Festina lente or σπεῦδε βραδέως (speûde bradéōs) is a classical adage and oxymoron meaning "make haste slowly" (usually rendered in English as "more haste, less speed"). It has been adopted as a motto numerous times, particularly by the emperors Augustus and Titus, the Medicis and the Onslows.
The original form of the saying, σπεῦδε βραδέως, is Classical Greek, of which festina lente is the Latin translation. The words σπεῦδε and festina are second-person-singular imperatives, meaning "make haste", while βραδέως and lente are adverbs, meaning "slowly".
The Roman historian Suetonius, in De vita Caesarum, tells that Augustus deplored rashness in a military commander, thus "σπεῦδε βραδέως" was one of his favourite sayings:
Nihil autem minus perfecto duci quam festinationem temeritatemque convenire arbitrabatur. Crebro itaque illa iactabat: σπεῦδε βραδέως; ἀσφαλὴς γάρ ἐστ᾽ ἀμείνων ἢ θρασὺς στρατηλάτης; et: "sat celeriter fieri quidquid fiat satis bene."
(He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favourite sayings of his were: "More haste, less speed"; "Better a safe commander than a bold"; and "That is done quickly enough which is done well enough.")
Certain gold coins minted for Augustus bore images of a crab and a butterfly to attempt an emblem for the adage. Other such visualizations include a hare in a snail shell; a chameleon with a fish; a diamond ring entwined with foliage; and perhaps most recognizably, a dolphin entwined around an anchor.Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany took festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a sail-backed tortoise.
The Renaissance printer Aldus Manutius adopted the symbol of the dolphin and anchor as his printer's mark. Erasmus (whose books were published by Manutius) featured the phrase in his Adagia and used it to compliment his printer: "Aldus, making haste slowly, has acquired as much gold as he has reputation, and richly deserves both." Manutius showed Erasmus a Roman silver coin, given to him by Cardinal Bembo, which bore the dolphin-and-anchor symbol on the reverse side.
The adage was popular in the Renaissance era and Shakespeare alluded to it repeatedly. In Love's Labour's Lost, he copied the crab and butterfly imagery with the characters Moth and Armado.
The Onslow family of Shropshire has the adage as its motto, generating a pun upon the family name: "on-slow".
The constructive intent of the phrase is that activities should be performed with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. If tasks are overly rushed, mistakes are made and good long-term results are not achieved. Work is best done in a state of flow in which one is fully engaged by the task and there is no sense of time passing. One extrapolation is "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."
In physics, the name "Festina Lente Limit" has been applied to the Strong Confinement Limit, which is a mode of an atom laser in which the frequency of emission of the Bose–Einstein condensate is less than the confinement frequency of the trap.
Goethe refers to both the proverb and Augustus' adoption of it in his poem Hermann und Dorothea (helpfully for poetry, the German rendition itself rhymes - "Eile mit Weile"):
Laßt uns auch diesmal doch nur die Mittelstraße betreten! Eile mit Weile! das war selbst Kaiser Augustus' Devise.
(Let us this time take the middle course. Make haste slowly: that was Emperor Augustus' motto.)
The novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan involves a secret society devoted to Aldus Manutius, whose members use "Festina lente" as a motto/greeting.
- The Tortoise and the Hare
- Festina lente (bridge), a pedestrian bridge in Sarajevo