eighteenth hour—“I’ve never seen eyebrows make sound”
Sarah Cleeremans

The Renaissance printer Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) adopted the symbol of the dolphin and anchor as his printer's mark. Erasmus, whose books were published by Manutius, featured the phrase in his Adagia and used it to compliment his printer: "Aldus, making haste slowly, has acquired as much gold as he has reputation, and richly deserves both." Manutius showed Erasmus a Roman silver coin from around 80 CE, given to him by Cardinal Bembo, which bore the dolphin-and-anchor symbol on the reverse side. Originally the coin was minted in honour of Neptune to appease him for the Vesuvian eruption that had destroyed Pompeii. But the renaissance humanists saw a different meaning. To them the swift dolphin and the static anchor were the ultimate combination of opposites. They were reminded of Augustus’ motto Festina Lente: make haste slowly. It says HARD STOP and MOVE ALONG at once. Festina lente: a true contradiction. This uniting of opposites —‘discordia concors’— became a favourite game of renaissance intellectuals. Allegedly it was later incorporated into Hegel’s (1770-1831) concept of ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’. Manutius would use the image of the anchored dolphin as his printer’s emblem for the rest of his career.


The adage and oxymoron was popular in the Renaissance era and Shakespeare alluded to it repeatedly. In Love's Labour's Lost, he copied the crab and butterfly imagery with the characters Moth and Armado. In addition to the anchor and dolphin, one finds Festina lente represented as a crab and butterfly or as a hare within a snail shell. The French poet and critic Nicolas Boileau, in his Art poétique (The Art of Poetry) 1674 applied the dictum specifically to the work of the writer, whom he advised in those words:


Hâtez-vous lentement, et sans perdre courage,

Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage,

Polissez-le sans cesse, et le repolissez,

 Ajoutez quelquefois, et souvent effacez.




(Slowly make haste, and without losing courage;



Twenty times redo your work;



Polish and re-polish endlessly,



And sometimes add, but often take away)