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On Wikipedia it is said that Si vis pacem, para bellum means "If you want peace, prepare for war". But I think that It also seems like "If you want peace, prepare war". What makes these words to be distinguished with these two translations? (Because I think para = prepare?, here)

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  • This might just be something that is ambiguous in Latin. Perhaps one would use a different phrase if they wanted to emphasize that one is the aggressor in a war. For example "Si vis pacem, neca hostes prius." "If you want peace, kill the enemy first."
    – Nickimite
    Jul 3 '20 at 7:24
  • In Latin, para is translated as "prepare" in this case (paro, parare). Bellum is the Latin word for "war" and is categorized in the second Latin declension (bellum, belli). The "-um" suffix denotes that the translation of the word in this sentence structure is that of the accusative case singular. Accusative is used when the word in question is the direct object of an action. Feb 23 at 15:36
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To see what nuances a Latin word has, a list of translations to another language like English is not quite enough. Examples, descriptions, and explanations help get a better picture. The link you give is better than a mere list, but the entry in this online version of the dictionary by Lewis and Short is even better.

The phrase para bellum can be well translated as "prepare for war", "prepare war", "provide war", "acquire war", and perhaps even more along these lines. It is unclear without context whether one should get ready for the possibility of war or actively seek war. The distinction cannot be made well enough with this verb, so both translations you suggest are valid. It is only the juxtaposition to si pacem vis (and perhaps further context) that suggests one should get ready in case a war breaks out.

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The Romans used fewer words than ourselves to describe the same concepts. Therefore, "para bellum" may sound blunt/ terse to us; but, it is valid Latin, as Joonas has explained. The problem, here, is that the quote is incorrect. The original version can be found in some of the many "Latin Quotes/ Phrases/ Cliches"--type sites. The article on "Thought Co." is worth a look:

"igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum" =

"Therefore, he who desires peace, should prepare for war."

[It was taken from the book: "Epitoma Rei Militaris" = "Examples of Military Matters", Liber III, 1, by Roman general, Vegetius (Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus) late 4th. Century.]

The second verb, "praeparet" is a present-subjunctive--invoking the indefinite article--could/ would/ should/ might/ may; hence: "praeparet bellum" = "should prepare (for) war".

The nuanced meaning is a clear warning: a country wishing to live in peace, should develop strong armed-forces to dissuade potentially aggreessive neighbours from invading. Why did post-Communist Poland (and the Baltic States) rush to join NATO, while Russia was still weak? (Why didn't Ukraine do the same?) The "nuclear deterrent" is another example. A sad comment on the human condition, but valid nevertheless.

EDIT: 5/7/2020: Thanks to Seb (Comments): "si vis pacem..." is not so much "incorrect" as a more succinct alternative to Vegetius.

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    I have taken the liberty to edit in a link to the original book. The context is interesting. It makes it clear that Vegetius means it exactly like Tony says: If you are well-prepared, nobody will dare challenge you or make a strike against you. It also makes clear that by “preparing,” Vegetius primarily means learn the art of war (by reading his book, I guess). Jul 4 '20 at 12:34
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    Having said that, to call it an incorrect quote is perhaps going too far. Vegetius may provide the closest we have to an actual ancient version of the quote, but the thought is older and exists in other versions (e.g. Nepos, Epaminondas 5, 4: Nam paritur pax bello. Itaque, qui ea diutina volunt frui, bello exercitati esse debent.) The familiar Si vis... can arguably be called a valid expression of the idea in its own right, with its own history and range of meaning, rather than a misquote. Jul 4 '20 at 18:32
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: Thank you. This one seems to have inspired your imagination. The translation: "For peace is born out of (from) war. Those who would want to enjoy this (peace) indefinitely, they are obliged to be in training for war". A bit clumsy in its repetition of "bello" and long-winded. These things hit home harder if they are succinct--giving, perhaps, the prize to "si vis pacem..."?
    – tony
    Jul 5 '20 at 9:44
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: Thinking about it: "exercitati" = "(they) having been trained"; therefore: "....they (having been) trained for war, are obliged (committed) to war." Is that why Nepos repeated "bello"? The purpose of "esse"?
    – tony
    Jul 5 '20 at 10:43
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    I would just read this as a perfective use: exercitati esse debent literally: they must have been trained; but what does that mean? Having been trained, they are now in a trained state, and the participle can be read adjective-like: They must be well-trained, their training must be complete. The speaker (Epaminondas) is presumably the greatest orator in all of Thebes, although Nepos suggests that doesn't have to mean much. And nobody ever claimed Nepos himself was a great stylist, on the contrary. Jul 5 '20 at 16:17

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