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.

Facilis descensus Averno

Talibus orabat dictis arasque tenebat,
cum sic orsa loqui vates: 'sate sanguine divom,
Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averno
(noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis);
set revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est

In essence, the descent to the Lower World is easy, coming back is a hard task - Virgil, A. 6.

It is well known that this phrase is anachronistically quoted in HBO's Rome. I was, however, surprised to hear it in a disintegrating piece of Disney's magic called "Pirates of the Caribbean. At world's end." Really, what could be the significance of this quote coming from a pirate? This reminds me of this charming passage from Thomas Love Peacock's 'Nightmare Abbey':


Five years afterwards, some fishermen near Cadiz found in their nets a triton, or sea man; they spoke to him in several languages---


They were very learned fishermen.


They had the gift of tongues by especial favour of their brother fisherman, Saint Peter.

Indeed, could it be that pirates vicariously possess the same gift of tongues and a well-cultivated taste for literature?

Ablative of Default

Thursday, December 6, 2007, 18:10 - Learn Latin Language, Latin Language
Posted by Administrator
I've been told that some undergrad students at Harvard (I must assume the same can occur elsewhere) use the term 'Ablative of Default', when dealing with instances of Ablative that were not so easily recognizable. I can see how this can happen, well into the second hour of the class when all Ablatives are beginning to look alike :) Still, I would not recommend using this as a legitimate answer on a test.

A Special Vocabulary to Virgil

Wednesday, December 5, 2007, 20:51 - Books, dictionaries and texts, Latin Language, Latin Translation
Posted by Administrator
A few years ago I scanned Greenough's "Special Vocabulary to Virgil". Now I decided to upload it for everyone's use. Greenough, of course, is the famous author of the good old "New Latin Grammar" still considered the best by many. Here are his words regarding this dictionary, which went through multiple printings over a century ago:

"The author, in preparing this vocabulary to accompany his Virgil, or for use with other editions, has had two things in view: first, to supply as much information as was possible in regard to the history and uses of the Latin words, so that the book should not be a mere key to translate by, but should also furnish means for the study of the language itself; and, secondly, at the same time to give or suggest a suitable English expression for every passage."

A special vocabulary to Virgil

Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas

Tuesday, December 4, 2007, 01:11 - Latin Language, Popular Latin Phrases, Mottos, Slogans, Unsolved Mysteries and Myths
Posted by Administrator


This very famous palindrome, written in a square, is usually interpreted in such a way that rotas is taken as Accusative Plural of rota 'wheel'. We then get something like this: "Sower Arepo holds the wheels of work" (literally, I think, opera is some kind of retained Accusative). What agricultural meaning is hidden in this phrase? Hard to say. I think that in this case, as it often happens with philological toys of this sort, we are trying to get away with having at least a hint of a meaning, all for the sake of the art, so to speak. It is not surprising then that a late medieval work by Christanus Campililiensis 'Tractatus de uersibus' this palindrome is given in this form, making it impossible to fit it in a square:

Ecce rotas opera tenet arepo sator.

Ecce here is a part of the palindrome! The magic gets lost. It's as if the author of this work was unaware of the Arepo square.

And this, among other things, makes me believe that ROTAS is actually not a part of the sentence, but an instruction built into the palindrome, meaning 'you turn /this/ around'. Interestingly, the agricultural metaphor is preserved, because the sentence is still reminiscent of boustrophedon, the movement of oxen in a plough, changing the direction after each pass. Also, I have received a comment reminding me that the "Sator arepo" square has been interpreted to be an encoded Pater noster prayer, with the addition of two letters: Alpha and Omega.

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