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Ut flatus venti, sic transit gloria mundi

Original post date: Thursday, November 09, 2006

In English: Like a puff of wind, so passes the glory of the world.

This is a follow-up on yesterday's proverb. This variant expresses the same idea, and adds a metaphorical comparison to go with it. How does the glory of the world pass by? It passes by like a puff of wind.

Proverbs are often highly metaphorical, making them little poems in miniature. When this proverb compares the glory of the world to a puff of wind, it reinforces the notion that this glory is something transitory. Indeed, the wind is the most pure representation of all that is transitory. Unless the wind is moving, it is not wind! The glory of the world, if it is like wind, cannot help but move on through, passing by, gone just as quickly as it came.

More specifically, the proverb refers to "flatus venti," a puff of wind. The Latin word flatus is a verbal noun, formed from the verb flare, "to blow." As you can see, it is also the root of the English word "flatulence." That's not a bad word to keep in mind here, given the very cynical disregard in which the proverb holds the so-called "glory of the world."

There is a similar variant form of this proverb: Ut stuppae flamma, sic transit gloria mundi, "Like the flame of flax, thus passes the glory of the world." A substance like flax or hemp bursts quickly into flame, and just as quickly goes out. Like a puff of wind, it is a highly suggestive metaphorical expression for the transitory "glory of the world." If you read yesterday's post, you know that the symbol of flax set aflame is part of the Catholic ritual for the installation of a new pope, as he is reminded, three times in a row, that the glory of the world is fleeting.

You're not likely to see any flaming flax any time soon, but there might be a breeze blowing outside right now. So, think about that as you listen to today's proverb read out loud:

2235. Ut flatus venti, sic transit gloria mundi.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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