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Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet

Original post date: Tuesday, October 24, 2006

In English: A learned person always has riches within himself.

I was prompted to post this proverb as a follow-up to yesterday's proverb about rich King Croesus and his encounter with the wise man, Solon, one of the "seven sages" of ancient Greece.

Today's proverb is associated with Simonides, another legendary wise man of ancient Greece. The proverb itself is a line from a poem by Phaedrus, a Roman poet, who told this story about Simonides:
A learned man always has rich inner resources. Simonides, that extraordinary author of lyric poems, found an excellent remedy for his straitened circumstances by travelling around the most famous cities of the Asia, singing the praises of victorious athletes in exchange for a fee. When he had grown wealthy in this venture, he was ready to take a sea voyage and go back to his native land (he was born, so they say, on the island of Ceos). He boarded a ship, but a terrible storm (plus the sheer age of the ship) caused it to sink in the middle of the sea. Some of the passengers grabbed their money belts, while others held onto their valuables and any possible means of subsistence. A passenger who was more curious than the rest asked the poet, 'Simonides, why aren't you taking along any of your own stuff?' He replied, 'All that is mine is right here with me.' It turned out that only a few were able to swim ashore, while the majority drowned, weighed down by what they were carrying. Then bandits arrived and took from the survivors whatever they had brought ashore, stripping them naked. As it happened, the ancient city of Clazomenae was not far off, which is where the shipwrecked people then turned. In this city there lived a man inclined to literary pursuits who had often read Simonides's compositions and who was his great admirer from afar. He recognized Simonides simply from his manner of speaking and eagerly invited him to his house, regaling him with clothes and money and servants. Meanwhile, the rest of the survivors carried around placards, begging for food. When Simonides happened to run into them, he took one look and exclaimed, 'Just as I said: all that is mine is right here with me, but everything that you took with you has now vanished.'
The translation of Phaedrus given here is from my translation of Aesop's fables, and you can read Phaedrus's Latin version online, along with an English translation in verse by Christopher Smart.

This is a story that resonates with me very powerfully. If I suddenly found myself, like Simonides, bereft of my home and my resources, stripped naked of worldly wealth, I would still have some skills and talents, thanks to my education, that would stand me in good stead. Simonides was a skilled poet, and after the disastrous shipwreck he was able to make his livelihood with his artistic skills. I'm no poet, but I am a competent writer, I speak several foreign languages, and I have decent technology skills. Those are all things that I learned, things that make me "homo doctus," like Simonides. These are riches I get to keep with me, in se, even if my ship should founder on the rocks of life! Admittedly, I have not managed to accumulate a lot of material wealth in my life - but as the story also points out, that kind of wealth will pull you down in a disaster, so that you sink right to the bottom: "the majority drowned, weighed down by what they were carrying."

So here's to the portability of learning and wealth that does not weigh you down! Give yourself a pat on the back for being learned as you listen to today's proverb read out loud:

1517. Homo doctus in se divitias semper habet.

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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