Thursday, July 8, 2010

Verbum Hodiernum: VIRTUS

The word of the day is VIRTUS, which gets my vote as the Latin word that is most absolutely impossible to translate into English. Of course, the English word "virtue" derives from the Latin word, just to make matters worse. The problem is that the word "virtue" in English has become so thoroughly a part of our own culture, with distinct meanings and connotations of its own, that using it to render Latin virtus is risky indeed.

Probably the key factor to keep in mind is the Latin etymology of the word: virtus is from vir, "man," and so it means, literally, "manliness" - which was, for the Romans, a core cultural value.

Here is the definition provided by the Lewis & Short dictionary: "the sum of all the corporeal or mental excellences of man, strength, vigor; bravery, courage; aptness, capacity; worth, excellence, virtue, etc."

Of course, not just men could have virtus - even the gods had it, as in the formal phrase deum virtute, "by the power of the gods" (deum = deorum).

Needless to say, there are hundreds and hundreds of Latin sayings and proverbs which feature the word virtus. Here are just a few of them:

Fulget virtus.

Post funera virtus.

Gloria virtutis umbra.

Virtus vincit.

Sola virtus invicta.

Domat omnia virtus.

Nihil virtuti invium.

Virtus unita valet.

Macte virtute!

Virum facit virtus.

In medio stat virtus.

Utere virtute.

Vitae via virtus.

Ad alta virtute.

Non vi, virtute.

Virtute, non verbis.

Virtute, non astutia.

Virtuti fortuna comes.

Spes in virtute.

Virtute securus.

Virtus mille scuta.

Labor prima virtus.

Nescit otiari virtus.

Pretium sibi virtus.

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