Wisdom in Art, Culture, Folklore, History, Literature and Mass Media
8. “A Picture Worth More Than a Thousand Words” Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Netherlandish Proverbs 251
Folklorists, philologists, art and cultural historians, literary scholars, and to be sure also paremiologists have shown by way of interdisciplinary and compara- tive studies that the sixteenth century deserves to be called the golden age of proverbs. This fascination with traditional metaphors was evident already in the late Middle Ages and continued well into the seventeenth century, but there can be no doubt that the preoccupation with proverbs and proverbial expressions as colorful linguistic signs of human behavior had reached an unsurpassed climax in the age of the Renaissance, Humanism, and the Reformation with its ensuing Counter-Reformation. Humanist scholars did their best in compiling proverb collections of classical times with Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Adagia of the year 1500 and its many steadily enlarged editions being the model. While there was a f lood of collections registering and explaining classical folk wisdom in Latin, scholars and literary authors also turned to that rich treasure trove of proverbs that were current in the vernacular languages (Meadow 1993 and 2002). Dozens of collec- tions were assembled all over Europe, and the proverbs were also amassed in the literary works of such well-known authors as Sebastian Brant, François Rabelais, William Shakespeare, and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (see Mieder and Bryan 1996). This fascination with the apparent wisdom contained in proverbs and the colorful imagery of proverbial expressions was fueled by three major concerns, first the pure and simple delight in collecting traditional language, second the “A Picture Worth More Than A Thousand Words...
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