Wise Sayings of the Ancient Romans Posted by on Mar 25, 2011 in Latin Language

The ancient Romans were witty people who left us with pithy and wise sayings.

Take for instance this phrase, Volenti non fit iniuria

(Volenti = willing. Non = not. Fit = do. Iniuria = harm.)

In English this means “To a willing person one cannot do harm”. Note that ‘iniuria’ can also mean “injustice”, “wrong”, “damage”, or “injury” so you could’ve also translated this phrase as “To a willing person one cannot do injustice/wrong/damage/injury”. Whichever word you use, it means that a person can’t be wronged if he was the one who agreed to it. In other words, for any wrongdoing to have taken place, it would have to mean that the ‘victim’ did not agree to it or that it was done against his will.

This proverb has a bit of alliteration: Vasa vana plurimum sonant

(Vasa = pot. Vana = vacant/empty. Plurimum = most. Sonant = noise/sound.)

It literally means “Empty pots make the most noise.” It has the same meaning as the English proverb “An empty vessel makes the most noise” and it means that the foolish are always the ones who speak the loudest. It also means that those who lack common sense are the ones who complain the most. In other words, the empty pot is a metaphor for an empty brain or for those who lack intelligence. These people are the ones that make the most commotion or trouble.

Some of our modern legal laws originated from ancient Roman laws like this one:

 Ubi dubium, ibi libertas

(Ubi = where. Dubium = doubt. Ibi = here. Libertas = liberty/freedom)

It literally means “Where there is doubt, there is freedom”. In other words, if there is no reasonable evidence as to whether the accused committed the crime, then he/she must be set free. It’s similar to the phrase “Innocent until proven guilty”.

This proverb is from Cicero. It’s very applicable to what’s happening in the news:

Silent leges inter arma

(Silent = silent. Leges = laws. Inter = during. Arma = war.)

It means “During war laws are silent”. Cicero doesn’t go so far as to say that there are no laws in times of war, but he did feel that civil liberties were often comprised in times of war.

This is a good proverb that can apply to any situation: Non semper erit aestas

(Non = not. Semper = always. Erit = will. Aestas = summer.)

It means, “It will not always be summer”. In other words, “prepare for hard times” or “it won’t always be easy” or better yet “things won’t always go smoothly”.

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  1. Manuel Paulo da Silva Braga Maia Gonçalves:

    One of the greatest proverbs is without doubt:
    “Aquila non capit muscas”.
    Meaning the Eagle does not catch flies can have several readings but to focus on the most important or essential is my personal favorite.
    Regards to all,
    Paulo Maia Gonçalves