Yesterday a fine correspondent on twitter posted the following comment:
Of course, I had to re-tweet it because it seemed so good. And, because it seemed too good I had to check it out. It turns out that it is just spot on and there’s a coda:
“As Alcibiades passed from childhood he visited a teacher and asked for a book of Homer. When that teacher said that he didn’t have any Homer, Alcibiades set upon him with his fist and left. When another teacher said that he had a copy of Homer which he had corrected himself, Alcibiades said, “Why do you teach the alphabet when you’re good enough to correct Homer,–why don’t you teach young men?”
Τὴν δὲ παιδικὴν ἡλικίαν παραλλάσσων ἐπέστη γραμματοδιδασκαλείῳ καὶ βιβλίον ᾔτησεν ῾Ομηρικόν. εἰπόντος δὲ τοῦ διδασκάλου μηδὲν ἔχειν ῾Ομήρου, κονδύλῳ καθικόμενος αὐτοῦ παρῆλθεν. ἑτέρου δὲ φήσαντος ἔχειν ῞Ομηρον ὑφ’ ἑαυτοῦ διωρθωμένον, „εἶτα” ἔφη „γράμματα διδάσκεις ῞Ομηρον ἐπανορθοῦν ἱκανὸς ὤν, οὐχὶ τοὺς νέους παιδεύεις;”
In Plutarch, these anecdotes serve to characterize the brash character of Alcibiades, one that combines daring and intelligence in a way that anticipates his later deeds. (Because, as we know, Plutarch thinks anecdotes are more telling than great deeds).
In Plato’s spurious Alcibiades 1, Socrates asks his younger interlocutor if he has heard about justice and injustice from Homer (112b2) and in Alcibiades 2 he focuses on the riddle of Homer in the Margites:
Alcibiades II 147 D
“For surely you don’t seem to be ignorant that Homer, the most divine and wisest poet, is not able to know badly—for he says in the Margites that he knows many things but he knows them all badly—but instead I think that he riddles by using the adverb badly instead of the noun “base”, and using “he knew” instead of “knowing”….
οὐ γὰρ δήπου ῞Ομηρόν γε τὸν θειότατόν τε καὶ σοφώτατον ποιητὴν ἀγνοεῖν δοκεῖς ὡς οὐχ οἷόν τε ἦν ἐπίστασθαι κακῶς—ἐκεῖνος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ λέγων τὸν Μαργίτην πολλὰ μὲν ἐπίστασθαι, κακῶς δέ, φησί, πάντα ἠπίστατο—ἀλλ’ αἰνίττεται οἶμαι παράγων τὸ κακῶς μὲν ἀντὶ τοῦ κακοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἠπίστατο ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐπίστασθαι·
So it may be that Alcibiades was expecting a philosopher and just got a school teacher. But what do I know, I teach γράμματα, but sometimes τοὺς νέους.