Four Proverbs for Fools

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Arsenius, 5.29b

“A fool laughs even when nothing is funny.”

Γελᾷ δ’ ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ.

 

Michael Apostolios 3.87

“You are considering ancient history.” A proverb applied to fools and simpletons.

᾿Αρχαϊκὰ φρονεῖς: ἐπὶ τῶν μωρῶν καὶ εὐηθῶν.

 

Michaelos Apostolios 11.92

“A fool can’t keep quiet”

Μωρὸς σιωπᾷν οὐ δύναται.

11.93

“He will blame instead of imitate”: a proverb applied to the uneducable and because it is easier to criticize than emulate.”

Μωμήσεται μᾶλλον ἢ μιμήσεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, καὶ ὅτι τὸ ψέγειν τοῦ μιμεῖσθαι ῥᾳότερον.

 

Roman comments on fools.

Also: μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Related image
Miniature from the Bute Psalter; c. 1270-80

A bonus anecdote for this evening;

Stobaeus 3.34.15

“Solon, after he was asked by Periander over drink—when the former happened to be quiet—whether he was silent because of a loss of words or foolishness, said “No fool could ever be quiet at a drinking party.”

Σόλων ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπὸ Περιάνδρου παρὰ πότον, ἐπεὶ σιωπῶν ἐτύγχανε, πότερα διὰ λόγων σπάνιν ἢ διὰ μωρίαν σιωπᾷ, ‘ἀλλ’ οὐδεὶς ἄν’ εἶπε ‘μωρὸς σιωπᾶν ἐν συμποσίῳ δύναιτο’.

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen 363-371

“Who can get a doctor for me and which one?
Who is an expert in the art of assholes?
Is it Amunôn? Perhaps he will decline.
Have someone call Antisthenes by any means.
For this man knows why an asshole wants
To shit thanks to the groaning.
Queen Eleithuia, don’t you ignore me
When I am breaking but all stopped up,
Don’t let me be the comic chamberpot!”

τίς ἂν οὖν ἰατρόν μοι μετέλθοι, καὶ τίνα;
τίς τῶν καταπρώκτων δεινός ἐστι τὴν τέχνην;
ἆρ᾿ οἶδ᾿ Ἀμύνων; ἀλλ᾿ ἴσως ἀρνήσεται.
Ἀντισθένη τις καλεσάτω πάσῃ τέχνῃ·
οὗτος γὰρ ἁνὴρ ἕνεκά γε στεναγμάτων
οἶδεν τί πρωκτὸς βούλεται χεζητιῶν.
ὦ πότνι᾿ Ἱλείθυα μή με περιίδῃς
διαρραγέντα μηδὲ βεβαλανωμένον,
ἵνα μὴ γένωμαι σκωραμὶς κωμῳδική.

By Autor: Dr.Rudolf Schandalik. – Own work Eigenes Foto, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=977342

Scholarship vs. Skill

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater:

I return to my own inaugural examination. On this day, memorable to myself, as furnishing the starting- point for so long a series of days, saddened by haughty obstinacy on one side, made effective by folly on the other, no sooner had my guardian retired, than Mr. Lawson produced from his desk a volume of the Spectator, and instructed me to throw into as good Latin as I could some paper of Steele’s — not the whole, but perhaps a third part. No better exercise could have been devised for testing the extent of my skill as a Latinist.

And here I ought to make an explanation. In the previous edition of these Confessions, writing sometimes too rapidly, and with little precision in cases of little importance, I conveyed an impression which I had not designed, with regard to the true nature of my pretensions as a Grecian; and something of the same correction will apply to that narrower accomplishment which was the subject of my present examination.

Neither in Greek nor in Latin was my knowledge very extensive; my age made that impossible; and especially because in those days there were no decent guides through the thorny jungles of the Latin language, far less of the Greek. When I mention that the Port Royal Greek Grammar translated by Dr. Nugent was about the best key extant in English to the innumerable perplexities of Greek diction; and that, for the res metrica, Moreli’s valuable Thesaurus, having then never been reprinted, was rarely to be seen, the reader will conclude that a schoolboy’s knowledge of Greek could not be other than slender. Slender indeed was mine. Yet stop! What was slender? Simply my knowledge of Greek; for that knowledge stretches by tendency to the infinite; but not therefore my command of Greek. The knowledge of Greek must always hold some gross proportion to the time spent upon it, probably, therefore, to the age of the student; but the command over a language, the power of adapting it plastically to the expression of your own thoughts, is almost exclusively a gift of nature, and has very little connection with time.

Take the supreme trinity of Greek scholars that flourished between the English Revolution of 1688 and the beginning of the nineteenth century — which trinity I suppose to be confessedly, Bentley, Valckenaer, and Porson — such are the men, it will be generally fancied, whose aid should be invoked, in the event of our needing some eloquent Greek inscription on a public monument. I am of a different opinion. The greatest scholars have usually proved to be the poorest composers in either of the classic languages. Sixty years ago, we had, from four separate doctors, four separate Greek versions of Gray’s Elegy all unworthy of the national scholarship. Yet one of these doctors was actually Porson’s predecessor in the Greek chair at Cambridge. But as he (Dr. Cooke) was an obscure man, take an undeniable Grecian, of punctilious precision — viz., Richard Dawes, the well-known author of the  Miscellanea Critica. This man, a very martinet in the delicacies of Greek composition, — and who should have been a Greek scholar of some mark, since often enough he flew at the throat of Richard Bentley, — wrote and published a specimen of a Greek Paradise Lost, and also two most sycophantic idyls addressed to George II on the death of his ‘august’ papa. It is difficult to imagine anything meaner in conception or more childish in expression than these attempts. Now, against them I will stake in competition a copy of iambic verses by a boy, who died, I believe, at sixteen — viz., a son of Mr. Pitt’s tutor, Tomline, Bishop of Winchester. Universally I contend that the faculty of clothing the thoughts in a Greek dress is a function of natural sensibility, in a great degree disconnected from the extent or the accuracy of the writer’s grammatical skill in Greek.

Divine Truth and Mortal Belief

Parmenides, Fr. D4

“Greetings! No evil fate sent you to journey
By this road—for indeed it is far off from mortal paths—
But it was Law and Justice. You need to learn everything:
Both the immovable heart of persuasive Truth
And the beliefs of mortals which have no true faith.
But you should also learn these things too: how beliefs
Must be credible because they pervade all things.”

χαῖρ’, ἐπεὶ οὔτι σε μοῖρα κακὴ προὔπεμπε νέεσθαι
τήνδ’ ὁδόν (ἦ γὰρ ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων ἐκτὸς πάτου ἐστίν),
ἀλλὰ Θέμις τε Δίκη τε. χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι
ἠμὲν Ἀληθείης εὐπειθέος ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ
ἠδὲ βροτῶν δόξας, ταῖς οὐκ ἔνι πίστις ἀληθής.
ἀλλ’ ἔμπης καὶ ταῦτα μαθήσεαι, ὡς τὰ δοκοῦντα
χρῆν δοκίμως εἶναι διὰ παντὸς πάντα *περῶντα.

*περῶντα also appears as περ ὄντα. This variant reading might mean something like “even when they are completely true”.

This passage with its reference to the isolated path and the distinction between mortal belief and immortal truth reminds me of Hesiod:

Theogony 26-28

“Rustic shepherds, wretched reproaches, nothing but bellies,
We know how to say many lies similar to the truth
And we know how to speak the truth when we want to.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Elsewhere on this blog and in forthcoming work I explore this as the difference between coherence and correspondence in memory. Here it seems clearly to be on the surface a difference between mortal and divine ways of seeing. These domains do not cancel each other out….

Busto di Parmenide.jpg
Bust of Parmenides from Wikimedia Commons

Against Mosquitoes, A Love Poem

Greek Anthology 5.151: Meleager to Zenophila, his lover

“Sharp-buzzing mosquitoes, shameless suckers
Of human blood, wing-borne predators of the night,
I beg you to leave Zenophila alone for a while to sleep
In peace. Come here, fill yourselves on my limbs.
Ah, but why do I uselessly cry out loud: Unfeeling beasts
Also delight to find warmth in her delicate skin.
But I am warning you, evil things, do not be bold
Or you will learn the power of my envious hands.”

5.151 ΜΕΛΕΑΓΡΟΥ
εἰς Ζηνοφίλαν τὴν αὐτοῦ ἐρωμένην
Ὀξυβόαι κώνωπες, ἀναιδέες αἵματος ἀνδρῶν
σίφωνες, νυκτὸς κνώδαλα διπτέρυγα,
βαιὸν Ζηνοφίλαν, λίτομαι, πάρεθ᾽ ἥσυχον ὕπνῳ
εὕδειν, τἀμὰ δ᾽, ἰδού, σαρκοφαγεῖτε μέλη.
καίτοι πρὸς τί μάτην αὐδῶ; καὶ θῆρες ἄτεγκτοι
τέρπονται τρυφερῷ χρωτὶ χλιαινόμενοι.
ἀλλ᾽ ἔτι νῦν προλέγω, κακὰ θρέμματα, λήγετε τόλμης,
ἢ γνώσεσθε χερῶν ζηλοτύπων δύναμιν.

These are bees, but they are still terrifying. From bestiary.ca

Thinking of Classical Parallels

E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey (Chp. 4):

Mr. Pembroke remarked to himself that Frederick was improving.

“If a man shoots straight and hits straight and speaks straight, if his heart is in the right place, if he has the instincts of a Christian and a gentleman—then I, at all events, ask no better husband for my sister.”

“How could you get a better?” he cried. “Do you remember the thing in ‘The Clouds’?” And he quoted, as well as he could, from the invitation of the Dikaios Logos, the description of the young Athenian, perfect in body, placid in mind, who neglects his work at the Bar and trains all day among the woods and meadows, with a garland on his head and a friend to set the pace; the scent of new leaves is upon them; they rejoice in the freshness of spring; over their heads the plane-tree whispers to the elm, perhaps the most glorious invitation to the brainless life that has ever been given.

“Yes, yes,” said Mr. Pembroke, who did not want a brother-in-law out of Aristophanes. Nor had he got one, for Mr. Dawes would not have bothered over the garland or noticed the spring, and would have complained that the friend ran too slowly or too fast.

“And as for her—!” But he could think of no classical parallel for Agnes. She slipped between examples. A kindly Medea, a Cleopatra with a sense of duty—these suggested her a little. She was not born in Greece, but came overseas to it—a dark, intelligent princess. With all her splendour, there were hints of splendour still hidden—hints of an older, richer, and more mysterious land. He smiled at the idea of her being “not there.” Ansell, clever as he was, had made a bad blunder. She had more reality than any other woman in the world.

Socrates in a basket.jpg

Libanius, Upon Facing Another Monday

Libanius, Autobiography 246

“And the affair followed and these were my fears, leaving me with a desire for nothing but death. And my conversations with everyone nearby were about this as were my prayers to the gods. One who mentioned baths was my enemy; anyone who mentioned dinner was my enemy.

And I fled in exile from the books which contained the classical texts of my toil; I fled from writing and composition of my lectures. I lost my ability to speak even though my students were shouting for me. Whenever I tried, I was taken off track like a boat facing an opposing wind. Even though they harbored hopes of hearing me, I still went silent. My doctors were telling me to seek healing somewhere else because there were no medicines for these kinds of ills in their craft.”

καὶ εἵπετο δὲ τὸ ἔργον, φόβοι τε ἐκεῖνοι καὶ πλὴν τελευτῆς οὐδενὸς ἐπιθυμία. ἀλλὰ περὶ τούτου λόγοι τε πρὸς τοὺς ἀεὶ παρόντας εὐχαί τε πρὸς θεούς. ἐχθρὸς μὲν ὁ λουτροῦ μεμνημένος, ἐχθρὸς δὲ ὁ δείπνου, καὶ φυγὴ ἀπὸ βιβλίων ἐν οἷς οἱ τῶν ἀρχαίων πόνοι, φυγὴ δὲ ἀπὸ γραφῆς τε καὶ ποιήσεως λόγων, κατελέλυτο δὲ τὸ λέγειν, καὶ ταῦτα τῶν νέων βοαῖς τοῦτο ἀπαιτούντων. ὁπότε γὰρ δὴ πρὸς αὐτὸ γιγνοίμην ἀπεφερόμην ὥσπερ ἀκάτιον ἐναντίῳ πνεύματι, καὶ οἱ μὲν εἶχον ἀκροάσεως ἐλπίδας, ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἂν1ἐσίγων. ἰατροὶ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἴασιν ἄλλοθι ζητεῖν ἐκέλευον, ὡς οὐκ ὄντων σφίσι τῶν τοιούτων ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ φαρμάκων.

mondays