Oscar Wilde? Seneca the Younger? Leon Tec?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I came across a quotation in a pub in Germany that was credited to Oscar Wilde. Your help in tracing this expression would be greatly appreciated but there is a twist to this request that will probably increase the difficulty. I have not been able to find this quote in its original English language version. All I could find on the web was the German phrase as I saw it in the pub. Here is the saying together with a translation:
Günstige Winde kann nur der nutzen, der weiß, wohin er will.
Only he can make use of favourable winds who knows where he wants to go.
I know that Oscar Wilde attracts a large number of spurious attributions. Could you search for the original version of this aphorism and determine who said it?
Quote Investigator: QI has not located any substantive evidence connecting this saying to Oscar Wilde. Intriguingly, the earliest evidence points to a maxim that was written in Latin and not English. During classical antiquity Seneca the Younger wrote about ports and catching a favorable wind. Here is the Latin version of one of his adages together with an English translation [SYDC]:
Ignoranti quem portum petat, nullus suus ventus est.
If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favourable to him.
Seneca. Epistolae, LXXI., 3.
The wording and the emphasis in the above maxim differs somewhat from the content of the quotation provided by the questioner. However, over the years other writers have modified Seneca’s saying. Here is a modern example attributed to Seneca in a volume aimed at public speakers titled “The Speaker’s Sourcebook” which was published in 1988 [SYSP]:
You must know for which harbor you are headed if you are to catch the right wind to take you there. Seneca
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.