CULTURE AND TOURISM ON-LINE MAGAZINE
- FEBRUARY 2018 -
HOME - Puglia - Dialect Proverbs - “Verba volant” What has changed between then and now
Dialect Proverbs
“Verba volant”
What has changed between then and now
Parola ditte
n-gìile sta scritte

[The spoken word
is written in the sky]
(Bari area)
by Alberto Sobrero
SHARE Facebook Twitter

Bruno Maggio. China

What message is this proverb trying to convey? It depends on who is reading it and when. Let’s imagine two cases.

a) I, a 21st-century man, am reading it. I am used to raising my eyes and seeing the criss-crossed trails of recently-overhead airplanes fading away and dispersing after a few minutes in the skies, or, maybe on a Sunday morning on a busy beach, small propeller planes that fly banners with greetings on them, or maybe for advertising. Or even a heart drawn with the trails of a small acrobatic plane: a moment, the children go “Ooooh!” and the heart dissolves in the sky. So, if I read this proverb I get the immediate message that my culture suggests to me: a word which is only spoken is as if it was written in the sky: it fades immediately. It’s always better to put things down in black and white, rather than trust in promises and agreements, which are only spoken. The Latin maxim affirms it, too, although they didn’t have acrobatic planes: “Verba volant, scripta manent”.

b) People from the past, let’s say from the 16th or 17th century, read it; people who live in a cultural climate dense with symbolic values that remind one of the co-existence of two worlds, the tangible one and the transcendental one, the profane world and the Hereafter. If they read it, they catch on to the message that their culture indicates; the sky is the seat of divinity, the sacred half of the world: words rise to heaven and so a word given – a promise, a spoken agreement – is a sacred promise and can’t be broken. To go back on your word is a sacrilegious act: in business as in affairs of the heart.

Since it’s a proverb, that almost certainly has its roots in the distant past, the reliable interpretation is of course the latter one. And one’s thoughts fly to the ‘gran bontà de’ cavalieri antiqui’, who believed their word was their bond, in the name of values of deep moral and social content, like loyalty and keeping a spoken promise, usually sealed with a handshake.

It’s true: even the most important of deals were rounded off with a handshake, which had the same value as a solemn written commitment. To this day this form of contract is conserved in the current civil law, on the basis of which, for example, the Rome Chamber of Commerce numbers amongst its “customs which are still considered of contractual value in the province of Rome”, the handshake, “on the occasion of verbal negotiations, at trade fairs and elsewhere, concerning the buying and selling of livestock or farming goods”. And many of us remember the village markets and fairs (where farm animals, grain, etc. were traded) during which the dealings between the seller and the buyer were concluded with a simple, vigorous, handshake. Other times. One’s word, once given, was elevated to the level of absolute values: as they say these days, it was non-negotiable.

It’s all true, but there is a footnote.

The perspective from which we look back on the past in many cases – and ours is one of these – is warped by two mistakes: our superiority complex and the late-Romantic point of view. One on hand we gaze with indulgence on (and commiserate with) the behavior of those who did not have the resources of us ‘moderns’ at their disposal: the sophisticated juridical instruments, the control mechanisms, widespread literacy and knowledge of the law. We are better than our forefathers. Progress guarantees magnificent advances, etc. On the other hand we project, into a mythical past, our Romantic vision of a golden age, in which men were strong and loyal and feelings were simple and pure: an age whose passing we regret.

Whereas the reality, as we know, was a lot more complex; disloyalty, betrayals and violence were unfortunately ever-present then as now, and often in more cruel forms. And the agreements were often verbal for the banal reason that many were not able to read or write.

And anyway it’s always nice, and useful, to have ideals and dreams in our daily lives. Even illusions. If possible, projected into a fictitious world of our own invention.

More articles
Dialect Proverbs   Wives and oxen… Dialect Proverbs   That bad reputation priests have… Dialect Proverbs   Goat Woman From the Middle Ages to Sgarbi Dialect Proverbs   “After Christmas the cold sets in” The meteorological proverbs that have deeper roots than religious ones Dialect Proverbs   A fantastic state-of-the-art teaching tool: the nursery-rhyme Dialect Proverbs   When parody flouts the sacred Dialect Proverbs   Happiness depends on how we manage our time Dialect Proverbs   If the branch indicates quality… Dialect Proverbs   Women, what deceivers! Dialect Proverbs   Back when the proverb was dictated by the calendar... Dialect Proverbs   Be prepared for disappointment! Dialect Proverbs   Hands off the female sex! Dialect Proverbs   That lack of faith in science… Dialect Proverbs   To get to heaven… you have to suffer Dialect Proverbs   From poetry to “prose” This is love Dialect Proverbs   …But Love is Hope Dialect Proverbs   From the philosophy of Heraclitus to Vasco’s rock music “everything flows” Dialect Proverbs   Beyond the garden there are “the others”. The hateful prejudice dies hard Dialect Proverbs   Hypocrites? More dangerous than the kick of a mule Dialect Proverbs   Nothing can beat wine-Christ’s blood. When folk wisdom is “differently sophisticated” Dialect Proverbs   The revenge of cooking ‘poor man’s style’ Dialect Proverbs   Troubles? Let everyone take care of their own Dialect Proverbs   What “Eldorado”?! Dialect Proverbs   Peasant wisdom The State should consider it too Dialect Proverbs   …And so the idler’s week goes by Dialect Proverbs   Don’t fly into a rage if you want to keep healthy Dialect Proverbs   Rather an “old hand” than a “know-it-all” Dialect Proverbs   If a “poor man” falls ill there’s no hope Dialect Proverbs   The harsh law of hunger Dialect Proverbs   Our first lesson in life? In a nursery rhyme Dialect Proverbs   Man and woman: an old proverb – incredible! – is in favor of equality. As far as hitting each other is concerned… Dialect Proverbs   Women? Witches who lead you to the gallows To be used for love and child-bearing Dialect Proverbs   Marriage: what a sentence for men! Dialect Proverbs   Women “diabolical carriers of perdition” Dialect Proverbs   Women Closer to the devil than to holy water Dialect Proverbs   The longstanding diffidence of the people towards “the caste” Dialect Proverbs   A playful rhyme for the bitter fatalism of underlings Dialect Proverbs   The over-privileged who wield the money: a never-ending story Dialect Proverbs   That hateful prejudice towards anyone different Dialect Proverbs   The power of the poor Dialect Proverbs   If “you add a place at the table”… Dialect Proverbs   The unwritten laws of social injustice Dialect Proverbs   The arrogance of the flea-man Dialect Proverbs   Authority and subjects A relationship without hope Dialect Proverbs   Fatalism of the weak Dialect Proverbs   Why proverbs