Litterae non dant panem

I came across an apt Latin proverb today: Litterae non dant panem, meaning “Letters do not give bread”.

The earliest reference I can find for it is Horace (65 BCE to 8 BCE) and it is usually interpreted to mean that writing poetry or literature is no way to sustain yourself. I would assume that it holds for a narrower reading of “letters” in the study of writing systems and literacy, and for a broader interpretation of humanities research, or Letters.

It calls to mind a much more recent proverb from Alain de Botton: “Trying to make a living from writing is like attempting to power a city from wind turbines”.

The Romans knew it, the Carthaginians knew it, and now we know it.




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