Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Moving on to adages from the 16th century

You get what you pay for.
Gabriel Biel D. 1495


I guess that this is a corollary to Publius Syrus’ “Everything is worth what someone will pay for it.” (See also my blog: Pundits) But the change in perspective really does make a difference. Publius sort of justifies collectors’ mania, while Biel admonishes us to stay away from junk (that’s my take on it).

No one is so old that he may not live another year, nor so young that he cannot die today.
Fernando de Rojas 1465 - 1538


Another corollary; Publius again, “Everyday should be passed as if it were to be our last.” But again there’s a spin to it. In a way it’s a bit more hopeful and fateful at the same time. And it doesn’t tell you how to live your days, it just reminds that you’re making choices whether you know it or not. This next one’s a surprise:

He remains a fool his whole life long who loves not women, wine, and song.
Martin Luther 1483 - 1546


Again, I know there are lots more he said while confronting the hypocrisy of the Church that I should know about. I’m sure there are some real zingers in the 49 Theses, but as far as quotes go it’s a good eyebrow raiser. Besides, I’ve had my say about Religion.

Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.”
Francois Rabelais 1494 - 1553

Is this a precursor to the backlash to the renaissance/scientific/industrial revolution? I wonder when Mr. Rabelais said this? I need to get out my timeline of events, especially those scientific discoveries that so shook up liberal arts and religion. Let’s see, Copernicus published on his deathbed in 1543, so that’s a possibility; Galileo did his penance in the 1600’s; Kepler published in 1609, so they’re too late. Or maybe Francois was talking about something entirely different. When we quote folks from 400 years ago, sometimes their definitions of words were so different that we don’t get it at all. What did Rabelais think “science” was? He may have meant something completely different from what I think it is. By the way, Rabelais used the ancient “Save your breath for your porridge.” From Solon (about Hesiod). Anyway, there’s less ambiguity in the other quotes I recorded in his name:

We will take the good will for the deed.
Looking like one pea does to another.
Plain as the nose on a man’s face.

And I love this one:

And thereby hangs a tale.


While across the English Channel his contemporary, John Heywood 1497 - 1580, was using these aphorisms:

Haste maketh waste.
Look ere ye leap.
While the sun shineth make hay.
The tide tarrieth for no man.
Hold their noses to a grindstone.
Two heads are better than one.
All is well that ends well.
Beggars should not be choosers.
Rob Peter to pay Paul.
[Edward the VI appropriated funds from the lands of St. Peter to pay for repairs to the cathedral of St. Paul.]
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
A hair of the dog that bit us.
There’s no fool like an old fool.

A penny for your thoughts.
Many hands make light work.
The more the merrier.
An ill wind that blows no man good.
Hit the nail on the head.


I guess these are all clichés, so they must be Internal Truisms. I suspect that Heywood was a compiler. I’ve found a few of these from earlier forms but many seem to be “new”. I believe that many are the result of the oral tradition that prevailed during all those years when literacy went into the tank. So maybe “There’s no new thing under the sun.” isn’t true after all. The 16th century was the renaissance, the end of the “Dark Ages”. Sometime during the previous 1000 years people apparently embraced some new “truisms”.

The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mold... The same reason that makes us wrangle with a neighbor causes a war betwixt princes.
Michel de Montaigne 1533 - 1592


A little folly is desirable in him that will not be guilty of stupidity.

Man is certainly mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making Gods by the dozens.

This last can be read in two lights. Humility that we can’t make a worm but God can... Or, hubris that we create the Gods. Without context I don’t know which he meant. I don’t care. I like them both.

Time out of mind.
Within a stone’s throw.
Split his sides laughing.
No limit but the sky.
All his eggs in one basket.
Too much of a good thing.
Thank you for nothing.
Fore warned; fore armed.
Honesty’s the best policy
Cervantes 1547 - 1616


These are so mater of fact, so much a part of modern speech. And there are many many more. I started Don Quixote a while back, I guess I’ll have to finish it some day. A whole bunch of people must have read it. Cervantes was an astute chronicler of the speech of his day. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I can’t find this last adage in Bartlett’s. Now that’s a surprise. Everybody’s heard it. Who said it? Or at least who wrote it down first?

Moments of wit survive the monuments of power.
Francis Bacon 1561 - 1626

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