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.


MGM motto - Ars gratia artis

 
You pop in a DVD, and after a few annoying movie previews and a menu selection a lion's head shows up, surrounded with three Latin words: Ars gratia artis. What does it mean? The short answer is that it should mean 'Art for art's sake', thus being a translation of a 19th century French motto "L'art pour l'art". There are some concerns about the validity of this translation. Priamarily, Classical Latin does not have a single word that would correspond to our idea of 'art'. However, the Latin of personal and family mottos is a very mixed substance. It is not uncommon to have a motto that displays Medieval influences or bends the meanings of Latin words in some way. It's not ideal, but it happens. I would argue that a plural form of ars (artes) would have served better in the MGM logo, but I think it's passable as it is.

The words of this logo are also reminiscent of "Ars longa, vita brevis"('Art is lasting, life is short') - a translation of a phrase from Hyppocrates, certainly not from Classical times. While the Greek term 'techne' does not really mean the same as 'art' in English, the entire phrase (both in Greek and in Latin) gives us a clue that 'techne' and 'ars' can be aplied to something of perrenial value. Now, what do we have left from the Ancient world? What has maintained its value? Quite naturally, that would be art (in our sense). So, the use of 'ars' by MGM is not that outrageous.

By the way, Howard Dietz, a 19-year old recent dropout from Columbia's School of Journalism, who was asked to come up with a logo for the new movie studio, ended up having a career within MGM.

Marble statues, painted pictures and moral degradation

 
This is one of my most favorite places in Sallust (Bel.Cat 11.5):

Huc accedebat, quod L. Sulla exercitum, quem in Asia ductaverat, quo sibi fidum faceret, contra morem maiorum luxuriose nimisque liberaliter habuerat. Loca amoena, voluptaria facile in otio ferocis militum animos molliverant. Ibi primum insuevit exercitus populi Romani amare, potare, signa, tabulas pictas, vasa caelata mirari, ea privatim et publice rapere, delubra spoliare, sacra profanaque omnia polluere.


In short, when Sulla's army arrived in Asia they quickly became enamored with luxuries of the East, and abandoned traditional virtues of a Roman citizen. The signs of their moral degradation are listed in the following order: whoring, boozing, admiration for statues, painted pictures and carved vases - which resulted in massive theft of these objects of art, plundering of shrines and defilement of everything and all, both sacred and profane.

It is noteworthy that admiration for art is found right in between signs of licentiousness and desecration of temples. The end of the Roman republic was nigh...

On an unrelated note, I always found the use of 'signum' meaning 'sculpture' very interesting. statues were meant as representations of deities, they reminded people about gods, in their absence.

To love and to cherish - David Beckham's tattoo

 
Ut Amem Et Foveam

Popularly translated as "So that I love and cherish" this line was clearly rendered into Latin by someone who hows his/her subjunctives. It is nice to know that even big time sports types understand the importance of employing educated Latinists when attempting to adorn their bodies with grayish letters. It is sad, however, that while in the past patrons used to commission great works of art and fine literature, today people of considerable wealth often reduce themselves to much less ambitious projects.

This post was, of course inspired by the "quod me nutrit" article. I am not a big fan of tattoos, face painting and toe rings. But if you gonna do it - do it right. Beckham did! Of course, most people, including celebrities, prefer to enrave such messages on their wedding rings...


Quod me nutrit me destruit (What nourishes me also destroys me) -- Angelina Jolie's Tattoo

 
Angelina Jolie tattoo

To the best of my knowledge, this motto can be found in two places: on a portrait that is believed to be of Chistopher Marlowe, and on Angelina Jolie's belly (or thereabouts). The more familiar version of this motto is Qui me alit me extinguit - Who feeds me also extinguishes me. One emblematist in particular, Paolo Giovio (Paulus Jovius) gives quod alit etc. This version, most likely taken from an English rendition of Jovius' work by Samuel Daniel, can be also find in Shakespeare. Here is the complete entry from Daniel regarding this motto:

An amorous gentleman of Milan bare in his standard a torch figured burning and turning downward, whereby the melting wax, falling in great abundance, quencheth the flame; with this posy thereunto: Quod me alit me extinguit, alluding to a Lady whose beauty did foster his love and whose disdain did endamage his life.
The choice of a motto slightly varying in its wording (as found above or below, whichever the case may be) must be attributed to the desire to be original. At any rate, I would just like to note that in the same book there is another story with similar connotations:

A certain Gentleman having espoused a noble and virtuous wife, caused her to wear for her Impresa a Snail closed in here shell, as she remaineth all the winter, to defend her from the cold, with this posy, Proprio alitur succo: to signify that she should satisfie herself with the love of her own husband, even as the snail is nourished with her own moisture.

Proprio alitur succo - nourished with her own moisture. Pretty weird and disturbing in its own way... Anyway, just a thought, in case Angelina ever desires to tie the knot. This tattoo would go well with the one that she has. I will refrain from recommendations as to the placing of this motto on her ever so valuable real estate.

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