Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Romanlyrical poet Horace's Odes (III.2.13). The line can be roughly translated into English as: "It is sweet and fitting to die for your country."
The poem from which the line comes exhorts Roman citizens to develop martial prowess such that the enemies of Rome, in particular the Parthians, will be too terrified to resist them. In John Conington's translation, the relevant passage reads:
To suffer hardness with good cheer, In sternest school of warfare bred, Our youth should learn; let steed and spear Make him one day the Parthian's dread; Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life. Methinks I see from rampired town Some battling tyrant's matron wife, Some maiden, look in terror down,— “Ah, my dear lord, untrain'd in war! O tempt not the infuriate mood Of that fell lion I see! from far He plunges through a tide of blood!” What joy, for fatherland to die! Death's darts e'en flying feet o'ertake, Nor spare a recreant chivalry, A back that cowers, or loins that quake.
A humorous elaboration of the original line was used as a toast in the 19th century: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere, et dulcissimum pro patria bibere. Ergo, bibamus pro salute patriae." In English this is rendered as: "It is sweet and dignified to die for the homeland, but it is sweeter to live for the homeland, and the sweetest to drink for it. Therefore, let us drink to the health of the homeland."
Uses in art and literature
Perhaps the most famous modern use of the phrase is as the title of a poem, "Dulce Et Decorum Est", by British poet Wilfred Owen during World War I. Owen's poem describes a gas attack during World War I and is one of his many anti-war poems that were not published until after the war ended. In the final lines of the poem, the Horatian phrase is described as "the old lie." It is believed and illustrated by the original copy of the poem, that Owen intended to dedicate the poem ironically to Jessie Pope, a popular writer who glorified the war and recruited "laddies" who "longed to charge and shoot" in simplistically patriotic poems like "The Call."
"Died some, pro patria, non 'dulce' non 'et decor'..." from part IV of Ezra Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley", a damning indictment of World War I; "Daring as never before, wastage as never before."
In a school essay German playwright Bertolt Brecht referred to the phrase as "Zweckpropaganda" (cheap propaganda for a specific cause) and pointed out, that "It is sweeter and more fitting to live for one's country."
The title of Damon Knight's 1955 short story "Dulcie and Decorum" is an ironic play on the first three words of the phrase; the story is about computers that induce humans to kill themselves.
The film Johnny Got His Gun ends with this saying, along with casualty statistics since World War I.
In his book And No Birds Sang, chronicling his service in Italy with the Canadian army during the Second World War, Farley Mowat quotes Wilfred Owen's poem on the opening pages and addresses "the Old Lie" in the final section of the book.
In Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, the Tarleton brothers are buried under a tombstone which bears the phrase.
The last words attributed to the Israeli national hero Yosef Trumpeldor - "It is good to die for our country" (טוב למות בעד ארצנו) are considered to be derived from Horace's, and were a frequently used Zionist slogan in the earlier part of the Twentieth Century.
In Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life after the outbreak of World War I, when adolescent Eugene, encouraged by his teacher, Margaret Leonard, devours stories of wartime courage (R. Brooke's "If I Should die..." and R. Hanky's A Student in Arms", and fueled by these stories, composes his own, to the ever-present literary-referenced commentary by Wolfe.
The phrase was also prominently inscribed in a large bronze tablet commemorating Cuban patriot Calixto Garcia Iniguez, Major General of the Spanish–American War. The tablet was erected by the Masons where he died at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington, D.C. Today, this tablet resides at the private residence of one of Gen. García's direct descendants.
The 'dulce et....' is also written on a plaque on the left wall of main entrance of the Patiala Block, King Edward Medical University. It is to commemorate the sacrifice given by the students and graduates of the institution who gave their lives in First World War fighting for the British Empire.
It appears on a bronze plaque bearing the names of Canadian soldiers lost from the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada during World War I and World War II at Central Memorial High School's front entrance
Pro Patria is the name of a neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela.
It can be found inscribed on the outer wall of an old war fort within a nature reserve (Friseboda) in Sweden.