“Pompey …….. was ready to start on his voyage home, (when) a great storm arose upon the sea, and the captains of the ships were reluctant to set sail. But he led the way himself and ordered them to weigh anchor, shouting out to them: “We have to sail, we do not have to live“. So, with good fortune assisting his own daring and energy, he filled the sea with ships and the markets with grain. In fact he provided so much of it that there was a surplus left over for the use of people outside Italy, the supply overflowing, as it were from a welling fountain, in all directions.”
This was in 56 B.C. Although Plutarch’s text is in Greek, Pompey presumably spoke Latin. Apparently the Latin version, something like navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse, first appeared during the Middle Ages. According to Büchmann the form navigare est necesse, vivere necesse non est occurs in Antonius Tudertinus’ translation [of Plutarch presumably], Venice, 1478.
Some say the quote served as motto of the Hanseatic League (which operated during the late Middle Ages), which statement appears to be founded on its decorating the gate – around a century ago, at any rate – of the ‘Marine Building’ in the German city of Bremen.
Fumagalli states that Mussolini, at a conference on aeronautics in Rome in 1923, modified it to volare necesse est.
According to a Dutch dictionary of quotations the phrase also serves as the motto of Rotterdam (which was not a Hanseatic city).