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Beauty and the Beast and Latin

Walt Disney has turned many beloved classical fairy tales into successful movies. Often classical references may be found hidden within them as precious gems.  To find them is to better appreciate the artistry of their cinematic work.  This is particularly true of the older movies, but can be found in more “recent” creations that have drawn from the earlier tradition.  Such is the case with the 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast.

The opening sequence is stunning for its visual and musical elegance that draws the viewer deep into an enchanted forest.  As the castle comes into view the scene focuses attention on a lovely stained glass window that seems to resemble a royal family crest.   Beneath the scene, etched on a scroll in Latin one reads

vincit, qui se vincit

vincit qui se vincit


The motto means he conquers who conquers himself.  It is a perfect motto for the beast who must conquer his pride, his temper, his ego, truly his very own self, in order to win love and thereby conquer the curse.  This quote appears frequently as a motto not only for the fantastical kingly beast, but also for many educational institutions.  The quote is featured as the Chapter 8 motto in Latin Alive Book 3 alongside its place in the seal for Ricker College, Maine.  The motto is a more concise form of a quote from ancient philosopher, Publilius Syrus.

bis vincit qui se vincit in victoria

A literal rendering of Syrus’ bit of wisdom might read he conquers twice who conquers himself in victory.   Publilius Syrus was a man of Syrian birth who was brought to Italy as a slave.  His wit and talent obtained favor with his Roman master who eventually freed Syrus and saw to his complete education.  Syrus became a Latin writer best known for his publication Sententiae, a collection of witty sayings and wise tidbits that rise from the Stoic philosophy of the first century B.C.  The wit and wisdom of Syrus was also greatly appreciated by Medievalists who altered the spelling of his name to Publius Syrus.

The Latin text of Syrus’ Sententiae may be accessed online at The Latin Library.  The work is often published in English under the title The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus.

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