So, my Latin textbook, Hereditas Linguae Latinae, tells me (in the lesson about deponent verbs) that Jean de La Fontaine wrote, at the end of his fable The Cock and the Jewel, a Latin saying Stulti semper sic statuuntur, quae non intellegunt, aspernantur et abutuntur., and translates it to Croatian as Budale uvijek tako sude, što ne shvaćaju, preziru i kude. (Fools always reason that way, that which they don't understand, they despise and abuse.).

So, did Jean de La Fontaine really write that? If not, do you happen to know who did?

EDIT: What intrigued me the most is that the Latin quote has a rhyme, as if it were truly taken from some Latin poem. However, it's clear now that it isn't.


1 Answer 1



I have figured out where they got the quote form. Googling the original quote in Croatian shows that the line appears in the book Zlatna knjiga svjetske poezije za djecu by Zvonimir Balog, which Google translate says means The Golden Book of World Poetry for Children.

MY ORIGINAL ANSWER, which shows that Jean de la Fontaine never wrote anything like this quote:

The poem is Le Coq et la perle (The Cock and the Pearl). This is one of Jean de la Fontaine's poems which he has taken directly from Aesop's Fables (the first verse, at least) and it goes:

Un jour un Coq détourna
Une perle qu'il donna
Au beau premier Lapidaire :
Je la crois fine, dit-il ;
Mais le moindre grain de mil
Serait bien mieux mon affaire.

Un ignorant hérita
D'un manuscrit qu'il porta
Chez son voisin le Libraire.
Je crois, dit-il, qu'il est bon ;
Mais le moindre ducaton
Serait bien mieux mon affaire.

A translation (I used Google translate, and fixed the things that were obviously wrong):

One day a Rooster uncovered
A pearl, which he gave
To a premier Jeweler:
I think it is fine, he said;
But the smallest grain of millet
Would be much more my business.

An unlearned man inherited
A manuscript, which he took
To his neighbor the bookseller.
I think, he said, that it is good;
But the smallest silver coin
Would be much more my business.

What was translated here was not part of the poem itself, but what seems to be the moral of the poem, which de la Fontaine did not include in his poem (the moral is part of other fables of de la Fontaine). The moral is often included in other versions of Aesop's Fables: for example, from this translation:

A COCK was once strutting up and down the farmyard among the hens when suddenly he espied something shining amid the straw. “Ho! ho!” quoth he, “that’s for me,” and soon rooted it out from beneath the straw. What did it turn out to be but a Pearl that by some chance had been lost in the yard? “You may be a treasure,” quoth Master Cock, “to men that prize you, but for me I would rather have a single barley-corn than a peck of pearls.”


The moral here is different from that in your Latin book, but other versions of this fable have morals closer to your original quote. A version by Robert Henryson goes:

This Cock, desiring nothing more than corn,
May to that fool be easily compared
Who at all learning makes a mock and scorn,
Decrying it; of truth he is affeared ...

So certainly, your quote was not written in Latin by Jean de la Fontaine, and is not a translation into Latin of anything he wrote in French. However, it does seem like a translation into Latin of the moral of The Cock and the Jewel. I have no idea where the authors of your book found it.

  • So, if I correctly understand you, Jean de La Fontaine didn't actually write "Stulti semper sic statuuntur, quae non intellegunt, aspernantur et abutuntur."? Aesop of course didn't, Aesop probably didn't even know Latin. Jan 12, 2020 at 13:39
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    None of Jean de la Fontaine's poetry books were in Latin; they were all in French. And he didn't even include the moral of the poem in his book, so the Latin is not even a translation of something he wrote.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 12, 2020 at 13:43
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    So, you can't trace the origin of that Latin quote? I mean, neither can I. What I find if I type that quote into Google is either something completely irrelevant or me asking about that quote on other forums. Jan 12, 2020 at 13:45
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    Maybe there is a Czech (or other language) translation of Jean de la Fontaine's translations of Aesop's fables which actually puts the morals at the end, and maybe the writers of the textbook translated the moral back into Latin.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 12, 2020 at 13:55
  • But, as far as I know, it's unusual for Latin textbook authors to translate some quote into Latin but not to warn that it's not original Latin. Nevertheless, it appears that's what they did here. Jan 12, 2020 at 14:00

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