Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Democritus and Heraclitus

Matthew Prior, Democritus and Heraclitus:
Democritus, dear Droll, revisit Earth,
And with our Follies glut Thy heighten'd Mirth.
Sad Heraclitus, serious Wretch, return,
In louder Grief our greater Crimes to mourn.
Between You both I unconcern'd stand by:
Hurt, can I laugh? and Honest, need I cry?

Sotion, On Anger, Book 2 (fragment preserved by Stobaeus 3.20.53; vol. 3, p. 550 Hense):
Instead of anger, tears came upon Heraclitus, laughter upon Democritus, both wise men.

τοῖς δὲ σοφοῖς ἀντὶ ὀργῆς ῾Ηρακλείτῳ μὲν δάκρυα, Δημοκρίτῳ δὲ γέλως ἐπῄει.
Seneca, On Anger 2.10.5 (tr. John W. Basore):
Whenever Heraclitus went forth from his house and saw all around him so many men who were living a wretched life—no, rather, were dying a wretched death—he would weep, and all the joyous and happy people he met stirred his pity; he was gentle-hearted, but too weak, and was himself one of those who had need of pity. Democritus, on the other hand, never appeared in public without laughing; so little did the serious pursuits of men seem serious to him. Where in all this is there room for anger? Everything gives cause for either laughter or tears.

Heraclitus quotiens prodierat et tantum circa se male viventium, immo male pereuntium viderat, flebat, miserebatur omnium, qui sibi laeti felicesque occurrebant, miti animo, sed nimis inbecillo, et ipse inter deplorandos erat. Democritum contra aiunt numquam sine risu in publico fuisse; adeo nihil illi videbatur serium eorum quae serio gerebantur. Ubi istic irae locus est? Aut ridenda omnia aut flenda sunt.
Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind 15.2-3 (tr. John W. Basore):
We ought, therefore, to bring ourselves to believe that all the vices of the crowd are, not hateful, but ridiculous, and to imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. For the latter, whenever he went forth into public, used to weep, the former to laugh; to the one all human doings seemed to be miseries, to the other follies. And so we ought to adopt a lighter view of things, and put up with them in an indulgent spirit; it is more humanne to laugh at life than to lament over it. [3] Add, too, that he deserves better of the human race also who laughs at it than he who bemoans it; for the one allows it some measure of good hope, while the other foolishly weeps over things that he despairs of seeing corrected. And, considering everything, he shows a greater mind who does not restrain his laughter than he who does not restrain his tears, since the laugher gives expression to the mildest of the emotions, and deems that there is nothing important, nothing serious, nor wretched either, in the whole outfit of life.

In hoc itaque flectendi sumus, ut omnia vulgi vitia non invisa nobis sed ridicula videantur et Democritum potius imitemur quam Heraclitum. Hic enim, quotiens in publicum processerat, flebat, ille ridebat; huic omnia quae agimus miseriae, illi ineptiae videbantur. Elevanda ergo omnia et facili animo ferenda; humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare. [3] Adice quod de humano quoque genere melius meretur qui ridet illud quam qui luget; ille ei spei bonae aliquid relinquit, hic autem stulte deflet quae corrigi posse desperat. Et universa contemplanti maioris animi est qui risum non tenet quam qui lacrimas, quando lenissimum adfectum animi movet et nihil magnum, nihil severum, ne miserum quidem ex tanto paratu putat.
Juvenal 10.28-30 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
So now do you approve the two philosophers? One of them would laugh whenever he stretched and stirred one foot from his threshold, while his opposite number would cry.

iamne igitur laudas quod de sapientibus alter
ridebat, quotiens a limine moverat unum
protuleratque pedem, flebat contrarius auctor?
Lucian, Philosophies for Sale 13 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Remove him; bring on another—stay! those two, the one from Abdera who laughs and the one from Ephesus who cries, for I want to sell them together.

Come down among us, you two. I sell the two best philosophies; we offer the two that are sagest of all.

Zeus! What a contrast! One of them never stops laughing, and the other is apparently mourning a death, as he weeps incessantly. What is the matter, man? Why are you laughing?

Dost thou need to ask? Because to me it seemeth that all your affairs are laughable, and yourselves as well.

What, are you laughing at us all, and do you think nothing of our affairs?

Even so; for there is nothing serious in them, but everything is a hollow mockery, drift of atoms, infinitude.

No indeed, but you yourself are a hollow mockery in very truth and an infinite ass. Oh, what effrontery! Will you never stop laughing? (To the other.) But you, why do you cry? For I think it is much more becoming to talk with you.

Because I consider, O stranger, that the affairs of man are woeful and tearful, and there is naught in them that is not foredoomed; therefore I pity and grieve for men. And their present woes I do not consider great, but those to come in future will be wholly bitter; I speak of the great conflagrations and the collapse of the universe. It is for this that I grieve, and because nothing is fixed, but all things are in a manner stirred up into porridge, and joy and joylessness, wisdom and unwisdom, great and small are all but the same, circling about, up and down, and interchanging in the game of Eternity.
Anonymus, in Greek Anthology 9.148 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Weep for life, Heraclitus, much more than when thou didst live, for life is now more pitiable. Laugh now, Democritus, at life far more than before; the life of all is now more laughable. And I, too, looking at you, am puzzled as to how I am to weep with the one and laugh with the other.
Donato Bramante, Heraclitus and Democritus

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