The phrase has been attributed to Hannibal; when his generals told him it was impossible to cross the Alps by elephant, this was supposedly his response. However, Hannibal would have spoken in Punic, not Latin. The first part of the sentence, "inveniam viam", "I shall find a way," also appears in other contexts in the tragedies of Seneca, spoken by Hercules and by Oedipus, and in Seneca's Hercules Furens (Act II, Scene 1, line 276) the whole sentence appears, in third person: "inveniet viam, aut faciet."
It has also been frequently used as a motto; for instance, it was used in this way by Francis Bacon, and is now used in this way by the S.T.E.M. Academy at University High School in Orange City, Florida and Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, by science education program Testbankprep.com, Chigwell School in Essex, England, York House School in Hertfordshire, England, Swansea Medical School RFC in Swansea, Wales, and by Combat Logistics Battalion 24 in the United States Marine Corps. A painting in the National Portrait Gallery, likely of Sir Philip Sidney, is adorned with this phrase. In The Dunciad, Alexander Pope writes of John Henley that he "turned his rhetoric to buffoonry" by handing out medallions engraved with this motto.
The first word "aut" may be omitted, corresponding to omitting the English word "either" from the translation.
- See, e.g., the York House School's web site, which includes the motto with this word order.
- A New Dictionary of Quotations from the Greek, Latin, and Modern Languages, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1869, p. 229
- Belton, John Devoe (1890), A Literary Manual of Foreign Quotations, Ancient and Modern, G.P. Putnam's Sons, p. 18
- Stone, Jon R. (2004), The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations, Routledge, p. 140.
- Reid, Thomas; Walker, James; Hamilton, William (1850), Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, J. Bartlett, p. xii.
- Chigwell Junior School Parents' Handbook 2009–2010, accessed 2010-06-06.
- Judson, Alexander Corbin (1971), Sidney's Appearance: A Study in Elizabethan Portraiture, Ayer Publishing, p. 59.
- Pope, Alexander (1736), The Works of Alexander Pope, L. Gilliver and J. Clarke, pp. 206–208.