Latin Proverb # 12 – Hastas abicere

Latin Proverb: Hastas abicere Cicero, Mur. 45.2

English equivalent: To throw in the towel, or Throw up the sponge.

Translation: To throw the spears.

Meaning & use: This expression means to give up. You use it when you’re done, when you quit in defeat or give up a contest. When whatever it is you have before you defeats you and you give up.

Curiosities: The English poet William Blake was no stranger to the Latin expression, Hastas Abicere, or so one can suspect seeing that he didn't use the English equivalent to the expression, but rather a literal translation of it in 2 of his poems:

In one of Blake’s most famous poems The Tyger, lines 17-20 reads:

When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

He also uses the phrase in his unfinished epic poem Vala or The four Zoas:

I went not forth: I hid myself in black clouds of my wrath;

I call’d the stars around my feet in the night of councils dark;

The stars threw down their spears and fled naked away.

We fell. I siez’d thee, dark Urthona. In my left hand falling.

The Tyger has been analysed and pondered about without agreement for centuries, especially the lines quoted here with the throwing down of spears. In the second poem it is however quite clear that it is the same expression – Hastas abicere – with the same meaning; to give up. What we don’t know is whether or not Blake was using a ”Latinism” on purpose or not.


Hastas abicere in other languages? 

Español: Tirar la toalla.

Português: Jogar a toalha.

What would you say in your language(s)? Or do you have some fun new versions of this proverb? Let us know in the comments below!

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