Thursday, January 26, 2006

Leidseplein Latin

I love discovering new and obscure elements to old and familiar places. The city of Amsterdam is full of unusual surprises -- some solemn, like a monument on the Marnixstraat to five young men executed by the Nazi SS in 1945... some surreal, like a random encounter with mythical holiday figures as they pile into their Peugeot... and some silly, like the classical Latin inscription engraved into the marble colonnade overlooking the Leidseplein.

It's such a stately setting -- neo-classical architecture standing sentry to one of the city's classical centers of activity -- that one would simply presume that the serifed inscription towering fifteen meters over the busy passageway is merely some indecipherable relic of antiquity. "E Pluribus Unum" or "Citius Altius Fortius" or "Carpe Diem" or something like that... But I actually took the time to read the inscription on a recent bicycle ride, and I was surprised to see what was actually inscribed on this marble facade:

"Homo Sapiens Non Urinat In Ventum."

I have an extremely limited knowledge of the Latin language, but I was instantly able to piece together enough information to figure out a rough translation (that internet research later confirmed): "Intelligent men don't pee into the wind."

Why this dictum was so painstakinly and permanently chiseled on such a prominent surface, I do not presume to know. Perhaps because Amsterdam seems to have an uncommonly high incidence of public (outdoor) urination... Or perhaps it was meant to reflect the way that the city thrives on its cheeky attitude toward convention and culture... Or perhaps the statement has its roots in some serious historical context... Nevertheless, its dawning was an amusing observation, and I figured I would be remiss if I did not remit the wisdom of this proverb for all to see and know: "Homo Sapiens Non Urinat In Ventum."


At 11:45 PM, Blogger Naomi said...

sigh...the beautiful things about Amsterdam, that we can so easily miss! maybe this can be used for future inspiration in your upcoming book? ;-)

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Bret said...

Thanks so much for the post. I, obviously, have ridden past that sign a million times and often wondered what it said. Being lazy I never took the time to actually figure it out. Now that you have enlightened me, I find it so, so good. I hope I have a picture of it somewhere...

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went on a tour of Amsterdam, and the tour guide shared that the architects wrote this to get back at the city who made them wait through red tape to get the building done. Originally it was another, more proper, quote, but after the long wait they decided to change the quote because they knew the city would never check out the Latin.


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