Festina lente

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The emblem of the dolphin and anchor which has been used since Roman times to illustrate the adage. This example is the printer's mark of Aldus

Festina lente or σπεῦδε βραδέως (speûde bradéōs) is a classical adage and oxymoron meaning "make haste slowly" (usually rendered in English as "more haste, less speed"). It has been adopted as a motto numerous times, particularly by the emperors Augustus and Titus, the Medicis and the Onslows.

The original form of the saying, σπεῦδε βραδέως, is Classical Greek, of which festina lente is the Latin translation. The words σπεῦδε and festina are second-person-singular imperatives, meaning "make haste", while βραδέως and lente are adverbs, meaning "slowly".


The Roman historian Suetonius, in De vita Caesarum, tells that Augustus deplored rashness in a military commander, thus "σπεῦδε βραδέως" was one of his favourite sayings:[1]

Nihil autem minus perfecto duci quam festinationem temeritatemque convenire arbitrabatur. Crebro itaque illa iactabat: σπεῦδε βραδέως; ἀσφαλὴς γάρ ἐστ᾽ ἀμείνων ἢ θρασὺς στρατηλάτης; et: "sat celeriter fieri quidquid fiat satis bene."

(He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favourite sayings of his were: "More haste, less speed"; "Better a safe commander than a bold"; and "What is done quickly enough is done well enough.")

Certain gold coins minted for Augustus bore images of a crab and a butterfly[2] to attempt an emblem for the adage.[3] Other such visualizations include a hare in a snail shell; a chameleon with a fish; a diamond ring entwined with foliage; and perhaps most recognizably, a dolphin entwined around an anchor.[4][5] Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany took festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a sail-backed tortoise.[6]

The Renaissance printer Aldus Manutius adopted the symbol of the dolphin and anchor as his printer's mark. Erasmus (whose books were published by Manutius) featured the phrase in his Adagia and used it to compliment his printer: "Aldus, making haste slowly, has acquired as much gold as he has reputation, and richly deserves both." Manutius showed Erasmus a Roman silver coin, given to him by Cardinal Bembo, which bore the dolphin-and-anchor symbol on the reverse side.[7][8]

The adage was popular in the Renaissance era and Shakespeare alluded to it repeatedly. In Love's Labour's Lost, he copied the crab and butterfly imagery with the characters Moth and Armado.[9]

The Onslow family of Shropshire has the adage as its motto, generating a pun upon the family name: "on-slow".[10]


The constructive intent of the phrase is that activities should be performed with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. If tasks are overly rushed, mistakes are made and good long-term results are not achieved. Work is best done in a state of flow in which one is fully engaged by the task and there is no sense of time passing.[11]


In physics, the name "Festina Lente Limit" has been applied to the Strong Confinement Limit, which is a mode of an atom laser in which the frequency of emission of the Bose–Einstein condensate is less than the confinement frequency of the trap.[12]

Goethe refers to both the proverb and Augustus' adoption of it in his poem Hermann und Dorothea (helpfully for poetry, the German rendition itself rhymes - "Eile mit Weile"):[13]

Laßt uns auch diesmal doch nur die Mittelstraße betreten! Eile mit Weile! das war selbst Kaiser Augustus' Devise.
(Let us this time take the middle course. Make haste slowly: that was Emperor Augustus' motto.)

The novel Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan involves a secret society devoted to Aldus Manutius, whose members use "Festina lente" as a motto/greeting.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Suetonius, John Carew Wolfe, "Lives of the Caesars", Suetonius 1, ISBN 978-0-674-99570-3 
  2. ^ W. Deonna (1954), "The Crab and the Butterfly: A Study in Animal Symbolism", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (The Warburg Institute) 17 (1/2): 47–86, JSTOR 750132 
  3. ^ Gabriele Simeoni (1559), Le Imprese Heroiche et Morali, ISBN 978-1-149-36798-8 
  4. ^ Gary M. Bouchard (2000), "Colin Clout's "Stayed Steps"", Colin's campus: Cambridge life and the English eclogue, ISBN 978-1-57591-044-4 
  5. ^ Aleta Alekbarova (20 June 2010), "M. Durmius’ Aureus", L'Age d'Or de la Poésie latine 
  6. ^ Hope B. Werness (2006), "Turtle", The Continuum encyclopedia of animal symbolism in art, ISBN 978-0-8264-1913-2 
  7. ^ Desiderius Erasmus, William Watson Barker (2001), The adages of Erasmus, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-4874-9 
  8. ^ "Some rare or unpublished Roman gold coins", The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society (Royal Numismatic Society) 7–8: 225 
  9. ^ John McMichaels, "Allegories of Rhetoric and Dialectic in Shakespeare's Plays", Allegoria Paranoia 
  10. ^ Mark Antony Lower (1860), "Onslow", Patronymica Britannica 
  11. ^ Karlin Sloan, Lindsey Pollak, "Festina Lente", Smarter, faster, better 
  12. ^ Filip Floegel (2003), Optical Loading of a Bose–Einstein Condensate, retrieved 2010-09-16 
  13. ^ Scottish notes and queries, D. Wyllie and son, 1895, p. 104