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Cani indicium sunt temporis, non sapientiae

Original post date: Thursday, March 08, 2007

In English: White hair is a sign of time, not of wisdom.

In other words, the white hairs of old age are a sign of the passage of time, not necessarily of the acquisition of wisdom! I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb about tempus, which said that time is the best judge of all things. In a general, even collective sense, the passage of time does perhaps contribute to the emergence of the truth - but the same does not necessarily hold true for the passage of time in an individual's life. Over time, a person does not necessarily become wiser, although their hair is likely to turn gray in any case. If a person is paralyzed by fear, blinded by prejudice, or just oppressed by the burdens of life, it is not necessarily the case that they will be able to accumulate and cultivate wisdom all the days of their lives.

Of course, that all makes it sound very serious - when today's proverb is really meant to be more humorous than anything else. We notice the advance of the grey hairs, one by one, and comfort ourselves with the idea that at least we are "older and wiser." Some people, women especially, do not find this comforting enough, and go out and get their hair dyed! I'm continually surprised at how many women I know who dye their hair. It's not something I would ever guess or assume about someone, yet time and again I've been surprised by a remark they make, which reveals that they do indeed dye their hair. It's not something I've ever been tempted to do, probably because I do kind of hope that my increasingly grey hair might, perhaps, persuade people to take me seriously after all! Ha ha.

There's an absolutely delightful Aesop's fable about a man with some grey hair and the terrible fate that befalls him at the hands of his two mistresses - that's right, his TWO mistresses, one older than he is and one younger. Here is how Phaedrus tells the story:
Aetatis mediae quendam mulier non rudis
tenebat, annos celans elegantia,
animosque eiusdem pulchra iuvenis ceperat.
ambae, videri dum volunt illi pares,
capillos homini legere coepere invicem.
qui se putaret fingi cura mulierum,
calvus repente factus est; nam funditus
canos puella, nigros anus evellerat.

Once upon a time there was a woman, no spring chicken but concealing her years with elegance, who had taken a middle-aged man as her lover, and a beautiful young woman had caught the same man's fancy. Both women, because they wanted to seem equal to their man, in turn began to pluck out his hair. The man thought that he was being spruced up by the women's attentions, but he unexpectedly went bald: for the young woman had completely plucked his white hairs, and the old woman had plucked the dark ones.
You can see some other versions of this fable, along with illustrations, at the various aesopica.net webpages.

So, hoping you are at peace with your gray hairs (however many of them there may be!), here is today's proverb read out loud:

249. Cani indicium sunt temporis, non sapientiae.

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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