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Publius Syrus Quotes from a Roman Slave

Publius Syrus (85–43 BC) was a Syrian slave in ancient Rome but Syrus' wit and talent impressed his Roman master, who made him a free man.

Syrus wrote dramas in latin but none of them survives to this day. So all that is left of Publius Syrus' works are Moral Sayings and these permeate our society today. But most people don't know where they come from.

I've read through "The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus A Roman Slave" and gathered up some golden nuggets for you here:

A small loan makes a debtor; a great one, an enemy

Think twice about this the next time you're about to loan a huge sum of money to a family member or friend. If the loan is so big that the recipient has no means of repaying it he might start to resent you for it.

We are interested in others, when they are interested in us

I can recall many situations where a girl has suddenly become much more interesting, just because she happened to be interested in me.

Adversity shows whether we have friends, or only the shadows of friends
Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them

I'm sure that you've heard this quote in some variant before. I've heard it one memorable time when I was working at an Embassy where the incumbent Ambassador got arrested for driving under the influence and landed on the front page of a national tabloid newspaper.

I remember a colleague retelling the Ambassador's reaction to the news and he said something like: "Now we will see who our real friends are".

Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself
A wise man rules his passions, a fool obeys them

It's pretty obvious that if you let pleasure pull you in every direction you'll end up in bad shape yet many seem to understand this point and have absolutely no control (modern consumerism on predatory interest rates anyone?).

A good reputation is more valuable than money

The world was smaller back in Syrus' day, but this still holds true. If you cheat a customer you're likely to do less business in the future if any at all.

There is but a step between a proud man's glory and his disgrace
Men will judge your past deeds by your last

You'll often her Warren Buffett quip: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently". That's a very similar thought.

Many receive advice, few profit by it

If I tell you that you can be almost guaranteed rich regardless of your skill set, talent or actual level of income (Western world) as long as you save 50 % of your income at all times and invest them in an index fund following the market at a 7 % compound return every year - will you do it? Probably less than 1 % will do this or any strategy like it.

Divide the fire, and you will the sooner put it out

You mostly hear this quote today as "Divide and conquer".

Solitude is the mother of anxieties

Being around people or just simply doing stuff will make you happier.

Even calamity becomes virtue's opportunity

Every bad thing that ever happens to you is the perfect opportunity to do the right thing. After all virtue cannot exist in a vacuum it can only exist when it is being tested. Virtue presupposes struggle.

The good to which we have become accustomed, is often an evil

Don't let complacency sneak up on you. Don't let vices (pleasure seeking) get the upper hand.

The master is a slave when he fears those whom he rules

Being a tyrant isn't much fun when everyone's angling to kill you. Having vast riches isn't much fun if you're constantly fearful that you might loose it.

A great property is a great bondage for the owner

I takes a lot of earned upkeep to have a mansion and having even simple stuff like a car requires you to spend time on keeping it serviced, washed and maintained even if you don't use it at all (or paying your butler to do it and then keeping an eye on him that he doesn't cheat you). Maybe having less shit in your life and sticking to what matters most to you is more efficient.

The madman thinks the rest of the world crazy

We often think that everyone else is more like us than they really are. We color the world with the lens that we see through. So wipe the shit off it and see clearer.

No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety

The modern variant runs something like: "Variety is the spice of life". Doing anything repeatedly even eating your favorite meal eventually stops to please you.

When the angry man grows cool, he is angry with himself

If you let anger take charge you're almost certain to do something that you will regret when the anger subsides. Most of us has said something hurtful to someone in the heat of the moment that we regretted afterwards.

He threatens many, who does injustice to one

If he can do an injustice to someone, he can also do it to many others including you. Hitler is a good example to keep in mind. If we let cuelty and injustice slide we might be next on the torture rack.

Seek to please many, and you seek a failure

The modern variant: "You can't please everyone".

Be the first to laugh at your own blunder, and no one will laugh at you

Humour can be disarming and preventative.

We desire nothing so much as what we ought not to have

A modern variant: "Forbitten fruit tastes sweeter"

No man is happy who does not think himself so

Ultimately it's only your opinion of your situation that matters. It doesn't matter if other people think that you're happy and living the good life if you're not.

There is no great evil which does not bring with it some advantage

Got sacked from your job? Try a little reframing: "That's great, I didn't like it anyway, now I can find something much better!".

A guilty conscience never feels secure

You'll always know what you did.

Prosperity has no power over adversity

This is one of my favourite quotes. Mo matter who you are or how succesful you are adversity is free to visit you at any given moment. I like to think of this as "Prosperity doesn't banish adversity".

We should provide in peace what we need in war

It's just too late to start building weapons and training soldiers when the enemy invades. The German Blitzkrieg is an awful example. A more down to earth example is something like it's too late to start saving when you loose your job.

Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it

I've heard a modern variant of this quote many times. It adresses the fact that we often think that what we own is worth more than it really is because of psychological biases (the endowment effect).

It is better to learn late than never
Better be ignorant of a matter than half know it

If you only have half the understanding or information required to make a good decision, you'll make a bad decision.

Let a fool hold his tongue, and he will pass for a sage

Most of us likes to hear ourselves talk and are proud of our opinions when what we really should be doing is more listening.

The poor man is ruined as soon as he begins to ape the rich

This is another way of saying that excessive spending beyond means to create an image is foolish. If you can't buy it for cash and preserve your wealth largely unaffected, just don't buy it.

You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force

Depending on the aim sometimes the soft approach is really the only viable option.

Conceal your opulence if you would avoid envy

Even if you can afford it opulence always comes at a cost.

The sweetest pleasures arises from difficulties overcome

Solving problems and getting shit done is the spice of life. See my opnion on why here.

We have one opinion of ourselves, and another of our neighbor

This can mean double standards as in what we don't mind in ourselves we fault in others.

It can also mean that we overvalue our own skills and attributes. Everyone thinks himself better looking than average and this is of course mathematically impossible. We all overestimate ourselves, this has been proven in many psychology experiments.

Anger would inflict punishment on another; meanwhile it tortures itself

Anger will torture your mind until you can accept what happened, forgive and move on.

There is no fortune so good that you can not complain of it

It is unfortunate, that this is true! I'll leave you with this one that you certainly have also encountered in a modern rendition.

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