Mens sana in corpore sano

‘A sound mind in a sound body’, or in Latin ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’, is a well-known motto. It stands for the ideal of versatility. A person is only healthy when he is occupied both intellectually and physically.

Because this motto is usually quoted in Latin, it is generally assumed that it stems from Antiquity. This is a misunderstanding. The sentence was first used with this meaning in 1861 by the Englishman John Hulley, as a motto for his Liverpool Athletic Club. This motto fitted the elitist nineteenth-century vision on sport that came about in England. At English boarding schools wealthy boys received not only an intellectual education, but also a thorough physical training, based on the ideal of a complete education.

In Antiquity ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ was only mentioned once, by the poet Juvenal. “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano”, he wrote, “A man should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.” He was not writing about sports at all. John Hulley extracted this sentence from its context. In its new meaning this sentence is used by sports devotees all over the world.

© KU Leuven, 2012