A Description of Genius or Madness: An Epistle on Democritus

Hippocrates, Letter 10

A man of ours takes the greatest risks in the city now, Hippocrates, who both in the present moment and in the future has been a hope for fame for the city. May this, by the all the gods, never be a source of envy! When he has become so sick because of the great wisdom which possesses him that as a result he was afraid he might not obtain it—well, that’s how Democritus himself lost hits mind, and then abandoned our city of Abdera.

When he forgot everything, even himself before, he was awake both night and day and was laughing at everything great and small and believing that he would accomplish nothing at all for his whole life. Someone marries, another goes into business, another is a public speaker, another serves in office, he is old, he votes, he votes against things, he is sick, he is wounded, he dies. He laughs at everything, even when he sees the downcast and angry or even those who are happy.

The man is researching into the matters of Hades and he is writing these things and he says that the air is full of ghosts and he heeds the voices of birds. He often gets up alone at night and seems to be singing songs in the silence. And he claims that he often travels into the boundlessness and says that there are an endless number of Democriteis like himself. He lives with his skin ruined as ruined judgment. We fear these things, Hippocrates, and we are anxious about them: so save us, and come home quickly and help our country, do not put us off.”

     Κινδυνεύεται τὰ μέγιστα τῇ πόλει νῦν, ῾Ιππόκρατες, ἀνὴρ τῶν ἡμετέρων, ὃς καὶ τῷ παρόντι χρόνῳ καὶ τῷ μέλλοντι αἰεὶ κλέος ἠλπίζετο τῇ πόλει· μηδὲ νῦν ὅδε, πάντες θεοὶ, φθονηθείη· οὕτως ὑπὸ πολλῆς τῆς κατεχούσης αὐτὸν σοφίης νενόσηκεν, ὥστε φόβος οὐχ ὁ τυχὼν, ἂν φθαρῇ τὸν λογισμὸν Δημόκριτος, ὄντως δὴ τὴν πόλιν ἡμῶν ᾿Αβδηριτῶν καταλειφθήσεσθαι. ᾿Εκλαθόμενος γὰρ ἁπάντων καὶ ἑωυτοῦ πρότερον, ἐγρηγορὼς καὶ νύκτα καὶ ἡμέρην, γελῶν ἕκαστα μικρὰ καὶ μεγάλα, καὶ μηδὲν οἰόμενος εἶναι τὸν βίον ὅλον διατελεῖ. Γαμεῖ τις, ὁ δὲ ἐμπορεύεται, ὁ δὲ δημηγορεῖ, ἄλλος ἄρχει, πρεσβεύει, χειροτονεῖται, ἀποχειροτονεῖται, νοσεῖ, τιτρώσκεται,  τέθνηκεν, ὁ δὲ γελᾷ πάντα, τοὺς μὲν κατηφεῖς τε καὶ σκυθρωποὺς, τοὺς δὲ χαίροντας ὁρῶν. Ζητεῖ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐν Αδου,

Ζητεῖ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐν Αδου, καὶ γράφει ταῦτα, καὶ εἰδώλων φησὶ πλήρη τὸν ἠέρα εἶναι, καὶ ὀρνέων φωνὰς ὠτακουστεῖ, καὶ πολλάκις νύκτωρ ἐξαναστὰς μοῦνος ἡσυχῇ ᾠδὰς ᾄδοντι ἔοικε, καὶ ἀποδημεῖν ἐνίοτε λέγει ἐς τὴν ἀπειρίην, καὶ Δημοκρίτους εἶναι ὁμοίους ἑωυτῷ ἀναριθμήτους, καὶ συνδιεφθορὼς τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ χρῶμα ζῇ. Ταῦτα φοβούμεθα, ῾Ιππόκρατες, ταῦτα ταραττόμεθα, ἀλλὰ σῶζε, καὶ ταχὺς ἐλθὼν νουθέτησον τὴν ἡμῶν πατρίδα, μηδὲ ἡμᾶς ἀποβάλῃς·

Suda s.v. γλουτῶν

“Democritus of Abdera was called the “Laugher” because he laughed at the useless seriousness of human beings”

ὅτι ὁ Δημόκριτος ὁ ᾿Αβδηρίτης ἐπεκλήθη Γελασῖνος διὰ τὸ γελᾶν πρὸς τὸ κενόσπουδον τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

 

More on Democritus:

Robert Burton’s Sketch

Aulus Gellius with Laberius’ Play on Democritus’ Blinding

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