Prologue: Fabled Advice
When my grandfather was at the end of his life, I saw him in his hospice room. He was an intellectual giant of a man, a mechanical engineer that worked on projects like the Apollo program and the Space Shuttle. He had a tracheotomy due to throat cancer, and in order to talk he had to cover the hole with his hand.

During a lull in our pleasantries about how he was holding up, he plugged the tracheotomy and croaked out “What do you want to do for a living?” I was young, and it was the first time I had ever said out loud that I wanted to be an artist. I was embarrassed to tell him, this man who was a near-perfect example of what it means to be grounded- despite his career making ships for the stars- but he nodded and smiled.

After a few seconds of silence, he plugged the hole again and said “Your father...” and put his hand up as if pointing to a path, then swung it around in the air to mimic the trajectory of my dad’s mind; going every which way, always twisting, moving, following whimsy. Never steady and in one direction. We both laughed without malice, because we knew it was true. He then plugged the hole again and said “YOU must...” and moved his hand straight towards me, slicing the air with steady grace, as if he was doing Tai Chi.

He wasn’t telling me that being an artist was a bad choice. He was telling me to be steadfast and follow the direct path, to not get bogged down in twists and turns. To not lose sight of my goal by chasing fleeting and immediate gratification.

It was the best advice he ever gave me, but I realized not too long ago that what I was getting in that hospice room that day was advice from a tortoise, on how to not be a hare.
Part 1: Finally, A Well-Titled Piece of Art
We all know Aesop's fable, as it has remained mostly unchanged through the ages. The tortoise possesses perseverance; slow, steady progress. And the hare, while fast, is the loser- shown as arrogant, lazy, and ruled by the moment. It has been said to describe a maxim of life and while it is good advice for some, I think it's deficient in giving us the full measure of the wisdom we might find in the maxim that it intends to explain.

In Sarajevo there is a bridge, created in 2012 by three art students from the Academy of Fine Arts. It’s a pedestrian bridge that spans 38 meters over the Miljacka River, and features an interesting vertical loop in the center-
Of course it’s impossible to walk the loop. But at the bottom, where the two sides of the bridge connect, there is modest seating and the loop provides shade where people can sit and consider the space.
The whole thing is at once dynamic and stable. And therefore it properly represents its title: "Festina Lente"
Part 2: Context and Visualizations
“Festina Lente” means “make haste slowly.” It is the Latin translation of a Greek phrase which translated a Roman motto, which attempted to describe an incredibly human idea.

Some might relegate the phrase to being a simple oxymoron. But this adage has been a cornerstone of conquest and Emperors, been adopted by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in the 15th century, referenced by Shakespeare, and continues now to inform anyone who might be desperate to finish as quickly as possible, and therefore ought to take it slowly.
Our first record of the phrase is from Emperor Augustus- the first ruler of Rome’s post-republic period- around 27 BC. He was very fond of the phrase and its iterations, chastising his military leaders when they were rash or quick to make bold actions. The Roman historian Suetonius says that Augustus would often add the proverb “That which has been done well has been done quickly enough.”
augustus coin
Augustus and some of his succeeding emperors minted coins that bore representations of the adage. And many others through history have sought to visualize the wisdom of Festina Lente by playing with combinations of animals and objects.

The Sala Regia room of the Vatican was adorned by renaissance artist Daniele Da Volterra in the 1540’s. He dedicated a "Stucco" to the motto, and opted for the lizard and the dolphin motif:
Cosimo I of Medici, Duke of Florence and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, assumed "Hasten Slowly" as his motto in the mid-15th century. His visualization of the principle was a turtle with a sail on its back.
Named for the first father of the Medici family, Cosimo I was somewhere around the middle of the dynasty, and examples of this seal are found in many things that he commissioned and created, from the Uffizi to the adornments of his home. Ramirez De Montalvo- his official cup bearer and potential poison drinker- paid homage to the Grand Duke by including the symbol on the facade of his family palazzo.
Part 3: The motto inspires printing
In the 1490’s Aldus Manutius had a strong interest in printing Greek and Latin classics in a portable size. Manutius admired the motto, and created his manuscript from the representation that he had found on a Roman coin that was given to him by a friend.
vespasian dolphin
Manutius believed that his books should be printed in the original languages and also wanted them to look hand written so he commissioned a new typeface- what we now know as italics. The tilted angle of this new letterform allowed him to fit more words on a page, and thereby print books small enough to carry around. Once he had patiently found his ideal size and content, he printed as many books as possible. Making available for the first time ever, affordable and portable classics of philosophical literature, and also creating the precursor to the paperback book.

Books coming out of Manutius' Aldine Press traveled far and wide and bred many imitators. But often the hasty copies never lived up to the exacting details and quality of the originals, which all bore the frontispiece symbol of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor, flanked by his name. Thanks to Manutius people could- for the first time ever- carry the world of philosophical ideas around in their palms.
In some ways, Festina Lente is an excellent printer’s proverb. To make work that may have a profound effect, any error will detract from your goal. Be bold enough to find new paths, but take your time and set the type well.

His logo was so revered and copied that it became synonymous with printing, and now is the logo for DoubleDay Books.
Part 4: Calvino brings us closer, Pärt will bring it home
As we stay steady on the path of unpacking these symbols, we get to the writer Italo Calvino. He was working on a set of essays at the end of his life, meditating on his craft and our coming age. Published posthumously, “Six Memos For The Next Millennium” is filled with creative advice and the wealth of knowledge that Calvino had earned. In the second section on “Quickness” he references the adage:

“From my youth on, my personal motto has been the old Latin tag, Festina lente, hurry slowly. Perhaps what attracted me, even more than the words and the idea, was the suggestiveness of its emblems…”

He explains Aldus Manutius and the power of his work, all under the Dolphin/Anchor emblem, then notes:

“...But both dolphin and anchor belong to the same world of marine emblems, and l have always preferred emblems that throw together incongruous and enigmatic figures, as in a rebus. Such are the butterfly and crab that illustrate festina lente in the sixteenth-century collection of emblems by Paolo Giovio. Butterfly and crab are both bizarre, both symmetrical in shape, and between them establish an unexpected kind of harmony”
calvino festina lente
When we collect the various symbols of this adage, we find all manner of things both natural and manmade- sails, butterflies, dolphins, lizards, crabs, anchors and more. And they are always locked in some embrace. Comparing them to Aesop's version, these other visualizations are attempts to describe the activity, not the result. It is the race- not the warm ups or the crossing of a finish line- Festina Lente is advice about process, and Aesop’s fable is limiting because it sets them in opposition, then definitively declares a victor. It's not symmetrical, to borrow Calvino’s aesthetics.

Festina Lente best describes the positive byproduct of inhabiting opposing states in an activity. And how can we show that? What expression describes this best?

Out of all the different ways that this paradox has been expressed, it might not be surprising that the most effective representation isn’t visual at all. The essential truth of it might be best be shown by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

In 1986 he debuted a piece for strings called “Festina Lente” (YouTube Link.) He split the strings into three sections and had each one play the same melody but at three different speeds. The violas play it at double speed, the violins at regular speed and the bass at half speed.

The result, to my mind, is a excellent example of the paradox. As the piece builds, it gives the impression of moving forwards and back at once- folding in on itself. By giving equal respect to both ideals, Pärt has made something that sounds as if it progresses backward or hastens slowly.
Part 5: Back to the Fabled Advice

My grandfather was a tortoise and my father was a rabbit, pure and simple. And while the fable will have you believe that the tortoise is the smart one, the rabbit in my life was also a genius. Every bit as interesting and valuable.

After taking in all of these variations, my favorite visualization of Festina Lente is a rabbit in a snail shell. A minor variation on the tortoise, but better because they are locked together as a single organism. Quick of heart and stable in pace, both preparing and pouncing. And like Calvino said, it's bizarre.
My father leapt to such heights and creative contortions of brilliance, and accomplished things that his father might never hope to achieve. It is equally true that it is impossible to show sufficient gratitude to my grandfather for providing the stability that has cascaded down generations. That foundation gave my father the space and latitude to be a genius. They are intrinsically locked, this Snail and Hare. And were it not for succesion, they might be seen as one entity.
But succession is here, and my role in life as this third generation is synthesis. It's to know when to possess their spirits. When to be the snail and when to be the hare.
In drawing there is the gesture, then the rendering. Often I tell students that the first minute of a drawing is as important as the rest of your time combined. You get all of the vitality and life in that gesture stage- when you are being a rabbit. Then the rest of the time you must protect that rabbit's work throughout the methodical, sometimes mechanical, process of drawing. If you lose the gesture during your snail-phase you must be prepared to turn back into a rabbit, in order to rescue it.
Nowadays, psychologists call this creative mental state “Flow.” When engaged fully, we twist ourselves and change our state to be the rabbit or the snail. Even better when we are both at once. This is at the heart of the paradox- the truth of the phrase.
And it seems to explain one of the things that has brought me here.

The snail is a safe space for the wild beating heart of the hare.

Thank you for reading and I hope you are doing well. Images above are from the internet, and are public domain or copyright their respective owners (Except the sketches, which are mine.)

I found sites related to just about every discipline and career talking about this phrase, PHD students, virtual start ups, civics teachers, marketing, military buffs. But what first inspired me to consider it more deeply was the painter Sean Cheetham, from the e-book collecting his teachings at Menorca Pulsar. You can download most of their books for free- which frankly, is incredible if you're an artist. If you're not, It will apply to your life anyway, I bet.
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This Sorry Spacesuit was started (and slowly hastens) as a place to support conversations that don't fit into algorithms or truncated tweets, I don't care about your data or your purchasing habits, but I’m always interested in hearing your perspective. Feel free to reply.
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