I found in a book from 2015 a box with the quote:

The beginning is half of every action. (Greek proverb)

I googled it and there are many "pop websites" with the same quote. But none with a reference or source. I found this site citing from Aristotle's The Nicomachean Ethics:

The beginning seems to be more than half of the whole.

Which is quite different (and in any case not a real "proverb"). Are you aware of such Greek proverb? Maybe it is a no-classical Greek (I haven't seen an explicit assertion of the contrary, to be honest). How can we tell whether it is legit or not?

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    I know this sentiment from Horace, Epistles 1.2.40: dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet. A commentary on that work may point to other, Greek sources of the same idea. Otherwise, you're right, the quotation you found is from Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics 1098b (δοκεῖ γὰρ πλεῖον ἢ ἥμισυ τοῦ παντὸς εἶναι ἡ ἀρχή) and is a bit different.
    – cnread
    Nov 25, 2019 at 2:05
  • “Well begun is half done.” ― Aristotle
    – Hugh
    Nov 25, 2019 at 3:30
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    @cnread I fixed your first comment. When the window to edit comments has closed, you can always let a moderator know and we'll edit. // Wouldn't that comment actually make an answer? There might be other Greek sources for that sentiment as well, but at the very least that is a very worthwhile option and the connection to Horace is interesting.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 25, 2019 at 6:33

1 Answer 1


Yes, it was proverbial by Plato's time. He quotes the saying in the Laws (753e):

ἀρχὴ γὰρ λέγεται μὲν ἥμισυ παντὸς ἐν ταῖς παροιμίαις ἔργου
"For it is said in proverbs that the beginning is half of every work"

There was also a metrical version of the saying, ἀρχὴ δέ τοι ἥμισυ παντός, which scans as the end of a dactylic hexameter line. This phrase is quoted by several writers, including Lucian, Demetrius of Phalerum, and Iamblichus, who attributes it to Pythagoras. Aristotle, in the quotation you cite, is presumably referring to this proverb and taking it a step further.

ETA: Actually, reading further in the Plato, he preempts Aristotle with the same thought: ...τὸ δ᾽ ἔστιν τε, ὡς ἐμοὶ φαίνεται, πλέον ἢ τὸ ἥμισυ "but this is, it seems to me, more than half".

  • Any explanation for the strange positioning of ἐν ταῖς παροιμίαις?
    – fdb
    Dec 1, 2019 at 15:26
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    @fdb It is strange-looking, but less-focused constituents tend to float around very freely in Greek prose -- they often wind up where one wouldn't expect them, apparently largely for reasons of sentence rhythm and the like. Here the "logical" position would be rather after μέν, but I'm guessing Plato wanted to give some more emphasis to ἥμισυ παντός by placing it first.
    – TKR
    Dec 1, 2019 at 22:06

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