December 13, 2007

Nulla dies sine linea

In English: No day without a line.

The mastermind behind the wonderful blog Laudator Temporis Acti sent me a query about this proverb yesterday, and I thought I would take this occasion to write up some notes about it, since I always thought this should be the blogger's motto! I know that for me writing something each day in at least one of my blogs (even if it is just the blog of class announcements I keep for my online courses) has really changed my attitude about writing for the better, and greatly increased my productivity.

The saying is very famous in Latin, and is attested in medieval sources. The closest thing to a classical Latin source is this passage in Pliny: Apelli fuit alioqui perpetua consuetudo numquam tam occupatum diem agendi, ut non lineam ducendo exerceret artem, quod ab eo in proverbium venit "Apelles had in fact a regular custom that he never passed a day, no matter how busy, without practicing his art by drawing something (lineam ducendo), which has thus become a proverb." Apelles was a famous Greek painter in the fourth century B.C.E.; you can read more about him here at wikipedia.

The proverb is attested in the Greek collection by Arsenius, which is the version given by Erasmus in his Adages: Nullam hodie lineam duxi, "I have not drawn a line today." This is a rather negative version of the same idea; you should draw (or write) something everyday, and a day that passes without such an occasion is a lost day.

It's unfortunate that Erasmus chose to cite this Greek version of the saying, in such a negative form, when he might have cited the more positive exhortation, nulla dies sine linea. This version of the saying shows up in the Adagia compiled by Polydorus Vergilius, a contemporary of Erasmus. You can find an online edition of Polydorus's Adagia at the Herzog August Bibliothek, as well as a list of the proverb headings, listed alphabetically.

Finally, here is a medieval variant in metrical form: nulla dies abeat, qua linea ducta supersit / nec decet ignavum praeteriisse diem, "Let no day go by without a drawn line to show for it; it is not right for a day to pass by in sloth" (Walther 18894).

So this blog post will stand as my written "line" for today - along with a line of digital audio, too! Here is the proverb read out loud:

572. Nulla dies sine linea.

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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8 comments:

Alex Moore said...

I love the line of digital audio as well!! I have this proverb posted above my computer, but I've never known how to pronounce it. Thank you (& I hope you don't mind if I link to you in my blog...)

Laura Gibbs said...

Hi Alex, thanks so much for your nice comment about my Latin audio proverbs blog! I am glad it is useful to you; I keep a blog at Bestiaria Latina with all the Latin proverbs and fables I put online.

I was interested when I came here to look at your blog. We have some very similar interests in books. I've subscribed to your blog and am looking forward to learning about some good new books to read! (I read the Alvin Maker series last year, which has a great of working with magic and the American landscape; I'm excited to see what the seventh and final novel in that series will bring!).

Anonymous said...

this is my old school motto - great saying and intriguing thing is that I've lived by it all my life without knowing its meaning - Suze

Laura Gibbs said...

Hi Suze, it's a great motto for a school to have. I definitely treat it as my own blogger's motto... and I do try to post something in one of my blogs somewhere each day - what a shame that the ancient Romans couldn't leave behind any blogs for us to read, eh??? :-)

Richard B said...

I was part of the Special Forces team that went to the Dominican Republic following the assassination of Trujillo in the mid-60's and this was our very unofficial team motto during that time and carrying on into the Viet Nam era.

We knew exactly what it meant.

Alex Moore said...

@Richard B: I'm curious about how your group interpreted the proverb. Did you mean: don't let a day go by w/o accomplishing something? or that each day you must practice your own special art? i don't mean to be so dense, but it strikes me as an odd motto to take as a soldier :) (even tho it's one i love)

John Thimakis said...

This was actually our school motto.

Cleveland Street Boys High School.

My mate Aleks seems to think that school mottos can subliminally affect someone's character and behaviour throughout life.

What do you think?

Laura Gibbs said...

That is certainly what schools and families such HOPE for their mottoes. And that is definitely a very encouraging motto for a school to have: lifelong writers! lifelong learning! :-)