Some time ago I came across a Latin sentence that roughly came down to:

"He who is able to laugh at himself, is invincible"

At the time I thought: Oh well, this must be a well known Roman saying (easy to find later). Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it any more… Hence why I came here.

I've searched G.J.M. Bartelink's Latin citations and sayings (Dutch: Latijnse citaten en gezegden), but could not find anything in this direction.

Is anyone familiar with this phrase in Latin? If so, what is the earliest source? If not, would someone mind providing a (classical) Latin translation of it.

  • 1
    It is a very interesting question, but from what I am able to relate in the Roman psyche, self-humiliation was hardly considered a virtue. To the Roman, such an idea would be anywhere from ridiculous to insane. I would be extremely surprised if the source was classical. There is a deep monograph on the topic:of the history of humiliation, but I cannot remember it even touching the self-ridicule being a thing even worth mentioning. To the Roman, a maxim “He who laughs at himself, is mentally unstable” would be more apt. May 19, 2018 at 22:28
  • Another thought, try combing through Plautus and Terentius. Someone who is deluded that he'd be invincible because of his humility or self-ridicule would make a perfect laughing stock for the comedy. May 19, 2018 at 22:59

3 Answers 3


I can't find the exact phrase but perhaps the following capture the spirit of it.

nemo risum praebuit qui ex se cepit

no one becomes a laughing-stock who laughs at himself

Seneca, De Constantia, 17.3 - this is the translation of J. W. Basore (1928); my own (clunky) translation is: no one provided [themselves] as an object of laughter who seized it to their own advantage.

eum gaudere, qui ridet

he who laughs has joy

Seneca, Epistles, 23.3 – bearing in mind that joy for Seneca is a very serious business (verum gaudium res severa est) because true joy will help you face life’s ups and downs, even death, with equanimity.

  • A very good answer. I wonder whether qui ex se cepit could mean "who began with himself", in effect for initium cepit.
    – fdb
    May 20, 2018 at 10:28
  • As in : “ea pars artis, ex quā capere initium solent,” Quint. 2, 11, 1. (ap. L/S).
    – fdb
    May 20, 2018 at 10:49
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    @fdb I hadn't thought of that but it works well and has the added advantage of being a less tortured translation than mine, which surely counts in its favour!
    – Penelope
    May 20, 2018 at 10:49

I don't recall seeing that saying anywhere, but here is a translation suggestion:

Insuperabilis est qui se ridere potest.

One might expect ridere sibi instead of ridere se, but ridere appears to work with the accusative rather than the dative. Other possible translations of "invincible" would be invictus and invincibilis, but I like insuperabilis better.

With a tweaked word order this becomes a pentameter verse:

Qui ridere potest se insuperabilis est.

The closest thing I could find with corpus searches is from Seneca's Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium 78: Non vincetur dolor ratione, qui victus est risu? Perhaps I was trying the wrong words, but it seemed hard to find anything related to laughing and victory close to each other.

  • I'm surprised about the accusative. My first thought was it needed a proposition like a or de
    – Rafael
    May 19, 2018 at 15:05
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    Ha! Thanks for the pentameter! It has a nice ring to it.
    – Jim
    May 19, 2018 at 15:38
  • Since I forgot to write down the source (which I regret in hindsight), I can only rely on fallible memory. I believe it was a cut-out of a quite long sentence. This clue probably does not help very much at all. I know.
    – Jim
    May 19, 2018 at 15:42
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    @Rafael So am I, but after looking at the examples in Lewis and Short, it seems that accusative is the way to go. My intuition says otherwise, but I'll trust L&S more than myself on this.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 19, 2018 at 18:04
  • @Jim If you happen to know any of the key words in that sentence, that would help. I did a corpus search with some combinations of laughing and winning and I didn't find much. (I put one finding in the answer.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 19, 2018 at 18:15

The Glasgow University collection of emblem books (with their translations) is an accessible source for mottos and adages. This one refers to Heraclitus, the weeping philosopher, and Democritus, the laughing philosopher. The closest I came to the adage you remember comes in lines 3 and 4.

Plus solito humanae nunc defle incommoda vitae
Heraclite: scatet pluribus illa malis.
Tu rursus, si quando aliàs, extolle cachinum,
Democrite: illa magis ludicra facta fuit.

Interea haec cernens meditor, qua denique tecum
Fine fleam, aut tecum quo modo splene iocer.
( https://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/alciato/facsimile.php?id=sm1225_yy5v )

If that's not what you had in mind, here are two leads:

Juvenal, Satires 10, 28ff (Satire 10 paragraph 3)

Then will you not commend the two wise men, one of whom [[4. Democritus of Abdera.]] would laugh while the opposite sage [[5. Heraclitus of Ephesus]] would weep every time he set a foot outside the door? To condemn by a cutting laugh comes readily to us all; the wonder is how the other sage's eyes were supplied with all that water. The sides of Democritus shook with unceasing laughter...

Juvenal's Sources are discussed in:
Juvenal's Tenth Satire (Paul Murgatroyd) (Sources p.17 Note 19)

.19. Juvenal's knowledge of Democritus may have come (at least in part) from Seneca. In his Tranq. Animi (at 2.3), Seneca translated Democritus euthymia as tranquilitas. ...and at 15.2 he made the contrast between laughing Democritus and the weeping Heraclitus and advised imitating the former (cf Juv. 10: 28ff.).

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