O ver 2,000 years ago the Roman and Greek empires were huge. At different times they have both been at the forefront of technology, science and civilisation. The philosophers, teachers and notable people of the age wrote down their thinking way before us British had any written history.
Although their lives were very different back then, there are many things which still ring true today and we can learn from the wisdom of the ancient world.
Heraclitus (circa 535-475 BCE)
Considered the most important pre-Socratic Greek philosopher however little is known of his life and work.
- “Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.”
- “Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”
- “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Pericles (circa 495-429 BCE)
The most prominent and influential Greek statesman and orator during the Golden Age of Athens. He built the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
- “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
- “Time is the wisest counselor of all.”
- “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Socrates (circa 469—399 BCE)
Considered one the founders of Western logic and philosophy. He established an ethical system based on human reason rather than theological doctrine. When the political climate of Greece turned, Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning in 399 BCE. He accepted this judgment rather than fleeing into exile.
- “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
- “He is richest who is content with the least, for contentment is the wealth of nature.”
- “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
Plato (circa 428—348 BCE)
Like Socrates, he is considered one of the founders of Western philosophy. He founded The Academy of Athens, which was the first institute of higher learning in the Western world.
- “The greatest wealth is to live content with little.”
- “Courage is knowing what not to fear.”
- “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
- “Ignorance is the root and stem of all evil.”
Aristotle (circa 384—322 BCE)
Also considered one of the founders of Western philosophy. After Plato died, Aristotle left Athens and became a tutor for Alexander the Great.
- “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over the self.”
- “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
- “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
- “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Seneca (circa 4 BCE—65 AD)
Born in what is modern-day Cordoba, Spain. He was educated in Rome and became a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and even humorist. He was a tutor and then chief advisor to Emperor Nero. He was ordered by Nero to commit suicide for supposed complicity in a conspiracy to assassinate the emperor.
- “The greatest wealth is a poverty of desires.”
- “One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”
- “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.
- “A gift consists not of what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.”
- “True happiness is… to enjoy the present without anxious dependence on the future.”
- “Count each day as a separate life”.
Plutarch (circa 46—120 AD)
A Greek historian, biographer, and essayist. He lived in little, out-of-the-way Chaeroneia, Boetia, in Greece and spent his days lecturing and in friendly correspondence and conversation with many cultivated contemporaries among both Greeks and Romans.
- “Neither blame nor praise yourself.”
- “The whole life of a man is but a point in time; let us enjoy it.”
- “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.”
- “Know how to listen and you will profit even from those who talk badly.”
Epictetus (circa 55—135 AD)
He was born a slave in what is modern-day Turkey. As a young man, he gained his freedom, moved to Rome, and began to teach philosophy. When philosophers were banished from Rome in 89 AD, Epictetus left and started his own school in Nicopolis in Northwest Greece, where he lived for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian.
- “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
- “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
- “Make the best use of what’s in your power and take the rest as it happens.”