The Wisdom of Playmobil

Being the sophisticated classicist wot I am, I’ve recently taken an interest in the Playmobil Roman range. But why? I hear you ask. Well, I take my Latin wisdom wherever I can find it. Check out the Latin on this tiny plastic scroll…


These are maxims to live by. Let’s take a closer look at what they have to offer the discerning OU student in the run-up to Exam Season.

Plenus venter non studet libenter. This is not always welcome advice, depending on how hungry you are. Literally it means ‘a full stomach does not study willingly’; in other words, after a big Sunday dinner you’re likely to fall asleep over your Block book. It’s a quotation which I believe is medieval rather than classical in origin – but it’s true and it rhymes. What more could you ask of an aphorism?

Repetitio est mater studiorum. This translates (for the non-Latinists amongst you) as ‘repetition is the mother of studying’. The internet has a lot to say about this advice, which has rather fallen out of favour: critics liken it to Pavlov’s dog, and point out that repetition leads to conditioning rather than to learning. However, anyone who’s trying to memorise third declension noun endings or key dates in Roman history will know that, as the maxim goes on to say, semper aliquid haeret. With enough repetition, something always sticks.

Plus ultra. This was new to me! Wikipedia informs me that it’s the Spanish national motto (‘Further beyond’), and it’s a reversal of the inscription nec plus ultra (‘nothing further beyond’) said to have been placed on the Pillars of Hercules at the edge of the known world. The deliberate reversal makes this a bold motto of conquest and exploration: and if you want, you can borrow it for reassurance. There is life after exams, because my Playmobil Roman says so. Plus ultra, people.

Dum spiro, spero. ‘While I breathe, I hope’. We say ‘while there’s life, there’s hope’; but the Latin says it better. In terms of origins, this is a murky hybrid of Cicero and several other writers; however, that hasn’t dented its popularity. It’s the motto of such far-flung places as St. Andrews, South Carolina and the Principality of Hutt River, as well as dozens of families through the ages. An image search (I wouldn’t recommend it!) shows that it’s also a favourite of tattoo artists. See how simple it is to go from Playmobil to tattoos in one easy jump? That’s versatility.

And finally… Nunc est bibendum, usually translated as ‘now is the time for drinking’. Yes, Playmobil is quoting Horace. Who says culture is dead? True, you could argue that an exhortation to drink is somewhat inappropriate for the Playmobil target audience; but I’m inclined to think that the average five-year-old may not pick up on the reference.

So I will be carrying my Playmobil scroll around for inspiration in times of crisis, in the manner of the sortes Virgilianae. And if you think this analysis is surreal, just wait till I save up enough to buy the ship…!

playmobil long

3 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Playmobil

  1. Hi Cora, great idea for getting youngsters into Latin! I’m from Leicester, which has the motto “semper eadem”. It doesn’t come across as positively as it was once meant to though and is a bit redundant with all the changes that have happened there in recent years. There’s probably a Richard III play mobile or something (horse not included), I wonder what a play mobile figure with scoliosis would look like?


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