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Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, by Kathleen Freeman, [1948], at


Epicharmus of Syracuse was in his prime between 485 and 467 B.C.

He wrote comedies, in which philosophical views were occasionally satirised; but these have no value for philosophy, and some of the alleged quotations are obvious forgeries: Frgs. 1-6 are almost certainly forged in support of the allegation that Plato plagiarised from Epicharmus.

1. A But the gods were always there, of course: they never were lacking; and these things (probably, 'that which is divine') always exist in a similar form and through the same causes.

B But still, it is said that Chaos was the first of the gods to be created.

A How can that be? It is impossible for a 'first' thing to come from something and into something.

B Then was there no first thing that came?

A Certainly not! Nor a second either, at any rate of these things (the divine?) of which we are now speaking thus; but they were always there.

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2. A Suppose to an odd number, or to an even if you like, one chooses to add a pebble or else to take one from those already there: do you think that the number remains the same?

B No, of course not.

A Nor, furthermore, if one chooses to add to a cubit another measure of length, or to cut off a length from what was there before: does the former measure still remain?

B No.

A Now look at human beings in this way: one grows another wastes away, and all are in process of change all the time. But that which changes its nature and never remains in the same state, must also be different by now from that which has changed. So both you and I were yesterday other men, and we are other men now, and again (we shall be) other men (in the future), and never the same, according to the same Law (Logos).

3. A Is flute-playing an activity?

B Of course.

A Is flute-playing, then, ever a man?

B By no means.

A Come, let me see: what of a flute-player? What do you think he is? A man, or not?

B Of course.

A Then don't you think it is the same also with the Good? The Good is the activity in itself; but whoever has learnt it and knows it, he then becomes good. For just as a flute-player is one who has learnt flute-playing, or a dancer one who has learnt dancing, or a weaver weaving, or in every such example, whatever you please: he himself is not his craft, but is the craftsman.

4. Eumaeus, wisdom is not in one thing only, but everything that lives also has understanding. For the female group hens, if you will closely observe, does not give birth to living offspring, but sits on eggs and causes them to have life. But Nature alone knows how it is with this Wisdom, for she is self-taught.

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5. It is not at all remarkable that we should speak thus of these things and should afford pleasure to ourselves and think ourselves well-endowed by nature. For dog too seems very handsome to dog, and ox to ox, and donkey very handsome to donkey, and even pig to pig.

6. As I imagine—do I really imagine? No, I know this full well, that there will be mention of these words of mine some day again. And someone will take them and strip off the metre which now they have, and give them a purple robe, embroidering it with fine phrases; and he, a man hard to throw (in argument: metaphor from wrestling), will show up the rest as easy to throw.

7. Well, but I do all these things under compulsion; and, I think, no one is willingly good-for-nothing or willingly accepts affliction. 1

8. (Epicharmus says) the gods are winds, water, earth, sun, fire, stars; (but I've come to the conclusion that for us the only useful gods are silver and gold).

9. It was combined and separated, and went back to whence it came, earth to earth, breath upwards. What is difficult in this? Nothing!

10. Then what is the nature of men? Blown up bladders!

11. I don't want to die; but being dead—I don't mind that!

12. Mind sees and Mind hears; everything else is deaf and blind.

13. Keep sober and remember to be mistrustful: these are the joints of the intelligence (i.e. what makes it supple).

14. (It is difficult to speak well on a poor subject): No sooner are the words spoken than the fault appears.

15. (By inference from Aristotle, 'Metaphysics' 1010a): Xenophanes spoke what was unlikely, yet true.

16. That which formerly two men said, I, one man, am sufficiently (gifted?) to say.

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Character for man is good destiny—but for some men, bad also.

17. The greatest sustenance for mortals on their journey is a pious life.

18. The best thing a man can have, in my view, is health.

19. A mortal should think mortal thoughts, not immortal thoughts.

20a. Sometimes I was in the home of these men, sometimes I was with those.

20. Know how he has treated another man! . . .

21. If you are by nature pious in mind, you cannot suffer any hurt after death; your spirit will survive above in heaven.

22. Nothing escapes the divine: this you must realise. God himself is our overseer, and nothing is impossible for him.

23. Direct your thoughts as if you may live for a long time or a short time.

24. (To stand) surety is the daughter of folly, loss (of money) is the daughter of surety.

25. If you have a pure mind, you will be pure in all your body.

26. If you seek something wise, reflect during the night.

27. All serious thoughts are better discovered during the night.

28. You ace not skilled at speaking: you are only incapable of keeping silent.

29. The hand washes the hand: give something and you may get something.

30. You are not generous: you have a disease—you enjoy giving.

31. Against a villain, villainy is no useless weapon.

32. Practice gives more results than a good natural endowment, my friends.

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34. Who would not choose to be envied, my friends? It is obvious that a man who is not envied is of no account. One pities a blind man when one sees him, but no one envies him.

35. The virtue of the right-minded woman is not to injure her husband.

36. The gods sell all good things at the price of toil.

37. Wretch, be not mindful of what is soft, lest you have what is hard!

38. Walk towards your neighbours in a bright garment, and you will be thought by many to have intelligence, though perhaps you have none.

39. You go through everything well in word, but badly in deed.

40. To have natural endowment is best, and second best (to learn).

41. The wise man should think beforehand, not afterwards.

42. Do not show yourself quick to anger over trifles.

43. Not emotion, but intelligence, should be on the surface.

44. No one deliberates rightly about anything in anger.

44a. The intelligent man is (worthy of honour?). This is how it is: property, a house, absolute rule, wealth, strength, beauty, if they fall to a man of no intelligence, become ridiculous.

Pleasures for mortals are (like) impious pirates: for the man who is caught by pleasures is straightway drowned in a sea (of them).

45. (Restored from a papyrus). The man who is not at all unfortunate and has a livelihood, yet gives nothing beautiful and good to his soul, I do not call happy in the least, but rather a guardian of goods for someone else.

46. Whoever sins least, he is the best man; for no one is innocent, no one free from blame.

From the 'Epicharmus' of Ennius

47. I thought in a dream that I was dead.

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48. The body is earth, but the mind is fire.

49. The elements are: water, earth, breath and sun.

50. This fire (of the soul) is derived from the sun.

51. And it (the sun) is all Mind.

52. (Mother Earth) has given birth to all races in the countries, and takes them back again: (she it is) who gives food.

52a. (She is called) Ceres, because she brings the crops.

53. This is Jupiter, of whom I speak, whom the Greeks call Air; who is wind and clouds, and afterwards rain, and from rain comes cold, and after that, wind, and again air. Therefore these elements of which I tell you are Jupiter, because with them he helps all mortals, cities and animals.

54. (The 'Epicharmus' of Ennius calls the moon Proserpina too, because she is usually below the earth).

The 'Canon' of Axiopistus

55. (Epicharmus gave the highest rank, among the means of divination, to dreams . . . because it is not possible to dream by free choice).

The 'Republic' of Chrysogonus

56. Life for mankind has great need of calculation and number. We live by calculation and number; these preserve mortals.

57. The Law (Logos) steers mankind aright and ever preserves them. Man has calculation, but there is also the divine Logos. But the human Logos is sprung from the divine Logos, and it brings to each man his means of life, and his maintenance. The divine Logos accompanies all the arts, itself teaching men what they must do for their advantage; for no man has discovered any art, but it is always God.


58. And drink a double quantity of warm water, two half-measures.

58a. A half-pound.

59. (Live) birth in the eighth month is impossible.

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60. A pugnacious ram can be tamed by boring the horns near the ears, where they curve round.

61. Afflictions of the testis and genital organs can be usefully treated by the application of a cabbage leaf.

62. Application of a wild-cabbage leaf is sufficient for the bite of a mad dog, but it is better to add silphium-juice and vinegar; dogs also die of it if it (wild cabbage) is given with meat.


63. (Half-measure).


64. I am a corpse. A corpse is dung, and dung is earth. If Earth is a god, then I am not a corpse but a god.

To Antenor'

65. The Romans enrolled Pythagoras as a citizen.


36:1 Pun on the two senses of πονηρὸς ('laden with toils' and 'wicked'), and of ἄτη ('disaster' or 'madness'); put into the mouth of Heracles in a play.

Next: 24. Alcmaeôn of Crotôn