January 28, 2007

Ex luna scientia

In English: From the moon, knowledge.

I thought this would be a good follow-up to yesterday's proverb, ex duris gloria. Today's saying uses similar syntax - "ex A, B" - but obviously a quite different message.

In fact, today's saying is not ancient, but modern! It was the motto of the Apollo XIII mission to the moon. You can see the mission emblem below, with the motto clearly visible, along with the horses of the sun streaking away from the blue earth across space, with both the sky and the moon in the background. This is the mission that actually did not make it to the moon, as made famous in the wonderful film Apollo XIII.

I've often pointed out that proverbs are a free-form body of expression, where a given proverb can exist in many different variants, giving rise to similar new proverbs based on pre-existing patterns. Well, this applies to today's proverb as well. The Apollo XIII motto, ex luna scientia, provided the inspiration for the Latin motto of Star Trek's Starfleet Academy: ex astris scientia, "from the stars, knowledge."

Wikipedia informs me that in the absence of a Latin grammar consultant, the motto was stated originally as "Ex astra scientia." Grammatically, this does not work, because the Latin word astrum is a neuter noun, so you have to say either ex astro scientia, "from the star, knowledge," or ex astris scientia, "from the stars knowledge." This correct version appeared in the later episodes of Star Trek whenever the Latin motto of the Starfleet Academy was invoked.

The grammar is definitely important here, and Latin students need to know that the preposition ex takes the ablative case. Still, this important bit of grammar is not hard, so today's proverb - ex luna scientia - is simple enough to be used on the very first day of a Latin class, showing the nominative and ablative forms of first declension nouns.

So, with a salute to space travelers everywhere, here is today's proverb read out loud:

25. Ex luna scientia.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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