Saturday, April 06, 2013


I have finished reading Early Greek Philosophy translated and compiled by Jonathan Barnes. All the quotes below are from his book, pages 223 – 253. I have been most impressed by the writings of Democritus.  I had barley heard of him.  Democritus was a contemporary of Socrates and Plato.  He came to Athens from Thrace, the northern back country of the Greek world.  All that remains of his enormous creation in writhing are fragments.  Professor Barns, and many others, have scraped them together; rescuing lines from tiny bits of papyrus, or winnowing Democritus' words as quoted in the writings of others.  After these thoughts of Democritus, I include a list of his books.  It is as if I had found nothing remaining of the Sistine ceiling but a few scraps of colored plaster and been left to contemplate what might have been.  Of the thirty pages from Early Greek Philosophy on DemocritusI have selected 70 beautiful bits.  Some are humorous, some profound; all speak of an unbelievable beauty and truth.  Grateful, I am so disappointed.

1.  What a poet writes with enthusiasm and holy inspiration is very fine.

2. Homer, Having a nature divinely inspired, fashioned a world of words of every sort.

3. Do not be eager to know everything least you become ignorant of everything.

4. Reason is a powerful persuader.

5. Many perform the foulest deeds and rehearse the fairest words.

6. One should emulate the deeds and actions of virtue, not the words.

7. Noble words do not obscure foul actions nor is a good action spoiled by slanderous words.

8. Children who are given free rein will lean neither letters nor music nor gymnastics nor yet – what most sustains virtue – a sense of shame; for it is precisely from this that shame usually arises.

9. Education is an ornament for the fortunate, a refuge for the unfortunate.

10. Learning produces fine things by labor: foul things come to fruit spontaneously without labor.

11. Neither skill nor wisdom is attainable unless you learn.

12. There is understanding among the young and lack of understanding among the old; for it is not time which teaches good sense but appropriate upbringing and nature.

13. Those who contradict and babble are ill-endowed for learning.

14. Like-mindedness makes for friendship.

15. It is fitting for men to take account of their souls rather than of their bodies; for a perfect soul corrects wickedness of body, but strength of body without reasoning makes the soul no better at all.

16. One should refrain from wrong-doing not out of fear but out of duty.

17. Fools, fearing death, desire life.

18. Many have much learning and no thought.

19. Rightful love is a longing, without violence, for the noble.

20. A father’s good sense is the greatest precept for his children.

21. Sleeping during the day indicates a disturbed body or a troubled soul or idleness or lack of education.

22. Imperturbable [unflappable] wisdom, being most honorable, is worth everything.

23. Only those who hate injustice are loved by the gods.

24. One should tell the truth, not speak at length.

25. It is better to examine your own mistakes than those of others.

26. Praise for noble deeds is noble; praise for bad deeds is the mark of a cheat and a deceiver.

27. The thrifty behave like bees, working as though they are to live forever.

28. A life without a feast is a long road without an inn.

29. Of pleasant things those which occur most rarely give most joy.

30. Men ask for health from the gods in their prayers; they do not realize that the power to achieve it lies in themselves; lacking self-control, they act contrary to it and themselves betray health to their desires.

31. Voluntary labors make it easier to endure involuntary labors.

32. More men are good by practice than by nature.

33. Even if you are alone, neither say nor do anything bad: learn to feel shame before yourself rather than before others.

34. It is greedy to say everything and to want to listen to nothing.

35. A good man takes no account of the censures of the bad.

36. Mercenary service teaches self-sufficiency in life; for bread and a straw mattress are the sweetest cures for hunger and exhaustion.

37. To a wise man the whole earth is accessible; for the country of a good soul is the whole world.

38. Poverty in a democracy is preferable to what is called prosperity among tyrants – by as much has liberty is preferable to slavery.

39. One should kill at any cost all which offend against justice; and anyone who does this will in every society have a greater share of contentment and justice and boldness and property.

40. Just as I have written about hostile beasts and brutes, so I think one should act in the case of men too: according to the traditional laws, you may kill an enemy in every society in which the law does not prohibit it – it is prohibited by the sacred customs of deferent countries, by treaties, by oaths.

41. It is hard to be ruled by an inferior.

42. Feel shame before others no more than before yourself, and do wrong no more if no one is to know about it than if all men are; rather, feel shame above all before yourself and set this up as a law in your soul so that you may do nothing unsuitable.

43. Fear produces flattery; it does not gain good-will.

44. One who is lucky in his son-in-law gains a son, one who is unlucky loses a daughter.

45. To be ruled by a woman is the final insult for a man.

46. Anyone who has a need for children would do better, I think, to get them from his friends.  He will then have the child he wishes – for he can choose the sort he wants, and one that seems suitable to him will by its nature best follow him.  There is this great difference: here you may choose from many the child of your heart, of the sort you need; but if you produce a child yourself there are many dangers – for you must make do with the one you get.

47. Poverty and wealth are names for want and satisfaction; so one who is in want is not wealthy and one who is not in want is not poor.

48. Fortunate is he who is content with moderate gods, unfortunate he who is discontent with many.

49. It is safer to be well-built than fat.

50. Strength and shapeliness are the good things of youth; good sense is the flower of age.

51. Old men were young, but it is uncertain if the young will reach old age.  Now a completed good is better than one which is still to come and is uncertain.

52. It is fitting for men to take account of their souls rather than of their bodies; for a perfect soul corrects wickedness of body, but strength of body without reasoning makes the soul no better at all.

53. One should either be or imitate a good man.

54. One should refrain from wrong-doing not out of fear but out of duty.

55. A man who acts unjustly is more wretched than one who is unjustly treated.

56. A good man takes no account of the censure of the bad.

57. Reason is often a more powerful persuader than gold.

58. The unintelligent gain good sense through misfortune.

59. One should emulate the deeds and actions of virtue, not the words.

60. Neither skill nor wisdom is attainable unless you learn.

61. Many have much learning and no thought.

62. One should cultivate much thought, not much learning.

63. It is better to plan before acting that to repent.

64. Goodness and truth are the same for all men; pleasures differ for different men.

65. Cheats and hypocrites are those who do everything in word and nothing in deed.

66. One who is wily and speaks seriously is an old man with charm.

67. Let not a woman argue: that is terrible.

68. If you believe that the gods observe everything, you will wrong neither in secret nor openly.

69. Those who praise the unintelligent do them great harm.

70. The world is a stage, life is our entrance: you came, you saw, you left.

A list of books by Democritus:

Pythagoras, On the Disposition of the Wise Man, On the Things in Hades, Tritogeneia, On Manliness or On Virtue, The Horn of Amaltheia, On Contentment, Ethical Commentaries, Well-being, The Great World-Ordering, The Little World-Ordering, Description of the World, On the Planets, On Nature, On the Nature of Man or On Flesh (two books), On Thought, On the Senses, On the Soul, On Flavors, On Colors, On Different Shapes, On Changing Shape, Buttresses, On Images, On Providence, On logic, The Rule (three books), Puzzles, Heavenly Causes, Atmospheric Causes, Terrestrial Causes, Causes Concerned with Fire and Things in Fire, Causes Concerned with Sounds, Causes Concerned with Seeds and Plants and Fruits, Causes Concerned with Animals (three books) Miscellaneous Causes, On the Stone, On Different Angles  or On Contact with Circles and Spheres, On Geometry, Geometry, Numbers, On Irrational Lines and Solids (two books) Planispheres, The Great Year or Astronomy (a calendar) Contest of the Water clock, Description of the Heavens, Geography, Description of the Poles, Description of Rays of Light, On Rhythms and Harmony, On Poetry, On the Beauty of Verses, On Euphonious and Cacophonous Letters, On Homer or Correct Diction and Glosses, On Song, On Verbs, Vocabularies, Prognosis, On Diet or Dietetics, Medical Judgment, Causes Concerning Appropriate and Inappropriate Occasions, On Farming or Farming Matters, On Painting, Tactics, The Use of Arms, On the Sacred Writings in Babylon, On Those in Meroe, Circumnavigation of the Ocean, On History, Chaldaean Account, Phrygian Account, On Fever and Coughing Sicknesses, Legal Causes, Chamber Pots or Problems.


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