Non curat numerum lupus
Original post date: Thursday, December 07, 2006
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 7: Angeli Canunt Praecones, a Latin translation of the English carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."
In English: The wolf doesn't worry about the number.
Since I had written about dogs in yesterday's post (and also the day before), I thought I would do a proverb about the wolf today. There are many Latin proverbs about wolves, and in particular about wolves, sheep and shepherds, which is the clue you need to understand the meaning of today's proverb. Just what number is it that the wolf ignores? It is the number of the sheep!
In other words, the shepherd can keep track of his sheep, counting them and recounting them, but that is not going to stop the wolf from taking what he can. Are there supposed to be fifty sheep in your flock? The wolf doesn't care. He takes one... and all of a sudden you have just forty-nine.
Metaphorically speaking, this refers to any disaster that upsets your best laid plans. The weather doesn't care if you have invited five hundred guests to an outdoor wedding; it's going to rain anyway. The traffic light doesn't care if you are running late, desperately late, to an important job interview. Although it's not quite the same idea, it's something like the English saying: "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (from a poem by Robert Burns).
The Latin proverb was clearly in common usage, as it is an implied text in one of Vergil's Eclogues, where a shepherd is singing the praises of bright light and a warm fire on a cold night:
Hic focus et taedae pingues, hic plurimus ignisIn other words, we heed the North Wind not at all, just as the wolf does not heed the number of the sheep!
semper, et adsidua postes fuligine nigri.
hic tantum Boreae curamus frigora quantum
aut numerum lupus aut torrentia flumina ripas.
Here is the hearth and the well-fueled torches, here there's always an abundant fire, and the doorposts are black with constant soot. Here we heed the North Wind's blasts just as much as the wolf heeds the number or the raging rivers heed their banks.
As often with proverbs, this one circulates in a fuller form which is less enigmatic: Lupus non curat numerum ovium, "The wolf does not care about the number of the sheep." In the
Here, then, are both proverbs read out loud:
1058. Non curat numerum lupus.
1171. Lupus non curat numerum ovium.
The numbers here are the numbers for these proverbs in
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