December 23, 2007

Nulla sine sole umbra

In English: There is no shadow without the sun.

I was prompted to include this proverb today because of the winter solstice yesterday, and the secular HumanLight holiday which takes place today, December 23, in conjunction with the solstice. Today's proverb is about the perpetual interplay between light and dark which is marked in such a profound way at the winter solstice, when the sun seems to stop receding from us in the sky: the longest night of year arrives, and from here until the summer solstice, the daylight will grow longer and longer with each passing day.

I especially like the way this simple proverb provokes us to think metaphorically: when we see a shadow, darkness, the form of the absence of light, instead of thinking about that shadow as a thing in itself, we should think about the fact that it was cast by light, by sunlight in particular, if we are looking at a shadow out of doors.

Metaphorically, this is something that points in many different directions: the interplay between death and life, between insight and blindness, between good and evil, and so on.

As you might expect, this motto is one that is found inscribed on sundials. From this magnificent list of sundial mottoes, here are some others based on the idea of "nothing without the sun (or the shadow)" as in today's saying:

NIHIL SINE SOLE: nothing without the sun
QUID SINE SOLE? NIHIL: what (is there) without the sun? nothing
SINE LUMINE NIHIL: without the light, nothing
NIL NISI CAELESTI RADIO: nothing, unless by the heavenly beam
SINE UMBRA NIHIL: without the shadow, nothing
CUM UMBRA NIHIL, SINE UMBRA NIHIL: with the shadow, nothing, without the shadow nothing [quite a lovely brain-teasing paradox!]

I especially like the ones where the sundial itself is made to speak, as here:

SINE SOLE NIHIL SUM: without the sun, I am nothing
NIHIL NISI SOL MIHI: there's nothing for me unless there is sun
PHOEBO ABSENTE NIL SUM: when Phoebus is absent, I am nothing
SINE SOLE NIHIL SUM, SINE DEO TU NIHIL POTES: without the sun I am nothing; without God you can do nothing
SINE SOLE EGO, TU SINE FIDE NIHIL POSSUMUS FACERE: I without the sun, you without faith, can do nothing

So, hoping your mixture of sun and shadow meets your needs today, here is today's proverb read out loud:

353. Nulla sine sole umbra.

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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