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Re: Blame it on Erasmus

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 14, 2005

In Reply to: Blame it on Erasmus posted by Bruce Kahl on July 14, 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.

Desiderius Erasmus (1469 Netherlands-1536 Switzerland) was the greatest humanist, probably the greatest scholar, produced in the Renaissance in its northern phase (that is, not in Italy). His "Adagia" are everything Bruce claims for them, and have been translated into English . Of course we mustn't forget other gatherers of proverbs, like the almost too-prolific Seneca. I'm sure one could make a substantial list. And there is the fact that the British Isles have been subjected over and over to invasions and other immigrations of people who had learned proverbs in their "old" country and were willing to pass them on.
I have to pause, however, at the notion of the "collective unconscious." Many things can be passed along in the genes (well, maybe not so many categorically DIFFERENT things), but not, I think, proverbs. Sure, I know, ways of looking at the world, and even the tendency to use figurative speech (more pronounced in males than in females). Well, call me stuffy and old-fashioned, or just plain skeptical. SS