Vatican Sayings

by Epicurus (Ἐπίκουρος)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre (2010)

This translation excludes the sayings commonly attributed to other authors or repeated from the Principal Doctrines.

  English Translation Greek Original [note]
4. Pain is easily disdained; for a pain that causes intense suffering is brief, whereas a pain that lingers in the flesh is weak and feeble. [note] πᾶσα ἀλγηδὼν εὐκαταφρόνητος· ἡ γὰρ σύντομον ἔχουσα τὸ πονοῦν σύντονον ἔχει τὸν χρόνον, ἡ δὲ χρονίζουσα περὶ τὴν σάρκα ἀβληχρὸν ἔχει τὸν πόνον.
7. It is easy to commit an injustice undetected, but impossible to be sure that you have escaped detection. ἀδικοῦντα λαθεῖν μὲν δύσκολον, πίστιν δὲ λαβεῖν ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαθεῖν ἀδύνατον.
9. Compulsion is a bad thing, but there is no compulsion to live under compulsion. [note] κακὸν ἀνάγκη, ἀλλʼ οὐδεμία ἀνάγκη ζῆν μετὰ ἀνάγκης.
11. For most people, to be quiet is to be numb and to be active is to be frenzied. τῶν πλείστων ἀνθρώπων τὸ μὲν ἡσυχάζον ναρκᾷ, τὸ δὲ κινούμενον λυττᾷ.
14. We are born only once and cannot be born twice, and must forever live no more. You don't control tomorrow, yet you postpone joy. Life is ruined by putting things off, and each of us dies without truly living. [note] γεγόναμεν ἅπαξ, δὶς δὲ οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι· δεῖ δὲ τὸν αἰῶνα μηκέτι εἶναι· σὺ δὲ οὐκ ὢν τῆς αὔριον κύριος ἀναβάλλῃ τὸ χαῖρον· ὁ δὲ βίος μελλησμῷ παραπόλλυται καὶ εἷς ἕκαστος ἡμῶν ἀσχολούμενος ἀποθνῄσκει.
15. We treasure our character as our own, whether or not it is worthy in itself or admired by others; and so we must honor our fellow men, if they are good. ἤθη ὥσπερ τὰ ἡμῶν αὐτῶν ἴδια τιμῶμεν, ἄν τε χρηστὰ ἔχωμεν, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ζηλούμενα, ἄν τε μή· οὕτω χρὴ καὶ <τὰ> τῶν πέλας, ἂν ἐπιεικεῖς ὦσιν.
16. No one who sees what is bad chooses it willingly; instead he is lured into seeing it as good compared to what is even worse, and thus he is trapped. [note] οὐδεὶς βλέπων τὸ κακὸν αἱρεῖται αὐτό, ἀλλὰ δελεασθεὶς ὡς ἀγαθῷ πρὸς τὸ μεῖζον αὐτοῦ κακὸν ἐθηρεύθη.
17. It is not the young man who is most happy, but the old man who has lived beautifully; for despite being at his very peak the young man stumbles around as if he were of many minds, whereas the old man has settled into old age as if in a harbor, secure in his gratitude for the good things he was once unsure of. οὐ νέος μακαριστὸς ἀλλὰ γέρων βεβιωκὼς καλῶς· ὁ γὰρ νέος ἀκμῇ πολὺς ὑπὸ τῆς τύχης ἑτεροφρονῶν πλάζεται· ὁ δὲ γέρων καθάπερ ἐν λιμένι τῷ γήρᾳ καθώρμικεν, τὰ πρότερον δυσελπιστούμενα τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἀσφαλεῖ κατακλείσας χάριτι.
18. The passion of love disappears without the opportunity to see each other and talk and be together. ἀφαιρουμένης προσόψεως καὶ ὁμιλίας καὶ συναναστροφῆς ἐκλύεται τὸ ἐρωτικὸν πάθος.
19. He who forgets the good things he had yesterday becomes an old man today. τοῦ γεγονότος ἀμνήμων ἀγαθοῦ γέρων τήμερον γεγένηται.
21. Nature must be persuaded, not forced. And we will persuade nature by fulfilling the necessary desires, and the natural desires too if they cause no harm, but sharply rejecting the harmful desires. [note] οὐ βιαστέον τὴν φύσιν ἀλλὰ πειστέον· πείσομεν δὲ τὰς ἀναγκαίας ἐπιθυμίας ἐκπληροῦντες, τάς τε φυσικὰς ἂν μὴ βλάπτωσι, τὰς δὲ βλαβερὰς πικρῶς ἐλέγχοντες.
23. Every friendship is an excellence in itself, even though it begins in mutual advantage. [note] πᾶσα φιλία διʼ ἑαυτὴν ἀρετή· ἀρχὴν δὲ εἴληφεν ἀπὸ τῆς ὠφελείας.
24. Dreams have neither a divine nature nor a prophetic power; instead they come from the impact of images. ἐνύπνια οὐκ ἔλαχε φύσιν θείαν οὐδὲ μαντικὴν δύναμιν, ἀλλὰ γίνεται κατὰ ἔμπτωσιν εἰδώλων.
25. Poverty is great wealth if measured by the goals of nature, and wealth is abject poverty if not limited by the goals of nature. ἡ πενία μετρουμένη τῷ τῆς φύσεως τέλει μέγας ἐστὶ πλοῦτος· πλοῦτος δὲ μὴ ὁριζόμενος μεγάλη ἐστὶ πενία.
26. Understand that a long discourse and a short one both achieve the same result. δεῖ διαλαβεῖν ὅτι καὶ ὁ πολὺς λόγος καὶ ὁ βραχὺς εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ συντείνει.
27. Whereas other pursuits yield their fruit only to those who have practiced them to perfection, in the love and practice of wisdom knowledge is accompanied by delight; for here enjoying comes along with learning, not afterward. ἐπὶ μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἐπιτηδευμάτων μόλις τελειωθεῖσιν ὁ καρπὸς ἔρχεται, ἐπὶ δὲ φιλοσοφίας συντρέχει τῇ γνώσει τὸ τερπνόν· οὐ γὰρ μετὰ μάθησιν ἀπόλαυσις, ἀλλὰ ἅμα μάθησις καὶ ἀπόλαυσις.
28. Those who grasp after friendship and those who shrink from it are not worthy of approval; on the other hand, it is necessary to risk some pleasure for the pleasures of friendship. [note] οὔτε τοὺς προχείρους εἰς φιλίαν οὔτε τοὺς ὀκνηροὺς δοκιμαστέον· δεῖ δὲ καὶ παρακινδυνεῦσαι χάριν, χάριν φίλιας.
29. Speaking freely in my study of what is natural, I prefer to prophesize about what is good for all people, even if no one will understand me, rather than to accept common opinions and thereby reap the showers of praise that fall so freely from the great mass of men. [note] παρρησίᾳ γὰρ ἔγωγε χρώμενος φυσιολογῶν χρησμῳδεῖν τὰ συμφέροντα πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις μᾶλλον ἄν βουλοίμην, κἂν μηδεὶς μέλλῃ συνήσειν, ἢ συγκατατιθέμενος ταῖς δόξαις καρποῦσθαι τὸν πυκνὸν παραπίπτοντα παρὰ τῶν πολλῶν ἔπαινον.
32. Honoring a sage is itself a great good to the one who honors. ὁ τοῦ σοφοῦ σεβασμὸς ἀγαθὸν μέγα τῷ σεβομένῳ ἐστί.
33. The body cries out to not be hungry, not be thirsty, not be cold. Anyone who has these things, and who is confident of continuing to have them, can rival the gods for happiness. [note] σαρκὸς φωνὴ τὸ μὴ πεινῆν, τὸ μὴ διψῆν, τὸ μὴ ῥιγοῦν· ταῦτα γὰρ ἔχων τις καὶ ἐλπίζων ἕξειν κἂν <διὶ> ὑπὲρ εὐδαιμονίας μαχέσαιτο.
34. The use of friends is not that they are useful, but that we can trust in their usefulness. [note] οὐκ οὕτως χρείαν ἔχομεν τῆς χρείας <τῆς> παρὰ τῶν φίλων ὡς τῆς πίστεως τῆς περὶ τῆς χρείας.
35. Don't ruin the things you have by wanting what you don't have, but realize that they too are things you once did wish for. [note] οὐ δεῖ λυμαίνεσθαι τὰ παρόντα τῶν ἀπόντων ἐπιθυμίᾳ, ἀλλʼ ἐπιλογίζεσθαι ὅτι καὶ ταῦτα τῶν εὐκταίων ἦν.
37. Nature is weak in the face of what is bad, not what is good; for it is kept whole by pleasures and broken down by pains. ἀσθενὴς ἡ φύσις ἐστὶ πρὸς τὸ κακὸν οὐ πρὸς τὸ ἀγαθόν· ἡδοναῖς μὲν γὰρ σῴζεται, ἀλγηδόσι δὲ διαλύεται.
38. Anyone with many good reasons to leave this life is an altogether worthless person. μικρὸς παντάπασιν ᾧ πολλαὶ αἰτίαι εὔλογοι εἰς ἐξαγωγὴν βίου.
39. A friend is not one who is constantly seeking some benefit, nor one who never connects friendship with utility; for the former trades kindness for compensation, while the latter cuts off all hope for the future. οὔθʼ ὁ τὴν χρείαν ἐπιζητῶν διὰ παντὸς φίλος, οὔθʼ ὁ μηδέποτε συνάπτων· ὁ μὲν γὰρ καπηλεύει τῇ χάριτι τὴν ἀμοιβήν, ὁ δὲ ἀποκόπτει τὴν περὶ τοῦ μέλλοντος εὐελπιστίαν.
40. One who says that everything occurs by necessity cannot complain about someone who says that not everything occurs by necessity, because even that claim occurs by necessity. ὁ λέγων πάντα κατʼ ἀνάγκην γίνεσθαι οὐδὲν ἐγκαλεῖν ἔχει τῷ λέγοντι μὴ πάντα κατʼ ἀνάγκην γίνεσθαι· ἀυτὸ γὰρ τοῦτό φησι κατʼ ἀνάγκην γίνεσθαι.
41. One must laugh and seek wisdom and tend to one's home life and use one's other goods, and always recount the pronouncements of true philosophy. γελᾶν ἅμα δεῖ καὶ φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οἰκονομεῖν καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς οἰκειώμασι χρῆσθαι καὶ μηδαμῇ λήγειν τὰς ἐκ τῆς ὀρθῆς φιλοσοφίας φωνὰς ἀφιέντας.
42. At the very same time, the greatest good is created and the greatest evil is removed. [note] ὁ αὐτὸς χρόνος καὶ γενέσεως τοῦ μεγίστου ἀγαθοῦ καὶ ἀπολύσεως <τοῦ κακοῦ>.
43. It is not right to love money unjustly, and shameful to love it justly; for it is unbecoming to be overly stingy, beyond what is right. φιλαργυρεῖν ἄδικα μὲν ἀσεβές, δίκαια δὲ αἰσχρόν· ἀπρεπὲς γὰρ ῥυπαρῶς φείδεσθαι καὶ μετὰ τοῦ δικαίου.
44. When the sage contends with necessity, he is skilled at giving rather than taking — such a treasury of self-reliance has he found. [note] ὁ σοφὸς εἰς τὰ ἀναγκαῖα συγκριθεῖς μᾶλλον ἐπίσταται μεταδιδόναι ἢ μεταλαμβάνειν· τηλικοῦτον αὐταρκείας εὗρε θησαυρόν.
45. The study of what is natural produces not braggarts nor windbags nor those who show off the culture that most people fight about, but those who are fearless and self-reliant and who value their own good qualities rather than the good things that have come to them from external circumstances. [note] οὐ κομποὺς οὐδὲ φωνῆς ἐργαστικοὺς οὐδὲ τὴν περιμάχητον παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς παιδείαν ἐνδεικνυμένους φυσιολογία παρασκευάζει, ἀλλὰ σοβαροὺς καὶ αὐτάρκεις καὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀγαθοῖς, οὐκ ἐπὶ τοῖς τῶν πραγμάτων μέγα φρονοῦντες.
46. We cast off common customs just as we would do to wicked men who have been causing great harm for a long time. [note] τὰς φαύλας συνηθείας ὥσπερ ἄνδρας πονηροὺς πολὺν χρόνον μέγα βλάψαντες τελείως ἐκδιώκομεν.
48. While you are on the road, try to make the later part better than the earlier part; and be equally happy when you reach the end. πειρᾶσθαι τὴν ὑστέραν τῆς προτέρας κρείττω ποιείν, ἕως ἂν ἐν ὁδῷ ὦμεν· ἐπειδὰν δʼ ἐπὶ πέρας ἔλθωμεν, ὁμαλῶς εὐφραίνεσθαι.
52. Friendship dances around the world, announcing to each of us that we must awaken to happiness. ἡ φιλία περιχορεύει τὴν οἰκουμένην κηρύττουσα δὴ πᾶσιν ἡμῖν ἐγείρεσθαι ἐπὶ τὸν μακαρισμόν.
53. Envy no one. For good people do not deserve envy, and the more that wicked people succeed the more they ruin things for themselves. [note] οὐδενὶ φθονητέον· ἀγαθοὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἄξιοι φθόνου, πονηροὶ δὲ ὅσῳ ἂν μᾶλλον εὐτυχῶσι, τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον αὑτοῖς λυμαίνονται.
54. Do not pretend to love and practice wisdom, but love and practice wisdom in reality; for we need not the appearance of health but true health. οὐ προσποιεῖσθαι δεῖ φιλοσοφεῖν, ἀλλʼ ὄντως φιλοσοφεῖν· οὐ γὰρ προσδεόμεθα τοῦ δοκεῖν ὑγιαίνειν, ἀλλὰ τοῦ κατʼ ἀλήθειαν ὑγιαίνειν.
55. Misfortune must be cured through gratitude for what has been lost and the knowledge that it is impossible to change what has happened. [note] θεραπευτέον τὰς συμφορὰς τῇ τῶν ἀπολλυμένων χάριτι καὶ τῷ γινώσκειν ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἄπρακτον ποιῆσαι τὸ γεγονός.
56-57. The sage does not feel a greater pain when he is tortured than when his friend is tortured, and would die on his friend's behalf; for if he betrays his friend then the rest of his life would be troubled and disturbed on account of his treachery. [note] ἀλγεῖ μὲν ὁ σοφὸς οὐ μᾶλλον στρεβλούμενος <ἢ στρεβλουμένου τοῦ φίλου, καὶ ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ τεθνήξεται· εἰ γὰρ προήσεται> τὸν φίλον ὁ βίος αὐτοῦ πᾶς διʼ ἀπιστίαν συγχυθήσεται καὶ ἀνακεχαιτισμένος ἔσται.
58. They must free themselves from the prison of public affairs and ordinary concerns. [note] ἐκλυτέον ἑαυτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ περὶ τὰ ἐγκύκλια καὶ πολιτικὰ δεσμωτηρίου.
59. The stomach is not insatiable, as most people say; instead the opinion that the stomach needs unlimited filling is false. ἄπληστον οὐ γαστήρ, ὥσπερ οἱ πολλοί φασιν, ἀλλʼ ἡ δόξα ψευδὴς ὑπὲρ τοῦ <τῆς> γαστρὸς ἀορίστου πληρώματος.
60. Everyone departs from life just as they were when newly born. [note] πᾶς ὥσπερ ἄρτι γεγονὼς ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν ἀπέρχεται.
61. The sight of one's neighbors is most auspicious if it produces the like-mindedness of one's primary kin, or at least a serious interest in such like-mindedness. [note] καλλίστη καὶ ἡ τῶν πλησίον ὄψις τῆς πρώτης συγγενήσεως ὁμονοούσης ἢ καὶ πολλὴν εἰς τοῦτο ποιουμένης σπουδήν.
62. If parents have cause to be angry with their children, of course it is foolish to resist, and thus not try to beg for forgiveness. But if they do not have cause and are angry without reason, it is ridiculous to make an appeal to one who is irrationally opposed to hearing such an appeal, and thus not try to convince him by other means in a spirit of good will. εἰ γὰρ κατὰ τὸ δέον ὀργαὶ γίνονται τοῖς γεννήσασι πρὸς τὰ ἔκγονα, μάταιον δήπουθέν ἐστι τὸ ἀντιτείνειν καὶ μὴ παραιτεῖσθαι συγγνώμης τυχεῖν, εἰ δὲ μὴ κατὰ τὸ δέον, ἀλλὰ ἀλογώτερον, γελοῖον πᾶν τὸ πρὸς ἔκκλησιν <ἐκκαλεῖν> τὴν ἀλογίαν θυμῷ κατέχοντα, καὶ μὴ ζητεῖν μεταθεῖναι κατʼ ἄλλους τρόπους εὐγνωμονοῦντα.
63. There is an elegance in simplicity, and one who is thoughtless resembles one whose feelings run to excess. [note] ἔστι καὶ ἐν λεπτότητι καθαριότης, ἧς ὁ ἀνεπιλόγιστος παραπλήσιόν τι πάσχει τῷ διʼ ἀοριστίαν ἐκπίπτοντι.
64. The esteem of others is outside our control; we must attend instead to healing ourselves. ἀκολουθεῖν δεῖ τὸν παρὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἔπαινον αὐτόματον, ἡμᾶς δὲ γενέσθαι περὶ τὴν ἡμῶν ἰατρείαν.
65. It is foolish to ask of the gods that which we can supply for ourselves. μάταιόν ἐστι παρὰ θεῶν αἰτεῖσθαι ἅ τις ἑαυτῷ χορηγῆσθαι ἱκανός ἐστι.
66. We sympathize with our friends not through lamentation but through thoughtful attention. συμπαθῶμεν τοῖς φίλοις οὐ θρηνοῦντες ἀλλὰ φροντίζοντες.
67. A free person is unable to acquire great wealth, because that is not easily achieved without enslavement to the masses or to the powers that be. Instead, he already has everything he needs, and in abundance. But if by chance he should have great wealth, he could easily share it with his fellows to win their goodwill. [note] ἐλεύθερος βίος οὐ δύναται κτήσασθαι χρήματα πολλὰ διὰ τὸ τὸ πρᾶγμα <μὴ> ῥᾴδιον εἶναι χωρὶς θητείας ὄχλων ἢ δυναστῶv, ἀλλὰ συνεχεῖ δαψιλείᾳ πάντα κέκτηται· ἄν δέ που καὶ τύχῃ χρημάτων πολλῶv, καὶ ταῦτα ῥᾳδίως ἃν εἰς τὴν τοῦ πλησίον εὔνοιαν διαμετρήσαι.
68. Nothing is enough to one for whom enough is very little. οὐδὲν ἱκανὸν ᾧ ὀλίγον τὸ ἱκανόν.
69. The ingratitude of the soul makes a creature greedy for endless variation in its way of life. τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ἀχάριστον λίχνον ἐποίησε τὸ ζῷον εἰς ἄπειρον τῶν ἐν διαίτῃ ποικιλμάτων.
70. Do nothing in your life which would cause you fear if discovered by your neighbor. μηδέν σοι ἐν βίῳ πραχθείη ὃ φόβον παρέξει σοι εἰ γνωσθήσεται τῷ πλησίον.
71. Ask this question of every desire: what will happen to me if the object of desire is achieved, and what if not? [note] πρὸς πάσας τὰς ἐπιθυμίας προσακτέον τὸ ἐπερώτημα τοῦτο· τί μοι γενήσεται ἂν τελεσθῇ τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἐπιζητούμενον; καὶ τί ἐὰν μὴ τελεσθῇ;
73. Some bodily pains are worth enduring to ward off others like them. [note] καὶ τὸ γενέσθαι τινὰς ἀλγηδόνας περὶ σῶμα λυσιτελεῖ πρὸς φυλακὴν τῶν ὁμοειδῶν.
74. In a scholarly dispute, he who loses gains more because he has learned something. ἐν φιλολόγῳ συζητήσει πλεῖον ἤνυσεν ὁ ἡττηθεὶς καθʼ ὃ προσέμαθεν.
75. This saying is utterly ungrateful for the good things one has achieved: provide for the end of a long life. [note] εἰς τὰ παρῳχηκότα ἀγαθὰ ἀχάριστος φωνὴ ἡ λέγουσα· τέλος ὅρα μακροῦ βίου.
76. I rejoice with you, for you are the kind of person I would praise if you were to grow old as you are, and who knows the difference between seeking wisdom for yourself and for the sake of Greece. τοιοῦτος εἶ γηράσκων ὁποῖον ἐγὼ παραινῶ, καὶ διέγνωκας ὁποῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἑαυτῷ φιλοσοφῆσαι καὶ οἷον τὸ τῇ ἑλλάδι· συγχαίρω σοι.
77. The greatest fruit of self-reliance is freedom. [note] τῆς αὐταρκείας καρπὸς μέγιστος ἐλευθερία.
78. The noble soul is devoted most of all to wisdom and to friendship — one a mortal good, the other immortal. [note] ὁ γενναῖος περὶ σοφίαν καὶ φιλίαν μάλιστα γίγνεται, ὧν τὸ μέν ἐστι θνητὸν ἀγαθόν, τὸ δὲ ἀθάνατον.
79. He who is as peace within himself also causes no trouble for others. ὁ ἀτάραχος ἑαυτῷ καὶ ἑτέρῳ ἀόχλητος.
80. A young man's share in deliverance comes from watching over the prime of his life and warding off what will ruin everything through frenzied desires. [note] νέῳ σωτηρίας μοῖρα τῆς ἡλικίας τήρησις καὶ φυλακὴ τῶν πάντα μολυνόντωv κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τὰς οἰστρώδεις.
81. One will not banish emotional disturbance or arrive at significant joy through great wealth, fame, celebrity, or anything else which is a result of vague and indefinite causes. [note] οὐ λύει τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ταραχὴν οὐδὲ τὴν ἀξιόλογον ἀπογεννᾷ χαρὰν οὔτε πλοῦτος ὑπάρχων ὁ μέγιστος οὔθʼ ἡ παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς τιμὴ καὶ περίβλεψις οὔτʼ ἄλλο τι τῶν παρὰ τὰς ἀδιορίστους αίτίας.

Translator's Notes

[0] The English translation is provided under Creative Commons CC0 (for details, refer to the Publisher's Note). The Greek text is in the public domain. The text provided here generally follows that of Hermann Usener as published in his Epicurea (1887), with some attention paid to the texts of G. Arrighetti as published in Epicuro Opere (Torino: Giulio Einaudi Editore, 1960) and of A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley as published in Volume 2 of The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge University Press, 1987). [back]

[4] This idea is also expressed at Letter to Menoikos, Section 133. [back]

[9] The word ἀνάγκη is translated here as "compulsion", not "necessity"; it shares the same root ("force", "constraint") with the word that Epicurus uses for "the necessary desires" (see for instance Principal Doctrine #29 and Vatican Saying #21), but it seems to be used here in the negative sense of an external force as opposed to the inborn desires for the things that are necessary for happiness, physical health, or life itself (see Letter to Menoikos 127). [back]

[14] The point about not controlling tomorrow is discussed in greater detail at Letter to Menoikos, Section 133. The word ἀσχολούμενος is often translated as "being without leisure"; however, it also means not having time for something, and here that "something" seems to be life itself. [back]

[16] The underyling imagery here derives from hunting: the soul is lured (δελεασθεὶς from δέλεαρ "bait") and trapped (ἐθηρεύθη, a passive form of θηρεύω "to hunt") into doing what is bad. [back]

[21] Elsewhere, Epicurus contrasts the natural and necessary desires with the unnecessary desires, not the harmful desires, although he often points out that the unnecessary desires tend to cause harm; see for example Letter to Menoikos, Section 127 and Principal Doctrines #26 and #30. [back]

[23] Here I follow Long and Sedley in using the received text (ἀρετή = excellence or virtue) rather than Usener's widely-adopted emendation (αἱρετή = choiceworthy). The standard objection to ἀρετή is that it makes little sense to call every friendship a virtue. However, I think that "excellence" does greater justice to the pagan meaning of ἀρετή than does the Victorian-sounding "virtue", and that "every friendship is an excellence in itself" is not far-fetched in the context of ancient Greek ethics, despite the fact that it might strike us moderns as a bit strange (see also Letter to Menoikos, Section 132). The Greek word ὠφελεία means literally advantage or aid or help, not mutual advantage; however, I think the concept of mutuality is implied by other statements that Epicurus makes about friendship, such as Principal Doctrines #31, #32, #33, #37, #38, and #39. [back]

[28] I have translated τοὺς προχείρους ("those who are ready", here in the sense of "over-ready") as "those who grasp after" because χείρ is the word for hand. There is also a play on words in the second clause, where χάρις (grace, fortune, pleasure) is used in the sense of "delight" and in the sense of "for the sake of"; to preserve the pun, I have translated both instances using the word "pleasure". I take the meaning as related to an idea from Principal Doctrine #8: we must pay for the long-term pleasures of friendship by venturing the possibility of some short-term pain ("risking some pleasure"); see also Letter to Menoikos, Section 129 and Vatican Saying #73. This is enlightened hedonism at its most social, if you will. [back]

[29] Because the term "natural philosophy" is somewhat outdated in English, I translate φυσιολογία as "the study of what is natural" (not "the study of nature", which today implies the physical sciences instead of what is of greatest interest to Epicurus: human nature). On Epicurean disdain for traditional Greek enculturation (παιδεία) as almost a kind of indoctrination, see Fragment #117. At Fragment #187 Epicurus also says that he has not wanted to please the many in his thinking and writing. [back]

[33] On rivalling the gods for happiness, see Letter to Menoikos, Section 135. [back]

[34] Here Epicurus makes a pun on the Greek word χρεία (use, advantage, utility, need). [back]

[35] The word translated here as "ruin" (λυμαίνομαι) means, at root, to mistreat. The implication is that not honoring the good things you have achieved is a sign of disrespect and shows a lack of appreciation. See also Vatican Sayings #69 and #75. [back]

[42] That is, the greatest good consists of the lack of pain and trouble, so that removing pain and trouble brings unsurpassed joy; see also Fragment #423. [back]

[44] The word αὐτάρκεια is often translated as "self-sufficiency", but I think "self-reliance" is slightly better because the Epicurean sage needs friends and therefore is not entirely self-sufficient. [back]

[45] Here σοβαρός (haughty, pompous) seems to be used in the positive sense of "proud" or "fearless"; the latter word especially ties the study of what is natural to the lack of fear that an Epicurean sage feels with regard to death, meteorological phenomena, and other natural facts. As with Vatican Saying #29, I translate φυσιολογία as "the study of what is natural". As to honoring what one achieves instead of what comes from good fortune, see Letter to Menoikos, Section 133 and following. [back]

[46] Although I have translated φαύλας συνηθείας as "common customs", it could also mean "bad habits" (thus giving this saying a more personal slant); however, συνήθεια typically means the habits or customs that arise from living together in society rather than the habits of a particular person, so I consider the less personal reading to be more likely. [back]

[54] On health as the result of practicing wisdom, see for example Letter to Menoikos, Section 122, Vatican Saying #64, and Fragment #221. [back]

[53] Good people do not deserve to be envied because success in living is not a matter of strife or struggle but of being without pain in the body and trouble in the soul, which is the natural limit of joy and easily attained by anyone; see for instance Principal Doctrine #21. [back]

[55] The words τῶν ἀπολλυμένων are commonly translated in the weak sense of "what has been", but the root denotation of ἀπολλύω is much stonger: it means to destroy, to demolish, to lay waste, to slay, to ruin, to vanish, to be lost. [back]

[56-57] Sayings 56 and 57 are traditionally put together by means of an 11-word lacuna; although I am suspicious about this reconstruction, I have not yet had a chance to perform the research necessary to confirm or deny my suspicions. [back]

[58] Many translations render ἐγκύκλια as "public education", "general education", "culture", and the like; however, the word really means "ordinary" or "quotidian", so that περὶ τὰ ἐγκύκλια means "ordinary matters" or "quotidian concerns". Words for "education" and "culture" (e.g., παιδεία) do not appear in the Greek text of this saying. This is not to say that Epicurus favored the kind of enculturation that was common in ancient Greece (see for instance Vatican Sayings #45 and #46 along with Fragments #117 and #163). [back]

[60] This saying is a bit cryptic. Some translations render it almost as meaning that the soul is born again at death, but clearly that would be at odds with the rest of what Epicurus says (e.g., Principal Doctrine #2). I take it to mean that human beings do not change throughout life in their essential needs: a person who is dying, just like a newborn baby, needs only to not be hungry, not be thirsty, not be cold (see Vatican Saying #33 and Fragment #200). [back]

[61] The exact meaning of this saying is difficult to discern. However, it seems to be related to Principal Doctrine #40 in its emphasis on trust and fellowship. [back]

[63] The phrase ἐν λεπτότητι καθαριότης is somewhat obscure; καθαριότης means purity, cleanliness, neatness, scupulousness, integrity, elegance, refinement, simplicity, frugality, economy, etc., while λεπτότης means thinness, meagreness, fineness, delicacy, subtlety, etc. Can there be a purity in meagreness, a scrupulousness in delicacy, an integrity in fineness, a frugality in subtlety? Translating this phrase as "an elegance in simplicity" ties it to other statements Epicurus makes about both living beautifully (e.g., Vatican Saying #17) and living simply or naturally (e.g., Vatican Saying #21). [back]

[67] The text reads "a free life" (ἐλεύθερος βίος) rather than "a free person", but that would complicate the translation unnecessarily. [back]

[71] Literally, τὸ κατὰ ἐπιθυμίαν ἐπιζητούμενον means something like "what is sought because of this desire" (cf. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics 1098b22); however "the object of desire" is more readable in modern English. [back]

[73] The verb λυσιτελέω means at root "to pay what is due" (later in constructions with the infinitive merely "it is better to do this than the alternative"); thus this saying has a connection to others in which Epicurus emphasizes that it is sometimes worthwhile to experience or risk the possibility of one pain for the sake of avoiding another pain or experiencing a greater pleasure (see for instance Letter to Menoikos, Section 129, Letter to Menoikos, Section 129, Principal Doctrine #8, Vatican Saying #28, and Fragment #442). [back]

[75] The force of ὅρα here might be "provide for" (as I have translated it), "beware", or even just "look to"; the overall sense is that preparing for a supposed afterlife shows a lack of appreciation for the good things of life on earth. [back]

[77] On αὐτάρκεια as "self-reliance", see the note on Vatican Saying #44. Self-reliance is discussed in greater depth at Letter to Menoikos, Section 130. [back]

[78] The idea of immortal goods is also mentioned at Letter to Menoikos, Section 135. [back]

[80] On the state of frenzy, see also Vatican Saying #11. [back]

[81] Here Epicurus explains that things like money and fame are vague and indefinite causes for happiness, in contrast to clear and definite causes like focusing on the necessary desires, or on the natural desires if fulfilling them does not cause you harm. Interestingly, the Greek word ἀδιορίστος is an Aristotelian term for ideas or causes that are vague or indefinite; see for instance Prior Analytics 26b23, Physics 184b11, and Parts of Animals 639a22. These matters are discussed at greater length in Letter to Menoikos, Section 133 and following. [back]

Publisher's Note

The Greek text provided here is in the public domain.

The translator has provided the following statement regarding the copyright of his translation:

I, Peter Saint-Andre, made this translation of the Vatican Sayings of Epicurus from Greek into English in the year 2010. By licensing this translation under Creative Commons CC0, I hereby release all legal and economic rights to this translation under all jurisdictions (including but not limited to the rights to copy, republish, translate, arrange, modify, and make derivative works from this translation), and I grant anyone the right to use this translation without conditions for any purpose. My intent is that this translation shall be free from all claims of copyright and therefore dedicated directly into the public domain.


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Last Updated: 2023-06-11

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