Ancient Greece Quotes

Michael Lahanas

Antikes Griechenland, Sprüche

Kai sy, teknon?
Julius Caesar's last words actually Greek, not Latin, meaning "You too, child?". “Et tu, Brute?" in translation: "You too, Brutus?" appeared in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.

We are children of the Greeks
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, about 1760

Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all
Ypatia (350-370? – 415) AD

Go and tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
That here, obedient to their laws, dead we lie.
Simonides of Ceos (556-468BC) - Epitaph on the monument marking the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC)
A picked force of three hundred Spartans was dispatched to the pass of Thermopylae, where the confines between mountains and sea were so narrow that the Persian multitudes and their cavalry would be at least partially neutralized. Here, it was hoped, an elite force willing to sacrifice their lives could keep back, at least for a few days, the invading millions. "Three hundred Spartans and their allies held off the invaders for seven days, until, their weapons smashed and broken from the slaughter, they fought 'with bare hands and teeth' (as recorded by Herodotus) before being at last overwhelmed.

The Spartans do not enquire how many the enemy are but where they are. Agis, II 42;7 BC

Here four thousand from the Peloponnese once fought three thousand thousands.
Simonides of Ceos (556-468BC) wrote this epitaph for the King Leonidas I of Sparta and his band of braves at Thermopylae. Simonides did not mean that Leonidas and his men actually fought three million soldiers, because indeed at the end only three hundred Spartans remained to resist the Persians unto death, but that Greece's finest hour was when, confronted with invading forces amounting altogether to about three million, it did not panic or surrender, even though the active resistance on land had to be limited to such relatively puny efforts as the episode of Thermopylae.

Μολών λαβέ ! (Molon labe : Come and get them!)
Leonidas Spartans king two words response to king of Persia Xerxes demanding that the Spartans lay down their arms. One of the most famous military quotes ever.

When someone told him: "Leonidas! How are you going with so few to risk with so many"? he said: "If you think that I am going to fight by numbers, then the whole of Greece would be insufficient, for she is only a small part of the numbers of the Persians, but if I am going to fight by valor, then even this number is enough"
Plutarch Apophthegmata Laconica, Leonidas of Anaxandridas

The Spartan women were good judges of manhood. A foreign lady once remarked to the wife of a Spartan commander that the women of Sparta were the only women in the world who could rule men. "We are the only women who raise men," the Spartan lady replied....
Spartans were taught to say a lot with a few words. Children learned a habit of long silence, so that when they finally spoke, their words had weight and were noticed.
For example, an Athenian joked that sword-swallowers used Spartan swords because they were so short, and a Spartan replied: "We find them long enough to reach the hearts of our enemies." Like their short, sharp swords, their short, sharp sayings get to the point and arrest the attention of the hearer. Here are some examples from Lycurgus himself:
A man argued that Sparta should set up a democracy, and to this, Lycurgus replied: "Begin with your own family."
Another asked why the sacrifices to the gods were not bigger, and Lycurgus answered: "So that we may always have something to offer them."
When Lycurgus was asked how the Spartans could prevent an invasion by enemies, he said: "By continuing to be poor, and not trying to appear better off than each other."
To those who proposed to build a wall around Sparta, Lycurgus said: "A wall of men, instead of bricks, is best."

Plutarch , Lycurgus

Flag of Mani, "Niki i Thanatos" (Victory or Death) and "Tan i epi tas"

Modern Sacred Band (Ιερός Λόχος) during WW II (Probably without intention 2 men are shown, it was not an "Army of Lovers" like in ancient Thebes ). The Sacred Band symbol includes an inscription "I tan i epi tas"

Spartan woman giving the shield to her son, Jean-Jacques-Francois Le Barbier ( 1738-1826), Portlandmuseum

I tan i epi tas
Either come back with [your shield], or on it. Spartan mothers saying this to their sons as they left for war.

Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade.
Dieneces the Spartan answer to one of the Trachinians who told him, ‘Such is the number of barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by the multitude.’
Herodotus, Histories, 7.226

Andron epifanon pasa gi tafos (Of famous men, the whole world is the tomb)
Thucydides written in the modern unknown soldier tomb in Athens. Image of an Evzone and the text inscribed on the top

Ώ παίδες Ελλήνων, ίτε ελευθερούτε πατρίδ' ελευθερούτε δε παίδας, γυναίκας, θεών τε πατρώων έδη,θήκας τε προγόνων νυν υπέρ πάντων αγών Aeschylus , The Persians, “Forward, sons of the Greeks, liberate the fatherland, liberate your children, your women, the temples of your ancestral gods, the graves of your forebears: this is the battle for everything."

The grandness of Greece
the beauty of Helen
the pen of Aristippus
the soul of Socrates
and the language of Homer
Epitaph of Arete from Cyrene (Kyreneia) (4th - 3rd century BC). Studied in Plato's academy according to In J. Morans book "woman in Science", Cambridge 1913.

Time is the father of truth
Appolonius of Rhodes

Death is a debt which all of us must pay.
Sophocles, Electra

To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?

The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Aristotle (ca 330 BC) Metaphysica

Call no man happy before his death.

It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make their appearance in the world.
Aristotle (ca 330 BC) "On The Heavens", in T. L. Heath Manual of Greek Mathematics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931.

To Thales the primary question was not what do we know, but how do we know it.
Aristotle (ca 330 BC) Mathematical Intelligencer v. 6, no. 3, 1984.

On one occasion Aristotle was asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated: 'As much,' said he, 'as the living are to the dead.'
Aristotle.(ca 330 BC) Diogenes Laertius.

He was once asked what a friend is, and his answer was, 'One soul abiding in two bodies.'
Aristotle.(ca 330 BC) Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers, an entertaining mix of verifiable facts, obvious fabrications, and everything in between)

This tomb hold Diophantus Ah, what a marvel! And the tomb tells scientifically the measure of his life. God vouchsafed that he should be a boy for the sixth part of his life; when a twelfth was added, his cheeks acquired a beard; He kindled for him the light of marriage after a seventh, and in the fifth year after his marriage He granted him a son. Alas! late-begotten and miserable child, when he had reached the measure of half his father's life, the chill grave took him. After consoling his grief by this science of numbers for four years, he reached the end of his life.
Diophantus [His epitaph.]
In Ivor Thomas Greek Mathematics, in J. R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.

He is unworthy of the name of man who is ignorant of the fact that the diagonal of a square is incommensurable with its side.
Plato (ca 429-347 BC)

Xanthippe and Socrates

All I know is that I know nothing
Socrates Of course this is a contradiction as at least Socrates claims to know one thing. Similar but opposite is the statement “I don't know what I don't know”. A better statement by him is At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.” According to Luciano De Crescenzo a method of the positive negation to approach truth (or God) with logic: “Can you provide a proof of Gods existence? No! Can you provide a proof of Gods non-existence? No! Then you say that there is something that you do not know? Yes! Then call this thing simply “God”. And what if I just call it the “Thing” that I do not know? It does not matter it is the same thing.” De Crescenzo says that the truth exists because if it does not exist then also not the fact that the truth does not exist. Additionally is seems to be a contradiction to Plato and also Socrates theory of anamnesis: I knew most of this in advance but I did not know that I knew it.

More sceptical is Metrodorus

We know nothing, not even whether we know or do not know, or what it is to know or not to know, or in general whether anything exists or not. Metrodorus of Chios

On this truly happy day of my life, as I am at the point of death, I write this to you ... Epicurus, Letter to Idomeneus

All Cretans are liars.
Parmenides from Creta. A statement that we have problem to verify its truth.

We take a hetaera for our pleasure, a concubine for daily attention to our physical wants, a wife to give us legitimate children and a respected house.
Demosthenes, On Wives & Hetaerae, c. 350 BC

Philippides, an Athenian, and by profession and practice a trained runner returned to Marathon in time to fight in the battle. He was ordered to run to Athens to bring the news of victory. When he reached the agora, he gasped: nenikikamen, "We have won" and dropped dead. The modern Marathon race commemorates his feat.

I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger
Thrasymachus Callicles and Thrasymachus

Ta panta rhei (Everything changes)
Heraklit (or Heraclitus)

Advances in cosmology and black holes physics lend new emphasis to some of the most remarkable consequences of Einstein's standard theory:...nature conserves nothing; there is no constant of physics that is not transcended; or, in a word, mutability is a law of nature
Wheeler John Archibald. 1979. "The Quantum and the Universe." In Relativity, quanta, and cosmology in the development of the thought of Albert Einstein. Vol. 2. M. Pantaleo and F. De Finis, eds. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp. One may of course ask whether this is a contradiction . If everything changes then something is constant, namely the law that everything changes.

The man was born, he worked, and then died.
Martin Heidegger, German philosopher, A short biography of Aristotle presented in a lecture.

Nobody can say a word against Greek: it stamps a man at once as an educated gentlemen.
George Bernard Shaw

A wonderful harmony arises from joining together the seemingly unconnected.
Heraklit (or Heraclitus)

The organization of your state is that of an army camp, not a town. Plato's opinion about Sparta.

The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.

The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.

There was never a genius without a tincture of insanity.

I pray Thee, O God, that I may be beautiful within!

For one swallow does not make the summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed or happy. Aristotle .. after Aristotle observed that one swallow doth not a Spring make (EN I.7), Theophrastus set to work on a treatise entitled "On the Number of Swallows Needed to Make a Spring, Dorothea Frede
Hope is a waking dream.

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.

We make war that we may live in peace.

Thinking is the talking of the soul with itself.

When I considered this act of Nero it struck me how true is the remark of Plato, the son of Ariston, who says that the greatest and most daring crimes are committed, not by ordinary men, but by a noble soul ruined by a perverted education.

... καὶ τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὀνομα πεποίηκε μηκέτι τοῦ γένους ἀλλά τὴς διανοίας δοκείν εἶναι, καὶ μάλλον Ἑλληνας καλείσθαι τῶν τὴς παιδεύσεως τὴς ἡμετέρας ἦ τῶν τὴς κοινής φύσεως μετέχοντας
The name Greek is no longer a mark of a race, but of an outlook, and is accorded to those who share our culture rather than our blood..
Isocrates, Athenian orator, 380 BC Panegyricus

...ει χείρας είχον βόες <ίπποι τε> ηέ λέοντες, ή γράψαι χείρεσι και έργα τελείν άπερ άνδρες, ίπποι μεν ίπποισι βόες δε βουσίν ομοίας και θεών ιδέας έγραφον και σώματα εποίουν τοιαύθ’ οίον περ αυτοί δέμας είχον <έκαστοι> “...but if cattle and horses and lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the form of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle”

Xenophanes of Colophon

...στάζει δ' ἀνθ' ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ' ἄκοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν. δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων Aeschylus, Agamemnon ... My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. ...... Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. ...
Senator Robert F. Kennedy , Statement on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Indianapolis, Indiana 4th April 1968

I am not afraid of being dead, I just do not want to die.
Epicharmus of Cos

Who brings owls to Athens? Aristophanes Birds (German “Eulen nach Athen tragen”, an expression for something totally unnecessary )

The death of a good man is nothing to be sad about, since it puts him beyond the power of fortune and secures his happiness for eternity.” Plutarch, Pelopidas

Medeis Ageometretos Eisito. Let no one ignorant of geometry enter. Written over the entrance of Plato's Academy. But is this story true?

When I tell Odysseus my own Odyssey, he'll never believe me! “Onthepremises” a Greek merchant If you look for more Heroic quotations from Greeks and the corresponding official Greek Military Insignia