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Ancient Greek Quotes Inscribed on Famous Global Landmarks

Ancient Greek inscription at Delphi
Ancient Greek quotes appear on some of the most prominent buildings in the world, whether on a historical building or university. Credit: Zde / CC BY-SA 4.0 / via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Greek inscriptions appear on some of the most prominent buildings in the world. Whether on the entrance of a historical Western European library or a prestigious American university, one can see them everywhere.

When our eye meets these inscriptions, which preserve the spirit of the Ancient Greek culture, it reminds each one of us that the greatness of ancient Greece is still alive hidden among today’s concepts and teachings.

These inscriptions derive from figures of great importance: poets, philosophers, leaders. Some inscriptions are excerpts of some of the greatest speeches of ancient Greece.

From Homer to Plato, to Leonidas, these inscriptions confirm that 2.500 years later, ancient Greeks are still pioneers and act as an example to future generations.

Below is a list of some Ancient Greek inscriptions that can be found abroad.

The United Kingdom

Bath, England

Bath, in Somerset, England, took its name from the Roman-built baths. On a historical building above the entrance, the following Ancient Greek inscription reads: “άριστον μεν ύδωρ.”

This comes from a verse by the Greek lyrical poet Pindar mentioned in both Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Plato’s Euthydemus. When comparing the value of various goods, Aristotle says that “the useful” has more value than the “scarce.” Therefore, the saying was that “excellent water” was the most important of all goods.

The University of Edinburgh, Scotland 

“Those who know letters see double” is the translation of the Ancient Greek inscription  “ΔΙΠΛΟΥΝ ΟΡΩΣΙΝ ΟΙ ΜΑΘΟΝΤΕΣ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΑ”, written in gold at the entrance of the secretariat building at The University of Edinburgh.

The Pythagorean expression refers to a better understanding of things through education. However, the grounds also honor it. The building, for example, is laid out like a medieval castle with large courtyards, with lots of greenery, and large windows without balconies.

The ancient Greek inscription is not merely decorative either. They also teach it at the university.

Pythagorean quote at the University of Edinburgh
Credit: Classics For All / Facebook


Yale University

Above the entrance of the School of Medicine at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut  is the phrase from Plato’s Republic (Politeia): “The bearers of the torches pass the torches to each other.” However, this actually appears in Greek above the entrance as: “λαμπάδια ἔχοντες διαδώσουσιν ἀλλήλοις.”

The Republic by Plato, dated 375 BC, is a text that describes the importance of being just in the world. Furthermore, the idea was that by being just, one would be happy. It is a text that describes an ideal city and a way through which a just and philosophical governance can create happiness.

School of medicine Yale University
The entrance of the School of Medicine of Yale University. Credit: Ο Kosmos μιλά Ελληνικά / Facebook

Boston College, Massachusetts 

The symbol for Boston College, located in Massachusetts contains the phrase “αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν… καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων, μηδέ γένος πατέρων αἰσχυνέμεν” from Iliad VII, v. 208. This translates as  “always excel…surpass others, and don’t disgrace the generation of your ancestors.” Hippolochus gave this advice to his son Glaucus when he went to Troy to fight the Greeks as described in the Iliad.

Glaucus was in the Lycian army under the command of his close friend and cousin Sarpedon. The Lycians in the Trojan War were allies of Troy.

The University of Texas

Inscription at the University of Texas
Inscription at the University of Texas. Credit: Αρχαια Ελλας / Facebook

At the University of Texas there is one of Democritus’ most important quotes:”βούλεσθαι μᾶλλον μίαν εὑρεῖν αἰτιολογίαν ἢ τὴν Περσῶν οἱ βασιλείαν γενέσθαι.’’ The Ancient Greek philosopher, who proceeded the great Socrates, preferred to “find an explanation (for a phenomenon) rather than claim the kingdom of Persia as his own).

Democritus was an Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher from Abdera, primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe.

Chapman University, Orange County, California

At the entrance of Chapman University in California, the quote ”Ο Χριστός και η Εκκλησία’’ appears as the school emblem. This is translated as “The Christ and the church”

University of Northwestern Law School, Chicago

The phrase from the Gospel of John ”Ο λόγος πλήρης χάριτος και αληθείας’’ hovers above the entrance to Northwestern University’s Law School in Chicago.

The Gospel of John is the fourth of the four canonical gospels. It contains a highly schematic account of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it was written in Greek, like all of the new testament gospels.

The U.S. Navy Seals

For the 300th order of the US Navy is a Spartan symbol as the emblem on which are the names of the thirty-nine graduates of the school.

The ancient Greek expression of defiance, “Molon labe,” (“Μολὼν λαβέ” in Greek), meaning “come and take them,” was the response of Leonidas, king of Ancient Sparta, in reply to the Persian King Xerxes that the Spartans surrender their weapons, shortly before the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C).

Leonidas (c. 530-480 B.C.) was a king of the city-state of Sparta from about 490 B.C. until his death at the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian army in 480 B.C. Although Leonidas lost the battle, the Spartans honored his death at Thermopylae as a heroic sacrifice because even though he realized that the Persians had outmaneuvered him, three hundred of his fellow Spartans stayed with him to fight and die.


Brandon University, Canada

The Ancient Greek expression above the entrance of Brandon University in Canada  is from the letter to the Ephesians by the Apostle Paul and reads: ”Αληθεύοντες δε εν αγάπη” meaning “Having true faith that is accompanied always by love”

The letter of Paul to the Ephesians, or the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians, is the tenth book of the New Testament. Some believed that St. Paul the Apostle comprised it in prison but more likely the work of one of his disciples.

It declares that the Christian mystery (gospel) of salvation, first revealed to the Apostles, is the source of true wisdom. Furthermore, that Christ offered salvation  to Jews and Gentiles alike.


Frankfurt, Germany

Οn the iron footbridge of Frankfurt’s “Eiserner Steg”, which crosses the river Main, there is a plaque with Homer’s lines from the Odyssey: “ΠΛΕΩΝ ΕΠΙ ΟΙΝΟΠΑ ΠΟΝΤΟΝ ΕΠ’ ΑΛΛΟΘΡΟΟΥΣ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΟΥΣ.” This translates as “Sailing in dark seas towards people who speak other tongues.” In Modern Greek, it would be: Πλέοντας σε μελανές θάλασσες προς αλλόγλωσους ανθρώπους.

The specific phrase comes from rhapsody I of Homer’s Odyssey (v. 183), when the goddess Athena descends to Ithaca in the form of Mentis to motivate Telemachus to look for his father, Odysseus.

The artist Hagen Bonifer chose it, people say, because the bridge connects two different parts of Frankfurt.

Odyssey quote at Frankfurt bridge

The University of Malta 

At the entrance of the University of Malta is the Ancient Greek inscription: “Προπύλαιον της τιμής η μάθησις” meaning “learning is the gate leading to honor.”

Ancient Greeks called Malta ”Melite,” which is Greek for ”sweet as honey,” most probably due to the island’s already notable honey production and the endemic species of bees which thrive there to this very day.

As for the modern Greek community of Malta, it has existed since the 16th century, when Greek Christians fled the Ottoman-ruled territories of the Byzantine Empire.

University of Salamanca, Spain

Ancient Greek quote University of Salamanca
Credit: Library / Facebook

On the façade of the old university of the city of Salamanca in Spain is the expression “Oἱ βασιλεῖς τῇ ἐγκυκλοπαιδείᾳ αὐτὴ τοῖς βασιλεῦσι.”  What it means is “The Kings to the University and the University to the Kings”, which one can freely interpret as one wishes.

Frans Hall Museum, Amsterdam

Located above the entrance of the FRANS HALL Museum in Amsterdam is the inscription of the ancient Greek poet Theocritus “Εκ Μούσαν αγαθόν κλέος” . In English it would be “Only the Muses bestow pure glory to humans.”

The Muses in Ancient Greece were the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. Ancient Greeks considered them  the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths that were related orally for centuries in ancient Greek culture. Theocritus was a Greek poet who flourished in Syracuse, Kos and Alexandria in the 3rd century BC.


Abbey of Saint Gall

This is the quote to be found at the library entrance of the Abbey of Saint Gall in Switzerland the phrase ”Ψυχής Ιατρείον’. The phrase translates as ”the clinic of our soul.” It is potentially attributed to the power of books and learning in developing someone’s soul. For that reason, it has found its place at the entrance of the library.

The Abbey of Saint Gall is a dissolved abbey in a Catholic religious complex in the city of St. Gallen in Switzerland.



The Ancient Greek inscription “Εφιλοσοφούμεν ελληνικώς,” literally means “we philosophize in Greek (and in the Greek ways)”. The epitaph lies on the tombstone of Teruo Suzuki, a Japanese professor and honorary president of the “International Society of Greek Philosophy.”

Ancient Greek inscription Japan
Credit: World Congress of Philosophy / Facebook

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan

The Japanese dedicated Hiroshima Peace Park in the center of the city to the memory of the victims of the 1945 nuclear attack. There, visitors can find a Peace Bell which they can ring as they call for world peace. Engraved on the bell is the Greek inscription ”Γνώθι σαυτόν.”

This comes from the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself”, which is the first of three Delphic maxims inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The two maxims that follow were “Nothing in excess” (Μηδὲν ἄγαν) and “Surety brings ruin” (Ἐγγύα πάρα δ’ Ἄτα).

The Delphic maxims are a set of maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Originally, they were said to have been given by the Greek god Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi, Pythia, and therefore were attributed to Apollo.


Alexandria, Egypt

Above the tolls leading from Alexandria, Egypt to Cairo the city’s name, Alexandria, is inscribed in Greek. This was upon the request of the city’s officials, who wanted to honor Alexander the Great.

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in April 331 BC. After he captured the Egyptian Satrapy from the Persians, Alexander wanted to build a large Greek city on Egypt’s coast that would bear his name.


University of Queensland, Australia

The famous rhetorical phrase from the Epitaph of Pericles ”Φιλοκαλούμεν μετ’ ευτελείας και φιλοσοφούμεν άνευ μαλακίας” (For we are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without becoming soft) lies above the entrance of the University of Queensland in Australia.

The phrase appears in in the 40th chapter of the Epitaph of Pericles. It was said in  the winter of 431 B.C. during the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian war. The aim was to honor the first fallen and elevating the morale of the Athenians.

In fact, the Athenian orator was indirectly responding to the Spartans ill-intentioned criticism of his fellow citizens. Apparently, they believed that the preoccupation with letters and the arts lead softeners and the less virility in the citizens.

The orator emphasizes the elegance that prevails in the life of the Athenians accompanied by moderation and simplicity. Also, Pericles emphasizes that the Athenians are cultured and engaged in the sciences, the letters and the arts. However, this were as well worthy fighters.


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