The Vatican Sayings (Unabridged)
This collection of maxims, titled “The Sayings of Epicurus” – or alternatively, “The Voice of Epicurus” – was rediscovered in 1888 within a fourteenth-century Vatican manuscript which also contained Marcus Aurelius Meditations, Epictetus Manual, and similar works. We have no information regarding when or by whom the Vatican collection was made.
Several of the Sayings are identical with some of the Principal Doctrines. Some defy certain translation, and others are certainly not by Epicurus (these instances are indicated by grey numerals). The set of English translations presented here is a consensus of the best translations from various sources.
1) = Principal Doctrine 1
2) = Principal Doctrine 2
3) = Principal Doctrine 4
5) = Principal Doctrine 5
10) Remember that you are mortal and that, although having but a limited span of life, you have entered into discussions about nature for all time, and see “all things that are and will be and were before.” 1
12) = Principal Doctrine 17
13) = Principal Doctrine 27
14) We have been born once and there can be no second birth. For all eternity we shall no longer be. But you, although you are not master of tomorrow, are postponing your happiness. We waste away our lives in delaying, and each of us dies without having enjoyed leisure.
15) We place a high value on our characters as if they were our own possessions whether or not we are virtuous and praised by other men. So, too, we must regard the characters of those around us if they are our friends.
17) We should not regard the young man as happy, but rather the old man whose life has been fortunate. The young man at the height of his power is often baffled by fortune and driven from his course; but the old man has come to anchor in age as in a harbor, and holds in certain and happy memory the accomplishments which he once could only hope for.
20) = Principal Doctrine 39
21) We must not resist Nature but submit to her. We shall satisfy her if we satisfy the necessary desires and also those bodily desires that cause us no harm while sternly rejecting those that are harmful.
22) = Principal Doctrine 19
27) The benefits of other pursuits come to those who have reached the end of a difficult course, but in the study of philosophy pleasure keeps pace with growing knowledge; for pleasure does not follow learning; rather, learning and pleasure advance side by side.
29) To be frank, I would prefer as I study nature to speak in revelations about what is of advantage to all men even though it be understood by none, rather than to conform to popular opinion and thus gain the scattered praise that is broadcast by the many.
36) Epicurus' life when compared to other men's in respect of gentleness and self-sufficiency might be thought a mere legend. 2
39) Neither he who is always seeking material aid from his friends nor he who never thinks of such aid as possible is a true friend; for the one engages in petty trade, taking a favor instead of gratitude, and the other deprives himself of hope for the future.
45) The study of nature does not create men who are fond of boasting and clamoring or who show off the education that impresses the many, but rather men who are strong and self-sufficient, and who take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances.
47) I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all thy secret attacks. And we will not give ourselves up as captives to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who here vainly cling to it, we will leave life crying aloud in a glorious triumph-song that we have lived well.
49) = Principal Doctrine 12
50) = Principal Doctrine 8
51) [addressing a young man] I understand from you that your natural disposition is too much inclined toward sexual passion. Follow your inclination as you will, provided only that you neither violate the laws, disturb well-established customs, harm any one of your neighbors, injure your own body, nor waste your possessions. That you be not constrained by one or more of these conditions is impossible; for a man never gets any good from sexual passion, and he is fortunate if he does not receive harm.
56-57) The wise man is not more pained when being tortured himself, than when seeing his friend tortured: but if his friend does him wrong, his whole life will be confounded by distrust and completely upset. 3
60) Every man passes out of life as if he had just been born. 4
62) If the anger of parents against their children is justified, it is quite pointless for the children to resist it and to fail to ask forgiveness. If the anger is not justified but is unreasonable, it is folly for an irrational child to appeal to someone deaf to appeals and not to try to turn it aside in other directions by a display of good will.
67) Since the attainment of riches can rarely be accomplished without servitude to crowds or sovereigns, a free life cannot obtain much wealth, but such a life has all necessities in unfailing supply. Should such a life happen to fall upon great wealth, this too it can share as to gain the good will of those about.
72) = Principal Doctrine 13
81) The soul neither rids itself of confusion nor gains a joy worthy of the name through the possession of supreme wealth, nor by the honor and admiration bestowed by crowds, nor through any of the other things sought by unlimited desire.
4. Cf. Lucretius, III.1087