Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Aesop’

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Posted by Admin on July 15, 2011

Most people you meet who are nice are genuinely nice.  But every once in a while you meet someone who’s described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  In other words, they seem nice and charming but looks can be deceiving …. the person is actually very dangerous.

On July 6, 2009 the Bismark Tribune newspaper ran a Letter to the Editor sent in by Ralph Muecke Gladstone.  His opening comments were:

As you should know by now, the U.S. House passed HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.  Better known as the cap and trade bill.  This disastrous and dangerous bill is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It supposedly addresses the problem of man-made global warming, which is one of the biggest hoaxes ever conceived.

In Chapter 17 entitled, “The Deadly Peril of Jane Clayton” in Edgar Rice Burrough’s book “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar” published in 1918, the following passage is found:

Shouldering his way through the crowd he approached the doorway, and had almost reached it when one of the Arabs laid a hand upon his shoulder, crying: “Who is this?” at the same time snatching back the hood from the ape-man’s face.

Tarzan of the Apes in all his savage life had never been accustomed to pause in argument with an antagonist. The primitive instinct of self-preservation acknowledges many arts and wiles; but argument is not one of them, nor did he now waste precious time in an attempt to convince the raiders that he was not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Instead he had his unmasker by the throat ere the man’s words had scarce quitted his lips, and hurling him from side to side brushed away those who would have swarmed upon him.

Center Church in New Haven, Connecticut was founded in 1639 by English Puritans led by Reverend John Davenport, leading the church from April 25, 1638 when it was founded, up until 1668.  Their church was seen as a culture-shaping force as their communities were known as “Bible Commonwealths.”  Records show that revivalist James Davenport, grandson of the founding paster of the Church, accused the Church’s fourth pastor, Reverend Joseph Noyes (pastor from 1716 through to 1758) of being:

… a hypocrite, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a devil incarnate …

Italian poet, Giovanni Maria Verdizotti (1525 – 1600) published his book of fables entitled “Cento favole maroli” in 1570.  One of the stories included was one about a wolf dressed as a shepherd who, upon trying to call the sheep to him, wakes the real shepherd and his dogs who, of course, catch the wolf as he tries to run away now that he has been discovered as being fake as well as dangerous.

The proverb appears in the book “Hecatomythium” by Italian professor, writer and librarian, Laurentius Abstemius (1431 – 1503) and published in 1495.  It should be noted that Laurentius Abstemius was also known by the name of Lorenzo Bevilaqua.  This book is a collection of 100 fables written in Latin, many of which were translated from Greek.  The story of a wolf in sheep’s clothing published in this book is the version that credits Aesop as the author.  The story about the wolf begins with:

A wolf, dressed in a sheep’s skin, blended himself in with the flock of sheep and every day killed one of the sheep.

A second book by Abstemius contained an additional 97 fables and was entitled, “Hecatomythium Secundum” published in 1499. 

Some attribute the saying to Aesop’s “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” fable however there is no record of this fable attributed to Aesop as being written by Aesop prior to the 12th century, casting doubt as to whether it is, indeed, a true Aesop’s fable.  There is, however, a similar story attributed to Greek rhetorician Nikephoros Basilakis in his work “Progymnasmata.”

However, in the end, the spirit of the expression in its original form is found in the Bible in Matthew 7, verses 14 and 15.

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

It was such a well-used and referenced comment that a Latin proverb came into vogue after Jesus’ time, pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina (under a sheep’s skin often hides a wolfish mind).

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Religious References, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Any Excuse Will Serve A Tyrant

Posted by Admin on February 18, 2011

On September 12, 2010, Tisaranee Gunasekara, journalist for the Asian Tribune — published in Bangkok by World Institute For Asian Studies — wrote an article entitled, “Our Rajapakse Future.” The article dealt with police punishing family members of alleged wrongdoers just prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment in Sri Lanka. The quote highlighted for the article was:

Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

It’s a phrase that’s not oftentimes used, however, when it is used, it’s meaning is straightforward and clear. An interesting entry was published on February 21, 1980 in the “Wallop Reports to Wyoming” column of the Sundance Times, the official newspaper for Crook County, City of Sundance and the U.S. Land Office. It began with:

During childhood we are told many stories designed to teach a lesson about life. Some learn their lesson the first time; others must be reminded.

The column ended thusly:

There is another fable whose moral is: Any excuse will serve a tyrant. It is time we quit giving the Russians excuses and began teaching them the lesson they so bitterly deserve. But to do that we must show national resolve. We can no longer hesitate or equivocate.

And even the Los Angeles Times, back on March 15, 1967, used the phrase in an article about communist China:

Maxims even those that are rewritten, as most of Mao’s are, can be useful. The Red Chinese should heed one written by Aesop which says: Any excuse will serve a tyrant.  It could prepare them for anything the little red book might say.

Although rarely quoted, this forthright, candid saying does indeed come from Aesop’s fable, The Wolf and The Lamb.

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Posted by Admin on February 17, 2011

Whether you say it in French as “l’union fait la force” or in English as “united we stand, divided we fall” or any other language, the phrase means that people who join together as a group are much harder to defeat than if they were fighting the battle separately.

It’s been the official motto of Kentucky since 1942, the words inscribed in the official state seal of Missouri, and for gamers, it’s the 3rd mission in a first person tactical military game from British game developer Codemasters “Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.”

E Pluribus Unum” is the motto the US government adopted for its motto for its official seal back in 1776. Translated from Latin, the phrase means “one out of many.” Interestingly enough, that motto certainly upholds the dictum “united we stand, divided we fall” which was particularly fitting for what was then a country with many divisions.

John Dickinson liked the phrase so much that he used it in his revolutionary war song “The Liberty Song.” In the song, first published in the Boston Gazette in 18 July 1768, he wrote:

Then join in hand, brave Americans all—
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!

The phrase, however, originated with Aesop.  It is found directly in his fable, “The Four Oxen and the Lion” and indirectly in his fable, “The Bundle of Sticks.”

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Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2011

Political strategist, Ralph Reed, was quoted in the “Hotline” column of  The National Journal on July 27, 1999 as having said:

There is a sense in presidential politics that familiarity breeds contempt. There is a time and a place to pet the pigs and kiss the babies, but that comes a little bit later.

The phrase, familiarity breeds contempt, has been used quite a bit over the years and even 100 years ago, the phrase was part of every day language as seen in the article “Advice On How To Keep A Servant” written by E.T. Stedman and published in the New York Times on August 6, 1901.

There should be sympathy and politeness on both sides, yet, while always remembering the Golden Rule, the mistress should also remember that ” familiarity breeds contempt.” We cannot do without a kitchen stove, still it is not to be placed with the piano In the parlor.

From November 1867 through to June 1868, Anthony Trollope — one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era — wrote “He Knew He Was Right” and saw it published in 1869.  In this book, he wrote:

Perhaps, if I heard Tennyson talking every day, I shouldn’t read Tennyson. Familiarity does breed contempt.

However, more than 200 years before Anthony Trollope, Thomas Fuller wrote and published “Comment On Ruth.” Even though it was published in 1654, it was, in fact, one of Thomas Fuller‘s earliest compositions and was delivered by Thomas Fuller at St. Benet’s in Cambridge as far bas as 1630.  In printed form, readers find the following:

With base and sordid natures familiarity breeds contempt.

Richard Taverner wrote the book “Garden of Wisdom” published in 1539 and in this book he wrote:

Hys specyall frendes counsailled him to beware, least his ouermuche familiaritie myght breade him contempte.

However, Chaucer wrote how familiarity breeds contempt in his Tale of Melibee published in 1386.  The word “hoomlynesse” means familiarity and the word “dispreisynge” means contempt.  It is easy, therefore, to see that the following is an early version of the phrase:

Men seyn that ‘over-greet hoomlynesse engendreth dispreisynge’.

However, nearly 400 years before Chaucer, in Scala Paradisi, it is St. Augustine who is credited for having said:

Vulgare proverbium est, quod nimia familiaritas parit contemptum.

And before, St. Augustine, it was Roman philosopher, rhetorician and satirist Lucius Apuleis (124 – 170 A.D.) who is credited for having written:

Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.

Ultimately, however, the moral “familiarity breeds contempt” is from Aesop (620 – 564 BC) and his fable, The Fox and the Lion.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Don’t Count Your Chickens Until Your Eggs Are Hatched

Posted by Admin on January 19, 2011

The saying has been around for years and everyone from your great-grandmother to your kindergarten teacher and all kinds of people in between.  On September 30, 1911 the Chicago Tribune reported on the Cubs and Giants game in the pennant struggle.  The news article read in part:

Don’t count your chickens until they are hatched is an old saying, and it holds good in baseball.

Poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680) used this advice in his poem, Hudibras, written in 1664:

To swallow gudgeons ere they’re catch’d,
And count their chickens ere they’re hatched.

English poet, Thomas Howell published a book entitled The Arbor of Amitie, wherein is comprised pleasant Poems and pretie Poesies, set foorth by Thomas Howell, Gentleman in 1568.  Two years later in 1570, in his new book,  New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets he wrote a poem that had this couplet:

Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,
Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.

However it was Aesop’s fable from 570 B.C. entitled “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” 

A milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk.

“I’ll buy some fowls from the farmer next door,” said she, “and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to others. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs, I’ll buy a new dress for myself.  This way, when I go to market, all the young men will come up and speak to me!  Other girls will be jealous but I won’t care.  I will just look at them and toss my head like this.”

And with those words, the milkmaid tossed her head back.  The pail fell off her head and all the milk was spilled on the ground. She had no choice but to go home and tell her mother what had happened to the milk.

“Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

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A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush

Posted by Admin on January 18, 2011

Back in 2008, it was reported in The Telegraph newspaper in the UK that the reason that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush had been uncovered by scientists. 

Human nature is such that supposedly individuals overvalue what he or she has and undervalue what he or she doesn’t have.  A sense of entitlement actually more to do with the fear of losing a desired possession than wanting it in the first place.

The earliest English version of the proverb is from the Christian Bible translated into English by William Tyndale in 1528 and before Tyndale, by John Wycliffe in 1382.  

However, the phrase  reaches back to 100 A.D. when Ancient Greek author Plutarch wrote Of Garrulity, where he states:

He is a fool who lets slip a bird in the hand for a bird in the bush.

However, back in 600 BC, Greek storyteller Aesop wrote a fable entitled “The Hawk and the Nightingale.”  The story went like this:

A Nightingale, perched on an oak, was spotted by a Hawk, who swooped down and snatched him.

The Nightingale begged the Hawk to let him go, insisting he wasn’t big enough to satisfy the hunger of a Hawk, who ought to pursue bigger birds.

The Hawk said, “I’d be crazy to release a bird I’ve already caught in favor of birds I don’t even yet see.”

The moral of this story is:  “A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush.”

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Sour Grapes

Posted by Admin on September 16, 2010

The phrase “sour grapes” hints at a rich history with many twists and turns along the way and the phrase surely doesn’t disappoint to this end.  In fact, it has been used often and prolifically and always to good effect.

In 1890, the New York Times published an article on April 23rd with a headline that read:  “Any Sour Grapes Here?  Bulkeley Is Not Seeking A Renomination For Governor.”  Nearly a decade before that, in 1882, his book “The Tyne And Its Tributaries,” William James Palmer wrote:

The ambition to become connected with the house of Stuart, ascribed to the grandfather, had realization in the marriage of his son to Mary Tudor, youngest natural daughter of Charles II.  But the sour grapes were left for the son of the marriage, and the beheading on Tower Hill, February 24, 1716, seems to have followed in almost natural sequence.

John Wycliffe (1324 – 1384), an Oxford-educated English theologian, lay preacher, reformist and university teacher was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century.  In 1371, the popularity of his doctrines were seenseen in the oft-repeated complaints of Archbishop Arundel, who wrote that “Oxford was a vine that brought forth wild and sour grapes, which, being eaten by the fathers, the teeth of the children were set on edge; so that the whole Province of Canterbury was tainted with novel and damnable Lollardism, to the intolerable and notorious scandal of the University.”

Rabbi Raschi,  born at Troyes in 1040, is credited with a story about a fox and a wolf who visit a Jewish house to prepare food for the Sabbath.   Upon arriving at the house, the wolf is chased away while the fox is welcomed.  When the wolf asks the fox for an explanation, the fox replies: 

This has happened not on thy account but on account of thy father who helped prepare the food and then swallowed every fat bit.  The fathers eat sour grapes and the chidlren’s teeth are set on edge.

The fable owes some of its story line to the Greek philosopher, Aesop.  In the Aesop fable “The Fox and the Grapes” the fox sees a cluster of ripe grapes hanging from the vine.  Despite her most ardent efforts, she cannot reach them and rather than admit defeat she proclaims, “The grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.”

And yes, the phrase even appears in the Old Testament of the Bible in Jeremiah 31: 28-33:

And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the LORD.

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

After All Is Said And Done

Posted by Admin on July 20, 2010

George William (“A. E.”) Russell wrote and published a poem in 1913, entitled Epilogue wherein the phrase “after all is said and done” was contained in the first stanza of the poem.

Well, when all is said and done
Best within my narrow way
May some angel of the sun
Muse memorial o’er my clay.

In the William and Mary Quarterly magazine of 1916, there is a reference to James Rumsey in the book Letters of James Rumsey, Inventor of the Steamboat having used the phrase in 1792.  It was also recorded in 1560 according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms but there was no mention of who published this phrase at that time.

But the phrase is far older than that, going back to Aesop (ca. 620 – 564 BC), the pre-eminent teller of fables.  It’s the moral of his fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” the moral being:

After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

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