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Frenis saepe repugnat equus

Original post date: Saturday, October 07, 2006

In English: The horse often fights against the reins.

I thought this proverb would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about how difficult it is to answer to someone's beck and call.

Today's proverb expresses a similar idea: the horse rebels against someone who tries to control him, but in this case it is the horse who eagerly wants to go forward, but who is being held back by the rider who pulls on the reins. The Latin word for the reins, frena, gives us the English word "refrain," in the sense of holding back from doing something, literally "being reined in."

There are two quite opposite ways in which you might interpret this image of the horse governed by the reins of his rider. The first approach is to see the horse as a wild thing, representing impulses and passions which need to be reined in by reason. The horse might fight back, but that is no reason to let him go off at full gallop! In this case, we identify with the rider, desperately trying to keep his horse from running away with him.

There is, however, a different way to regard the horse: although once able to run free, he has foolishly put himself under the domination of man, and is now condemned to servitude, governed by his rider's reins. There is an Aesop's fable about the horse got himself into this sad plight:
There was a horse who was the sole owner of a meadow. Then a stag came and wreaked havoc in the meadow. The horse wanted to get revenge, so he asked a certain man if he would help him carry out a vendetta against the stag. The man agreed, provided that the horse took the bit in his mouth so that the man could ride him, wielding his javelin. The horse consented, and the man climbed on his back but instead of getting his revenge, the horse simply became a slave to the man.
This is one of my favorite Aesop's fables, and it is definitely the one that first comes to my mind when I think about today's proverb. The horse is fighting against those reins and he would be so much happier if he could regain his former freedom.

Which image first comes to your mind when you think of a horse fighting against the reins of the rider? Do you identify with the horse, or with the rider?

Ponder that, as you listen to today's proverb read out loud:

1055. Frenis saepe repugnat equus.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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