14 Medieval Sayings: ‘These are beautiful words to understand’

Need some medieval wisdom? A 14th-century merchant has left us a collection of sayings and proverbs under the title ‘These are beautiful words to understand’.

They can be found in the Zibaldone da Canal, written by a Venetian merchant. It is a notebook of useful or interesting knowledge, including the best Mediterranean ports to do business in, mathematical practice questions, and 25 things you can do with rosemary.  In one section, which he entitled ‘These are beautiful words to understand’, our author wrote these 14 sayings and proverbs:


Courtesy from the mouth is very valuable, and costs little.

The excessive man cannot acquire great things that last long.

Whoever errs and does not believe that he has erred ought to find mercy, but whoever knowingly errs is neither true nor good.

If a man knows in himself that which he sees and knows in other people, I have a firm belief that he will not fail in the end, though at times he may fail grievously.


Who can control himself, it seems to me, rules a very great kingdom.

Good words and evil deeds deceive wise man and fool alike.

These are the three most hopeless things in the world: the first is a poor man, the second is the beauty of a whore, the third is the strength of a fool.

These are three things that are more displeasing to God than any others: the first is for a rich man to be greedy, the second is for a poor man to be arrogant, the third is for an old man to be lascivious.

The wise man says: He who breaks faith will find faith broken.

The wise man says: Whoever shall do well shall have good and shall not know whence it shall come.

If those who wound felt the pain of those who are wounded, they could not often wound with pleasure.


There is a time to climb and a time to descend. And a time to weep and a time to be silent. And there is a time to serve those who offend thee. And a time to threaten, not to fear: and at such times a man ought to wait to know the good from the bad, according to which carries the best chance of success.

The wise man has his mouth in his heart, while the fool has his heart in his mouth.

Praise the fool and make him rise.

You can find read the entire notebook in Merchant Culture in Fourteenth-Century Venice: The Zibaldone da Canal, edited and translated by John Dotson (Birmingham: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994)


See also: 30 Medieval Sayings You Need to Know

Top Image: An image from a 14th-century Italian manuscript – Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 78, f. 27r – Guido de Columnis, Historia destructionis Troiae