I would like to seek help in translating this line from The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part II, Chapter V "Christ, a symbol of the self", paragraph 78 (available as a PDF on the Internet Archive):

No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.

It is across my shoulders and I would like help as I have overcome my trauma from abusive family.

Would like your help please

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    Since heaven and hell in the quote are the Christian ideas, would the quote be better translated into Latin as used by the Catholic Church, instead of the Romans? I'm wondering if the Roman translations can be read more as "No tree, it is said, can grow to the sky unless its roots reach down to the underworld", which wouldn't have quite the same connotations of paradise and suffering? Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 16:41
  • In the Vulgate you find 'cælum' for heaven and 'gehenna' for hell.
    – wberry
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 3:12
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    do you want the insert "it is said" to be part of the tatto ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 14:01
  • 2
    Have you considered leaving it in its original language? If it means that much to you, why sully it with an imperfect (no matter what choice is made) translation? That seems to be fashion now anyway. There's a bartender at my local dive who has a tattoo in cuneiform. (IIRC, its a copy of the world's oldest joke
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 18:38

3 Answers 3


This quotation is similar to a verse from Virgil which is: Tollimur in caelum curvato gurgite et idem subducta ad Manis imos desedimus unda ("We mount up to heaven on the arched billow and again, with the receding wave, sink down to the depths of hell.")

When we speak of an object being unable to do something in an aphorism, the usual pattern is non est. For example: Non est arbor solida nec fortis nisi in quam frequens ventus incursat ("There is no tree which is rooted and strong unless a frequent wind blows against it.")--Seneca.

When the Romans would say parenthetically "it is said", not a common expression, they would generally use either ut traditur or ut dicitur. For example: quamvis sphaeram in scenam, ut dicitur, attulerit Ennius, tamen in sphaera fornicis similitudo inesse non potest. --Cicero.

We can adapt these ideas as follows:

Non est arbor quae ut traditur in caelum crescere possit nisi radices ad Manis imos desidant.

Note that desidat is subjunctive because it is a conditional clause. This can be shortened further by substituting a participle for the relative clause, making the sentence more like the aphorism of Seneca above:

Non est arbor in caelum crescens ut traditur nisi radices ad Manis imos desidant.

This latter version is not a perfectly exact translation because it omits the "is able" of the English, but in Latin mottoes I think the Roman tendency would be to lean towards this method of expression and you can see that in the example I gave above by Seneca.

  • These are interesting options. I do think the "ut traditur" makes more sense near the beginning, where it more clearly applies to the whole sentence. I think putting it later suggests that it's meant to qualify a particular part of the sentence. Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 18:47
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    In the first sentence I would think potest should be subjunctive possit, since this is a relative clause of characteristic. Also desidat has to be plural (radices).
    – TKR
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 16:17
  • @TKR Yes thanks for the corrections. Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 16:28
  • Apparently ut/quod aiunt can be used for a proverbial phrase. Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 18:34

Here's my attempt:

Nullius arboris rami ad caelum exire possunt nisi radices ad inferos descenderunt.

Following English word order: "The branches (rami) of no tree (nullius arboris) are able (possunt) to rise (exire) to heaven (ad caelum) unless (nisi) the roots (radices) have descended (descenderunt) to the underworld (ad inferos)."

Here exire is a nod to Vergil's line in the Georgics (but cf. Lucr. 6.886):

et ingens exiit ad caelum ramis felicibus arbos

And a huge tree with fruitful branches rises to heaven.


This is Nietzsche org, of course, more poetically

Wenn ein Baum an den Himmel rühren will, müssen seine Wurzeln bis in die Tiefen der Hölle dringen

Nitzsche eng.

“The tree that would grow to heaven must send its roots to hell.”

engl. verbatim

If a tree wants to touch heaven, its roots must penetrate into the depths of hell.

Compressed variant

Lignum coelum attingere cupiens radices in profundum inferni penetrare debet.

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