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There was a certain Polybius, completely uneducated and ill-spoken, who said, “The emperor has honored me with Roman citizenship.” To which Demonax responded, “If only he'd made you a Greek rather than a Roman.”:
Lucian of Samosata, Life of Demonax

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Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. A complete translation of the Fragments in Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker by Kathleen Freeman. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press [1948] This text is in the public domain in the US because its copyright was not renewed in a timely fashion as required by law at the time. The chapters are numbered as in the Fifth Edition of Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. The numbers in brackets are those of the Fourth Edition.

Democritus: Fragments

Dêmocritus of Abdêra was in his prime about 420 B.C.

A large body of written work was produced at Abdera, during and after Democritus’ time. Thrasyllus, Roman scholar of the first century A.D., using the work of Alexandrian scholars, arranged these works in tetralogies, according to their subject-matter. Ethics (Tetralogies I and II); Natural Science (III to VI); Mathematics (VII to IX); Music (X and XI); and Technical Works (XII and XIII). There were also a group of treatises under the title Causes; a group of monographs on various subjects, the genuineness of which is suspect; a large number of Maxims; and a group of forged writings on magic.

The tetralogies of thrasyllus

Tetralogies I and II: Ethics.

0a. (Title): 'Pythagoras.'

0b. (Title): 'On the Character of the Sage.'

0c. (Title): 'On those in Hades.'

1. (Title): 'On Hades.'

1a. (On making a will: those who cannot endure to do so) are compelled to endure a double lot (? die twice).

1b. (Title): 'Tritogeneia' (taken to mean 'three fold in origin', on the Threeness of things).

2. (Title): 'Tritogeneia', of the three fold character of Athene as Wisdom.

2a. (Title): 'On Courage.'

2b. (Title): 'The Horn of Amaltheia.'

2c. (Title): 'On Cheerfulness or Well-Being.'

3. The man who wishes to have serenity of spirit should not engage in many activities, either private or public, nor choose activities beyond his power and natural capacity. He must guard against this, so that when good fortune strikes him and leads him on to excess by means of (false) seeming, he must rate it low, and not attempt things beyond his powers. A reasonable fullness is better than overfullness.

4. Pleasure and absence of pleasure are the criteria of what is profitable and what is not.

4a. (Title): 'Ethical Notes.'

tetralogies III to VI: Natural Science, including Logic

4b. (Title): 'Great World-Order' (usually ascribed to Leucippus). Democritus is said to have plagiarised it in his 'Small World-Order'.

4c. (Title): 'Small World-Order'.

5. (In the 'Small World-Order', Democritus said he was) a young man in the old age of Anaxagoras. (He said he wrote the book 730 years after the fall of Troy, and that Anaxagoras’ views on the sun were not original but ancient, and he ridiculed his views on the arrangement of the universe and on Mind).


5a. 'On Cosmography.'

5b. 'On the Planets.'

5c. 'On Nature' or 'On the Nature of the Universe'.

5d. 'On Nature' (Second Part), or 'On the Nature of Man', or 'On Flesh'.

5e. 'On Mind.'

5f. 'On Perception.'

5g. 'On Tastes.'

5h. 'On Colours.'

5i. 'On the Different Forms.'

6. One must learn by this rule that Man is severed from reality. (From 'On the Forms'.)

7. We know nothing about anything really, but Opinion is for all individuals an inflowing (? of the Atoms). (From 'On the Forms'.)

8. It will be obvious that it is impossible to understand how in reality each thing is. (From 'On the Forms'.)

8a. (Title): 'On Changes of Form.'

8b. (Title): 'On Strengthening Arguments.'

9. Sweet exists by convention, bitter by convention, colour by convention; atoms and Void (alone) exist in reality . . . We know nothing accurately in reality, but (only) as it changes according to the bodily condition, and the constitution of those things that flow upon (the body) and impinge upon it.

10. It has often been demonstrated that we do not grasp how each thing is or is not.

10a. (Title): 'On Images' or 'On Foresight'. (?)

10b. (Title): 'On Logic' or 'The Canon'. (3 Books).

11. There are two sorts of knowledge, one genuine, one bastard (or 'obscure'). To the latter belong all the following: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. The real is separated from this. When the bastard can do no more—neither see more minutely, nor hear, nor smell, nor taste, nor perceive by touch—and a finer investigation is needed, then the genuine comes in as having a tool for distinguishing more finely. (From 'The Canon').

11a. (Title): 'On Difficult Problems.'

unclassified writings on 'causes'


11b. 'Heavenly Causes.'

11c. 'Aerial Causes.'

11d. 'Surface Causes.'

11e. 'Causes of Fire and Things in Fire.'

11f. 'Causes of Sounds.'

11g. 'Causes of Seeds, Plants and Fruits.'

11h. 'Causes of Animals.' (3 Books).

11i. 'Mixed Causes.'

11k. 'On the Magnet.'

tetralogies VII to IX: Mathematical


11l. 'On Difference of Comprehension' 1 or, 'On the Contact of Circle and Sphere'.

11m. 'On Geometry.'

11n. 'On Geometrical Problems.'

11o. 'Numbers.'

11p. 'On Disproportionate Lines and Solids.'

11q. 'Projections.'

11r. 'The Great Year', or, 'Astronomy'. 'Calendar.'

12. (The Great Year of Philolaus and Democritus is of 82 years with 28 intercalary months).

13. (Use of contracted form of 'mine').

14. (Remains of Astronomical Calendar).

1. (Vitruvius). Following the discoveries of the natural philosophers (Thales, Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Democritus) others invented the method of Parapêgmata, 2 showing the rising and setting of the constellations, and the signs of storms, namely, Eudoxus, Euctemon, Callippus, Meton, Philippus, Hipparchus, Aratus and others.

2. (Eudoxus). Winter solstice on the 19th or 10th. From the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, 91 days. From the winter solstice to the spring equinox, 19 days.

3. (Calendar of 2nd century B.C. attributed to Geminus, containing extracts from Democritus’ Calendar).


4th day. Pleiades set at dawn. Wintry winds, cold and frost as a rule. Leaves begin to fall.

13th. Lyra rises at dawn. Winter weather.


16th. Aëtos rises. Thunder and lightning. Rain or wind or both.


12th. South wind.


3rd. Storm. Unlucky day.

16th. Zephyr begins to blow and remains. 43 days from the Solstice.


4th. Halcyon days.

14th. The Bird-winds (cold) blow and last 9 days.


Pleiades set at sunrise and remain invisible for 40 nights.


10th. Rain.

29th. Orion rises.

4. (Pliny). The winter will be like the winter solstice and the three days before and after it; and similarly the summer like the summer solstice. Dates of rising of Capella and the Kids: 28th and 29th September. (Democritus agrees in this with Philippus and Eudoxus, which is rare).

5. (Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius). On the rising of Arcturus there is violent rain.

6. (Clodius’ Calendar in Joannes Lydus). Democritus was the first to give certain meteorological information.

7. (Ptolemaeus). Weather signs observed by Democritus in Northern Greece. He said that the most important day was the fifteenth day after the equinox.



Swallow leaves. (Change of weather).


Rain and wind-disturbances.



Storm. Sowing-time.


Cold or frost.



Storm on land and sea.


Disturbed sky and sea.





Thunder, lightning, rain, wind.


Very stormy.


Change of weather.



South wind as a rule.




Great storm.



West wind begins.


West wind blows.


The days called halcyon.



Cold winds. Bird-days (nine). 1


Change of weather, Cold wind.


Change of weather.



Change of weather.








Good day.


West wind, morning rain, then strong north winds for 7 days.



Rain. Squalls.


South wind and heat.



Change of weather, with rain and wind.


(Joannes Lydus’ Calendar).



South-west wind with rain.


Dolphin sets; Change of weather usually.


South-west wind blows.



Setting of Pisces, on the day of the Bacchanalia.



Change of wind, and prevalence of rain.



Rise of Kids; north wind blows.



The Sun in Sagittarius.

(End of Extracts from Calendar)


14a. 'Contest according to the Water-Clock' (?)

14b. 'Description of the Heavens.'

14c. 'Description of the Earth.'

15. 'Voyage round the World.' (Agathêmerus: After Anaximander, descriptions of a Voyage Round the World were written by Hecataeus, Hellanicus, and Damastes of Sigeion copying for the most part Hellanicus. Democritus and Eudoxus followed, and some others. The ancients described the world as round, with Greece in the centre, and Delphi the centre of Greece. But Democritus, a man of wide experience, was the first to describe it as rectangular, the length half the width. Dicaearchus the Peripatetic concurred).

15a. 'Description of the Pole.'

15b. 'Description of Rays.'

tetralogies X and XI: Music

16c. (Title): 'On Rhythm and Harmony'.

16. (Musaeus invented the dactylic hexameter).

16a. (Title): 'On Poetry.'

17. (There is no poetry without madness).

18. What a poet writes with enthusiasm and divine inspiration is most beautiful.

18a. (Title): 'On the Beauty of Words.'

18b. (Title): 'On well-sounding and ill-sounding Letters.'

19. (Eustathius: Democritus, like all Ionians, calls the letter Gamma 'Gemma'; he also calls the letter Mu 'Mô'.

20. (Scholiast on Dionysius Thrax: The names of the letters are indeclinable; but Democritus declines them).

20a. (Title): 'On Homer, or a Correct Diction and Vocabulary.'

21. Homer, having been gifted with a divine nature, built an ordered structure of manifold verse.

22. The eagle has black bones.

23. (Scholiast on Homer: The Trojan herald speaking to the Greeks says of Paris 'Would that he had perished first!' ('Iliad,' VII. 390). Democritus thinks that he spoke this as an aside, because it would not be proper for him to say this in front of all the Greeks).

24. (Eustathius on Homer, Od., xv. 374: The loyal slave Eumaeus was so highly regarded by the ancients that they even provide him with a mother: Democritus says she was Poverty).

25. (Eustathius on Homer, Od., xii. 62: Some think that the Sun is Zeus, others, with Democritus, that the vapour on which the sun feeds is ambrosia).

25a. (Title): 'On Song.'

25b. (Title): 'On Phrases.'

26. (Proclus: Pythagoras and Epicurus agree with Cratylus, but Democritus and Aristotle agree with Hermogenes, the former that names arise by nature, the latter that they arise by chance. Pythagoras thought that the Soul gave the names, deriving them like images of reality from the mind. But Democritus thought that the proof of their chance origin was fourfold: (1) the calling of different things by the same name; (2) having several names for the same thing; (3) change of name; (4) lack of name.

26a. (Title): 'On Nomenclature.'

tetralogies XII and XIII: On Medical Technique, Agriculture, etc.


26b. 'Prognosis.'

26c. 'On Diet.'

26d. 'On Medical Method.'

26e. 'Causes of Seasonable and Unseasonable Things.'

26f. 'On Farming.'

27. (Columella: Democritus and Mago say that vine yards should face north for the best crops).

27a. (Columella: Democritus and Mago say that bees can be generated from a dead cow).

28. (Columella: Democritus in his book' On Farming' says that it is foolish to encircle a garden with walls: if made of sun-dried bricks, they cannot stand the weather; if of stone, they cost more than they are worth; and to surround a large piece of land with a wall demands a large inheritance).


28a. 'On Painting.'

28b. 'Tactics.' 1

28c. 'Fighting in Armour.' 1

(End of the Tetralogies of Thrasyllus)

genuine fragments from unspecified works

29. (Democritus called the rim of the shield) 'circuit'.

29a. (Democritus used contracted forms of the personal pronouns 'we, you, they').

30. Of the reasoning men, a few, raising their hands thither to what we Greeks call the Air nowadays, said: 'Zeus considers all things and he knows all and gives and takes away all and is King of all.'

31. Medicine heals diseases of the body, wisdom frees the soul from passions.

32. Coition is a slight attack of apoplexy. For man gushes forth from man, and is separated by being torn apart with a kind of blow. 1

33. Nature and instruction are similar; for instruction transforms the man, and in transforming, creates his nature.

34. Man is a universe in little (Microcosm).

gnômae 2

35. If any man listens to my opinions, here recorded, with intelligence, he will achieve many things worthy of a good man, and avoid doing many unworthy things.

36. = 187.

37. He who chooses the advantages of the soul chooses things more divine, but he who chooses those of the body, chooses things human.

38. It is noble to prevent the criminal; but if one cannot, one should not join him in crime.

39. One must either be good, or imitate a good man.

40. Men find happiness neither by means of the body nor through possessions, but through uprightness and wisdom.

41. Refrain from crimes not through fear but through duty.

42. It is a great thing, when one is in adversity, to think of duty.

43. Repentance for shameful deeds is salvation in life.

44. = 225.

45. The wrongdoer is more unfortunate than the man wronged.

46. Magnanimity consists in enduring tactlessness with mildness.

47. Well-ordered behaviour consists in obedience to the law, the ruler, and the man wiser (than oneself).

48. When inferior men censure, the good man pays no heed.

49. It is hard to be governed by one's inferior.

50. The man completely enslaved to wealth can never be honest.

51. In power of persuasion, reasoning is far stronger than gold.

52. He who tries to give intelligent advice to one who thinks he has intelligence, is wasting his time.

53. Many who have not learnt Reason, nevertheless live according to reason.

53a. Many whose actions are most disgraceful practise the best utterances.

54. The foolish learn sense through misfortune.

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

56. Noble deeds are recognised and emulated by those of natural good disposition.

57. Good breeding in cattle depends on physical health, but in men on a well-formed character.

58. The hopes of right-thinking men are attainable, but those of the unintelligent are impossible.

59. Neither skill nor wisdom is attainable unless one learns.

60. It is better to examine one's own faults than those of others.

61. Those whose character is well-ordered have also a well-ordered life.

62. Virtue consists, not in avoiding wrong-doing, but in having no wish thereto.

63. To pronounce praise on noble deeds is noble; for to do so over base deeds is the work of a false deceiver.

64. Many much-learned men have no intelligence. 1

65. One should practise much-sense, not much-learning. 1

66. It is better to deliberate before action than to repent afterwards.

67. Believe not everything, but only what is approved: the former is foolish, the latter the act of a sensible man.

68. The worthy and the unworthy man (are to be known) not only by their actions, but also their wishes.

69. For all men, good and true are the same; but pleasant differs for different men.

70. Immoderate desire is the mark of a child, not a man.

71. Untimely pleasures produce unpleasantnesses.

72. Violent desire for one thing blinds the soul to all others.

73. Virtuous love consists in decorous desire for the beautiful.

74. Accept no pleasure unless it is beneficial.

75. It is better for fools to be ruled than to rule.

76. For the foolish, not reason but advantage is the teacher.

77. Fame and wealth without intelligence are dangerous possessions.

78. To make money is not without use, but if it comes from wrong-doing, nothing is worse.

79. It is a bad thing to imitate the bad, and not even to wish to imitate the good.

80. It is shameful to be so busy over the affairs of others that one knows nothing of one's own.

81. Constant delay means work undone.

82. The false and the seeming-good are those who do all in word, not in fact.

83. The cause of error is ignorance of the better.

84. The man who does shameful deeds must first feel shame in his own eyes.

85. He who contradicts and chatters much is ill-fitted for learning what he ought.

86. It is greed to do all the talking and not be willing to listen.

87. One must be on one's guard against the bad man, lest he seize his opportunity.

88. The envious man torments himself like an enemy.

89. An enemy is not he who injures, but he who wishes to do so.

90. The enmity of relatives is much worse than that of strangers.

91. Be not suspicious towards all, but be cautious and firm.

92. Accept favours in the foreknowledge that you will have to give a greater return for them.

93. When you do a favour, study the recipient first, lest he prove a scoundrel and repay evil for good.

94. Small favours at the right time are greatest to the recipients.

95. Marks of honour are greatly valued by right-thinking men, who understand why they are being honoured.

96. The generous man is he who does not look for a return, but who does good from choice.

97. Many who seem friendly are not so, and those who do not seem so, are.

98. The friendship of one intelligent man is better than that of all the unintelligent. 1

99. Life is not worth living for the man who has not even one good friend.

100. The man whose tested friends do not stay long with him is bad-tempered.

101. Many avoid their friends when they fall from wealth to poverty.

102. In all things, equality is fair, excess and deficiency not so, in my opinion.

103. The man who loves nobody is, I think, loved by no one.

104. In old age, a man is agreeable if his manner is pleasant and his speech serious.

105. Physical beauty is (merely) animal unless intelligence be present.

106. In prosperity it is easy to find a friend, in adversity nothing is so difficult.

107. Not all one's relatives are friends, but only those who agree with us about what is advantageous.

107a. It is proper, since we are human beings, not to laugh at the misfortunes of others, but to mourn.

108. Good things are obtained with difficulty if one seeks; but bad things come without our even seeking.

109. The censorious are not well-fitted for friendship.

110. A woman must not practise argument: this is dreadful.

111. To be ruled by a woman is the ultimate outrage for a man.

112. It is the mark of the divine intellect to be always calculating something noble.

113. Those who praise the unintelligent do (them) great harm.

114. It is better to be praised by another than by oneself.

115. If you do not recognise (i.e. understand) praise, believe that you are being flattered.

(End of the Gnomae)

116. I came to Athens and no one knew me.

117. We know nothing in reality; for truth lies in an abyss.

118. (I would) rather discover one cause than gain the kingdom of Persia.

119. Men have fashioned an image of Chance as an excuse for their own stupidity. For Chance rarely conflicts with Intelligence, and most things in life can be set in order by an intelligent sharpsightedness.

120. Pulse-beat (word for).

121. (Unusual word) Ownest.

122. Pitfalls (word used by hunters).

122a. (Derivation of 'gynê', woman, from 'gonê', seed).

123. (Word for) image (as effluence from objects).

124. (Corrupt) Men shall be one man, and a man shall be all men. (Meaning unknown).

125. Colour exists by convention (usage), sweet by convention, bitter by convention.

(Reply of the senses to Intellect): 'Miserable Mind, you get your evidence from us, and do you try to overthrow us? The overthrow will be your downfall'.

126. (All creatures) which move along their path in a wavelike manner.

127. Men get pleasure from scratching themselves: they feel an enjoyment like that of lovemaking.

128-141. (Unusual words quoted by grammarians)

128. Straight-bored.

129. They think divine thoughts with their mind.

129a. Is leaned.

130. Circular bands.

13I. Untrodden (unevenly compounded).

132. Equilateral.

133. Sodden.

134. Noose.

135. Receptacles (of the blood-vessels).

136. Covers with a lid.

137. Combination.

138. Change of arrangement.

139. Change of form.

139a. Change of colour.

140. Well-being (for 'happiness').

141. Form (for 'atom').

142. (The names of the gods are) vocal images (i.e. express their nature).

143. (On anger): All imaginable ills (flow from it).

144. (Music is the youngest of the arts) For it was not necessity that separated it off (i.e. created it), but it arose from the existing superfluity.

144a. I will return (to the beginning).

145. Speech is the shadow of action.

146. The Reason within the soul, accustoming itself to derive its pleasures from itself.

147. Pigs revel in mud.

148. The navel forms first in the womb, as an anchorage against tossing and wandering, a cable and a rope for the fruit, engendered and future.

149. (Inside, we are) a complex store-house and treasury of ills, with many possibilities of suffering.

150. (One must eschew the arguments of) wranglers and word-twisters.

151. In a shared fish, there are no bones.

152. There is no lightning sent from Zeus which does not contain the pure light of the Aether.

153. To please one's neighbours (brings damage).

154. We are pupils of the animals in the most important things: the spider for spinning and mending, the swallow for building, and the songsters, swan and nightingale, for singing, by way of imitation.

155. If a cone were cut by a plane parallel to the base, 1 what ought one to think of the surfaces resulting from the section: are they equal or unequal? If they are unequal, they will make the cone have many steplike indentations and unevennesses; but if they are equal, the sections will be equal, and the cone will appear to have the same property as a cylinder, being made up of equal, not unequal, circles, which is most absurd.

155a. (Aristotle: Democritus treats the sphere as a sort of angle when cutting it).

156. Naught exists just as much as Aught.

157. Learn thoroughly the art of statesmanship, which is the greatest, and pursue its toils, from which men win great and brilliant prizes.

158. Men thinking new thoughts with each day.

159. (Democritus said): If the body brought a suit against the soul, for all the pains it had endured throughout life, and the illtreatment, and I were to be the judge of the suit, I would gladly condemn the soul, in that it had partly ruined the body by its neglect and dissolved it with bouts of drunkenness, and partly destroyed it and torn it in pieces with its passion for pleasure—as if, when a tool or a vessel were in a bad condition, I blamed the man who was using it carelessly.

160. (To live badly is) not to live badly, but to spend a long time dying.

161. (Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius: Eclipses were called 'down-drawings' up to the time of Democritus, with reference to the ancient belief that sorceresses could draw down the sun and moon and so cause eclipses).

162. (Scholiast on Homer, Iliad, XIII. 137: Democritus uses the epic word for 'large boulder' for the cylinder).

163. (SEXTUS: Democritus mentions Xeniades of Corinth).

164. Living creatures consort with their kind, as doves with doves, and cranes with cranes, and similarly with the rest of the animal world. So it is with inanimate things, as one can see with the sieving of seeds and with the pebbles on beaches. In the former, through the circulation of the sieve, beans are separated and ranged with beans, barley-grains with barley, and wheat with wheat; in the latter, with the motion of the wave, oval pebbles are driven to the same place as oval, and round to round, as if the similarity in these things had a sort of power over them which had brought them together.

165. I say the following about the Whole . . . Man is that which we all know.

166. (Sextus: Democritus said that) certain images visit men (some beneficent, some harmful. He prayed) to meet with fortunate images.

167. An eddy, of all manner of forms, is separated off from the Whole.

168. (Simplicius: The Democriteans called the atoms 'nature' . . . For they said that these were) scattered about.

169. Do not try to understand everything, lest you become ignorant of everything.

170. Happiness, like unhappiness, is a property of the soul.

171. Happiness does not dwell in flocks of cattle or in gold. The soul is the dwelling-place of the (good and evil) genius.

172. Those same things from which we get good can also be for us a source of hurt, or else we can avoid the hurt. For instance, deep water is useful for many purposes, and yet again harmful; for there is danger of being drowned. A technique has therefore been invented: instruction in swimming.

173. For mankind, evil comes out of what is good, if one does not know how to guide and drive correctly. It is not right to place such things in the category of evil, but in that of good. It is possible also to use what is good for an evil end 1 if one wishes.

174. The cheerful man, who is impelled towards works that are just and lawful, rejoices by day and by night, and is strong and free from care. But the man who neglects justice, and does not do what he ought, finds all such things disagreeable when he remembers any of them, and he is afraid and torments himself.

175. But the gods are the givers of all good things, both in the past and now. They are not, however, the givers of things which are bad, harmful or non-beneficial, either in the past or now, but men themselves fall into these through blindness of mind and lack of sense.

176. Chance is generous but unreliable. Nature, however, is self-sufficient. Therefore it is victorious, by means of its smaller but reliable (power) over the greater promise of hope.

177. Neither can fine speech cover up base action, nor can good action be injured by calumny.

178. Worst of all things is frivolity as the educator of youth, for it breeds those pleasures from which wickedness comes.

179. If children are allowed not to work, 1 they cannot learn letters or music or gymnastic, nor that which above all things embraces virtue, (namely) reverence. For it is precisely from these studies that reverence usually grows.

180. Education is an ornament for the prosperous, a refuge for the unfortunate.

181. The man who employs exhortation and persuasion will turn out to be a more effective guide to virtue than he who employs law and compulsion. For the man who is prevented by law from wrongdoing will probably do wrong in secret, whereas the man who is led towards duty by persuasion will probably not do anything untoward either secretly or openly. Therefore the man who acts rightly through understanding and knowledge becomes at the same time brave and upright.

182. Beautiful objects are wrought by study through effort, but ugly things are reaped automatically without toil. For even one who is unwilling is sometimes so wrought upon by learning (? MSS. corrupt).

183. There is an intelligence of the young, and an un-intelligence of the aged. It is not time that teaches wisdom, but early training and natural endowment.

184. Continuous association with base men increases a disposition to crime.

185. The hopes of the educated are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

186. Similarity of outlook creates friendship.

187. It is right that men should value the soul rather than the body; for perfection of soul corrects the inferiority of the body, but physical strength without intelligence does nothing to improve the mind.

188. The criterion of the advantageous and disadvantageous is enjoyment and lack of enjoyment.

189. The best way for a man to lead his life is to have been as cheerful as possible and to have suffered as little as possible. This could happen if one did not seek one's pleasures in mortal things.

190. One must avoid even speaking of evil deeds.

191. Cheerfulness is created for men through moderation of enjoyment and harmoniousness of life. Things that are in excess or lacking are apt to change and cause great disturbance in the soul. Souls which are stirred by great divergences are neither stable nor cheerful. Therefore one must keep one's mind on what is attainable, and be content with what one has, paying little heed to things envied and admired, and not dwelling on them in one's mind. Rather must you consider the lives of those in distress, reflecting on their intense sufferings, in order that your own possessions and condition may seem great and enviable, and you may, by ceasing to desire more, cease to suffer in your soul. For he who admires those who have, and who are called happy by other mortals, and who dwells on them in his mind every hour, is constantly compelled to undertake something new and to run the risk, through his desire, of doing something irretrievable among those things which the laws prohibit. Hence one must not seek the latter, but must be content with the former, comparing one's own life with that of those in worse cases, and must consider oneself fortunate, reflecting on their sufferings, in being so much better off than they. If you keep to this way of thinking, you will live more serenely, and will expel those not-negligible curses in life, envy, jealousy and spite.

192. It is easy to praise and blame what one should not, but both are the marks of a corrupt character.

193. It is the business of intelligence to guard against a threatened injustice, but it is the mark of insensibility not to avenge it when it has happened.

194. The great pleasures come from the contemplation of noble works.

195. . . . Images conspicuous for their dress and ornament, empty of heart.

196. Forgetfulness of one's own ills breeds boldness.

197. Fools are shaped by the gifts of chance, but those who understand these things by the gifts of wisdom.

198. The animal needing something knows how much it needs, the man does not.

199. People are fools who hate life and yet wish to live through fear of Hades.

200. People are fools who live without enjoyment of life.

201. People are fools who yearn for long life without pleasure in long life.

202. People are fools who yearn for what is absent, but neglect what they have even when it is more valuable than what has gone.

203. Men who shun death pursue it.

204. Fools cannot satisfy anyone in the whole of life.

205. Fools long for life because they fear death.

206. Fools want to live to be old because they fear death.

207. One should choose not every pleasure, but only that concerned with the beautiful.

208. The self-control of the father is the greatest example for the children.

209. For a self-sufficiency in food, there is never a 'short night'. (i.e. those who have independence of means do not suffer from insomnia).

210. A rich table is provided by luck, but a sufficient one by wisdom.

211. Moderation multiplies pleasures, and increases pleasure.

212. Sleep in the daytime signifies bodily trouble or aberration of mind or laziness or lack of training.

213. Courage minimises difficulties.

214. The brave man is not only he who overcomes the enemy, but he who is stronger than pleasures. Some men are masters of cities, but are enslaved to women.

215. The reward of justice is confidence of judgement and imperturbability, but the end of injustice is the fear of disaster.

216. Imperturbable wisdom is worth everything.

217. They alone are dear to the gods to whom crime is hateful.

218. Riches derived from evil activity make the disgrace more conspicuous.

219. The passion for wealth, unless limited by satisfaction, is far more painful than extreme poverty; for greater passions create greater needs.

220. Evil gains bring loss of virtue.

221. The hope of evil gains is the beginning of damage.

222. The excessive accumulation of wealth for one's children is an excuse for covetousness, which thus displays its peculiar nature.

223. The things needed by the body are available to all without toil and trouble. But the things which require toil and trouble and which make life disagreeable are not desired by the body but by the ill-constitution of the mind.

224. The desire for more loses what one has, like the dog in Aesop.

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

226. Freedom of speech is the sign of freedom; but the danger lies in discerning the right occasion.

227. Misers have the fate of bees: they work as if they were going to live for ever.

228. The children of misers, if they are reared in ignorance, are like those dancers who leap between swords: if they miss, in their leap downwards, a single place where they must plant their feet, they are destroyed. But it is hard to alight upon the one spot, because only the space for the feet is left. So too with the children of misers: if they miss the paternal character of carefulness and thrift, they are apt to be destroyed.

229. Thrift and fasting are beneficial; so too is expenditure at the right time. But to recognise this is the function of a good man.

230. The life without festival is a long road without an inn.

231. The right-minded man is he who is not grieved by what he has not, but enjoys what he has.

232. Of pleasures, those that come most rarely give the greatest enjoyment.

233. If one oversteps the due measure, the most pleasurable things become most unpleasant.

234. Men ask in their prayers for health from the gods, but do not know that the power to attain this lies in themselves; and by doing the opposite through lack of control, they themselves become the betrayers of their own health to their desires.

235. All who derive their pleasures from the stomach, overstepping due season in eating or drinking or sexual pleasure, have pleasures that are but brief and short-lived, (that is), only while they are eating and drinking, but pains that are many. For this desire is always present for the same things, and when people get what they desire, the pleasure passes quickly, and they have nothing good for themselves except a brief enjoyment; and then again the need for the same things returns.

236. It is hard to fight desire; but to control it is the sign of a reasonable man. 1

237. All bellicosity is foolish; for in studying the disadvantage of one's enemy, one loses sight of one's own advantage.

238. The man who strives against the stronger ends in disgrace.

239. Bad men, when they escape, do not keep the oaths which they make in time of stress.

240. Toils undertaken willingly make the endurance of those done unwillingly easier.

241. Continuous labour becomes easier through habit.

242. More men become good through practice than by nature.

243. All kinds of toil are pleasanter than rest, when men attain that for which they labour, or know that they will attain it. But whenever there is failure to attain, then labour is painful and hard.

244. Do not say or do what is base, even when you are alone. Learn to feel shame in your own eyes much more than before others.

245. The laws would not prevent each man from living according to his inclination, unless individuals harmed each other; for envy creates the beginning of strife.

246. Life in a foreign country teaches self-sufficiency; for bread and bed are the sweetest cures for hunger and fatigue.

247. To a wise man, the whole earth is open; for the native land of a good soul is the whole earth.

248. The law wishes to benefit men's life; and it is able to do so, when they themselves wish to receive benefit; for it shows to those who obey it their own particular virtue.

249. Civil war is harmful to both parties; for both to the conquerors and the conquered, the destruction is the same.

250. The greatest undertakings are carried through by means of concord, including wars between City-States: there is no other way.

251. Poverty under democracy is as much to be preferred to so-called prosperity under an autocracy as freedom to slavery.

252. One must give the highest importance to affairs of the State, that it may be well run; one must not pursue quarrels contrary to right, nor acquire a power contrary to the common good. The well-run State is the greatest protection, and contains all in itself; when this is safe, all is safe; when this is destroyed, all is destroyed.

253. To good men, it is not advantageous that they should neglect their own affairs for other things; for their private affairs suffer. But if a man neglects public affairs, he is ill spoken of, even if he steals nothing and does no wrong. And if he is 1 negligent and does wrong, he is liable not only to be ill-spoken of but also to suffer bodily harm. To make mistakes is inevitable, but men find it hard to forgive.

254. When base men enter upon office, the more unworthy they are, the more neglectful, and they are filled with folly and recklessness.

255. When the powerful prevail upon themselves to lend to the indigent, and help them, and benefit them, herein at last is pity, and an end to isolation, and friendship, and mutual aid, and harmony among the citizens; and other blessings such as no man could enumerate.

256. Justice is to do what should be done; injustice is to fail to do what should be done, and to put it aside.

257. With certain animals, the rule for killing them or not stands thus: any that do wrong and wish to do so may be killed with impunity, and it conduces to well-being to do so rather than not do so.

258. One must at all costs kill all those creatures which do hurt contrary to justice. The man who does this has the greater share of cheerfulness(?) and justice and courage and property(?) in every ordered society (than he who does not). 1

259. As has been laid down (by me) regarding beasts and reptiles which are inimical (to man), so I think one should do with regard to human beings: one should, according to ancestral law, kill an enemy of the State in every ordered society, unless a law forbids it. But there are prohibitions in every State: sacred law, treaties and oaths.

260. Anyone killing any brigand or pirate shall be exempt from penalty, whether he do it by his own hand, or by instigation, or by vote.

261. One must punish wrong-doers to the best of one's ability, and not neglect it. Such conduct is just and good, but the neglect of it is unjust and bad.

262. Those who do what is deserving of exile or imprisonment or other punishment must be condemned and not let off. Whoever contrary to the law acquits a man, judging according to profit or pleasure, does wrong, and this is bound to be on his conscience.

263. He has the greatest share of justice and virtue who awards the greatest offices (honours?) (to the most deserving).

264. One must not respect the opinion of other men more than one's own; nor must one be more ready to do wrong if no one will know than if all will know. One must respect one's own opinion most, and this must stand as the law of one's soul, preventing one from doing anything improper.

265. Men remember one's mistakes rather than one's successes. This is just; for as those who return a deposit do not deserve praise, whereas those who do not do so deserve blame and punishment, so with the official: he was elected not to make mistakes but to do things well.

266. There is no means under the present constitution by which magistrates can be prevented from wrong-doing, however good they may be. For it is not likely for anyone else (any more) than for oneself, that he will show himself the same man in different circumstances. 1 But we must also make arrangements to see that if a magistrate does no wrong, and convicts wrong-doers, he shall not fall under the power of the latter; rather, a law or some other means must defend the magistrate who does what is just.

267. Rule belongs by nature to the stronger.

268. Fear engenders flattery, but it has no good will.

269. Courage is the beginning of action, but Fortune is the arbiter of the goal.

270. Use slaves as parts of the body: each to his own function.

271. A lover's reproach is dissolved by (? corrupt word).

272. The man who is fortunate in his choice of a son-in-law gains a son; the man unfortunate in his choice loses his daughter also.

273. A woman is far sharper than a man in malign thoughts.

274. An adornment for a woman is lack of garrulity. Paucity of adornment is also beautiful.

275. The rearing of children is full of pitfalls. Success is attended by strife and care, failure means grief beyond all others.

276. I do not think that one should have children. I observe in the acquisition of children many great risks and many griefs, whereas a harvest is rare, and even when it exists, it is thin and poor.

277. Whoever wants to have children should, in my opinion, choose them from the family of one of his friends. He will thus obtain a child such as he wishes, for he can select the kind he wants. And the one that seems fittest will be most likely to follow on his natural endowment. The difference is that in the latter way one can take one child out of many who is according to one's liking; but if one begets a child of one's own, the risks are many, for one is bound to accept him as he is.

278. For human beings it is one of the necessities of life to have children, arising from nature and primeval law. It is obvious in the other animals too: they all have offspring by nature, and not for the sake of any profit. And when they are born, the parents work and rear each as best they can and are anxious for them while they are small, and if anything happens to them, the parents are grieved. But for man it has now become an established belief that there should be also some advantage from the offspring.

279. One should, as far as possible, divide out one's property among one's children, at the same time watching over them to see that they do nothing foolish when they have it in their hands. For they thus become much more thrifty over money, and more eager to acquire it and compete with one another. Payments made in a communal establishment do not irk so much as those in a private one, and the income gives much less satisfaction.

280. It is possible without spending much of one's money to educate one's children, and (so) to build round their property and their persons a fortification and a safeguard.

281. As among sores canker is the worst disease, so in property . . . (end lost).

282. The employment of money with sense is useful towards liberality and justice, but with folly it is a continuous tax that maintains all and sundry (? reading and meaning uncertain).

283. Poverty and wealth are terms for lack and superfluity; so that he who lacks is not wealthy, and he who does not lack is not poor.

284. If your desires are not great, a little will seem much to you; for small appetite makes poverty equivalent to wealth.

285. One should realise that human life is weak and brief and mixed with many cares and difficulties, in order that one may care only for moderate possessions, and that hardship may be measured by the standard of one's needs.

286. He is fortunate who is happy with moderate means, unfortunate who is unhappy with great possessions.

287. Communal distress is harder than that of individuals; for there remains no hope of assistance.

288. Disease of the home and of the life comes about in the same way as that of the body.

289. It is unreasonableness not to submit to the necessary conditions of life.

290. Cast forth uncontrollable grief from your benumbed soul by means of reason.

291. To bear poverty well is the sign of a sensible man.

292. The hopes of the unintelligent are senseless.

293. Those to whom their neighbours' misfortunes give pleasure do not understand that the blows of fate are common to all; and also they lack cause for personal joy.

294. The good things of youth are strength and beauty, but the flower of age is moderation.

295. The old man has been young; but the young man cannot know if he will reach old age. Thus the perfected good is better than the uncertain future.

296. Old age is a general mutilation. It possesses everything (i.e. all the limbs and organs), but they each lack something.

297. Some men, not knowing about the dissolution of mortal nature, but acting on knowledge of the suffering in life, afflict the period of life with anxieties and fears, inventing false tales about the period after the end of life.

298. (Suidas: Democritus uses the word for 'one's own').

Doubtful fragment

298a. Check carefully the passion accumulated in thy breast, and take care not to disturb thy soul, and do not allow all things always to the tongue. 1

Spurious fragments. 2

298b. (Title): 'On the Holy Scripts in Babylon.'

299. (Title): 'The Babylonian Writings.' (Translation of the Pillar of Akikaros.)

I have travelled most extensively of all men of my time, making the most distant inquiries, and have seen the most climes and lands, and have heard the greatest number of learned men; and no one has ever surpassed me in the composition of treatises with proofs, not even the so-called Arpedonaptae of Egypt; with them I passed eighty 1 years on foreign soil.


299a. 'On the Sacred Writings in Meroê.'

299b. 'Circumnavigation of Ocean.'

299c. 'On Research.'

299d. 'Chaldean Theory.'

299e. 'Phrygian Theory.'

299f. 'On Fever and those who cough through illness.'

299g. 'Causes relating to Laws.'

299h. (Word meaning 'Problems'.)

300. 'The Things Wrought by Hand.'

   'Potent Natural Products.'
   'Sympathetic and Antipathetic Substances.' 2

308. 'Theogonia.'

302. Collection of Maxims. 3

302a. (Seneca) One for me is worth the whole populace and the populace worth one. 4

303. (Graeco-Syrian Maxims). Wise men when visiting a foreign land must silently and quietly reconnoitre while they look and listen to find out the reputation of the wise men there: what they are like, and if they can hold their own before them while they secretly weigh their words against their own in their minds. When they have weighed and seen which group is better than the other, then they should make known the riches of their own wisdom, so that they may be prized for the sake of the treasure which is their property, while they enrich others from it. But if their knowledge is too small to allow them to dispense from it, they should take from the others and go their way. 1

304. (ib., and Vatican Maxims) I alone know that I know nothing.

30S. (Reference to Democritus as philosopher in the Arabian writer Qifti).

306. (List of 14 titles of books by Democritus in the Arabian writer Masala, c. A.D. 800).

307. (Pseudoribasius, a Byzantine forgery: reference to Democritus as writer of aphorisms).

308. (Epigram attributed to Democritus; elsewhere to one Metrodorus).

309. (Albertus Magnus: Democritus said 'Man is the measure of all things that are'). 2


94:1 Some emend γνώμης to γνώμονος ('Gnômôn'); Heath prefers γωνὶης ('angle'). See Greek Mathematics, I, p. 178.

94:2 Diels: 'The Parapêgma was a bronze or marble indicator of the days of the solar year according to the Zodiac, together with the customary weather-signs. Beside the days were holes in which the days of the civil month could be inserted.

96:1 Bird-days are those on which migrant birds appear; bird-winds are those which bring migrant birds.

98:1 These are thought to be the work of another Democritus, who according to Suidas wrote two books on Tactics and one on the Jews: perhaps Democritus of Mende.

99:1 Pun on ἀποπληξίη and πληγή.

99:2 Given in a collection called 'Maxims of Democratês'. But Stobaeus quotes as 'Maxims of Democritus’ many of the sayings here recorded; it is therefore thought that 'Democrates' is a corruption of 'Democritus', or perhaps a later attribution by Byzantine scholars who had discovered the existence of one Democrates of Aphidna in Attica, a writer on agriculture of the fourth century B.C.

101:1 Cp. Heracleitus, Frg. 40.

102:1 Cp. Heracleitus, Frg. 49.

106:1 'By which is clearly meant a plane indefinitely near to the base.' Heath, Greek Mathematics, I, pp. 199-80.

107:1 The MS. reading ἀλκήν is emended by Diels-Kranz to ἀλκῇ and translated: 'It is possible to use what is good as a help against what is evil.'

108:1 It seems best to take μὴ πονεῖν, after the intrans. ἀνιέντες, as a consecutive infinitive: 'If children are left free so as not to work.' Kranz translates: 'If we do not leave children free to work.'

113:1 Cp. Heracleitus, Frg. 85.

114:1 Meineke inserted the negative μή which was accepted by Diels-Kranz.

115:1 For the doubtful words, the MSS. have εὐθυμίης and κτάσεως. Various emendations have been suggested, but none is satisfactory.

116:1 i.e. power may corrupt even the best. Diels took τοὺς ἄρχοντας as the object of άδικεῖν and translated: 'There is no means of protecting the magistrates from hurt.' He then could make nothing of the next sentence, and was obliged to assume a lacuna.

118:1 From a Herculanean MS. of Demetrius of Byzantium, who wrote 'On Poetry'. He quotes an unnamed author whom Wilamowitz took to be Democritus, because of the dialect.

118:2 For a discussion of these, see Companion, pp. 323-5.

119:1 Probably a scribe's mistake for 'five'.

119:2 The work of Bolus of Mende, Ch. 78 below.

119:3 From the Corpus Parisinum Profanum. Some of these are the same as genuine fragments of Democritus; but many come from other writers, and the collection must be regarded as unauthentic.

119:4 Cp. Heracleitus, Frg. 49.

120:1 Gomperz regarded this as genuine.

120:2 Protagoras, Frg. 1.

text/democritus_fragments.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/15 11:56 (external edit)