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

4)  Every pain is easily disregarded; for any intense pain is brief, and the suffering brought on by a physical pain that lasts long is slight.

5) = Principal Doctrine 5

6) = Principal Doctrine 35

7) For a wrongdoer to be undetected is difficult; and for him to have confidence that his concealment will continue is impossible.

8) = Principal Doctrine 36

9) Necessity is an evil; but there is no necessity for continuing to live subject to necessity.

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.    

11) Most men are in a coma when they rest, and mad when they act.

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.

16) No one chooses a thing realizing that it is evil; but when it appears as good in contrast to greater evil, he takes the bait and is caught.

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.

18) If sight, association, and intercourse are all removed, the passion of love is ended.

19) He has become an old man on the day on which he forgot his past blessings.

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

23) Every friendship in itself is to be desired; but the initial cause of friendship is from its advantages.

24) Dreams have neither a divine nature nor a prophetic power, but they are the result of images that impress us.

25) Poverty, if measured by the natural purpose of life, is great wealth; but wealth, if not limited, is great poverty.

26) One must presume that long and short arguments contribute to the same end.

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.

28) Those who are hasty in making friends are not to be approved; nor should you commend those who avoid friendship, for risks must be run for its sake.

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.

30) Some men spend their whole life furnishing for themselves the things proper to life without realizing that at our birth each of us was poured a mortal brew to drink.

31) It is possible to provide security against other afflictions, but as far as death is concerned, we men all live in a city without walls.

32) The honor paid to a wise man is a great good for those who honor him.

33) The cry of the flesh bids us escape from hunger, thirst, and cold; for he who is free of these and expects to remain so might vie in happiness even with Zeus.

34) We do not so much need the help of our friends as the confidence of their help in need.

35) Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.

36) Epicurus' life when compared to other men's in respect of gentleness and self-sufficiency might be thought a mere legend. 

37) When confronted by evil the soul is weak, but not when faced with good; for pleasures make the soul secure but pains ruin it.

38) He is of very small account who sees many good reasons for ending his life.

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.

40) He who says that all things happen by necessity can hardly find fault with the one who denies that all happens by necessity; for on his own theory this very argument is voiced by necessity.

41) At one and the same time we must philosophize, laugh, and manage our household and other business, while never ceasing to proclaim the words of true philosophy.

42) The time of the beginning of the greatest good [pleasure] and the time of its enjoyment are one.

43) The love of money, if unjustly gained, is foolish, and, if justly, shameful; for it is offensive to be stingy even with justice on one's side.

44) The wise man who has become accustomed to the limits of necessity knows better how to share with others than how to take from them, so great a treasure of self-sufficiency has he found.

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.

46) Let us completely banish our evil habits as if they were evil men who have done us long and grievous harm.

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.

48) While we are on the journey of life, we must try to make what is before us better than what is past; but when we come to the journey’s end, we must be content and calm.

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.

52) Friendship dances through the world bidding us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness. [or to awaken and give thanks.]

53) We must envy no one; for the good do not deserve envy and as for the bad, the more they prosper, the more they ruin themselves.

54) It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth.

55) We should find solace for misfortune in the happy memory of the things that are gone and in the knowledge that what has come to be cannot be undone.

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. 

58) We must free ourselves from the prison of private and public affairs.

59) What cannot be satisfied is not a man’s belly, as men think, but rather his false idea about the unending filling of his belly.

60) Every man passes out of life as if he had just been born. 

61) Most beautiful too is the sight of those near and dear to us, when our original kinship makes us of one mind; for such sight is a great incitement to this end.

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.

63) There is also a limit in simple living. He who fails to heed this limit falls into an error as great as that of the man who gives way to extravagance.

64) We should welcome praise from others if it comes unsought, but we should also be engaged in improving ourselves.

65) It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he can attain by his own power.

66) We show our feeling for [deceased] friends, not by wailing, but by pleasant recollection.

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.

68) Nothing is ever enough for someone who regards enough as insufficient.

69) The thankless nature of the soul makes the creature endlessly hungry for refinements in its mode of living.

70) Throughout your life, do nothing that will cause you fear if it were to become known by your neighbor.

71) Evaluate each of your desires by this question: "What will happen to me if that which this desire seeks is attained, and what if it is not?"

72) = Principal Doctrine 13

73) When we have suffered certain bodily pains, they teach us to prevent others like them.

74) In a philosophical dispute, he who is defeated gains most, since he learns most.

75) The saying, "Behold the end of a long life," shows small thanks for past blessings.

76) As you mature, you are such as I urge you to be, and you have recognized the difference between studying philosophy for yourself and for Greece. I rejoice with you.

77) Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency.

78) The noble man is chiefly concerned with wisdom and friendship; of these, the former is good for a lifetime, and the latter is good for all time.

79) He who has peace of mind disturbs neither himself nor another.

80) The first step towards salvation is to safeguard one’s youth and to forestall those [cultural] influences which spoil everything with insatiable desires.

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.


Footnotes:

1. This is a quote from Homer’s Iliad, I.70.

2. This saying has been assigned by some scholars to Hermarchus.

3. These two fragments appear in the manuscript as one imperfect sentence.

4. Cf. Lucretius, III.1087