Click a blue square to see a commentary note. Click a green square to see the Latin text.
ΣΠΕΥΔΕ βραδέως, i.e. festina lente,
“Make haste slowly.” This charming proverb appears at first glance a riddle,
because it is made up of words which contradict each other. It is therefore to
be classed with those which express their meaning through ἐναντίωσιν, that is,
contrariety, as we explained in the beginning of the Adages.
Of this genus is the saying δυσδαίμων εὐδαιμονία, unfortunate good
fortune. Nor does it seem a groundless conjecture that our present proverb
was created from a phrase which appears in Aristophanes’ Knights:
σπεῦδε ταχέως, hasten
hastily, so that the person who made the allusion, whoever he was,
converted the ἀναδίπλωσιν, or doubling, into contrariety, ἐναντίωσιν The apt and
absolute brevity of the phrase gives a superlative grace to the rhetorical
figuration and to the humor of the allusion, a gem-like grace that seems to me
to be especially beautiful in proverbs, and to make them gem-like marvels of
2. If you weigh carefully the force and the sentiment of our proverb, its succinct brevity, how fertile it is, how serious, how beneficial, how applicable to every activity of life, you will easily come to the opinion that among the huge number of sayings you will find none of greater dignity. Σπεῦδε βραδέως ought to be carved on columns. It ought to be written on the archways of churches, and indeed in letters of gold. It ought to be painted on the gates of great men’s palaces, engraved on the rings of cardinals and primates, and chased on the scepters of kings. To go further, it ought to be seen on all monuments everywhere, published abroad and multiplied so that everyone will know it and it will be before every mortal eye, and there will be no one who doesn’t hold it of greatest use — especially princes, and to those to whom, to quote Homer
Λαοί τ᾿ ἐπιτετράφαται καὶ τόσσα μέμηλε,
[“The people are entrusted, and the care of much.”]
3. People of private station, if they have omitted something by laziness, or committed something through rashness, face lighter consequences, for the damage that is done can be remedied by smaller means. But princes . . . A single instance of neglect, or one counsel too hastily put into effect, dear God! what hurricanes have they not often excited, what huge disasters have they not let loose upon humanity? But, if our σπεῦδε βραδέως were there to help — that is, a certain ripening of action and moderation blended together from both wakefulness and gentleness — so that kings would commit nothing through rashness they would regret, nor pass over through laziness anything that would tend to the well-being of the state, I ask you, what could be more prosperous, better grounded, and more stable than this kind of rule? The happiness of such a government would hardly be contained by the boundaries of a country, but would extent far and wide to neighboring peoples, nor could the line of Hesiod be better applied than here:
Πῆμα κακὸς γείτων, ὅσσον τ᾿ ἀγαθὸς ὄνειαρ.
[“An evil neighbor is a curse, as much as a good one is a benefit.”]
4. I consider this
proverb has better right to be called βασιλικόν, i.e. royal, than any other, not
so much because royalty could best use it, but because the minds of princes seem
to be peculiarly prone to the two vices of sloth and hotheadedness. Fortune’s
favor, the abundance of wealth, the ready allurements to amusements, the ability
to do whatever one pleases, and finally that most pestilent εὗγε!, “bravo!”, of
yes-men, and the everlastingly ready smiles, applause, and congratulations for a
king, whatever he does or says in any way — it’s no wonder if all these things,
and others of the same nature, persuade many princes to laziness, especially if
the person exposed to these temptations is young and inexperienced. Yet on the
contrary, it often happens that the natural and “lion-like” — I might call it —
vigor of some princes’ minds, when inflated by limitless wealth, whipped up by
the prospects of great things, inflammed with anger, ambition or other desires
of that type, and egged on by flattering counsels, first charges out in one
wrong direction, then in another, and then carries the whole state with it into
5. Although it is possible to sin in both directions, a king had much better pay attention to being slow than unseasonably rapid. Homer seems to have given his character Agamemnon a certain vicious softness of soul, so that the poet attributes no outstanding actions to him, except when he got mad because Chryeis had been taken away and he robbed Briseis from Achilles. To Achilles Homer attributes the opposite quality of τὸ σπεύδειν, immoderate impulse. It is possible that Homer meant our σπεῦδε βραδέως to apply to him on the occasion when he was about to draw his sword and go after Agamemnon but was restrained by Athena and told to vent his indignation in insults only. Even this was the action of a mind out of control, and Achilles, in the midst of crowded assembly of leaders, rants and raves with shabby and shameful abuse against the man who holds the supreme authority. Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, and, to be sure, surpassed him, since his soul’s uncontrolled violence would drive him to the point where he drew his sword against his dearest friends. Sardanapalus emulated Agamemnon, and outdid him in torpidity. One could find numberless examples of both types, those who exhibited the sloth of the latter, or the ferocity of the former. You will find very few great men who followed our proverb and mingled a timely speediness with a thoughtful slowness. Of course one man may suffice to represent those who succeeded, Fabius Maximus, whom they called Cunctator, “the Delayer.” Fabius gained himself undying praise when cunctando restituit rem, “he restored safety by delay,” to the Roman state which had been brought to desperate circumstances by the ill-advised rashness of lesser leaders.
6. With good cause, therefore, our proverb σπεῦδε βραδέως benefitted the two most praised Roman emperors, Augustus and Vespasian. Both of these men possessed a unique greatness of soul, and with an incredible gentleness joined with courtesy and the amiable popularity of their manners, they bound the hearts of all to them. But, nonetheless, when affairs demanded force, they accomplished the greatest actions with diligence equal to their gentleness. Augustus was so greatly delighted with this saying — as Aulus Gellius relates in the eleventh chapter of the tenth book of his Attic Nights (whom Macrobius follows in the sixth book of his Saturnalia) — that he not only used it very often in his daily conversation, but also frequently inserted it into the language of his official letters, advising by these two words that his ministers in carrying out their duties should employ both the despatch of efficient business, and the slowness of careful reflection. Gellius thought that this concept could be expressed in a single Latin word, matura; for maturari means that something should happen neither too soon, nor later than it ought, but at the exact right moment. Gellius says that Vergil uses the verb in this sense when he writes in the first book of the Aeneid
[“Now is the time for escape.”]
Although maturari signifies in Latin authors the same thing as festinare, it means to hasten so as not to anticipate the proper time. You may use festinata correctly as a synonym for praeproperata, but not for maturata. None of this conflicts with what Suetonius says in his life of Augustus: “Augustus thought nothing less appropriate,” he says, “for a perfect leader than a combination of hastiness and rashness.” He often quoted these words:
Σπεῦδε βραδέως, ἀσφαλὴς γὰρ ἐστ᾿ ἀμείνων ἣ θρασὺς στρατηγός.
[“Make haste slowly, for a general who makes no mistakes is better than a brave one.”]
7. Thus Suetonius.
These words, up to θρασὺς, are a verse, a catalectic trochaic tetrameter, excerpted, as I
conjecture, from some poet, to which Augustus himself added θρασὺς, “general.”
This is the meaning: “Make haste slowly. For the leader who carries things
safely out of reach of disaster, is better than one who is blustering and
overconfident.” Things that
are foreseen and provided for by slow and gentle forethought are safer than what
is hurried into action by hot and hasty heads.
8. From the ancient coins minted by Vespasian we can easily gather that this same proverb pleased him, too. Aldus Manutius showed me a specimen, a silver piece of old and clearly Roman workmanship, which he said was sent to him as a gift by the Venetian nobleman Pietro Bembo, who honored the youthful Aldus as an example of the foremost students and diligent investigators of literary antiquities in his time. The impression stamped on the coin was like this. On the obverse was the portrait of Vespasian with his titles; on the reverse was a dolphin curving around and embracing the shank of an anchor. This device means exactly the same thing as the saying of Augustus Cæsar, σπεῦδε βραδέως, and the evidence is in the monuments written in hieroglyphic letters.
9. “Hieroglyphic” is the name given to the enigmatic characters which the earliest ages used in writing, especially the Egyptian priests and theologians, who considered it forbidden to divulge the mysteries of wisdom to the profane crowd — as we do — in ordinary letters. If they judged something worthy of the name of wisdom, the Egyptians wrote it down in pictures of various animals, so that not everyone could guess the significance. However, if you knew and understood the properties of all things, and the strengths and natures of animals, you could then put together the hints given by the symbols and grasp the meaning of the riddle. In this way, when the Egyptians wished to signify Osiris, whom they believed to be the same as the sun, they carved a scepter with an eye on top of it, hinting that this is the god, sublime in royal power, who looks down on everything — because antiquity called the sun the “eye of Jove.” Thus Macrobius relates in the first book of his Saturnalia.
10. Likewise they wrote “year” in this fashion: they painted a serpent, rolled in a hoop, holding its tail in its mouth, hinting that the year always returned to the same points revisiting the same recurrences of seasons. Hence Servius asserts that in Greek ἐνίαυτος is a word applied to the year, and that Vergil is looking to this when he says:
Atque in se sua per vestigia volvitur annus.
[“And the year too rolls in upon itself through its own way-marks.”]
However, Horus the Egyptian, of whom there
survive two symbolic books of this type, says that the hieroglyph of the serpent
does not represent the year, but rather eternity, and that “year” is written by
an image of Isis, or of a phœnix. Among the Greeks, Plutarch commented on these
things in his book De Osiride, and Chaeremon wrote
also — on the testimony of the Suda lexicon. It is from Chaeremon’s
books, I suspect, that the examples of this kind of hieroglyphic writing which
we have just seen were excerpted, and along with these there was also this
11. First, a circle, then an anchor, whose shank, as I have said, is entwined by a dolphin. The adjoined written interpretation explains that the circle stands for eternal time, as a circle has no beginning or end. The anchor, which stays and moors a ship and keeps it in place, indicates slowness. The dolphin, the fastest of all animals, and the animal of keenest reflexes, expresses speed. If you connect all of this symbolism intelligently, it forms the following sentence: Ἀεὶ σπεῦδε βραδέως, “Always make haste slowly.” Furthermore, this symbolic method of writing possesses not only the greatest dignity, but also provides a great deal of pleasure to a person who can look deeply into the qualities of things; because this symbolic representation mingles the scientific contemplation of things and natural causes with the study of literature.
12. If you have the books which Aristotle entitled his Physics, you will see clearly that there is a certain analogy or likeness between space, motion, and time. For all of these three exist together in the same relation. As time inheres in motion, so motion inheres in space. What is a point in space, is an instant in time, and an impulse in motion — that which in motion is its least and indivisible part (let us term it that for now). We do not have to elaborate words, if it fits in actuality. If you consider the extension of a straight line, you will find two points, of which one is simply the beginning, and the other the end. This is whence the length arises, and how the length is defined. If you analyze motion in the same way, you will find two impulses, one from which the motion arises, and the other in which it subsides. There is the same reasoning behind both of these. What is the beginning of the line is simply the beginning of the motion, and what is the end of the line is the end of the motion. Time necessarily accompanies motion. If you contemplate time separately from extension and motion, the same principle applies to it also, and you will see two instants (thus we shall call them), one of which is the beginning of the time, and the other the end. Again, if you were to consider the points of space, the impulses of motion, and the instants of time which fill the middle between the beginning and the end in the same line, you will see that the nature of each one of these is double. In relation to the beginning, the middle elements are ends; in relation to the end, beginnings. So, where the space is finite, there too the motion is finite, and it follows that the time is finite. That space, then, is finite which possesses a beginning such that it could not also be an ending, and also an ending which could not be by the same reasoning a beginning. This happens in all plane and solid figures except the circle and the sphere. For in these there is no fixed point which can properly be called a beginning, and no point which an ending occurs, and can therefore be called the end. Likewise, then, there is no instant or impulse that can be called a beginning or an end. Hence it follows that here neither the space, nor the motion, nor the time is finite. Again, wherever there is a point of space on the circle or sphere, it is capable of being both a beginning and an end. Therefore it is necessary that the space of the circle or sphere is infinite. By the same rule, since whatever impulse on the circle can be a source of motion or an end of motion, here the motion is infinite. Finally, since each instant can be a beginning of time or an end, then the time ought to be infinite. But we call infinite time “eternity,” and eternity corresponds to eternal motion. Eternal motion likewise requires eternal space. All these elements are not able to coexist except in a spherical or circular form. From this the philosophers have deduced the eternity of the world, because they saw the shape of the whole sky and of the stars to be spherical, and also its motion to be spherical. Furthermore, the idea of a circle squares not only with a space of this type, but the motion that inheres in this figure is in fact a circle also. By the same token the time that measures this motion does not reject the name of circle, as Aristotle testifies in the fourth book of his Physics. Whoever perceives these things and others of the same kind from the doctrines of the philosophers will easily figure out why the Egyptians decided to express everlasting time by a circle.
13. Now let us look a little at the faculties and nature of the dolphin. Our authors say that this animal leaves the whole race of animals far behind it in its unbelievable speed and wonderful force. Oppian, in his second book On the Nature of Fishes, does not compare dolphins with any old bird, but with eagles:
Ὃσσον γάρ κούφοισι μετ῾ οἰωνοῖσιν ἄνακτες
αἴετοι, ἢ θήρεσσι μετ᾿ ὠμηστῇσι λέοντες,
ὅσσον ἀριστεύουσιν ἐν ἐρπυσῇσι δράκοντες,
τόσσον καὶ δελφίνες ἐν ἰχθύσιν ἡγεμονῆες.
[“As much as eagles are the kings of aery birds,or lions those over flesh-eating beasts, as much as dragons excel among serpents, by so much are the dolphins leaders among fishes.”]
Oppian compares the dolphin to a javelin:
Διὰ γὰρ βέλος ὥστε θάλασσαν ἵπτανται
[“For he flies through the sea like an arrow.”]
Finally he compares the dolphin to the wind, or rather to a whirlwind or hurricane:
Ἄλλοτε μὲν βαθὺ κῦμα διατρέχει ἤυτε λαίλαψ
[“Sometimes he rushes through the deep waves like a storm.”]
14. Pliny the Elder, in
his Natural History, book nine, chapter eight, follows the opinion of
Aristotle and conforms closely to his relation. Pliny says that the dolphin is
the swiftest of all animals, not only of sea-creatures, but also faster than any
bird and speedier than any arrow. Pliny confirms the dolphin’s
remarkable speed particularly by this proof. The dolphin has its mouth, which it
uses in hunting fishes, sited a long way behind its beak, almost in the middle
of its belly. This must strongly hinder its swimming. Nor does the dolphin
snatch fishes except turned over lying on its back. However, there is no
prey at all that can escape the dolphin’s speed. The dolphin itself is quite
aware of this natural gift, and either for the sake of praise or because of high
spirits, it often races ships that scud under full sail. The dolphin is
especially fond of human beings [φιλάνθρωπος]. Some even say it loves boys
[παιδεράστην], and for this reason it is a deadly enemy to the crocodile, which
hates human beings more than any other animal. Thus, the dolphin is not afraid
of man, but comes right up to ships. It jumps up and plays, it will race any
vessel and outstrip even those moving under full sail. In the catching of
mullets in the Laternan Bay the dolphin makes it magnificently clear how he
excels in speed, the power of his intellect, and finally how great a well-wisher
he is to human beings. What, indeed, can I say about his unbelievable power? If
he is driven by hunger, he will pursue a fish to the deepest depths, and hold in
his breath a very long time. When he darts out of the water to breathe, like an
arrow from a bow, he jumps up with such force that his leap has capsized many a
ship of billowing sail. Therefore, what symbol could be more perfectly suited to
expressing the sharp and indefatigable impulse of the mind, than the dolphin? On
the contrary, for the signifying of slowness and delay, the ἐνεχίς fish, which
the Romans call a remora, is not inappropriate. However, since its
appearance is unfamiliar and hard to recognize (besides that it is quite small
and is not marked by any striking features), the symbol of the anchor lends
itself much more pleasing for this purpose, because if a ship is sailing
dangerously fast because of strong winds astern — “favoring” winds — the anchor
will save the ship and restrain its immoderate course. So, this saying, σπεῦδε
βραδέως, appears to have derived from the genuine mysteries of primitive
philosophy, whence it was taken up by the two most praised emperors, so that it
holds a place both in the rank of proverbs and of imperial devices, since it
conforms so well with the character and genius of both.
15. Now it descends to Aldus Manutius, Roman citizen, who is its third inheritor.
Haud equidem sine mente reor, sine numine divum.
“[Surely, I believe, by the will and grace of the gods.”]
Aldus has taken as his own this same device which
once so pleased Vespasian. He has multiplied it and made it not only famous, but
also most beloved by everyone everywhere in the world who understands and loves
literature. I do not believe that this symbol was so illustrious when it was
stamped on the imperial money and carried around to be rubbed by the fingers of
merchants, than now when it has been printed on the title-pages of books of all
sorts, in both languages, among all nations, even those beyond the borders of
Christendom. It is known, loved, and praised by all who cultivate the sacred
studies of the liberal arts, and especially by those who despise turgid and
barbaric dogma and as-pire to the true ancient learning. Aldus was as it were
born on purpose and, I might say, formed and fashioned by the Fates themselves
for learning’s benefit, so ardently he desires this one thing only, with such
tireless zeal he toils and shirks no labor or hardship so that he might restore
the whole of literature entire, unblemished, and pure back to the possession and
the hearts of good people. How important a task this is (even though the fates
are against it, I almost said), the facts themselves declare. If some god, a
friend to literature, were to look kindly on these beautiful and kingly wishes
of our Aldus — and if malevolent spirits let him be — within a few years I could
promise there would be available to scholars in all fields of study whatever
good authors are extant in four languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldean,
and that students would have each one of these works in full and correct text,
and no one would lack for the least crumb of the feast of literature. At the
same time the true number of good manuscripts still hidden would come to light,
codices so far either oppressed by the neglect or suppressed by the ambition of
certain people, whose only desire is that they alone may seem to know anything.
Then at last it will be known just how many horrendous mistakes pullulate in the
texts of the classics, even those which we now think sufficiently emended. If
anyone would like to make an experiment to gauge the enormity of the labor
involved, the letters of the Younger Pliny are soon to see the light from the
Aldine Press, and when our experimenter compares Aldus’s text with the vulgate
editions, whatever he finds in them to deplore, he should expect in other
16. By Hercules, it is a herculean task and worthy of some royal spirit, to restore to the world a thing so divine collapsed in ruin down to its foundations, to track down the hidden, to dig up what is buried, to call things extinct back to life, to make the mutilated whole, and to emend texts depraved in so many ways and especially by the viciousness of those apologists for common slovenliness who find more antiquity in the glint of a little gold piece in than the entire body of literature.
17. Furthermore, people pile heap on heap of praise upon those who by their prowess defended their countries or merely extended their boundaries, even though these heroes were engaged in a merely secular affair and in a narrowly limited field. But whoso from near extinction rescues the Republic of Letters — a task almost more difficult than establishing it in the first place — he labors on something holy and immortal, and he sustains the hopes not of just one province or another, but of all humanity and all ages. This duty was once the special gift of princes, among whom the glory of Ptolemy shines brightest. And although Ptolemy’s library was confined within the narrow walls of his dynastic palace, Aldus toils so that his library shall be contained by no limits other than those of the world.
18. I do not feel that I have wandered impertinently into this little digression, since scholars will greater value, reverence, and delight in the dolphin and anchor device when they know what famous men authored it and understand its significance, and last, when they remember the great good the Dolphin promises them, if only God will assist and favor these beautiful attempts.
19. Later, after this detour, I will pick up our story again, as soon as I shall have laid out my complaint against certain printers who have merited extremely ill of literature. This is not a new complaint, but it has never been more justified than now, when I am now preparing the fourth (if I’m not mistaken) edition of these Adages, that is, in 1525.
20. The city of Venice is very famous because of many of her citizens, and she is become even more famous through the Aldine Press, to the point that whatever book issues thence abroad, the mere mention of the city of printing on the title page is enough to make it more sellable. Yet certain booksellers of mean station have so abused the glamour of Venice’s name that from no other city come texts more disgracefully corrupted, and not just ordinary authors, but those of the first rank, as Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian — not to complain about what they do to Holy Scripture. The laws provide that no one shall cobble a shoe or make a bookcase unless they have been approved by their trade’s guild. And yet great authors, to whose works even religion owes a debt, are sent into the public by men so ignorant of letters that they can scarcely read what they print, so lazy that they refuse to proofread their copy, and so grasping and mercenary that they would sooner suffer a good book to be filled with six thousand mistakes than for a few dollars to hire someone who could make corrections.
21. The ones who make the most magnificent promises on their title-pages are those who most shamelessly peddle corrupt editions. The majesty of the law orders that if someone sells cloth as dyed with genuine scarlet and is detected to have used no scarlet at all in the dyeing, he shall pay restitution. Indeed he is fined if he run a business under such false colors. And shall that person enjoy his filthy lucre — or theft rather — who foists the same trick on thousands of people? Once upon a time as many scruples accompanied the mere copying of books as now employed by sworn public notaries. Certainly more scruples were needed, for the contamination of books has reach its present astonishing level for no other reason than because the transmission of these holy texts was entrusted to any old obscure and uneducated monks, and even to little nuns, without any attempt at choosing those suited for the work. Yet how small is the damage which the negligent or unlearned scribe commits, when you compare the printer? And on this point the laws lie asleep. Whoever sells cloth dyed in Britain as cloth dyed in Venice is punished; but the printer who sells unmixed textual cruces, and other engines of torture for the wit, as “good authors,” enjoys the fruits of his shamelessness. You may say that it is not much of a fault in a seller to try to get something out of the buyer. But it certainly ought to be a fault, if the title-page promises “exacting diligence” and the book is riddled with mistakes. There are, indeed, errors which are not readily caught by even the expert. Now the numberless crowd of printers has thrown everything into confusion, especially in Germany. Not everyone is allowed to be a baker; making money by printing is forbidden to nobody. It’s not safe to paint or even to say many things; but any kind of matter is allowed to be printed. To what part of the world have new books not flown in swarms? If one or another of these books offers something worth knowing, nonetheless their very multitude violently hinders liberal studies by the surfeit it induces — and surfeit in good things is extremely harmful — or by the very fact that the human mind is by nature greedy of newness and prone to be waylaid by these temptations and to be distracted from the reading of ancient authors, who are the best that can be recommended, though I do not intimate that there may be something found in the moderns which escaped them. It is possible there exists someone who can teach what Aristotle didn’t know. However, I do not believe that there will ever arise anyone who will define the body of philosophy more absolutely than he did. Then perhaps there will be someone who sees things in Holy Scripture which eluded Chrysostom or Jerome; but I do not think there will ever arise anyone who will provide, all in all, what they did.
22. Now as for these Famous Contemporaries, these Almost Classics, we waste our hours with their mindless tunes; we neglect the genuine study of literature and its authors, and the authority of senates, councils, schools, lawyers and theologians lies in ruin. If this situation continues as it has begun, and the Sum of Things is brought under the control of a few, we will wind up burdened with a barbarous tyranny like the Turks. The world will obey the whims of one man, or of a few, all traces of civil polity will vanish, and the world will be ruled by military violence. All decent studies will cease, and one law only will survive. Such is the wish of whoever would be à κοσμοκράτωρ, the Universal Dictator. The proponents of religion will be held in contempt, or, if they retain any power or dignity, that will be totally at the service of those who rule all things, not by their judgment, but by their frowns and nods.
23. In the four elements that make up the universe, each one is mixed in with the others and tempered by them so that they exist in an everlasting alliance. How much better would humankind be provided for, if in the same way everyone retained the powers legitimately assigned to them! The people would receive their just portion. Law, equity, and their own capacities would determine what powers are to be designated to the senate and magistrates. Bishops and priests would keep their honor. Not even monks would be denied what is owed them. The concors discordia, the harmonious dissonance, of all these estates and their many colors of opinion would more faithfully preserve the state than what prevails now, when everyone tries to snatch everything for himself. Not even a family can survive unless the husband delegate part of his authority to his wife, unless there be a distinction between free persons and slaves, and unless the slaves themselves are not treated as beasts but as human beings. Finally, there must be a distinction between one slave and another, so that those who serve more willingly may be treated more indulgently and expect freedom as the reward of their work.
24. But here someone might say: “Hey there, you blithering prophet, what’s this got to do with printers?” It’s got to do with that a lot of our present evils is caused by them and their rampant licentiousness. They fill the world with books and pamphlets. These are — I don’t call them trifling things, such as I perhaps write, but rather stupid, unfactual, slanderous, scandalous, obscene, pestilent, blasphemous, and seditious, and they come forth in such a crowd that the good fruit of wholesome books perishes. Some of these indecent writings fly out under no title, or, what is more criminal, under false title-pages. When caught in the act these prostitute publishers say, “Give me the means to support my family, and I’ll cease to print such books”. A thief, con-man, or pimp when arraigned could with much better face reply, “Give me the means to live, and I’ll leave off this trade” — if it is a lesser crime secretly to make off with someone else’s goods than publicly to usurp someone else’s good name, or if it is a smaller sin to make bad use of yourself and wrong someone else for gain, than to destroy another’s livelihood and reputation, things that are dearer than life.
25. But enough already of complaints. We must show the remedy. This evil will be eradicated if princes and magistrates take care that good-for-nothing people, who are the ones who stir up these mercenary print-wars, should be checked as far as possible. And if there are abandoned types whom neither reason nor shame can move, the Law should show them a hand ready with the whip unless they turn to better ways. And then, if there are people who are attempting works useful to the public and lack resources, rewards should be instituted to help and succor them, either by princes or by bishops and abbots, or from the public treasury. For from merchants, most of whom have devoted themselves entirely to Mammon, this would be an embarrassing exigation. Someone who has built a church or a tomb, who has dedicated a painting or set up a statue promises himself a name that will survive to posterity. How much greater a posthumous reputation would he achieve by the way we have described? From many examples I shall select one. There was no one more versed in the explication of scripture than the divine John Chrysostom, nor any writer more helpful to those who prepare themselves for the privilege of preaching. He wrote very much, of which we have a large part in indifferent translation. Most of his text is corrupt and mixed with much that owes nothing to Chrysostom. How bright a light would shine in sacred studies, if we had such a teacher as Chrysostom complete, in Greek, and emended? Or at least we ought to have him speaking Latin as he spoke in Greek.
26. I shall not here count up how many ways important people waste their money, how much they throw away on their dice, whores, drinking bouts, junkets, pomps, wars got up on purpose, ambition, flatterers, jesters, actors. If only they contributed some little portion of this money, so shamefully wasted, to the public good, or to their own glory, or both together! What scholar does not support Aldus in his efforts toward noble ends? Who does not contribute something to make his work lighter? How many times have not people in Hungary or Poland sent him ancient manuscripts along with a gift of money, so that he might accurately publish them? What Aldus has been working hard at in Italy — he himself has blessed the fates that have allowed his enterprise to thrive under the reputation of his name — Johannes Froben toils at among the nations beyond the Alps, with no less zeal than does Aldus, and with success, but, it cannot be denied, with less material profit. If you want the reason, I believe there is one in particular among many: that when it comes to literary matters we are touched with less brilliance and enthusiasm than the Italians are favored with. I do not fear to assert this because I have had direct experience of it. When I, a Dutchman in Italy, was getting ready to publish my collection of proverbs, how many learned men came to me to supply me with authors that had not yet been printed, and whom they thought I could use! Aldus had nothing in his treasure of books which he did not share with me. John Lascaris, Baptista Egnatius, Marcus Musurus, and Brother Urbanus did the same. I felt the kind help of certain people who were unknown to me either by face or name. To Venice I had brought nothing but a confused and unarranged mass of materials for a work-to-be, and all of that had been collected solely from printed sources. Rushed along by my reckless boldness, we went far beyond this: myself in writing, Aldus in printing. The whole of the work was completed in nine months more or less, and that period was never marred by a single bad day. Here I realized how greatly lacking in usefulness my efforts would have been if my learned friends had not helped me to manuscripts. Among the books they brought me were Plato’s works in Greek, Plutarch’s Lives and his Moralia, which began to be printed as my work drew to a close. There was Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae, Aphthonius, Hermogenes with his commentators, Aristotle’s Rhetorica with the scholia of Gregory Naziazenus, Aristides complete with the scholia, the short commentaries on Hesiod and Theocritus, Eustathius on the whole of Homer, Pausanias, and Pindar with accurate commentary. There was the collection of proverbs attributed to Plutarch, and another attributed to Apostolius, which Hieronymus Aleander loaned to us. There were other smaller items, too, which either offered no materials, or did not pertain to the work. None of these, however, had ever yet been published in printed form.
27. Now in its turn examine the “singular humanity” of a certain North European friend of mine, whom I have counted among my principal friends, nor have I discarded, since “We ought to know the characters of our friends, not hate them.” When I was enlarging the Venetian edition, I happen to see at his house a copy of the Suda lexicon whose margins were filled with annotated proverbs. It was a huge work, and one most important to be studied. Desirous therefore of enriching my labor with this volume, I asked him to let me have the use of it, even for just a few hours, so my secretary could copy out the marginalia for me. Again and again I begged him, and he refused me. When I tried every possible approach with him, and could not get him to grant my prayer, I asked him whether he himself intended to publish a collection of proverbs, and I said I would happily yield to him so he could work on it more succesfully. He swore there was nothing such. “What then,” I said, “motivates you?” Finally he confessed, as if it had been dragged out of him by torture, that he feared the open popularizing of things which until now had made learned men seem prodigies to ordinary people. Hinc illae lacrimae! “Hence those tears.” In the colleges and monasteries of Germany, France, and England lie hidden manuscripts of the greatest antiquity. Their keepers allow no one — with extremely few exceptions — access to them, or even if someone asks about them, they hide then, or deny their existence, or sell the use of them at an unfairly high price, double that of professional bookdealers. At length these carefully preserved manuscripts are destroyed by mildew and silverfish, or thieves make off with them. Rich people not only do not help literary affairs with their generosity, they believe that no money is worse wasted than what is spent on such things, nor do they care in the least about things from which they can make no profit. But if the princes of North Europe would pursue liberal studies with the same enthusiasm as the Italians, the Serpents of Froben’s device would not lag far behind Aldus’ Dolphin in wealth. Aldus, hastening slowly, has gained no less money than glory, and he has deserved both. Froben carries his staff upright, seeking no end but the public good, while he cleaves to dovelike mildness and expresses the wisdom of serpents better in his printer’s device than in his deeds. But Froben is richer in fame than in money.
28. But let us limit our digressions, and turn our essay back to the elucidation of our proverb. Σπεῦδε βραδέως may be used in three ways. First, whenever we admonish someone to think carefully a little longer before rushing into action but then after he has decided what to do, to perform it quickly. In this way the Anchor refers to the slowness of deliberation, and the Dolphin to the speed of performance. Sallust’s phrase is pertinent: Before you begin, think; when you have thought, you need to act quickly. Aristotle reviews this sentiment in the sixth book of his Ethics, though he calls it “commonly” quoted: They say, he says, that once you have decided on something, you should do it quickly, but that you should make decisions hesitantly. Laertius witnesses that the author of this idea was Bias, who was accustomed to advise people: to be slow to put your hand to affairs, but once you have started to see them through vigorously. The writer of mimes, Publianus, I believe, plays with this idea similarly: You should make long preparations for a war, so you can win it more quickly. Again, he says: In deciding what’s useful, delay is safest. Add to these this proverb: ἐν νυκτὶ βουλή, a council in the night. And then this line of Sophocles from his Oedipus the King:
To be added to these is Plato’s dictum, which we
have cited elsewhere: Who hastens too much at the beginning, comes to the
end too late. Tending in a slightly
other direction, but nonetheless à propos, is what Quintilian says: That
type of mind which develops too early hardly ever comes to bear fruit. Also what people
commonly say, that boys who are wise before their time turn into stupid old men.
Actius seems to agree with this when he says, as he is quoted by Gellius, that in young minds as
in early apples it was the sourness that pleased him, for it showed they were on
the way to ripening. Indeed, timely maturity brings sweetness; the others rot on
29. We use our proverb in a second way when we advise that the passions of the mind should be restrained by the reason as by reins. Plato divides the mind into three parts — reason, capacity for anger, and desires, and he believes philosophy reaches its highest level when the passions obey reason as subjects obey a king. Because of this he locates reason in the brain, as a palace assigned to it. The Peripatetics, whose standard-bearer is Aristotle, consider the passions to be certain impulses or stimuli of the soul placed there by nature, by which we are incited to the practice of virtue. However, the Stoics deny this, and particularly Seneca in his books On Anger which he wrote to Nero. The Stoics believe that the passions not only do not conduce to virtue but in fact are obstacles, though they do not deny that the primitive impulses remain in the mind of their hypothetical wise man who has trained them to take orders from reason because he cannot get rid of passion root and branch. Rather, reason, when it does not give its assent, rejects these impulses. Homer hints at this in the first book of the Iliad. Athena stands behind Achilles, and holds him back as he moves his hand toward his swordhilt. Thus, you could correctly call the violent motions of the mind the Dolphin, and the Anchor the moderating influence of wis-dom. Seneca writes that hesitancy is a benefit in nothing except in anger. Further, whenever we immoderately desire or hate something, delay brings us to safety. Plutarch in his Sayings of the Romans tells the story of the philosopher Athenodorus. On the occasion when he sought to obtain leave of Augustus to return home on account of old age, he advised him that when angered he should say and do nothing until he had recited the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. When Augustus heard this he replied that Athenodorus himself ought to have used that method and learned the art of keeping quiet, and on that pretext he detained Athenodorus a whole other year with him. The verse of Terence looks to the same thing: See that this is not just too clever. There are minds which need spurs and those which need bridles. Thus the ancients correctly intended the anchor entwined by the dolphin to mean that the one quality must be tempered by the other in the same way Plato believes the soul may be trained by mixture of music and athletics, if they are practiced together.
30. The third way of using our proverb is when we warn that headlong speed must be avoided in every kind of business, because it is the peculiar vice of certain minds that in everything they do any delay, no matter how small, seems long. Mistakes and regret are prone to be the companions of this sort of haste, according to the famous verse in Greek:
προπέτεια πολλοῖς ἐστὶν αἰτία κακῶν.
[“For many people haste is the source of troubles.”]
31. The noble saying of
Cato concords with this: Fast enough, if done well enough, which the
divine Jerome mentions in a letter written to Pammachius: Very wise also is
that bit of Cato, Fast enough, if done well enough. Once as teenagers we used to
laugh at it when it was repeated by an accomplished orator in his introduction
to classes. I think you recall our mutual blunder here, when around us the
entire Atheneum resounded with students’ voices chanting ’Fast enough, if done
32. Thus far Jerome. His words fit those who too hastily grasp at fame and prefer an instant off-the-shelf reputation, if big, to a fame that is solid and lasting. Things that ripen prematurely are wont suddenly to go limp. What grows slowly and steadily can endure. Horace: The fame of Marcellus grows like a tree as time passes unobserved. And Pindar in Nemean VIII:
αὔξεται δ᾿ ἀρετά, χλωραῖς ἐέρσαις
ὡς ὅτε δένδρον ἄσσει,
σοφοῖς ἀνδρῶν ἀερθεῖσα ἐν δικαίοις τε, πρὸς ὔγρὸν αἰθέρα,
[“Virtue increases, as a tree surges up with the refreshing dew, and rises up among wise and just men towards the liquid heaven.”]
In sum, whosoever errs by laziness or by impulsiveness should keep this saying, first of Augustus Caesar, then the symbol of Vespasian, and now of Aldus, σπεῦδε βραδέως, forever before their mind’s eye, and remember the significance of the Dolphin and the Anchor.