There was an old Latin motto, "Dulce et decorum est, pro partria morii," which roughly translates into: "It is a sweet and beautiful thing to die for one's country." I used to think that this was a piece of misguided patriotism.

That is, until the other night when a friend of mine said, "I would rather be a dead American than a live Ethiopian." (He was referring to the fact that the American standard of living is 100 times better than the Ethiopian.)

That got me to thinking, could the Roman proverb mean that Rome stood like a Colossus over her (Mediterranean world), so that a person would rationally choose death (or maybe take a 50-50 chance of death) as a Roman, than to be a live, and probably enslaved Carthaginian/Gaul/Greek/"pick your poison").

Examining the notion of patriotism a little deeper.

Can the notion of being willing to die for one's country, be construed as a person's desire to choose death under regime A over a chance to live under regime B, just because the disparity in standards of living was too great to bear?

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    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is about history. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 23, 2013 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe - it could relate to the cognitive processes of rationalisation? $\endgroup$
    – coeus
    Sep 24, 2013 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ @coeus How so? As the aim of the question is explained, it is about historical context: Rome had this or that position, and in that historical context the saying might have this or that meaning. Only a historian can answer that. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 24, 2013 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ @what I agree that this question demands that we are well-versed in history. Also, it is not structured coherently nor is there sufficient background information for users to research further about the temporal, cultural and historical significance of the proverb/motto. However, it does subtly refer to rational choice: "so that a person would rationally choose death" which in itself a cognitive process. To me, the question seems to be incomplete rather than off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – coeus
    Sep 24, 2013 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you want to rephrase the question? $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 24, 2013 at 8:50

1 Answer 1


The quote "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is from one of Horace's Odes (III.2.13), and it translates as: "it is sweet and honorable to die for one's fatherland".

It is assumed that Horace did not glorify the death of a soldier in this poem but allude to the two predominant philosophical doctrines of his time, epicureism and stoa, and their perspective on the summum bonum, the greatest good. For epicureism this is lust ("sweet" in the quote), for the stoa it is virtue ("honorable").

From Horace's point of view, dying for your home country contradicts neither the epicureic nor the stoic ideal, as it implies both. Both philosophical doctrines were sceptical of a service to the state, and Horace says that serving your country is in tune with both doctrines.

Death for your country is glorified in a quote from Horace's Greek source, a verse by Tyrtaios (Fragment 6D) about the service of the Spartans:

"The most beautiful death of all is when a warrior fights for his fatherland and dies for it."


Common internet knowledge ;-)

  • $\begingroup$ In your native German, the sentiment would be: "Mein Land ist besser als dein Land, Mein Land ist besser als deins." (And that's why I'm willing to die for mine. I wrote this parody of an American food commercial.) I think I've seen on some other sites like Writers. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Au
    Nov 1, 2015 at 15:44

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