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Ancient Greek and Roman Wisdom That Still Holds True

The impacts of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations still echo now, centuries later. Their contributions can be seen throughout the world in nearly every culture that has ever existed, in areas as diverse as architecture, language, philosophy, and technology. Geographical proximity between the Romans and the Greeks sparked conflicts and conquests, but it also facilitated cultural exchanges between the ancient rivals: The conquering Romans adopted many aspects of the more advanced Greek culture.

The historical period known as classical antiquity stretches from the earliest recorded writings of the Greek poet Homer in the eighth century BCE to the decline of the Roman Empire in the fifth century BCE. Historians have long studied how the development of Western civilization evolved from Greco-Roman culture, and the influence of those ancient civilizations can still be seen in the modern world, from farming techniques used by the Romans to Greek influences on U.S. democracy.

Though many texts written during this lengthy historical period have been lost over the centuries, a vast body of writing still exists, encompassing the histories of Greece and Rome as well as prose, poetry, and drama that explores their mythologies, philosophies, and cultures.

From the sage insights of Virgil to the sharp observations of Euripides, here are 16 wise and witty quotes from Greek and Roman writers of the classical era.

Life and death are balanced as it were on the edge of a razor.
Homer

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A host is like a general: misfortunes often reveal his genius.
Horace

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Either don’t try at all or make damned sure you succeed.
Ovid

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Well, one must learn / By doing the thing; for though you think you know it / You have no certainty, until you try.
Sophocles

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We cannot all do all things.
Virgil

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We live, not as we wish to, but as we can.
Menander

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The wise learn many things from their enemies.
Aristophanes

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Things ’twas hard to bear ’tis pleasant to recall.
Seneca the Younger

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A bad end comes from a bad beginning.
Euripides

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If at every human error Jupiter should hurl his thunderbolts, he would in a brief space be weaponless.
Ovid

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I have learned from the best of all teachers, experience.
Pliny the Younger

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Beauty is beauty only while you gaze on it, / but one who’s good will soon be beautiful as well.
Sappho

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Dare to know.
Horace

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No one’s wholly corrupted overnight.
Juvenal

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Fortune will help the brave.
Virgil

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When you’re sick a bed is like a friend: a good thing to have, but painful to need.
Euripides

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Featured image credit: Hulton Archive via Getty Images

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About the Author
Kristina Wright
Kristina is a coffee-fueled writer living happily ever after with her family in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia.
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