Latin Proverb # 9 – In silvam ligna ferre

Latin Proverb: In silvam ligna ferre. – Horatius, S. 1.10.34

English equivalent: Coals to Newcastle.

Translation: To carry wood to the forest.

Meaning: In silvam ligna ferre, as well as its English match, means to do something obviously superflous, something completely unnecessary and, perhaps, rather stupid. Horace says himself: In silvam non ligna feras insanius ac si magnas Graecorum malis implere catervas – "It is just as foolish to carry wood to a forest as to wish to swell the crowded ranks of the Greeks."

Curiosities: In German there is an equivalent proverb Eulen nach Athen tragen, i.e. "To bring owls to Athens." There is some dispute amongst scholars, but this is supposed to refer to ancient Athens where silver coins were minted with the image of an owl. Athens both mined its own silver and minted its own coins, so to bring coins, i.e. owls to the city would be unnecessary. Owls were also the symbol of Athens, so it could also be that it is the real bird you refer to in the proverb. The owl-version of In silvam ligna ferre also occurs in English and Swedish. In Sweden, however, we prefer to use bjuda bagarbarn på bröd, i.e. "give bread to the baker’s children". There are other versions in the world for this as well – bring sand to the beach, ants to a picnic or water to the sea.


In silvam ligna ferre in other languages? 

Deutsch: Eulen nach Athen tragen

Svenska: Att bjuda bagarbarn på bröd

What would you say in your language(s)? Or do you have some fun new versions of this proverb? Let us know in the comments below!

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