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Cervus ad sagittam properat

Original post date: Sunday, February 25, 2007

In English: The stag rushes into the arrow.

I thought that after yesterday's proverb about the cowardly stag, this would be a good follow-up. The stag's strength is in the swiftness of his legs, so that if he is not brave enough to stand and fight, he can escape by running away as fast as he can. As this proverb points out, however, the stag can rush into his own doom, struck by the arrow in the midst of flight, rushing into his own death.

This saying can be found in the Adagia compiled by Polydorus Vergilius, a contemporary of Erasmus, the author of the most famous collection of Latin proverbs or "adagia." You can find an online edition of Polydorus's Adagia at the Herzog August Bibliothek, as well as a list of the proverb headings, listed alphabetically.

In his commentary on this particular saying, Polydorus notes that hunters would trick the deer by using the dogs to drive the stags right into an ambush where the hunters would be able to shoot the fleeing deer with arrows. Polydorus also notes a comparison to the Book of Proverbs in the Bible: Stultus eam sequitur quasi bos ductus ad victimam, sicut irretitur vinculo cervus, donec transfigat sagitta iecur eius; velut si avis festinet ad laqueum et nescit quod de periculo animae illius agitur, "The fool follows her like a cow led to sacrifice, like a deer caught in a snare, until the arrow pierces its liver; as if a bird rushed into the net and did not know that it was a matter of danger to its own life."

The first edition of Polydorus's Adagia was published in 1498, before the more famous book by Erasmus. Polydorus can thus make his claim as having published the first modern collection of Latin proverbs, but it was Erasmsus's book which set the standard for the proverb collections that were subsequently published in all the countries of Europe.

Polydorus was an Italian scholar, born in Urbino in 1470, who spent much of his career in England, where he died in 1555. Polydorus is most famous for his book De inventoribus rerum, "On the Inventors of Things," which was a best-seller during the Renaissance, although it is largely forgotten today. You can read more about Polydorus, including his involvement in the tumult of 16th-century English history, in this detailed wikipedia article.

So here is today's proverb read out loud:

1086. Cervus ad sagittam properat.

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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