Latin Quotes, Sayings, Tattoos, Phrases & Mottos

Most texts and materials on this site have to do with the Latin language, including its perception in popular culture: movies, tattoos, inscriptions, engravings, bits of ancient philosophy, online Latin resources and company names. There is also information about learning Latin and Greek: textbooks, dictionaries, DVDs and software that can be used in a homeschooling environment.

Harvard's motto and the limits of knowledge

This is the Harvard shield with the Veritas motto, as it is used today. The word VERITAS (Latin for 'truth') is broken up so it appears on the pages of three books. The third book has to accommodate three letters (TAS), which produces what is known in typography as a two-page spread -- one of the ugliest things to be observed in a publication, because the gutter goes straight through the illustration, in our case the capital A of TAS. Truly a sore sight. How did this even become possible?

The truth (don't know what to say about the status of the pun here) lies in the fact that originally the third book was actually facing the other way. The A in TAS therefore appeared on the spine of the book. This design was supposed to represent the belief that truth is never known to us in its entirety. To complement this, the Harvard shield also had another motto (sometimes seen as forming a single sentence with "Veritas"): "Christo et Ecclesiae" (For Christ and the Church).

This design can still be seen on many buildings at Harvard, including the Widener library. At some point in the early XXth century it was decided that the third book should be turned the other way, to reflect the modernist belief in attainability of truth through progress. It is quite ironic that the resulting design was not exactly easy on the eye. The religious part of the motto was also dropped.

It remains to be seen, however, how soon the word Veritas would disappear from the shield. 'Truth' is simply not a concept favored by our postmodernist society.

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Witchcraft and Latin

Wednesday, October 24, 2007, 10:22 - Latin Language, World History: Ancient, Medieval & Modern
Posted by Administrator
And here is that time of the year again... Halloween, witchery and all sorts of scary things are at hand. So, I give you a very amusing Latin-related anecdote about the time directly preceding the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692. In 1688 Cotton Mather dealt with a case of alleged witchcraft in Boston. Among the afflicted was a girl whose condition became particularly severe. Charles Wentworth Upham relates this story in "Salem Witchcraft: With an Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects":

"After some time, Cotton Mather took her into his own family, to see whether he could not exorcise her. His account of her conduct, while there, is highly amusing for its credulous simplicity. The canning and ingenious child seems to have taken great delight in perplexing and playing off her tricks upon the learned man. Once he wished to say something in her presence, to a third person, which he did not intend she should understand. He accordingly spoke in Latin. But she had penetration enough to conjecture what he had said: he was amazed. He then tried Greek: she was equally successful. He next spoke in Hebrew: she instantly detected the meaning. At last he resorted to the Indian language, and that she pretended not to know. He drew the conclusion that the evil being with whom she was in compact was acquainted familiarly with the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but not with the Indian tongue."

Rosetta Stone Latin - a software review

Tuesday, October 23, 2007, 07:35 - Latin Language, Reviews, Software
Posted by Administrator

This post is going to be a fairly long one, since I have always been fascinated with new ways of language learning, and Rosetta Stone truly is something special. I am expanding a review that I had written previously.

The challenge

If someone wanted to come up with an innovative language learning software package, something that would truly stand out among the competition, what should they do? Surely, claiming that their language program uses "an immersion method" would be far from unique. Many a language software developer from the time when computer instruction became a fad until now has announced to the world that a potential user should expect to be fully immersed into the desired language, perhaps in a manner that resembles how children acquire their native languages. It is also important to assure users that they will not have to learn any formal grammar rules, do exercises and memorize countless rules, exceptions, vocabulary and speech patterns. Really, it would be a challenge to find a language software package that does not claim to be based on "immersion". There may be a simple explanation for this. While books are still being published to accommodate traditional methods of language instruction the world of multimedia creates a general sense that some shortcuts can be taken. You just pop a CD in a computer, put on headphones and voila! in a few hours you know French! Does it really work that way? You guessed it, it doesn't. But what does work? How is it possible that Rosetta Stone, one of the methods that claim to be using this "immersion technique", clearly stands out from the crowd and enjoys a growing popularity?


"A room without books is like a body without a soul"

Monday, October 22, 2007, 08:35 - Latin Language, Legal Phrases and Expressions
Posted by Administrator
Found a true treasure trove of pseudo-Cicero-inspired merchandise:

Once again, Cicero is not directly responsible for this quote.

The fact is that the saying itself is not that bad. It's just sad that we cannot attribute it to someone else. Really, would it have killed Cicero to say something to the same effect? I'll tell you why.

Books simply did not mean the same to Cicero, as they do to us. He did not have to be in direct contact with the learned tomes of his time. That's what slaves were for. They copied books, read them out loud and organized them. A writer of Roman times was rather detached from his media. You could be a man of letters and never pick up a calamus. Or a book, for that matter. And even if one wanted to use books it was not that easy. You simply could not simply crack open a volume and find a quote that you needed or verify some idea. It would take many minutes of attentive scrolling. Dealing with books was akin to manual labor, something that a free Roman would rather not be a part of. So, even if you were into literature you would not hold books in a particularly high esteem, methinks. It may appear odd, but there is a reason why the term for a scribe, Librariolus, is reminiscent of the contemptuous Graeculus.

A Roman man of letters inevitably remained less involved with books as physical objects of intrinsic cultural significance, often dealing instead with their mental projections. These projections were associated with rather fluid textual data, because the limited ability to open a papyrus on any given passage and the lack of visual contact with books during recitation stood in the way of developing the very notion of textual integrity. Perhaps, the appeal of the pseudo-Ciceronian adage is due to the fact that for us “a room with books” has a deeper meaning – that of a multidimensional microcosm where myriads of definitive semantic streams can be instantly reached, consulted and analyzed. This distinction setting apart the ancient and the modern worlds of books may seem too subtle, but one only needs to imagine the frustration that would occur if all the pages in someone’s library were suddenly glued together to form scrolls. Would we still consider that room full of books?

To put it simply, the comparison of books in a room with a soul in a body only works well with books as we know them.

See also:
Home library design
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