Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Mediterranean peoples: Sextus Empiricus engages with ethnographic discourses for philosophical aims (second-third centuries CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified January 16, 2023, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=8680.
Ancient author(s): Various authors and Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, sections from books 1 and 3 (link Greek text and full translation).
Comments: One of the most significant works by Sextus Empiricus (second or third century CE) is his Outline of Pyrrhonism in which he explains the philosophical approach of “skepticism,” with the philosopher refraining from dogmatism and aiming to suspend judgment on most if not all matters (with the exception of withholding judgment itself being considered a good thing to do). In this passage, Empiricus draws on numerous ethnographic sources and employs various examples in order to make his philosophical point regarding the relativity of ancestral customs (or what a modern person might call “cultures”) from one people to the next. This once again confirms (in his opinion) the skeptical position of withholding judgment and refraining from (most) decisions regarding what customs or behaviours are good, evil, or indifferent.
In the process, Empiricus goes against the grain of the tendency to negatively characterize (as “evil” or “uncivilized” for instance) foreign peoples or “barbarians.” In fact, at one point below he seems aware that his view regarding cultural relativity also undermines the Greek category of “barbarians” itself. Nonetheless, he still cites as “facts” about such “barbarian” peoples information whose connection with real-life activities among such peoples (e.g. practices of incest, human sacrifice, and cannibalism) is highly questionable (or at least formed based on mischaracterizations). In other words, his questioning of the Greek category of “barbarian” arises from his philosophical position of relativism more so than from any concern to portray such peoples more accurately in relation to their actual activities and the basis of those activities. So this is still very much an outsider, Greek perspective on other peoples, not an attempt to understand non-Greek peoples and their actual life styles.
Source of the translation: R.G. Bury, Sextus Empiricus (LCL; Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1933), volume 1, adapted and modernized by Harland.
[Peoples differ in physical features and body-types / humoural theory]
(79) . . . The Second Mode [for refuting dogmatism and affirming skepticism or the withholding of judgment, as outlined in Empiricus’ earlier work] is, as we said, that based on the differences in humans. For even if we grant for the sake of argument that humans are more worthy of credence than irrational animals, we will find that even our own differences of themselves lead to suspense [of judgment]. For man, you know, is said to be compounded of two things, soul and body, and in both these we differ one from another. So with respect to the body we differ in our figures and “idiosyncrasies,” or constitutional peculiarities. (80) The body of an Indian differs in shape from that of a Scythian. It is said that what causes the variation is a difference in the predominant humours. Owing to this difference in the predominant humours the sense-impressions also come to differ, as we indicated in our first argument. So too in respect of choice and avoidance of external objects men exhibit great differences: so Indians enjoy some things, our people other things, and the enjoyment of different things is an indication that we receive varying impressions from the underlying objects.
(81) With regard to our “idiosyncrasies,” our differences are such that some of us digest the flesh of oxen more easily than rock-fish, or get diarrhea from the weak wine of Lesbos. An old wife of Attica, they say, swallowed with impunity thirty small measures (drams) of hemlock, and Lysis took four small measures (drams) of poppy-juice without hurt. (82) Demophon, Alexander’s butler, used to shiver when he was in the sun or in a hot bath, but felt warm in the shade; Athenagoras the Argive was not hurt by the stings of scorpions and poisonous spiders, and the Psyllaians, as they are called, are not harmed by bites from snakes and asps, nor are the Tentyritians of Egypt harmed by the crocodile. (83) Further, those Ethiopians who live beyond Lake Meroe on the banks of the river Astapous eat with impunity scorpions, snakes, and the like. Rufinos of Chalkis when he drank hellebore neither vomited nor suffered at all from purging, but swallowed and digested it just like any ordinary drink. (84) Chrysermos, the doctor of Herophilos, was liable to get a heart attack if he ever ate pepper, and Soterichos the surgeon was seized with diarrhea whenever he smelled fried sprats. Andron the Argive was so immune from thirst that he actually traversed the waterless country of Libya without needing a drink. Tiberius Caesar could see in the dark, and Aristotle talks about a man from Thasos who believed that the image of a man was continually going in front of him.
(85) Since we can see that men vary so much in body (to be satisifeed with just these few instances of the many collected by the Dogmatists), men probably also differ from one another in respect of the soul itself. For the body is a kind of expression of the soul, as in fact is proved by the wisdom of physiognomy.
[Custom vs. law with ethnographic examples: Persians, Massagetians, Egyptians]
(145) There is a Tenth Mode [for refuting dogmatism and affirming skepticism or the withholding of judgment, as outlined in Empiricus’ earlier work] which is mainly concerned with ethics, being based on rules of conduct (agōgai), customs (ēthē), laws (nomoi), mythical beliefs, and dogmatic conceptions. A rule of conduct is a choice of a way of life (hairesis biou) or particular action adopted by one person or many: by Diogenes, for instance, or the Lakonians. (146) A law (nomos) is a written contract among the members of the community, the transgressor of which is punished. A custom or habit (the terms are equivalent) is the joint adoption of a certain kind of action by a number of men, the transgressor of which is not actually punished. For example, the law proscribes adultery, and custom with us forbids sexual intercourse with a woman in public. (147) Mythical belief is the acceptance of unhistorical and fictitious events, such as the legends about Kronos among other things. For these stories win credence with many. Dogmatic conception is the acceptance of a fact which seems to be established by analogy or some form of demonstration. For example, the acceptance that atoms are the elements of existing things, or homoeomeries [matter that constitutes everything in the universe], or minima, or something else.
(148) Each of these we oppose now to itself, and now to each of the others. For example, we oppose custom to custom in this way: some of the Ethiopians tattoo their children, but we do not. While the Persians think it is appropriate to wear a brightly dyed clothing reaching to the feet, we think it inappropriate. Whereas the Indians have sexual intercourse with their women in public, most other peoples regard this as shameful. (149) We oppose law to law in this way: Among the Romans the man who renounces his father’s property does not pay his father’s debts, but among the Rhodians he always pays them. Among the Taurian Scythians it was a law that strangers should be sacrificed to Artemis, but with us it is forbidden to slay a human being at the altar. (150) We oppose rule of conduct to rule of conduct, as when we oppose the rule of Diogenes to that of Aristippos or that of the Lakonians to that of the Italians. We oppose legendary belief to legendary belief when we say that whereas in one story the father of men and gods is alleged to be Zeus, in another he is Oceanos: “Ocean sire of the gods, and Tethys the mother that bare them” [Homer, Iliad 14.201]. (151) We oppose dogmatic conceptions to one another when we say that some declare that there is one element only, others an infinite number; that some say that the soul is mortal, others that it is immortal; and, that some say that human affairs are controlled by divine Providence, others without Providence.
(152) We oppose custom (ethos; or: habit) to other things, such as law (nomos), when we say that among the Persians it is the custom to indulge in sexual intercourse with men but among the Romans it is forbidden by law to do so; that, while we forbid adultery, among the Massagetians (Massagetai) it is traditionally regarded as an indifferent custom, as Eudoxos of Knidos explores in the first book of his Journeys; that, while we forbid intercourse with a mother, in Persia it is the custom to form such marriages; and that, while men marry their sisters among the Egyptians, this is a thing forbidden by law among us.
(153) Custom is also opposed to conduct when, while most men have intercourse with their own wives in retirement, Krates did it in public with Hipparchia, and Diogenes went around with one shoulder bare, while we dress in the customary manner. It is opposed also to mythical belief, as when the legends say that Kronos devoured his own children, though it is our custom to protect our children. Furthermore, while it is customary with us to revere the gods as being good and free from evil, they are presented by the poets as suffering wounds and envying one another. Custom is also opposed to dogmatic conception when, while it is our custom to pray to the gods for good things, Epicurus declares that the divinity pays no attention to us, and when Aristippos considers the wearing of women’s clothing a matter of indifference, though we consider it a disgraceful thing.
Book 3 [on Physics and Ethics]
[Relativity of good, evil and indifferent things]
(188) Again, the Stoics say that goods of the soul are certain skills (technai), namely the virtues (aretai). A skill, they say, is “a system composed of co-exercised apprehensions,” and the perceptions arise in the ruling principle. But how a deposit of perceptions takes place in the ruling principle, which according to them is breath, and how such an aggregation of perceptions takes place as to produce skill, it is impossible to conceive. This is because each succeeding impression obliterates the previous one, seeing that breath is fluid and it is said to move as a whole at each impression.
(189) For it is complete nonsense to say that Plato’s imaginary construction of the soul (I mean the mixture of the indivisible and the divisible essence and of the nature of the other and of the same, or the numbers) is capable of being receptive of the good. So the good cannot belong to the soul either. (190) But if the good is not choice itself, and what is worthy of choosing in itself neither exists externally nor belongs to either body or soul (as I have argued), then there does not exist at all any natural good. For these reasons as well there exists no natural evil. For things which seem to some to be evil are pursued as goods by others: for instance, incontinence, injustice, avarice, intemperance, and similar behaviours. Therefore, if it is the nature of things naturally existent to move all men alike, while the things said to be evil do not move all alike, nothing is naturally evil.
(191) Similarly there is nothing naturally indifferent, because of the divergence of opinion about things indifferent. The Stoics, for example, assert that among things that are indifferent some are preferred, some rejected, and others neither preferred nor rejected. The preferred is such as have sufficient value, like health and wealth; the rejected such as have not sufficient value, like poverty and sickness; while extending the finger or bending it in are cases of the neither preferred nor rejected. (192) Some, however, maintain that nothing that is indifferent is by nature preferred or rejected. For, owing to the differences in the circumstances, each of the things that are indifferent appear at one time preferred, at another rejected. For certainly, they argue, if the rich were being threatened with attack by a tyrant while the poor were being left in peace, everyone would prefer to be poor rather than rich, with the result being that wealth would be something that is rejected. (193) Consequently, since of each of the so-called indifferent things some say that it is good, others bad, while all alike would have counted it indifferent had it been naturally indifferent, there is nothing that is naturally indifferent.
Furthermore, if anyone declares that courage is naturally choice-worthy because lions seem to be naturally bold and courageous, bulls too (it may be), and some men and cocks, we reply that cowardice also is one of the things naturally choice-worthy with regard to that, since deer and hares and many other animals are naturally impelled to cowardice. The majority of men, too, show themselves to be cowardly. For it is rare for a man to give himself up to death for the sake of his country, or to seem inspired to do any other daring deed, the great majority of humankind being averse to all such actions.
(194) So the Epicureans also suppose themselves to have proved that pleasure is naturally choice-worthy. For they say that as soon as animals are born, when still unperverted, they seek pleasure and avoid pains. (195) But to these we may reply that what is productive of evil cannot be naturally good; but pleasure is productive of evils. For to every pleasure there is linked a pain, and pain, according to them, is a natural evil. So, for example, the drunkard feels pleasure when filling himself with wine, and the glutton with food, and the lustful person with uncontrolled sexual intercourse. Yet these things are productive of both poverty and sickness, which, as they say, are painful and evil. Pleasure, therefore, is not a natural good.
(196) Similarly, too, what is productive of good is not naturally evil, and pains bring about pleasures. It is, in fact, by toil that we acquire knowledge, and it is in this way also that a man becomes possessed both of wealth and of his lady-love, and pains preserve health. Toil, then, is not naturally evil. Indeed if pleasure were naturally good, and toil bad, all men, as we said, would have been similarly disposed towards them, while we see many of the philosophers choosing toil and hardship and despising pleasure. (197) So also those who assert that the virtuous life is naturally good might be refuted by the fact that some of the sages choose the life which includes pleasure, so that the claim that a thing is by nature of this sort or that is contradicted by the divergence of opinion among the dogmatists themselves.
[Ethnographic examples: Relativity of the holy and the shameful]
(198) In addition to what has been said, perhaps it will not seem off track to dwell more in detail (though briefly) on notions about what things are shameful (aischroi) and not shameful, unholy (athesmoi) and not so, laws (nomoi) and customs (ethē), piety (eusebeia) towards the gods, reverence for the departed, and the like. For in this way we will discover a great variety of belief concerning what should or should not to be done.
[Varying sexual customs]
(199) For example, among us sexual intercourse with a man (arrenomixia) is regarded as shameful or rather illegal, but they say that the Germans perceive it as a customary thing rather than a shameful thing. It is said, too, that in Thebes long ago this practice was not held to be shameful, and they say that Meriones the Kretan was so called by way of indicating the Kretans’ custom, and some refer to this the burning love of Achilles for Patroklos. (200) So no wonder both the adherents of the Cynic philosophy and the followers of Zeno of Kition, Kleanthes and Chrysippos, declare that this practice is indifferent? Furthermore, having sexual intercourse with a woman in public is not thought to be shameful by some of the Indians even though it is considered shameful to us. Anyways, Indians engage in sexual intercourse publicly with indifference, like the philosopher Krates, as the story goes. (201) Moreover, to us prostitution is a shameful and disgraceful thing, but with many of the Egyptians it is highly esteemed. At least, they say that those women who have the greatest number of lovers wear an ornamental ankle ring as a token of their proud position. And with some of them the girls marry after collecting a dowry before marriage by means of prostitution. We see the Stoics declaring that it is not out of line to keep company with a prostitute or to live on the profits of working as a prostitute.
[Varying customs relating to physical appearance]
(202) Moreover, with us tattooing is held to be shameful and degrading, but many of the Egyptians and Sarmatians tattoo their offspring. (203) Also, it is a shameful thing with us for men to wear earrings, but among some of the barbarians, like the Syrians, it is a token of nobility. Some go further in signalling their nobility by also piercing the nostrils of their children and suspending from them rings of silver or gold. (204) This is something none of us would do, just as no man here would dress himself in a flowered robe reaching to the feet, although this dress, which with us is thought shameful, is held to be highly respectable by the Persians. When, at the court of Dionysios the tyrant of Sicily, a dress of this description was offered to the philosophers Plato and Aristippos. Plato sent it away with the words “I’m a man and I could never put on woman’s clothing.” But Aristippos accepted it, saying “For even in the middle of a party, she who is chaste will keep her purity.” So even with these sages, while the one of them considered this practice shameful, the other did not.
[More varying sexual customs]
(205) With us it is also sinful to marry one’s mother or one’s own sister. But the Persians, and especially those of them who are reputed to practice wisdom – namely, the Magians (magoi) – marry their mothers, and the Egyptians take their sisters in marriage, even as the poet says: “So spoke Zeus to Hera, his wedded wife and his sister.” Moreover, Zeno of Kition says that it is not out of line for a man to rub his mother’s private part with his own private part, just as no one would say it was bad for him to rub any other part of her body with his hand. Also, Chrysippos in his book on The Civic Organization (Politeia) approves of a father getting children by his daughter, a mother by her son, and a brother by his sister. (206) In more general terms, Plato has declared that wives should be held in common. Furthermore, masturbation, which we count as cursed, is not disapproved by Zeno. We are also informed that others, too, practice this evil as though it were a good thing.
[Varying customs relating to human bodies, and questioning of the concept of “barbarians”]
(207) Moreover, the eating of human flesh is unlawful to us but indifferent among whole barbarian peoples (ethnē). Yet why should one speak of “barbarians” when even Tydeus is said to have devoured the brains of his enemy, and the Stoic school declare that it is not wrong for a man to eat either other men’s flesh or his own? (208) With most of us it is sinful to defile an altar of a god with human blood, but the Lakonians lash themselves harshly over the altar of Artemis Orthosia so that a great stream of blood may flow over the altar of the goddess. Moreover, some sacrifice a human victim to Kronos, just as the Scythians sacrifice strangers to Artemis. While we deem that holy places are defiled by the slaying of a man.
[Varying customs relating to sex and offspring ]
Adulterers are, of course, punished by law with us, but among some peoples intercourse with other men’s wives is something indifferent. Some philosophers also say that sexual intercourse with the wife of another man is indifferent. (210) With us, also, the law enjoins that the fathers should receive due care from their children. But the Scythians cut their throats when they get to be over sixty years old. And no wonder, considering that Kronos cut off his father’s genitals with a sickle, and Zeus plunged Kronos down to Tartaros, and Athena with the help of Hera and Poseidon attempted to bind her father with fetters? (211) Moreover, Kronos decided to destroy his own children, and Solon gave the Athenians the law “concerning things immune,” by which he allowed each man to slay his own child. But with us the laws forbid the slaying of children. The Roman lawgivers also ordain that the children are subjects and slaves of their fathers, and that power over the children’s property belongs to the fathers and not the children, until the children have obtained their freedom like bought slaves. Yet this custom is rejected by others as being despotic.
[Varying customs on homicide and polygyny]
(212) The law also stipulates that homicide should be punished. But gladiators when they kill often receive actual commendation. Moreover, the laws prevent the striking of free men. Yet when athletes strike free men, and often even kill them, they are deemed worthy of rewards and crowns. (213) With us the law bids each man to have one wife, but among the Thracians and Gaitulians (a Libyan people) each man has many wives.
[Varying customs of banditry and theft]
(214) Engaging in banditry (lēsteuein) is also illegal and unjust to us, but with many of the barbarians it is not disapproved. Indeed they say that the Cilicians used to regard it as a noble pursuit, so that they held those who died in the course of banditry to be worthy of honour. So too Nestor (in the poet’s account) after welcoming Telemachos and his comrades, addresses them in this way: “Say, are you roaming / Aimlessly, like bandits?” [Homer, Odyssey 3.73]. Yet, if banditry had been an improper thing, he would not have welcomed them in this friendly way, because of his suspicion that they might be people of that kind.
(215) Moreover, thieving is illegal and unjust to us. Yet those who declare that Hermes is a god that is most like a thief cause this practice to be accounted not unjust. For how could a god be bad? Some also say that the Lakonians punished those who thieved as well, not because they had thieved, but because they had been found out.
[Varying customs of war and notions of courage]
(216) Moreover, the coward and the man who throws away his shield are in many places punished by law. This is why the Lakonian mother, when giving a shield to her son as he set out for the war, said, “Either with this, my child, or upon it.” Yet Archilochos, as though boasting to us about his flight after flinging away his shield, speaks in the following way about himself in his poems: “Over my shield some Saian warrior gloats, / The shield I left, though unwilling, beside the bush / A flawless piece of armour; I myself / Fled and escaped from death which ends everything.” (217) The Amazons used to maim the males among their offspring so as to make them incapable of any manly action, while they themselves attended to warfare. Though with us the opposite practice is regarded as right. The Mother of the gods also approves of effeminate men [a reference to the so-called galloi, who were self-castrated and/or dressed as women], and the goddess would not have decided this if a lack of manliness were naturally a bad thing. (218) So it is that, in regard to justice and injustice and the excellence of manliness, there is a great variety of opinion.
[Varying notions of piety]
Violent controversy also rages concerning matters of piety (eusebeia) and the gods. For while the majority declare that gods exist, some deny their existence, like Diagoras of Melos, and Theodoros, and Kritias the Athenian. Among those who maintain the existence of gods, some believe in the ancestral gods, others in the gods that are constructed in the dogmatic systems: Aristotle asserted that God is incorporeal and “the limit of heaven,” the Stoics that he is a breath which permeates even through foul things, Epicurus that he is anthropomorphic, and Xenophanes that he is an impassive sphere. (219) Some also hold that he cares for human affairs, others that he does not care. For Epicurus declares that “what is blessed and incorruptible neither feels trouble itself nor causes it to others.” And so ordinary people differ as well, some saying that there is one god, others that there are many gods and of various shapes. In fact, they even come to share the notions of the Egyptians who believe in gods that are dog-faced, hawk-shaped, cows, crocodiles, or something other.
[Varying customs of sacrifice]
(220) Therefore, sacrificial usages and the ritual of worship in general exhibit great diversity. For things which are in some cults considered holy are in others considered unholy. But this would not have been so if the holy and the unholy existed by nature. So, for example, no one would sacrifice a pig to Sarapis, but they sacrifice it to Herakles and Asklepios. To sacrifice a sheep to Isis is forbidden, but it is offered up in honour of the so-called Mother of the gods and of other deities. (221) To Kronos a human victim is sacrificed at Carthage, although this is regarded by most people as an impious act. In Alexandria they offer a cat to Horos and a beetle to Thetis. This is something no one here would do. To Poseidon they sacrifice a horse, but to Apollo (especially Apollo of Didyma) that animal is an abomination. It is an act of piety to offer goats to Artemis, but not to Asklepios. (222) I could also add a host of similar instances, but I won’t since my aim is to be brief. Yet surely, if a sacrifice had been holy by nature or unholy, it would have been considered so by all people alike.
[Varying customs of diet in connection with worship]
Examples similar to these may also be found with regard to human diet connected with worship of the gods. (223) For a Judean (Jewish) or an Egyptian priest would sooner die than eat swine’s flesh. A Libyan thinks it as a most impious thing to taste the meat of a sheep, some of the Syrians think it is is impious to eat a dove, and other peoples think it is impious to eat sacrificial victims. In certain cults it is lawful, but in others impious, to eat fish. Among the Egyptians some of those who are reputed to be sages (sophoi) believe it is sinful to eat an animal’s head, others the shoulder, others the foot, and others some other part. (224) No one would bring an onion as an offering to Zeus Kasios of Pelousion [in the Nile delta of Egypt], just as no priest of the Libyan Aphrodite would taste garlic. In some cults they abstain from mint, in others from catmint, and in others from parsley. Some declare that they would sooner eat their fathers’ heads than beans [perhaps a reference to a Pythagorean figure]. (225) Yet, among others, these things are indifferent. Eating dog’s flesh is also considered sinful to us, but some of the Thracians are reported to be dog-eaters. Possibly this practice was customary also among the Greeks. For this reason, Diokles, starting from the practices of the descendants of Asklepios (Asklepiadai), prescribes that hounds’ flesh should be given to certain patients. As I have said, some even eat human flesh indifferently, a thing which with us is considered unholy. (226) Yet, if the rules of ritual and of unlawful foods had existed by nature, they would have been observed by everyone in the same way.
[Varying customs relating to the dead]
A similar account may be given of reverence towards the departed. Some wrap the dead up completely and then cover them with earth, thinking that it is impious to expose them to the sun. But the Egyptians take out their entrails and embalm them and keep them above ground with themselves. (227) The fish-eaters (ichthyophagoi) of the Ethiopians cast dead humans into the lakes, there to be devoured by the fish. The Hyrkanians [southeast of the Caspian Sea] expose them as prey to dogs, and some of the Indians to vultures. They say that some of the Troglodytes [cave-dwellers] take the corpse to a hill, and then after tying its head to its feet cast stones upon it while laughing, and when they have made a heap of stones over it they leave it there. (228) Some of the barbarians kill and eat those who are over sixty years old, but bury in the earth those who die young. Some burn the dead, and among these some recover and preserve their bones, while others show no care but leave them scattered around. They also say that the Persians impale their dead and embalm them with niter, after which they wrap them round in bandages.
[Varying philosophical notions about death]
How much grief others endure for the dead we see ourselves. (229) Some, too, believe death itself to be dreadful and horrible, others do not. So Euripides says: “Who knows if life is anything but the state of death, / And death is counted as life in realms below?” [fragment 638]. And Epicurus declares: “Death is nothing to us; for what is dissolved is senseless, and what is senseless is nothing to us.” They also declare that, insofar as we are compounded of soul and body, and death is a dissolution of soul and body, when we exist death does not exist (for we are not being dissolved), and when death exists we do not exist, for through the cessation of the compound of soul and body we too cease to exist. (230) Herakleitos states that both life and death exist both in our state of life and in our state of death; for when we live our souls are dead and buried within us, and when we die our souls revive and live. And some even suppose that dying is better for us than living. Thus Euripides says: “Rather should we assemble to loudly mourn / The babe new-born, such ills has he to face; while the dead, who has ceased from woe, / With joy and gladness we should bear from home” [fragment 449]. (231) These lines [by Theognis] also spring from the same sentiment: “Not to have been born at all was the best thing for mortals, / Nor to have looked upon fiery rays of the sun; / Or, if begotten, to hasten quickly to the portals of Hades, / And to lie unmoved robed in masses of earth.” We also know the facts about Kleobis and Biton which Herodotos relates in his story of the Argive priestess. (232) It is reported, also, that some of the Thracians sit round the newborn babe and chant dirges. So, then, death should not be considered a thing naturally dreadful, just as life should not be considered a thing naturally good. So none of the things mentioned above is naturally of this character or of that, but all are matters of convention and relative.
[Conclusion: the skeptic considers customs relative and withholds judgment]
(233) The same method of treatment may be applied also to each of the other customs, which we have not now described owing to the summary character of our exposition. Even if we are unable to declare their discrepancy off hand with some of them, we should observe that disagreement concerning them may possibly exist among certain peoples (ethnē) that are unknown to us. (234) For just as, if we had been ignorant, say, of the custom among the Egyptians of marrying sisters, we should have asserted wrongly that it was universally agreed that men should not marry sisters. Even so, in regard to those practices where we notice no discrepancy, it is not proper for us to affirm that there is no disagreement about them. For, as I said, disagreement about them may possibly exist among some of the peoples which are unknown to us. So the skeptic suspends judgment as to the natural existence of anything good or bad or (in general) appropriate or inappropriate to be done because he sees so great a diversity of usages. By doing so, the skeptic abstains from the rashness of dogmatism. Instead, he follows undogmatically the ordinary rules of life, and because of this he remains impassive in respect to matters of opinion, while in conditions that are necessitated his emotions are moderate. As a human being, he suffers emotion through his senses. Yet because he does not also hold the opinion that what he suffers is evil by nature, the emotion he suffers is moderate. For the added opinion that a thing itself is of such a kind is worse than the actual suffering itself, just as sometimes the patients themselves bear a surgical operation, while the bystanders swoon away because of their opinion that it is a horrible experience.
But, in fact, the person who assumes that there exists by nature something good or bad or, generally, appropriate or inappropriate to be done, is disquieted in various ways. For when he experiences what he regards as natural evils he deems himself to be pursued by Furies, and when he becomes possessed by what seems to him good things, he falls into no ordinary state of disquiet both through arrogance and through fear of losing them, and through trying to guard against finding himself again among what he regards as natural evils. For those who assert that good things are incapable of being lost we will put to silence by means of the doubts raised by their dissension. So we conclude that if what is productive of evil is evil and to be shunned, and the persuasion that these things are good, those evil, by nature produces disquiet, then the assumption and persuasion that anything is, in its real nature, either bad or good is evil and to be shunned. For the present, then, this account of things good, evil, and indifferent is sufficient.