Tempora mutantur

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Tempora mutantur is a Latin adage meaning "times change". It is also stated in various longer hexametric forms, most commonly Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis, meaning "Times change, and we change with them", see history for other forms.


Regarding the form:

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis
strictly translated as:
"The times move [on], and we too move [along] in them."

Like many adages and proverbial or wisdom maxims drawn from the Latin cultural tradition, this line is a hexameter: the rhythmical verse, typical of the great epic poetry, both in Greek and Latin literature. All other Latin verses cited in this page are hexameters as well.

The fact that et (and) is following nos and being accented in the hexameter's rhythm, attributes an emphasis to it. In this position et works as a short form of etiam; meaning: "also, too" or "even". So a correct translation is "and we too", instead of the simple "and we".

The verb mūtō means both "to move" and "to change", so an alternate reading is "The times move [on], and we move [along] in them." This recalls the image of time as a river, moving along, as in Heraclitus' Πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) "everything is in a state of flux".


The notion of change, of everything changing, dates in Western philosophy at least to Heraclitus. This formulation appears to be traditional; the variant omnia mutantur ("everything changes", "τἀ πἀντα ρει" in Greek) occurs for instance in Ovid's Metamorphoses, in the phrase omnia mutantur, nihil interit[1] — everything changes, nothing perishes — and was cited as an inspiration by later writers. Various forms appear in the vernacular literature of the 16th and early 17th century; these are discussed below.


In English vernacular literature it is quoted as "proverbial" in William Harrison's Description of England, 1577, p. 170, part of Holinshed's Chronicles, in the form:

Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis
with the translation:
"The times change, and we change with them."

It appears in John Lyly Euphues I 276, 1578, as cited in Dictionary of Proverbs, by George Latimer Apperson, Martin Manser, p. 582 as

"The tymes are chaunged as Ouid sayeth, and wee are chaunged in the times."
in modern spelling:
"The times are changed, as Ovid says, and we are changed in the times."

It gained popularity as a couplet by John Owen, in his popular Epigrammata, 1613 Lib. I. ad Edoardum Noel, epigram 58 O Tempora!:[2]

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis;
Quo modo? fit semper tempore pejor homo.
in direct translation (of second line):
"How's that? The man (mankind) always gets worse with time"

Translated by Harvey, 1677, as:[3]

"The Times are Chang'd, and in them Chang'd are we:
How? Man as Times grow worse, grows worse we see."


References in German vernacular literature date back to the 16th century:

Before 1554 Caspar Huberinus completes Ovid's verse in Fasti. Ovid's Fasti, VI, 771–772 reads:

Tempora labuntur, tacitisque senescimus annis,
et fugiunt freno non remorante dies.

Huberinus rewrites the second line as:

Tempora labuntur, tacitisque senescimus annis;
Tempora mutantur, nosque mutamur in illis.
"Times are slipping away, and we get older by (through, during, with, because of) the silent years"
(nosque = the same as nos et, with different hexameter rhythm)[4]

The German translation is added in 1565 by Johannes Nas:

Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in ipsis;
Die zeit wirdt verendert / vnd wir in der zeit.
(ipsis = "themselves")[5]

Finally a couplet dedicated by Matthew Borbonius in 1595 to emperor Lothair I.[6]
Also selected for the anthology Delitiae Poetarum Germanorum, 1612, vol. 1, p. 685 (GIF).

Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis
Illa vices quasdam res habet, illa vices.[7][8]
"All things are changed, and we are changed with them
that matter has some changes, it (does have) changes".

Incorrect attributions[edit]

It is incorrectly attributed to Cicero,[9] presumably a confusion with his O tempora o mores!

Georg Büchmann, Geflügelte Worte: Der Citatenschatz des deutschen Volkes, ed. K. Weidling, 1898 edition, p. 506, confuses historical and poetical reality naming emperor Lothair I as the source and the couplet by Matthias Borbonius printed in 1612 as the quote.

Brewer's Dictionary 1898 edition confuses Borbonius' first name (Matthew) with another poet (Nicholas), the entry reading:

"Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis," is by Nicholas Borbonius, a Latin poet of the sixteenth century. Dr. Sandys says that the Emperor Lothair, of the Holy Roman Empire, had already said, "Tempora mutantur, nos et muta'mur in illis."

Cultural references[edit]

In Pierson v. Post, dissenting judge and future US Supreme Court Justice Henry Brockholst Livingston argued "If any thing, therefore, in the digests or pandects shall appear to militate against the defendant in error, who, on this occasion, was foxhunter, we have only to say tempora mutantur, and if men themselves change with the times, why should not laws also undergo an alteration?"[10]

It is used as the nickname for Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 64.

In the popular UK sitcom Yes Prime Minister, Prime Minister Jim Hacker suggests to civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby that "hardly anyone uses Latin nowadays". Sir Humphrey responds with "Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis".

The adage is inscribed on the Convention Center at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.[11]

In the Marvel serial, Marvel 1602, the phrase "Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis" is the motto for Carlo Javier's Select College for the Sons of Gentlefolk.

James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus goes back with his father to County Cork in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and one of his dad's old cronies cross-questions him: "One of them, in order to put his Latin to the proof, had made him translate short passages from Dilectus and asked him whether it was correct to say: Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis or Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Metamorphoses (Ovidius), Liber XV, line 165
  2. ^ "The Epigrammata of John Owen, Book 8, Latin". Philological.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Epigrammata of John Owen, Book 8, English". Philological.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Caspar Huberinus: Postilla Deudsch, Frankfurt an der Oder 1554, fol. 354. Google
  5. ^ Johannes Nas: Das Antipapistisch eins vnd hundert, [Ingolstadt] 1565, fol. 83. Google
  6. ^ "The Epigrammata of John Owen, Note on source". Philological.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Matthias Borbonius: Caesares, Leipzig 1595, Lotharius Primus CLIII. Google
  8. ^ Matthias Borbonius: Selection of: Caesares, Leipzig 1595. In: Delitiae Poetarum Germanorum huius superiorisque aevi illustrium. A.F.G.G. (editor, not identified), vol. 1, Frankfurt am Main 1612, p. 685
  9. ^ Richard T. Bruere (October 1968). "Review of: Follett World-Wide Latin Dictionary by Edwin B. Levine". Classical Philology 63 (4): 313–317. JSTOR 267592.  edit
  10. ^ 3 Cai. R. 175 (1805)
  11. ^ Caesars Convention Center Expamsion & Pool Area Remodel

External links[edit]

  • Quotations related to Change at Wikiquote