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I'm trying to find the source of the quote "Success is dependent on effort." There are lots and lots of quotation sites that attribute it to Sophocles. However, I have yet to find a single site that attributes it to any particular work of Sophocles, or to a witness who wrote of Sophocles having said it. The page on Wikiquote, which does require citations, doesn't have it, and no one's brought it up on the talk page.

I suspect all these sites are just copying each other, and no one has any idea whether it's actually from Sophocles or not. Are there any classics scholars out there who can supply a reliable source or a reliable refutation?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 23 down vote accepted

The quote is from Electra: for example, in one translation,

ELECTRA
Remember, nothing succeeds without toil.


There's a bilingual version of it here, in English,

Electra
[945] Remember, nothing succeeds without toil.

And in Greek,

Ἠλέκτρα
ὅρα, πόνου τοι χωρὶς οὐδὲν εὐτυχεῖ. [945]


The LSJ dictionary can help to give a more exact translation:

εὐτυχεῖ was, apparently, also used in the sense of "fare thee well" in the close of letters, and on grave-stones.


χωρὶς ("without") and οὐδὲν ("not one" or "none") are both negative words.

So the literal translation is some kind of double negative, as quoted above, for example (my translation):

"Without toil, no success."

IMO this doesn't have quite the same several meanings as the English quoted in the OP. My first thought, when I read the English phrase "depends on" in the OP, was,

"the more effort, the more success"

The English phrase "dependent on" has two meanings:

  • One meaning is a discrete, binary or 'categorical' relationship, i.e.

    "not one without the other"

  • A second meaning is a continuous function, i.e.,

    "the more of one, the more of the other"

The English version of the phrase admits the second meaning as well as the first; but the Greek is only saying the first.

We do not know why it's a popular quote. Perhaps it suits someone's preconceptions or political agenda, e.g. "the rich are rich because they worked harder than everyone else". IMO that meaning (comparative magnitude) isn't implied in the original, which is more like Yoda's "Do. Or do not." (There is no try.)

The original also has, IMO, something of a dualist meaning: "no success without effort". In context, it seems almost a truism, (who knows, perhaps it was already a proverbial phrase in Sophocles' time):

Chrysothemis
What do you urge, then, of those things that I am capable of doing?

Electra
That you be brave in executing what I recommend.

Chrysothemis
If any good can be done, I will not refuse.

Electra
[945] Remember, nothing succeeds without toil.

Chrysothemis
I know it, and I will share your burden with all my power.

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1  
Ah, well done! Or "No joy is gained without some effort.", or "Remember, without toil no plan may thrive!" No wonder I couldn't find it, with such a wide variety of translations. Thank you. –  Tom Zych Aug 29 at 1:13

I found this at wikipedia. The bottom of the page lists several sources. Perhaps this will help you. In 2010 Electra was made into a film. I have not seen the film nor the opera but I seem to recall the quote from my old ancient Greek classes in college.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electra_%28Sophocles%29

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This doesn't really answer the question. If you have an answer, quote it; if you don't this should be converted to a comment. –  matt_black Sep 1 at 20:49

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