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There is a woodcut illustration appearing in many books published in Amsterdam in 17th century. There are several versions of figures on the sides, here is one (British museum scan):

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It carries the motto: "Indefessus agendo". Seeing this without context, first thought was that this bears some kind of oxymoronic meaning: as "having energy by acting"/"we stay strong by continually doing". But then I saw the apparent source of this motto from Ovid along with the translation provided by Loeb:

... defessa iubendo est
saeva Iovis coniunx: ego sum indefessus agendo.

("The cruel wife of Jove is weary of imposing toils; but I am not yet weary of performing them").

I understand this translation in this context, but not sure I agree. It is like indefessus agendo = non (defessus agendo) instead of (non defessus) agendo.

All in, I wonder how the motto should be understood, or do we have other examples of this kind of in- prefix how can it be interpreted.

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  • I learnd that the verb "sum" + gerund may be something like "to be able to" but I never understood this well.
    – user11898
    Feb 19, 2023 at 0:58
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    I read it as (not tired indefessus) (of acting agendo). Am I missing something?
    – Figulus
    Feb 19, 2023 at 17:33
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    @Figulus, if defessa jubendo means that giving orders causes her to be tired, then indefessus agendo means that acting causes him to not be tired. ;;; in other words, it implies he would have been tried without acting. ;;;; In English the distinction is best illustrated by saying "no tired of acting" and "energized of/by acting".
    – d_e
    Feb 19, 2023 at 18:46

1 Answer 1

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I'm not sure I understand your confusion.

  • Indefessus ("unwearied, indefatigable") is a negative form of defessus ("tired out"), which is itself an intensive of fessus (tired).
    • (We actually had a question about the difference between defessus and fessus, if you're interested in that.)
  • All three forms can take the ablative gerund to refer to what one is tired/untired of, e.g.:
    • e.g. "Defessus sum quaeritando" means "I am tired of asking."

So, we have a straightforward translation of indefessus agendo:

Unwearied by acting

Your question seems to turn on an ambiguity between being "(not wearied) by doing" and "(not) wearied by doing." I confess that I just don't see any meaningful difference between the meaning of the two.

Addendum: In light of your comment, I see now that you're worried that indefessus agendo would mean that someone becomes untired only by acting (and thus would be tired if they did not act). To this I can only say that the Latin--like the English translation above--admits that reading, but doesn't compel it. Common sense yields the obvious meaning.

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  • Despite having its own beautiful charm, I agree that one interpretation is less reasonable by "common sense" (noted that in OP by "oxymoronic"). but then this one interpretation is what the words say. this to the degree I could not see any other interpretation before reading the translation. probably the question could be "is there ambiguity here at all?" which I'm not convinced. In my turn to confess (not being an English native speaker), to my mind, the English "Unwearied by acting" cannot be understood in two ways; But only now that it is pointed out in this Answer, I'll have to accept it.
    – d_e
    Feb 19, 2023 at 20:08
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    Not sure why you don't see the parallel: "unwearied by acting" could mean "I was weary, but acting has unwearied me." It's just a silly interpretation. Likewise for the Latin phrase.
    – brianpck
    Feb 20, 2023 at 17:03

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