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In pace leones, in proelio cervi

Original post date: Saturday, February 24, 2007

In English: In peace, they are lions; in battle, deer.

Yesterday's proverb created a similar opposition: "In the palace, lions; in the camp, rabbits." Today's proverb is based on a similar opposition, between the proverbially courageous lions, and the proverbially cowardly deer.

You can see the deer's cowardice expressed in this very nice Aesop's fable about the dialogue between the young fawn and the older deer. Here is the story as told in a Latin textbook for schoolboys, circa 1857:
Hinnuleus quondam patrem suum his verbis interrogasse dicitur: Mi pater, cum multo sis maior canibus et tam ardua cornua habeas, quibus a te vim propulsare possis, qui fit, ut canes tantopere metuas? Ibi cervus ridens, Mi nate, inquit, vera memoras; mihi tamen, nescio quo pacto, semper accidit, ut, audita canum voce, in fugam statim convertar. Haec fabula docet, natura formidulosos nullis rationibus fortes reddi posse.

Once upon a time a fawn is said to have questioned his father with these words: Father, since you are so much bigger than the hounds, and you have such lofty horns with which you could drive the pack away from you, how does it happen that you are so afraid of the dogs? Then the stag laughed and said, "My child, you are telling the truth; but I don't know for what reason, it always happens to me that as soon as I hear the voice of the hounds, I immediately turn and flee. This fable shows that nature can render even the strong into little cowards for no reason at all.
The proverbial cowardice of the deer goes all the way back to the beginnings of the European literary tradition, when Homer's Achilles denounces Agamemnon for being a "drunken sot, dog-eyed, deer-timid coward!" (in Ian Johnston's translation).

So, rather than the sounds of hunting hounds baying, here is something less terrifying to hear: today's proverb read out loud:

393. In pace leones, in proelio cervi.

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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