Festina lente or speûde bradéōs (σπεῦδε βραδέως) is a classical adage and oxymoron meaning "make haste slowly" (sometimes 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 present active imperatives, meaning "make haste", while βραδέως and lente are adverbs, meaning "slowly".
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: "Hasten slowly"; "Better a safe commander than a bold"; and "That which has been done well has been done quickly enough.")
Certain gold coins minted for Augustus bore images of a crab and a butterfly to attempt an emblem for the adage. 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. Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany took festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a sail-backed tortoise.
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.
The French poet and critic Nicolas Boileau, in his Art poétique (The Art of Poetry) (1674) applied the dictum specifically to the work of the writer, whom he advised in those words:
Hâtez-vous lentement, et sans perdre courage,
Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage,
Polissez-le sans cesse, et le repolissez,
Ajoutez quelquefois, et souvent effacez.
(Slowly make haste, and without losing courage;
Twenty times redo your work;
Polish and re-polish endlessly,
And sometimes add, but often take away)
Sir Matthew Hale was naturally a quick man; yet, by much practice on himself, he subdued that to such a degree, that he would never run suddenly into any conclusion concerning any matter of importance. Festina Lente was his beloved motto, which he ordered to be engraved on the head of his staff, and was often heard to say that be had observed many witty men run into great errors, because they did not give themselves time to think...— Bishop Burnet, The Life and Death of Sir Matthew Hale
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.
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.
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.)
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- Charles Dudley Warner (ed.), A Library of the World's Best Literature, Vol. V, New York: The International Society, 1896, reprint 2008 by Cosmo Classics, p. 2144. The translator originally chose "Gently make haste", here turned back to "Slowly make haste", which is more faithful to the French "lentement".
- Jean de la Fontaine, The Fables of La Fontaine, trans. Elizur Wright Jr., London: William Smith, 1842, p. 36.
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