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Headword: Ὑπὲρ ὄνου σκιᾶς
Adler number: upsilon,327
Translated headword: about a donkey's shadow
Vetting Status: high
They say that when Demosthenes the orator was pleading on behalf of a defendant and the jurors were showing impatience he said: 'Listen, gentlemen, to a diverting tale. A young man once hired a donkey [for a journey] from Athens to Delphi. At midday he unhitched the load and took shelter under the donkey's shadow, but the driver moved him away, saying that he had not hired the shadow as well; and the pair of them took the matter to a jurycourt'. When he had said this Demosthenes left the podium. But the jurors wanted to learn what happened to the lawsuit in the end, so he mounted the podium again and said: 'You are eager, gentlemen, to hear about a donkey's shadow, yet you do not tolerate even the voice of a man on trial for his life'. This made an impact on the judges, and he saved the accused. Accordingly the proverb is applied to people making a fuss over something useless.
Greek Original:
Ὑπὲρ ὄνου σκιᾶς: λέγουσιν ὅτι Δημοσθένης ὁ ῥήτωρ ἀπολογούμενος ὑπέρ τινος κινδυνεύοντος, οὐκ ἀνεχομένων τῶν δικαστῶν, εἶπεν: ἀκούσατε, ὦ ἄνδρες, διηγήματος τερπνοῦ: νεανίσκος ποτὲ Ἀθήνηθεν εἰς Δελφοὺς ὄνον ἐμισθώσατο: μεσημβρίας δὲ καταλαβούσης καταλύσας τὸν γόμον ὑπέδυ τὴν σκιὰν τοῦ ὄνου. ἐκβαλλόμενος δὲ ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀνηλάτου, μὴ καὶ τὴν σκιὰν μεμισθῶσθαι λέγοντος, εἰσῆλθον εἰς δικαστήριον ἀμφότεροι. εἰπὼν δὲ ταῦτα ὁ Δημοσθένης κατέβαινεν ἐκ τοῦ βήματος. ἀξιούντων δὲ τῶν δικαστῶν τὸ τέλος τῆς δίκης μαθεῖν, εἶπεν, ἀναβὰς πάλιν ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος: ὑπὲρ μὲν ὄνου σκιᾶς ἀκούειν, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἐπιθυμεῖτε: ἀνθρώπου δὲ κινδυνεύοντος ὑπὲρ ψυχῆς οὐδὲ φωνῆς ἀνέχεσθε. τούτῳ καθαψάμενος τῶν κριτῶν τὸν κατηγορούμενον περιέσωσε. τάττεται τοίνυν ἡ παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπὲρ μηδενὸς χρησίμου φιλοτιμουμένων.
Cf. Zenobius 6.28. Earlier allusions to the proverb occur in (e.g.) Aristophanes, Wasps 191 and Plato, Phaedrus 260C.
See also omicron 400 (with details different from the present version), summarily omicron 401, and pi 1216.
Keywords: biography; daily life; ethics; geography; law; proverbs; rhetoric; zoology
Translated by: David Whitehead on 16 April 2003@08:36:40.
Vetted by:
Catharine Roth (cosmetics, keyword) on 17 April 2003@00:13:24.
David Whitehead (another keyword) on 14 June 2004@04:07:40.
David Whitehead (another x-ref) on 10 August 2011@08:28:21.
David Whitehead on 10 August 2011@08:29:22.
David Whitehead on 24 November 2013@05:08:52.


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