Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Optimist or pessimist (Aḥiqar 96)

Posted by jac/cdc on February 16, 2007

ברי אל תלוט יומא עד תחזה לילה

My son, do not curse the day until you have seen the night.

This proverb of Aḥiqar* can be understood in a couple of different ways. On the one hand, we are reminded that we should consider well our current situation, for it could be worse. Pessimists say, “It could always be better”; optimists say, “It could always be worse.” This is the saying of an optimist. On the other hand, since the contrast is between day and night, which run in succession, the proverb could be warning us, don’t complain about your current lot, because it is going to worse before the end.

The first interpretation is preferable, because the ancient Near East was not quite so fatalistic in its thinking as the second interpretation presumes. In this case, we need to understand day and night as more generally signifying one’s relatively good lot and one’s relatively bad lot; there is no inevitability of one following on the other.

*For the texts of Aḥiqar, I am using James M. Lindenberger’s The Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar. Baltimore: The John’s Hopkins University Press, 1983.

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