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The phrase omnia vincit amor (from Vergilius' tenth Ecloga; see full text in Latin and English) is typically translated as "love conquers everything". However, vincit can come from either vincere (to win) or vincire (to bind). This leads to the alternative translation "love confines everything", which is also a meaningful statement. This double meaning makes some sense in the context, too. Is there evidence that this double meaning was observed in antiquity? Has the phrase been used with both meanings? Is there a good reason to believe that it should be read as vincere rather than vincire?

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    Surprising finding! Two ideas: 1) conquest is often followed by subjugation, enslavement, binding (especially in ancient times): both could be close, war-related analogies 2) Col 3,14 is at times translated as "Love binds everything together in perfect harmony", whereas both the Vulgate and the New Vulgate use the noun vinculum. – Rafael Aug 3 '16 at 15:46
  • @Rafael: I don't understand your second point. Vinculum translates (quite literally) sundesmos, and I don't see how there is any ambiguity like in the OP's phrase. – brianpck Aug 3 '16 at 16:55
  • @brianpck no ambiguity in the question: it was just a side comment. I looked up "love binds everything" in search for clues to answer and found that. I thought it was interesting to mention in the comments. The point was partly to point there was no vincit behind that binds too (FWIW) – Rafael Aug 3 '16 at 17:10
  • One possible source for anyone who wants to write a new answer: Lawrence Durrell, "Tunc" page 21, "Vagina Vinctrix" – Andrzej BOROWSKI Jul 17 '18 at 18:08
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As a first point, you are certainly not the first person to recognize this. I found a delightful little poem composed in the 19th century by a certain Piré that uses this same word-play:

Omnia Vincit Amor

Omnia vincit amor; non est hoc simplice sensu
Verum; cura duplex nascitur inde tibi:
Vincere scit telis, roseis vincire catenis;
Utcumque accipias, omnia vincit amor

This is not all, though: Varro, who was contemporary with Vergil (although born 40 years prior), develops this double-entendre:

Hinc comicus:

Huic victrix Venus, videsne haec?

Non quod vincere velit Venus, sed vincire. Ipsa Victoria ab eo quod superati vinciuntur. (Varro, De lingua latina, 5, 62)

It is hard to judge Vergil's actual intention, but it seems fairly clear from context that the primary sense is from vincere.

A few lines before the cited verse, he speaks of carving his initials on a tree so that they grow together:

crescent illae, crescetis, amores.

The idea is of a love that will face all adversities. This is further developed in the verses immediately preceding, which speaks of various adversities the speak will endure (even if to no avail).

Finally, the juxtaposition with cedere favors the interpretation of vincere: if love conquers all, then we must yield to it. The step is less obvious (though, I admit, not implausible) if we see this as vincire.

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    I was convinced that I was not the first one to observe the double meaning. That quote from Varro is surprising. Isn't the perfect participle of vincire actually vinctus, not victus? I would expect vinctrix to be distinguishable from victrix. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 3 '16 at 17:44
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    I agree: given that L&S does not mention any classical usage of vinctor, I would hazard to guess that the average Roman ear wouldn't have too much trouble associating victrix and vinctrix. Shakespeare is rife with examples in English of similar puns. – brianpck Aug 4 '16 at 14:22

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