It's permanent, so it better be accurate!
June 7, 2013 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to get a tattoo I've wanted for years - "this too shall pass", but specifically in Ancient Greek. It's very important to me that it's Ancient, not modern. Where/how would I go about finding an accurate translation? How can I verify that it *is* in fact ancient? Many thanks in advance!
posted by assasinatdbeauty to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Write a classics professor who teaches Attic Greek. Department office contact info is all over the net.
posted by doreur at 5:27 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry to not answer the question you asked, but why do you want it in Greek, when the phrase apparently originates in Persian, Turkish or Hebrew? Having an ancient Greek translation of a traditionally "eastern" saying seems discordant to me when there's a perfectly good ancient language that already has it for you.
posted by xueexueg at 5:44 PM on June 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

Came here to write what doreur said.
posted by fullerenedream at 7:25 PM on June 7, 2013

I have a BA in Ancient Greek. I would want the phrasing and grammar verified by an authority before I recommended that anyone engraved this into their skin, but I would say it like this (in Greek font which I don't know how to do here): Tóde kaì teleuth´setai.
posted by wrabbit at 7:29 PM on June 7, 2013

From an anonymous commenter:
I've taught Ancient Greek at university level and have won prizes for Greek composition. My translation would be καὶ τοῦτο ἀπορρεύσεται (or if you want caps, ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥΤΟ ΑΠΟΡΡΕΥΣΕΤΑΙ). This means literally "This too will flow away". It's a bit hard to find an exact Greek equivalent for "pass" in this sense (the verb wrabbit used above means something more like "come to pass, be fulfilled", so is probably not what you want). If you prefer something more succinct: καὶ τοῦτ’ ἄπεισι / ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥΤ’ ΑΠΕΙΣΙ (literally "this too will go away").
posted by restless_nomad at 7:49 PM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was a classics major and I was just wondering why you wanted it in ancient Greek (Attic Greek) because I don't think that it has its origins in that language. I don't totally understand it because idiomatic expressions tend to fall under the category of being difficult to translate and fairly specific to one language or another. (Think "Killing two birds with one stone," "Throwing the baby out with the bath water," etc. etc.) If you wanted to go for something authentic, gnothi se auton ("Know thyself") actually did originate in ancient Greek. Also Heraclitus (I think) had, "All things flow" as his maxim.

You can verify that it's ancient by asking someone who knows ancient (Attic) Greek.
posted by mermily at 7:15 AM on June 8, 2013

I like what the anon commentator did. Another idea might be a quotation from Greek poetry/tragedy with approximately the idea you want. When people ask you what your tattoo means it's nice to be able to say, "That's a quotation from Aeschylus" or whatever.

Also seconding the idea of calling a classics department. Go for a big one, Yale or Michigan or someplace. When I was a classics major, people were always calling for stuff like that and professors and students would enjoy collaborating to come up with something really good.
posted by BibiRose at 7:48 AM on June 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the advice so far - since it was brought up twice (and i thought it might be, i knew i should have addressed it in the question!), I am aware the the phrase is of different origin, and knew that i most likely wouldn't be able to get a precise translation. It's the meaning that is important. I want it in ancient greek because it will be adding to part of a larger back piece, that will has/will have multiple ancient greek mythological themes. The concept of the phrase is of sentimental value, and central to my life.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 8:00 AM on June 8, 2013

Perhaps you'd like the (possible apocryphal) statement by Heraclitus πάντα ῥεῖ : 'everything flows,' i.e., "everything changes; nothing remains the same." It's similar in meaning to your English phrase. The Wikipedia article has some actually attested statements by Heraclitus expressing similar ideas, although they are longer (I personally have always been fond of δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης, 'you can't step into the same river twice').

If you're concerned someone might give you modern Greek instead of ancient, the thing to look at is the diacritical marks: Modern Greek uses only one accent, the acute (ά, έ, ή, ί, ό, ύ, ώ) while ancient Greek has three, the acute, the grave (ὰ, ὲ, ὴ, ὶ, ὸ, ὺ, ὼ), and the circumflex (ᾶ, ῆ, ῶ). So if the text has a grave or circumflex, it's ancient. Also, ancient Greek has 'breathing marks' on word initial vowels (and ῥ) to distinguish rough (with an h sound) from smooth (no h sound): e.g., ἁ vs. ἀ. Modern Greek, since it is psilotic, having no initial h-sounds, has done away with breathing marks.

This does not address the issue of getting inaccurate translations from well-meaning people. If you simply must get a tattoo in a language you don't speak/read, particularly an ancient language, I would always recommend picking an *actual* phrase from that language that is similar in meaning to what you want to say (as with my suggestions above) vs. a newly constructed phrase which could be unintelligible to those who study/speak that language.
posted by lysimache at 9:49 AM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Killing two birds with one stone

This one has actually made its way into Japanese as 一石二鳥 ("one stone, two birds") although I agree with the larger point. A lot of idiomatic sayings simply don't translate well at all. I could imagine someone who wants a English translation of a Japanese proverb ending up sporting "three years sitting on a rock" or "the ground gets hard after it rains" on his back.

OP, I have read your follow-up but I still join in several others' comments, and in particular "If you simply must get a tattoo in a language you don't speak/read", get a phrase from that language. At least once a week I read a gibberish tattoo in Japanese or Chinese to the effect of this and I end up asking, "what is the significance of 'house infant hand'?" or noting that they are using "free" in the sense of "free beer" rather than "free spirit". I would recommend that a phrase from actual ancient Greek tradition would be a better fit for your larger Greek mythological themes. As you note, it is permanent, so it needs to be right.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:56 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

A fuller quote from the Wikipedia page on Greek phrases:

πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει καὶ δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης
Pánta khōreî kaì oudèn ménei kaì dìs es tòn autòn potamòn ouk àn embaíēs
"All things move and nothing remains still, and you cannot step twice into the same stream".

Long as all heck but I think either half should work for the same meaning but native to ancient Greek (from Plato's Cratylus).
posted by graymouser at 11:33 AM on June 9, 2013

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