I am afraid I might be off topic here, but I do not know whom to ask otherwise.

I have come across the following sentence:

᾽Αεί τι βούλου χρήσιμον προσμανϑάνειν.

I found it on the cover of a (nice) booklet which helps in fostering and mastering Greek vocabulary. I translated the sentence as

You always want to learn something useful/Be always willing to learn something useful.

(Mediopassive voice, II person of singular, I am not sure if it is better imperative or indicative).

Do you agree with the translation? Secondly, do you have any idea for the source? Where does this sentence come from? How can I search it? A quick google research shows it might be from Sophocles, but I am not able to find exact reference. Thanks.

2 Answers 2


This appears to be a fragment, or rather part of a fragment, from a lost play of Sophocles, the Phthiotides or Women of Phthia. Here is a source that gives the full three-line fragment, which runs:

Νέος πέφυκας· πολλὰ καὶ μαθεῖν σε δεῖ
καὶ πόλλ' ἀκοῦσαι καὶ διδάσκεσθαι μακρά.
ἀεί τι βούλου χρήσιμον προσμανθάνειν.

A very literal translation: "You are young; you must learn many things and hear many things and learn long things (= things that take a long time to learn). Always want to learn something useful in addition (προσ-)."

You're right that βούλου could be either indicative or imperative in form, but the latter is pretty clearly intended here based on the sense and context. (If indicative, it would have to be an unaugmented imperfect; augmentless forms do occur in tragedy, but mostly in choral odes rather than dialogue, which is another reason this should be read as an indicative.)

  • Thanks for very precise reference and for the translation!
    – Romeo
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 8:35
  • 1
    It is a rather nice quotation. By the way, I don't remember: how common is it in tragedy to omit the augment? I know this practice mainly from epic, but I haven't read tragedies in a very long time. I know tragedy had various archaic elements, like the Doric chorals(?).
    – Cerberus
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 14:42
  • 2
    @Cerberus The augment is sometimes omitted in tragedy, mostly in the choral parts as you suggest. Added a note on this.
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 20:45
  • Thanks also for the interesting comment about augment, I like it! And I also think it is a rather nice quotation.
    – Romeo
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 21:23

Stobaeus 2,31,16a quotes the trimeter as part of the same sequence of the first two trimeters, which come from Sophocles' Phthiotides (fr. *694 Radt), but it was secluded from Nauck, who assigned it to the fragmenta adespota (fr. 516a, see also B. Snell – R. Kannicht, Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta II, 1981, p. 147).

Your translation with imperative form is right.

Note that this kind of imperative form is typical of the Delphic maxims.

The theme of the continuous learning is also attested in Isocrates, To Demonicus 18: ἐὰν ᾖς φιλομαθὴς, ἔσει πολυμαθής. ἃ μὲν ἐπίστασαι, ταῦτα διαφύλαττε ταῖς μελέταις, ἃ δὲ μὴ μεμάθηκας, προσλάμβανε ταῖς ἐπιστήμαις.

See also fr. adesp. TrGF 515a 3–5 Kannicht – Snell: παιδεύματα / προσλαμβάνειν δὲ δεῖ καθ’ ἡμέραν ἀεί, / ἕως ἂν ἐξῇ μανθάνειν βελτίονα.

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