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Asinus gestat mysteria

Original post date: Thursday, August 16, 2007

In English: The donkey is carrying divine mysteries.

After yesterday's proverb about the wool of the donkey, I could not resist doing another donkey proverb, and there are many to choose from in Latin!

This particular proverb is based on a famous story which you can find in various authors, including Alciato. So, here is the story as told by Alciato, and you can also see the illustration at this Alciato website:
Isidis effigiem tardus gestabat asellus,
Pando verenda dorso habens mysteria.
Obvius ergo Deam quisquis reverenter adorat,
Piasque genibus concipit flexis preces.
Ast asinus tantum praestari credit honorem
Sibi, et intumescit, admodum superbiens:
Donec eum flagris compescens, dixit agaso,
Non es Deus tu, aselle, sed Deum vehis.


Poetic word order is often a bit hard to follow, so here is the story written out with a more simple word order: Asellus tardus gestabat Isidis effigiem habens pando dorso verenda mysteria. Obvius ergo quisquis reverenter adorat Deam, et genibus flexis concipit pias preces. Ast asinus tantum credit sibi honorem praestari, et intumescit, admodum superbiens: donec agaso, compescens eum flagris, dixit: Non es Deus tu, aselle, sed Deum vehis.

The slow donkey was carrying an image of Isis, bearing on his wide back the venerable divine mysteries. He ran into someone who reverently worhsipped the Goddess, falling to his knees and starting his pious prayers. But the donkey only thought that the man was making obeisance to him, and so the donkey swelled with pride, inordinately satisfied with himself until his driver, checking him by means of the whip, said: You are no god yourself, donkey! You are just the vehicle.
What a great little story! It reminds me a bit of a discussion that I had with someone about how I refer to the President as "Bush" (and, more often than not, "that idiot Bush"), instead of referring to him as "President Bush," simply out of respect for the office. Well, to me, a donkey is a donkey - even if he does bear the office of the president. That's one way I might apply this very ancient saying in our more secular world.

So, keeping an eye out for the donkeys in our midst, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1043. Asinus gestat mysteria.

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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