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Book Chats on Latin.


"The Sayings of Publius Syrus".

("Many words of the ancients still ring true". Euripides)

Our guess is that not many of you have heard of
Publius Syrus..?
We neither ….until very recently (we were reading the essay on “Prudence”, in A C Grayling's “ The Meaning of Things“ *).

It turns out Publius Syrus (a.k.a: Publilius Syrus) was a Roman slave in the time of Caesar.

However, what was unusual was his gift for wise and witty remarks, or aphorisms (latin: Sententiae) . These were collected and can be read even now as “The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus” (and first published in 1856 from the Latin by a D. Lyman. L E Barnard & Co. Cleveland).

This work documents 1087 of them!

And, according to the records, he was eventually freed for this work.

Curiously, we have located some of his Latin texts, and the English translation texts **, but not the complete parallel texts (if any reader can help there, it would be appreciated).


Scanning through his Latin texts we reach Syrus' aphorism number 119
"Bonum est duabus fundari navem ancoris".

A literal reading gives us

Good it is two anchors to secure the boat”.

Tidying this up a bit, yields something close to D Lyman's 1856 translation...

It is good to secure one's boat with two anchors”

However, A C Graying's free translation (see his page 40)*, offers us

He does well who moors his boat with two anchors”.


Now that is interesting!

In a nutshell, Syrus could be seen as advising us.....to always have something to fall back on, if the day job goes pear shaped!


Armed with this very useful piece of advice, a free evening, and a diligent search of all one thousand and eighty-seven, then, as one can see below, our efforts yielded a rich harvest (we use the English translations only here)...

They have a peculiarly telling quality and we would be interested to hear what other readers think.......

Here is our top pick....


To do two things at once is to do neither”. (7).
The plainer the table, the more wholesome the food”. (48).

He keeps furthest from danger who looks out while he is safe”. (128).

Let fly many arrows, and no two will hit the same place”. (158).

When Providence favours, you can make safe voyage on a twig”. (189).

He who has prospered in life, should stay at home”. (204).

Even a single hair casts its shadow”. (228).

You should hammer your iron while it is glowing hot”. (262).

A Man's life is a loan, not a gift”. (324).

When two do the same thing, it is not the same thing after all”. (338).

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm”. (358).

He who chases two hares will catch neither”. (426).

Mighty rivers may easily be leapt at their source”. (442).

Never thrust your own sickle into another's corn” (593).

You cannot put the same shoe on every foot” (596).

You should go to a pear tree for pears, not an elm”. (674).

He can have what he wishes, who wishes just enough”. (809).

The sons of the blacksmith are not frightened of sparks”. (867).

If you are a mariner, let landsmen's business alone”. (885).

The greatest of empires, is the empire over one's self”. (891).

The stolen ox sometimes puts its head out of the stall”. (918).

Even to be hung one should choose a fine tree”. (959).


Entry number 524 is a bit of a gem also...

A Rolling Stone gathers no moss”. (One can't help wondering if Mick and Keef  knew it went back that far....!).


Our favourites are 119, 228 and 891. As guidance for life one could not do better.

His saying number 119 is interesting as it seems to be much worked over. In fact, one can find a number of Latin versions.....viz...

Bonum est duabus ancoris niti ratem. Bonum est duabus fundari navem ancoris. Bonum est duabus niti ancoris. Ancoris duabus niti ratem bonum est. Duabus nititur ancoris. Duabus ancoris fultus. Melius duo defendunt retinacula navim. Navis tua fulta est duabus ancoris. And; Servari haud una navis ancora solet.
Last updated here November 21st 2019.

*   “The Meaning of Things. Applying Philosophy to Life”. A.C. Grayling. Phoenix. 2001.

** “The Moral Sayings of Publilius Syrus”. POD. Martino Publications. Mansfield.CT. 2014.

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