I am inquiring on the different meaning behind the phrase.
"per aspera ad astra".
I have seen it spelt both "per aspera ad astra" as well as "ad astra per aspera" and I am wondering what it means when the phrase is switched around and whether that changes the meaning of the phrase all together, as well as what is the actual meaning of both.
Thank you :)
both “Per aspera ad astra” and “Ad astra per aspera” are correct and have the same meaning, i.e. “To the stars through difficulties” in the sense that by overcoming trials one becomes strong in character.
As for the different word order in “Per aspera ad astra” and in “Ad astra per aspera” where the phrase is switched around, as you say, please note that Latin word order can be variable, since Latin is an inflected language where syntactical relationships are indicated by the endings of each term, not by the order of the words.
In short, word order in Latin differs from languages like English because a reader or listener who knows Latin grammar and syntax can easily discern the case of a word or the mood and tense of a verb. Therefore it is not necessary to adhere to a strictly defined order.
For example, the meaning of "Dog bites man" is determined by the word order, of course, so that we could not say "Man bites dog" , whereas in Latin we can say :“Canis virum mordet”, “Virum mordet canis”, “Mordet canis virum” (all meaning “Dog bites man”), because “virum” (=man) is always an accusative case, i.e. a direct object; “mordet” (= bites) is always the 3rd.person singular,present indicative of the verb “mordeo”, and finally “canis” (=dog) is definitely a nominative case, i.e. the subject of the sentence, indipendently from the word order.
Similarly in “Per aspera ad astra” and in “Ad astra per aspera” the indirect object "Per aspera" necessarily means "through difficulties", while "ad astra" necessarily means "to the stars". [Read more below].
To sum up, it is correct to say either “Per aspera ad astra” or “Ad astra per aspera”, both meaning “To the stars through difficulties”, just to point out that we can reach the heights of greatness through difficulties.
-PER (preposition which takes the accusative case) = Through
-ASPERA (accusative neuter plural of the adjective ASPER) = difficulties / adversities.
-AD ( preposition which takes the accusative case) = to
-ASTRA (accusative plural of the neuter noun ASTRUM, 2nd declension)= the stars.
Such a Latin phrase has been coined on a line that we find in a tragedy by Seneca the Younger where Megara, Hercules wife, says: “Non est ad astra mollis e terra via” meaning “The road from the earth to the stars is not smooth” / “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars”(see “Hercules furens”, act II , line 437).