Saturday, June 20, 2009

Aethiops (Alciato)

Source: The emblems of Alciato, with a convenient bilingual presentation online at Memorial University, and a marvelous collection of illustrated editions at Glasgow.

Other Versions: For other versions of the story of "washing the Aethiopian," see Perry 393. You can also find the saying in Erasmus's Adagia: "Aethiopem dealbas."


Abluis Aethiopem · quid frustra? Ah desine: noctis
Illustrare nigrae || nemo potest tenebras.

Prose paraphrase:

Quid frustra
Aethiopem abluis?
Ah desine:
nemo potest
noctis nigrae tenebras illustrare.

Image. Here's an illustration for the fable (image source) from a 1621 edition of the emblems:

Word list thanks to

Abluis Aethiopem quid frustra? Ah desine: noctis
abluo wash away/off/out, blot out, purify, wash, cleanse; dispel; quench
Aethiops Ethiopian, of/connected with Ethiopia/Sudan/central Africa
quid why
frustra in vain; for nothing, to no purpose
ah exclamation expressing surprise/irony
desino stop/end/finish, abandon/leave/break off, desist/cease; come to/at end/close
nox night

Illustrare nigrae || nemo potest tenebras.
illustro illuminate, light up; give glory; embellish; make clear, elucidate; enlighten
niger black, dark; unlucky
nemo no one, nobody
possum be able, can
tenebra darkness, obscurity; night; dark corner; ignorance; concealment; gloom

Aesop's Fables in Latin now available at

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