Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ve tasked myself with creating a manifesto reflecting wonders, curiosities, and delights currently captivating me – all through the lens of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words.
G is for…
gnome – short pity statement of general truth; aphorism, proverb
This definition, from the 1570s, predates the more familiar one delineating the species of diminutive beings that inhabit the interior of the Earth and act as guardians of its treasures, and possibly hang out in your garden.
I have a great fondness for adages and proverbs. What’s not to like about a little nugget of wisdom?
I’m fascinated by things like this – what societies consider important and how they view the world. I’m particularly enamored of aphorisms that are so culturally specific that they make no sense to the culture I live in. Such as the German “Get the cow off the ice.”
When I visited Ireland I begged everyone to tell me proverbs and colloquialisms, but my favorite “find” was when someone spontaneously retorted that something was “As useful as a lighthouse on a bog.”
Other wisdom sayings I delight in are:
- What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth. (Yiddish)
- If an ass goes traveling it will not become a horse.
- A rich child often sits in a poor mother’s lap.
- If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. (Chinese)
Being the apian lover that I am, I’m always on the look out for proverbs about bees. Here are three of my favorites:
- When a bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house some day. (Congolese)
- A hippo does not have a sting on its tail, but a wise man would still rather be sat on by a bee. (Polish)
- He who touches honey is compelled to lick his fingers. (Moroccan)
Years ago I did a mailart call for adages and wisdom sayings, asking the network to forward their contributions to me as Minnie Maxim c/o Palace of Pithy Proverbs. I received some wonderful ones. It always makes me smile when I think that perhaps the best gnomes are read by gnomes sitting on mushrooms in gardens. Perhaps just like this:
But there is another aspect to maxims that fascinate me as well. Myth tells us that Zeus declared Delphi to be the center of Earth – it’s navel. And that by 800 BCE it had been dedicated as a major site of worship for Apollo. We tend to know Delphi as the place where the Oracle was consulted. That’s certainly always been the most intriguing part to me. But it was an interesting sidetrack to learn that inscribed on the front columns of the temple are 147 maxims said to be given by Apollo.
The maxims are short, I think none more than 5 or 6 words, and offer guidance for conduct – a compendium of ethical and moral behavior. Here are my four favorites:
- Know what you have learned.
- Honor the hearth (or Hestia).
- Control the eye.
- Keep deeply the top secret.
Wise and interesting instructions aren’t they? And I’m not sure we can ask for more from our gnomes.
I love living in a world where gnomes can offer truth and guidance, often with a touch of humor. Wisdom teachings can be found in the most amazing forms.
Do you have a favorite maxim? Prefer your gnomes to be in the garden? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.