Ancient quotations: equality

All religions may declare people equal in a spiritual sense, but this does not mean they mean it in a political sense of equal rights, privileges, dignity, etc. In any case, these are quotes which could be interpreted as placing all humans on a similar footing in terms of worth, moral perfectibility, and so forth. This post has a lot of overlap with my ‘universalism‘ post. The purpose of that one was to find passages which indicate a expansive view of the human community and one’s obligations towards it.

Confucius (Analects 17.2)
Confucius said, “By nature men are pretty much alike; it is learning and practice that set them apart.

Buddism (Dhammapada 393,396)
“Not by matted hair, nor by family, nor by birth does one become a brahmin. But in whom there exist both truth and righteousness, pure is he, a brahmin is he.
I do not call him a brahmin merely because he is born of a brahmin womb or sprung from a brahmin mother. Being with impediments, he should address others as “sir.” But he who is free from impediments, free from clinging–him I call a brahmin.”

Buddhism (Sutta Nipata 648)
“So what of all these titles, names, and races? They are mere worldly convention.”

Buddhism (Sutra of Hui Neng 1)
“You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian. How can you expect to be a Buddha?” asked the Patriarch.
Hui Neng replied, “Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature.”

Buddhism (Vimalakirti Sutra)
The goddess continued, “If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, ‘In all things, there is neither male nor female.'”
[for a similar idea, see (Samyutta Nikaya i.128)]

Hinduism – nothing illustrates that spiritual equality doesn’t equal any relevant form of equality better than Hinduism – despite sayings about equality, it seems that it was Hindu religion that provides the basis of caste distinctions.

Hinduism (Bhagavad Gita 9.29)
“I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear.”

Hinduism (Rig Veda 8.51.9)
“Lord God of glory is He to whom both the Ariyans and the outcastes (Dasa) belong.”

Euripides (The Phonissae)
“Oh why, my son, art thou so set upon Ambition, that worst of deities?
Forbear; that goddess knows not justice; many are the homes and cities
once prosperous that she hath entered and left after the ruin of her
votaries; she it is thou madly followest. Better far, my son, prize
Equality that ever linketh friend to friend, city to city, and allies
to each other; for Equality is man’s natural law; but the less is
always in opposition to the greater, ushering in the dayspring of
dislike. For it is Equality that hath set up for man measures and
divisions of weights and hath distinguished numbers; night’s sightless
orb, and radiant sun proceed upon their yearly course on equal terms,
and neither of them is envious when it has to yield. Though sun and
gloom then both are servants in man’s interests, wilt not thou be
content with thy fair share of thy heritage and give the same to him?
if not, why where is justice? Why prize beyond its worth the monarch’s
power, injustice in prosperity? why think so much of the admiring
glances turned on rank? Nay, ’tis vanity. Or wouldst thou by heaping
riches in thy halls, heap up toil therewith? what advantage is it?
’tis but a name; for the wise find that enough which suffices for
their wants. Man indeed hath no possessions of his own; we do but
hold a stewardship of the gods’ property; and when they will, they
take it back again. Riches make no settled home, but are as transient
as the day. Come, suppose I put before thee two alternatives, whether
thou wilt rule or save thy city? Wilt thou say ‘Rule’?”

Euripides – Suppliant Women
“There is no despot in our land, no land
Who rules and makes laws at his own desire.
Free is our city, here the people rule,
Rich mand and poor, held equal by the law.”

“‘Who here will give wise counsel to the state?’
When every man is free to speak or not,
Each equal to the other.”

Menander
“No man is alien to me. In us all there is one nature”
“Mother – you’re killing me with all these pedigress, / Reeling off lists of all our grandfathers. / You won’t say, will you, there’s a man alive / Who hasn’t got a grandfather? I tell you, / A man who’s good by nature, Mother mine, / Even if he’s born an Ethiopian, / Is nobly born.”

Alcidamas (4th cent. BC)
“God has set everyone free. No one is made a slave by nature.”

Antiphon (5th-4th cent. BC)
“We revere and honour those born of noble fathers, but those who are not born of noble houses we neither revere nor honour. In this we are, in our relations with one another, like barbarians, since we are all by nature born the same in every way, both barbarians and Hellenes. And it is open to all men to observe the laws of nature, which are compulsory. Similarly all of these things can be acquired by all, and in none of these things is any of us distinguished as barbarian or Hellene. We all breathe into the air through mouth and nostrils, and we all eat with hands. . .”

Philemon (4th-3rd cent. BC)
“Though a man be a slave he is made of the same flesh as you. For no one was ever made a slave by nature; but chance has enslaved a man’s body.”

Zeno (Republic – from Plutarch)
“The much admired Republic of Zeno … is aimed at this main point, that our household arrangements should not be based on cities or parishes, each one marked out by its own legal system, but we should regard all men as our fellow citizens and local residents, and there should be one way of life and order, like that of a herd grazing together and nurtured by a common law. Zeno wrote this, picturing as it were, a dream or image of a philosopher’s well regulated society.”

Cicero (On Ends)
“The mere fact of their common humanity requires that one man should feel another man to be akin to him.”

Cicero (On the Laws – Book I)
“They think too that the concept of law is derived in the Greek form from the word ‘nomos,’ which implies that each person is given his share. I, however, prefer the derivation in the Latin from our word ‘Lego.’ The Greeks place the stress on equality; we place it on choice. Nevertheless both these qualities are attributes of the law.”

Cicero
“There is nothing so like anything else as we are to one another and to treat foreigners worse than romans would lead to the destruction of the whole foundation of the human community and will lead to the annihilation of all kindness, generosity, goodness and justice.”

Cicero (On the Commonwealth – Book I)
“Furthermore, virtue is the same in human and god, and it is found in no other species besides; and virtue is nothing else than nature perfected and taken to its highest level… But of all the things which are a subject of philosophical debate there is nothing more worthwhile than clearly to understand that we are born for justice and that justice is established not by opinion but by nature. That will be clear if you examine the common bonds among human beings. There is no similarity, no likeness of one thing to another, so great as the likeness we all share. If distorted habits and false opinions did not twist weak minds and bend them in any direction, no one would be so like himself as all people would be like all others. Thus, whatever definition of a human being one adopts is equally valid for all humans. That, in turn, is a sufficient proof that there is no dissimilarity within the species; if there were, then no one definition would apply to all. In particular, reason, the one thing by which we stand above the beasts, through which we are capable of drawing inferences, making arguments, refuting others, conducting discussions and demonstrations – reason is shared by all, and though it differs in the particulars of knowledge, it is the same in the capacity to learn… The similarity of the human race is as remarkable in perversities as it is in proper behavior. All people are ensnared by pleasure; and even if it is an enticement to bad conduct it still has some similarity to natural goodness… Trouble, happiness, desires, and fears pass equally through the minds of all, and if different peoples have different beliefs, that does not mean that the superstition that affects people who worship dogs and cats is not the same as that which besets other races. What nation is there that does not cherish affability, generosity, a grateful mind and one that remembers good deeds? What nation does not scorn and hate people who are proud, or evildoers, or cruel, or ungrateful? From all these things it may be understood that the whole human race is bound together; and the final result is that the understanding of the right way of life makes all people better… All people have reason, and therefore justice has been given to all…”

Seneca (Epistles, xlvii. 10)
“Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies.”

Seneca (Epistulae Morales 95. 51-53)
“There is one short rule that should regulate human relationships. All that you see, both divine and human, is one. We are the parts of one great body. Nature created us from the same source and to the same end. She imbued us with mutual affection and sociability, she taught us to be fair and just, to suffer injury rather than to inflict it. She bids extend our hands to all in need of help. let that well-known line be in our hearts and on our lips: I am a man. I deem nothing pertaining to man foreign to me.”

Seneca (Epistulae Morales XC)
“In.. the Golden Age, government, so Posidonius maintains, was in the hands of the wise. They kept the peace, protected the weaker from the stronger… to govern was to serve, not to rule. No one used to try out the extent of his power over those to whom he owed that power in the first place….
If God were to allow a man to fashion the things of this earth and allot its peoples their social customs, that man would not be satisfied with any other system than the one which tradition says existed in those peopleÕs time… Share and share alike they enjoyed nature… what it all amounted to was undisturbed possession of resources owned by the community. I can surely call that race of men one of unparalleled riches, it being impossible to find a single pauper in it. Into this ideal state of things burst avarice…
All was equally divided among people living in complete harmony. The stronger had not yet started laying hands on the weaker; the avaricious person had not yet started hiding things away, to be hoarded for his own private use, so shutting the next man off from actual necessities of life; each cared as much about the other as about himself…
They were still merciful to dumb animals. Man was far and away from killing man, not out of fear and provocation, but simply for entertainment.”

Marcus Aurelius
(Meditations, II) “… from him I received the idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed”
(Meditations, II) “But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”
(Meditations VII) “For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason.”
“He does not forget the brotherhood of all rational beings, nor that a concern for everyman is proper to humanity…”

Dio Chrysostom (ca. 40 – 120 AD) Discourse 7.133 – 133
In dealing with brothel-keepers and their trade we must certainly betray no weakness as though something were to be said on both sides, but must sternly forbid them and insist that no one… shall pursue such a business, thus levying a fee, which all the world condemns as shameful, upon brutality and lust… Neither barbarian women, I say, nor Greeks – of whom the latter were in former times almost free but now live in bondage utter and complete – shall they put in such shameful constraint… It is our duty, therefore, to give some heed to this and under no condition to bear this mistreatment of outcast and enslaved creatures with calmness and indifference, not only because all humanity has been held in honour and in equal honour by God, who begat it, having the same marks and tokens to show that it deserves honour, to wit, reason and the knowledge of evil and good…”

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3 thoughts on “Ancient quotations: equality

  1. Pingback: And I Call this a Blog | Happolati's Miscellany

  2. Pingback: Universalism | unsafe harbour

  3. Pingback: Father Knows Best: Holy Week Edition « Patriactionary

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