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Papulas observatis alienas, obsiti plurimis ulceribus

Original post date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In English: You pay attention to other people's pimples, when you yourselves are covered with innumerable sores.

I wanted to include this great denunciation of hypocrisy as today's saying, since it resonates so nicely with the story about the fox and the frog which I included at LatinViaFables.com last week. In that story, a frog - even though it looks so sickly itself! - claimed to be a doctor that cured others. The fox alone of all the animals was able to rebuke the foolish frog with a variation on "physician, heal thyself."

Today's saying looks at the this same sort of hypocrisy from a different angle: there are people who are critical of some small fault in others (a pimple) while seeming to be oblivious to enormous faults of their own (innumerable ulcers). Probably the most famous example of this type of saying is the famous passage in the Gospels, as here in Matthew:
Quid autem vides festucam in oculo fratris tui et trabem in oculo tuo non vides? Aut quomodo dicis fratri tuo "sine; eiciam festucam de oculo tuo" et ecce trabis est in oculo tuo? Hypocrita! eice primum trabem de oculo tuo et tunc videbis eicere festucam de oculo fratris tui.

And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
This is a great Bible passage, but unfortunately "motes" and "beams" in the eye are a bit arcane. Today's saying works with images of pimples and ulcerating sores, Latin papulae and ulcera, are easier to visualize!

The saying comes from the philosopher Seneca, in his treatise De Beata Vita, On The Happy Life. In this passage, he is denouncing people who criticize the faults of the famous philosophers (their ethical pimples, so to speak), when they themselves are covered with sores: Vobis autem vacat aliena scrutari mala et sententias ferre de quoquam? "Quare hic philosophus laxius habitat? quare hic lautius cenat?" Papulas observatis alienas, obsiti plurimis ulceribus., "Do you have the spare time to spend scrutinizing other people's failings and expressing opinions about such stuff? 'Why does this philosopher have so lavish a house? why does this one dine so extravagantly?' You pay attention to other people's pimples, when you yourselves are covered with innumerable sores."

So, hoping you are afflicted with neither pimples nor with philosophical hypocrisy, here is today's proverb read out loud:

1241. Papulas observatis alienas, obsiti plurimis ulceribus.

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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