No Day Without A Line

Apelles of Kos was a famous 4th century BC Greek painter. Though none of his paintings survive, Pliny the Elder (not the letter-writer so many of us have read, but his uncle, author of Naturalis Historia) describes him in no uncertain terms as the greatest painter of all. According to Pliny, Apelles had this motto:

Nulla dies sine linea
— Apelles

In English this means ‘no day without a line’, and the idea was never to have a single day without working on his art in some way - even if it’s only a single line. Hence, ‘no day without a line’.

The American comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, has a similar approach: when asked how he came up with so many jokes, he described how he would play a game called ‘don’t break the chain’ (or, as it is sometimes affectionately known, ‘the Seinfeld sequence’). Basically, every day he came up with at least one joke he would put a cross on his calendar, and the challenge became never breaking the chain.


The same approach is essential for language learning. Remember how I said yesterday that if you always stop before it becomes boring then the compound interest builds up over time? Well, Apelles’s motto speaks to this same notion, and adds the notion of ‘baby steps’. Essentially, you should try never to go a day without doing at least SOME kind of Latin: even if it’s literally only 5 minutes the whole day, the fact that you’ve done it has a huge effect on your psyche, and helps to bring you that little bit closer to fluency. It also does wonders for motivation!

So try to make this a motto: no day without a paragraph. If you can read and understand at least one paragraph of Latin every single day, you’ll have a great start. Eventually you want that paragraph to turn into five minutes - no day without five minutes of Latin. Feel free to set a timer and stop as soon as it goes off. There’s nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of in ‘painting a line every day’, even if you never do more than a line - it’s still one line more than most people!!

Remember: nulla dies sine linea!