The Greatest Good: Some Ancient Words on Health

Plato, Gorgias 452b

“What greater good is there for people than health?”

τί δ᾿ ἐστὶ μεῖζον ἀγαθὸν ἀνθρώποις ὑγιείας·


Plato, Republic 333d (book 9)

“There is nothing sweeter than being healthy; but its sweetness evades our notice until we are sick”

Ὡς οὐδὲν ἄρα ἐστὶν ἥδιον τοῦ ὑγιαίνειν, ἀλλὰ σφᾶς ἐλελήθει, πρὶν κάμνειν, ἥδιστον ὄν.

Aristotle, Magna Moralia 1.18 (1190a)

“We all agree on these things, for example that health is a good.

(ταῦτα μὲν γὰρ ἅπαντες ὁμογνωμονοῦσιν, οἷον τὴν ὑγίειαν ὅτι ἀγαθόν)

Plutarch, To an Uneducated Ruler 789f

“Philosophy is a partner to a ruler and reason has been established as a guard just as a doctor removes what harms a person but leaves the healthy part intact”

 ὁ δ᾿ ἐκ φιλοσοφίας τῷ ἄρχοντι πάρεδρος καὶ φύλαξ ἐγκατοικισθεὶς λόγος, ὥσπερ εὐεξίας τῆς δυνάμεως τὸ ἐπισφαλὲς ἀφαιρῶν, ἀπολείπει τὸ ὑγιαῖνον.

Carmen Convivialia 890

“The best thing for a mortal man is to be healthy
And second, to be pretty.
Third, is to be wealthy without deceit.
And, fourth, is to be young with friends.”

ὑγιαίνειν μὲν ἄριστον ἀνδρὶ θνητῷ,
δεύτερον δὲ φυὰν καλὸν γενέσθαι,
τὸ δὲ τρίτον πλουτεῖν ἀδόλως,
τέταρτον δὲ ἡβᾶν μετὰ τῶν φίλων.

From the Suda, a proverb:

“Healthier than a tick”: A proverb used for people who are entirely healthy. It comes from the animal, the tick which is completely smooth and has neither blemish nor injury.”

Ὑγιέστερος Κρότωνος: ἐπὶ τῶν πάνυ ὑγιαινόντων ἡ παροιμία. ἀπὸ τοῦ ζῴου τοῦ κρότωνος: λεῖον γάρ ἐστιν ὅλον καὶ χωρὶς ἀμυχῆς καὶ μηδὲν ἔχον σίνος.


Athena Hygeia (“Health”; “Cleansing”), A cult-name

Euripides, Hippolytus 261-6

“In life, they say, strict and unrelenting occupation is more likely to ruin than please us, and it wages war with our health. Therefore, I am more inclined to praise moderation than excessive strain; and wise people agree with me.”

βιότου δ᾽ ἀτρεκεῖς ἐπιτηδεύσεις
φασὶ σφάλλειν πλέον ἢ τέρπειν
τῇ θ᾽ ὑγιείᾳ μᾶλλον πολεμεῖν
οὕτω τὸ λίαν ἧσσον ἐπαινῶ
τοῦ μηδὲν ἄγαν:
καὶ ξυμφήσουσι σοφοί μοι.

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