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Via antiqua via est tuta

Original post date: Thursday, November 30, 2006

In English: The old way is the safe way.

This is a follow-up on yesterday's proverb, about the "well-worn" way. Today's proverb is about the antiqua via, the old or ancient way. The idea once again is that if things are part of a tradition, an ancient tradition, then they are "tried and true," a safe way to follow.

This notion of reverence for antiquity and mistrust of "the new" was a fundamental aspect of Roman culture. This is made quite clear by the Latin word novus, which means "new" but also "strange, weird, unusual."

It's also worth pondering the Latin word antiquus and its etymology in Latin. The root of this word is ant- meaning "before, in front of." There is a similar Latin adjective, anticus, which means "front, in the front" (so the front door of your house would be the ianua antica).

As often, the worlds of space and time are metaphorically superimposed on each other, and entwined with other values. In English we are used to the idea that something in "front" has a higher value than something behind or in the back. The best students go to the front of the class, the winner of a race is out in front of the competition, etc.

You need to keep in mind, then, that in Latin something "ancient," antiquus, is something out in the front. It has happened "before." In what is admittedly an odd reversal for our way of imagining time in English, Roman antiquity stretches out in front of us, not behind. In Latin, you can see what has happened before, while the future cannot be seen.

So, looking forward to antiquity, here is today's proverb read out loud:

13. Via antiqua via est tuta.

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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