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Founded in 1846!


Zeitschrift für antike Literatur und ihre Rezeption / A Journal for Ancient Literature and its Reception

Ed. by Föllinger, Sabine / Fuhrer, Therese / Reinhardt, Tobias / Stenger, Jan / Vöhler, Martin

CiteScore 2017: 0.06

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.116

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Volume 152, Issue 2


“Win but do not overwin” – The History of a Proverb from the Sententiae Menandri, and a Classical Allusion in St. Paul′s Epistle to the Romans

Philip Rance
Published Online: 2009-09-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/phil.2008.0033


This paper traces the history and meaning of the Greek proverb “Win but do not overwin”, first documented in Maurice′s Strategicon (590s) and cited thereafter in various contexts in Byzantine military and historical literature. The earliest manifestation of this proverb is identified as a verse of iambic trimeters preserved in the Γνῶμαι Μενάνδρου or Sententiae Menandri, witnessed in both the manuscript tradition and a fragmentary specimen inscribed on a fifth-/sixth-century ostracon. Older scholarship denied the antiquity of this monostichos on linguistic and metrical grounds, but it is shown that there is no impediment to a possible origin in Attic drama, even if date and authorship remain elusive. Recognition of an additional prose variant in Socrates′ Historia Ecclesiastica points to a wider proverbial currency by the beginning of the fifth century at the latest. The study concludes with the conjecture that St. Paul may have had this proverb in mind when he wrote Epistle to the Romans, adducing arguments based on eccentric vocabulary and evidence for Paul′s limited acquaintance with moralising pagan literature.

Keywords: Sententiae Menandri; Strategicon; St. Paul; Proverbs

About the article

Published Online: 2009-09-25

Published in Print: 2008-12-01

Citation Information: Philologus, Volume 152, Issue 2, Pages 191–204, ISSN (Print) 0031-7985, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1524/phil.2008.0033.

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