Who came up with those six words, neatly and cleverly bound for all time?
As it turns out, neither an Italic, an Etruscan nor a city planner from ancient Rome coined or uttered the phrase. Shockingly, it was a 12th century French-speaking cleric in the court of Phillippe of Alsace — the Count of Flanders — who gets the credit for dreaming up the immortal line, in French – Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour – that the rest of the world has been using ever since.
In 1895, Adolf Tobler, a Swiss linguist, published Li Proverbe au Vilain, a collection of Medieval French poems based upon the original Old French writings of 1190. It is in this original body of work that the catchphrase about the Eternal City not being quickly constructed over a 24-hour period is first documented.
The occasionally bawdy language, coupled with the earthy subject matter, provides the modern-day reader with colorful glimpses into 12th century France through the eyes and ears of the common man.
The catchphrase was first chronicled in English in 1538 when John Heywood authored A Dialogue Containing the Number in Effect of all the Proverbs in the English Tongue.
Next time you say or write, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” better preface it with, “Or so the peasant says.”
After all, let’s give credit where credit is due. In this case, the wise, but anonymous, poet laureate who penned it first for the Count of Flanders.
Too bad he didn’t have it copyrighted. Can you just imagine the royalties?