Fabula Ex Defecta Latinitate

Friday, March 4th, ©2011 Marcus Brooks
Insignia with sword and Latin text Da Mihi Basia Mille

A Rousing Motto From Catullus
(Not Clooney's Tattoo, But Similar)

I’m watching The American (2010) on a Netflix DVD, and I had to look up the motto on Clooney’s tattoo: EX GLADIO EQUITAS.

The Net consensus seems to be that, no, it isn’t a real U.S. military unit motto, and it means “from the sword, justice.” The movie is several months old; things should have settled down. Right?

But it didn’t look right to me. True, I never did well in Latin class, and it was a long time ago, but I’ve got the Internet to help me. Here’s what I think (dum spiro, spero):

No, EX GLADIO EQUITAS isn’t a real U.S. military unit motto. (But frankly, how would I know?)

What this fake motto actually means, best as I can tell, is something Mr. Dubois (my HS Latin teacher) would find much more dulce et decorum: “Ride (a horse) away from the sword!”

Tee hee. I sure hope that’s a fake tattoo.

Now, if it said, “ex gladio, aequitas,” that would be more like it. What do you think; is Clooney kidding us?

But like I said, I’m not too hot in Latin. No kidding, in four or five semesters I might’ve pulled out a D or three. Caveat lector. Da mihi basia mille. Noster gallus est mortuus. Prope mare erat tubulator. O! Sibili, si ergo

(And in Greek I was last in my class—last to quit!)


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9 Responses to “Fabula Ex Defecta Latinitate

  1. Rex Bonus says:

    Well, I, at least, enjoyed your charming but totally incorrect translation, but I can certainly see why you didn’t do very well in Latin class: your grasp of the language, dead though it may be, is enough to strangle it until it’s doubly moribund. But I appreciate your imagination, and your obvious love of horses (even though you clearly don’t know what the ancient Romans called them). You can only improve at this point, so maybe you can aspire to a “C” one of these days if you keep practicing. BTW, no actual Special Forces operator would ever confirm or deny such a thing, even if you were their personal tattoo artist. And it’s “From (the) Sword, Equality.” The Latin for Justice is “justitia”, so don’t believe eveything you find translated from Latin on Internet websites populated by mouthbreathing guys who can disassemble an M-4 blindfolded and blow your brains out with it but can’t spel wurds and may not have even graduated from Hi Skool. I too enjoyed the movie, BTW, and find it really amusing (and somewhat telling) that there’s more than two other people on the planet who’d bother to freeze-frame Clooney’s arm and do an internet search on a fake Hollywood SOF tat. Frankly, the ‘ragazza’ massaging him was far more worthy of a freeze-frame.

  2. marcus says:

    Amazed as I am that anybody replied to or even read this post, I cannot concede any particular love of horses. I got my translation of equitas from both the University of Notre Dame’s online Latin dictionary and William Whitaker’s Words server. (Linked in this post’s third paragraph.) Ancient Romans notwithstanding, I know what old Latin teachers call horses, and it does not seem a far stretch from equus to equitas.

    BTW: I wrote the post before finishing the movie, so did not mention what I actually thought of it. It was dreadfully sad, and my wife in particular upbraided me for not warning her about that. Apologies all around.

  3. Rex Bonus says:

    [MB — Spoilers]

    If only them horses my pappy bet on had been able to stretch their legs as well as you can stretch a Latin root…

    I agree that, depending the personality of the viewer is, the tone of “The American” could be characterized as ‘sad’. But, to my tastes, it was anything but, and it certainly was not ‘dreadfully’ so.

    This is not to say that there isn’t a palpable thread of dread, like a black ribbon on a funeral cortège running through the film. There is, and it is perfectly logical. Nevertheless, I found a thread of Hope in every frame: from the cheerful scooterist who charmingly corrects his Italian grammar (slipping in a subtle reference to Sergio Leone, later echoed on a TV screen in a cafe, whose movies clearly set the pacing of the entire film), to his concentrated, meditational silence as he industriously assembles a sophisticated sniper rifle for a client, to the giggling Italian girls in the cafe, and even to the calm beauty of the hitwoman sent to hire him to help her… kill him.

    Frankly, I think both the director and Clooney did a fine job of crafting a dark, brooding tone that probably mirrors in some real, palpable way the tense, morbid life of a professional hit-man who wants out. The silences are, for me, packed with deep meaning and a surprising degree of sympathy. And, perhaps because I’ve watched so many foreign films over the years and have conditioned myself to appreciate ambiguity, I would also point out that the “dread” evoked is definitely in the mind of the viewer because we never actually saw him die — it’s only suggested. Sure he’s been shot, but a professional former special forces Ranger might have dealt with similar predicaments many times, and he’s got someone there to help him, someone who really wants him to live. She’s highly motivated. Thus, as far as *I* know as a viewer, she drove him to a doctor and they lived happily ever after.

    You can choose to project a sadder ending, in which she does nothing to help him and he bleeds out in a nice spot he’s chosen long before. But, in the fine tradition of European Art Films and French Film Noir (ala “Pepe Le Moko”, “Touchez Pas au Grisbi” or “Bob Le Flambeur”), you can also imagine a happy ending.

    In such films, the sadness, or happiness, is left entirely up to you: happy people can see the possibilities. Depressed people will invariably see mainly sadness, but they *can* find the silver lining, if they look hard enough inside themselves.

    Consider also that the main character “Jack” is a man filled with inner turmoil. This is understandable: for a long time before we meet him, he killed people — for a living! Talk about a conflicted person! You have to wonder how such people live with themselves: the luxuries they can buy with the money they earn must have a terrible hollowness to them… you might even call such a life, devoid of conscience and human compassion, “dreadful”. And that dread soon becomes tangible when someone he trusted puts a contract out on him. To make matters worse, he’s just had to murder the woman he’s been living with, trying hard to be happy with… that’s pretty conclusive proof that he wasn’t truly in “love” with her, and that he was living a hollow existence. But, if you put yourself inside the character’s mind, he might have been sparing her a worse fate. He knows he’s going to have to leave his cozy nest with her in rural Sweden: if he leaves her behind, she’ll probably be tortured and/or killed by someone coming after him. If he takes her with him, she’ll likely die in a hail of bullets meant for him. So, perhaps he’s being merciful, or, thinking more darkly, maybe he thinks it was she who betrayed him.

    Either way, the fact that, after that experience, he still manages to develop romantic feelings, much less feelings of ANY kind, for another woman — that he somehow manages to find “love” again — even with an Italian prostitute — is a tremendously hopeful thing. But then, I’m a “hey, this glass is twice as big as I need!” kinda guy.


  4. marcus says:

    Maybe your pappy should’ve bet on equestrians instead of caballeros.

    Darn. My glass won’t fit in the dishwasher.

  5. Rex Bonus says:

    That’s what *she* said. 😉

  6. pdsuper21 says:

    i think the authors simply referred to the “Operation Stay Behind” that is named “Gladio” in Italy, so in the movie George Clooney is starring an SO that was operating in Italy during cold war. In fact he seems know very well italian territory.

  7. marcus says:

    I had to look that operation up, so I didn’t quite LOL, but I grinned!

  8. Jurjen Post (Holland) says:

    I LOVE these kind of blogs! Nice guys you keep it alive. Also the Language.
    Nevertheless, It was never dead, was it now Good King? (:


    Et el Rey! I like to read the way you write!


    ‘Talk’ soon!

    Bonne chance!

  9. Tuddy says:

    “Ex Gladio Equitas” means “Sword of Justice.”

    [Marcus: Sorry, you’re reading as if it was English (and ignoring the “ex”). In Latin, “equitas” is a verb meaning “ride a horse.” See http://www.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/words.exe?equitas.

    “Sword of Justice” would probably be gladius aequitatis, or later, maybe gladius de aequitate. Or, keeping it simple, gladius justi.]

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