From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, 10.17
18: Why and How the Philosopher Democritus blinded himself; and the fine and charming verses Laberius wrote on the subject
“It is recorded among the accomplishments of Greek history that the philosopher Democritus, a man worthy of praise beyond the rest and blessed with ancient authority, deprived himself of eyesight willingly because he believed that his mind’s thoughts and reflections in considering the laws of nature would be clearer and more precise if he freed them from the incitements of sight and the eye’s mistakes.
Laberius the poet has described this deed and the method by which he accomplished his own blindness with a clever device in his farce named the Ropemaker, which describes the affair with just enough verses, written clearly. Laberius, however, created a different cause for the blindness and included it in the tale which he was writing, not inaptly. The character who speaks the following lines in Laberius’ poem is a wealthy but stingy wretch who laments the excessive spending and low behavior of his adolescent son. Here are Laberius’ lines:
“Democritus, the natural philosopher of Adbera
Placed a shield to face Hyperion’s arrival,
So that he might destroy his eyes with blazing bronze,
Thus he ruined his eyes with the rays of the sun,
So that he might not witness wicked citizens faring well.
Just so, I wish to blind the final portion of my years
Through the blaze of shining money
Rather than gazing upon my son’s extravagant prosperity.”
XVII. Quam ob causam et quali modo Democritus philosophus luminibus oculorum sese privaverit; et super ea re versus Laberii pure admodum et venuste facti.
I. Democritum philosophum in monumentis historiae Graecae scriptum est, virum praeter alios venerandum auctoritateque antiqua praeditum, luminibus oculorum sua sponte se privasse, quia existimaret cogitationes commentationesque animi sui in contemplandis naturae rationibus vegetiores et exactiores fore, si eas videndi inlecebris et oculorum impedimentis liberasset. II. Id factum eius modumque ipsum, quo caecitatem facile sollertia subtilissima conscivit, Laberius poeta in mimo, quem scripsit Restionem, versibus quidem satis munde atque graphice factis descripsit, sed causam voluntariae caecitatis finxit aliam vertitque in eam rem, quam tum agebat, non inconcinniter. III. Est enim persona, quae hoc aput Laberium dicit, divitis avari et parci sumptum plurimum asotiamque adulescentis viri deplorantis. IV. Versus Laberiani sunt:
Democritus Abderites physicus philosophus
clipeum constituit contra exortum Hyperionis,
oculos effodere ut posset splendore aereo.
Ita radiis solis aciem effodit luminis,
malis bene esse ne videret civibus.
Sic ego fulgentis splendorem pecuniae
volo elucificare exitum aetati meae,
ne in re bona videam esse nequam filium.
Decimus Liberius is a Roman playwright from the 1st century BCE