For wisdom that survived millennia of human endeavors, there’s no better source than Latin proverbs, and the following 10 rise above the rest as Latin proverbs everyone should know. You can learn them in the original Latin for the singsong beauty of the saying, but for its sagacity it suffices to savor the translation. So feast your mind on these 10 Latin proverbs everyone should know and carry them with you into the world like erudite pegs on which to hang new knowledge.
#1. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
This famous Latin proverb warns against the power of government with the satirical question: But who will guard the custodians themselves? Sometimes translated as Who will guard the guards? this wise Latin proverb reminds us that we can appoint officials to guard our rights, but we should be forever watchful of these guards and wonder who will guard them from abusing the power we granted them. In this Latin proverb we see the first instance of the chicken and the egg dilemma.
#2. Veritas vos liberabit
This famous Latin proverb reminds us of the nature of truth, the verisimilitude of our statements to reality. Translated as The truth shall make you free, or The truth shall set you free, this beautiful Latin proverb promises us peace of mind and consciousness if we speak the truth. And though we may suffer loss of wealth or position by exposing a painful truth, freedom lies first and foremost in a man’s soul and his perception of himself. In other words, this Latin proverb promises that with truth you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror.
#3. Qui audet adipiscitur
Adopted as the motto of the most elite fighting force in the world, the British SAS, He Who Dares Wins is a Latin proverb we should all strive to fulfill Timidity counsels us to stay put, wait and see. But the man who dares to defy the odds, convention, practicality is the man who has a chance to win. In the daring itself lies a victory over human nature that often seeks the comfort of the known. All record-breaking endeavors began as a dare by the man who set out to defy the past.
#4. Rem nimium bene gerere, in solitudo esse
This famous Latin proverb illuminates a sad truth when it reminds us that To be too successful is to be in solitude. Though men will strive for excellence and even admire it, too often the successful man is alone, with others fearing him or feeling envious; while he, who has outstripped others, finds them too dull or simply unable to appreciate the struggle and the strain that brought him thus far.
#5. Usus est magister optimus
Though we may go to school, read and learn under the guidance of great men, nothing compares to learning through life. Translated as Experience is the best teacher this famous Latin proverb is as wise today as it had been 5000 years ago, despite all our technology, books and institutes of learning.
#6. Culpae poena par esto
Though this Latin proverb may seem almost a cliché today, its vital importance has never waivered. Let the punishment fit the crime is a concept first discovered by the Romans who established a system of law under which all Roman citizens had a right to speak in their defense when charges were leveled against them. Never before had such firm ground for business and invention existed, and the Roman empire flourished when men knew the laws in advance, not after action was retrospectively deemed illegal by the decree of a prince. This Latin proverb stands at the core of all justice, and justice stands at the heart of civilization.
#7. Crede quod habes, et habes
Though apt to be misunderstood, this Latin proverb does not advocate wishful thinking but the power of positive thinking to affect the success of our endeavors. Believe that you have it, and you do is a premise we have all clung to at one time or another as we strove for the impossible, only to attain it after great struggle.
#8. Noli me vocare, ego te vocabo
Though many of us assume that the advent of the telephone gave birth to this saying, it is in fact an old Latin proverb. Don’t call me, I’ll call you, was not invented by literary agents or rude business recruiters; it’s as old as human civilization, and was probably as painfully dismissive then as it is now.
#9. Absentem laedit cum ebrio qui litigat
Touching and wise, this Latin proverb fits any situation in which we are not ourselves, be it through sickness, or substance abuse or fatigue. To quarrel with a drunk is to wrong a man who is not there grants every human the respect of accepting him as nobler than his faults. If ninety percent of the time we are good and honest, should we be condemned for a sudden slip or folly?
Hardly known as such, R.I.P is in fact a famous Latin proverb, and though translated as Rest in Peace, the original Latin acronym stands for Requiescat in Pace.
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