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Stulti est compedes, licet aureas, amare

Original post date: Thursday, September 13, 2007

In English: It is for a fool to love fetters, even though they be golden.

After the previous proverb about the golden reins and the horse, I thought this would be a good follow-up. The idea here, of course, is that the rich man is really foolish, having given up all kinds of freedom in exchange for that golden prosperity - a golden prosperity that for all its opulence is less valuable than an unfettered life of freedom. As someone who walked away from a much more lucrative and "respectable" line of work some years ago (resigning my tenure-track research job in order to teach courses of my own choosing), I have to say that this is a proverb which really resonates with me personally!

Under the heading compedes aureae, "golden shackles," in Erasmus's Adagia, this saying made its way into the emblematic tradition. You can see it illustrated here online in Whitney's English emblems, and I thought I would transcribe here a bit of the poem that goes with it in English:

It better is (wee say) a cotage poore to houlde,
Then for to lye in prison stronge, with fetters made of goulde.
Which shewes, that bondage is the prison of the minde:
And libertie the happie life, that is to man assign'de,
And thoughe that some preferre their bondage, for their gaines:
And richely are adorn'd in silkes, and preste with massie chaines.

You can also find the motif in Alciato's emblems, with am image of the poor courtier, his feet bound in stocks, with this little verse: Vana Palatinos quos educat aula clientes, / Dicitur auratis nectere compedibus., "It is said that the false court binds with gilded fetters those high officials whom it trains as vassals."

I like Whitney's little English poem better, I think, but Alciato's metaphor of the royal court and its constraints could definitely be adapted to the modern workplace or academic department!

So, hoping you have had a happily unshackled day, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1247. Stulti est compedes, licet aureas, amare.

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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