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.
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.