30 Interesting Ancient Roman Latin Phrases And Sayings

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Previously, we had covered the 25 Incredible Ancient Roman Quotes, though translated in their English forms. This time around, we decided to include the original Latin phrases and sayings uttered by the various eminent ancient Roman poets, philosophers, generals, and even emperors. So without further ado, let us take a gander at 30 ancient Roman Latin phrases and sayings you should know.

Marcus Tullius Cicero or simply Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) is often considered to be one of the greatest Roman orators and prose stylists of his time. Hailing from a wealthy Roman equestrian family, Cicero was also a philosopher, politician, lawyer, political theorist, and a constitutionalist, who introduced neologisms such as evidentiahumanitasqualitasquantitas, and essentia. Interestingly enough, it should be noted that Cicero himself was killed at the orders of Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius). Apparently, Cicero’s last words to his captors were – “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” In any case, here are some of the ancient Roman Latin phrases and sayings mentioned by Cicero –

1) Omnium Rerum Principia Parva Sunt – ‘The beginnings of all things are small.’

2) Vixere – ‘They lived.’ (after the execution of the participants in the Catilinarian conspiracy; meaning: “they are dead”).

3) Semper Idem – ‘Always the same.’

4) Pecunia Nervus Belli – ‘Money is the soul (or sinew) of war.’

5) Male Parta Male Dilabuntur – ‘What has been wrongly gained is wrongly lost.’

Virgil or Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC – 19 BC), was one of ancient Rome’s greatest poets corresponding to the Augustan period. His massive contribution to Latin literature is espoused by three significant works – the Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. The latter literary specimen is often considered as ancient Rome’s national epic, with the work following the traditions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Here are two of the ancient Roman Latin phrases mentioned by Virgil –

6) Amor Vincit Omnia – ‘Love conquers all.’

7) Non Omnia Possumus Omnes – ‘We can’t all of us do everything.’

Horace or Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC), was the foremost Roman lyric poet contemporary to the Augustan period, who dabbled in both hexameter verses and caustic iambic poetry. He was also an officer in the republican army that was defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. But later on he was offered amnesty by Octavian, and thus Horace became a spokesman for the new regime (though he lost his father’s estate to a colony of veterans). Here are some of the ancient Roman Latin phrases and sayings mentioned by Horace –

8) Aere Perennius – ‘More lasting than bronze.’

9) Permitte Divis Cetera – ‘Leave all else to the gods.’

10) Omnes Una Manet Nox – ‘One night awaits everyone.’

11) Carpe Diem – ‘Seize the day.’

12) Nil Desperandum – ‘Never despair!’

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, also known as Seneca the Younger (5 BC – 65 AD), was a Roman Stoic philosopher and a dramatist who also tried his hand in humor. One of the sons of Seneca the Elder, Lucius also acted as the Imperial adviser and tutor to Roman Emperor Nero. Unfortunately, his very connection to political affairs brought forth his demise – when Lucius was forced to commit suicide for his alleged role in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero. Here are some of the ancient Roman Latin phrases and sayings mentioned by Cicero (mostly in his version of Oedipus) –

13) Veritas Odit Moras – ‘Truth hates delay.’

14) Timendi Causa Est Nescire – ‘The cause of fear is ignorance.’

15) Vivamus, Moriendum Est – ‘Let us live, since we must die.’

16) Nemo Sine Vitio Est – ‘No one is without fault.’

17) Magna Servitus Est Magna Fortuna – ‘A great fortune is a great slavery.’

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis or Juvenal (55-60 AD to post 127 AD) is counted among the most famous of ancient Rome’s poets, who was renowned for his collection of satirical poems known as the Satires. And while not much is known about his private life, it has been hypothesized that Juvenal was possibly a son (or adopted son) of a rich freedman, and was born in Aquinum, central Italy. It is also conjectured that Juvenal was a pupil of Quintilian and a practitioner of rhetoric, while his career as a satirist began late in his life. And furthermore, like many of his fellow Roman poets, Juvenal might have been exiled (by either Emperor Trajan or Domitian), though the place of his exile is debated in the academic world. Here are some of the ancient Roman Latin phrases and sayings mentioned by Juvenal –

18) Vitam Impendere Vero – ‘Dedicate your life to truth.’

19) Mens Sana In Corpore Sano – ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body.’

20) Panem et Circenses – ‘Bread and circuses.’

21) Quis Costodiet Ipsos Custodies? – ‘Who will guard the guards?’

And lastly, we have compiled the remaining Latin phrases and quotes uttered by the crème de la crème of ‘friends, Romans, and countrymen’, including Pliny the Elder, Quintilian, Ovid, Julius Caesar, and Augustus.

22) Ars Longa, Vita Brevis – ‘Art is long, life is short.’

– Hippocrates.

It pertains to the Latin translation of the first two Greek lines of the Aphorismi, one of the treatises of the Corpus – the renowned collection of ancient medical works often attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. As for the historical side of affairs, Hippocrates, often heralded as the ‘Father of Medicine’, was probably born in circa 460 BC, on the Greek island of Kos.

23) Vade Retro Me, Satana – ‘Get off my back, Satan.’

– Gospel of Mark 8:33

The Latin phrase is derived from the Vulgate and in the narrative is presented as being spoken by Jesus to Peter. According to historical estimation, the Gospel of Mark was written during the 1st century (at least before 90 AD, possibly between 66–70 AD) – which makes it the earliest known written gospel, though the authorship still remains anonymous.

24) In Vino Veritas – ‘Truth in Wine.’

– Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder or Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – 79 AD), was an ancient Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher – known for his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia. Like some eminent Romans of his time, Pliny also had a career in the military with his high-status post as a naval and army commander in the early Roman empire. Pliny later died in the catastrophic eruption of Mouth Vesuvius (AD 79) on the beach at Stabiae, and hence was one of the famous (yet unfortunate) eye-witnesses to the destruction of Pompeii (reconstructed in this article).

25)  Acta est Fabula, Plaudite! – ‘The play is over, applaud!’

– Augustus

Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD), born Gaius Octavius, was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor who ruled till his death in 14 AD (additionally he was also Julius Caesar’s adopted heir). The reign of Augustus kick-started what is known as Pax Romana (the Roman Peace), an extensive period of almost two centuries when the Roman realm was not disturbed by any long-drawn major conflict, in spite of the empire’s ‘regular’ territorial expansions into regions like Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Germania and complete annexation of Hispania.

26) Quis, Quid, Ubi, Quibus Auxiliis, Cur, Quomodo, Quando? – ‘Who, what, where, with what, why, how, when?’

– Quintilian

An ancient Roman rhetorician from Hispania, Quintilian or Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, was born in circa 35 AD and was known for opening his public school of rhetoric during the chaotic period of the Year of the Four Emperors (circa 69 AD). There were some eminent names among his students, including Pliny the Younger and possibly Tacitus and Juvenal. And such was his influence in Rome and its circle of education (especially for the ruling class)that later on he was made a consul by Emperor Vespasian.

27) Alea Jacta Est – ‘The die is cast.’

— Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC), was a Roman statesman and notable author of Latin prose. But he is mostly known for being the greatest Roman general of his time, who completed the conquest of Gaul and launched the first Roman invasion of Britain.

28) Exitus Acta Probat – ‘The result justifies the deed.’

— Ovid

Ovid or Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC – 17 AD), was a contemporary Roman poet of the older Virgil and Horace, and together these three formed the ‘holy trinity’ of Latin canonical literature during the Augustan period. To that end, Ovid is mainly known his mythological narrative – the Metamorphoses, along with collections of love poetry like the Amores (“Love Affairs”) and Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love”).

29) Fiat Lux – ‘Let there be light.’

— Old Testament ‐ Genesis 1:3

Counted among one of most famous of English and Latin phrases, in context, the full translation is “dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux” (“And said God let there be light, and there was light”). The Vulgate Latin version is obviously derived from the Hebrew phrase vayo’mer ‘Elohim, yehi ‘or vayehi ‘or,  found in Genesis 1:3 of the Torah, the first part of the Hebrew Bible.

Honorable Mention –

30) Caveat Emptor – ‘Let the buyer beware.’

According to Merriam Webster, the (possibly) ancient Latin phrase is associated with the sale of goods – “In early Roman law, sales of goods were governed by caveat emptor: buyers were advised to scrutinize the goods before purchase because sellers had few obligations. Over time, the imperative of caveat emptor has been softened by warranties, both express and implied.”

Sources: Merriam Webster / Best-Quotations

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