The first half of this phrase is probably very familiar, but did you ever hear the second half? Literally translated this ancient proverb means, “to err is human, to persevere [in erring] however [is] of the devil.” At first one might think this proverb originated with the Latin Fathers, but it did not. This quotation comes from Seneca the Younger.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (known to us simply as Seneca or Seneca the younger) lived c. 4 B.C. – A.D. 45. He was a Roman stoic philosopher, statesman, and author of tragedy during what is called the Silver Age of Latin Literature. Several of Seneca’s works have survived the passage of time and are still available to be read today. One such work is De Clementia (Concerning Mercy). It is a letter of advice that Seneca wrote to his pupil, the young emperor Nero. Sadly, Nero did not always follow his tutor’s advice. In fact, Seneca eventually met death at Nero’s orders. His work on mercy did survive long past his lifetime. John Calvin’s first published work was a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia in A.D. 1532. Some scholars believe this work may have even influenced Calvin in writing the King of France to ask for clemency for the protestant reformers.
An excerpt of Seneca’s De Clementia may be found in Latin Alive! Book 2 along with other excerpts from pieces of Latin Literature.