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As most students of Greek and Latin know, “making a mistake” is metaphorical: In Greek, that is, ἁμαρτάνω captures this concept through the image of “missing the mark”, as when throwing a spear (cf. Hom. Il. 5.287) or in archery (Aesch. Aga. 1194‒7). In Latin, erro employs the image of “wandering from a path”. But whereas the Greek martial metaphor is linguistically circumscribed and likely a “one-shot image metaphor” (Kövecses 2002), Latin’s spatial metaphor structures a wide range of conventional expressions related to concepts not only of “falseness” but also of “trueness”. (This is not to say the Greek metaphor was unproductive. Plato compares good lawgiving to archery and Aristotle likens knowledge of the good to hitting a target: cf. Lasky 1994. Elsewhere, archery metaphorizes “accurate” prophecy and perception, and even emotion: Keith 1914, 122; Stanford 1936). In Latin, such concepts are in fact systematically expressed through spatial images. Specifically, words literally denoting motion away from a location are used in reference to “falseness”, so that one speaks metaphorically of “wandering (errare)” as well as of “turning away (avertere)” or “directing away (deflectere)” or even “tearing away (disciscere)” from the truth. What is false is literally what is “distant from the truth” (procul a vero: cf. Ov. Trist. 5.6.27). Mistakenness (error) is a kind of trap in which someone can be “held (teneri)” or “twisted (versari)” or “entangled (implicari)”; into which it is possible to “lead (inducere, adducere)” or “carry off (rapere)” another person; or even into which someone can “slip (labi)”. Correspondingly, someone or something’s “being true” or "having knowledge of the truth” or “doing right” is conveyed by terms literally denoting spatial motion toward – “going”, “coming”, “arriving”, “proceeding”, “turning”, “approaching”, “returning”, “leading” and so on – in the direction of the truth (verum, veritas): cf., e.g., Plaut. Rud. 1150‒51, te ad verum convorti; Hor. Serm. 1.3.96–7, ventum ad verum est; Quint. IO. 12.8.11, aliquando ad uerum . . . peruenimus; 12.10.9, ad ueritatem . . . accessisse. In all these expressions, the truth is construed metaphorically as a fixed location and different degrees of trueness are expressed as physical proximity to or distance from that location. This is why ad veritatem propius or proxime or maxime accedere – literally, “come closer (closest) to the truth” – has the sense of “have a better knowledge of what is true” (cf. Cic. De orat. 1.220; 1.262; Lucull. 6; 47; Sen. Clem. 2.3.2) or why “being in the truth” means to be true in an absolute sense (cf., e.g., Lact. 1.11.31; 1.17.1, in vero esse).

In this paper, I present evidence of the systematic structuring of Latin’s ways of speaking about “truth” through metaphors of movement in physical space. This structuring can be described in cognitive linguistic terms as a set of symbolic correspondences or mappings (cf. Lakoff and Johnson 1980) set up between concepts of truth and concepts of spatial motion, so that the logic of spatial experience is carried over systematically to an understanding of trueness. These mappings are not a property of individual words, however: almost the entire field of motion terms can be used in speaking metaphorically about the truth, because the mappings operate at a level of meaning that is supralinguistic. Indeed, it is possible to show that the metaphors characterizing trueness or falseness are specialized manifestations of the more general pattern in Latin whereby concepts of mental activity are delivered by spatial metaphor (cf. Short 2012). Moreover, when compared with other, similar metaphors – e.g., the material metaphor in which the truth or falsity of someone or something correlates to its heaviness or lightness (cf. Cic. Phil. 5.18.50, vera, gravis, solida gloria as against Lael. 25.91, vitium levium hominum atque fallacium) – the spatial metaphor appears to have the clear function of providing a basic structure to conceptualization, giving Latin speakers a convenient conceptual framework upon which to hang their understanding of relative truthfulness.