Sunday, October 28, 2012


Ant or Camel

Lucian, Saturnalia 19 (tr. K. Kilburn):
I wrote to you earlier telling you what my position was and how my poverty made it likely that I alone should have no share in the festival which you proclaimed, adding this, I remember, that it was most unreasonable for some of us to have too much wealth and live in luxury and not share what they have with those who are poorer than they while others are dying of hunger, and that too when the festival of Cronus is near. Since you sent no reply then, I have thought it necessary to remind you of it again. You ought, my dear Cronus, to have abolished this inequality, made the good things accessible to everyone, and then bid the festival begin. As we now are it is a case of "ant or camel", as the saying has it.

Ἐγεγράφειν μὲν ἤδη σοι καὶ πρότερον δηλῶν ἐν οἷς εἴην καὶ ὡς ὑπὸ πενίας κινδυνεύοιμι μόνος ἄμοιρος εἶναι τῆς ἑορτῆς, ἣν ἐπήγγελκας, ἔτι καὶ τοῦτο προσθεὶς—μέμνημαι γάρ—ἀλογώτατον εἶναι τοὺς μὲν ἡμῶν ὑπερπλουτεῖν καὶ τρυφᾶν οὐ κοινωνοῦντας ὧν ἔχουσι τοῖς πενεστέροις, τοὺς δὲ λιμῷ διαφθείρεσθαι, καὶ ταῦτα Κρονίων ἐνεστώτων. ἐπεὶ δέ μοι τότε οὐδὲν ἀντεπέστειλας, ἡγησάμην δεῖν αὖθις ἀναμνῆσαί σε τῶν αὐτῶν. ἐχρῆν γάρ σε, ὦ ἄριστε Κρόνε, τὸ ἄνισον τοῦτο ἀφελόντα καὶ τὰ ἀγαθὰ ἐς τὸ μέσον ἅπασι καταθέντα ἔπειτα κελεύειν ἑορτάζειν. ὡς δὲ νῦν ἔχομεν, μύρμηξ ἢ κάμηλος, ὡς ἡ παροιμία φησί.
The proverb seems otherwise unattested. It doesn't appear in Renzo Tosi's dictionary of Greek and Latin proverbs. Commentators on Matthew 19.24 (the camel and the eye of the needle) sometimes cite it.

Erasmus, Adagia I.v.47 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
Μύρμηξ ἡ κάμηλος, Ant or camel. Referring to things which are violently unequal, and now tiny, now huge, just as if a camel were to be turned all at once into an ant. Lucian, in the Saturnalia, letter 1: 'But as we now live, "ant or camel," as the proverb says.' He is speaking of the unequal distribution of wealth among mortals, so that one has more than enough and another is in dire need. It can aptly be used too of persons who are inconsistent, and go to extremes in either way. Euripides describes this kind of man in the Troades [67-68]: 'Why do you jump from one mood to another? You hate and love excessively whomsoever you chance upon.'

Μύρμηξ ἡ κάμηλος, id est Formica camelus. De vehementer inaequalibus et modo minimis modo maximis, quod perinde sit quasi repente camelus in formicam vertatur. Lucianus in prima epistola Saturnalium: Ὡς δὲ νῦν ἔχομεν, μύρμηξ ἡ κάμηλος, ὡς ἡ παροιμία φησί, id est Nam ut nunc vivitur a nobis, formica camelus, quemadmodum proverbio dicitur. Loquitur de opibus inaequaliter inter mortales distributis, ut huic plurimum supersit, huic multum desit. Neque intempestive dicetur in eos, qui sibi non constant in utranque partem immodici. Quod genus hominem describit Euripides in Troadibus:
Τί δ' ὧδε πηδᾶς ἄλλοτ' εἰς ἄλλους τρόπους;
Μισεἶς δὲ λίαν καὶ φιλεἶς ὃν ἄν τύχῃ
, id est

Quid ita modo hos, modo in hosce mores transilis?
Odisti acerbe amasque nimium quemlibet.

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