What does the biblical metaphor "inherit the wind" mean?
Inherit the Wind is one of my all-time favorite movies, but that's not was this question is all about.
If I'm not mistaken the original line in the bible reads "He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind." Now, I just heard someone on TV referring to someone "inheriting the wind." That guy's remark made me realize that I really don't know what exactly the phrase means. (FWIW, the usage by the fellow on TV did not clarify things.)
Can someone set me straight?
Thanks all, in advance.
You build a house (and make to family) to avoid troubles like the wind (or fighting and have people you can trust), but if you bring in troubles into your house it is the same if you never had a house--the wind (fighting, mistrust) is inside.
The full line is actually:
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind:
and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.
The second line clarifies a little. However, it's a little hard to draw parallels, is the one who troubled his own house Cates*? If so, "the fool" seems to be referring to "he" and his case was certainly portrayed as the protagonist/correct side of the debate... on the other hand, the "servant" side makes a little sense. If you extend the overarching ramifications of the trial, the parallels fit in more nicely... the law was "troubling" intelligent people/the country, but eventually they got proven wrong and became servants to the "wise" thinking men, but It's still a bit of a stretch.
*I'm using movie names just for ease of comparison.
Last edited by Jragon; 11-18-2008 at 05:59 AM.
I should add that the Old Testament often equates the court (uh... the court) with wisdom and we often equate education (Cates) with the passing of wisdom so there's a sort of "schism" in that if the court is wise, and the passers of wisdom are passing on contrary ideas... who's right? Is the teacher in the wrong because he's not passing wisdom correctly? Or is the old wisdom getting in the way of the new wisdom?
Some food for thought to give the quote a little context:
Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Anyway, I need to sleep and can't think straight, maybe that'll spark a little discussion at least.
I always interpreted it to mean that a man who causes trouble in his own household will inherit nothing (but the air), which I think fits in with the next line. It's saying that a person can be born into great fortune but our behavior in life will dictate where we end up.
How this relates to the film/play and its characters I am not quite sure.
Fools who cause trouble in the family won't inherit a thing.
They will end up as slaves of someone with good sense.
I always thought "The Wind" was a reference to Divine Wrath- so that if you stir up conflicts within your family/community, even over what may seem to be a righteous cause, you'll be inheriting The Wind of Divine Retribution
The line addressed to the preacher, Rev. Brown, from Brady.
The reference can even be applied more broadly, not just about church/state issues. The "troubling their own house" refers to fear-mongering and squelching dissent in general, not only Bible-thumping. Remember that when this first came out, the connection to McCarthyism would have been obvious. It's funny (and by funny, I mean alarming) that today the religion in public education issue is much more topical. So a society that spent its time and energy on a witch hunt for communists would be self-defeating (as evidenced by the space race -- we in the U.S. were focused on rooting out communists, and the U.S.S.R. was focused on launching rockets -- and look who won).
The wind cannot be gripped, kept, or cultivated. It is like inheriting nothing.
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary "He that brings trouble upon himself and his family, by carelessness, or by wickedness, shall be unable to keep and enjoy what he gets, as a man is unable to hold the wind, or to satisfy himself with it."
Crotalus is correct about the meaning of wind. In ~15th Century B.C.E. humans
saw wind as invisible, intangible, a.k.a nothing. The best English translation I've
read of Proverbs 11:29 was: He that troubleth his own house shall inherit only
wind. I regret forgetting the source I read it from, and the inability to attribute the
author. The entire first sentence of this Proverb is a metaphor. The author of
Proverbs 11:29 was using wind as a metaphor for nothing. Own house is also a
metaphor as well. Before I begin my ramble, I would just like to say that you
have every right to be confused. The usage of "own" in this sentence is certainly
not intuitive and takes awhile to comprehend. I am unfamiliar with Semitic
languages and don't know if "own" has specific differential meanings or not,
however, we are discussing English and in English, own can sometimes be
difficult to define. Own in English can be a pronoun, an adjective, or combined
with other words be used as a noun. The noun form of own is used instead of
admit. Own up to your actions or something like that. Proverbs 11:29 is not
using own in the verb form. We know it can either be a pronoun or an adjective.
From the words his own house we know that his own or own, is being used as a
possessive adjective. His own house, or just his house is not replacing the noun
house, it is just describing the house. If the sentence was something like: "My
house is bigger than his." The word his is replacing the noun house and his would
be considered a possessive pronoun. Since the noun house in our example is not
being replaced, merely defined by the words His own, then we can state that His
own is a possessive adjective. Now, given this, own can be used for first person
possessive adjectives, or, it can also be used for second and third person
possessive adjectives. I will give examples. "He is using his own phone" is a first
person possessive adjective. The pronoun(s) He/his is reference to a single
individual. "Let them take their own lunch" is a third person possessive adjective.
The pronouns them and their are used to reference more than one person. This is
where the confusion in Proverbs 11:29 begins, but unfortunately, this is not
where it ends. Own also has two different meanings. Own in English can mean
belonging to i.e. (legal) ownership to a group or an individual. Own can also
mean particular to, or relating to a group or an individual. I will give examples.
"He burnt down his own house" is an example of the first meaning of own, where
the noun house, does belong to, is legally owned by, the pronoun He and/or his.
"He hit his own mother" is an example of the second definition of own. The noun
mother is not possessed by, or legally owned by the pronoun He and/or his. The
noun mother in this case is in the form of particular to/relating to. The phrase
"His own house" in English usually takes the form of (A) first person possessive
adjective and (B) Belonging to or legal ownership. However, Proverbs 11:29 is
using "His own house" to mean (A) Third person possessive adjective and
(B) Own to mean particular to, or related to. Which is why this Proverb is so
difficult to define. However, once you take the first sentence with Third person
possessive and particular to, related to form of own, the second sentence makes
much more sense and completely follows the first. He that troubleth his own
house... ancient writing, and I am not saying I agree with this, was only written by
men. The pronoun He was often used in place of the pronoun They, or Anyone.
That is what happened in this case. He that troubleth means Anyone that
troubleth. Again, using the word His in ancient writing was often used for the
word their. So the first sentence translated into English should say: "Anyone
that troubleth their own house shall inherit the wind." So this means that anyone
that troubleth their own house shall inherit nothing. There is still the problem
with "own house". Usually in English this is used for belonging to or legal owner
ship. For this Proverb, the author is using "own house" to refer to particular to,
or related to. "Own house" does not refer to a single object. It doesn't refer to a
building or dwelling. Whether you use the word "his" or the updated word "their"
it also doesn't mean legal onwer(s) of a building or dwelling. "Own house", in
this particular proverb, refers to an individual's surrounding, i.e. community.
Whether it be in a household, in school, work, army, etc. etc. The people that you
come in contact with on a semi-daily routine becomes your community or your
tribe, or in this case your house. Usually, especially in ~15 century B.C.E
establishments, your community or tribe ALL followed the same religion.
Troubleth doesn't have to mean religion, but in the play and the movie it does
mean religion. What the first sentence of Proverbs 11:29 is saying is: if you
bring trouble to your community, then you will inherit nothing. This saying is
VERY religious and VERY philosophical. It is talking about people's feelings
and mental state, and has absolutely nothing to do with what is actually true.
If EVERYONE in your community is drinking straight from the river without
boiling their water, then the first sentence is telling you to just let it go, don't say
anything, agree with the masses and maintain the status quo, even if you have
evidence that drinking water straight from the river without boiling it is bad for
the communities health. Because this disrupts the status quo and could cause
panic. It is the same with religion. Even if your evidence suggests that the
community is worshipping the wrong god(s), or even if the evidence you
accumulated suggests that there is no god more than it suggests that there is a
god, don't point it out. Do not disturb the status quo. Don't cause the masses to
Why? That gets into the second sentence of Proverbs 11:29. Which is why this
definition of the first sentence is most likely to be true. The second sentence
directly follows this definition. The second sentence of Proverbs 11:29 says
"and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart". The first eight words of this
sentence are pretty clear. The fool is the one who, according to the bible, is stupid
enough to bring trouble to his community. The one who brings trouble to the
community shall be servant to the... Pretty easy to follow. Who or what is the
wise of heart? It is not someone who necessarily understands facts. Someone
who is Wise of Heart is someone who takes other's feelings and mental reactions
into consideration before they act or speak on a subject. Richard Dawkins is the
proverbial opposite to someone who is Wise of Heart. I don't know if there is a
word or phrase to mean opposite to Wise of Heart, but I am going to use Unwise
of Heart to mean the exact opposite to Wise of Heart. Richard Dawkins went to
Oxford, he devised the meaning of meme, he is very intelligent, you could even
say wise. However, he is definitely not wise of heart. Whenever Richard
Dawkins debates someone whose lively hood depends on religion, whether it be
an Islamic Imam, or a Jewish Rabbi, or a Christian Priest or whatever, the debate
ultimately goes down to one single argument. The religious representative will
say to Dawkins something along the lines of: "Don't you understand that she feels
better believing that she will she her husband if she dies, rather than believing
she'll just be microbe food", or, "Don't you understand that this person who is in
constant agony is comforted and feels better believing that he will be able to
continue on and make contributions in heaven after he dies rather than believing
that he is just immobile, paralized, crippled etc. and after he dies he will be put in
the ground unable to make contributions as easily as someone who may not have
a disease." There are many arguments you can make along these lines for ANY
religion. Dawkins response in every instance to these types of questions are:
"I don't care about anyone's feelings, I care about what is TRUE!" I am not
agreeing or disagree with Dawkins, I am not saying his statement is correct or
incorrect. What I am saying is that statements like that are completely opposite to
someone who is Wise of Heart. Someone who is wise of heart does take peoples
feelings and mental state into consideration before they act or speak on a subject.
For example: Let's say that there are children playing, and they happen to be
recreating, re-enacting certain Bible Stories. An adult, who is well versed in the
Bible, comes along and hears the children playing. Amongst some of the correct
interpretations, these children have got names, dates and whatever else totally
wrong. Wrong from what the Bible says. This person could run to the children,
intervene, tell them they've got everything wrong, don't try to re-enact the Bible
unless you are certain of the stories etc. etc. Or, this person, who is well versed
in the Bible, could listen to the children and say to him/herself: "These children
are getting along, playing nicely, and are happy. Interrupting their play with
Biblical facts might lessen their fun, make them unhappy, or even make them
panic. So, for the sake of the children's feelings and mental state, I will decide to
say nothing and not interfere." So example one, where the person rushed in to tell
the children written stories, names and dates from the Bible and informs them that
they are completely wrong is Unwise of Heart. While the individual who decides
to say nothing because intervening could make the children unhappy, despite the
fact that this individual knows the true way the Bible is written, is Wise of Heart.
So what does "the fool will be servant to the Wise of Heart" mean? Wise of Heart
does not have to deal with religion. It could have been children playing pirates,
and they start using toy machine guns and using names of people who were never
Pirates. Someone could come up and tell them how incorrect machine guns are
for the time period and how wrong they were about the names of the Pirates. Or
they could just realize that these children are getting along and having fun despite
their ignorance and move on because they don't want to disrupt their happiness.
Let's take an example of a family. Let's say that a mother and her son are home.
They find out something that would disappoint dad. Maybe his team got knocked
out of the playoffs, or maybe his cousin died. Whatever. Then dad comes home.
Mom asks how his day was and Dad says: "Horrible, 100 different things went
wrong, a piece of machinery fell on my foot, I didn't have time for lunch etc. etc."
The son, wants to tell his father about the bad news that him and his mother know
about. In this situation, the son is the fool, and the one to inherit the wind. The
information is true and correct, but telling his father at this point in time would
make a bad situation even worse. In this case the son would be bringing trouble
to the house. He also is not wise of heart. What about the slave situation? That
comes into play when the mother, who is wise of heart, starts to hear her son say
something about the extra bad news. She comes over to him and tells him to stop.
She says: "Now is not the time" or something like that. The fool, the son, does
what the mother says, who is Wise of Heart. That's what slave to the Wise of
Heart means. This is a single day, simplistic example. Let's say that we are
talking about a Jewish tribe in ~15th Century B.C.E. Someone who either
realizes that there is no God, or someone who realizes that there is a better God
wants to reveal this to the entire tribe. First of all, this individual would be
bringing trouble to the house, a.k.a. tribe. Secondly, a person who came to the
same realization earlier on, but decided not to say anything so the status quo can
be maintained and no panic would arise would come to counsel this individual
and explain to him that it is not a good idea to make claims that could cause huge
panic and change, and it is better to just let it go to maintain order within the tribe.
The person doing the explaining is Wise of Heart and the person who wants to
disrupt the status quo and make huge changes is the fool and is the slave to the
Wise of Heart because he ends up listening to him and doing what he told him to.
What does this have to do with the play/movie "Inherit the Wind"? It ends up
having two meanings. Metaphorically the title is talking about Scopes a.k.a.
Cates who is trying to bring change and facts to a town full of people who are not
ready for this huge upturn, a town who would panic if Natural Selection were to
all of a sudden be accepted by all the individuals in the community. The writers
of the play/movie want the audience to realize that this proverb also has another
meaning. That is to realize that when progress has been made within a
community, progress that supersedes the Bible, the answer is not to try to abandon
this progress, rather, to fit it into your religion. When Reverend Brown was
preaching, he was talking about the Old Testament when God would smite the
enemies of the Jews. Then he went on to say that he hopes and prays that God will
punish Cates' soul forever and punish those who ask that grace be given to Cates.
That is when Bryan a.k.a. Matthew Harrison Brady quotes the first sentence of
Proverbs 11:29 to Reverend Brown. Stating that it is possible to be too zealous.
What that means is that 20th century A.D. Southern Americans, despite their bible
thumping ways, have moved beyond the inquisition, the literal word of God and
have moved beyond the damming of souls and the torture of disbelievers. They
want him punished according to the law, but the citizens of this community have
moved beyond punishment in the name of God. What Brady was telling the good
Reverend is that Proverbs 11:29 can mean that the man that is over zealous, the
person who tries to bring back orthodoxy that has been abandoned and bring back
orthodoxy that human progression has already moved beyond is bringing trouble
to your own community. In this case, the good Reverend is bringing trouble to
his own house, a.k.a community, and he is the fool, while Brady is playing the part
of the Wise of Heart to slow him down and tries to make him understand that
being over zealous is bad for the entire community. That is why this play/movie
is named Inherit the Wind. It doesn't just mean the religious interpretation of not
overturning the status quo with scientific leaps, it also means not to overturn the
progress that has already been made by man, do not disrupt the current status quo
containing current progress and science to the old ways and traditions of religions.
When Brady was interrogating Cates' fiance, he was overzealous himself. He
wanted to prove God right, and that God's sayings, and God's way is correct so
much, that he stopped being Wise of Heart. It was Brady's wife who had to be
Wise of Heart and tell him to stop for the sake of the girl, and her feeling's and
mental state. Then of course Brady's last speech where he says that God speaks
to him directly really brings trouble to the community. He is obviously being
overzealous, and he definitely inherits nothing from that speech. If he hadn't died,
someone, probably his wife, would be Wise of Heart and explain that stating that
God speaks directly to Brady and no one else is making a huge change in every
community, and they would just refuse to accept/believe this statement. And the
best thing to do is to leave it alone and never say it again to prevent uprising and
panic in any community.
The play that the film Inherit The Wind was based on, was written to address McCarthyism of the 1950's. The title was chosen with that in mind, no doubt.
And as someone said above, the most probable meaning of the saying in the Bible, is that if you attack your own household, your own people, all you are likely to do is destroy yourself, thus "inheriting" a well known empty force (the wind), which everyone knows and respects, but which is there and then gone again.
People in the West often choose Bible quotes to talk about things, even when the person speaking doesn't believe, because they tend to sound cool, they imply unimpeachable authority, and they are free to use without being accused of plagiarism.
I think friend DarwinsStepChildren sailed in on a Google search. Dar, if you stick around, consider being a bit more pithy with your responses in order to better engage with others.
For now though, since the issue was resolved long ago, I am closing this as a zombie.