Battle Royale of the Bitter

Some unvarnished views on life, as expressed by the epigramist Palladas (c. 4th century CE) and the French moralist La Rochefoucauld (17th century):

[1] Wickedness

Palladas 10.95

I hate the man whose nature is two-fold:
Kind in words, but hostile in his actions.

La Rochefoucauld #197

There are people in whom one couldn’t expect evil without having seen it, but there’s no one in whom it ought to surprise us when we do see it.

[2] Death

Palladas 10.59

The fear of death is quite a painful grief,
And a mortal profits when freed from it.
So don’t lament a man’s exit from life:
There’s no further suffering after death.

La Rochefoucauld #23

Few people know death. One doesn’t ordinarily suffer it in accordance with a resolution, but in keeping with stupidity and custom; what’s more, most men die because they can’t stop themselves dying.

[3] Love

Palladas 11.385

Your love is a sham:
You do it out of fear and need.
Nothing is more untrue than love like that.

La Rochefoucauld #76

True love is like a spiritual apparition: everybody talks about it, but few people have seen it.

[4] Advice

Palladas 10.91

Whenever someone hates a man god loves,
He does something truly absurd:
Manifestly, he arms himself for battle
Against god himself!
From his envy he reaps immense bitterness.
One must love that man whom god loves.

La Rochefoucauld #93

Old people love to dole out good precepts in order to console themselves for no longer being able to set bad examples.


μισῶ τὸν ἄνδρα τὸν διπλοῦν πεφυκότα,
χρηστὸν λόγοισι, πολέμιον δὲ τοῖς τρόποις.


Προσδοκίη θανάτου πολυώδυνός ἐστιν ἀνίη:
τοῦτο δὲ κερδαίνει θνητὸς ἀπολλύμενος.
μὴ τοίνυν κλαύσῃς τὸν ἀπερχόμενον βιότοιο:
οὐδὲν γὰρ θανάτου δεύτερόν ἐστι πάθος.


πλαστὸν ἔχεις τὸν ἔρωτα, φόβῳ δὲ φιλεῖς καὶ ἀνάγκῃ:
τοῦ δὲ φιλεῖν οὕτως οὐδὲν ἀπιστότερον.


ὅταν στυγῇ τις ἄνδρα, τὸν θεὸς φιλεῖ,
οὗτος μεγίστην μωρίαν κατεισάγει:
φανερῶς γάρ αὐτῷ τῷ θεῷ κορύσσεται,
χόλον μέγιστον ἐκ φθόνου δεδεγμένος,
δεῖ γὰρ φιλεῖν ἐκεῖνον, ὃν θεὸς φιλεῖ.

La Rochefoucauld #197

Il y a des gens de qui l’on peut ne jamais croire du mal sans l’avoir vu; mais il n’y en a point en qui il nous doive surprendre en le voyant.


Peu de gens connaissent la mort. On ne la souffre pas ordinairement par résolution, mais par stupidité et par coutume; et la plupart des hommes meurent parce qu’on ne peut s’empêcher de mourir.


Il est du véritable amour comme de l’apparition des esprits: tout le monde en parle, mais peu de gens en ont vu.


Les vieillards aiment à donner de bons préceptes, pour se consoler de n’être plus en état de donner de mauvais exemples.

Detail of a print of Francois de La Rochefoucauld.
Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Leave a Reply