Wisdom, truth and wit (Kathryn Price)

In Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, there is an exchange between Simon Chachava, a soldier, and Azdak, the village clerk (aka judge) that is a series of local proverbs:

When the horse was shod, the horsefly stretched out its leg.

Better a treasure in the sewer than a stone in a mountain stream.

The exchange continues in this vein until Simon comes up with ‘a fart has no nose’ and is fined for indecent language.

In a book of short stories in Spanish, used many years ago in an O-level (that long ago!) group, each story ended with a proverb that reflected the local context.

Our English proverbs seem to come in pairs that contradict each other, e.g. many hands might light work/too many cooks spoil the broth.


So what is a proverb anyway? I think it should be a distillation of wisdom into a witty aphorism, often using a metaphor to get the point across.

The problem when it comes to reading the book of Proverbs, is that such pithy pieces aren’t easily read in large blocks. Nor is that the only problem. As the examples from Brecht and Spanish lessons show, they are often quite specific to context.

So – read it in small bursts, dip in and savour. Take time to appreciate the creative use of language and see what makes sense to you in the here and now. Some of it will seem a little opaque – don’t worry about it. Other parts will delight. For myself it is the use of the feminine pronoun for Wisdom that draws me in, for others it will be the many references to nature. There will be some verses that make you laugh out loud and others that move you to prayer.

About Kathryn Price

mother, minister, singer, knitter, spinner, reader, gardener and life-long learning enthusiast