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Ancient Words of the Past: Democritus & Claudian



DemocritusBorn in Abdera in Thrace, Democritus would grow into a pre-Socratic Greek materialist philosopher who trained under Leucippus and would evolve into a great leader in the realm of science, mathematics, and space. In this article, you will learn more information about this ancient figure, as well as Claudius Claudianus , who served as a court poet in his days.

Democritus (460 BC , 370 BC)

Democritus was known as a pioneer in math and geometry, as he penned several works, such as “On Numbers,” “On Geometrics,” “On Mapping,” “On Tangencies,” and “On Irrationals.” Sadly, the majority of works by Democritus did not survive the Middle Ages. Yet, we do know that he became the first to observe that a cone or pyramid was 1/3 of the volume of a cylinder or prism , when taking into consideration the same base and height.

When it came to minerals and plants, Petronius claims that Democritus had a habit of extracting the essence of any herb known to him and that he spent the rest of his life researching the ins and outs of plants and minerals. As far as astronomy goes, he is credited as becoming the first philosopher that pinpointed the source of the Milky Way’s formation , which he concluded was comprised of the light of stars situated far off in the distance. In later years, other philosophers would argue this point, including Aristotle. However, Democritus would become the first to believe that the universe had many different worlds , some of which supported other life forms.

To better understand the mind of this great Greek philosopher, a few of his quotes are listed below:

“The wrongdoer is more unfortunate than the man wronged.”

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.”

“Now as of old the gods give men all good things, excepting only those that are baneful and injurious and useless. These, now as of old, are not gifts of the gods: men stumble into them themselves because of their own blindness and folly.”

“If thou suffer injustice, console thyself; the true unhappiness is in doing it.”

“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.”

Claudius Claudianus (340 , 410)

The Egyptian Latin poet by the name of Claudian served as a court poet to the Emperor Honorius and Stilicho. As a Greek-speaking citizen of Alexandria, Claudian first stepped foot on Rome soil in 395. He was able to gain notoriety by penning a eulogy for two youthful patrons , Probinus and Olybrius. This helped him to solidify the position as court poet. In his lifetime, he was responsible for a handful of praise poems and other writings. Although Claudian came from Greek beginnings, he wrote in Latin and is seen as one of the greatest individuals to use this language in his poetry. Some of the quotes attributed to him include:

“The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another’s keeping .”

“He who strikes terror in others is himself continually in fear.”