Vatican Sayings

The collection of Epicurean sayings known as the Vatican Sayings is preserved in a fourteenth-century manuscript in the Vatican Library (Vat. Gr. 1950), first edited in 1888: C. Wotke and H. Usener, ‘Epikurische Spruchsammlung’, Wiener Studien 10(2), 1888, 175-201. Some sayings are omitted below (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 20, 22, 49, 50, 72: twelve sayings) as they correspond to some Principal Doctrines (1, 2, 4, 5, 35, 17, 27, 29, 19, 12, 8, 13); Vatican Saying 8 corresponds to Principal Doctrine 15 but with some extra words and so is given here in full. The following translations are provisional; there are problems of text and interpretation which remain to be clarified and resolved. Please check from time to time for amendments and additional information.

1.  = PD 1.

2.  = PD 2.

3.  = PD 4.

4.  Every physical pain can readily be regarded as being of limited consequence. For one that is intensely painful lasts a short time, and one that affects the body for a long time is mildly painful.

5.  = PD 5.

6.  = PD 35.

7.  It is difficult for a person who does the wrong thing to escape notice, and impossible to be sure of escaping notice.

8.  (Cf. PD 15.) The wealth of nature is limited and easily obtained; the wealth of false expectations goes on and on to infinity and is difficult to obtain.

9.  Necessity is bad, but there is no necessity to live with necessity.

10.  Remember that, although you are mortal by nature and your time is limited, you have progressed in discussions about nature to questions of infinity and eternity and you have understood ‘things that are and things that will be and things that have been before.’

11.  Most people are numb when they are quiet and raving mad when they are active.

12.  = PD 17.

13.  = PD 27.

14.  We are born once, and it is not possible to be born twice. We will necessarily have no further existence for eternity. Although you do not have mastery over tomorrow, you put off being joyful. Life is wasted by procrastination, and every one of us dies without finding time for leisure.

15.  We value our characters as we value our own possessions, whether they are good and admired by others or not; similarly we should also res­pect the characters of our neighbours, if they are fair and reasonable people.

16.  No one seeing what is bad chooses it, but a person gets caught when lured by the bait that it is good compared with what is worse.

17.  A young person is not the one to be pronounced happy but an old person who has lived a good life. For the young person in the flower of youth roves about distracted by chance events; but the old person has come to anchor in old age as in a harbour, having locked in by a firm sense of gratitude good things which one could scarcely hope for previously.

18.  As opportunities to see, associate with and live with another are taken away, the emotion of love becomes attenuated. [The word ἐκλύεται, for which ‘becomes attenuated’ is a suggested translation, can indicate diminution or cessation, hence for example ‘diminishes’, ‘is weakened’, ‘fades’, ‘fails’, ‘ceases’.]

19.  A person forgetful of the good things that have happened has today grown old.

20.  = PD 29.

21.  Nature is not to be pressed but to be satisfied; and we will satisfy nature by fulfilling necessary desires, and (other) natural desires if they do not cause harm, and by rigorously rejecting harmful desires.

22.  = PD 19.

23.  All friendship is a good thing in itself, but it has its origin in utility.

24.  Dreams do not have allotted to them a divine nature or prophetic power, but occur through the impact of emanations.

25.  Poverty measured by the goal of nature is great wealth; wealth without limits is great poverty.

26.  It must be understood that both the long discourse and the short statement have the same intention.

27.  With other pursuits the fruit comes when after much effort they have been completed, but with philosophy the pleasure accompanies the investigation; for enjoyment does not come after learning but learning and enjoyment occur together.

28.  We should not approve of those who are quick to enter into friendship, nor of those who are reluctant; but one does need to venture favour for the favour of friendship.

29.  To be frank, in explaining nature I would rather deliver oracles about what is to everyone’s advantage, even if no one were to understand, than agree with popular opinions and enjoy receiving the constant praise of the majority.

30.  Some people spend their lives making preparations for life, not seeing that the potion poured out for all of us at birth is a mortal one.

31.  Against other things it is possible to make ourselves secure, but when it comes to death we human beings all inhabit a city without walls.

32.  Those who revere a wise person are beneficiaries of this reverence.

33.  The body asks not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold; and someone who has these things and expects to have them could compete even with Zeus for happiness.

34.  We do not need help from friends so much as the sense of assurance that they will help.

35.  We must not spoil things we have by wanting things we do not have, but realize that among things we wished for are things we have now.

36.  [To come. This is a statement about Epicurus, not a saying derived from him.]

37.  Nature is weak with the bad, not with the good; for it is preserved by pleasures but destroyed by pains.

38.  It is degrading for a person to hold that there are many sensible reasons for committing suicide. [More literally, ‘The person is altogether small who holds…’. ‘It is degrading’ interprets the inferiority of degree indicated by ‘small’.]

39.  A person who is for ever looking for help is not a friend, nor is a person who never makes contact; for the former barters reciprocity for favours, while the latter cuts short hopefulness about the future.

40.  If you say that everything happens by necessity, you have no grounds for complaint against someone who says that everything does not happen by necessity; for you are saying that what the person is doing itself happens by necessity.

41.  While amusing ourselves and philosophizing and carrying out our daily duties and engaging in all other personal activities, we must never cease speaking words of true philosophy.

42.  The same time of life is a time both of birth – of the greatest good – and of decease.

43.  To love money made unjustly is wicked, and to love money made justly is dishonourable; for to be sordidly tight-fisted, even acting justly, is indecent.

44.  Compared (with others) in relation to the necessities of life, the wise person knows how to give rather than take, having gained such a great store of self-sufficiency.

45.  The investigation of nature does not produce people who are skilled in grandiose talk or bragging or who display the sort of education greatly prized by the majority, but people who are self-confident and self-sufficient and who focus on their personal well-being, not on how good their circumstances are.

46.  Let us completely chase away bad habits as if they were wicked men who have done great harm for a long time.

47.  Chance, I have got the better of you, and I have closed off all your ways of entrance; and we will not yield ourselves up to you or any other circumstance. But when the inevitable takes us off, we will spit mightily on life and those who vainly cling to it, and go from life with a beautiful victory song, proclaiming, ‘We have lived well.’

48.  While we are on the journey, we must try to make the later part better than the earlier, and when we come to the end to be in joyful equilibrium.

49.  = PD 12.

50.  = PD 8.

51.  [To come. A passage concerning sexuality, more detailed than the usual type of saying.]

52.  Friendship dances around the inhabited world calling us all at this very time to be awakened to thankfulness.

53.  We should envy no one. For good people do not deserve envious resentment, and as for wicked people, the more they prosper the more they hurt themselves.

54.  We must not pretend to philosophize, but really philosophize. For we do not need to seem healthy, but to be healthy in reality.

55.  The cure for misfortunes lies in gratitude for what has been lost and the realization that it is impossible to undo what has been done.

56, 57.  [To come.]

58.  We must release ourselves from the prison of conventional education and political activity.

59.  It is not (as most people say) the stomach that is never satisfied, but an expectation – a false expectation – that an unlimited amount is needed to fill a stomach.

60.  We all go from life as we were when just born.

61.  It is a very beautiful sight for those nearby to see the leading family in harmony or making a great effort to achieve this.

62.  If parents are rightly angry with their children, it is surely pointless to retaliate and not to ask for forgiveness. If the anger is not justifiable but quite unreasonable, it is absurd – bearing in mind that unreasonableness generally tends to refusal – not to seek to deflect it by being conciliatory.

63.  It is possible to live decently with meagre resources which the unreflecting person finds about as hard as does the person whose life runs to excess through a failure to observe limits.

64.  Praise from others must follow spontaneously, while we attend to curing ourselves.

65.  What one is able to supply for oneself it is pointless to ask for from the gods.

66.  Let us sympathize with our friends not with wailing but with thoughtfulness.

67.  A life of freedom cannot bring in a lot of money – because this does not happen easily without subordination to the people or to rulers – but it possesses everything in continuous abundance; and if perhaps there did happen to be a lot of money as well, this could easily be distributed for the good-will of one’s neighbour.

68.  Nothing is enough to a person for whom enough is little.

69.  The soul’s ingratitude makes a living being a glutton for endless variety in its way of life.

70.  Let nothing be done in your life which will make you fearful if it becomes known to a neighbour.

71.  This question must be brought to bear with regard to all our desires: what will happen to me if the objective of the desire is fulfilled, and what will happen if it is not fulfilled?

72.  = PD 13.

73.  And the fact that we have had some pains in the body helps us to guard against pains of the same kind.

74.  In a learned discussion, the one who loses an argument is more the winner in gaining new insight.

75.  The saying ‘Look to the end of a long life’ is ungrateful for good things in the past.

76.  [To come. Not the usual type of saying; a passage expressing compliments on progress in philosophy.]

77.  The greatest fruit of self-sufficiency is freedom.

78.  The highest concerns of a high-minded person are wisdom and friendship, of which one is a mortal good, the other immortal.

79.  A person who is free from disturbance is calm inwardly and outwardly. [The words ‘inwardly and outwardly’ interpret ἑαυτῷ καὶ ἑτέρῳ. A more literal translation, set in the plural for gender neutrality, would be, ‘Those who are free from disturbance do not give trouble to themselves or to others.’]

80.  The way of safety for young people is to preserve the freshness of their time of life and to guard against the pervasive defiling effects of wild desires.

81.  Having very great wealth or being honoured and admired by the people does not put an end to disturbance of soul or give rise to exceptional joy, nor does anything else beyond the methods that entail no adverse consequences.

Trans. SRP 2012. Details of the Greek wording on which the translations are based are to be inserted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>