XVII[17arg] Why and how the philosopher Democritus deprived himself of his eye-sight; and the very fine and elegant verses of Laberius on that subject.
IT is written in the records of Grecian story that the philosopher Democritus, a man worthy of [p. 261] reverence beyond all others and of the highest authority, of his own accord deprived himself of eyesight, because he believed that the thoughts and meditations of his mind in examining nature's laws would be more vivid and exact, if he should free them from the allurements of sight and the distractions offered by the eyes. This act of his, and the manner too in which he easily blinded himself by a most ingenious device, the poet Laberius has described, in a farce called The Ropemaker, in very elegant and finished verses; but he has imagined another reason for voluntary blindness and applied it with no little neatness to his own subject. For the character who speaks these lines in Laberius is a rich and stingy miser, lamenting in vigorous terms the excessive extravagance and dissipation of his young son. These are the verses of Laberius: 1
Democritus, Abdera's scientist,
Set up a shield to face Hyperion's rise,
That sight he might destroy by blaze of brass,
Thus by the sun's rays he destroyed his eyes,
Lest he should see bad citizens' good luck;
So I with blaze and splendour of my gold,
Would render sightless my concluding years,
Lest I should see my spendthrift son's good luck.