In other words: By trying to please others, you won't be able to please yourself. This seems to me a very wise saying about the hazards of life spent in seeking the praise and approval of others, so much so that we need to do in order to satisfy, to really satisfy, ourselves. This is definitely something that I've had to confront in my own choices in life, going my own way professinally. Now as a teacher, I constantly hope to inspire my students to work for themselves and their own satisfaction, rather than trying to please me or jumping through hoops in order to get a diploma. Luckily, by having students create their own websites and keep their own blogs in my classes (you can take a look at mythfolklore.net), there is at least a chance for them to do something based on their own interests, rather than simply taking exams. School seems to be, sadly, a place where students learn to please others rather than learning how to set their own standards and then strive to live up to them.
This saying comes from the sayings of Publilius Syrus, whose Sententiae are one of the great sources for classical Latin sayings. You can read the sayings of Publilius Syrus online at the Ad Fontes Latin Library.
It is through that Publilius Syrus lived sometime in the first century B.C.E., and that he came from Syria (hence his name "Syrus") to Italy as a slave and later won his freedom and gained fame as a performer. At some point the collection of sayings attributed to Publilius were written down and were known to the author Aulus Gellius, who lived in the 2nd century C.E. This makes Publilius a contemporary of another famous slave in ancient Rome, Phaedrus, who came to Rome as a slave (probably from Thrace), later won his freedom, and is known to us today for having put Aesop's fables into verse. You can read Phaedrus's fables online at aesopica.net.
The fact that these two collections of wisdom literature from the ancient world were assembled by former slaves should come as no surprise. We all need to liberate ourselves and it is wisdom that might allow us to do that.
So here is today's proverb read out loud:
3440. Si multis placuerit vita tua, tibi placere non poterit.
The number here is the number for this proverb in
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