Nil desperandum

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The Latin phrase Nil desperandum – English translation 'Do not despair' or, remaining closer to the form of the [Latin]], 'Nothing (is) to be despaired of' - comes originally from a poem by the Roman poet Horace (Odes I 7, 27). The full line reads: Nil desperandum Teucro duce et auspice, i.e., 'There is no reason to despair when Teucer is your leader and guide'.

When Teucer, one of the Greek heroes who fought in the Trojan War, returned to his native island of Salamis, he was banished by his father, king Telamon, because he had not brought back with him from Troy the body of his half-brother, Ajax. In Horace's poem Teucer is portrayed on the eve of his departure from Salamis: he addresses the men who will accompany him into exile, urging them to drive away their fears with wine and telling them that next day they will set sail to found a new city. (In Greek mythology Teucer was the founder of a second Salamis on the island of Cyprus.)

Comparisons have sometimes been drawn between Teucer's address to his men, as imagined in this Horatian ode, and Ulysses' speech to his companions on the eve of their setting out on one final journey of discovery, the subject of Tennyson's Ulysses. There is a close similarity of sentiment and tone between the two poems, but no verbal parallels.

Nil desperandum has been adopted as a motto by many individuals and institutions. In the UK it is the motto of the city of Sunderland, which adopted it in 1849.

Grammatical notes:

Nil is an abbreviated form of nihil, a neuter noun meaning 'nothing'.

The verb est ('is') should be understood.

Desperandum is a gerundive form of the verb desperare, 'to abandon hope, to despair'. It is a neuter adjective in agreement with nil. In Latin grammar a gerundive is an adjective formed from a verb by adding the ending -andus, -endus, or -iendus to the stem, the resulting adjective being declined like bonus, bona, bonum. Gerundives are used to express the desirability, necessity, or appropriateness of whatever is denoted by the verb, and are often translated into English using such forms as 'requiring to be x-ed', 'worthy of being x-ed', and the like. The expression Addenda et corrigenda, which used to be found at the beginning or end of a printed book and means 'Things which need to be added and things which need to be corrected' consists of two gerundives. (For a little more see Latin gerundives in English.)