If you’re an advanced English learner, you may have heard the phrase, “Patience is a virtue.” It’s a proverbial phrase or used to impart wisdom or give advice. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the phrase so you understand its meaning and etymology—origin.
What does ‘Patience is a virtue’ mean?
Before we understand this phrase as a whole, let’s define the individual words in the phrase.
- Patience – The ability to mentally deal with barriers or pain calmly or with no complaints.
- Virtue – A standard for righteousness or a beneficial or highly regarded quality.
The phrase is a statement that connects someone’s ability to wait as a beneficial or noteworthy quality. It implies that patience is a trait of those with a high moral character and is something to be admired and praised.
It makes sense because humans are naturally impatient—something that has grown worse with the increasing technological capabilities in our daily lives. However, even before electricity, agriculture, or the wheel, humans have struggled with impatience.
Often, patience is something that we learn over time and is seen as wisdom imparted to us by elders or through trials and tribulations in our lives. Therefore, if someone can master patience, then they have an advantage over others and will probably have a much happier existence because of it.
Most likely, these are the reasons why the phrase is so highly regarded in religious, psychological, and philosophical circles.
Origins of ‘Patience is a virtue’
There are many English phrases that have been used so often and for so long that it’s hard to pinpoint their exact origin. ‘Patience is a virtue’ is one of those phrases.
However, there are some famous uses of the phrase in literature, so we can at least somewhat trace back it’s origins. The problem is that it’s difficult to credit just one writer in history when the phrase could have been something that was commonly accepted by society.
Let’s look at some of these examples.
1. Distichs of Cato
Attributed to an unknown writer named Dionysius Cato from the 3rd or 4th century AD, this book is a collection of texts on morality. In fact, the book was the most popular text used for teaching Latin throughout the Middle Ages. People used it to teach the language and morality at the same time to impressionable youths.
In the text, there’s a line that says, “Of human virtues, patience is most great.”
For the next origin story, let’s go forward another century or two to the 5th century AD. The Latin poet Prudentius wrote an allegorical poem—a poem with hidden meanings set with a story of morality. The poem describes a physical battle between vices—immoral behavior—and virtues.
‘Patience is a virtue’ is never explicitly stated in the poem, but it does rank patience as a virtue through the text and explains that it is a mark of excellent moral character.
3. The Canterbury Tales
Last, The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, is another candidate for the origin of ‘Patience is a virtue’. This poem was written around 1400 A.D. and contains a collection of 24 stories that paint a picture of life during that time period. Each of the characters in the stories travel with different motivations and learn moral lessons along the way.
In the stories, there’s a line that reads, “Patience is a high virtue.” Which makes sense considering the traveling abilities of humanity at the time.
“Patience is a virtue” is a phrase that’s been around for a long time. It’s viewed as a basic and universal truth accepted by most of humanity. We’re not exactly sure of it’s origins, but we know that—at the very least—the sentiment has been around for a while.
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