The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.


cheerful disposition of his mind and his views of human life, which prompted him every where to look at the cheerful and comical side of things, a course of conduct which later writers took to mean that he al­ways laughed at the follies of men.

Of the extent of his knowledge, which embraced not only natural sci­ences, mathematics, mechanics,1 grammar, music, and philosophy, but various other useful arts, we may form some notion from the list of his numerous works which is given ,by Diogenes Laertius,2 and which, as Diogenes expressly states, contains only his genuine works. The im­portance which was attached to the researches of Democritus is evident from the fact that Aristotle is reported to have written a work in two books on the problems of this philosopher.3 Plis works were composed in the Ionic dialect, though not without some admixture of the local pe­culiarities of Abdera. They are much praised by Cicero on account of the poetical beauties and the liveliness of their style, and are in this re­spect compared even with the works of Plato.4 Unfortunately, not one of his works has come down to us, and the treatise which we possess under his name is considered spurious. Comparatively few fragments have even reached us, and these fragments refer more to ethics than to physical matters.

Democritus followed Leucippus by a very short distance of time, and preceded Epicurus by somewhat less than a century, as an expounder of the atomic or corpuscular philosophy. He viewed all matter as reducible to particles, which are themselves indivisible, and are hence called atoms (&to,uoj, a priv. and to^). He included mind under the head of matter, recognizing only matter and empty space as composing the universe, and viewed mind as consisting of round atoms of fire. Arguing that nothing could arise out of nothing, and also that nothing could utterly perish and become nothing, he contended for the eternity of the universe, and thus dispensed with a creator. He farther explained the difference in mate­rial substances (mind, as has been said, being one of them) by a difference in the nature and arrangement of their component atoms, and all material (including mental) phenomena by different motions, progressive or re­gressive, straight or circular, taking place among these atoms, and taking place of necessity. Thus the cosmology of Democritus was essentially atheistic. In psychology he explained sensation, as did Epicurus after him, by supposing particles, e^wAa, as he called them, or sensible images, to issue from bodies. He also thought to explain men's belief in gods by the supposed existence of large images of human form in the air. In moral philosophy he announced nothing more than that a cheerful state of mind (cvOvpia) was the one thing to be sought after, this tranquillity of mind and freedom from fear and passion, from the dread of death and from all apprehension of gods or superstitious emotions, being the fairest fruit of philosophic inquiry.5

There is a very good collection of the fragments of Democritus by Mullach, Democriti

1 Brandis, Rhein. Mus., iii., p. 134, seqq. 2 Diog. Laert., ix., 46, seqq.

3 Id., v., 26. * Vie., De Div., ii., 64 ; De Orat., i., 11.

6 Penny Cyclop., viii., p. 880; Smith, Diet. Biogr., s. v.

About | Preface | Contents | Index



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.