Latin Language Blog

Ancient Roman Proverbs Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

Ancient Roman proverbs can certaintly be confusing, but they are certainly rich in meaning. Here are some of my favorite proverbs :

adversus solem ne loquitor literally means, “do not speak against the sun. It’s used when someone is arguing or advocating something that is obviously and blatantly wrong. Since the sun is guaranteed to exist forever (assuming that a geologic catastrophe doesn’t occur), the proverb is saying that one shouldn’t argue against something that is so likely as the sun’s existence.

ignis aurum probat literally means, “the fire tests the gold”. When ancient Roman blacksmiths refined gold, they would do so in a hot fire. Therefore this phrase is used when someone’s character is being “refined” by adversity.

aquila non capit muscas means the eagle does not catch flies. In ancient Rome, eagles were considered majestic animals. Conversely, flies were considered insignificant and a nuisance.  Therefore this proverb was used to imply that people of high rank (the eagle) won’t have the time or patience to deal with trifling matters (flies).

hic abundant leones means “here the lions abound”. The lions are a metaphor for the unknown, like uncharted territory. When the Ancient Romans were first starting to conquer other nations, some of the territories on their maps were labeled with this phrase.

auribus teneo lupum literally means, “I grasp a wolf by the ears”. It’s supposed to convey a situation where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In other words, grabbing on to the wolf’s ears or letting go could both end in disaster.

in cauda venenum which means, “poison in the tail” is a metaphor of a scorpion sting. This phrase is used when a situation starts without a hitch and becomes deadly in the end.  

una hirundo non facit ver means,  “one swallow does not make a summer”. In Ancient Rome, swallows were considered good fortune. Therefore it means that one good outcome (or swallow) doesn’t guarantee that a situation will be successful in every single instance.

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  1. Quintus Schulzke:

    Thank you for sharing these. It’s a great reminder to learn from the past. With a latin name like mine, I always feel more at ease when I can speak a little latin to go with it! 🙂

  2. Lennart Brink:

    The world needs many more and a lot of proverbs.

  3. Sigfrido Hurtado Carmona:

    ‘Una hirundo non facit ver’

    I think the interpretation you give for this proverb is not right, it is too restrictive. I propose this, instead: “Do not make a generalization based upon one single event. Think of it as applied to the literal translation: seeing a swallow is seeing a swallow, it does not necessarily means that Summer arrived (many, many swallows).

    Because of a transient need I am staying temporarily at an institution which gives care to senile people (I still keep my usual mental performance).

    One day I forgot my cell phone at the dinner table and a kind nurse went to me, gave me the device and made me know -very clear- my distraction. Worried about my “forgetfulness” (very common at that place), she insisted -even through another nurse- on assuring herself that I would not repeat my careless act. On the second repetition (of her overacting) I said just that sentence in Spanish, my mother language (Una golondrina no hace verano),,, and her overacting stopped completely! She understood perfectly the meaning.

    I would love to see a reply to this message.

    Greetings. Sigfrido