Saturnalia Quotes

Quotations from Macrobius author of a work on the Roman festival of Saturnalia

Image ID: 1623943 The Roman Saturnalia. (1884)
Image ID: 1623943 The Roman Saturnalia. (1884). © NYPL Digital Gallery

Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, known simply as Macrobius, probably lived in the early fifth century A.D. He wrote a work on the Roman festival of Saturnalia in the form of dinner table discussions between people at the house of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus. Macrobius describes the origins of the festival:

" [24] It was during their reign that Saturn suddenly disappeared, and Janus then devised means to add to his honors. First he gave the name Saturnia to all the land which acknowledged his rule; and then he built an altar, instituting rites as to a god and calling these rites the Saturnalia-a fact which goes to show how very much older the festival is than the city of Rome. And it was because Saturn had improved the conditions of life that, by order of Janus, religious honors were paid to him, as his effigy indicates, which received the additional attribute of a sickle, the symbol of harvest."
Source: Chronicon Blog The Origins of Saturnalia and Christmas; translation from Percival Vaughn Davies' work, published in 1969.​

Below are some other quotations from Macrobius' writing, not as clearly connected with the festival. The following are in the public domain:

Don't Count on the Future

"Nescis quid vesper vehat."
"Thou knowest not what evening may bring."
Macrobius. Saturnalia, L, 7, 12.

Time Depends

"Tempus ante mundum esse non potuit."
"Time could not exist before the world."
Commentarii, II., 10, 9.

Fear Precludes Love

"Non potest amor cum timore misceri."
"Love cannot exist where there is fear."
Saturnalia, I., 11, 12.

You Only Need a Drop of Honey

"Omne quod dulce est cito satiat."
"Every thing sweet quickly brings satiety."
Saturnalia, VII., 7, 15.

The Sorry Origin of Opinions

"Opinionis ortus est memoriae defectus."
"The origin of speculation is a defective memory."
Commentarii, I., 12, 9.

Arguments Won't Sway the Masses

"Plebeia ingenia magis exemplis quam ratione capiuntur."
"Vulgar minds are more influenced by example than by argument."
Saturnalia, VII., 4, i.

The Trials of a Guilty Conscience

"Se judice nemo nocens absolvitur, nec de se suam potest vitare sententiam."
"With himself as judge, no guilty man is acquitted, nor can any one escape his own sentence."
Commentarii, I., 10, 12.

The Problem With Luxury

"(Ita enim fit ut) si sanitatem sumentium mediocritas observata non sauciet, ipse tamen luxus morum sit aegritudo."
"So it is that even if the moderation of those who live luxuriously prevents injury to the bodily health, still luxury itself is a moral infirmity."
Saturnalia, VII., 5, 32.

What Is Within Our Power

"Sibi quisque dat mores; conditionem casus adsignat."
"Each one forms his own character; his station is assigned to him by fortune.'
Saturnalia, I., 11, 10.

Act As Though You Are Being Watched

"Sic loquendum esse cum hominibus, tanquam dii audiant; sic loquendum cum hominibus, tanquam homines audiant."
"We should so speak with men as though the Gods were listening, and so speak with the Gods as though men were listening."
Saturnalia, I., 7, 6.

The Insecurity of Slave Owning

"Totidem hostes nobis esse quot servos."
We have as many enemies as we have servants."
Saturnalia, I., 11, 13.

The Chicken or the Egg

"(Consuluisti) utrum prius gallina ex ovo an ovum ex gallina coeperit."
"You have been considering whether the fowl came first from the egg or the egg from the fowl."
Saturnalia, VII., 16, 1.

Source:
Harbottle's Dictionary of Quotations (Classical)