Nosce te ipsum

baby

What does it mean?

Know Thyself

The Suda, a 10th Century encyclopaedia, says that “the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are”. The aphorism, sometimes written as temet nosce, is also used as a counsel against heeding the opinions of the masses.

Etymology

Nosce te ipsum or temet nosce are Latin terms which literally translate in English as ‘know you self’ and ‘yourself know’ respectively. The Suda places the maxim in the 10th Century and it recognises Thales of Miletus and Chilon of Sparta as its first sources. However, some scholars argue that it was probably an already popular proverb that was then attributed to various members of the Seven Sages of Greece, such as the two gentlemen above.

Improper use

If translated on some search engines and online translators, the word ipsum is deciphered as meaning ‘football’. To anyone with a half a brain, this is evidently incorrect. I can’t imagine any self-respecting sage wanting to put their name down in history to the phrase: “Know your football”.

Proper Use

Even in Ancient Egypt, it has been used in the Inner Temple of the Temple of Luxor where, among other proverbs, it is inscribed:
Man, know thyself … and thou shalt know the gods.