ἢ τὰ πλεῖστα οὐ συννέμονται ταῖς θηλείαις πρὸ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ ὀχεύειν. Ea verba nos appendemus magis quam annumerabimus hoc modo:

At taurus, cum tempus coitus adfuerit, tum demum incipit communibus cum vaccis pascuis vti cumque  reliquis tauris dimicat. Nam ante id temporis inter sese pascuntur, quod quidem appellant ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Sane qui sunt in Epiro prouincia tauri, saepenumero trium mensium spacio non apparent; porro fera animantia aut omnia aut certepleraque ante tempus coeundi non aggregantur ad communes cum foeminis pascuas.

Illud admonitu dignum mihi visum est in versione Theodori Gazae pro Graeca voce ἀτιμαγελεῖν, quam Romana lingua nullo pacto reddere potest, scriptum esse coarmentari. Idque verbi doctis etiam viris non parum caliginis offudit, ita vt deprauatum apud Aristotelem locum existiment commutataque lectione longe diuersum sensum inducant putentque Theodorum in transferendo non mediocriter hallucinatum. At ego tota re diligentius pensiculata videre videor Aristotelicorum verborum sententiam citra vllius vocis commutationem adamussim quadrare: videlicet taurum aggregari cum vaccis et in iisdem versari pascuis appetente coitus tempore eumque non conuenire cum reliquis taurorum armentis, sed bellum cum aliis gerere, reliquis autem temporibus tauros cum tauris socialiter iisdem vti pascuis neque foeminarum conuictum sequi, sed inter sese agere, quod idem accidat in feris ferme omnibus. Hanc autem taurorum cum tauris societatem neglectis vaccarum armentis vocari ἀτιμαγελεῖν.

Quaeso quid hic scrupuli, cur Aristotelicam lectionem mutandam existimemus, nisi si quid offendit mutatus numerus in ταῦρος et εἰσίν, id quod Aristoteli praesertim eo in opere pene familiare deprehenditur. Dictionem autem illam coarmentari non germanam, sed supposititiam esse dubium non est, et aut librariorum incuria aut alicuius parum eruditi temeritate inductam. Suspicor enim legendum vel dearmentari vel abarmentari. Neque enim adduci possum, vt credam Theodorum hominem tam in omni doctrinae genere absolutum fuisse lapsum praesertim in voce neque magnopere prodigiosa nec inusitata Graecis autoribus, vtpote cuius vim vel ipsa statim indicat etymologia, praeterea quae apud Theocritum autorem vsqueadeo notum vulgatumque legatur ἐν Νομεῖ ἢ Βωκόλοις,  id est in Pastore siue Bubulcis:

  Χοἲ μὲν ἁμᾷ βόσκοιντο καὶ ἐν φύλλοισι πλανῷντο

 Οὐδὲν ἀτιμαγελεῦντες,  id est

 Atque hi pascuntur simul inque comantibus herbis

 Errant et non vlla gregis diuortia quaerunt.

Ad haec Suidas ostendit ταῦρον ἀτιμάγελον appellatum τὸν τῆς ἀγέλης καταφρονοῦντα, id est qui negligeret armentum. Huc mihi videtur nonnihil allusisse Vergilius in Sileno:

Ah virgo infelix, tu nunc in montibus erras.

 Ille latus niueum molli fultus hyacintho

 Ilice sub nigra pallentes ruminat herbas

 Aut aliquam in magno sequitur grege. Claudite, nymphae,

 Dictaeae nymphae, nemorum iam claudite saltus,

 Si qua forte ferant oculis sese obuia nostris

 Errabunda bouis vestigia; forsitan illum

 Aut herba captum viridi aut armenta secutum

 Perducant aliquae stabula ad Gortynia vaccae.

Cum enim ait,

 Ille latus niueum molli fultus hyacintho

 Ilice sub nigra pallentes ruminat herbas,

taurum innuit ἀτιμάγελον. Item cum ait: Errabunda bouis vestigia. Significat autem poeta taurum, quem adamabat Pasiphae, aut prorsus ἀτιμαγελεῖν aut eatenus ἀτιμαγελεῖν, vt suo armento neglecto vaccas alias sequeretur. Porro de pugna taurorum inter ipsos coitus tempore meminit idem Maro libro Georgicôn tertio:

 Nec mos bellantes vna stabulare, sed alter

 Victus abit longeque ignotis exulat oris

 Multa gemens ignominiam plagasque superbi

 Victoris, tum quos amisit inultus amores,

 Et stabula aspectans regnis excessit auitis.

Equidem arbitror hanc ipsam vocem, si deflectatur alio, prouerbialem esse, quemadmodum sunt et illae καπροῦν et ἱππομανεῖν, ad eamque potissimum respexisse Theocritum, cum ait prouerbio dici: Ἔβα καὶ ταῦρος ἀν᾽ ὕλαν. Scholia quae feruntur in Theocritum, habent ἔβα κεν ταῦρος pro καὶ coniunctione copulatiua mutata κεν expletiua; addunt esse prouerbium de his dici solitum, qui abessent non reuersuri. Taurus enim si semel aufugerit in syluam, capi non potest. Vnde non inconcinne quis dixerit maritum diutius ab vxore secubantem ἀτιμαγελεῖν et eum, qui familiares desierit inuisere, ἀτιμαγελεῖν et qui diutius a Musis ac librorum abstinuerit contubernio, ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Item qui a conuictu hominum abhorreat secumque viuat, ἀτιμάγελον licebit appellare. Et qui a legitimo contubernio aberrarit secesseritque, non inepte dicetur ἀτιμαγελεῖν. Nec prorsus abhorret ab hac forma, quod est apud Aristophanem in Lysistrata:

 Οἴκοι δὲ ἀταυρώτη διάξω τὸν βίον,  id est

 Domi absque tauro coelibem vitam exigam.

Sic enim significauit vitam coelibem foeminae negligentis taurum, id est maritum. Sic et Horatius:

 Pereat male quae te

 Lesbia quaerenti taurum monstrauit inertem.

Stop Talking Like a Professor

Erasmus, Adagia 1.39:

Less Cultivated and More Clearly:

Indeed, that phrase is put less elegantly by the Greeks, but it has the same force: Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ [speak less learnedly and more clearly], which is found in Gellius as well. He says,

‘For you know, I think, that ancient and commonly circulated phrase, Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ,’

that is, Speak less learnedly and more plainly, and say it more openly and clearly. It appears to be taken from from a comedy of Aristophanes, titled Βάτραχοι, that is, The Frogs:

Ἀμαθέστερον πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

that is, Speak less learnedly and more clearly. In this song, Bacchus chides the obscurity of Euripides, who had proposed something or other with insufficient lucidity. Suidas and an interpreter advise us that there is a proverb underlying it, which runs:

Σαφέστερόν μοι κἀμαθέστερον φράσον,

that is, Speak to me more openly and less learnedly. I suspect that it was taken from the fact that in antiquity, those sophists (as they call them) were accustomed to exert a fair amount of labor in covering over the mysteries of wisdom with certain enigmatical entanglements, clearly with the intention of keeping the profane mob not yet initiated into the sacred secrets of philosophy from following it. Nay, even today, some professors of philosophy and theology, when they are about to relate what any little old lady or workman might say, tangle and wrap up the matter with little spikes and portents of words so that they will seem learned. Thus Plato with his numbers obscured his own philosophy. Thus Aristotle, with all of his learned collections, made a lot of things more obscure.



Inelegantius quidem est illud apud Graecos, sed idem tamen pollet: Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ, quod apud eundem refertur Gellium.

Nosti enim, inquit, credo, verbum illud vetus et peruulgatum, μαθέστερον εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

id est Indoctius rudiusque quodammodo loquere et apertius ac clarius fare. Sumptum apparet ex Aristophanis comoedia, cui titulus Βάτραχοι, id est Ranae:

Ἀμαθέστερον πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

id est  Indoctius proloquitor atque clarius. Quo carmine Bacchus Euripidis obscuritatem taxat, qui nescio quid parum dilucide proposuerat. Suidas et interpres admonent subesse prouerbium, quod hunc ad modum feratur:

Σαφέστερόν μοι κἀμαθέστερον φράσον,

id est  Apertius mihi loquere atque indoctius. Suspicor inde sumptum, quod antiquitus illi σοφοί, quos vocant, soleant mysteria sapientiae quibusdam aenigmatum inuolucris data opera obtegere, videlicet ne prophana turba ac nondum philosophiae sacris initiata posset assequi. Quin et hodie nonnulli philosophiae ac theologiae professores, cum ea quandoque tradant, quae quaeuis muliercula aut cerdo dicturus sit, tamen quo docti videantur, rem spinis quibusdam ac verborum portentis implicant et inuoluunt. Sic Plato numeris suis obscurauit suam philosophiam. Sic Aristoteles multa mathematicis collationibus reddidit obscuriora.



Always Relevant: An Iliad of Troubles

Erasmus, Adagia 226:

Ἰλιὰς κακῶν, that is, an Iliad of troubles; used when speaking of the greatest and most numerous calamities, because in Homer’s Iliad there is no type of problem which isn’t covered. For this reason, the learned think that the premises of tragedies were taken from it, just as the plots of comedies were taken from the Odyssey. It is, however, a rather wordy work, hardly finished in twenty-four volumes. Thus, they call any speech which is a little more prolix than necessary ‘longer than the Iliad,’ as Aeschines, against Demosthenes wrote, ‘Ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν δίδωσιν ἀναγνῶναι ψήφισμα τῷ γραμματεῖ, μακρότερον μὲν τῆς Ἰλιάδος, κενώτερον δὲ τῶν λόγων οὓς εἴωθε λέγειν’ that is, ‘with these words he gave the decision to the scribe to be read, more long-winded than the Iliad, but more empty than the words with which he usually speaks.’

Eustathius inverts the saying thus: ‘Καὶ παροιμία μέντοι κακῶν Ἰλιάδα φησίν, αὕτη δὲ καλοῦ παντὸς Ἰλιάς,’ that is, ‘the proverb says an Iliad of troubles, but this is an Iliad of everything good.’ Synesius writes in a letter to his brother, Καὶ ὅλως κακῶν ἂν Ἰλιάς περιέστη τὴν πόλιν ἡμῶν, that is, ‘in sum, an Iliad of troubles has surrounded our city.’ Plutarch, in his Conjugal Precepts, writes, ‘Ὁ δὲ ἐκείνων Ἰλιάδα κακῶν Ἕλλησι καὶ βαρβάροις ἐποίησεν,’ that is, ‘but their marriage rites brought a whole Iliad of troubles upon the Greeks and the barbarians.’ For he is talking about the wedding of Paris and Helen, which was the cause of inestimable troubles. Cicero, too, uses this expression in his letters to Atticus: ‘such a great Iliad of troubles hangs over us.’

Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus, by Nikolay Ge

Ἰλιὰς κακῶν, id est Ilias malorum. De calamitatibus maximis simul et plurimis. Propterea quod in Iliade Homerica nullum mali genus non recensetur. Vnde ex hac docti putant tragoediarum argumenta fuisse sumpta, sicut ex Odyssea comoediarum. Est autem opus verbosum, viginti quatuor voluminibus vix absolutum. Vnde et quamuis orationem plus satis prolixam Iliade longiorem vocant, vt Aeschines aduersus Demosthenem. Ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν δίδωσιν ἀναγνῶναι ψήφισμα τῷ γραμματεῖ, μακρότερον μὲν τῆς Ἰλιάδος, κενώτερον δὲ τῶν λόγων οὓς εἴωθε λέγειν, id est His dictis decretum scribae legendum tradit, prolixius quidem lliade, vanius autem verbis iis quae dicere consueuit.

Eustathius inuertit adagionem ad hunc modum: Καὶ παροιμία μέντοι κακῶν Ἰλιάδα φησίν, αὕτη δὲ καλοῦ παντὸς Ἰλιάς, id est Iliadem malorum prouerbium ait, at haec omnium bonorum llias. Synesius in epistola quadam ad fratrem: Καὶ ὅλως κακῶν ἂν Ἰλιάς περιέστη τὴν πόλιν ἡμῶν, id est In summa,  malorum Ilias circunstetit vrbem nostram. Plutarchus in Praeceptis coniugalibus: Ὁ δὲ ἐκείνων Ἰλιάδα κακῶν Ἕλλησι καὶ βαρβάροις ἐποίησεν, id est At illorum nuptiae Iliada malorum Graecis ac barbaris inuexerunt. Loquitur enim de coniugio Paridis et Helenae, quod inaestimabilium malorum fuit causa. Vtitur et M. Tullius in Epistolis ad Atticum: Tanta malorum impendet Ilias.

A Proverb for a Ruined Life

Erasmus, Adagia 83

Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ, that is, “Dionysius in Corinth”. This is a proverbial saying, by which we mean that someone has been driven down from the highest dignity and power to a private and lowly fortune, as Dionysius the tyrant of Syracuse, expelled from power, taught the boys of Corinth letters and music for a fee. Cicero writes in the ninth book of his letters to Atticus: “To be sure, let it be with the nobles as you wish. But you know that famous Dionysius in Corinth.”

Quintilian writes in book 8 of his Institutio Oratoria: “There is an allegory among these examples, if they are not set down with the prescribed reason. For as Dionysius in Corinth, which all the Greeks use, so many similar expressions may be used.” When Cicero says, “You know that…” and Quintilian says, “All the Greeks…” each clearly means that it had been bandied about in common parlance.

Where the adage comes from is made clear by Plutarch in his book Περὶ τῆς ἀδολεσχίας, that is, On Futile Loquacity. As he is praising things said briefly and gravely, he relates that which was said by the Spartans to king Philip threatening war and raging about: Dionysius in Corinth. When the king wrote back to them, that he would overthrow the Spartans if he ever came to Laconia, they responded with just one word: Αἴκα, that is, If. Plato sailed three times to Sicily not without being spattered by an unpleasant rumor. From which Molon, who was unfavorably disposed to Plato, said that it was not wonderful that Dionysius should be in Corinth, but rather, that Plato should be in Sicily, because necessity compelled the king, while ambition was driving Plato.

Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ, id est Dionysius Corinthi. Proverbialis allegoria, qua significamus aliquem e summa dignitate atque imperio ad privatam humilemque redactum fortunam, quemadmodum Dionysius Syracusarum tyrannus expulsus imperio Corinthi pueros litteras ac musicam mercede docuit. Cicero epistolarum ad Atticum libro IX: De optimatibus sit sane ita ut vis. Sed nosti illud Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ Quintilianus Institutionum oratoriarum libro VIII: Est in exemplis allegoria, si non praedicta ratione ponantur. Nam, ut Dionysium Corinthi esse, quo Graeci omnes utuntur, ita plura similia dici possunt. Hic Cicero, cum ait: Nosti illud et Quintilianus: Quo Graeci omnes utuntur, nimirum uterque vulgo iactatum fuisse significat. Caeterum unde natum sit adagium, Plutarchus aperuit in libello, cui titulus Περὶ τῆς ἀδολεσχίας, id est De futili loquacitate. Laudans enim breviter et graviter dicta commemorat et illud a Lacedaemonibus responsum regi Philippo bellum minanti ferocientique: Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ. Quibus ubi rex rescripsisset, siquando in Laconiam duxisset exercitum, eversurum se Lacedaemonios, verbo duntaxat responderunt: Αἴκα, id est Si. Plato ter navigavit in Siciliam non sine sinistri rumoris aspergine. Unde Molon, qui inimicum in Platonem gerebat animum, dicebat non esse mirum, si Dionysius esset Corinthi, sed si Plato in Sicilia. Regem enim urgebat necessitas, Platonem solicitabat ambitio.

Road Trip from Rotterdam

Erasmus, Adagia 48 – You Miss the Road Entirely

Τῇ πάσῃ ὁδῷ ἀφαμαρτάνεσθαι, that is, You stray from the road entirely. This is a proverb directed against those who go wildly astray. Terence has the phrase tota erras via in his Eunuch. It it taken from the image of wayfarers, who are sometimes accustomed to wander from the road, yet nevertheless come to their destination, though with some loss. Occasionally they wander in such a way that they are turned far astray and direct themselves somewhere else. Thus, people who stray from the truth are said to go off the rails [exorbitare].

Aristotle writes in his Ethics: They hardly stray from the whole road. Similarly, he writes in the first book of his Naturalia that those philosophers, investigators of natural causes, went off the rails and wandered from the truth as if they had been driven from the road. This is taken from Aristophanes’ Wealth: :  Ἢ τῆς ὁδοῦ τὸ παράπαν ἡμαρτήκαμεν;, that is, Have we wandered off the road entirely? To be sure, even today they say that those people are on the road who take up something correctly, but we say that they are off the road if they approach a matter in some unsuitable fashion.

These are pretty much proverbial, and pretty frequently used metaphors among the learned: ‘To drive one from the road’; ‘to bring back to the road’; ‘to show one the road’; ‘to make the road’; ‘to lay out the road’; ‘to open the road’; ‘to close off the road’; ‘to block the road’. Cicero, in his first Philippic: If you think that, you are totally ignorant of the whole road to glory. Even this apophthegm is justly celebrated: They run well, but it’s off the road, Καλῶς μὲν τρέχουσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκτὸς τῆς ὁδοῦ.

Accidentally mistaken for a logic manual.


Τῇ πάσῃ ὁδῷ ἀφαμαρτάνεσθαι, id est Tota aberrare via. Prouerbium est in eos, qui vehementer aberrant. Terentius in Eunucho: Tota erras via. Translatum a viatoribus, qui nonnunquam ita solent aberrare a via, vt non sine dispendio quidem, tamen quo tendebant, perueniant; nonnunquam sic aberrant, vt longe diuertant et in diuersum tendant. Vnde et exorbitare dicuntur, qui a vero aberrant. Aristoteles in Ethicis: Haud tota aberrant via. Idem Naturalium libro i. scribit priscos illos philosophos, naturalium causarum scrutatores, exorbitasse ac velut e via depulsos prorsus aberrasse a vero. Sumptum est ex Aristophanis Pluto:  Ἢ τῆς ὁδοῦ τὸ παράπαν ἡμαρτήκαμεν;  id est Viane tota prorsus exerrauimus ? Quinetiam hodie dictitant eos in via esse, qui recto consilio quippiam instituunt, extra viam, qui qua non oportet ratione rem aggrediuntur. Sunt ferme prouerbiales et illae metaphorae doctis vsitatissimae: ‘Depellere a via’, ‘reducere in viam’, ‘monstrare viam’, ‘facere viam’, ‘sternere viam’, ‘aperire viam’, ‘praecludere viam’, ‘intercludere viam’. Cicero in prima Philippica: Quod si putas, totam ignoras viam gloriae. Celebre habetur et illud apophthegma, Bene currunt, sed extra viam: Καλῶς μὲν τρέχουσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκτὸς τῆς ὁδοῦ.

Tired Oxen, Heavy Feet

Erasmus, Adagia 47 – The Tired Ox Plants its Foot More Heavily

Saint Jerome took up this adage in the most marvelously elegant way, writing to St. Augustine and trying to prevent a young man from provoking an old man. It is because those who are as it were worn out by age are less readily excited to combat, but at the same time, they rage and press on with all the more gravity if ever their elderly virtue, being provoked,  flares up again. He says, ”Remember Dares and Entellus and the popular saying, that the tired ox plants its foot more firmly. It seems to have been taken from the old custom of threshing, when the wagons were drawn by the oxen over the bushels and the grains were struck out partly by the wheels outfitted for this purpose, and partly by the oxen’s feet. And that Mosaic law which the apostle Paul cited in his Epistle to Timothy prohibits the mouth of the threshing ox from being bound.

And so, the tired ox, since it fixes its foot more firmly, is more suited to threshing. But the same is not true with a horse and running. It can be taken as alluding to the fact that young people excel in agility of body, while old people are superior in strength in stationary battle, as Vergil declares in the fight of Dares and Entellus. This is not out of tune with what I find in the collections of the Greeks, Ἀτρέμας βοῦς, which is to say, ‘Slowly the ox…’, where one is to understand, ‘moves his foot.’ For he moves gradually, but presses more heavily.

Threshing grain, 1929 - Martiros Sarian
Threshing grain – Martiros Sarian


Diuus Hieronymus oppido quam elegans adagium vsurpauit ad beatum Aurelium Augustinum scribens eumque deterrere cupiens, ne iuuenis senem prouocet. Propterea quod tardius quidem ad pugnam excitantur hi, qui iam sunt aetate quasi fessi, verum iidem grauius saeuiunt atque vrgent, si quando senilis illa virtus iritata recaluit: Memento, inquit, Daretis et Entelli et vulgaris

prouerbii, quod bos lassus fortius figat pedem. A veteri triturae more ductum apparet, cum circumactis a bubus super manipulos plaustris grana excutiebantur, partim a rotis in hoc armatis, partim a taurorum vngulis. Et lex illa Mosaica, quam citat apostolus Paulus ad Timotheum, vetat, ne boui trituranti os obligetur. Itaque bos lassus, quoniam grauius figit pedem, magis est ad trituram idoneus. At non item equus ad cursum. Potest allusum videri et ad hoc, quod iuuenes corporis agilitate praepollent, senes in stataria pugna ac viribus superiores sunt, id quod et Vergilius in Daretis et Entelli congressu declarat. Nec admodum hinc abludit illud, quod in Graecorum collectaneis positum reperio, Ἀτρέμας βοῦς, id est Lente bos, subaudiendum ‘mouet pedem’. Nam sensim quidem mouet, at grauius premit.

Sailing in the Port

Erasmus, Adagia 46 – “To Sail in the Port”

Related to the proverb above is the allegory: Ἐν λιμένι πλεῖν, that is, to sail in the port, by which we mean that we are already out of danger. This is because those who are still sailing in the middle of the waves are sailing at the pleasure of the winds and tides. On the other hand, those who are already within the bounds of the port have no business with the waves and winds. Thus, in the most clichéd metaphor, we call the person in whose guardianship we rest ‘a port’. And those who bring themselves to a peaceful and safe mode of life are said to have taken themselves to the port. Terence writes in his Andria:

Now it happens at his peril, but I sail in the port.

Vergil puts it a little differently in the seventh book of the Aeneid:

Now rest has been imparted to me, and I am entirely in the safety of the port.

Jacob Phillip Hackert – Port of Livorno


Affinis est huic allegoria: Ἐν λιμένι πλεῖν, id est In portu nauigare, qua significamus nos iam a periculo abesse. Propterea quod qui mediis adhuc in fluctibus nauigant, hi ventorum et aestus arbitrio nauigant. Contra qui iam intra portum sunt, nihil habent negotii cum vndis ac ventis. Vnde vulgatissima metaphora hominem, in cuius praesidio conquiescimus, portum appellamus. Et qui sese ad tranquillam tutamque aliquam vitae rationem traducunt, in portum se recipere dicuntur. Terentius in Andria:


Nunc huius periculo fit: Ego in portu nauigo.


Maro paulo diuersius in Aeneidos libro septimo:


Nunc mihi parta quies, omnisque in limine portus.

In the Shallows Now

Erasmus, Adagia 45 – In Vado

The proverbial metaphor To be in the shallows is used to mean: in safety, and beyond the point of danger. It’s taken from either swimmers or sailors. Terence has:

The whole affair is in the shallows.

Plautus, in his Aulularia, writes:

This business seems to be pretty much in the shallows of safety now.

The shallows are the lowest part of the water. Anyone who stands in them has already escaped the danger of being submerged.

45 – IN VADO

Metaphora prouerbialis In vado esse pro eo, quod est: in tuto citraque discrimen, sumpta a natantibus aut nauigantibus. Terentius:

Omnis res in vado est.

Plautus in Aulularia:

Haec propemodum iam esse in vado salutis res videtur.

Vadum autem est aquae fundus; in quo quisquis constiterit, is iam effugit periculum ne mergatur

Nature vs. Nurture in Crops and Kids

Erasmus, Adagia 44:

Ἔτος φέρει, οὐχὶ ἄρουρα,

that is,

The year, not the field, brings forth the grain, a proverbial hemistich which is related in Theophrastus’ eighth book of On Plants:

Πρὸς αὔξησιν δὲ καὶ τροφὴν μέγιστα μὲν ἡ τοῦ ἀέρος κρᾶσις συμβάλλεται καὶ ὅλως ἡ τοῦ ἔτους κατάστασις. Εὐκαίρων γὰρ ὑδάτων καὶ εὐδιῶν καὶ χειμώνων γινομένων ἅπαντα εὔφορα καὶ πολύκαρπα, κἂν ἐν ἁλμώδεσι καὶ λεπτογείοις ᾖ. Διὸ καὶ παροιμιαζόμενοι λέγουσιν οὐκ ἄλλως, ὅτι ἔτος φέρει, οὐχὶ ἄρουρα. Μέγα δὲ καὶ αἱ χῶραι διαφέρουσιν

that is,

For growth and nourishment, much is affected by the temper of the sky and the condition of the year on the whole. For indeed if rains, calm periods, and winters occur at the right time, everything comes forth more happily and more abundantly, even in salty or less fertile fields. Thus, it is not unreasonable when they say proverbially that the year brings forth the crop, not the field. Yet it is of no small account what type of lands they are.

Here I thought it worth nothing that in the printed exemplars I have read οὐ καλῶς, that is, incorrectly, and this itself in my opinion is done οὐ καλῶς, partly because Theodorus of Gaza did not translate incorrectly in this passage, partly because it does not yet square with the real opinion of Theophrastus. For he concedes that it is true that the condition of the sky is of great importance (which is even attested by the proverb), and while not without cause is the entire account of the produce attributed to the weather, yet there is something decisive in the very nature of the soil. Therefore, I suspect that we should read οὐκ ἀλλῶς, that is, not by accident, in place of οὐ καλῶς. Yet I do indeed see that οὐ καλῶς can be defended. It is no wonder that Theophrastus disapproves of that common saying, which attributed everything of moment to the sky, though a great part depends upon the nature of the soil. Yet the previous reading mocks me, and I think that the learned will add their pen to my opinion.

He repeats the same adage in his third book On the Causes of Plants while relating the reason why wheat grows in both cold and hot regions. He hardly denies that the nature of the field contributes something to fertility, but says that the circumambient air has a much greater impact and the temper of the sky and the winds touches upon the matter, as well as what winds the field is exposed to. Plutarch notes in the seventh decade of his Symposiaca, second problem. Further, if I may extend the use of the proverb somewhat, it is not inappropriately accommodated to this thought, if someone says that education has a much greater impact upon virtue than birth does, and it clearly matters little from which ancestors you spring, but by far the most important thing is what methods were used to educate you and what habits you were instilled with. For we can see the sky as “leading up” [educating] what the earth brings forth. Euripides seems to allude to this adage in his Hecuba, whom he makes to speak thus:

Οὔκουν δεινόν, εἰ γῆ μὲν κακὴ

Τυχοῦσα καιροῦ θεόθεν εὔσταχυν φέρει,

Χρηστὴ δ᾽ ἁμαρτοῦσ᾽, ὧν χρεὼν αὐτὴν τυχεῖν,

Κακὸν δίδωσι καρπόν, ἀνθρώποις δ᾽ ἀεὶ

Ὁ μὲν πονηρὸς οὐδὲν ἄλλο πλὴν κακός,

Ὁ δ᾽ ἐσθλὸς ἐσθλός, οὐδὲ συμφορᾶς ὕπο

Φύσιν διέφθειρ᾽, ἀλλὰ χρηστός ἐστ᾽ ἀεί;

Ἆρ᾽ οἱ τεκόντες διαφέρουσιν ἢ τροφαί; |

Ἔχει γέ τοι τι καὶ τὸ θρεφθῆναι καλῶς

Δίδαξιν ἐσθλοῦ,

that is,

It is no miracle if, with the sky’s favor, bad earth bears good fruit. Good land which falls short of what was necessary will give forth bad fruit. But whoever of mortals is bad is unable to be anything but always bad, but the good always good. Does adverse Fortune not spoil the nature of man – does the good man always remain so? Do parents or the educators make the difference?  Indeed, being raised correctly has not a little of education in virtue.

Hecuba seems to attribute more to the mother than to education, and marvels on that account that the same thing does not happen in the character of mortals which occurs in the production of grain. Further, how much more education does than breeding is elegantly demonstrated by Lycurgus. Two dogs were brought before the multitude, of which one was born to a lowly mother but, on account of its education, pursued a beast with something like native ease, while the other dog, born to excellent parents, abandoned the hunt for the beast and stopped at the smell of bread and food because he had not been trained.

Ἔτος φέρει, οὐχὶ ἄρουρα,

id est

 Annus producit segetem, non aruum.

Hemistichion prouerbiale quod refertur a Theophrasto libro De plantis octauo:

Πρὸς αὔξησιν δὲ καὶ τροφὴν μέγιστα μὲν ἡ τοῦ ἀέρος κρᾶσις συμβάλλεται καὶ ὅλως ἡ τοῦ ἔτους κατάστασις. Εὐκαίρων γὰρ ὑδάτων καὶ εὐδιῶν καὶ χειμώνων γινομένων ἅπαντα εὔφορα καὶ πολύκαρπα, κἂν ἐν ἁλμώδεσι καὶ λεπτογείοις ᾖ. Διὸ καὶ παροιμιαζόμενοι λέγουσιν οὐκ ἄλλως, ὅτι ἔτος φέρει, οὐχὶ ἄρουρα. Μέγα δὲ καὶ αἱ χῶραι διαφέρουσιν,

id est

Ad incrementum autem alimentumque plurimum quidem coeli temperies et in totum anni conditio iuuat. Etenim si imbres, serenitates et hyemes accidant opportunae, cuncta felicius atque vberius proueniunt, etiam in salsuginosis ac parum pinguibus agris. Vnde non ab re est, quod prouerbio dicunt annum producere fructum, non aruum. Veruntamen non parui refert, quae sit regionum ratio.

Hic illud obiter admonendum duxi in impressis exemplaribus legi οὐ καλῶς, id est non recte, atque hoc ipsum, vt mea quidem est opinio, οὐ καλῶς, partim quod Theodorus Gaza verterit hoc loco non perperam, partim quod non perinde quadret ad Theophrasti sententiam. Nam is fatetur verum esse plurimum habere momenti coeli conditionem, id quod etiam prouerbio testatum sit, quo non sine causa tota prouentus ratio tribuitur aeri, tamen nonnihil etiam discriminis situm esse in ipso soli ingenio. Proinde legendum suspicor pro οὐ καλῶς, οὐκ ἀλλῶς, id est non temere. Quanquam equidem video et illud οὐ καλῶς vtcunque posse defendi. Nimirum vt Theophrastus improbet vulgare dictum, quod coelo momentum omne tribuit, cum et a soli ratione magna pars pendeat. Mihi tamen superior lectio magis arridet, atque huic meae sententiae doctos calculum suum addituros existimo.

Repetit idem adagium libro De causis plantarum tertio rationem reddens cur in frigidis pariter et calidis regionibus triticum proueniat, haud negans agri naturam nonnihil conferre ad fertilitatem, sed multo maximum momentum habere aerem circumfusum et cuiusmodi coeli ventorumque temperies contingat, tum ad quos flatus oppositus sit ager. Meminit et Plutarchus in Symposiacis decade septima, problemate secundo. Porro si libebit vsum prouerbii dilatare, non intempestiuiter accommodabitur in hanc sententiam, si quis dicat ad virtutem educationem longe plus adferre momenti quam genus, ac plane perparui referre, quibus maioribus sis natus, sed multo maxime quibus rationibus educatus quibusque moribus sis institutus. Nam coelum velut educat quod progignit terra. Ad hoc adagii videtur allusisse Euripides in Hecuba, quam ita loquentem facit:

 Οὔκουν δεινόν, εἰ γῆ μὲν κακὴ

Τυχοῦσα καιροῦ θεόθεν εὔσταχυν φέρει,

Χρηστὴ δ᾽ ἁμαρτοῦσ᾽, ὧν χρεὼν αὐτὴν τυχεῖν,

Κακὸν δίδωσι καρπόν, ἀνθρώποις• δ᾽ ἀεὶ

Ὁ μὲν πονηρὸς οὐδὲν ἄλλο πλὴν κακός,

Ὁ δ᾽ ἐσθλὸς ἐσθλός, οὐδὲ συμφορᾶς ὕπο

Φύσιν διέφθειρ᾽, ἀλλὰ χρηστός ἐστ᾽ ἀεί;

Ἆρ᾽ οἱ τεκόντες διαφέρουσιν ἢ τροφαί; |

Ἔχει γέ τοι τι καὶ τὸ θρεφθῆναι• καλῶς

Δίδαξιν ἐσθλοῦ,

id est

 Non nouum ergo, si mala

Fauente coelo terra fert segetem bonam,

Bona destituta, quibus opus fuerat, malum

Fructum aedit. At mortalium quisquis malus

Nil possit aliud esse quam semper malus,

Frugi vsque frugi. Sors nec ingenium viri

Aduersa vitiat, sed probus semper manet?

Vtrum id parentum an educantium magis?

Recte educari scilicet nonnullam habet

Doctrinam honesti.

Videtur Hecuba plusculum tribuere geniturae quam institutioni miraturque proinde non idem euenire in mortalium moribus, quod in prouentu segetum accidat. Porro quanto plus valeat institutio quam genus, Lycurgus eleganter ostendit prolatis apud multitudinem duobus canibus, quorum alter ingenerosa matre natus, propter institutionem gnauiter feram est insecutus, alter generosis ortus parentibus, quod institutus non esset, turpiter relicta fera ad odorem panis ac cibi restitit.