200 BCE-200 CE

Home Up Jesus Ben Sirach Sima Qian Tiruvalluvar Lucretius Vitruvius Jesus of Nazareth Wang Ch'ung Epictetus

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Ben Sirach

Jesus the son of Sirach (about 200 BCE), a Jewish scholar, wrote down a compilation of the wisdom he had gathered during his life.  He extolled the value of health over riches, advised occupying a dwelling of one's own no matter how humble, advocated cheerfulness and being comfortable with one's life, warned against disruptive passions, and urged that one should not defraud oneself of one good day, for there is no luxury to be enjoyed in the grave. The compilation has entered the Christian Bible as one of the books of the Apocrypha. The material Jesus Ben Sirach left behind depends strongly on Jewish religious traditions, but also contains much that is similar to the wisdom literature of the Egyptians. 


Sima Qian

Sima Qian (about 145-90 BCE), or Ssi-ma Ch’ien, undertook the production of the first full history of China. This broad ranging work extending over 130 chapters includes annals, chronicles, treatises and extended biographies. It runs from the five sages of the prehistoric era to the Han dynasty of Sima Qian’s own time. The extracts give here concern the First Emperor of China, who founded the Qin (Ch'in) dynasty (221-206 BCE). Sima Qin presents us with historical facts, with the Emperor’s own account, and with a commentary. In this way, he shows how different viewpoints on historical events can emerge and how skepticism might be required when people in power describe their accomplishments and motives.



Tiruvalluvar (First Century BCE) was a Tamil poet believed to have been born in Madras (now called Chennai) in south eastern India. He wrote in the Dravidian language, an older tongue than the Aryan languages of the north. He expressed his philosophy in the Kural, a collection of 1330 short couplets, primarily in the form of maxims. These are divided into three main sections: virtue, wealth, and love. Tiruvalluvar also covers such things as gambling, espionage, medicine, folly and  military forts. There is very little abstract philosophizing or reference to the transcendental. Tiruvalluvar is practical and down to earth. He is aware that poverty can be utterly destructive and that virtue without some wealth to sustain it is rarely possible.



Titus Lucretius Carus (c 99-55 BCE) wrote the poem, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). Other than that, virtually nothing is known about Lucretius except for what can be deduced from the poem itself. From this source (some 7,400 hexameter lines), he appears to have been a well-educated Roman who had traveled as far as Sicily and avoided falling victim to the murderous politics of his time. His poem  provides what is now the fullest surviving exposition of Epicurean philosophy. In it, Lucretius argues that the darkness of the mind brought about by superstitious fears should be scattered by a dispassionate view of the inner laws of nature.



Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (active around 25 BEC) wrote ten books on architecture, whose dedication  indicates that Augustus was his patron and suggests the time he was active. In his work, Vitruvius aims to demonstrate the excellence of the science that he possesses, but warns that talent is not enough for success in architecture: favor and ambition play their part; and  money, good connections, and eloquence are essential. As in other arts, an architect must constantly keep in view the intention and the material used to express that intention. He must also be versed in history, law, moral philosophy and physics. Vitruvius presents architecture as a thoroughly humanistic art.


Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth (4BCE-30 CE) may have been a recognizable type of Jewish prophet that healed the sick, performed exorcisms, engaged in prayer, sometimes taught, and was recognized by the local community as being close to god. Such prophets were often termed "sons of god". Presented here are sayings that some scholars attribute to a historical person as distinct from a figure propounded by religion. The picture of Jesus of Nazareth that emerges is of a person who advocated love for one’s enemies and offered comfort to the poor, the starving, and the distraught. His ideas on justice were distinctive: he judged individual acts on their own merits, favored equal rewards independent of the amount of work done, and would not punish a transgression if it produced greater harmony. 


Wang Ch'ung

Wang Ch’ung (27-97 CE) was born in China and became an independent thinker, associating with no specific school, although he made use of both Taoist and Confucian principles. In the Lun-heng (Disquisitions) he scrutinized and criticized common errors.  Wang Ch’ung strengthened the component of rationality in Chinese philosophy, and provided a skeptical review of the superstitions and religions of his day. Two millennia later, his criticisms are still pertinent to superstitious practices of our own time.



Epictetus (about 50-130 CE), one of the most influential teachers of Stoicism, is believed to have been born a slave in Phyrigia, Asia Minor, and was given his freedom at perhaps the age of 18. His master, Nero’s administrative secretary, sent him to be educated by a leading Stoic teacher. When he was about 40, Epictetus  settled in Epirus, in northwestern Greece, where he formed a major Stoic school.  He put forward a system characterized by morality and humanity, emphasizing freedom of thought within the limits of what an individual could control.