Spanish Proverbs - Origins

Origins

Many Spanish proverbs have a long history of cultural diffusion; there are proverbs, for example, that have their origin traced to Babylon and that have come down to us through Greece and Rome; equivalents of the Spanish proverb “En boca cerrada no entran moscas” (Silence is golden) belong to the cultural tradition of many north-African countries as far as Ethiopia; having gone through multiple languages and millennia, this proverb can be traced back to an ancient Babylonian proverb.

The written evidence of the use of Spanish proverbs goes far back in Spanish literature. El Cantar de Mio Cid, written at the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century, is the first instance. Examples of other early works that use Spanish proverbs are the Libro de Buen Amor by Juan Ruiz (14th century) and El Corbacho by Alfonso Martínez de Toledo (15th century). The first anthology of Spanish proverbs, Proverbios que dicen las viejas tras el fuego, was written by Íñigo López de Mendoza, Marques of Santillana (15th century). Also in the 15th century was written the Seniloquium, an erudite and anonymous work containing a compendium of Spanish sayings and proverbs with commentaries. The language of the characters in Fernando de Rojas’ La Celestina (15th – 16th century) is enlivened with the use of proverbs. And then, of course, in the 17th century there is the incomparable Don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes.

Sancho Panza, Cervantes’ wonderful, earthy, character, is the essential common man. His thinking habitually relies on the authority he vests in the wealth of popular cultural wisdom expressed in proverbs, which he continually quotes. In almost all his utterances there is reference to one and sometimes to more proverbs. Don Quijote is a veritable treasure trove of Spanish proverbs.

There are Spanish proverbs that contradict others; the “wisdom” that they encapsulate is not, of course, absolute. People will use those proverbs that best conform to their own particular way of approaching life. Taken together, however, they reveal the deep wellsprings of Spanish culture and of human nature in general.

Read more about this topic:  Spanish Proverbs

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