Onager solitarius in desiderio animi sui attraxit ventum amoris.

This is the epigraph for the first chapter of Lawrence and the Arabs (1927). The Google Translate rendition is

In a wild mental desire sniffing the wind

which might as well be Latin for all it means to me.

A friend, who is a Latin scholar, gives its literal translation as

"The lone wild ass attracted the wind of love in desire of his own mind/temperament/etc"

which, again, seems not really productive. He goes on to say that it might be a biblical passage, and suggested I try on Latin.SE.

Can anyone give a clear translation, perhaps with some provenance if it is indeed biblical? Graves would certainly have been had many Latin tags and snippets ready to hand.

  • 1
    And it'd also be nice to have an idea what people usually took the full Bible passage to mean.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 14:21
  • 4
    Jeremiah Ch2 v24
    – Hugh
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 16:41
  • A wild ass, crazed with lust, sniffing the wind for the scent of an estrous female...
    – Figulus
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 3:40

1 Answer 1


This comes from Jeremiah 2:24, and I think it helps to understand that in the original Hebrew text, the word שָׁאֲפָ֣ה (šā·’ă·p̄āh) appears. According to Strong's Exaustive Concordance, this word means:

desire earnestly, devour, haste, pant, snuff up, swallow up

A primitive root; to inhale eagerly; figuratively, to cover; by implication, to be angry; also to hasten -- desire (earnestly), devour, haste, pant, snuff up, swallow up.

Therefore, the word attraxit should be understood in this sense. It has the idea of drawing to, and, in this context, it has the idea of sniffing. So, I would translate it as follows:

The wild ass, alone with the longings of its heart, drew in the wind of passion

Looking at the context of the passage, it becomes more apparent what is being said here:

A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, That sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; In her month they will find her.

The prophet is speaking of the nation of Israel, comparing it to a wild animal in heat that can't resist temptation, especially that of worshiping other gods.

However, it should also be understood as having a broader application for all of us. Israel was our example. With all of the advantages of being the chosen people, the Israelites were unable to resist the allure of sin, but that was a lesson for everyone. We shouldn't suppose that the inability to resist temptation is a problem peculiar to the Jewish people. All of humanity has the same problem, and, for that reason, we need a Savior.

Lawrence of Arabia

Although I didn't read the book, I found this same theme apparent in the movie. In the beginning, Lawrence was a fearless warrior, risking his life at every turn. However, he was eventually captured and beaten. Shortly afterwards, he gave up on his mission and just wanted to go home. When asked why, he grabbed the flesh of his stomach and said, "because of this!"

The idea is that he discovered that we have moral limits because of our humanity, and, when I say that, I mean as opposed to physical limits. A moral limit is a limit to our willingness. The flesh is not only physically weak, but it also inhibits us from being willing to do what we think we ought to. In the case of Lawrence, he was unable to continue on his mission in spite of how much he may have believed in the cause, and that for no other reason than the weakness of his flesh.

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