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Leonina societas periculorum plena

Original post date: Thursday, February 22, 2007

In English: Alliance with a lion is full of dangers.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, which was a moral from an Aesop's fable about the "lion's share." Today's fable puts the lion right into the saying itself: if you make an alliance with a lion, you are running a terrible risk. You can decide who the metaphorical lions might be in your life whom you have to watch out for! (I have tangled with some lions in my time, that's for sure!)

Yesterday I posted the Aesop's fable by Phaedrus about how the lion went hunting with a sheep, goat, and a cow, and ended up cheating his "partners" out of their spoils by taking it all for himself - the proverbial lion's share. For those animals, alliance with the lion was a big mistake. Note that the emphasis here is not at all on how bad the lion is. Of course the lion is bad - that's how lions are! The point of the story is that if you are a sheep, you should not make alliances with lions. Sheep can be smarter than that, and they need to use their smarts since they don't have teeth and claws to match the lion. So if you are a sheep, watch out for the lions... or you will regret it.

To show just how dangerous things can get with your partner the lion, I thought I'd share today a different version of the fable about the lion's share, this time about a lion, a fox and a wolf who go hunting together. This is another popular Aesop's fable, found in both the Latin and Greek fable traditions. Here is a wonderful version of that story by Odo of Cheriton:
Leo, Lupus et Vulpes condixerunt sibi ad invicem quod venarentur. Vulpes cepit anserem, Lupus arietem pinguem, Leo bovem macilentum. Debuerunt prandere. Dixit Leo Lupo quod praedam partiretur. Dixit Lupus: Vnusquisque habet quod cepit, Leo suum bovem, ego arietem, Vulpes anserem. Leo iratus erexit palmam, et cum unguibus extraxit totum corium de capite Lupi. Et dixit Leo Vulpi quod divideret. Et ait Vulpes: Domine, vos comedatis de pingui ariete, quantum volueritis, quod teneras habet carnes, et postea de ansere, quantum volueritis, tandem de bove temperate quod duras habet carnes, et quod remanserit detis nobis qui homines vestri sumus. Ait Leo: Certe bene dicis. Quis te docuit ita bene partiri? Et ait Vulpes: Domine, ille rubens capellus socii mei, demonstrato capite excoriato.

The lion, the wolf, and the fox agreed to go hunting together. The fox caught a goose, the wolf caught a fat ram, and the lion caught a scrawny cow. Then it was time to eat. The lion told the wolf to divide their catch. The wolf said, "Let each one take what he has caught: the lion will take the cow, I'll take the ram, and the fox will take the goose." The lion was enraged and, raising his paw, he used his claws to strip the wolf's head of all its fur and skin. The lion then ordered the fox to divide the spoils. The fox said, "My lord, you should eat as much of the fat ram as you want, since its meat is tender, then you should eat as much of the goose as you want, but you should eat the cow's flesh only in moderation, since it is so tough. Whatever is left over you can give to us, your servants." "Well done," said the lion. "Who taught you how to do such a good job of dividing the spoils?" The fox said, "My lord, I have learned from my associate's red cap: his excoriated skull provides a very vivid lesson."
If you are interested in reading some more Latin or Greek versions of this story, you can do that at the website.

So, still keeping an eye out for those lions, here is today's proverb read out loud:

314. Leonina societas periculorum plena.

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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