“A ruler’s first duty is to save the state itself. This is saved no less in refraining from what is not fitting than from pursuing what is fitting. But the one who shirks or overreaches is no longer a king or a ruler, but in fact becomes a demagogue or a despot. He fills the subjects with hatred and contempt. While the first problem seems to come from being too lenient or a concern for humanity, the second comes from self-regard and harshness.”
“Epikhairekakía: is pleasure at someone else’s troubles”
ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς
Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 7. 114
“Pleasure is irrational excitement at gaining what seems to be needed. As a subset of pleasure, are elation, pleasure at someone else’s pain (epikhairekakía) and delight, which is similar to turning (trepsis), a mind’s inclination to weakness. The embrace of pleasure is the surrender of virtue.”
“There are some vices whose names are cloaked with evil, for instance, pleasure at evils [epikhairekakía], shamelessness, and envy; and there are deeds too: adultery, theft, and manslaughter. All these things and those of this sort are called evil on their own, it is not an indulgence in them or an improper use that is wrong.”
And they came to the other side of the sea,
to the region of the Gerasenes.
And when he stepped from the boat, straight up to him,
from among the tombs, there came a man
with an impure spirit whose home was the tombs.
No one could restrain him then, even with chains.
He had been shackled and chained many times,
but he snapped the chains and crushed the shackles.
No one was strong enough to subdue him.
Night and day, among the tombs and in the hills,
he screamed and mutilated himself with stones.
Sophocles, Philoctetes 169-175, 183-186.
How I pity him.
He has no one who cares,
No eyes to face his own.
Wretched, always alone,
He’s sick with a savage sickness.
His every need a struggle.
How, how in the world does he hold out?
This man, perhaps second to no one
From an eminent house,
Has no share in common life.
He exists alone, away from others,
Among spotted or hairy beasts.
His hurt and hunger, pitiful.
Unceasing and grave, his worry.
“Some of them certainly corrupted people while others blasphemed the gods; there were those who gave speeches which would have been better unsaid and others who produced more audacity than good sense. But it may not be the best to say that if some people use the excuse of philosophy and become scoundrels who are no better than most people or, by Zeus, even more clever at doing evil, then we should dishonor philosophy, provided that philosophy is not doing these sorts of things. Instead, we must use these things as evidence against them, that they have failed at philosophy.
In the same way, it does not make oratory worse if some people use blandishment or abuse, but we must recognize in this that they are bad at rhetoric just as the other people fail at philosophy, they all use the excuse of the noblest action to furnish themselves with the opportunity to do evil.
It would be odd if we were to judge actions of cobblers and carpenters not from their mistakes but instead from examples where they did as well as humanly possible, but we evaluate oratory not just from its greatest accomplishments, but instead according to those who do the opposite of what oratory intends.”
Everyone has heard about Leda and the swan. But have you heard about Amphilokhos and his gift-giving goose?
Aelian, De Natura Animalium 5.29
“In Aigion, in Akhaia, a goose was in love with a handsome boy, an Ôlenian named Amphilokhos. Theophrastus tells this story. The boy was under guard with the Olenian exiles in Aigion—there, the goose used to bring him gifts. In Khios, too, there was an especially beautiful woman named Glaukê, a harp player, and many men lusted after her—which is nothing big. But a ram and a goose loved her too, as I have heard.”
Aesop: The Monkey and the Fisherman: ΑΛΙΕΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΘΗΞ
“Some fisherman was setting is net for fish along the seashore. A monkey was watching him and wanted to copy what he was doing. When the man went into some cave to take a nap and left his net on the beach, the monkey came down, and was trying to fish in the same way. Ignorant of the skill, he was using the net poorly and just wrapped it all around himself. He immediately fell into the sea and drowned. When the fisherman found him already drowning, he said, “fool, your ignorance and bad planning ruined you.”
The moral of the story is that people who try to imitate acts beyond their ability bring disaster upon themselves.”
“The same Phylarkhos also reports in his twentieth book how great a love an elephant once had for a child. He writes this: “There was a female elephant which was tended with that elephant, and they used to call her Nikaia. When the wife of the Indian who cared for her was dying, she handed her child who was 30 days old to her.
After she died, the animal’s love for the child was striking. It could not endure the child being separated from her; and whenever she did not see the child, she despaired. When the nurse fed the child milk, she put it in a cradle in the middle of the animal’s feet. If she failed to do this, the elephant would refuse to eat. After this, all day long the elephant would take reeds from the nearby grasses and chase away flies while the child was sleeping. Whenever the child cried, the elephant would move the cradle with her trunk and help him sleep. The male elephant often did the same thing.”
“Blood returns only slowly from the heart and mind because the veins there are transverse and the place is really important and is inclined toward madness and anger. Whenever these parts are filled, a wandering shiver moves about with a fever. When the situation is like this, a woman goes into a rage because of the inflammation. She wants to murder because of the rotting. And because of the depression, she is frightened and afraid. The compression around the heart cause them to want to self-harm and because of the evil state of the blood, her mind is sad and sorrowful and longs for evil.
She also names weird and frightening things that push women to leap or to throw themselves in wells or hang themselves. Even when there are no visions, there’s some strange pleasure that makes her long for death as if it is a kind of good thing. When a woman is sensible again, women will dedicate many different things to Artemis, including really expensive women’s cloaks all because they are tricked by prophets.
Relief from this disease comes whenever there is nothing impeding the flow of blood. I tell young women who are suffering this kind of thing to live with a man as soon as possible, since, if they are pregnant, they become healthy. Otherwise, a girl will be overtaken by this disease or another in puberty or a little latter on. Barren married women sometimes suffer these things.”
Diogenes Laertius on Aristippus (Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 99)
“He said that the world was his country. That theft, adultery, and sacrilege had their seasons, since none of these are shameful by nature if you take away the opinion against them which has been upheld for the policing of fools.
The wise man, he maintained, would pursue what he loved without examining the context. For example, he use to pose arguments like this: Is a woman grammarian useful because of her skill at grammar? Yes? And a child or adolescent grammarian is useful because of his skill at grammar. Yes?
So, then. A women who is beautiful is useful because of her beauty. Yes? And a child or adolescent who is handsome is useful because of this too? Yes? And this usefulness comes from its enjoyment?
Once this logic was accepted, he would continue by saying that “therefore if someone takes enjoyment of something in the way it is useful he does not do wrong—not even if he uses beauty in the way beauty is useful.” He used to win arguments by saying these kinds of things.”
Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius [Moralia, 115a-c]
“There is also the saying you know has been passed around the mouth of many humans over the years.” “what is that?” he asked. The other one, interrupted, “that it is best of all not to exist and then second it is better to die than to live. This has been demonstrated by many examples from the divine.
For certainly they say this concerning Midas after the hunt when he caught Silenus and was asking him and finding out from him what is best for mortals and what should be most preferred. But Silenus was willing to say nothing, but remained stubbornly silent.
After he tried nearly every kind of approach, he persuaded him to provide some answer—so compelled, he said, “brief-lived offspring of a laboring god and harsh fate, why do you force me to tell you what it is better not to know? A life lived in ignorance of your most intimate griefs is the least painful.
But for humans it is not at all possible to have the best thing of all or to have any share of the best nature—since the best thing for all men and women is not to be born. But the second best thing after this and the first available to mortals, is to die as soon as possible after being born.” It is clear that he said this because the way that exists in death is better than the one in life.”
The passage floats around some. Stobaeus (4.52.22) attributes it to Alcidamas’ Mousaion but the most widely cited source is Theognis. It is listed without attribution by the paroemiographer Michael Apostolos, with the explanation that this is a proverb “[attributed] to people living in misfortune” (ἐπὶ τῶν δυστυχῶς βιούντων, 3.85.3)
“First, it is best for mortals to not be born. Not to see the rays of the piercing sun
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible. And to lie with a great pile of earth heaped above you.”
The Loeb note to this passage suggest that Theognis is merely adding to the hexameter lines, since the pentameter lines add nothing. But I think this is problematic. Consider the similar doublet to the first 2 lines above in Bacchylides.
“And answering him, he said:
“It is best for mortals not to be born
Nor to see the sun.”
Note how Bacchylides acknowledges the proverbial–or at least ‘other’–status of these lines by putting it into the mouths of one of his characters. Notice the stability of the infinitive construction μὴ φῦναι with the mobility of the dative θνατοῖσι and the lexical variations of θνατοῖσι instead of ἐπιχθονίοισιν and φέριστον instead of ἄριστον.
Sophocles, Oedipus Colonos 1225–1227
“Not being born conquers
every argument. But, then, if someone does emerge,
to return where you came from as fast as possible
is second best by far.”
Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism 3.230–231) compares the Theognis passage to this fragment from Euripides (fr. 449)
“We should have a gathering to mourn
Someone when they are born, when they come to so many evils
And when someone has died and found a break from evils,
We should be happy and bless them as we carry them from their homes.”
Note the different superlative at the beginning of the phrase and the singular βροτῷ. Based on the flexibility of the expression and the riffing on it, I would suggest that this is a broadly dispersed cultural idea that has proverbial status at a very early period. Note how Euripides, in another fragment, toys with the more broadly used phrase:
Euripides, fr. 908
“Not existing is better for mortals than being born.”
Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.
Epicurus (Diogenes Laertius, 10.127) thinks that anyone who believes this and says it is a fool since “if he says it because he believes it, how is it he does not just stop living? For this is ready for him to do, if it is completely believed by him.” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως).
And there is, of course, the Ancient Near Eastern context to consider!
"happier than either are those who have not yet come into being and have never witnessed the miseries that go on under the sun."– Ecc 4:3