Latin Language Blog

Sayings that Ancient Romans Would Know Posted by on Jun 6, 2011 in Latin Language

There are some wise sayings that only someone who lived in ancient Rome or well versed in ancient Roman culture would know. Take for instance this one: “Non licet omnibus adire Corinthum”.

If you translate this into English it means, “Not everyone is permitted to go to Corinth.” To understand this quote, one has to know a little something about the city of Corinth. Like for instance, the ancient Romans believed the Greek city of Corinth to be a decadent and debauched city. Strabo was an ancient Greek philosopher and he was one of the writers who wrote about the mythical story about there being more than one thousand temple prostitutes at the Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth. Perhaps this is where the ancient Romans got the idea that the best brothels were in Corinth. Therefore, the saying “Not everyone can go to Corinth,” meant that only those who were privileged and wealthy enough to spend lavishly could go to Corinth.

The saying, “Hannibal antes portas” means “Hannibal before the gates”. Hannibal is the Carthaginian commander that occupied much of Italy for fifteen years until the Roman general Scipio defeated him in the Battle of Zama. Even after Hannibal was defeated, he was dreaded and feared for many years after. The Hannibal in ‘Hannibal towards the gates’ is a metaphor for danger or doom. The ‘gates’ alludes to the gates of Rome. Therefore “Hannibal ad portas” is used when someone is behaving in a lackadaisical manner when there is a situation of impending danger.

There is also the saying “Hannibal ad portas” which means “Hannibal is at the gates.” The ‘ad’ can mean ‘toward’ as when something moves closer and closer to an object, but it can also have the meaning ‘at’, as when something reaches or attains or is ‘being’. “Hannibal ad portas” is more urgent than “Hannibal antes portas” because “Hannibal antes portas” means that there is still some distance before Hannibal/danger reaches the gates, but “Hannibal ad portas” implies that Hannibal/danger is right before the gates/city of Rome. Moreover, “Hannibal ad portas” was used by ancient Roman parents to scare their children when they misbehaved. In this sense Hannibal is like the boogeyman of ancient Rome.

The Punic Wars were deeply embedded in the consciousness of the ancient Romans. There is another saying that goes something like this, “Carthago delenda est.” It means “Carthage must be destroyed”. The phrase comes from Cato the Elder, who used this phrase in every speech to the Senate. Even when the speech had nothing to do with Carthage, he always concluded his speech with the phrase “ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” which means “Apart from that, I conclude that Carthage must be destroyed.” After continued usage of this phrase by Cato, it became a common phrase used when someone incessantly harps on the same subject.


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  1. سيبتيموس:

    كيف يكون جنرال فنيقي و فنيقيا عجزت ان تكون جيش الا من خلال
    استعانة بجيوش الامازيغ النوميديين و ليبيين….وتقديم الاتوات ???