My dear Kacvey,
Let go back for a moment to historical philosophy in ancient Greece by visiting what was known about the reflections and sayings by Bion of Borysthenes, in the third century B.C., as related by Diogenes Laertius.
When Antigonus, ruler of Macedonia, inquired Bion, one among the Academics of Plato: “Who among men, and whence are you? What is your city and your parents?” he, knowing that he had already been maligned replied: “My father was a freedman, who wiped his nose on his sleeve ” – meaning that he was a dealer in salt fish – “a native of Borysthenes, with no face to show, but only the writing on his face, a token of his master’s severity. My mother was such as a man like my father would marry, from a brothel. Afterwards my father, who had cheated the revenue in some way, was sold with his family. And I, then a not ungraceful youngster, was bought by a certain rhetorician, who on his death left me all he had. And I burnt his books, scraped everything together, came to Athens and turned philosopher. This is the stock and this the blood from which I boast to have sprung. Such is my story. Judge me by myself.”
When he was reproached for not paying court to a youth, his excuse was, “You can’t get hold of a soft cheese with a hook.”
When asked who suffers most from anxiety, he replied: “He who is ambitious of the greatest prosperity.”
Being consulted by some one as to whether he should marry, he made answer: “If the wife you marry be ugly, she will be your bane; if beautiful, you will not keep her to yourself.”
Bion called old age the harbour of all ills; at least they all take refuge there.
To some one who had devoured his patrimony, he said: “The earth swallowed Amphiaraus, but you have swallowed your land.”
He used repeatedly to say that “to grant favours to another was preferable to enjoying the favours of others. For the latter means ruin to both body and soul.
He also used to say: “The road to Hades was easy to travel; at any rate men passed away with their eyes shut.” He added: “Those in Hades would be more severely punished if the vessels in which they drew water were whole instead of being pierced with holes.”
He said in censure of Alcibiades that in his boyhood he drew away the husbands from their wives, and as a young man the wives from their husbands.
When the Athenians were absorbed in the practice of rhetoric, he taught philosophy at Rhodes. To some one who found fault with him for this he replied: “How can I sell barley when what I brought to the market is wheat?”
To an importune talker who wanted his help he said, “I will satisfy your demand, if you will only get others to plead your case and stay away yourself.”
On a voyage in bad company he fell in with pirates. When his companion said, “We are lost if we are discovered, “And I too,” he replied, “unless I am discovered.”
Referring to a wealthy miser he said, “He has not acquired a fortune; the fortune acquired him.” Misers, he said, took care of the property as if it belonged to them, but derived no more benefit from it than if it belonged to others.
“When we are young,” said he, “we are courageous, but it is only in old age that prudence is at its height.” Prudence, he said, excels the other virtues as much as sight excels the other senses.
To a slanderer who showed a grave face his words were, “I don’t know whether you have met with ill luck, or your neighbour with good.”
Bion remarked that we ought to watch our friends and see what manner of men they are, in order that we may not be thought to associate with the bad or to decline the friendship of the good.