Nosce te ipsum

Definition: know oneself

Origin: The latin phrase, pronounced “NOS-keh tay IP-sum,” means “know thyself”  and first appeared in written Roman texts circa 1539. The source of this timeless quotation is from ancient Greece. According to the Greek historian, Plutarch, the aphorism was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi built around 1100 BC — site of the Pythian Games (the birthplace of today’s Olympic games). The phrase, however, is often attributed to the Greek philosopher, Plato (a student of Socrates), through the character of Socrates in the Dialogues of Plato, written between 399 and 347 BC. The phrase was the inspiration for Shakespeare when he was writing The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark several hundred years later, between 1599 and 1601. Early in the play (Act 1. Scene III) Polonius provides his son, Laertes, with wise counsel:

This above all — to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

For further reading: Amo, Amas, Amat and More by Eugene Ehrlich, Harper & Row (1985). 500 Foregin Words and Phrases You Should Know to Sound Smart by Peter Archer, Adams Media (2012).

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