In ancient Rome, love was considered a divine, as well as human, madness. Ovid tells hundreds of stories about gods who loved unwisely. For example: Apollo, who was so relentless in his pursuit of the unwilling Daphne that she asked her father to turn her into a tree to avoid his kisses. We've all been fools for love and reminding a brokenhearted friend (or ourselves) that even the masters of the universe have been in the same position may provide a bit of all-too-human comfort.
Ascribed to Publilius Syrus, a 1st century AD writer known for his aphorisms, this saying reminds us that even the smallest action has consequences, that everything and everyone, no matter how seemingly insignificant, affects the universe. (Not for nothing, Syrus was brought from Syria to Italy as a slave. He so impressed his master with his pithy wit that the master freed and educated him).
Aulus Gellius, a 1st century BC politician, recounts the incident that inspired this saying: A man with long hair and a waist-length beard approached the Athenian aristocrat Herodes asking for bread. When Herodes asked who he was, the beggar, offended, asked why Herodes thought it necessary to ask about what was obvious. "I am a philosopher," he stated. "I see a beard and a cloak," Herodes responded. "The philosopher I do not yet see." An elegant note to self when having to deal with those who act wiser or more knowledgeable than they are.
This rallying cry has been a favorite of politicians for millennia. "Things might be bad now, but I will lead you to better times." Note: an inspirational message you can pass on to kids at the dinner table
A more powerful, ancient saying to our modern "between a rock and a hard place." It's so much more vivid and motivational—jump or be eaten.
This phrase from Cicero, Republican Rome's most celebrated orator, warns against an overzealous desire to get famous/rich/successful with little work. A must cake—made from wheat flour and sediment left from making wine—was a cheap food. Real glory arrives, the orator suggested, only after we've put in some hard, costly, sustained effort.
This maxim by Seneca, 1st AD century philosopher, politician and playwright, reminds us not to struggle when the world will have its way with us. Better to accept reality than to fight it, even if the results turn out to be identical—a piece of advice that Seneca was forced to reckon with. He was for many years Emperor Nero's tutor and adviser, until Nero forced him to commit suicide. This he did (though it took three attempts in one afternoon).
A saying about rough times that works in any
Ann Patty is the author of Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin
. The founder and publisher of The Poseidon Press, and an executive editor at Crown Publishers and Harcourt, she now teaches Latin to teenagers.