Don’t Read the Classics…

[Warning, the following is or at least purports to be satire]

Lucian, A professor of public speaking, 17

“Don’t you read the classics either, not the babbling Isocrates or the charmless Demosthenes, or that boor Plato. Read instead the speeches from a little before our time, the work people call “opinion-pieces”, so that you may draw on them when you need to, as if you were taking something from the pantry.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀναγίγνωσκε τὰ παλαιὰ μὲν μὴ σύ γε, μηδὲ εἴ τι ὁ λῆρος Ἰσοκράτης ἢ ὁ χαρίτων ἄμοιρος Δημοσθένης ἢ ὁ ψυχρὸς Πλάτων, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῶν ὀλίγον πρὸ ἡμῶν λόγους καὶ ἅς φασι ταύτας μελέτας, ὡς ἔχῃς ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνων ἐπισιτισάμενος ἐν καιρῷ καταχρῆσθαι καθάπερ ἐκ ταμιείου προαιρῶν.

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Read Everything, and Attend Every Lecture!

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13 (11-12th Century CE)

“There is no one to whom it has been granted to know everything, but at the same time there is no one who has not chanced to receive some special gift from nature. The prudent reader, then, listens to everyone and reads everything, and spurns no writing, no person, no learning. He seeks from all without discrimination what he sees is lacking in himself, and considers not how much he knows, but how much he does not know. Here, they note that saying of Plato, ‘I prefer to learn everything reverently, rather than to insert my own ideas shamelessly.’ For, why do you blush to learn and feel no shame in ignorance? The first is a greater disgrace than the second. Or, why do you make pretensions to the highest claims when you toss about in the dregs? You should consider, instead, what your abilities are able to accomplish. He approaches the problem best who does so in proper order. Many people, in trying to make a leap, simply fall head-first. Therefore, avoid excessive haste. In this way, you will arrive more quickly to wisdom. Learn gladly what you do not know from everyone, because humility can make common to you what nature has made each person’s private property. You will be wiser than all if you wish to learn from everyone; those who receive gifts from everyone become wiser than everyone.

You should therefore hold no knowledge as worthless, because all knowledge is good. If you have the time, you should not refuse to at least give every writing a once-over. If you find no profit in it, you at least do not waste anything, especially since there is in my opinion no writing which does not at least propose something worthy of being sought, if it is read in a proper spot and order. If a piece of writing does not have anything particularly special about it, the diligent examiner of words will latch on to something not found elsewhere – and the more rare it is, the more delight he will feel.”

nemo est cui omnia scire datum sit, neque quisquam rursum cui aliquid speciale a natura accepisse non contigerit. prudens igitur lector omnes libenter audit, omnia legit, non scripturam, non personam, non doctrinam spernit. indifferenter ab omnibus quod sibi deesse videt quaerit, nec quantum sciat, sed quantum ignoret, considerat. hinc illud Platonicum aiunt: Malo aliena verecunde discere, quam mea impudenter ingerere. cur enim discere erubescis, et nescire non verecundaris? pudor iste maior est illo. aut quid summa affectas cum tu iaceas in imo? considera potius quid vires tuae ferre valeant. aptissime incedit, qui incedit ordinate. [774B] quidam dum magnum saltum facere volunt, praecipitium incidunt. noli ergo nimis festinare. hoc modo citius ad sapientiam pertinges. ab omnibus libenter disce quod tu nescis, quia humilitas commune tibi facere potest quod natura cuique proprium fecit. sapientior omnibus eris, si ab omnibus discere volueris. qui ab omnibus accipiunt, omnibus ditiores sunt.

nullam denique scientiam vilem teneas, quia omnis scientia bona est. nullam, si vacat, scripturam vel saltem legere contemnas. si nihil lucraris, nec perdis aliquid, maxime cum nulla scriptura sit, secundum meam aestimationem, quae aliquid expetendum non proponat, si convenienti loco et ordine tractetur; [774C] quae non aliquid etiam speciale habeat, quod diligens verbi scrutator alibi non inventum, quanto rarius, tanto gratius carpat.

Philosophers Need Life-Coaches (Cornelius Nepos to Cicero)

Cicero, Letter Fragments. Nepos to Cicero IIa

Nepos Cornelius also writes to the same Cicero thus: it is so far away from me thinking that philosophy is a teacher of life and the guardian of a happy life, that I do not believe that anyone needs teachers of living more than the many men who are dedicated to philosophical debate. I certainly see that a great number of those who rush into speeches about restraint and discipline in the classroom live amidst the desire for every kind of vice.”

Nepos quoque Cornelius ad eundem Ciceronem ita scribit: tantum abest ut ego magistram putem esse vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore <et> continentia praecipiant argutissime eosdem in omnium libidinum cupiditatibus vivere. (Lactant. Div. inst. 3.5.10)

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The Roman Comic Scene Parents Act Out with Their Children

Plautus, Curculio, 182-184

It is as if Plautus wrote for a parent and a young child. Phaedromus = Me; Palinurus = Either child.

Ph. Shhhhh.
Pal: Why? I am being quiet. Why don’t you go back to sleep?
Ph. I am sleeping. Don’t yell.
Pal. But you are awake.
Ph. No. I am sleeping the way I do. This is how I sleep!

Phae: tace.
Pal: quid, taceam? quin tu is dormitum?
Phae: dormio, ne occlamites.
Pal: tuquidem uigilas.
Phae: at meo more dormio: hic somnust mihi.

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How to Learn; With an Invective Against Pseudo-Intellectuals

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13:

“The beginning of study is humility. Though there are many examples of this, three principles in particular are pertinent to the reader:
First, that he consider no knowledge or writing as worthless;
Second, that he should never blush to learn from anyone;
Third, that once he has gained knowledge, he should not look down upon others.

This has escaped many people, who wished to appear wise before their time. They break out from this point into a certain swollen elation, and begin to pretend to be what they are not while feeling shame about what they are, and withdraw even farther from wisdom in as much as they desire not to be wise, but merely to seem so. I know many people of this sort who, though they do not even know basic principles, feel that it is below their dignity to engage in anything but the highest and most important things, and think that they become important in this way alone, if they read the writings or hear the words of the greatest and wisest writers. They say, ‘We have seen them, we have read from them. They often used to converse with us. Those important, famous writers – they know us!’ I would rather that no one knew me, and that I knew everything! You glory in the fact that you have seen Plato, but have not understood him. I think that it is unworthy of you to listen to me then. I am not Plato, and I have not deserved to see him. This is enough for you: you have drunk from the fountain of philosophy, but would that you were still thirsty! The king has drunk from an earthen cup after using a golden chalice. You have listened to Plato, perhaps you may listen to Chrysippus. As the proverb says, ‘What you don’t know, perhaps Ofellus* knows.’”

*[Perhaps the Stoic philosopher mentioned in Horace’s Satires? I am otherwise unfamiliar with the proverb.]

Principium autem disciplinae humilitas est, cuius cum multa sint documenta, haec tria praecipue ad lectorem pertinent: primum, ut nullam scientiam, nullam scripturam vilem teneat, secundum, ut a nemine discere erubescat, tertium, ut cum scientiam adeptus fuerit, ceteros non contemnat. multos hoc decipit, quod ante tempus, sapientes videri volunt. hinc namque in quendam elationis tumorem prorumpunt, [773D] ut iam et simulare incipiant quod non sunt et quod sunt erubescere, eoque longius a sapientia recedunt quo non esse sapientes, sed putari putant. eiusmodi multos novi, qui, cum primis adhuc elementis indigeant, non nisi summis interesse dignantur, et ex hoc solummodo se magnos fieri putant, si magnorum et sapientium vel scripta legerint vel audierint verba. ‘nos,’ inquiunt, ‘vidimus illos. nos ab illis legimus. saepe nobis loqui illi solebant. illi summi, illi famosi, cognoverunt nos.’ sed utinam me nemo agnoscat et ego cuncta noverim! Platonem vidisse, non intellexisse gioriamini. puto indignum vobis est deinceps ut me audiatis. non ego sum Plato, nec Platonem videre merui. sufficit vobis: ipsum philosophiae fontem potastis, sed utinam adhuc sitiretis! rex post aurea pocula de vase bibit testeo. quid erubescitis? [774A] Platonem audistis, audiatis et Chrysippum. in proverbio dicitur: Quod tu non nosti, fortassis novit Ofellus.

The Highest Good: Friendship

Two passages in Latin About Friendship

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi

“Still nothing lightens the spirit as much as sweet and faithful friendship. What a good it is when hearts have been made ready in which every secret may be safely deposited, whose understanding of yourself you worry about less than your own, whose conversation relieves your fear, whose opinion hastens your plans, whose happiness dispels your sadness, and whose very sight delights you!”

Nihil tamen aeque oblectaverit animum, quam amicitia fidelis et dulcis. Quantum bonum est, ubi praeparata sunt pectora, in quae tuto secretum omne descendat, quorum conscientiam minus quam tuam timeas, quorum sermo sollicitudinem leniat, sententia consilium expediat, hilaritas tristitiam dissipet, conspectus ipse delectet!

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Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy 3.35

“The most sacred thing of all is friends, something not recorded as luck but as virtue, since the rest of the goods are embraced with a view toward power or pleasure.”

amicorum vero quod sanctissimum quidem genus est, non in fortuna sed in virtute numeratur, reliquum vero vel potentiae causa vel delectationis assumitur

The Devil Who Took a Wife

Jacques de Vitry, Exempla (XX)

DE DIABOLO QUI DUXIT UXOREM CUIUS LITIGIA NON POTERAT SUSTINERE

“I heard that a certain demon, who had taken the form of a human and was serving a rich man, had pleased the man so much by his industry in servitude that the man gave him his daughter in marriage in addition to great riches. The wife, however, was constantly arguing with her husband day and night and would not allow him to sleep. At the end of the year, the demon said to his wife’s father, ‘I would like to withdraw and return to my homeland.’ The wife’s father said, ‘Have I not given you so much that you want for nothing?’ The demon responded, ‘I will tell you, and won’t hide the truth: my homeland is in Hell, where I never had to deal with as much strife and harassment as I have suffered in this one year from my argumentative wife. I would rather be in Hell than to linger any longer here with her.’ After this speech was finished, he vanished from their sight.”

Audivi quod quidam daemon in specie hominis cuidam diviti homini serviebat et, cum servitium eius et industria multum placerent homini, dedit ei filiam suam in uxorem et divitias multas. Illa autem omni die ac nocte litigabat cum marito suo nec eum quiescere permittebat. In fine autem anni dixit patri uxoris suae: “Volo recedere et in patriam meam redire.” Cui pater uxoris ait: “Nonne multa tibi dedi ita quod nihil desit tibi? Quare vis recedere?” Dixit ille: “Modis omnibus volo repatriare.” Cui socer ait: “Ubi est patria tua?” Ait ille: “Dicam tibi et veritatem non celabo; patria mea est infernus, ubi numquam tantam discordiam vel molestiam sustinui quantam hoc anno passus sum a litigiosa uxore mea. Malo esse in inferno quam amplius cum ipsa commorari.” Et hoc dicto ab oculis eorum evanuit.