Tempora mutantur

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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". The phrase is not found in Classical Latin, but is a variant of phrases of Ovid, to whom it is sometimes misattributed. Instead, it dates to early/mid 16th century Germany, in the context of the Protestant Reformation, and it subsequently was popularized in various forms. See history for history and other forms.


Regarding the form:

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis
strictly translated as:
"Times change, and we change with 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, and is summarized in Ancient Greek as panta rhei (πἀντα ρει, "everything flows"). The Latin formulation tempora mutantur is not classical, and does not have a generally accepted attribution – it is often identified as "traditional" – though it is frequently misattributed, particularly to Ovid. It is typically considered a variant of omnia mutantur "everything changes", specifically from Ovid's Metamorphoses, in the phrase omnia mutantur, nihil interit[1] "everything changes, nothing perishes". However, the earliest attestation is from the German theologian Caspar Huberinus, who instead uses tempora mutantur as a variant of tempora labuntur "time labors", from Ovid's Fasti.[2] The phrase tempora mutantur may thus be seen as a hybrid of tempora labuntur and omnia mutantur, both from Ovid.

Various longer Latin forms and vernacular translations appear in 16th and early 17th century; these are discussed below.


The earliest attestations are in German Latin literature of the 16th century:

Prior to 1554, the Protestant Reformer Caspar Huberinus (1500–1553) completes Ovid's verse in Fasti with tempora mutantur. Ovid's Fasti, VI, 771–772 reads:

Tempora labuntur, tacitisque senescimus annis,
et fugiunt freno non remorante dies.
The times slip away, and we grow old with the silent years,
and the days flee unchecked by a rein.[3]

Fasti was popular in the 16th century, and this passage, near the end of the last extant book of the Fasti, is interpreted as expressing the poet's own old age.[3]

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".


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!:[9]

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:[10]

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

Incorrect attributions[edit]

It is incorrectly attributed to Cicero,[11] presumably a confusion with his O tempora o mores! It is sometimes attributed to Borbonius (1595), though he was predated by over 50 years by others.

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?"[12]

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.[13]

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. ^ Ovid's Fasti, VI, 771
  3. ^ a b Playing with Time: Ovid and the Fasti, by Carole Elizabeth Newlands, p. 205
  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. ^ "The Epigrammata of John Owen, Book 8, Latin". Philological.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  10. ^ "The Epigrammata of John Owen, Book 8, English". Philological.bham.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Richard T. Bruere (October 1968). "Review of: Follett World-Wide Latin Dictionary by Edwin B. Levine". Classical Philology 63 (4): 313–317. JSTOR 267592. 
  12. ^ 3 Cai. R. 175 (1805)
  13. ^ Caesars Convention Center Expamsion & Pool Area Remodel

External links[edit]

  • Quotations related to Change at Wikiquote