Burglar alarms and crepitu alarums

I bravely saw off a burglar last night. I glared at him through my bedroom window and he stopped trying to steal my bike, which pleased me. The sophisticated alarm system which alerted me to the attempted pillaging of property was my squeaky front gate. Ancient Roman alarm systems relied on something only arguably a touch more sophisticated: the flappability of their geese.

It is the early fourth century BCE. Rome is under attack from Gauls. The Roman infantry have fought as hard as they can, but the night watchmen have failed in their duty. The Gauls, under cover of darkness, believe they are heading up the Capitoline Hill to the Roman citadel and an easy victory. But a Gaulish invader puts a foot wrong: he disturbs a goose.¹

My favourite thing about this story of the geese saving Rome is not the geese per se, but rather the vocab surrounding the geese. Livy tells us that it was the ‘alarum crepitu’ of the geese which roused the Roman commander Manlius just in time for him to see off the wrong footed Gauls and save the city.² This phrase translates as ‘by the beating of the wings’, alarum being the word for wings. Whilst alarum has come to be a perfectly good English word for an alarm or call to arms, it has also lost a vowel to become the word — have you guessed it yet? — alarm!

So, whilst I have no sophisticated anti-bike-theft alarm system, if a wing beat was good enough for Ancient Rome, then a squeaky gate is good enough for me. And perhaps an extra chain on my bike.

¹ Not just any old goose, but one of a gaggle sacred to Juno.

² Livy Ab Urbe Condita V, 47.


Latin mottos for swimmers

In honour of my local open air swimming pool, Jesus Green Lido, reopening for Summer this coming Saturday, I am writing some swimming related posts.

This one is for all my Did you swim today? chums: I am constantly delighted, encouraged and inspired by your endeavours in pools, lakes, rivers and oceans, at every point of the achievement spectrum. You guys make me want to spend more time in the water and I thank you for that.

Here is a selection of Latin mottos all about swimming that I made up, with some inspiration from real mottos.

Natando amicitia friendship through swimming. Very appropriate for DYST, I feel.

Nunc est natandumNow is the time for swimming! This is inspired by the more common nunc est bibendum, now is the time for drinking. Also a good motto.

Fortius natando stronger through swimming. This and the three following are variations on fairly common mottos.

Fortis et liber natandostrong and free through swimming.

Ab aqua libertasfrom water comes freedom.

Natando libertas freedom through swimming.

Per aquas ad astra through water to the stars, inspired by the military motto per ardua ad astra, through hardship to the stars.

Ad natandum paratusready for swimming. Another military inspired one. Utrinque paratus, ready for anything, is the motto of the Parachute Regiment.

Sic itur ad aquas this is the way to the water. This is based on another military motto, this is the way to the stars.

Citius, swimmius, fortius — not quite the Olympic motto, citius, altius, fortius, faster, higher, stronger, but you get the picture. NB swimmius is not actually a Latin word. I made it up.

Animus in natando liber in swimming an independent spirit. The original reads animus in consulendo liber, in counsel an independent spirit, a phrase from the Roman senator Marcus Porcius Cato. It is the motto of NATO.

Fiat piscina/ stagnum/ colymbuslet there be a pool (man-made)/ pool (naturally occurring)/ swimming pool. Piscina sounds like the French word for swimming pool, piscine, while stagnum is a general word for any expanse of enclosed water, but sounds to an English ear a little less wholesome. I had never come across the word colymbus before researching this post. It definitely means swimming pool, but it is also the name of a type of oyster. My phrase is a play on the biblical Fiat lux, let there be light.

Fluctuat nec mergitur he/she/it floats and does not sink. This is the motto of Paris, originally an island in the River Seine. Surely a good swimming motto.

Gens una sumus natando we are one family through swimming.

Semper natansalways swimming.

I hope you have enjoyed these!

If you want to adapt any of them, you can play around with the word order in any of the phrases, but if you want to swap words across the phrases you will have to check the grammar — just ask!

Please let me know if you do use any of them — I would be delighted to hear from you and I would love to see pics of them in action!

Please do share any other swimming mottos you may have come across in the comments below.

Happy swimming! [I’m now wondering how best to say that in Latin…]

Roman times…

Walking with my daughter to school, one of our pleasures is spotting and naming new plants. ‘This is lavender, Mummy — it smells of lavender, and it’s minty!’ Yes…

Given the sunshine we have been having, there are suddenly many more plants opening up and sharing their colours and scents with the world, and this thought always puts me in mind of the Latin names for months (it does!). The current month, April, is Aprilis in Latin, which comes from the verb aperio, to open. Lewis and Short (THE Latin dictionary) gives the definition of Aprilis as “the month of April (as the month in which the earth opens and softens)”.

How lovely! Just like the tulips and violets and lavenders which brighten our walks to and from school.