People often have a mistaken notion that intelligence is something modern and that the ancients were not as wise as we are now. If you harbor such beliefs, the following words of wisdom from ancient Greek thinkers and the Chinese philosopher Lao Zi about character and life should change your opinion.
Heraclitus (535 BCE to 475 BCE): Considered as the most important Greek philosopher of the Pre-Socratic period. Believed that the world was in accordance with Logos, which translates roughly to “reason.”
- Good character is not formed in a week or month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed.
- No man ever sleeps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
- Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become.
- Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
- Big results require big ambitions.
Pericles (495 BCE to 429 BCE): During the Golden Age of Athens, he was the most influential statesman. It was under his leadership that the famous Parthenon temple was built.
- What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.
Socrates (469 BCE to 399 BCE): Regarded as one of the founders of Western logic and philosophy. He is famous for establishing an ethical system that is based on reason. He was accused of not believing in the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. He refused to flee and accepted the judgment.
- The unexamined life is not worth living.
- The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
- Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.
- We cannot live better than in seeking to become better.
- The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.
- No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
- False words are not only evil themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
- It is not living that matters, but living rightly.
- Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.
Plato (428 BCE to 348 BCE): He was a student of Socrates and went to mentor other great Greek philosophers. Plato founded the Academy of Athens, the first institute for higher learning in the Western world. Unlike other contemporaries, almost all the works of Plato have survived intact.
- I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.
- We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
- People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.
- The worst of all deceptions is self-deception.
Aristotle (384 BCE to 322 BCE): He was a student of Plato’s academy and stayed there until his master died. Aristotle eventually became a tutor of Alexander the Great. He went on to influence Christian and Islamic thoughts in the Middle Ages. Medieval Muslim scholars often referred to him as “The First Teacher.” Famous Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas called him “The Philosopher.”
- The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.
- You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.
- It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.
- The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.
- Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
Lao Zi quotes
Lao Zi lived between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He founded the philosophical school of Taoism and is often considered as a deity by the Chinese people. According to Taoist traditions, Lao Zi was conceived by his mother when she was looking at a shooting star. He is famous for writing the Tao Te Ching.
- Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
- When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
- Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
- At the center of your being, you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.
- If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.
- Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires.
- To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
- Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality.
- Be still like a mountain, and flow like a great river. Use the light that is within you to revert to your natural clearness of sight.
- Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it.
- People in their handlings of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure.
- Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
- A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.
- When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.
- If you do not change the direction, you may end up where you are heading.
- If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
- New beginnings are disguised as painful endings.
- If you would take, you must first give. This is the beginning of intelligence.