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Lupi apud oves custodes

Original post date: Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In English: The wolves are watching over the sheep.

I thought that after yesterday's proverb about the wolf in sheep's clothing, I would post some more proverbs about wolves and sheep. Even if we no longer are a pastoral people, we can still appreciate the metaphorical relationship between the wolves and sheep. If the wolves have been put in charge of guarding the sheep, things are not looking good for the sheep!

You can find this proverbial notion of the wolves guarding the sheep in Plautus's Pseudolus, and it's also a motif found in Aesop's fables. For example, there is a fable about a man who foolishly decided to raise wolf cubs to guard his sheep, and to also prey on the flocks of his neighbors. I don't have a Latin version of this story (Perry 209; compare Perry 366), but here's a translation of a Greek version:
A shepherd found some wolf cubs and he brought them up, thinking that the fully grown wolves would both guard his flock and steal other people's sheep to bring back to his sheepfold. But when the cubs grew up, the first thing they did was to destroy the man's own flock. The man groaned and said, 'It serves me right! Why didn't I kill them when they were little?'
Here's a version of the same idea where a shepherd foolishly comes to trust a grown wolf (Perry 234):
A wolf followed along after a flock of sheep without doing them any harm. At first the shepherd kept his eye on the wolf as a potential enemy to the flock and never let him out of his sight. But as the wolf continued to accompany the shepherd and did not make any kind of attempt to raid the flock, the shepherd eventually began to regard the wolf more as a guardian of the flock than as a threat. Then, when the shepherd happened to have to go to town, he commended the sheep to the wolf in his absence. The wolf seized his chance and attacked the sheep, slaughtering most of the flock. When the shepherd came back and saw that his flock had been utterly destroyed, he said, 'It serves me right! How could I have ever trusted my sheep to a wolf?'
For a Latin fable, here's a delightful little story by the medieval preacher, Odo of Cheriton:
Contigit quod quidam paterfamilias habuit XII oves. Voluit peregrinari et commendavit oves suas Ysemgrino, id est lupo, compatri suo. Et compater iuravit quod bene conservaret eas. Profectus est statim. Ysemgrinus interim cogitavit de ovibus et uno die comedit de una, altera die de alia, ita quod vix tres invenit paterfamilias, quando reversus est. Quaerebat a compatre quid factum fuerit de aliis ovibus. Respondit Ysemgrinus quod mors ex temperalitate venit super eas. Et dixit paterfamilias: Da mihi pelles; et inventa sunt vestigia dentium lupi. Et ait paterfamilias: Reus es mortis; et fecit lupum suspendi.

It happened that a certain householder had 12 sheep. he wanted to go on a pilgrimage and he entrusted his sheep to Isengrimus, that is, to the wolf, his compadre. And his compadre swore that he would take care of the sheep. The man then departed straightaway. The wolf, meanwhile, kept thinking about those sheep and one day he ate one sheep, and the next day another, and so there were scarcely three sheep left when the man returned hom. He asked his compadre what had happened to the other sheep. The wolf answered that death had unexpectedly come upon the sheep. And the householder said: Give me their skins, and the marks of the wolf's teeth were found there. And the householder said: You are condemned to death; and he had the wolf hanged."
So, remember to watch out for those wolves when you are deciding what to do with your sheep while you are on vacation this summer!

Meanwhile, here is today's proverb read out loud:

406. Lupi apud oves custodes.

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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