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Nulla dies sine linea

Original post date: Thursday, December 13, 2007

In English: No day without a line.

The mastermind behind the wonderful blog Laudator Temporis Acti sent me a query about this proverb yesterday, and I thought I would take this occasion to write up some notes about it, since I always thought this should be the blogger's motto! I know that for me writing something each day in at least one of my blogs (even if it is just the blog of class announcements I keep for my online courses) has really changed my attitude about writing for the better, and greatly increased my productivity.

The saying is very famous in Latin, and is attested in medieval sources. The closest thing to a classical Latin source is this passage in Pliny: Apelli fuit alioqui perpetua consuetudo numquam tam occupatum diem agendi, ut non lineam ducendo exerceret artem, quod ab eo in proverbium venit "Apelles had in fact a regular custom that he never passed a day, no matter how busy, without practicing his art by drawing something (lineam ducendo), which has thus become a proverb." Apelles was a famous Greek painter in the fourth century B.C.E.; you can read more about him here at wikipedia.

The proverb is attested in the Greek collection by Arsenius, which is the version given by Erasmus in his Adages: Nullam hodie lineam duxi, "I have not drawn a line today." This is a rather negative version of the same idea; you should draw (or write) something everyday, and a day that passes without such an occasion is a lost day.

It's unfortunate that Erasmus chose to cite this Greek version of the saying, in such a negative form, when he might have cited the more positive exhortation, nulla dies sine linea. This version of the saying shows up in the Adagia compiled by Polydorus Vergilius, a contemporary of Erasmus. You can find an online edition of Polydorus's Adagia at the Herzog August Bibliothek, as well as a list of the proverb headings, listed alphabetically.

Finally, here is a medieval variant in metrical form: nulla dies abeat, qua linea ducta supersit / nec decet ignavum praeteriisse diem, "Let no day go by without a drawn line to show for it; it is not right for a day to pass by in sloth" (Walther 18894).

So this blog post will stand as my written "line" for today - along with a line of digital audio, too! Here is the proverb read out loud:

572. Nulla dies sine linea.

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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