What Rome is to a wise traveller – Stories from Rome

Rome Tour

Rome, a city known for seducing contemplating minds with its genius art, holds even today the enchanting stories of its civilization. But there is much more to Rome than just its art and food. Something that touches probably every living life even today – its wisdom. The most widely used proverbs that Rome gifted to the world centuries ago are used even today. Interestingly, Roman proverbs are not just related to the myths and stories of the philosophers.

Rome Lines

All roads lead to Rome
Concrete Road leading to Colosseum
Concrete Road leading to the Colosseum

“If you thought the Colosseum is the greatest example of Roman engineering, you might want to reconsider the value of concrete roads you walk/drive on today.”

There are many different ways to reach one destination. But the Romans wanted to make sure they cover all the ways possible. During the 3rd century BC the Romans discovered that mixing volcanic ash with lime mortar, sand and gravel made a rock-hard substance leading to the invention of ‘Concrete’. By early 4th century BC, the Romans had built the longest road network then of approximately 53000 miles. So if you thought that the Colosseum is the greatest example of Roman engineering, you might want to reconsider the value of the concrete roads you walk/drive on today. It was after all inspired by one of the greatest engineering work of Romans. Hence the proverb which literally means the same “All roads lead to Rome”

Rome Lines

When in Rome, do as the Romans do
St Peter's Basilica - a late Renaissance church at the Vatican, Rome
St Peter’s Basilica – a late Renaissance church at the Vatican, Rome

He noticed that back in Rome the Church fasted on Saturdays, but in Milan it wasn’t so. Finally, confused about which custom to follow, he consulted the wise Ambrogio.

Adapt to the customs of the place you are at. This celebrated proverb was incidentally brought forth in a church by the Bishop of Milan  – Ambrogio, who traveled often. It so happened that once St. Augustine, from Rome, went to Milan to assume his role as the Professor of Rhetoric at the Imperial Court. Not having travelled much, some of their customs were new to him. He noticed that back in Rome the Church fasted on Saturdays, but in Milan it wasn’t so. Finally, confused about which custom to follow, he consulted the wise Ambrogio. Thus, St. Augustine got his answer as, “When I am at Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am at Milan I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” We have already seen what time could do to the language of every proverb. This wisdom too was shortened further by British author Robert Burton in his classic writing ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ where the “church” was replaced by “Rome”. Eventually, the constant re-use of this phrase moulded it into what the travellers popularly use today  as “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”

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Rome Lines

Rome wasn’t built in a day
Why Rome wasn't built in a day a trip to rome
Skyline of beautiful Rome, Italy

Ironically, the Romans weren’t the ones who made this proverb as popular as it is today.

Great achievements take time. Maybe the city of Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this proverb definitely took centuries to be formed and introduced to the world. Late in the 12th century, a humble roman cleric in the court of Philippe of Flanders spoke words which would have lived for centuries to come – “Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour”. However, it wasn’t until three centuries later that Richard Taverner gave the world an (almost) proper English translation of the cleric’s golden words – “Rome was not buylt in one day”. Ironically, the Romans weren’t the ones who made this proverb as popular as it is today. In 1546, John Heywood a well-known English writer used this proverb in his work “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” which became popular. Thus, true to its meaning, the world finally embraced the proverb four centuries later.

We know now the stories of Rome that have touched upon our words at least once in our lifetime. However, there are more such pearls, the origin of which can hardly be traced in the sea of wisdom that Rome has to offer. Know of any more proverbs from Rome? We would love to know about it!

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