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Πῆ παρέβην; τί δ’ἔρεξα; τί μοι δέον οὐκ ἐτελέσθῆ;

Where have I transgressed? What have I committed? What thing incumbent on me has been left undone?


Italicae Samius sectae celeberrimus auctor[1]
Ipse suum clausit carmine dogma brevi:
Quņ praetergressus? quid agis? quid omittis agendum?[2]
Hanc rationem urgens reddere quemque sibi.
Quod didicisse Gruum volitantum ex agmine fertur,
Arreptum gestant quae pedibus lapidem:[3]
Ne cessent, neu transversas mala flamina raptent.
Qua ratione, hominum vita regenda fuit.

The famous Samian founder of the Italian sect himself put his essential teaching into a short verse: Where have you overstepped the mark? What are you doing? What are you leaving undone that ought to be done? - urging each man to make this reckoning in his own mind. He is said to have learnt this from a skein of flying cranes, which seize a stone and carry it in their claws, to prevent themselves from making no headway, and to stop adverse gusts of wind carrying them off course. Man’s life was ever to be lived on this principle.


1.  Italicae Samius sectae...autor, ‘Samian founder of the Italian sect’, i.e. Pythagoras. Born in Samos, he emigrated in 531 BC to Croton in South Italy, where he founded a religious/philosophical sect.

2.  This is a version of the Greek text in the motto, which is recorded in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, 8.20.

3.  Cranes wisely carrying stones as ballast are likened to men of foresight in Suidas (i.e, the Suda), s.v. geranos. Other reasons were suggested by ancient writers for this habit.

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