uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Classical Quotes

While doing my research and in general reading the classics, I often come across some true gems, timeless anecdotes from antiquity that seem to speak just as relevantly today. I'll add them here as I find them. All translations (and any mistakes) are mine unless stated otherwise. If you have a suggestion, simply post it in the comment box of any post on the main blog, and I will receive it (I won't publish it as a comment, but will add it here with an attribution to you). Enjoy!



ὡς γὰρ ἂν δύο κάκιστοι καὶ μεγαλότολμοι καὶ πρὸς τὸ κακουργεῖν προχειρότατοι εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ συνελθόντες, ῥᾳδίως κατενόησαν τὸν τῶν ἀνθρώπων βίον ὑπὸ δυοῖν τούτοιν μεγίστοιν τυραννούμενον, ἐλπίδος καὶ φόβου, καὶ ὅτι ὁ τούτων ἑκατέρῳ εἰς δέον χρήσασθαι δυνάμενος τάχιστα πλουτήσειεν ἂν.
“As two greatly audacious and most wicked men … they easily figured out that human life is ruled by two great matters: hope and fear, and that someone able to use these to his own ends could become rich very quickly.”
Lucian, Alexander, 8

προαιρεῖσθαί τε δεῖ ἀδύνατα εἰκότα μᾶλλον ἢ δυνατὰ ἀπίθανα. 
"It is appropriate to prefer probable impossibilities rather than improbable possibilities." 
Aristotle, Poetics, 1460a

δεινόν γε ἡ ἄγνοια καὶ πολλῶν κακῶν ἀνθρώποις αἰτία.
"Ignorance is a terrible thing, and the cause of all evils for humankind."
Lucian, Of Slander, 1

ξύμβουλοι γὰρ σχετλίων ἔργων μῦθοι μὴ ἀπιστούμενοι.
"Myths that are not discredited are the advisors of wicked deeds."
Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists 2.1

in quo defuit fortasse ratio, sed tamen vincit ipsa rerum publicarum natura saepe rationem.
"There was an absence of reason in the thing, perhaps, but then the very nature of politics often trumps reason." 
Cicero, On the Republic, 2.57 

ἐπειδὰν τοίνυν τοιαῦτα προσίῃ τις λέγων, αὐτὸ ἐφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ χρὴ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἐξετάζειν, μήτε ἡλικίαν τοῦ λέγοντος ὁρῶντα μήτε τὸν ἄλλον βίον μήτε τὴν ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ἀγχίνοιαν. ὅσῳ γάρ τις πιθανώτερος, τοσούτῳ ἐπιμελεστέρας δεῖται τῆς ἐξετάσεως.
“When someone comes to you and tells you [slanderous] things, investigate the matter in itself, not regarding the age of the speaker or his life otherwise, or the cleverness in his words. For the more plausible someone seems, the more careful scrutiny is required.”
Lucian, Of Slander, 31

"Cui ergo ista didici?"
Non est quod timeas, ne operam perdideris; tibi didicisti.
"'For what did I learn those things?'
"It is not that which you might fear, that you have wasted your effort. You have learned for yourself."
Seneca, Epistles VII.9

“ὦ Σοφόκλεις, ἔχεις πρὸς τἀφροδίσια; ἔτι οἷός τε εἶ γυναικὶ συγγίγνεσθαι”; καὶ ὅς, “εὐφήμει,” ἔφη, “ὦ ἄνθρωπε: ἁσμενέστατα μέντοι αὐτὸ ἀπέφυγον, ὥσπερ λυττῶντά τινα καὶ ἄγριον δεσπότην ἀποδράς.”
"Sophocles, how are you concerning sexual things? Are you still able to perform with a woman?" And he said, "Be silent, man. I have indeed escaped that most gladly, as though having fled from some raging and cruel master."
Plato's Republic, Book 1, in a discourse on the loss of pleasures in old age.

Si quis piorum manibus locus, si, ut sapientibus placet, non cum corpore extinguunter magnae animae, placide quiescas, nosque domum tuam ab infirmo desiderio et muliebribus lamentis adcontempationem virtutum tuarum voces, quas neque lugeri neque plangi fas est.
"If there is some place for the souls of the righteous, if, as the wise believe, great souls do not perish with the body, may you rest in peace, and may you call us, your family, away from frail grief and pitiable weeping to a contemplation of your virtues, which should be neither lamented nor mourned."
Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola

sera nimis vita est crastina: vive hodie.
"Life is too late tomorrow; live today."
Martial, Epigrams 1.15

ἔτλην δ᾽ οἷ᾽ οὔ πώ τις ἐπιχθόνιος βροτὸς ἄλλος, ἀνδρὸς παιδοφόνοιο ποτὶ στόμα χεῖρ᾽ ὀρέγεσθαι.
"I have endured such things as not any other mortal on earth, to stretch out my hand to the face of the man who slew my son."
Priam to Achilles, Homer's Iliad, 24.505-506

Quod verum est, meum est.
"That which is truth, is mine."
Seneca Epistles 12

liceatque caput candescere canis temporis et prisci facta referre senem.
"Let it be allowed that my head grow white with the hairs of my temples and that I tell as an aged man the deeds of old."
Tibullus 1.10

Numquam enim in praestantibus in republica gubernanda viris laudata est in una sententia perpetua permansio.
"Stubborn persistence in a singular opinion has never been worthy of praise in those who are in charge of governing public affairs.”
Cicero, Letters to Friends, 1.9.21

virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri* volunt.
"For so many wish not to be furnished with virtue itself, but rather to seem to be."
Cicero, De Amicitia 98.
*esse quam videri – This phrase, which shows up elsewhere too (Sallust's Bellum Catilinae 54.6), is the origin of Stephen Colbert's slogan "videri quam esse" behind the table at which he does interviews. He switches the original so as to read "to seem rather than to be" -- a sort of tip of the hat as to the sort of comedy he does -- pretending to be a conservative blowhard. Anyone tempted to take his views at face value need only reference the Latin!

sed quoniam res humanae fragiles caducaeque sunt, semper aliqui anquirendi sunt quos diligamus et a quibus diligamur; caritate enim benevolentiaque sublata omnis est e vita sublata iucunditas.
"But because human affairs are fragile and failing, always others ought to be sought whom we might love and by whom we might be loved; for with affection and kindness taken away, all pleasure is removed from life."
Cicero, De Amicitia 102

Magna vis est conscientiae, iudices, et magna in utramque partem, ut neque timeant qui nihil commiserint et poenam semper ante oculos versari putent qui peccarint.
"Great is the power of conscience, judges, and great it is on both accounts, such that they who have committed nothing do not fear, and they who have wronged think that punishment dwells always before their eyes."
Cicero, For Milo 61

πολὺ γὰρ μᾶλλον εἰώθασιν, ὧν ἂν ἑαυτοῖς διενεχθῶσιν ἀνὴρ καὶ γυνή, διὰ τοὺς παῖδας καταλλάττεσθαι ἢ δι᾽ ἃν ἀδικηθῶσιν ὑφ᾽ αὑτῶν, τοὺς κοινοὺς παῖδας πρὸς μισεῖν.
"For husband and wife are much more accustomed, should they differ with each other, to reconcile for the sake of their children, rather than, on account of whatever wrong they have suffered from each other, to in addition hate their common children."
Demosthenes’ Against Boeotus 39.23

αὐτὸ γὰρ τοῦτό ἐστι χαλεπὸν ἀμαθία, τὸ μὴ ὄντα καλὸν κἀγαθὸν μηδὲ φρόνιμον δοκεῖν αὑτῷ εἶναι ἱκανόν.
"For this is the dangerous thing ignorance is, that one being not fair nor good nor sensible seems to himself to be sufficient."
Plato's Symposium, 204α

μανθάνειν οὐ μόνον τοῖς φιλοσόφοις ἥδιστον ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ὁμοίως.
To learn is most pleasant not only for philosophers, but also likewise for others.
Aristotle’s Poetics, 1448b

perge modo et, qua te ducit via, derige gressum
Press on, and wherever the road leads you, direct your step.
Virgil's Aeneid, 1.401

τοιοῦδε φωτὸς πεῖραν εὖ φυλακτέον
Φόβος γὰρ ἤδη πρὸς πύλαις κομπάζεται.
One needs to guard well against such a man,
For panic is already boasting at the gates.
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, 499-500
perge modo et, qua te ducit via, derige gressum