Before Time Began: Latin Quotes on Ancient Sundials

Before Time Began: Latin Quotes on Ancient Sundials

Ancient sundials of Greece, Egypt and Babylon often featured provocative and emotional expressions in Latin. They were succinct and powerful calls to action which were designed to waken up the senses and peel back the blinkers on what really matters. These concise messages highlighted the passing of time, mortality, life, death and enjoying one’s brief yet vital time on the planet. Here are some of the more memorable Latin expressions that appear on ancient sundials. There’s a reason they are repeated over several thousand years – because they never age in meaning and emotional gravity.

Umbra sicut hominis vita. A person’s life is like a shadow.

Vita fugit, sicut umbra Life passes like the shadow.


Hora fugit, ne tardes. The hour flees, don’t be late.


Dona præsentis cape lætus horæ ac linque severe. Take the gifts of this hour.


Amicis qualibet hora. Any hour for my friends.


Post tenebras spero lucem. I hope for light to follow darkness.


Ultima latet ut observentur omnes. Our last hour is hidden from us, so that we watch them all.


Memor esto brevis ævi. Remember how short is life.


Sic labitur ætas. Thus passes a lifetime.


Fruere hora. Enjoy the hour.


Ruit hora. The hour is flowing away.


Tempus fugit [velut umbra]. Time flees like a shadow.


Tempus breve est. Time is short.


Semper amicis hora. Always time for friends.


Serius est quam cogitas. It’s later than you think


Sit fausta quæ labitur. May the hour be favorable.


Pulvis et umbra sumus. We are dust and shadow.


Tempus volat, hora fugit. Time flies, the hour flees.


Mox nox. Night, shortly.


Lente hora, celeriter anni. An hour passes slowly, but the years go by quickly


Vita similis umbræ. Life resembles a shadow


Vita in motu. Life is in motion.


Una ex his erit tibi ultima. One of these hours will be your last.


Ex iis unam cave. Beware of one hour.


Lente hora, celeriter anni. An hour passes slowly, but the years go by quickly.


Meam vide umbram, tuam videbis vitam. Look at my shadow and you will see your life.


Vivere memento. Remember to live.


Tempus omnia dabit. Time will give everything


Una dabit quod negat altera. One hour will give what another has refused.


Sol omnibus lucet. The sun shines for everyone.


Utere non reditura. Use the hour, it will not come again.


Altera pars otio, pars ista labori. Devote this hour to work, another to leisure


Vidi nihil permanere sub sole. I have seen that nothing under the sun endures


Sic labitur ætas. Thus passes a lifetime.


Tempus edax rerum. Time devours things.


Festina lente. Make haste, but slowly.


Fugit hora – carpe diem. The hour flees – seize the day.


Tempus vincit omnia. Time conquers everything.


Utere, non numera. Use the hours, don’t count them.


Memor esto brevis ævi. Remember how short life is.

What do you think?

Some of these sound like a foreboding warning to take life more seriously. Others are less doom and gloom and more about simply being more present in the present moment, a wonderful idea that is so often difficult in practice with so many things intent on distracting us. Perhaps a better take-away would be: So what do you plan on doing with your one juicy, creative life? This question is borrowed from the wonderful Anne Lamott who I have talked about here before. What do you think?

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