“As the Mistress, so the Dog”

So I got stuck on a proverb, or rather 1/2 a proverb in Cicero (Att. 5.11.5).

As yet our journey through Greece has roused great admiration, nor, by heaven, have I as yet a fault to find with any of my people (meorum). They appear to me to understand my point of view and the conditions on which they accompany me. They entirely devote themselves to my reputation. For the future, if the proverb “like mistress…” (οἵαπερ ἣ δέσποινα) holds…

The saying is so famous he doesn’t finish it. It is catalogued among the fragments of Epicharmus of Kos (fr.168) and is known to the scholiasts and grammarians of late antiquity.   But other than Cicero the only literary usage is in Clement of Alexandria (in rather infuriating section on appearances, esp. of women):

I deem it wrong that servant girls, who follow women of high rank, should either speak or act unbecomingly to them. But I think it right that they should be corrected by their mistresses. With very sharp censure, accordingly, the comic poet Philemon says: You may follow at the back of a pretty servant girl, seen behind a gentlewoman; and any one from the Platæicum may follow close, and ogle her. For the wantonness of the servant recoils on the mistress; allowing those who attempt to take lesser liberties not to be afraid to advance to greater; since the mistress, by allowing improprieties, shows that she does not disapprove of them. And not to be angry at those who act wantonly, is a clear proof of a disposition inclining to the like. For like mistress like dog, as they say in the proverb.


What I find telling in both of these passages is to compare human-human relationship in hierarchies to human-animal relationships.  I doubt most of Cicero’s companions would have loved being compared to a dog…

It is remarkably different in fact to the potential positive connotations of like father, like son and related sayings.

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