Non serviam

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Non serviam is Latin for "I will not serve". The phrase is traditionally attributed to Satan, who is thought to have spoken these words as a refusal to serve God in heaven. The earliest use of the phrase is found in James Joyce's Ulysses

Today "non serviam" is also used or referred to as motto by a number of political, cultural, and religious groups to express their wish to rebel; it may be used to express a radical view against established common beliefs and organisational structures accepted as the status quo.


In the Latin Vulgate, Jeremiah laments that the people of Israel speak "non serviam" to express their rejection of God (Jeremiah 2:20). The words became a general expression of the basic manner of rejecting God, such that it would apply to the fall of Satan. The words have thus been attributed to Satan.

In modern times "non serviam" developed also into a general phrase used to express radical, sometimes even revolutionary rejection of conformity, not necessarily limited to religious matters only and as expressed in modern literary adaptations of the motto.[1]

The expression underlies the Shermanesque statement "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected", as well as Stephen Dedalus's in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that "I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning."[2]

Scriptural discussion[edit]

The original Hebrew phrase is לֹא אֶעֱבֹד (Lô´ ´e`ĕvôd), where it appears in a jeremiad against Israel, accusing them of refusing to serve God. Some English language Bibles may translate "non serviam" as "I will not transgress"; this seems to be an alternative reading of certain manuscripts. This is most likely a scribal error because the difference between "serve" (עבד) and "transgress" (עבר) in late Hebrew characters is so minute that it would be easy to mistake one for the other when hand-copying a manuscript. Most modern literal translations (such as the Revised Standard Version) choose "serve" over "transgress" as the proper reading because the context calls for a statement of disobedience, not of obedience.[citation needed]


  1. ^ cf. e.g. A. Olson, "Exile and Literary Modernism Initiation", in: A. Eysteinsson et al., Modernism Vol. 2, Amsterdam/Philadelphia 2007
  2. ^ Joyce, James (1922). A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. B. W. Huebsch. p. 291.

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