Democritus, giving an etymology of the name [Tritogeneia], says that these three things come from wisdom: reasoning well, speaking well, and doing what you should. [B2] – Geneva scholia on Homer, Illiad VIII 39

By convention hot, by convention cold: in reality atoms and the empty. [Cf. B 125] And again: In reality we know nothing – for truth is in the depths. [B 117] – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers IX 72

We in reality know nothing firmly but only as it changes in accordance with the condition of the body and of the things which enter it and of the things which resist it. [B 9] And again he says: That in reality we do not understand how each thing is or is not has been shown in many ways. [B 10] And in On Forms he says: And a man must recognize by this rule that he is removed from reality [B 6]; and again: This argument too shows that in reality we know nothing about anything, but our belief in each case is a changing of shape [B7]; and again: Yet it will be clear that to know how each thing is in reality is baffling. [B8]

For teaching changes a man’s shape and nature acts by changing shape. [B33] There is no difference between being molded in a certain way by nature and being shaped in that way by time and study. – Clement, Miscellanies IV xxiii 149.3-4

Many other animals receive impressions contrary to our own, and indeed things do not seem always the same to the perception of a single individual. So it is unclear which of them are true or false; for there is no more reason for this to be true than for that – they are on a par. That is why Democritus says that either nothing is true or to us at least it is unclear. In general, because they suppose that thought is perception and perception a sort of alteration, they say that what appears to perception is necessarily true. For these reasons, Empedocles and Democritus and virtually all of the others have been guilty of holding such opinions. – Aristotle, Metaphysics 1009b7-15

You cannot say that every impression is true, because of the reversal – as Democritus and Plato showed in their reply to Protagoras. For if every impression is true (since that is an impression), and thus it will be false that every impression is true. – Sextus Empiricus , Against the Mathematicians VII 389-390

So that his mind might be as little distracted from its thoughts as possible, he neglected his inheritance and left his land uncultivated – in search of what else if not of a happy life? And although he located such a life in the knowledge of things, nevertheless he wanted his inquiry into nature to put him into a good frame of mind – for the highest good he called contentment and, often, imperturbability (that is, a mind free from fear). – Cicero, On Ends V xxix 87

The Abderites too say that there is a goal of life. Democritus, in his work On the Goal, says that it is contentment, which he also calls well-being; and he often remarks: For joy and absence of joy is the boundary and old. Hecataeus holds that the goal is self-sufficiency, Apollodotus of Cyzicus that it is amusement, Nausiphanes that it is unruffledness – and he says that this was called imperturbability by Democritus. – Clement, Miscellanies II xxi 130.4-5

Let us then say to ourselves that your body, my good man, produces diseases and afflictions by nature from within itself and receives many that strike it from without, and that if you open yourself up, you will find within a large and varied storehouse and treasury of evils, as Democritus says [B 149], which do not flow in from outside but have, as it were, internal and native springs. – Plutarch, On Afflictions of Mind and Body 500DE

The dispute between body and soul over the passions seems to be an old one. Democritus, ascribing our unhappiness to the soul, says that if the body were to take it to court for the pains and sufferings it had endured throughout its life, then if he were to be on the jury for the case he would gladly cast his vote against the soul inasmuch as it had destroyed some parts of the body by negligence or dissipated them by drunkenness, and had ruined and ravaged other parts by its pursuit of pleasures – just as he would blame the careless user if a tool or implement were in a bad condition. [B 159] – Plutarch, On Desire and Distress 2

Medicine, according to Democritus, heals the diseases of the body, and wisdom takes away passions of the soul. [B 31] – Clement, The Tutor I ii 6.2

When a man respects himself, not disparaging himself but rejoicing and being glad that he is reliable witness and spectators of what is good, then he shows that reason is already nourished and rooted within him and, as Democritus says [B 146], is accustomed to take its pleasures from itself. – Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 81AB

Men enjoy scratching themselves – they get the same pleasure as those who are having sexual intercourse. [B 127] – Herodian, On Accentuation in General XVI [Grammatici Graeci III i 445.9-11]

Your sons should be kept away from bad language; for the word is shadow of the deed, according to Democritus. [B 145] – Plutarch, On Educating Children 9F

Hence it is well to interpose the night and sleep, to make an adequate interval and intermission, and to wake up fresh again, as at the beginning, and – as Democritus has it – thinking new thoughts each day. [B 158] – Plutarch, Table Talk 655D

Lamprias said that it was hardly strange if Hagias was vexed when he got an equal share – after all, he carried a large paunch. And he confessed that he too was one of those who like their food – there are no bones in a shared fish, as Democritus says. [B 151] – Plutarch, Table Talk 643E

Light-hearted investigations move the souls [of symposiasts] in a harmonious and beneficial manner – but one should avoid speeches from wranglers and shysters, as Democritus styles them. [B 150] – Plutarch, TableTalk 614E

Democritus urges us to be instructed in the art of war, which is of the greatest importance, and to seek out labor, which is a source of great and glorious things for men. [B 157] – Plutarch, Against Colotes 1126A

Hence we shall not imitate those nations which eat flesh by necessity but rather those which are pious and closer to the gods. For to live badly and not wisely or temperately or piously, Democrates said, is not to live but to spend a long time dying. [B160] – Porphyry, On Abstinence IV 21

Stobaeus’s fragments of Democritus’s Maxims pg. 230-253

Back To Top

Back to Collected Wisdom

Home Page

© 2009