Esse quam videri

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Esse quam videri is a Latin phrase meaning "To be, rather than to seem" (to be). It has been used as a motto by a number of different groups.


Esse quam videri is found in Cicero's essay On Friendship (Laelius de Amicitia, chapter 98). Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt ("Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so").

Just a few years after Cicero, Sallust used the phrase in his Bellum Catilinae (54.6), writing that Cato the Younger esse quam videri bonus malebat ("He preferred to be good rather than to seem so").

Previous to both Romans, Aeschylus used a similar phrase in Seven Against Thebes at line 592, at which the scout (angelos) says of the seer/priest Amphiaraus: οὐ γὰρ δοκεῖν ἄριστος, ἀλλ᾽ εἶναι θέλει (ou gàr dokeîn áristos, all' eînai thélei: "he doesn't want to seem, but to be the bravest"). Plato quoted this line in Republic (361b).

Niccolò Machiavelli reversed the phrase to videri quam esse (to seem rather than to be).[1]

Usage as a motto[edit]

North Carolina[edit]

Great Seal of North Carolina with the state motto esse quam videri.

Esse quam videri is the state motto of North Carolina, adopted in 1893.[citation needed]

Schools and colleges[edit]

Esse quam videri is (or was) the motto of a number of schools and colleges around the world, including:


Esse quam videri is the motto of the following sororities:


Esse quam videri is the motto of the following fraternities:

  • Phi Lambda Sigma, Lebanon Valley College, est. 1867.
  • Alpha Pi Alpha, SUNY Albany, 1952 through 1987.
  • Epsilon Kappa Delta, Florida Institute of Technology, 1968 through 1972.
  • Archons, Kenyon College
  • Phi Beta, founded 1912
  • Phi Gamma Nu, National Professional Fraternity in Business, est. Northwestern University 1924.
  • Nu Kappa Phi, Est. 1952 - University of Nueva Caceres, Naga City, Philippines
  • Edwards Hall, University of Newcastle, Australia, est. 1972

Sporting organisations[edit]

  • Kingswood Rugby Football Club, Bristol, UK, use a variant of the motto, "Esse Non Videri" as their club motto.[24]
  • White Wolves MC,[25] Oradea, RO, use a variant of the motto, "Esse Quam Videri Malim" as their club motto.



Esse quam videri is the motto used on the coats of arms of the following families: Acraman, Adams, Allies, Bakewell, Barnard, Bayer, Beadon, Bird, Bonham, Bostock, Bourne, Bowen, Bowne, Breamore, Brownlee, Brownlow, Cady, Cambria, Cavallaro, Roy Clarke, Clavering, Cook, Coutts, Crawley, Creer, Croft, Crofts, Dickinson, Downes, Frank, Graveling, Harmer, Halliday, Hamill (Ó hAdhmaill, Ó hAghmaill, Hammill), Hannum, Henshaw, Hood, Houk, Isserman, Ivey, Lee, Longley, McManners, Manning, Mannion, Maxson, McCrea, Miles, Miller zu Aichholz, Mochrie, Moorman, Morrisset, van Oijen family coat of arms, Oglethorpe, Panon-Desbassayns de Richemont, Planta, Proud, Partridge,[28] Pickard-Cambridge, Pridgen, Renshaw, Reynes, Round (Essex County), Rowe, Seward, Shreve, Shreeve, Sherriff, Sibley, Sturges, Swire, Strickland, Thurston, Thruston, Turner, Tyler, Vorsatz, Walmsley, Womack and Woodgate.[citation needed]

It was also the motto used within the Brockman coat of arms circa 1700 as well as the Polish Urbanowicz coat of arms.

Other organizations[edit]

Esse quam videri is also the motto of

  • the 309th US Infantry Regiment.
  • the honor society The Order of Scroll and Key at Dickinson College.
  • The National Honor & Merit Scholars Society.[29]
  • the Carolina Wilderness EMS Externship, a wilderness EMS training program based in western North Carolina.[30]
  • the Brigham Young University Men's Chorus.[31]
  • custom motorcycle shop FTW CYCLES, and is often seen on their t-shirts, flyers and other promotional material.
  • the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew, 19 of which died in the Yarnell Hill fire in Yarnell, Arizona on June 30, 2013.
  • the 2013's USA U23 Women's Ultimate Frisbee team that won gold at the World Flying Disc Federation Under-23 Ultimate Championships which were held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 22–28, 2013.
  • No. 77 Squadron RAF (active during three periods between 1916 and 1963) used the variant, Esse potius quam videri with the same meaning.

Popular culture[edit]

Television personality Stephen Colbert inverted the statement on his show The Colbert Report to Videri Quam Esse,[32] meaning "to seem to be rather than to be." It is also engraved across the faux hearth, above the video fireplace, in his studio, under his portrait.


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  22. ^ "Alpha Chi Lambda". San Antonio: Trinity University. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
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  30. ^ "Carolina Wilderness EMS Externship - Official Home Page". Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  31. ^ "Men's Chorus Philosophy: Esse Quam Videri". Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  32. ^ "Stephen Colbert's new Latin motto". 2010-01-17. Retrieved 2014-12-31.  External link in |website= (help)