I happened to see one of John Owen's poems, Horologium Vitae, which writes:

Latus ad occasum, umquam rediturus ad ortum,
Vivo hodie, moriar cras, here natus eram.

and it is translated poetically as: (I don't know who the translator is)

From East to West without return am I,
Born yesterday, live this day, next day die.

Umquam means ever, at any time, and it means never in a negative clause. Here no negation is implied so it seems to be at any time, which is the opposite of what the English version says.

I can think of the following cases:

  1. Umquam can be negative itself, which I didn't find;
  2. It is in fact numquam. I found no easily accessible reliable origin of his works so I can hardly check for it;
  3. Owen made a mistake;
  4. The English translation is wrong. If so, the meaning seems somewhat weird, however.

Which will be true for it?

1 Answer 1


It seems plausible that Latin version you quoted is corrupt and the original had numquam, in which case "numquam rediturus ad ortum" would refer to the fact that the sun's course in the sky above never goes from West to East, and would be correctly translated as "From East to West without return am I."

Here are three Google Book scans from less than a century after the original publication that show numquam (or equivalently, nunquam):

A version of the poem with "numquam" (also other differences) is found in this book from 1786:

De Horologio Vitæ.
Cursus ad occasum, numquam rediturus ad ortum:
Sum modo, cras moriar, natus heri fueram.

(Epigrammata Brevissima, partim de novo condita, partim ex variis poetis selecta, et in polonica translata, in quatuor libros divisa, page 92)

"Umquam" can't be negative by itself.

If the correct word is "umquam", I would interpret "umquam rediturus ad ortum" as meaning "ever going to return to the east", referring to the unseen ever-repeating return of the sun from the west to the east that occurs between sunset and sunrise. It is uncommon though for "umquam" to be used outside of a negative context.

  • 2
    The oldest edition I could find a scan of: Epigrammaticum Joannis Owen, Cambrobrittani, Oxoniensis. Leipzig: Thomas Schürer 1615. Liber Tertius: 14. Horologium vitæ. Ad D. Joannem Weſt, amicum suum. Latus ad Occaſum, numquam rediturus ad Ortum, Vivo hodie, moriar cras, here natus eram.
    – njuffa
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 22:09
  • 1
    Correction: The title of the 1615 book printed by Thomas Schürer (1563-1615) in Leipzig is Epigrammatum, of course.
    – njuffa
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 22:30

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