He Who Knows, and Knows Not He Knows, Is Asleep; Awaken Him

Bruce Lee? Margaret of Valois? Sir John Fenwick? Isabel Burton? Richard Francis Burton? Arabic Apothegm? Asian Saying? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Park Ludlow? Theron Brown? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following four part saying is about knowledge and self-knowledge:

He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, is a fool; shun him.
He who knows not, and knows he knows not, is simple; teach him.
He who knows, and knows not he knows, is asleep; awaken him.
He who knows, and knows he knows, is wise; follow him.

This saying has been attributed to martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, but I have not seen a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Bruce Lee who died in 1973 employed this expression.

QI believes that this saying evolved over time. A partial precursor appeared in the 1654 book “Heptameron or the History of the Fortunate Lovers” by Princess Margaret of Valois which described a wise person with the phrase: “he who knows that he knows not any thing”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI. Anomalous spelling appeared in the original document: 1

. . .for there is no man a veryer fool, than he who thinks himself to be wise, nor any more wise, than he who knows that he knows not any thing. Howsoever (said Parlament) he knows somthing, who knows that he knows nothing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Who Knows, and Knows Not He Knows, Is Asleep; Awaken Him

Notes:

  1. 1654, Heptameron or the History of the Fortunate Lovers; Written by the Most Excellent and Most Virtuous Princess, Margaret de Valoys, Queen of Navarre; Published in French by the Privilege and immediate Approbation of the King; Now made English by Robert Codrington, Master of Arts, Quote Page 260, Printed by F.L. for Nath: Ekins, London. (Early English Books Only EEBO; ProQuest)