May 04, 2007

Patria mea totus mundus est

In English: My fatherland is the whole world.

After the sayings about the world, mundus, that I've posted in the past few days, I thought this would be a good follow-up saying. Here, the world is not something transitory, and it is not something hostile. Instead, this proverb embraces the whole world, calling it home.

The fuller form of this phrase, as reported in the Roman philosopher Seneca, is: non sum uni angulo natus, patria mea totus hic mundus est, "I was not born for just one corner; my home is this whole world."

You may be familiar with the English word, derived from Greek, which expresses this same idea: "cosmopolitan." Someone who is "cosmopolitan" is a citizen (-politan) of the world (cosmo-).

There is actually a philosophy called "cosmopolitanism" which promotes the idea that all human beings of the earth belong to one community, regardless of their homeland or specific culture or political affiliation. The notion of cosmopolitanism in the ancient world really came into its own with the Stoic philosophers, including the Roman Seneca.

Yet at the same time that Seneca espoused a philosophical cosmopolitanism, we should remember that this took place in a time of Roman imperialism. Seneca's fatherland was, in a certain sense, the whole world, as the Roman empire expanded its dimensions to include more and more of the known world under its sway! The result is a paradox between Seneca's own cosmopolitan idealism and the realpolitik of the Roman empire.

There is something of the same paradox today in the way that "globalization" works. On the one hand, there is the idealistic side of globalization, where cultures are able to share across borders, with positive interchanges taking place unhindered by borders and barriers. On the other hand, however, there is the corporate imperialism that is also a globalized phenomenon, the "American Idol"-ization of the world.

As someone passionately interested in cultures around the world, I am very sympathetic to today's saying, feeling very much as if my human identity is one that makes me a member of a global human community. At the same time, I know that as an American, I am a citizen of a country which has taken an imperialistic approach to the world at large, much like Seneca's Rome, exerting political, military and economic control over other parts of the world, extending our "fatherland" far beyond its physical boundaries.

So, with the emphasis on idealism rather than imperialism (I hope!), here is today's proverb read out loud:

830. Patria mea totus mundus est.

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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