25 Great Medieval Quotes

Our list of inspiring and amusing quotes from the Middle Ages.

“A tale is but half told when only one person tells it.” ~ from The Saga of Grettir the Strong, written in Iceland

“Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger, nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, and nothing better in heaven or on earth.” ~ Thomas à Kempis, a 15th-century religious scholar living in The Netherlands


“When the words come, they are merely empty shells without the music. They live as they are sung, for the words are the body and the music the spirit.” ~ Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century German abbess

“O People, know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” ~ Chinggis Khan to the people of Bukhara, after conquering the city in the year 1220


“Do there exist many worlds, or is there but a single world? This is one of the most noble and exalted questions in the study of Nature.” ~ Albertus Magnus, a 13th-century Dominican friar and scientist

“I would rather have a Scot come from Scotland to govern the people of this kingdom well and justly than that you should govern them ill in the sight of all the world.” ~ Louis IX, King of France (1226-1270), speaking to his eldest son

“Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.” ~ Alfonso X, King of Castile (1252-1284)

“If the heart of one’s friend is open to another, the truth glows between them, the good enfolds them, and each becomes a mainstay to his companions, a helpmate in his endeavour, and a potent factor in his attaining his wish. There is nothing surprising in this: souls ignite one another, minds fertilize one another, tongues exchange confidences; and the mysteries of this human being, a microcosm in this macrocosm, abound and spread.” ~ Abu Sulayman al-Sijistani, a philosopher living in Baghdad in the 10th century


“For even he who is most greedy for knowledge can achieve no greater perfection than to be thoroughly aware of his own ignorance in his particular field. The more be known, the more aware he will be of his ignorance.” ~ Nicholas of Cusa, a 15th-century German theologian

“Don’t depend too much on anyone in this world because even your own shadow leaves you when you are in darkness.” ~ Taqî ad-Dîn Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah, a 14th-century theologian from Syria

“When I investigate and when I discover that the forces of the heavens and the planets are within ourselves, then truly I seem to be living among the gods.” ~ Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian Renaissance scholar living in the 15th century

Photo by Jordiferrer / Wikimedia Commons

“There is a remarkable thing about swans. They teach us that the troubles of death should not grieve us; for in the very moment of dying they make a virtue of necessity and despise their sad fate in singing.” ~ Gerald of Wales, a writer in 12th-century England

“Letters are signs of things, symbols of words, whose power is so great that without a voice they speak to us the words of the absent; for they introduce words by the eye, not by the ear.” ~ Isidore of Seville, a scholar living in the 7th century.

“The world is divided into men who have wit and no religion and men who have religion and no wit.” ~ Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), an 11th-century physician and scientist from Persia

“The study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is.” ~ Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century theologian who lived in Western Europe


“If it were customary to send maidens to school and teach them the same subjects as are taught to boys, they would learn just as fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and sciences.” ~ Christine de Pisan, a 15th-century French writer

“There is nothing in the whole world so painful as feeling that one is not liked. It always seems to me that people who hate me must be suffering from some strange form of lunacy.” ~ Sei Shonagon, a Japanese court lady living around the year 1000

“The nourishment of body is food, while the nourishment of the soul is feeding others.” ~ `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Islamic Caliph from 656 to 661

“Could I write all, the world would turn to stone.” ~ Caterina Sforza, the late medieval Italian nobleman, on the people and politics of her era.

“The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” ~ Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century German theologian

“Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render every one his due.” ~ the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565)

“What is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? Nothing.” ~ Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th-century English writer

“Against the disease of writing one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease.” ~ Peter Abelard, a 12th-century French philosopher

“No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.” ~ William of Ockham, a 14th-century English friar and philosopher

“Persons would lead a most happy life if from their vocabulary they removed two words: mine and yours.” ~ Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, writing from northern England in the 12th century

Top Image: Walters Manuscript W.39