Faber est suae quisque fortunae (Appius Claudius Caecus)
We are the artisans of our own fortunes. (Appius the Blind)
Nota bene: this was written by a blind man. With the exception of Oedipus, blindness and other handicaps are generally thrust upon us. This is why statements like these are bound to bruise feelings. In many circumstances we either feel like or are geniunely helpless. As Gloucester says, “as flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods, they kill us for their sport.” Yet no one would say the characters of King Lear were fated to dreary ends, at least not in the same way as the personages of Greek tragedy. To what extent our lives are our own and to what extent they are the products of chance can be debated. There will always be those who cannot acknowledge the role chance plays and there will always be equally many people who cannot for Crassus’s coffers admit to the existence of something, for lack of a better term, we must call “luck.”
Fas est et ab hoste doceri
It is lawful to be taught even by an enemy
It is impossible to assemble a panaromaic picture without several perspectives. Paupers, professors, aristocrats, monks, blacksmiths and computer programmers all have peculiar vantage points. Our enemies sometimes have more to teach us than our friends. You may also find they are not bad people. You may find you are just jealous of their success. Gradual growth takes place in harmony, great bursts of change come from conflict. As Nietzche said, “one must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”
Feci quod potui, faciant meliora potentes
I have done what I could; let those who can do better.
What an elegant way to lay down the gauntlet. If someone believes it could or should be done in some other way, let them. Graciously hand over the challenge and hope they succeed. If they do not you can chuckle at their failure. Smugness should be repaid with scorn. An overabundance of sureness is bound to end in embarassment and reprimand. It is best to let one’s actions speak for themselves. Nowadays self-promotion is crucial to success. A little bit of earned boasting never harmed anyone.
Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo
Resolute in execution, gentle in manner.
Like the one above it is best to keep one’s composure even under duress. Grace under pressure is the definition of courage. A strong person can act without excessive cruelty. They can act decisively, The maxim sounds like it could have been uttered by Sun Tzu or Jigoro Kano.
Fui quod es, eris quod sum
I once was what you are, you will be what I am
There are a number of lovely Latin proverbs about mortality. This one may be the most ghoulish depending on one’s perspective. Et Arcadia ego, to me, seems more frightening since it implies death lurks in paradise as well. Here a corpse is speaking to us: “I once was what you are, you will be what I am.”
Think of the cliche of riding a bicycle. Through instruction and focused effort, preferaby early in life, one can build an unshakeable moral, intellectual and physical foundation. We do not work only for today, but also for tomorrow. After months or years of sustained exertion we may think we are making little progress but then, suddenly, the parts come together, we gain an intuitive grasp of the subject matter and our foundation is set.