In English, a lowbrow way to call someone a coward is to call him or her a "scaredy-cat" or "fraidy-cat." Apparently, somewhere along the way cats got a reputation for being easily frightened.

Does Latin, particularly Classical Latin, have a similar synonym for coward, comparing a cowardly person to an animal of some kind? Wiktionary doesn't mention one, and I don't see one in Wikipedia's list of Latin phrases either.

1 Answer 1


Not quite so vulgar, but deer were thought to be easily frightened and fleeing from danger. In a very poetical way, you see this in Horace's simile (Odes 1.23) comparing some girl named Chloe to a fawn for fleeing from his advances:

Vitas hinnuleo me similis, Chloe,
quaerenti pavidam montibus aviis
matrem non sine vano
aurarum et siluae metu.

nam seu mobilibus veris inhorruit
adventus foliis seu virides rubum
dimovere lacertae,
et corde et genibus tremit.

atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera
Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor: tandem desine matrem
tempestiva sequi viro.

English taken from Wikisource:

You avoid me like a deer, Chloe,
seeking its trembling mother in the remote mountains
not without an empty fear
of the winds and the forest.

For whether the arrival of spring quivered
with shifting leaves, or whether green lizards
have moved a bramble,
it trembles with both its heart and its knees.

Nevertheless I do not pursue you, as a cruel tiger
or as a Gaetulian lion, to break you:
Cease to follow your mother—
at last you are ready for a man.

Although hinni were mules, hinnuleus could refer to both a small mule or a fawn, especially in Augustan Latin and thereafter. Scribonius even uses it adjectivally with cervus.

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