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The Greatest Nonsense


Introducing the president at the White House bill signing this morning, Joe Biden concluded with a line he loves to use in his health-care speeches: “As the poet Virgil said, ‘the greatest wealth is health.’”

A few months ago in a Weekly Standard piece on Biden’s “oratory,” my colleague Meghan Clyne took that quote to the experts. The results were at the very least amusing:

In multiple speeches, he has credited “the poet Virgil” with the aphorism “the greatest wealth is health.” And sure enough, Virgil is credited with the quote in thousands of Google hits,, and even boxer shorts for sale on But good luck finding the phrase anywhere in the Latin poet’s actual writings. A search of the phrase (or even similar terms)–in English and Latin–in databases of Virgil’s poetry yields nothing. Richard Tarrant, a professor of Latin at Harvard, says: “I’m not familiar with the quote (which sounds like something my mother used to say), and offhand I would doubt that it comes from Virgil.” Two classicists at Cornell, while unable to prove that the poet never said anything like it, “doubt whether this quote comes from Virgil.” One, Barry Strauss, adds: “It sounds more like a fortune cookie than a poet.”

Anyway, the bill is now signed. Virgil or not, it’s safe to say this new law will be as bad for our wealth as for our health. Happy dependence day.


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