The Timeless Language 3000 years now: Connecting Ancient and Contemporary Greek through Proverbs

greek insland with white houses and deep blue sea

Imagine a journey through time, where the words spoken by ancient Greeks find a cozy home in the mouths of people today. We’re about to explore some old Greek sayings and their new buddies, proving that Greek words have a magic power—time doesn’t change them much!

  1. “One swallow (or one cuckoo) does not bring spring.”
    • Modern Greek: “Ένα χελιδόνι (ή ένας κούκος) δεν φέρνει την άνοιξη.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Μία χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεἶ
      Said by Aesop and remained as a proverb used by Aristotle, Stobaeus, and Aristophanes. The version with the cuckoo prevailed.”
  2. “One hand washes the other.”
    • Modern Greek: “Το ένα χέρι νίβει το άλλο.”
    • Ancient Greek: “ἁ δὲ χεὶρ τὰν χεῖρα νίζει
      A verse by the Pythagorean philosopher and poet Epicharmus.”
  3. “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
    • Modern Greek: “Ό,τι σπείρεις θα θερίσεις.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Εί κακά τις σπείραι κακά κέρδια αμήσειν – Hesiod.”
  4. “It is better to be envied than pitied.”
    • Modern Greek: “Κάλλιο να σε ζηλεύουνε παρά να σε λυπούνται.”
    • Ancient Greek: “κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος- Pindar.”
  5. “The tongue has no bones but breaks bones.”
    • Modern Greek: “Η γλώσσα κόκκαλα δεν έχει και κόκκαλα τσακίζει.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ἡ γλῶττα ἀνόστεος μὲν ὀστέα θραύει- Solon.”
  6. “Experience is the best teacher.”
    • Modern Greek: “Έπαθε και έμαθε.”
    • Ancient Greek: “τὸν πάθει μάθος- Aeschylus, Agamemnon.”
  7. “My hair stood on end.”
    • Modern Greek: “Σηκώθηκαν οι τρίχες μου.”
    • Ancient Greek: “τριχὸς δ᾽ ὀρθίας πλόκαμος ἵσταται – Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes.”
  8. “A man is the pillar of the house.”
    • Modern Greek: “Ο άνδρας είναι η κολώνα του σπιτιού.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ανήρ, στέγης στῦλον – Aeschylus, Agamemnon.”
  9. “Hit the wood.”
    • Modern Greek: “Χτύπα ξύλο.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ἅπτεσθαι ξύλου – Aristophanes.”
  10. “Fell over laughing.”
    • Modern Greek: “Έπεσαν κάτω απο τα γέλια.”
    • Ancient Greek: “ὥστε υπτίους υπό του γέλωτος καταπεσείν – Athenaeus.”
  11. “Became a theater.”
    • Modern Greek: “Έγιναν θέατρο.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Εαυτούς εξεθεατρίουν – Polybius.”
  12. “Don’t confuse me.”
    • Modern Greek: “Μη με συγχίζεις.”
    • Ancient Greek: “μή μοι σύγχει – Homer.”
  13. “We’re in deep water.”
    • Modern Greek: “Τη βάψαμε.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Η ναῦς ἔβαψεν – Euripides, Orestes 705-707. “
      βάπτω=βυθίζω στο νέρο. η ναῦς ἔβαψεν = το πλοίο βυθίστηκε.
  14. “Don’t bother me.”
    • Modern Greek: “Μη με σκοτίζεις.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Αποσκότισον με – Diogenes to Alexander the Great.”
  15. “Life became unlivable.”
    • Modern Greek: “Έγινε ο βίος αβίωτος.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ἀβίωτον ζῶμεν βίον – Philemon, 4th century BCE.”
  16. “Bird’s milk.”
    • Modern Greek: “Του πουλιού το γάλα.”
    • Ancient Greek: “ὀρνίθων γάλα – Plutarch.”
  17. “You’re talking nonsense!”
    • Modern Greek: “Λες τρίχες!”
    • Ancient Greek: “Τριχολογείν και τρίχας αναλέγεσθαι – Suidas.”
  18. “Send it to the crows.”
    • Modern Greek: “Άει στον κόρακα.”
    • Ancient Greek: “πέμπειν εἰς κόρακας.”
  19. “I don’t care.”
    • Modern Greek: “Δεν με μέλει.”
    • Ancient Greek: “οὐδέν μοι μέλει.”
  20. “You talk too much.”
    • Modern Greek: “Πολλά λες.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Πολλά λαλεῖς – Heard often in Cyprus.”
  21. “Go burst!”
    • Modern Greek: “Να σκάσεις.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Διαρραγείης – Aristophanes.”
  22. “Every beginning is difficult.”
    • Modern Greek: “Κάθε αρχή και δύσκολη.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Αρχή δήπου παντός έργου χαλεπωτέρα.”
  23. “The truth is bitter.”
    • Modern Greek: “Η αλήθεια είναι πικρή.”
    • Ancient Greek: “ἔχει τι πικρὸν ὁ τῆς ἀληθείας λόγος – Dion.”
  24. “The truth cannot be hidden.”
    • Modern Greek: “Η αλήθεια δεν κρύβεται.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ἀδύνατον τ’ ἀληθές λαθεῖν – Menander.”
  25. “He fears even his own shadow.”
    • Modern Greek: “Φοβάται και την σκιά του.”
    • Ancient Greek: “τὴν αὐτοῦ σκιὰν δέδοικεν – Aristophanes, Fragments 62.”
  26. “Even if you wash the Ethiopian.”
    • Modern Greek: “Τον αράπη κι αν τον πλένεις.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Αἰθίοπα σμήχεις – Plutarch.”
  27. “No work is shameful (unemployment is shameful).”
    • Modern Greek: “Καμιά δουλειά δεν είναι ντροπή (η αεργία είναι ντροπή).”
    • Ancient Greek: “Έργον δ’ ουδέν όνειδος, (αεργίη δε τ’ όνειδος) – Hesiod.”
  28. “Building on sand.”
    • Modern Greek: “Χτίζεις στην άμμο.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Εἰς ψάμμον οἰκοδομεῖς – Plutarch.”
  29. “Take advantage while you can.”
    • Modern Greek: “Παρ’ το αυγό και κούρευτο.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ωον τίλλεις – Plutarch.”
  30. “As you see me, I see myself.”
    • Modern Greek: “Όπως σε βλέπω και με βλέπεις.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ὢςπερ εισοράς εμέ – Sophocles.”
  31. “My knees gave way.”
    • Modern Greek: “Μου λύθηκαν τα γόνατα.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Λύεται γούνατα – Homer.”
  32. “I’ll show you who I am (threat).”
    • Modern Greek: “Θα σου δείξω εγώ ποιος είμαι.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ἐγώ αυτώ δείξω τις ειμί – Epictetus, Discourses 3.2.10.”
  33. “Don’t you want to hang yourself?”
    • Modern Greek: “Δεν πας να κρεμαστείς;”
    • Ancient Greek: “Ούκ απάγξη; – Epictetus, Discourses 3.1.32.”
  34. “Acts as if he killed his father (today we say, as if he killed his mother).”
    • Modern Greek: “Κάνει σαν να του σκότωσε τον πατέρα.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Αν ούν εν τούτοις πλανηθώ μη τι τον πατέρα απέκτεινα – Epictetus, Discourses 1.7.31.”
  35. “Put your hand in the fire.”
    • Modern Greek: “Βάζω το χέρι στην φωτιά.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Χείρα τ’ εν ηγάνω βαλείν (ηγάνω=στο τηγάνι) – Anacreon Fragmenta Fr.91.”
  36. “We tangled our legs.”
    • Modern Greek: “Μπλέξαμε τα μπούτια μας.”
    • Ancient Greek: “Πλέξαντες μηροίσι πέρι μηρούς – Anacreon Fragmenta, Fr.91.”

These expressions offer a glimpse into the rich linguistic and cultural heritage of the Greek people, resonating across time and generations.

So, there you have it! The Greek language is like a superhero—it doesn’t get old. From way back when people wore togas to now when we have smartphones, Greek words stayed strong. It’s like a secret code passed down through centuries, reminding us that words can be forever young. The language dances through time, and we’re all part of this cool, never-ending linguistic party!

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