The famous sentence "There are three sorts of people: those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea" is often attributed to Aristotle.

However, I was unable to find an actual reference in Aristotle works for this sentence. Did Aristotle really say this? If so, may you please give me a reference for this sentence in one of his works?

  • 2
    FWIW, the same quote is often attributed to Anacharsis, whose works have not survived. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 13:35
  • @Pascal Could you re-phrase the Question to Ask what whoever said it, might have meant? The Answers here bear out your own research… no reference. That accepted, why might it matter? Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 20:28
  • @RobbieGoodwin Rephrasing a question after answers have been submitted might invalidate those answers and is to be avoided.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 8:46
  • Good point. I think Sean Duggan has it right, below…with "… whether People at Sea were to be reckoned among the living or the dead..." A whole host of myths and legends rely on the ancients guess that question wrongly, even before Troy… Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 19:53

3 Answers 3


I found a French version of the quote on histoire-genealogie.com, where it was attributed to Plato:

« Il y a trois sortes d’hommes : les vivants, les morts, et ceux qui vont en mer » (Platon : Critias, L’Atlantide)

However, I could not find anything similar in a French translation of Critias, nor in a French translation of Timaeus (Plato's other dialogue that discusses Atlantis).

The quote may be a misrepresentation of something Diogenes Laertius wrote about Anacharsis in Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, more specifically, the following (in the translation by Robert Drew Hicks):

When some one inquired which were more in number, the living or the dead, he rejoined, "In which category, then, do you place those who are on the seas?"

Anacharsis was a Scythian philosopher who visited Athens around 589 BC, i.e. more than 150 years before Plato was born and roughly 200 years before Aristotle was born. Diogenes Laërtius lived in the third century AD; his Lives of the Eminent Philosophers also contains biographies of Plato (Book III) and Aristotle (in Book V).


I too have not found that line in Aristotle's works. It is often stated to be the work of Anacharsis, whose works did not survive to the current era, but was much quoted, including by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle. The earliest reference I've found so far is from the 1702 The Lives of Ancient Philosophers:

He doubted whether People at Sea were to be reckoned among the living or the dead...

  • 12
    Schrödinger's mariners?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 14:18
  • 7
    Schrödinger's catamaran.
    – Spratty
    Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 10:23
  • I don't get it. What's it supposed to mean? Is it a joke about, erm... 'making port' or the lack thereof? Or that being a mariner generally just sucked? Or people had no respect for mariners? Out of sight; out of mind, so they don't count, because these are philosophers doing that thing where they say weird stuff for the lulz?
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 10:43
  • 6
    @mazura: Travel by sea was dangerous, and if something happened, the ship and its contents would likely never be found. So therefore, no one would know if that person had perished at sea or if they might be living somewhere else, unable to travel back, or communicate. Radio changed this in a major way. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 14:07

It is certainly not from Aristotle. The line is meant to illustrate the strange life of the mariner. In some sense, not being on land puts him in a neutral condition, not fully alive (because there is no earth below his feet) and not yet fully dead (since we bury dead men in soil). The ocean has always invited and terrified man. See Melville’s discussion of this yearning in Chapter 1 (“Loomings”) of Moby Dick.

  • 2
    What do the sentences after your first one have to do with the question? Also, you give no possible source.
    – bobble
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 2:58
  • 1
    Yes - if it's not from Aristotle, how do you know, and where is it from?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 5:13
  • Your claim that it is from Aristotle cannot be taken seriously if you don't provide any reference.
    – Pascal
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 12:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.