No one knows what he can do until he tries.Publilius Syrus
If you wish to reach the highest, begin at the lowest.Publilius Syrus
Who is Publilius Syrus ?
Publilius Syrus (fl. 85–43 BC) was a Latin writer, best recognized for his sententiae. He was a Syrian who was brought to Roman Italy as a slave. Through his wit and talent, Syrus gained the respect of his master, who granted him manumission and educated him.
He became a member of the Publilia gens. Publilius’ name, due to the palatalization of ‘l’ between two ‘i’s in the Early Middle Ages, is often described as bb Publius is an incredibly popular Roman praenomen. The mimes, in which he participated, had great success in Italy’s regional cities and in Julius Caesar ‘s games in 46 BC.
Perhaps Publilius was even more well known as an improviser. He himself received the prize in a contest from Julius Caesar in which Syrus vanquished all his competitors, including the celebrated Decimus Laberius. Everything that remains of his corpus is a Sententiae list, a series of moral maxims in both the iambic and trochaic chapters. This collection must have been made at a very early date, because Aulus Gellius knew it in the 2nd century AD.
Each maxim consists of a single verse and according to their initial letters, the verses are arranged in alphabetic order. Over time, the collection was interpolated with sentences taken from other authors, especially from apocryphal Seneca the Younger writings.
The number of bona fide verses is about 700. These contain other pithy sentences, such as the popular “iudex damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur” (“The judge is guilty when the culprit is acquitted”), which the Edinburgh Review adopted as its slogan. The best texts of the Sentences as from 1911 were those of Eduard Wölfflin (1869), A. Spengel (1874) and Wilhelm Meyer (1880), with full critical apparatus and verborum index; editions of O’s text.
Frank (1880), R. A. H. Bickford-Smith (1895), bibliographed in full; see also W. Meyer, The Collections of the Arguments of the Publilius Syrus (1877), an important work. Throughout his life, Seneca the Younger sought to develop a “sententious style,” like Publilius.
In his Moral Epistles to Lucilius he quotes Syrus in the 8th moral letter, “On the Seclusion of the Philosopher” and the 94th, “On the Value of Advice.” In the first scene of Much Ado About Nothing’s fifth act, William Shakespeare has proverbially told Don Pedro: “if she hated him mortally, she would love him dearly.” W.L. Rushton insists that this is derived from the Euphues of John Lyly.
If this had not been taken from Lyly by Shakespeare then he and Lyly both derived this expression from Publilius. Rollin ‘Stone (1950), the Muddy Waters album, was named after a biblical phrase by Publilius: “A rolling stone gathers no moss” (Latin: Saxum volutum non obducitur musco).
The term is also given as “Musco lapis volutus haud obducitur,” and in some instances as “Musco lapis volutus haud obvolvitur.” The Rolling Stones rock band was named after the song of Muddy Waters.