Sages of the One-Liners

Guy Davenport, Herakleitos and Diogenes
Grey Fox Press, 1981

Scholar and translator  Davenport  retrieves from the ancient Greek world  two thinkers who have the knack for concision.  The following  is a small culling that may intrigue you to seek more.


Our understanding of the greatest matters will never be complete.

Knowledge is not intelligence.

I have looked diligently at my own mind.

One ought not to talk or act as if he were asleep.

Everything flows; nothing remains.

One cannot step into the same river, for the water into which you first stepped has flowed on.

Change alone is unchanging.

There is a new sun for every day.

No matter how many was you try, you cannot find a boundary to consciousness, so deep in every direction does it extend.

Bigotry is the disease of the religions.

Man, who is an organic continuation of the Logos, thinks he can sever that continuity and exist apart from it.

Character is fate.

How can you hide from what never goes away?

One man, to my way of thinking, is worth ten thousand, if he’s the best of his kind.

Extinguish pride as quickly as you would a fire.

Ephesians, be rich! I cannot wish you worse.

Sea water is both fresh and foul: excellent for fish, poison to men.

Asses would rather have hay than gold.

The unseen design of things is more harmonious than the seen.

Not I but the world says it: All is one.



I am a citizen of the world.

I am Athens’ one free man.

When I die, throw me to the wolves. I’m used to it.

To live is not itself an evil, as has been claimed, but to lead a worthless life is.

There is no stick hard enough to drive me away from a man from whom I can learn something.

Plato’s philosophy is an endless conversation.

Grammarians without any character at all lecture us on that of Odysseus.

A friend’s hand is open.

A choirmaster pitches the note higher than he knows the choristers can manage. So do I.

Against fate I put courage; against custom, nature; against passion, reason. 

We are more curious about the meaning of dreams than about things we see when awake.

I piss on the man who called me a dog. Why was he so surprised?

The greatest misery is to be old, poor, and alone.

I have seen the victor Dioxippos subdue all contenders at Olympia and be thrown on his back by the glance of a girl.

Every day’s a festival to the upright.

Discourse on virtue and they pass by in droves, whistle and dance the shimmy, and you’ve got an audience.

We have complicated every simple gift of the gods.

A blush is the color of virtue.

I was once as young and silly as you are now, but I doubt if you will become as old and wise as I am.

The only real commonwealth is the whole world.

The greatest beauty of humankind is frankness.

Give up philosophy because I am an old man? It’s at the end of a race that you break into a burst of speed.  


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