Light on Peregrinus Proteus

The second century philosopher Peregrinus Proteus is best known to us because of a rather vicious satire directed at him by Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus.  The satire has achieved a wide readership because it is one of the early texts which mention the Christians.

But a far more kindly, and probably more accurate, portrait appears in Aulus Gellius, book 12, ch. 11.  It is much less well-known, and I give it here from the Loeb text:

11.  That those are deceived who sin in the confident hope of being undetected, since there is no permanent concealment of wrongdoing; and on that subject a discourse of the philosopher Peregrinus and a saying of the poet Sophocles.

When I was at Athens, I met a philosopher named Peregrinus, who was later surnamed Proteus, a man of dignity and fortitude, living in a hut outside the city. And visiting him frequently, I heard him say many things that were in truth helpful and noble. Among these I particularly recall the following:He used to say that a wise man would not commit a sin, even if he knew that neither gods nor men would know it; for he thought that one ought to refrain from sin, not through fear of punishment or disgrace, but from love of justice and honesty and from a sense of duty. If, however, there were any who were neither so endowed by nature nor so well disciplined that they could easily keep themselves from sinning by their own will power, he thought that such men would all be more inclined to sin whenever they thought that their guilt could be concealed and when they had hope of impunity because of such concealment. “But,” said he, “if men know that nothing at all can be hidden for very long, they will sin more reluctantly and more secretly.” Therefore he said that one should have on his lips these verses of Sophocles, the wisest of poets:

See to it lest you try aught to conceal;
Time sees and hears all, and will all reveal.

Another one of the old poets, whose name has escaped my memory at present, called Truth the daughter of Time.


6 thoughts on “Light on Peregrinus Proteus

  1. When Tey said it was an “old proverb”, I didn’t think she meant “Greco-Roman”….

  2. Roger, I have heard you called the “yeoman-like worker” of this field, tending to the texts and recording odd facts like this. It is remarkable of men that this is so rare, and I must say I truly appreciate your oddity. Thank you for another fruit of your labor.

  3. That’s very kind of you — thank you.

    But the find was quite serendipitous; I wasn’t looking for it. I like ancient works that one can just dip into anywhere, and read a few lines, and Aulus Gellius is such a work. Martial likewise; and Juvenal also. I wish I knew of more.

    There must be people who sit down to read all that survives of Livy, but I am not one of them. I’d suffer chronic indigestion after a few pages, I suspect!

  4. Egyptian proverbs ? Hah ! Accept no substitutes for the Sumerian originals:*#

    Such matters aside, it is unbelievable that Lacus Curtius would be attacked – what possible can ther be for such oafishness ? It appears to permanently down. Which is very sad – it was much easier to use than the rather unhelpful Perseus.

    I don’t suppose there any Arabists about who can read Eutychius of Alexandria in a 17th-century Arabic fount, by any chance….?

  5. Ha!

    Has Lacus Curtius been attacked? I can access it OK here

    I’d ask in the Google Groups NASCAS forum about Eutychius of Alexandria. But … what work are we discussing? The Annals? Because there is a complete Italian translation of the thing (of which I have a copy), and a German translation in the CSCO of the author’s manuscript (which surfaced at Sinai a few years ago).

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