phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Blame it on Erasmus

Posted by Bruce Kahl on July 14, 2005

In Reply to: Re: Common root of proverbs? posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 13, 2005

: : A high percentage of English proverbs are quite similar or even literally the same as the Spanish, French or Italian ones. Does anyone know the common root of these proverbs, and how they spread over these countries?

: A high percentage of English proverbs are quite similar or even literally the same as the Spanish, French or Italian ones. Does anyone know the common root of these proverbs, and how they spread over these countries?

: Well, I think one reason is that the life-experiences of the peasant cultures of Western Europe had a general family resemblance, in terms of religion, flora & fauna, farming techniques, and family and social organisation, so it's natural that proverbs in the various European languages should also resemble each other in the way that (say) Tuareg and Inca proverbs might not. For example, evidently both the French and British peasantry knew the same market-trader's trick of selling a man a piglet, pretending to put it in a bag to carry home and substituting a cat, which has given rise to the English saying "buy a pig in a poke" and the French "acheter chat en poche".

: It's also true that much popular literature and many stories were common to Western Europe from early in the Middle Ages - e.g. Aesop's fables, and collections of saints' lives such as the "Golden Legend". (VSD)

The spread of ancient Greek proverbs in various European countries is owed to the well-known Dutch humanist Erasmus (1467-1536).

In his work "Adagiorum Collectanea", which was written in late Latin and was published in 1500, Erasmus translated thousands of Greek and Roman proverbs.

The ancient Greek proverb Μία χελιδών έαρ ου ποιεί, for instance, rendered in Latin is Una hirundo non efficit ver; in Italian, Una rondine non fa primavera; in French, Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps; in Spanish, Una golondrina no hace verano; in German, Eine Schwalbe macht keinen Sommer; in English, One swallow does not make a summer.

I do remember studying the concept of the "collective unconscious"--that there is a universality of many themes, patterns, stories and images that is common to all humans.

The roots of our culture lie deep.