A Pre-Socratic Saturday: Xenophanes and Friends on Thinking, Waking, Being and Lust

The collection of luminaries known as the Presocratics are great to quote because their words have already been quoted and excerpted for over 2000 years.  This makes our job easy.

But here are some of our favorites: selections of selections.

On Herakles or Achilles?

Xenophanes, Fragment 2 13-14

“It is unjust to judge strength to be better than good wisdom.”

οὐδὲ δίκαιον / προκρίνειν ῥώμην τῆς ἀγαθῆς σοφίης·

A line stolen from the Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Parmenides, fragment 3.7

“Thinking and being are the same thing.”

… τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι

Wake Up! Inspiration for Plato?

Heraclitus, Fragment 73

“It is not right to act and speak like men who are sleeping”

οὐ δεῖ ὥσπερ καθεύδοντας ποιεῖν καὶ λέγειν·

Money Corrupts, right?

Democritus, Fragment 50

“A man wholly committed to money can never be just.”

ὁ χρημάτων παντελῶς ἥσσων οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴη δίκαιος.

David Byrne said something like this:

Thales fr. 20 (Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies. 1.1.1)

“Water is the beginning and the end of everything.”

[οὕτος ἔφη] ἀρχὴν τοῦ παντὸς εἶναι καὶ τέλος τὸ ὕδωρ

If you thought money was bad…

Prodicus fr. B7 (Stobaeus 4.20.65)

“Desire when doubled is lust; lust doubled is madness.”

ἐπιθυμίαν μὲν διπλασιασθεῖσαν ἔρωτα εἶναι, ἔρωτα δὲ διπλασιασθέντα μανίαν γίγνεσθαι.

But don’t worry, it is all in your head:

Diogenes F6 (from Simplicius Physics152.21-153.13)

And yet all things live, see and hear though the same thing; and they derive every other part of their mind from that very source.

ὅμως δὲ πάντα τῶι αὐτῶι καὶ ζῆι καὶ ὁρᾶι καὶ ἀκούει, καὶ τὴν ἄλλην νόησιν ἔχει ἀπὸ αὐτοῦ πάντα

Innocent as a babe? That’s what some think:

Ion of Chios, fr. 5a 1-2

“All creatures are born to their parents ignorant
but experience teaches them.”

καὶ μὴν ἅπαντα τίκτεται πρῶτον γοναῖς
ἄϊδρα, πειραθέντα δ’ ἐκδιδάσκεται

But we all have to start somewhere. And then work real hard:

Protagoras fr. B10 (Stobaeus 3.29.80)

“[Protagaras said that] skill is nothing without practice and practice is nothing without skill.”

[Πρωταγόρας ἔλεγε] μηδὲν εἶναι μήτε τέχνην ἄνευ μελέτης μήτε μελέτην ἄνευ τεχνης

καὶ μὴν ἅπαντα τίκτεται πρῶτον γοναῖς
ἄϊδρα, πειραθέντα δ’ ἐκδιδάσκεται

If this wasn’t enough for you, search for some Heraclitus, Democritus, and Parmenides. We love quoting these guys. And then read them again, because:

Critias 9 (Stobaeus, Anthology 3.29.11)

“Men become good more from practice than nature.”

ἐκ μελέτης πλείους ἢ φύσεως ἀγαθοί

Critias was an uncle of Plato

And:

Parmenides, fr. 6.16

“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.

7 thoughts on “A Pre-Socratic Saturday: Xenophanes and Friends on Thinking, Waking, Being and Lust

    1. sententiaeantiquae

      Fixed it!

      Here’s another for you:

      Ion of Chios, fr. 55

      “Know yourself” is not a hard command:
      but of all the gods only Zeus can do it.

      τὸ γνῶθι σαυτὸν τοῦτ’ ἔπος μὲν οὐ μέγα,
      ἔργον δ’ ὅσον Ζεὺς μόνος ἐπίσταται θεῶν

  1. platosparks

    I found these quotes very apposite as I am currently trying to read the sayings of Heraclitus. One of my favourites is

    καὶ ὁ κυκεὼν διίσταται μὴ κινούμενος
    If you don’t keep stirring the custard it separates.

    It’s not actually custard but a mixture of barley, cheese and wine but when my wife makes egg custard, if she doesn’t keep stirring it it goes lumpy and separates. This is not only a good cookery tip but succinctly expresses the thought that everything is in motion and if it wasn’t it would stop being what it is.

      1. platosparks

        Mine is an 1877 edition edited by I.Bywater unfortunately falling apart. As well as the sayings it has just about everything written on Heraclitus including his fictitious correspondence with the king of Persia.

    1. sententiaeantiquae

      It was a cheap play on the song “Don’t Dream It, Be it” from near the end.

      here’s a link to the video:

      Here are some lyrics, and to be honest, they are not quite philosophical…

      Whatever happened to Fay Wray?
      That delicate satin draped frame
      As it clung to her thigh, how I started to cry
      Cause I wanted to be dressed just the same…

      Give yourself over to absolute pleasure
      Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh
      Erotic nightmares beyond any measure
      And sensual daydreams to treasure forever
      Can’t you just see it?

      Don’t dream it – be it.

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