“No Pain, No Gain”–An Ancient Idiom?

As I was reading in Ignatius’s letters today, I came across this idiom: πάντων τὰς νόσους βάσταζε, ὡς τέλειος ἀθλητής· ὅπου πλείων κόπος, πολὺ κέρδος (Ignatius to Polycarp, 1.3). Roughly translated, “bear the diseases of all, as a perfect athlete. Where there is great labor, there is great gain.”

J. B. Lightfoot, in his magnificent five-volume work, The Apostolic Fathers: Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, translated the last five words as “the more pain the greater gain.” This was in the late nineteenth century—long before Gold’s Gym was birthed. Relating, as Ignatius does, pain and gain to an athlete, we have essentially the positive spin on the modern idiom of “no pain, no gain.” Maybe I should open up a gym for Greek geeks and put as our motto ὅπου πλείων κόπος, πολὺ κέρδος.

5 thoughts on ““No Pain, No Gain”–An Ancient Idiom?

  1. Yossi Madvig

    Pirkei Avot attributes a similar saying “lefume tza’ara agra” (according to the pain is the gain) to Ben Hei Hei, a rabbi living a century prior.

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