Democritus on wisdom, goodness and exercise

In this article we present and originally analyze two quotes of Democritus about wisdom, goodness of the soul and exercise. To our surpise, the meanings appear to have great similarity with Orthodox Christian beliefs. 


First quote:

(in ancient greek) ‘Ανδρί σοφώ πάσα γη βατή. Ψυχής γαρ αγαθής πατρίς ο ξύμπας κόσμος’


For the wise man every earth is passable. Because the homeland of the good soul is the whole world

Second quote:

(in ancient greek) ‘Πλέονες εξ ασκήσιος αγαθοί γίνονται ή από φύσιος’


Most people become good from exercise rather than from their nature


Before anything else notice the identification the Philosopher gives: the wise man necessarily has a good soul. Hence, it is impossible for a man to be acknowledged for his wisdom while exposing evilness and it is also impossible for a man to become wise if his soul is not shaped (trained) in goodness. And why is that really true? Let’s remember here a quote by another great Philosopher, Socrates, from his ‘apology’. When he was asked if himself is the wisest man among all, he replied that there is absolutely no man who can be wise, adding that ‘σοφόν είναι ο Θεός’ which means ‘God is wise‘. (God = Wise). With this he actually delivers us that one of the attributes of the Divine Being is wisdom. Man, therefore, cannot be wise; he can be though a lover/friend of Wisdom, i.e. a Philosopher! (this is the actual meaning of the word ‘Philosopher’). And as a direct implication of the above, Philosopher means ‘φιλόθεος’, meaning ‘lover/friend of God’. If his whole life is orientated towards God, then he grows in wisdom steadily and increasingly. As we said before, goodness and wisdom match for Democritus, hence, combining all the above, we realize that goodness is another attribute of the Divine Being. When man turns all his life towards God, he continuously becomes wiser and more good. Then and only then, if he reaches a quite high measure of these two characteristics, he surpasses human nature, human biology and natural aptitude or prejudice, and ‘abolishes’ inside him ‘nations, genes, homelands’ and embraces all Creation with ‘Αγάπη’ (this word is ‘Agape‘ that even though translated with the word ‘Love‘, has a much wider and higher meaning). And then, he is able to walk on every land, every land is passable to him. This is a remarkable coincidence with Orthodox Christianity beliefs. Let’s add that ‘wisdom‘ refers to the practical knowledge while the ‘soul‘ belongs to the field of inner experience and intention. The two parts; practical and spiritual. He shows us quite emphatically that they are unbreakably linked and therefore together they have to be cultivated and together they produce results.

Now, how do we acquire wisdom and goodness? He explains it in the second quote: mostly through exercise rather than pushed by our nature! He actually makes the distinction that ‘most people’ will become like this due to exercise, obviously meaning that some others, much fewer in numbers, will be like this due to their nature. It shows that he believed that some people are born with this information in their body and soul. At this point I will dare collate what, in Orthodoxy, is called ‘clear call‘ (obviously, from God) for some people. I.e., cases in which somebody since childhood has a strong desire to orient his whole life to God and to study the divine things. It is clear though that the big majority of people have to exercise a lot before reaching satisfactory measures of wisdom and goodness. Now, what does ‘exercise’ mean? First form of exercise for one is to receive an analogous education. Then, to become addicted to an analogous life, i.e. to a virtuous and inspired by God life. Finally, for those who want and can proceed ‘even further’, there are special forms of exercise such as fasting. These already existed as a theoretical and partially practical platform even before Christian times. In Orthodoxy, all the arsenal of exercises that can make man wiser (in God) and more good (with more ‘Agape’/’Love’) is provided in full detail and in complete form (as it is a product of Divine apocalypse and not created by man’s imagination and creativeness) with exact and specific results: holiness and theosis. Only a true Christian could make real, today and always, what Democritus describes; to feel all the world as his homeland, fully following the ‘Agape’/’Love’ command of the God and Man, Jesus Christ.

Research – Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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