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Nemo nisi sapiens liber est

Original post date: Saturday, May 19, 2007

In English: No one, unless he is wise, is free.

This is the latest in the series of nemo proverbs. It also happens to be a proverb that resonates really nicely with a project I've been thinking about a lot lately since reading a book by Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't. The main argument of the book is that religious literacy, or the lack of it, is a real problem for American democracy today. This book was so thought-provoking for me that I've started up a new blog, ReligiousReading.com, collecting teaching materials I can use to promote religious literacy in my classes.

The connection between education and democracy is a theme that John Dewey wrote about very eloquently many years ago, insisting that effective education is a vital component in the functioning of democracy. If the citizenry is not educated, then how can they participate responsibly in civic life? You can read John Dewey's Democracy and Education online at the ILTweb site.

The idea that only the wise man is free is a topic much studied by ancient philosophers. As Cicero explains in his Paradoxa: dictum est igitur ab eruditissimis viris nisi sapientem liberum esse neminem, "therefore it has been said by the most educated men that no one can be free unless he is wise."

To put a positive twist on this topic, consider this encouraging motto: Liber ac sapiens esto, "be free and wise!" (a motto you can find in Persius). Now, I'm not so sure that this is the personal motto that all of my students have adopted as they pursue their studies at the university, but it's a motto I would fully endorse.

So, with happy thoughts of education as liberation, here is today's proverb read out loud:

878. Nemo nisi sapiens liber est.

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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