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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Examples of Greek Wit and Wisdom
By Diogenes Laertius (Third Century A.D.)
 
Translation of William Cranston Lawton

Bias

ONCE he was on a voyage with some impious men. The vessel was overtaken by a storm, and they began to call upon the gods for aid. But Bias said, “Be silent, so they may not discover that you are aboard our ship!”
  1
  He declared it was pleasanter to decide a dispute between his enemies than between friends. “For of two friends,” he explained, “one is sure to become my enemy; but of two enemies I make one friend.”  2
 
Plato

  IT is said Socrates, in a dream, seemed to be holding on his knees a cygnet, which suddenly grew wings and flew aloft, singing sweetly. Next day Plato came to him; and Socrates said he was the bird.
  3
  It is told that Plato, once seeing a man playing at dice, reproved him. “The stake is but a trifle,” said the other. “Yes, but,” responded Plato, “the habit is no trifle.”  4
  Once when Xenocrates came into Plato’s house, the latter bade him scourge his slave for him, explaining that he could not do it himself, because he was angry. Again, he said to one of his slaves, “You would have had a beating if I were not angry.”  5
 
Aristippus

  DIONYSIUS once asked him why it is that the philosophers are seen at rich men’s doors, not the rich men at the doors of the sages. Aristippus replied, “Because the wise realize what they lack, but the rich do not.” On a repetition of the taunt on another occasion he retorted, “Yes, and physicians are seen at sick men’s doors; yet none would choose to be the patient rather than the leech!”
  6
  Once when overtaken by a storm on a voyage to Corinth, he was badly frightened. Somebody said to him, “We ordinary folk are not afraid, but you philosophers play the coward.” “Yes,” was his reply, “we are not risking the loss of any such wretched life as yours.”  7
  Some one reproached him for his extravagance in food. He answered, “If you could buy these same things for threepence, wouldn’t you do it?”—“Oh yes.”—“Why then, ’tis not I who am too fond of the luxurious food, but you that are over-fond of your money!”  8
 
Aristotle

  WHEN asked, “What is Hope?” he answered, “The dream of a man awake.” Asked what grows old quickest, he replied, “Gratitude.” When told that some one had slandered him in his absence, he said, “He may beat me too—in my absence!” Being asked how much advantage the educated have over the ignorant, he replied, “As much as the living over the dead.”
  9
  Some one asked him why we spend much time in the society of the beautiful. “That,” he said, “is a proper question for a blind man!” [Cf. Emerson’s ‘Rhodora.’]  10
  Once being asked how we should treat our friends, he said, “As we would wish them to treat us.” Asked what a friend is, he answered, “One soul abiding in two bodies.”  11
 
Theophrastus

  TO a man who at a feast was persistently silent, he remarked, “If you are ignorant, you are acting wisely; if you are intelligent, you are behaving foolishly.”
  12
 
Demetrius

  IT was a saying of his that to friends in prosperity we should go when invited, but to those in misfortune unbidden.
  13
  When told that the Athenians had thrown down his statues, he answered, “But not my character, for which they erected them.”  14
 
Antisthenes

  SOME one asked him what he gained from philosophy. He replied, “The power to converse with myself.”
  15
  He advised the Athenians to pass a vote that asses were horses. When they thought that irrational, he said, “But certainly, your generals are not such because they have learned anything, but simply because you have elected them!”  16
 
Diogenes

  HE used to say that when in the course of his life he saw pilots, and physicians, and philosophers, he thought man the most sensible of animals; but when he saw interpreters of dreams, and soothsayers, and those who paid attention to them, and those puffed up by fame or wealth, he believed no creature was sillier than man.
  17
  Some said to him, “You are an old man. Take life easy now.” He replied, “And if I were running the long-distance race, should I when nearing the goal slacken, and not rather exert myself?”  18
  When he saw a child drink out of his hands, he took the cup out of his wallet and flung it away, saying, “A child has beaten me in simplicity.”  19
  He used to argue thus, “All things belong to the gods. The wise are the friends of the gods. The goods of friends are common property. Therefore all things belong to the wise.”  20
  To one who argued that motion was impossible, he made no answer, but rose and walked away.  21
  When the Athenians urged him to be initiated into the Mysteries, assuring him that in Hades those who were initiated have the front seats, he replied, “It is ludicrous, if Agesilaus and Epaminondas are to abide in the mud, and some ignoble wretches who are initiated are to dwell in the Isles of the Blest!”  22
  Plato made the definition “Man is a two-footed featherless animal,” and was much praised for it. Diogenes plucked a fowl and brought it into his school, saying “This is Plato’s man!” So the addition was made to the definition, “with broad nails.”  23
  When a man asked him what was the proper hour for lunch, he said, “If you are rich, when you please; if you are poor, when you can get it.”  24
  He used often to shout aloud that an easy life had been given by the gods to men, but they had covered it from sight in their search for honey-cakes and perfumes and such things.  25
  The musician who was always left alone by his hearers he greeted with “Good morning, cock!” When the other asked him the reason, he said, “Because your music starts everybody up.”  26
  When an exceedingly superstitious man said to him, “With one blow I will break your head!” he retorted, “And with a sneeze at your left side I will make you tremble.”  27
  When asked what animal had the worst bite, he said, “Of wild beasts, the sycophant; and of tame creatures, the flatterer.”  28
  Being asked when was the proper time to marry, he responded, “For young men, not yet; and for old men, not at all.”  29
  When he was asked what sort of wine he enjoyed drinking, he answered, “Another man’s.” [Of a different temper was Dante, who knew too well “how salt the bread of others tastes!”]  30
  Some one advised him to hunt up his runaway slave. But he replied, “It is ridiculous if Manes lives without Diogenes, but Diogenes cannot without Manes.”  31
  When asked why men give to beggars, but not to philosophers, he said, “Because they expect themselves to become lame and blind; but philosophers, never!”  32
 
Cleanthes

  WHEN a comic actor apologized for having ridiculed him from the stage, he answered gently, “It would be preposterous, when Bacchus and Hercules bear the raillery of the poets without showing any anger, if I should be indignant when I chance to be attacked.”
  33
 
Pythagoras

Precepts

  DO not stir the fire with a sword.
  34
  Do not devour your heart.  35
  Always have your bed packed up.  36
  Do not walk in the main street.  37
  Do not cherish birds with crooked talons.  38
  Avoid a sharp sword.  39
  When you travel abroad, look not back at your own borders. [Diogenes explains this: be resigned to death.]  40
  Consider nothing exclusively your own.  41
  Destroy no cultivated tree, or harmless animal.  42
  Modesty and decorum consist in never yielding to laughter, and yet not looking stern. [Cf. Emerson on Manners.]  43
 
 
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