My new motto: Festina lente

Festina Lente 1

Two weeks ago I stood before this beautiful door in the Uffizi, in Florence. Uffizi means “offices” because what is today the world’s greatest museum started as the offices built by the family that ran Florence, and sometimes Europe: the Medici.

The upper panel on the door above shows the Medici’s crest, six “balls” (including the blue one on top), which shows up on buildings all over Florence. But it’s the lower panel that got me immersed in a long and fascinating conversation.

Here is that lower panel up close. It shows a tortoise with a mast on its back. The mast used to have a sail. It’s a picture of a sailing tortoise, in other words.

Festina Lente 2

Why did the Medici put a sailing tortoise on their doors? Because it was their visual take on Festina Lente.

Festina Lente is Latin and means “hasten slowly”. It’s whence we get our idiom “make haste slowly”, and the Germans their “Eile mit Weile”. The tortoise, you see, is really busy. It has a purpose and a direction (where it sailing); but it’s still a tortoise, and it has no time to waste by going quickly in the wrong direction. So it’s moving slooowly. But it arrives.

Octavian, later Augustus, was the first to adopt Festina Lente as a motto. He hated speed without precision just as much as he hated lack of urgency or direction. The motto obviously served him rather well. He visualized the idea as a dolphin and an anchor; but I like the sailing tortoise better.

Festina Lente is what I already had in mind five years ago, when I blogged about “slowing down to save time”. But now the sentiment has become even more important to me, because in my new job I have become busier. I simply don’t have time anymore to go fast.

11 thoughts on “My new motto: Festina lente

  1. I LOVE this post! I discovered the concept of Festina Lente when researching my first book (The Place of Voices) and used it near the end of the book. I never came across the sailing turtle in my studies, but I love that imagery. I recently joined a Twitter group called “TurtleWriters,” so this new bit of knowledge is extra amusing to me. I will share your post with my Twitter followers 🙂 @LaurenRLynch

  2. So very nice to read this. Congrats, AK.
    I think it’s a bit like breathing. If one thinks one is breathing better if one breathes faster, that usually means the beginning of a mess.
    This is such a lovely piece of writing, in content and style. By “style”, I mean the aesthetic part of it. The aesthetic exemplifies the content. Reminds me of the beauty of a Schubert Lieder sung by Fischer-Dieskau. Utterly enviable. Therefore, thank you. 🙂

  3. “Festina Lente” is what Angela Merkel might felicitously say to anyone complaining why she’s taking so long to form a government.

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