The sundial, is the earliest type of timekeeping device, which indicates the time of day by the position of the shadow of some object exposed to the sun’s rays. As the day progresses, the sun moves across the sky, causing the shadow of the object to move and indicating the passage of time. The earliest sundials were inscribed with inscriptions and aphorisms. Some were practical, some philosophical and a few are just strange.
In 1737, a book about how to build a sundial included a selection of three hundred mottos that might be used on sundials. Several books were ultimately published, among them Alfred H. Hyatt’s 1903 A Book of Sundial Mottoes. It’s a small gift-type book, geared toward gardeners as sundials had by then become part of English country garden design. Since a sundial is about Time many of the mottoes were about our use of time.
“This Dial Says Die”
“Either Learn or Go”
“Do Today’s Work Today”
“Learn to Value Your Time”
“The Time Thou Killest Will in Time Kill Thee”
“Opportunity has Locks in Front and is Bald Behind” (This odd one has been explained as alluding to a longer proverb – “Opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald; if you seize her by the forelock, you may hold her, but, if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again.”) “Remove Not the Ancient Landmark which Thy Father Hath Set Up.”
“Look Upon Me. Though Silent, I Speak. For the Happy and the Sad, I Mark the House Alike. I Warn as I Move. I Steal Upon You. I Wait for None.”
“Begone About Your Business.”
“I mark time from morning ’til moonlight””