The Dream Café

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Need yet another translation to Ancient Greek


I’m looking for the ancient Greek for: We can do better.

In English, there is some ambiguity there (We meaning us?  We meaning humanity?  My group can do better than your group?).  I don’t know if those ambiguities would translate, but, if so, I want them.  If not, I’ll chose the best meaning for my evil purposes.

Any help would be appreciated.


Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.


  1. λεξικό δεν βρήκε καμία λέξη.

    “So long, and Thanks for all the fish.”

  2. That is less helpful than you might think.

  3. I guess I always took it as that’s what the dolphins were saying.

    Seriously though, I facebooked (Yeah I verbed it!) it to a friend at the University of Athens (Not that one) who should be able to give you the proper phrase in a few hours.

    BTW, you were right on with Scalzi.

  4. First, the antecedent of “we” will be obvious from context or the sentence will open with a vocative, e.g. “O Athenians”.

    Next, what do you mean by “can do better”? There are several options:
    1) Hortative: Let us do better!
    2) conditional: we could/may/might do better if […]
    3) Statement of fact “we are able to do better” or we are able to be better (persons).

    In the “do better” case, you’d want to indicate in what regard we are able to do better. E.g. “With regard to defeating the Persians, we are able to do better (than the Athenians).”

    If the sense is “we are able”, you’ll begin with the idiomatic ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν (we are able) and then decide on the complementary infinitive and what sense of better you mean – better men, better morally, etc.

  5. I’m gonna say “exesti aretoomai”, ἔξεστι ἀρετόομαι.

  6. Wouldn’t that be “It is possible to become excellent”?

    How ’bout ὦμεν κρείτονεϛ : “We must/Let us be better/stronger”

  7. Ooops – should be κρείττονεϛ or κρέσσονες

  8. Bill C: If Greek will support it, I want to imply as many of those meanings as possible. If I must chose, then statement of fact is how I’d go.

  9. @Bill C: Yeah. I’m trying for a more poetic than precise equivalence. And after, I hate to see this sentiment expressed in a way that doesn’t incorporate “arete” as a base.

  10. Jo’din: You know “λεξικό δεν βρήκε καμία λέξη” is modern Greek for “the dictionary didn’t find any word,” right? I wonder how many people on the internet think that that’s the Greek phrase for whatever phrase they plugged into an online translator.

    I bet it’s a lot.

    chaos: You’re going to want to use the infinitive form of ἀρετόομαι.

    As for the question at hand, I think Bill C is on the right track.

  11. For the simple statement of fact you could say:
    ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν κρείττονεϛ
    You don’t need the “to be” but you can stick it in if you want:
    ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν εἶναι κρείττονεϛ if you speak Attic or ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν εἶναι κρέσσονες if Ionic.

    The adjectival noun I used means better/stronger. You could also use:
    ἀμείνονεϛ – better in ability or worth
    βελτίονες – better morally

    If you want to explicitly add “than those other guys” it becomes something like:
    ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν κρείττονεϛ ἤ ἔτεροι

    An any case, who “we” and “the others” are would be understood from context.

    Or you could go with excellence:

    ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν ἀρετούσθαι

    That might not actually be a perfectly formed passive infinitive so don’t quote me on that without a smarter proof reader.

  12. It looks like: ὁιοί τ’ ἐσμὲν κρείττονεϛ is what we want. Thank you kindly. How might one transliterate that?

  13. Oioí t’ esmén kreíttones.

  14. if you want to actually speak it:

    Hoi-oi tesmen cray-tahn-es

    Pronounce all the vowels and dipthongs

  15. Quislibet: Yes, it was a joke. A poor one apparently as it needed explanation.

  16. It isn’t worth putting a lot of work into, but, just for fun, does anyone know what the Latin would be?

  17. It’s actually much more intuitive to translate the phrase into Latin than into Ancient Greek, I think.

    Here are some quick suggestions — I welcome corrections or additions:

    Superare possumus — we are able to overcome/be superior

    Possumus meliores fieri — We are able to become better

    Possumus meliora facere — We are able to do/make better things

    Possumus melius agere — We are able to act/behave better

  18. Late to the party, but . . . Bill C.’s version has an incorrect aspirate and a missing accent. The correct spelling of the first word is:


    I can harp on the choice of translation, but ultimately the English just doesn’t carry over very well to Ancient Greek thought.

  19. My Greek’s not grand, but looking at the Latin…I find myself wishing for the Greek middle voice. Heh. It’s so nicely ambiguous, after all, and “We can do better” does feel like the sort of phrase where the ambiguities of middle voice would really shine.

    That said! Latin. I rather like the “Possumus melius agere” from above, and “Possumus meliora facere”, because “do better” implies (at least to me) action rather than personal development, at least in the English. And so overcoming obstacles and becoming personally better people don’t seem quite as accurate.

    That said, I might go with “Possumus melius facere” for something closest to the literal translation for doing better. My Lewis & Short allows a meaning of “to do” for facere when it’s taking up the meaning of another verb, which seems pretty useful for representing the way English can use “to do” with all that ambiguity as to what verb it’s hooking into. It can also mean “to conduct oneself”, which means I think it covers the potential for “to become (a better person)” well enough without locking into it the way a sum-variant would.

    But I really do think we want the adverb, and not a “better things”, since “We can do better” can refer to performing an action without a direct object more effectively. So. My choice:

    Possumus melius facere.

    (Okay, okay. I would go with “Melius facere possumus,” but that’s because I prefer to put the finite verb at the very end whenever possible, and because that attaches the “better” more closely to “to do” than to “we are able”. But that’s really quibbling over fine details at that point.)

  20. Thanks, Fade! No opinion on Michael’s comment on Bill C’s translation?

  21. His correction of the aspiration and accent looks correct to me. Beyond that, I sort of wave a hand uncomfortably and go “Gee, I was better at translating Homer than Euripides, but that looks close enough to right for me.”

  22. Okay. Many thanks!

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