We have this poem (Das Höchste) by Friedrich Schiller.

Suchst du das Höchste, das Größte? Die Pflanze kann es dich lehren:
Was sie willenlos ist, sei du es wollend – das ists!

In English (could not locate the translator):

Do you seek the highest, the greatest? The plant can be your teacher:
what it is without volition you can be willfully—that's it!

I want to translate it into Latin. I have no requirements about "meter" or so, nor even literal translation is the main thing for me.

Magna altaque spectasne? Herba sit tua magistra:
Sponte quae facit, Tu fac consilio. Sic est(?).

Had several options in mind, but settled with the above version. several points that bother mean and your guideline would be appreciated:

  1. Sponte and consilio. Struggled with those. I take sponte to mean naturally/spontaneously, and consilio to mean deliberately/with intention. That's how I (personally) read the song. The problem is that sponte can quite nearly be a synonym of consilio. Surely there are better options here ( I don't read without volition as reluctantly or invite of course).
  2. Sic est. Didn't find a handy way to render that's it!. Sic/Ita est is really just a placeholder for now.
  3. would sit tibi magistra make sense? or we need sit tibi magistrae (as in double dative construction)?

1 Answer 1


Sponte unfortunately means almost the opposite of "willenlos." The litteral meaning of the German is sine voluntate, which you can just use. And "wollend" is volens, which also sounds good to me.

sit tua magistra should be OK (somewhat echoing Natura artis magistra, the motto of the Amsterdam zoo), although tibi would certainly also be possible. Note that the German says litterally herba potest id te docere, so you could also say, e.g., herba te doceat.

The final "that's it" should not be understood in the ususal sense of that English phrase (i.e., "that's all, dixi," etc.), but as "that is it" (the highest, greatest). Also note that you are not supposed to do what the plant does, but to be what it is (a plant?).

Finally, I think quaerere would be a better translation for "suchen/seek" than spectare here, but maybe that's just my opinion. Also, you somehow did not translate the superlatives "highest" and "greatest."

Here's my attempt:

Rem supremam quaerisne? Docet herba:
Quod ea est sine voluntate, tu sis volens: id est.

By the way, even if you say you do not care about metre (and I am certainly the last person to try my hand at it), interestingly Schiller's original poem is an elegiac couplet. Dactylic hexameters are just as suitable for German as for English, that is to say not at all, but unfortunately the stars of Weimar Classicism willfully closed their eyes to this fact.

  • Thanks I like the translation. Yeah, even the English translation speaks of being rather than doing. Maybe I took too much liberty generally in the translation. That's it - well admittedly I missed the correct interpretation. What without volition*/*willfully mean in this context? alluding to the notion that the plant has no "will" while we humans have?
    – d_e
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 5:51
  • 1
    @d_e That is my understanding at least. By the way, I added an ea to make the sentence clearer. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 8:19

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