Latin is a beautiful language that lends a certain gravitas (see what I mean) to any phrase, sentence, or quotation, especially when it’s on a tattoo. Of course, it helps if you know what the meanings of the words are!
Latin tattoos are a great way to espouse a particular belief, thought, or idea and make it personal to you, since most people can’t read Latin. Adding Latin to your tattoo lends it an even more personal touch and can give your ink even deeper meaning. Here are some ideas for your next Latin tattoo, what they mean, and a little background on where they come from.
Alis Grave Nil
Usually translated as “nothing is heavy to those who have wings”, although a direct translation of the English phrase should be “Nihil Gravius Pennatis”. Alis Grave Nil is also the motto of Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeir, or the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio De Janeiro.
Audax at Fidelis
Translates to “bold but faithful”, this Latin phrase is also the motto of Queensland, Australia, and can be seen on its coat of arms. In the context as the Queensland coat of arms, it’s commonly transliterated to “Bold, Aye, and Faithful too”, in order to give it a more natural speaking syntax.
Auribus Teneo Lupum
An old Latin proverb that has its roots with the Roman playwright Terence, auribus teneo lupum translates to “I hold the wolf by the ears” and is first spoken by Antipho, a character in Terence’s play Phormio. It’s used to describe a situation that is difficult to overcome. It’s been used quite often in history by important figures, from Emperor Tiberius all the way to Thomas Jefferson.
Translates to “seize the night”, carpe noctem is a derivative of Horatius’ famous line carpe diem. But far from its promotion of a healthy work ethic, carpe diem actually means the opposite: for Epicureans like Horatius, living in the moment, taking your time and slowing, these are what make life worth living, not toiling away at your job. In fact, the complete line is: Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, which means “Enjoy the day, and trust the future as little as possible”.
Castigat Ridendo Mores
Allegedly coined by French New Latin Poet Abbé Jean de Santeul, the phrase means “laughing corrects morals” or, alternatively “one corrects customs by laughing at them”. Scholars often bring up this phrase as an embodiment of satire, which aims to change things by pointing out how absurd it is in essence.
Dum Vita Est, Spes Est
Translates to “while there is life, there is hope” or, more directly, “while life is, hope is”. While there are no exact origins of this Latin proverb, the phrase is often used in religious writing and is most often used by theologians and church doctors.
A Latin phrase that means “out of nothing”, ex nihilo is a philosophical and religious term that is often used in the concept of creation (creation ex nihilo). However, it can also be used in debates or law, where a topic is ex nihilo if it has no bearing to the previous topic being discussed.
Faber Est Quisque Fortunae Suae
Translated to “every man is the artisan (or, alternatively, architect) of his own fortune”, the quote is attributed to Roman politician and historian Sallust in a letter he wrote to Julius Caesar. The letter was written in praise of Caesar’s work, how the latter had worked hard to achieve what he did and did not rely having an entire empire being handed to him on a silver platter.
Often translated as “happy fault” or “lucky fault”, felix culpa describes a situation wherein an apparent mistake ends up being beneficial to everyone involved. This is often used in Catholic theology when describing the Fall of Man, a felix culpa because it led to the redemption of Mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ignis Aurum Probat
Translates to “Fire tests Gold”, ignis aurum probat comes from a longer quotation which goes ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes hominess, often translated to “As gold is tested in the fire, so are strong men tempered in suffering. It is the motto of the Prometheus Society and is often attributed to the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca.
Luceat Lux Vestra
Translates to “let your light shine”, luceat lux vestra is a phrase taken from the Book of Matthew, verse 16, chapter 5. It’s also the motto of various schools around the world.
Luctor et Emergo
The motto of the Dutch province of Zeeland, Luctor et Emergo translates to “I struggle and emerge”, an apt motto for a province that constantly struggles with flooding and had to build several defenses against water.
Translates to “never despair”, this Latin phrase comes from Horace’s work Ode, and is part of a longer sentence that goes Nil desperandum Teucro et Auspice Teucro, which translates as “No need to despair with Teucer as your leader and Teucer to protect you”.
Non Ducor Duco
The official motto of the city of São Paulo in Brazil, Non ducor duco translates to “I am not led; I lead”, this phrase is a great way to assert your will and autonomy in a world that wants you to be bent.
Qui Audet Adipiscitur
Translates to “s/he who dares, wins”. Used as a motto by the British SAS, the phrase is often credited to Sir David Stirling, the founder of the Special Air Service, although an earlier Greek phrase spoken by Thucydides echoes the same idea (‘τοῖς τολμῶσιν ἡ τύχη ξύμφορος’ which translates to “luck favours the daring”).
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Translates to “So Passes the Glory of the World”, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi has roots in Catholic theology. When a new Pope is elected, he is paraded around St. Peter’s Basilica for his followers to see. During this procession, he is stopped 3 times by 3 Bishops, each one holding a small measure of rope which they burn in front of the new Pope. As the rope burns, they say “sic transit Gloria mundi”, a solemn reminder that temporal power is fleeting and temporary.
Veritas Lux Mea
Translates to “truth enlightens me”, although it is often transliterated to “truth is my light”. It is the motto of Seoul National University.
Vincit Qui Se Vincit (or bis vincit qui se vincit)
Often translated as “he conquers who conquers himself” or “he who prevails over himself is twice victorious”. It can also be rendered as Bis Vincit Qui Se Vincit, it is the motto of numerous schools, and is even the motto of the Beast from Beauty and The Beast (the phrase can be seen in a stained glass window at the beginning of the film).
Virtute et Armis
The state motto of Mississippi, Virtute et Armis translates to “By valor and arms”. This is often seen as a derivative of Lord Gray De Wilton’s personal motto Virtute Non Armis Fido, or “I trust in Virtue, not arms”.