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"Know thyself" or "temet nosce" is a well known Latin term meaning to look deep into yourself and really understand who you are.

I would like to know how to say "Master thyself" in the sense of now that you know yourself, are you disciplined enough to work on your weaknesses and be the best that you can be.

Any ideas on this? I'm a complete tyro at Latin, but I'm hopeful someone can guide me to this answer.

Thanks!


Response to answers

Wow... I am in awe of the feedback and I am also humbled. The knowledge some of you have on this subject is so exceptional!

And the willingness to help is inspiring. If you all lived close by I would take you out for a drink (even though I don't drink).

Being that there are so many suggestions, what I would ask is if some of you could choose a favorite that you did not create. Pick one that you did not create which you feel best captures the sense of mastering yourself.

Definitely the shorter the better (three words or less) which is one reason I like temet nosce so much.

Thanks!!

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  • Welcome to the site and thanks for a nice first question! (I cleared up some old comments. I hope it wasn't too confusing.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 6 at 13:18
  • I moved what you wrote into an answer here in the question itself. We restrict the answering tool to only answering the question to help organize things. You can always make edits to your posts if you have anything to add or improve.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 7 at 23:26
  • 1
    I'm glad you found the site friendly and useful! The best way to thank those who answered is to vote up all the answers you find useful and accept the most useful one. To vote up, click the little arrow up next to the number at the top left corner of an answer. To accept, click the check mark below the number and the arrow down. Your nice question has earned you enough reputation to vote up all questions and answers you like – that would be greatly appreciated.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 7 at 23:26
  • Marcus: Additionally, if you have further questions, you can create a new topic question for them. If this question can be clarified, you can edit it as well.
    – cmw
    Aug 8 at 4:20
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I would suggest Tui dominus esto, which is also attested and reflects the typical conciseness of these gnomic sayings.

For example, you can find it in Scaliger's Poemata:

Tui dominus esto.
    Te te capere, effundere te, patique disce.
    Te cogere, laxare, repastinare: sic te
    Cogens, neque cogis, nec cogeris coactus.*
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Fortunately the Romans did know how to talk about "mastering themselves." In the Pseudo-Varro Sententiae (translated as "Maxims" or "Aphorisms"), we come across this line:

Sui dominus est, qui se philosophiae mancipavit.
He is the master of himself, who subjects himself to philosophy.

We can turn it into a command in several ways, but one of the more common ones is fac ut (for a singular), like with Cicero's exhortation's frequent exhortation fac ut magno animo sis, which means something like "Be of big heart" or "Have courage."

Putting them both together you get this translation:

fac ut tui dominus sis.
Make it so that you are the master of yourself.

One could easily see this in a letter to friends or even as regular advice to oneself. If it were a motto, it would have a deeper, more august feeling than the imperative "be", perhaps along the lines of "Make the changes you want to see" versus "Be different."

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  • Did nobody ever say, "Control yourself!"?
    – tony
    Aug 6 at 12:48
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    @tony Sure, but I think that's a bit different than mastery. I think the OP wanted something more along the lines of being in complete control, rather than a synonym for "behave."
    – cmw
    Aug 6 at 12:51
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Based on the Delphic quote, "nosce te ipsum" = "learn to know yourself", there is the simple imperative, "te rege" = "rule (control) yourself". Self-control and the mastering of self are closely-related concepts.

EDIT 8/8/2021:

As in the ancient example, the reflexive pronoun (accusative of "tu" = "te") can be emphasised with the accusative, "ipsum" of "ipse" = "self". This use making "self" an intensifier:

"rege te ipsum" =

"(You), rule yourself!"

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When knowing yourself is not enough, something beyond nosce te ipsum or temet nosce is needed. The most fitting known phrase that comes to mind is tibi impera, "command yourself" or "be your own leader". (I am more fond and aware of this phrase than most, I suppose, as it is a motto of a school I went to.)

If this doesn't suit what you have in mind, we have to coin something new. I prefer to keep it pithy and simple like your English original "master thyself". The question is therefore of finding a verb for mastering.

As it is not about knowing but having control over something, varying noscere will not bring as close enough. The only other option I found is ducere, but I find that imperare is more about commanding and ducere more about leading. If you want to look for suitable verbs you might want to use here, consult any of the many online Latin dictionaries. If you find a verb you like, you can ask about its use and appropriateness here.

My best offer is: Tibi impera!

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  • Tibi impera looks about close as I can make out for what I want, but when I research it, the words are reversed to "Impera tibi". Which is correct? Is one arrangement more appropriate than another?
    – Marcus
    Aug 8 at 19:18
  • @Marcus Both work equally well. Latin word order is pretty free. The only difference I see is that the word coming first has somewhat more emphasis.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 8 at 19:28
  • Perfect! Then I am all set and thanks to everyone for being so helpful :-)
    – Marcus
    Aug 9 at 16:37
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One point to add for the good suggestions already given.

It is possible to have the (in)direct object not tu(you), but rather animus (mind/spirit/will..). Consider this dictum from Syrus:

Animo imperato ne tibi animus imperet (Control your mind/feelings/will lest it will control you)

I think it captures the sense of what is to be governed/mastered, and makes the statement clear and idiomatic. We can adapt almost verbatim Syrus (Who uses the future imperative here) quote to have Impera animo (tuo). tuo (yours) in parenthesis as it can be omitted as Syrus did, as it can be supplied by common sense.

It worth mention here Prov 16:32 which uses animo in this context of "Master youself" (though it clearly related to the Hebrew: but again it merely demonstrate that also Biblical Hebrew had it "Control your spirit" and not "control yourself"):

melior est patiens viro forte et qui dominatur animo suo expugnatore urbium (Vugate)

The vulgate using here the verb dominor, which like impero, takes the dative in that sense. Here is alternative translation from Sebastian Castellio that allowing himself more freedom in translation to keep idiomatic classical Latin keeps animo and uses impero:

Praestantior est lentus quam fortis: et qui animo suo imperat, quam qui urbem capit

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Welcome to Latin SE!

It seems what you really want is the phrase ‘Master thyself to conquer thyself’, so I will have a punt at that.

Grammar and word choice

The suffix ‑met¹ is very useful: It points back at the noun or pronoun and intensifies it, so tēmet fits the bill. As Joonas points out, another good option is to use ipsum: Pointing back to what was before, tē […] ipsum would translate well as idiomatic ‘yourself’, more literal as ‘you yourself’. I will choose the prior, though, as a nod to tēmet nōsce.

For ‘master’, one option is domō (1), meaning to tame or break in, or to subdue, conquer, vanquish.¹ ² I do not find this a good option. A better option might be teneō (2), which carries numerous meanings: hold, keep; comprehend; possess; master; preserve.¹ There is an idea of restraint in it, which its etymology reveals:

From Proto-Italic *tenēō, stative from Proto-Indo-European *ten- (“to stretch, draw”), see also Ancient Greek τείνω (teínō), Persian تنیدن‎ (tanidan, “to web”), Sanskrit तनोति (tanóti) and Old English þennan.

Wiktionary

The 2nd person present active imperative of teneō is tenē.

For the idea of ‘to conquer thyself’ I suggest the conjunctive as a means to express purpose:

  1. The subjunctive in the clause of purpose is hortatory in origin, coming through a kind of indirect discourse construction (for which see § 592). Thus, mīsit lēgātōs quī dīcerent means he sent ambassadors who should say, i.e. who were directed to say; in the direct orders the verb would be dīcite, which would become dīcant in the indirect discourse of narrative (§ 588) or dīcerent in the past (cf. hortatory subjunctive in past tenses, § 439.b). The subjunctive with ut and nē is, in general, similar in origin.

  2. A clause expressing purpose is called a Final Clause.

  3. Final Clauses take the subjunctive introduced by ut (utī), negative nē (ut nē), or by a relative pronoun or adverb. Allen and Greenough Latin Grammar

I think a good option for ‘to conquer’, would be superō (1), in the meaning of to I ‘surmount, rise over, rise above, go over, ascend, overtop, mount’ or to be ‘superior, surpass, exceed, excel, outdo, outstrip, be in excess, have the upper hand’.¹ ² The 2nd person singular present active subjunctive of superō is superēs.

Another option would be ēvincō (3: ēvincere, ēvīcī, ēvictum), which carrie the meanings of to ‘overcome, conquer, subdue, overwhelm, defeat utterly; prevail, bring to pass; demonstrate, show, evince; persuade; evict’.¹ ² The 2nd person singular present active subjunctive of ēvincō is ēvincās.

For this part of the expression, I believe tē ipsum would be an excellent choice.

Suggested translation

I suggest two option:

  1. superēs
    1. Latin: Tēmet tenē ut tē ipsum superēs.
    2. English literal and grammatical: Master yourself for the purpose that you will have the upper hand on you yourself.
    3. English idiomatic: Master yourself to surpass yourself.
  2. ēvincās
    1. Latin: Tēmet tenē ut tē ipsum ēvincās.
    2. English literal and grammatical:
      1. Master yourself for the purpose that you will conquer yourself.
      2. Master yourself for the purpose that you wlil rise above yourself.
    3. English idiomatic: Master yourself to overcome yourself.

You could also, perhaps go for a khiasmic construction, either ut tē superēs ipsum or ut tē ēvincās ipsum; doing that, you stress the verb a tad bit more; also it has a nice touch to it, not unfamiliar to the ancient writers.

───

As always, should anyone have any feedback to this (I am far from at the height of masters such as Asteroides, cmw, Joonas Ilmavirta, and numerous others here – but I am learning!), I would be most happy to improve on this answer.

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