Litterae sine moribus vanae

Definition: scholarship without morals is useless.

Origin: The Latin phrase is taken from extensive collection of books and notes written by Gaius Plinius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD). Pliny was a well-educated and prolific writer, naturalist, as well as commander of the early Roman Empire’s navy and army. However, Pliny is best known for writing the first comprehensive encyclopedia, a magnum opus encompassing 160 volumes, known as the Naturalis Historia (Natural History) . Naturalis Historia is groundbreaking not only for its broad range of fields of knowledge — art, astronomy, botany, geology, mineralogy, current technology, and zoology — but also because it defined the standard for all future encyclopedias and reference works. Specifically, Pliny’s encyclopedia was the first to include a comprehensive index, references to original sources and authors, and the use of supplementary information (what we now call highlight boxes or sidebars). Fortunately for historians, Naturalis Historia is one of the largest single collection of books that was preserved from Roman times to modern times since it was one of the first books to be printed in 1469 soon after the introduction of the printing press.

The phrase is the official motto of the University of Pennsylvania.

For further reading: Veni, Vidi, Vici: Conquer Your Enemies and Impress Your Friends with Everyday Latin by Eugene Ehrlich, Harper (2010).
SOMA’s Dictionary of Latin Quotations, Maxims and Phrases, Trafford Publishing (2010)
Natural History: A Selection by Pliny the Elder, Penguin Classics (1991).

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