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Dulc? et dec?rum est pr? patri? m?r? is a line from the Odes (III.2.13) by the Romanlyric poetHorace. The line translates: "It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland." The Latin word patria (homeland), literally meaning the country of one's fathers (in Latin, patres) or ancestors, is the source of the French word for a country, patrie, and of the English word "patriot" (one who loves his country).
Horace's line was quoted in the title of a poem by Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et Decorum Est", published in 1920, describing soldiers' horrific experiences in World War I. Owen's poem, which calls Horace's line "the old lie", essentially ended the line's straightforward uncritical use. Before 1920, the phrase had tended to appear in memorials and monuments to the fallen; after 1920, it tended to decry war propaganda.
The poem from which the line comes, exhorts Roman citizens to develop martial prowess such that the enemies of Rome, in particular the Parthians, will be too terrified to resist the Romans. In John Conington's translation, the relevant passage reads:
Angustam amice pauperiem pati
robustus acri militia puer
condiscat et Parthos ferocis
vexet eques metuendus hasta
vitamque sub divo et trepidis agat
in rebus. Illum ex moenibus hosticis
matrona bellantis tyranni
prospiciens et adulta virgo
suspiret, eheu, ne rudis agminum
sponsus lacessat regius asperum
tactu leonem, quem cruenta
per medias rapit ira caedes.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.
To suffer hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian's dread;
Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life.
Methinks I see from rampired town
Some battling tyrant's matron wife,
Some maiden, look in terror down,--
"Ah, my dear lord, untrain'd in war!
O tempt not the infuriate mood
Of that fell lion I see! from far
He plunges through a tide of blood!" What joy, for fatherland to die!
Death's darts e'en flying feet o'ertake,
Nor spare a recreant chivalry,
A back that cowers, or loins that quake.
A humorous elaboration of the original line was used as a toast in the 19th century: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere, et dulcissimum pro patria bibere. Ergo, bibamus pro salute patriae." A reasonable English translation would be: "It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland, but sweeter still to live for the homeland, and sweetest yet to drink for the homeland. So, let us drink to the health of the homeland."
Uses in art and literature
Perhaps the most famous modern use of the phrase is as the title of a poem, "Dulce et Decorum est", by British poet Wilfred Owen during World War I. Owen's poem describes a gas attack during World War I and is one of his many anti-war poems that were not published until after the war ended. In the final lines of the poem, the Horatian phrase is described as "the old lie". It is believed, and illustrated by the original copy of the poem, that Owen intended to dedicate the poem ironically to Jessie Pope, a popular writer who glorified the war and recruited "laddies" who "longed to charge and shoot" in simplistically patriotic poems like "The Call".
"Died some, pro patria, non 'dulce' non 'et decor'..." from part IV of Ezra Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley", a damning indictment of World War I; "Daring as never before, wastage as never before."
In a 1915 school essay, German playwright Bertolt Brecht referred to the phrase as Zweckpropaganda (cheap propaganda for a specific cause) and pointed out that "It is sweeter and more fitting to live for one's country", an essay for which he was nearly expelled.
The title of Damon Knight's 1955 short story "Dulcie and Decorum" is an ironic play on the first three words of the phrase; the story is about computers that induce humans to kill themselves.
The film Johnny Got His Gun ends with this saying, along with casualty statistics since World War I.
In his book And No Birds Sang, chronicling his service in Italy with the Canadian army during World War II, Farley Mowat quotes Wilfred Owen's poem on the opening pages and addresses "the Old Lie" in the final section of the book.
In Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, the Tarleton brothers are buried under a tombstone which bears the phrase.
The last words attributed to the Israeli national hero Yosef Trumpeldor - "It is good to die for our country" ( ? ) - are considered to be derived from Horace's, and were a frequently used Zionist slogan in the early 20th century.
In William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair, the quote appears on George Osborne's tombstone after he dies at Waterloo.
In Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, after the outbreak of World War I, adolescent Eugene, encouraged by his teacher, Margaret Leonard, devours stories of wartime courage (R. Brooke's "If I Should die..." and R. Hanky's A Student in Arms), and fueled by these stories, composes his own, to the ever-present literary-referenced commentary by Wolfe.
The phrase appears on a bronze plaque bearing the names of Canadian soldiers lost from the city of Calgary during World War I and World War II at Central Memorial High School's front entrance.
The phrase was prominently inscribed in a large bronze tablet commemorating Cuban patriot Calixto García, Major-General of the Spanish-American War. The tablet was erected by the Freemasons where he died at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington, D.C. Today, this tablet resides at the private residence of one of García's direct descendants.
The phrase is written on a plaque on the left wall of main entrance of the Patiala Block, King Edward Medical University, Lahore. It commemorates the students and graduates of the institution who died in the First World War.
The phrase can be found inscribed on the outer wall of an old war fort within the Friseboda nature reserve in Sweden.
^Hässler, Hans-Jürgen; von Heusinger, Christian, eds. (1989). Kultur gegen Krieg, Wissenschaft für den Frieden [Culture against War, Science for Peace] (in German). Würzburg, Germany: Königshausen & Neumann. ISBN978-3884794012.