Festina Lente!

Published 11:14 am Friday, January 3, 2020

Rather than making resolutions, I adopted a motto for the new year — Festina Lente!

I encountered the expression in a delightful novel by Robin Sloan, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.” The story focuses on a secret society of book lovers who are attempting to solve a centuries-old mystery. The plot involves clandestine meetings, publishing technology, and good old-fashioned sleuthing. Festina Lente serves as the name of a company, an expression, and a greeting. The first time I read the book, I skimmed over it. On my second reading, I wondered what the phrase meant.

It appeared to be Latin, so I opened up my computer and asked Google Translate. The result: Make haste slowly. An oxymoron, one of those expressions that seem self-contradictory. Bittersweet. Civil War. Jumbo shrimp. And, one of my favorites from the automotive world: Dodge Ram.

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I wondered if the phrase had a more extensive history, so I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary (Volume 5) and found several instances of its incorporation within English-language publications. For example, in his 1590 prose romance Rosalynde, Thomas Lodge advised that festina lente was an appropriate approach in matters of love. A quote from 1633 noted that the phrase referred to the sweet spot between being sluggish and being precipitous. And, Charlotte Yonge, author of “The Girls Little Book,” which was published in 1893, advised her readers, “Be not too quick to do things well. Festina Lente.”

Next (begging forgiveness from the professors in our area), I turned to Wikipedia. There I discovered that the phrase’s long history predated the English language. The saying had roots with the ancient Greeks, and the Latin version became a favored adage of Caesar Augustus, who apparently felt there was wisdom in military leaders who avoided hastiness and rashness in favor of safe action. Visual depictions of the concept included a rabbit in a snail’s shell, and the concept underpinned the fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Another illustration involved a dolphin and an anchor. Those symbols had a direct link to the adventures of Mr. Penumbra and his associates. From Wikipedia, I learned that Aldus Manutius, a 15th century printer, used the dolphin and anchor image as a trademark symbol. I don’t want to give Sloan’s story away, but I will say that without Mr. Manutius and his accomplishments, there wouldn’t have been a plot.

In my own life, I’ve encountered the concept in other pithy quotes. One of my favorites goes like this: If you don’t have the time to do it right, where are you going to find the time to do it over? Another: Never forget that slow progress is progress. And, of course: Haste makes waste.

I believe in the wisdom of that advice because many times, to my detriment, I’ve ignored it. Lose weight fast? That’s been my recipe for failure and weight gain. Jump right into a running program? Hello, shin splints. Move from the desk to the treadmill without working up to speed gradually? Sidelined by plantar fasciitis.

Last month, yet again, I fell for the fallacy of attempting to expedite a process by rushing. I can’t even remember why I was in a hurry. As I prepared dinner, I put noodles on to boil. When they were done, rather taking the time to get out the colander, which would also then need to be washed, I tried to speed things up by pouring the water out of the pan, using its lid to hold back the noodles. If you’ve tried this time saving trick yourself, you probably know what happened. I burned my hand, dropped the lid, and lost half the noodles. By the time I cleaned up the mess and drained the rest of the noodles properly, dinner was 20 minutes late and noodles were sparse. And, I still had to wash the colander.

So, for 2020 I have decided to step down the pace and focus on doing things right the first time. I’m going to enjoy life’s moments and find satisfaction in the journey. I’m eager, but not in a hurry, to see what I can accomplish. “Festina Lente!”

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.