3 Greek Proverbs

Informant A is a 17-year-old Sophomore at USC studying Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis on Neuroscience. She is ¼ Greek Cypriote, ¼ German and ¼ Argentinian but she strongly identifies with the Greek side of her. She spent 9 years in Greek school and goes to Greece every summer. She speaks Greek with her grandparents.

“So when I was younger my grandparents wanted to stress on me, not only my ancient Greek heritage, but also the important Greek proverbs that everyone learned in school. So one of the big ones you actually hear a lot in English is

En eetha otee uu then ee eetha

which is Socrates when he was pronounced the smartest man in the world. It actually means ‘I know that I know nothing, which is why I’m the smartest man’. He knew that there was so much more that he needed to learn. So that was basically their way of saying ‘Don’t let your head get too big’. Like even though you may know a lot there’s still so much more to explore so don’t treat this world like you’ve done everything it has to offer because there’s always so much more. I learned this when Grandfather sat me down and started talking about the history of Greece and he told me to remember that. You know everyone has an opinion on everything even if they know nothing. This proverb was like a self-reminder for me. A lot of the proverbs my grandparents told me were supposed to be for you internally, they’re something you think of when you’re struggling. Another proverb my grandparents told me is ‘Nothing easy is worth it’. So when I was telling them how hard my Physics class was last semester, they actually told me this. They asked me, ‘Do you think it’s worth it, are you learning a lot? Because that’s what’s meaningful and it’s good you’re working hard. If it were easy you probably wouldn’t actually like it and that you like the challenge.’ I think this proverb was from one of the ancient Greek philosophers like way back when. This last proverb is definitely one you’ve heard in English. But the original Greek is not what the actual translation is in English. The original Greek is

Pan metron ariston

which means “always measure absolutely perfectly” but what you’ve heard in English is “Everything in moderation”, that’s what that was translated from. It says you can have everything you want, but make sure you measure it well. Make sure you understand what’s moderation and what’s excess. A lot of these proverbs they’ve said have been for my physical and mental strength. And a lot of these proverbs have been passed down to the people who lived in Cypress and Greece. When some of these people came to America, some tried to teach the lessons and morals rather than the myths and the proverbs. That may be why there’s this divide between Greek-American culture and traditional Greek culture. Most of my friends and family in Greece though would definitely recognize these proverbs. They actually teach them in the Greek schools. These proverbs really shape the Greek culture and unite us in our values of work hard, be kind to strangers… You don’t see the kind of similarity in values in the US because there are so many different cultures here. I think something is lost when you move away from the land and aren’t surrounded by the people who share the same history and the same values. You’re not in the community anymore.



Informant A mentions 3 proverbs here and how they are important to her. She emphasizes how she thinks of them in times when she is struggling and uses them as bits of advice. The Greeks seem to stress learning these proverbs, they actually teach them in their schools, and A explains how they are less emphasized in the US. The Greek people value working hard, self sufficiency, and humbleness, as most of their workforce depends on agriculture which requires hard work and determination.  The informants family also primarily works in agriculture.  She talks about how the US not emphasizing proverbs makes some of the values that these proverbs teach less prominent in US communities because the people are in such a mixed environment.  Generally people in the US want the shortened version and just the lesson rather than the long story, even if this may be less effective at communicating the lesson.