November 05, 2007

Palma non sine pulvere

In English: No palm without dust.

I thought I would choose this proverb today in honor of the fact that I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the work I have to do, but this proverb promises me at least the possibility of some kind of reward: in exchange for the dust (stirred up by all this hard work), I might hope to achieve the palm of victory!

This is a saying that has inspired many scholars and students over the ages. For example, you can find this saying as the motto of the Friends School of Baltimore, a Quaker school established all the way back in 1784. The best English equivalent I can think of is "no pain, no gain!"

The Latin saying is derived from Horace's first epistle, which asks the rhetorical question of whether the prize of the palm of victory without any effort would be worth having (sit condicio dulcis sine pulvere palmae?), the answer being that it would not be worth having at all!

Horace's use of the image thus shows that the proverb actually cuts both ways: you can read it to mean that you cannot hope to get the palm of victory without making some kind of effort and, conversely, that if you were somehow to get the palm of victory without having made any real effort, it would be a meaningless, hollow victory.

The Latin word pulvis, meaning "dust," is especially associated with athletic effort and competition, whereas in English it unfortunately suggests the endless effort of dusting around the house! In the same way that "sand," Latin harena or arena, could stand by metonymy for athletic competition (hence our English word "arena"), the dust, too, conjured up images of sporting events and athletic displays. Something that was "dusty," pulverulentus, was not something necessarily old, dirty and neglected (as in the connotations of the English word); rather, something covered with dust in Latin was something that represented effort and toil, as when Ovid writes about military honors which are covered in dust, praemia militiae pulverulenta.

At the moment, then, the two book manuscripts I am working on are definitely "dusty" - not because I am neglecting them, but because I am working so hard at them, striving for the palm of victory!

So, hoping you too are surviving the dust on your road to victory, here is today's proverb read out loud:

355. Palma non sine pulvere.

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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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about "NON EST SINE PULVERE PALMA" ? Thanks for any help

Laura Gibbs said...

It's the same saying - in Latin, including the verb "est" ("is") is optional, and you often have the same proverb either with the "est" or without it. So too with Latin word order; it is very flexible, without changing the meaning. So, Palma non sine pulvere and non est sine pulvere palma express exactly the same idea, just with a slightly different style of expression.

Anonymous said...

The saying "non est sine pulvere plama" is on the Yarberry/Yarbrough coat of arms. It dates back to around 989 ad.