25 Medieval Proverbs for Your Heart and Mind

These medieval proverbs date back to the ninth or tenth century, and offer some good advice on life and living well.

The One Hundred Proverbs of Al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 869) is a collection of sayings about life, wisdom, right and wrong, and more. Our earliest text of them comes from the tenth century, with its author saying they came from Abū ʿUthmān ʿAmr ibn Baḥr al-Jāḥiẓ (“The Bug-Eyed”), a famous scholar and writer during the Abbasid era. Historians are not quite sure they were actually penned by al-Jāḥiẓ, but they have ever since been widely read. Here are 25 of our favourites:


The true worth of a man is measured by the good he does.

People reflect their times more than they resemble their fathers.

Do not look at who said a thing, but at what was said.

Panic makes a calamity complete.

There can be no victory where there is treachery.

There can be no health where there is gluttony.

There can be no peace where there is envy.

There can be no love where there is hypocrisy.

A man who is quick to anger cannot be loyal.

There is no illness more chronic than ignorance.

There is no disease more debilitating than a lack of intelligence.

Man is the enemy of what he does not know.

Blessings enjoyed by an ignoramus are like a garden in a garbage dump.

An envious man resents even those who have done him no harm.

Do not depend on hope, for it is a fool’s commodity.

With every sip, you choke; with every bite, you gag.

Agreeing too much is a sign of two-facedness; disagreeing too much a sign of enmity.

Whoever mulls too long over consequences will not gather the courage to act.

The loneliest loneliness is brought on by conceit.

A fool’s heart is located in his mouth.

An intelligent person’s tongue is located in his heart.

An aspiration sometimes remains unattained.

Advice in public is censure.

Hatred consumes.

The happy man is one who learns from the example of others.

You can read all one hundred proverbs, translated into English, in A Treasury of Virtues: Sayings, Sermons and Teachings of ʿAlī, by Tahera Qutbuddin and published by New York University Press.


Images from Bibliothèque nationale de France MS Arabe 2964