Latin: Something to Lean On

Ryan Heshmati

July 15, 2022

Latin; its use has declined over the years from standing as a regularly taught language to becoming a seldom used, scholarly-focused remnant of an old era. However, many principles are most well known in Latin and they remain incredibly important bits of text that should be retained and thought back to during times of reflection. A language that has been replaced in classrooms by other more popular alternatives holds the keys to many ideas one might live by.

Seen in the 1989 Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society, the mantra “carpe diem” is one example of a Latin phrase to be mindful of. It translates to “seize the day,” which can be interpreted as cautioning against taking opportunities for granted. While, especially in an increasingly tech-centric environment, since a new generation is playing video games or posting on social media, perhaps its members should take heed of this advice and “seize the day.” Hanna Arhirova, of the Associated Press, notes the attitude’s prevalence with Ukrainian couples worried about how much time they have left. As a result of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, she reports, many couples are deciding to seal the deal with marriage, while they still can.  As more and more factors enter into regular life, the importance of this adage becomes more and more clear. 

When thinking philosophically, René Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum” comes to mind. The principle, which fittingly appeared in one of the philosopher’s books, Principles of Philosophy, means “I think, therefore I am.” Immediately after its introduction, one may feel its weight, but not necessarily understand its exact message. While it can be interpreted differently by each individual, Descartes, in his writing, contended through thinking and convincing himself of ideas, he proved his existence. Its meaning, like any other quote, is not concrete and is mostly in the eye of the beholder. Another may interpret its message as the use of logic by thinking is key, as when one begins believing or following, they lose the “I,” of their individual existence through conformity. 

It is always comforting to have quotations, ideas, principles, and proverbs in one’s back pocket when navigating life, and those written in Latin form deserve spots, too. If one is interested in exploring this further, books like Latin Proverbs: Wisdom from Ancient to Modern Times, by Waldo E. Sweet, offer thousands of windows into the ideas of great thinkers, whether that be as a mantra or a perspective to be pondered over. 

Possibly the best advice in Latin reads “plus legere a nobis,” meaning “read more from us!”