Ancient Wisdom That Stands The Test Of Time – Part 1

 Powerful words of ancient wisdom from philosophers that are just as meaningful today as they were thousands of years ago – and will still be just as relevant thousands of years from now.

These old gems of ancient wisdom can guide you in your life in our modern world just as well as they have done for centuries. The great minds of the past spent their lives delving into the same problems that many experience today. From Heraclitus and his focus on our always changing world and life to Epictetus and his ancient wisdom on material possessions and how they don’t make one happy.

These are the people that self-help gurus of today model their whole operations over. To me, history is the greatest teacher and its lessons are numerous and fascinating. I hope some of these powerful words enlighten you.

Chrysippus – c. 279 to c. 206 BC

He moved to Athens as a young man and joined the Stoic school founded by Zeno of Citium. During his life he created a system of propositional logic, and was so good at it that the esteemed chronicler Clement of Alexandria wrote that Chrysippus was a better logician than Aristotle. When his mentor, Cleanthes, died he became the third head of the school of Stoicism – and called the second founder of stoicism. He was also a prolific writer, and wrote at least 705 books during his life – it was said he rarely didn’t write 500 lines a day.

“He who is running a race ought to endeavor and strive to the utmost of his ability to come off victor; but it is utterly wrong for him to trip up his competitor, or to push him aside. So in life it is not unfair for one to seek for himself what may accrue to his benefit; but it is not right to take it from another.”

”There could be no justice, unless there were also injustice; no courage, unless there were cowardice; no truth, unless there were falsehood.”

”Wise people are in want of nothing, and yet need many things. On the other hand, nothing is needed by fools, for they do not understand how to use anything, but are in want of everything.”

Zeno of Citium – c. 334 to c. 262 BC

The founder of the school of Stoicism, he divided philosophy into three parts: Logic, Physics, and Ethics. Not much is known about his life, as none of his works have survived. What we do know about him is snippets from works by other philosophers. Legend states that he was a merchant who survived a shipwreck and wandered into a bookshop in Athens. In the shop he read some works by Socrates and asked the shopkeeper where he could find a man who thought like this. The shopkeeper told him to find Crates of Thebes, the most famous Cynic of the day in Greece and thus began his life as a philosopher.

”The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may listen the more and talk the less.”

”Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

“Wellbeing is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.”

”Steel your sensibilities, so that life shall hurt you as little as possible.”

”No matter whether you claim a slave by purchase or capture, the title is bad. They who claim to own their fellow-men, look down into the pit and forget the justice that should rule the world.”

Heraclitus – c. 535 to c. 475 BC

He was born to an aristocratic family in the town of Ephesus, part of the Persian Empire (modern day Efes, Turkey), but had abdicated his kingship to his brother. Said to be of “wondrous” intellect, Heraclitus taught himself by questioning himself. He loathed human affairs and became ever distant towards people as he aged. “Finally, he became a misanthrope and wandered the mountains … making his diet of grass and herbs.” Most accounts of his death state he died by trying to treat his dropsy (or edema – a swelling of the body) he covered himself in cow manure and ‘baked’ in the sun to draw out the excess moisture.

”The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.”

““Much learning does not teach understanding.”

”There is nothing permanent except change.”

”No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

”Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”

Laozi / Lao Tzu “Old Master” – Died 531 BC

Somewhat of a legendary figure, he is traditionally credited with the founding of Taoism and writing the famous book Tao Te Ching. The Tao, or Dao, is the ideal existence. It is invisible, powerful but humble. The free will and desires of people cause many to act unnaturally with the world and upset the balance of the Dao. His teachings will help people return to their natural balance with the world and themselves. His ideas are featured in many anti-authoritarian works of libertarians and anarchists.

“The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.”

“When the palaces are full of excessive splendor,
The fields are full of weeds and the granaries are empty.
To dress in elegant clothing, carrying fine weapons,
Gorging in food with wealth and possessions in abundance—
this is called boasting of thievery.”

”Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”

“The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness.”

”Once upon a time a man whose ax was missing suspected his neighbor’s son. The boy walked like a thief, looked like a thief and spoke like a thief. But the man found his ax while digging in the valley, and the next time he saw his neighbor’s son, the boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child.”

“Without Darkness, there can be no Light.”

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

”People aren’t against you; they are for themselves. The most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later. He who conquers others is strong, he who conquers himself is mighty.”

”Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”

Epictetus – c. 55 – 135 AD

The great philosopher Epictetus was born a slave in Phrygia (Turkey), brought to Rome and sold to the Roman secretary to Emperor Nero. As a young boy he was given permission to study Stoic philosophy under Musionius Rufus, his education allowed him to become respectable and he was eventually given his freedom. When Rome banished all philosophers in 89 AD, he moved to Greece and founded his own school. He taught that philosophy is a way of life, and not just for thought.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

”Whoever does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, though he be master of the world.”

”Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”

”Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.”

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

”Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”

”It’s so simple really: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you start something, finish it.”

”No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

”Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. Once you have determined the spiritual principles you wish to exemplify, abide by these rules as if they were laws, as if it were indeed sinful to compromise them. Don’t mind if others don’t share your convictions. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer.”

Anyone who will tell you that they are a know it all is a fool. Following the words of just one person is equally foolish. Things are different for everyone, but there are some things that are true for each and every one of us. I have tried to encompass just a few of these universal human truths in these quotes from so long ago. Please explore further if you are curious and if you enjoyed this stick around as I will dig out and condense more wisdom in future volumes. You might even see some of this wisdom when I write about improving yourself.

I am a Stoic myself, my favorite philosopher is Epictetus. Who is yours? Do you have any of these words of wisdom from so long ago hit you with their power today? Let me know in a comment, let’s discuss your favorite quotes.

I will leave you with this nugget of wisdom:

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” – Epictetus


1 comment

  1. MrDD

    Oh, I’ve played it – I love strategy games.

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