Culture Running

A Healthy Mind In a Healthy Body: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

A healthy mind in a healthy body or  “a sound mind in a healthy body” is an ideal to strive for.

Where does this “aphorism” or “motto” come from? A running shoe company? The Romans? Those are two popular answers, but neither rings true.

Often we see this rendered as “mens sana in corpore sano” and ascribed to the Latin satirist and poet Juvenal if anyone wants to dig that far. Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis) was active in the late first and second century AD. There is less information available on his life than on Shakespeare. Most knowledge of his life derives from his “poems” rather than historical documents.

The 10th Satire of Juvenal is thought by many to be the origin of the saying adopted by many modern proponents of sport and exercise today. See Satire X or view the extract at Wikipedia.

English translation (Wikipedia):

You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death,
and deems length of days the least of Nature’s gifts
that can endure anykind of toil,
that knows neither wrath nor desire and thinks
the woes and hard labors of Hercules better than
the loves and banquets and downy cushions of Sardanapalus.
What I commend to you, you can give to yourself;
For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue.

In Original Latin:

orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem,
qui spatium uitae extremum inter munera ponat
naturae, qui ferre queat quoscumque labores,
nesciat irasci, cupiat nihil et potiores
Herculis aerumnas credat saeuosque labores
et uenere et cenis et pluma Sardanapalli.
monstro quod ipse tibi possis dare; semita certe
tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae.
–Roman poet Juvenal (10.356-64)

Many aspects of the Roman empire from sculpture to the columns of their buildings had their origin in ancient Greece. This saying also derives from a far older Greek philosopher who predated Socrates. Thales of Miletus seems to be the origin of the saying. Thales was also a mathmatician who is often called the first true mathematician and applied geometry to practical problems. He was born sometime before 620 BC. Herodotus reported that Thales predicted a solar eclipse of 585 BC. Aristotle, himself, mentioned Thales as a precurser to his own writings and philosophy. The aphorism “Know Thyself” is often attributed to the Delphic Oracle, but Thales is also one to whom these words are ascribed.

Ben Franklin, known for his sayings, said that those sayings seen in “Poor Richard’s Almanac” were old wisdom reworked, they were the “wisdom of the ages and nations”. But back to Thales.

Νοῦς ὑγιὴς ἐν σώματι ὑγιεῖ

A healthy mind in a healthy body

This is ascribed to Thales, long before the Romans marched on the world.

Ancient Greece is the origin of the Olympics. Sparta and Athens both had a culture of Sport with Athens adding in an emphasis on mind. Plato was said to be an athlete in his youth. Plato and others wrote who the society was wrong to over value athletes and felt others deserved rewards as great or greater. Plato felt that the educational ideal was to strive for a balance and harmony between body and soul.

Lucky for us that entertainers are valued so well also. Soon our gladiators, the one’s who haven’t fallen, will be seen in the “Superbowl”. Other events will follow. While the Superbowl is a big event, I take an interest in a number of other sports and still watch the sports that have descended from the Greek games. No, not Greco-Roman wrestling, more likely track and field. Not long ago though, I did have an interesting conversation with a professional wrestler who has participated in the WWE and in the Ring of Honor about the athleticism and drama of entertainment wrestling, and both are integral features of that manner of wrestling.

A good chair sport is checking out the quotes and sayings you see on Facebook, emails, and scatterred across the web. A good number of them have never been seen before the 1990’s although they may be ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, wise Indian chiefs or any number of others.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” Author Unknown

That is a catchy saying. I first heard this phrase in the last few months on a talk show attributed to Mark Twain by a historian who wrote a recent book on Thomas Jefferson. In reality, a quick google search will show that this statement is not found in any of Mark Twain’s prolific writings or in any news stories about him. When a historian uses bad quotes, I start to wonder about the rest of the histories he has written.

But we can go back to the point we started on and agree that however it is said “a sound mind in a healthy body” is an ideal to strive for.


Juvenal (1992) The Satires, Trans. Niall Rudd, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Juvenal – Wikipedia

Thales – Wikipedia

Thales: Math Open Reference

Heroditus – The Histories

Athletics in Ancient Athens, Donald G. Kyle (Google Books)

Plato And Athletics, Dombrowski

Musical Accompaniment

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