Plutarch’s Advice on Being a Good Father

Plutarch, On the Education of Children 20

“Once I add a few more things, I will complete my proposals. Beyond all other things, it is necessary that fathers, by avoiding transgressions and doing everything that is required, offer themselves as a clear example to their children, so that when looking at their father’s life as if in a mirror they may turn away from shameful deeds and words.

Whoever makes the same mistakes as those for which they punish their sons become their own accusers under their sons’ names without realizing it . Men who live life poorly in every way do not possess the right to criticize their slaves, much less their sons. In addition, they could become their sons’ advisors and teachers of crime. For whenever old men behave shamefully, it is by necessity that their young are the most shameless.”

Βραχέα δὲ προσθεὶς ἔτι περιγράψω τὰς ὑποθήκας. πρὸ πάντων γὰρ δεῖ τοὺς πατέρας τῷ μηδὲν ἁμαρτάνειν ἀλλὰ πάνθ’ ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἐναργὲς αὑτοὺς παράδειγμα τοῖς τέκνοις παρέχειν, ἵνα πρὸς τὸν τούτων βίον ὥσπερ κάτοπτρον ἀποβλέποντες ἀποτρέπωνται τῶν αἰσχρῶν ἔργων καὶ λόγων. ὡς οἵτινες τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν υἱοῖς ἐπιτιμῶντες τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτήμασι περιπίπτουσιν, ἐπὶ τῷ ἐκείνων ὀνόματι λανθάνουσιν ἑαυτῶν κατήγοροι γιγνόμενοι• τὸ δ’ ὅλον φαύλως ζῶντες οὐδὲ τοῖς δούλοις παρρησίαν ἄγουσιν ἐπιτιμᾶν, μή τί γε τοῖς υἱοῖς. χωρὶς δὲ τούτων γένοιντ’ ἂν αὐτοῖς τῶν ἀδικημάτων σύμβουλοι καὶ διδάσκαλοι. ὅπου γὰρ γέροντές εἰσιν ἀναίσχυντοι, ἐνταῦθ’ ἀνάγκη καὶ νέους ἀναιδεστάτους εἶναι.

 

Father

 

Laughing at Babies

Pseudo-Hippocrates, Letter 9.360 

 “I [Hippocrates] said, “Know that you should explain the reason for your laughter.” And [Democritus], after glaring at me for a bit, said, “you believe that there are two reasons for my laughter, good things and bad things. But I laugh for one reason: the human being. Humans are full of ignorance but empty of correct affairs, acting like babies in their little plots, and also laboring over endless toil without winning any profit.

Humans travel to the ends of the earth and over the uncharted wilds with unchecked desires, minting silver and gold and never stopping in the pursuit of possession, but always throwing a fit for more, so that there’s never one bit less than others have. And then, they are not at all ashamed to call themselves happy.”

[ΙΠ.] “ἴσθι δὲ νῦν περὶ σέο γέλωτος τῷ βίῳ λόγον δώσων.”

ὁ δὲ μάλα τρανὸν ἐπιδών μοι, “δύο,” φησὶ, “τοῦ ἐμοῦ γέλωτος αἰτίας δοκέεις, ἀγαθὰ καὶ φαῦλα· ἐγὼ δὲ ἕνα γελῶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ἀνοίης μὲν γέμοντα, κενεὸν δὲ πρηγμάτων ὀρθῶν, πάσῃσιν ἐπιβουλῇσι νηπιάζοντα, καὶ μηδεμιῆς ἕνεκεν ὠφελείης ἀλγέοντα τοὺς ἀνηνύτους μόχθους, πείρατα γῆς καὶ ἀορίστους μυχοὺς ἀμέτροισιν ἐπιθυμίῃσιν ὁδεύοντα, ἄργυρον τήκοντα καὶ χρυσὸν, καὶ μὴ παυόμενον τῆς κτήσιος ταύτης, αἰεὶ δὲ θορυβεύμενον περὶ τὸ πλέον, ὅκως αὐτοῦ ἐλάσσων μὴ γένηται· καὶ οὐδὲν αἰσχύνεται λεγόμενος εὐδαίμων [. . .].”

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The Rise of Foreign Education in Rome

Cicero, Republic 2.19

“It was then that our state first seemed to have become more learned with a certain foreign type of education. For it was no little stream which flowed from Greece into this city, but the most powerful river of those disciplines and arts. Some people tell the tale that Demaratus—a Corinthian exceptional in his own city for his respect, wealth, and authority—who was not able to endure the tyrant Cypselos at Corinth, fled with his money and took up residence in Tarquinii, the most elegant city of Etruria at the time.

Once he heard that Cypselos’ power was complete, the man of freedom and bravery officially became an exile and re-established his home and roots here. When he had two sons with the Tarquinian mother of his family, he had them educated in every art of the Greek system…”

XIX. Sed hoc loco primum videtur insitiva quadam disciplina doctior facta esse civitas. influxit enim non tenuis quidam e Graecia rivulus in hanc urbem, sed abundantissimus amnis illarum disciplinarum et artium. fuisse enim quendam ferunt Demaratum Corinthium et honore et auctoritate et fortunis facile civitatis suae principem; qui cum Corinthiorum tyrannum Cypselum ferre non potuisset, fugisse cum magna pecunia dicitur ac se contulisse Tarquinios, in urbem Etruriae florentissimam. cumque audiret dominationem Cypseli confirmari, defugit patriam vir liber ac fortis et adscitus est civis a Tarquiniensibus atque in ea civitate domicilium et sedes collocavit. ubi cum de matre familias Tarquiniensi duo filios procreavisset, omnibus eos artibus ad Graecorum disciplinam erudiit. . .

*Cypselos was allegedly a tyrant in the 7th century BCE.

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“Their Only God is Money”

The following is a spurious letter from the wild Historia Augusta. This is filled with religious confusion, some hate, and an odd detail about cups.

Historia Augusta, 29.7

“Hadrianus Augustus greets Servianus the Consul.

Dearest Servianus, that Egypt you were praising to me is completely light of learning, volatile, and swinging toward every little rumor. The people there who follow Serapis are Christians and those who claim to be followers of Christ are actually worshipers of Serapis. There’s no one in charge of the synagogue of the Jews, there’s no Samaritans, no Christian presbyter who is not also an astrologer, a psychic or some baptist. Even the Patriarch, when he has come to Egypt, is made to worship Serapis by some and Christ by others.

These people are the most traitorous, the most vain, most likely to injure while their state is wealthy, showy, fertile and a place where no one is without work. Some people blow glass; paper is made by others; everyone weaves some kind of linen or are part of some kind of craft. The lame have things they do; eunuchs have things they do as do the blind and even those with crippled hands are not without work among them.

Money is their only god—Christians, Jews, every people and race worship him. I wish that this place had a better nature, for it is truly worthy because of its size and richness to be the chief place of all Egypt. I conceded everything to it; I returned its ancient rights and added new ones so that the people thanked me while I was there. But, then, the moment I left, they said many things against my son Verus and I believe that you have learned what they said about Antinoos.

I wish nothing for them except that they live on their own chickens which they raise in a way that is shameful to speak. I am sending you some cups which are decorated with changing colors and were given to me by the priest of a temple but are now dedicated to you and my sister. I want you to use them on feast days. Be careful that our companion Africanus does not use them as he wants.”

VIII. “Hadrianus Augustus Serviano consuli salutem. Aegyptum, quam mihi laudabas, Serviane carissime, totam didici levem, pendulam et ad omnia famae momenta volitantem. illic3 qui Serapem colunt Christiani sunt, et devoti sunt Serapi qui se Christi episcopos dicunt. nemo illic archisynagogus Iudaeorum, nemo Samarites, nemo Christianorum presbyter non mathematicus, non haruspex, non aliptes. ipse ille patriarcha cum Aegyptum venerit, ab aliis Serapidem adorare, ab aliis cogitur Christum. genus hominum seditiosissimum, vanissimum, iniuriosissimum; civitas opulenta, dives, fecunda, in qua nemo vivat otiosus. alii vitrum conflant, aliis charta conficitur, omnes certe linyphiones aut cuiuscumque artis esse videntur; et habent podagrosi quod agant, habent praecisi quod agant, habent caeci quod faciant, ne chiragrici quidem apud eos otiosi vivunt. unus illis deus nummus est. hunc Christiani, hunc Iudaei, hunc omnes venerantur et gentes. et utinam melius esset morata civitas, digna profecto quae pro sui fecunditate, quae pro sui magnitudine totius Aegypti teneat principatum. huic ego cuncta concessi, vetera privilegia reddidi, nova sic addidi ut praesenti gratias agerent. denique ut primum inde discessi, et in filium meum Verum multa dixerunt, et de Antinoo quae dixerint comperisse te credo. nihil illis opto, nisi ut suis pullis alantur, quos quemadmodum fecundant, pudet dicere. calices tibi allassontes versicolores transmisi, quos mihi sacerdos templi obtulit, tibi et sorori meae specialiter dedicatos; quos tu velim festis diebus conviviis adhibeas. caveas tamen ne his Africanus noster indulgenter utatur.”

An image of Serapis, not of Christ
Serapis

Meaningless Beliefs and Life’s Limits: Four More Maxims from Epicurus

“Whoever understands the limits of life knows that it is extremely easy to take away the pain of want and to make all of life fulfilled. Then he lacks nothing which is acquired through conflicts.”

XXI. ῾Ο τὰ πέρατα τοῦ βίου κατειδὼς οἶδεν, ὡς εὐπόριστόν ἐστι τὸ <τὸ> ἀλγοῦν κατ’ ἔνδειαν ἐξαιροῦν καὶ τὸ τὸν ὅλον βίον παντελῆ καθιστάν· ὥστε οὐδὲν προσδεῖται πραγμάτων ἀγῶνας κεκτημένων.

 

“Of the things which wisdom provides for happiness throughout life, the greatest by far is the possession of friends”

XXVII. ῟Ων ἡ σοφία παρασκευάζεται εἰς τὴν τοῦ ὅλου βίου μακαριότητα, πολὺ μέγιστόν ἐστιν ἡ τῆς φιλίας κτῆσις.

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“Some of our desires are natural and necessary. Others are natural and not necessary. Some more are neither natural nor necessary, but they develop thanks to meaningless beliefs.”

XXIX. Τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν αἱ μέν εἰσι φυσικαὶ καὶ <ἀναγκαῖαι· αἱ δὲ φυσικαὶ καὶ> οὐκ ἀναγκαῖαι· αἱ δὲ οὔτε φυσικαὶ οὔτ’ ἀναγκαῖαι ἀλλὰ παρὰ κενὴν δόξαν γινόμεναι.

 

“Nature’s justice is a representation of advantage, for not harming one another nor being harmed.”

XXXI. Τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιόν ἐστι σύμβολον τοῦ συμφέροντος εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν ἀλλήλους μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.

Fantastic Friday: Why Crows Are Banned from The Acropolis

We have posted about the strange story of Erikhthonios before, but this account not only contains an aetiological myth for the absence of crows but also has some strange details, like Athena trying to bring a mountain to Athens. Antigonus of Carystus allegedly compiled his collections of wonders in the 3rd Century BCE.

Antigonus Paradoxographus, Historiae Mirabiles 12

 “Amelêsagoras the Athenian, author of the Atthis, claims that the crow does not fly to the Akropolis and that no one can say he has seen it happen. He provides the cause of this as a myth.

For he says that when Athena was given to Hephaestos that she disappeared right after she laid down with him and Hephaistos ejaculated his seed on the ground. The earth later produced for Hephaestos Erikhthonios whom Athena cared for but then closed in a basket and handed over to the daughters of Kekrops, Agraulos, Pandrosos, and Hersê.  She told them not to open the basket until she returned.

When she left for Pellênê to bring back a mountain in order to make a defensive barrier before the city, two of Kekrops’ daughters—Agraulos and Pandrosos—opened the basket and saw two snakes around Erikhthonios.

[Amelêsagoras] claims that a crow went to Athena as she was carrying the mountain which is now called Lykabettos and told her that Erikhthonios was in the open. When she heard this, she threw the mountain to where it is now, said tat it would no longer right for the crow to go to the Akropolis because of his evil message.”

᾿Αμελησαγόρας δὲ ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος, ὁ τὴν ᾿Ατθίδα συγγεγραφώς, οὔ φησι κορώνην προσίπτασθαι πρὸς τὴν ἀκρόπολιν, οὐδ’ ἔχοι ἂν εἰπεῖν ἑωρακὼς οὐδείς.  ἀποδίδωσιν δὲ τὴναἰτίαν μυθικῶς. φησὶν γάρ, ῾Ηφαίστῳ δοθείσης τῆς ᾿Αθηνᾶς, συγκατακλιθεῖσαν αὐτὴν ἀφανισθῆναι, τὸν δὲ ῞Ηφαιστον εἰς γῆν πεσόντα προΐεσθαι τὸ σπέρμα, τὴν δὲ γῆν ὕστερον αὐτῷ ἀναδοῦναι ᾿Εριχθόνιον, ὃν τρέφειν τὴν ᾿Αθηνᾶν καὶ εἰς κίστην καθεῖρξαι καὶ παραθέσθαι ταῖς Κέκροπος παισίν, ᾿Αγραύλῳ καὶ Πανδρόσῳ καὶ ῞Ερσῃ, καὶ ἐπιτάξαι μὴ ἀνοίγειν τὴν κίστην, ἕως ἂν αὐτὴ ἔλθῃ. ἀφικομένην δὲ εἰς Πελλήνην φέρειν ὄρος, ἵνα ἔρυμα πρὸ τῆς ἀκροπόλεως ποιήσῃ, τὰς δὲ Κέκροπος θυγατέρας τὰς δύο, ῎Αγραυλον καὶ Πάνδροσον, τὴν κίστην ἀνοῖξαι καὶ ἰδεῖν δράκοντας δύο περὶ τὸν ᾿Εριχθόνιον· τῇδὲ ᾿Αθηνᾷ φερούσῃ τὸ ὄρος, ὃ νῦν καλεῖται Λυκαβηττός, κορώνην φησὶν ἀπαντῆσαι καὶ εἰπεῖν ὅτι ᾿Εριχθόνιος ἐν φανερῷ, τὴν δὲ ἀκούσασαν ῥίψαι τὸ ὄρος ὅπου νῦν ἐστιν, τῇ δὲ κορώνῃ διὰ τὴν κακαγγελίαν εἰπεῖν ὡς εἰς ἀκρόπολιν οὐ θέμις αὐτῇ ἔσται ἀφικέσθαι.

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Apollo with Crow (or Raven), 5th Century BCE

The Wakeful Mind and Happiness

Cicero, De Finibus 5. 87

“For this reason we must examine whether or not it is possible for the study of the philosophers to bring us [happiness].”

Quare hoc videndum est, possitne nobis hoc ratio philosophorum dare.

 

Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 2.1 (1219a25)

“Let the work of the mind be the performance of life—and what this means is using life and being awake (for sleep is some kind of a rest and cessation of life). As a result, since the work of the mind and its virtue are identical, then the work of virtue is an earnest life.

This, then, is the complete good, which is itself happiness. For it is clear from what we have argued—as we said that happiness was the best thing; the goals and the greatest of the goods are in the mind, but aspects of the mind are either a state of being or an action—it is clear that, since an action is better than a state and the best action is better than the best state, that the performance of virtue is the greatest good of the mind. Happiness, then, is the action of a good mind.”

Ἔτι ἔστω ψυχῆς ἔργον τὸ ζῆν ποιεῖν, τοῦτοχρῆσις καὶ ἐγρήγορσις (ὁ γὰρ ὕπνος ἀργία τις καὶ ἡσυχία)· ὥστ᾿ ἐπεὶ τὸ ἔργον ἀνάγκη ἓν καὶ ταὐτὸ εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τῆς ἀρετῆς, ἔργον ἂν εἴη τῆς ἀρετῆς ζωὴ σπουδαία.

τοῦτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ τέλεον ἀγαθόν, ὅπερ ἦν ἡ εὐδαιμονία. δῆλον δὲ ἐκ τῶν ὑποκειμένων (ἦν μὲν γὰρ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον, τὰ δὲ τέλη ἐν ψυχῇ καὶ τὰ ἄριστα τῶν ἀγαθῶν, τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ ἢ ἕξις ἢ ἐνέργεια), ἐπεὶ βέλτιον ἡ ἐνέργεια τῆς διαθέσεως καὶ τῆς βελτίστης ἕξεως ἡ βελτίστη ἐνέργεια ἡ δ᾿ ἀρετὴ βελτίστη ἕξις, τὴν τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐνέργειαν τῆς ψυχῆς ἄριστον εἶναι. ἦν δὲ καὶ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον· ἔστιν ἄρα ἡ εὐδαιμονία ψυχῆς ἀγαθῆς ἐνέργεια.

ψυχή: can be translated into English as “spirit” or “soul” instead of “mind”. I avoided the former to sidestep the implication that Aristotle is making some kind of a mystical argument; I avoided the latter because it has such strong religious associations in English.

Seneca De Beneficiis 22

“A just reason for happiness is seeing that a friend is happy—even better, is to make a friend happy.”

iusta enim causa laetitiae est laetum amicum videre, iustior fecisse

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Ms 3045 fol.22v Boethius with the Wheel of Fortune, from ‘De Consolatione Philosophiae’, translated by Jean de Meung

Why Start In Medias Res? (Hint: Liars Do This…)

Homer, Odyssey 9.14–15

“What shall I say first and then last—
When the Ouranian gods have given me many pains?”

τί πρῶτόν τοι ἔπειτα, τί δ’ ὑστάτιον καταλέξω;
κήδε’ ἐπεί μοι πολλὰ δόσαν θεοὶ Οὐρανίωνες.

Schol. T ad Hom. Od. 9.14 ex 1-12

“This is how he increases attention by creating expectation, which is a device one might use in a proem. For it is necessary that he acquire the goodwill of his audience for himself and attention for his speech so that they might welcome him as he speaks and they might internalize the things he says of the deeds and they might learn in what way Odysseus handled [everything] in general as he both praises himself but also demonstrates the number and strangeness of his experiences—this clarifies his purpose, from where he was present, and what he wants. This is why he begins the material of the longer narrative with “bringing me from Troy….”

τί πρῶτόν τοι ἔπειτα] ὅσα αὔξει τὴν προσοχὴν, προσδοκίαν ἐμποιῶν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τεχνικὸν ὡς ἐν προοιμίῳ· δεῖ γὰρ παρὰ τῶν ἀκουόντων ἑαυτῷ μὲν εὔνοιαν ἐπισπᾶσθαι, τῷ δὲ λόγῳ προσοχὴν, ἵνα τὸν μὲν λέγοντα ἀποδέξωνται, τῶν δὲ πραγμάτων ἐπιθυμήσωσι τὰ λεγόμενα καὶ μάθωσιν ὅπερ δι’ ὅλου κατώρθωκεν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἑαυτὸν μὲν ἐπαινέσας, τὸ δὲ πλῆθος καὶ τὴν καινότητα τῶν πραγμάτων ἐνδειξά-μενος δηλοῖ τὴν προαίρεσιν καὶ πόθεν παραγίνεται καὶ τί βούλεται, εἶθ’ οὕτως καὶ τὰ μείζονος διηγήσεως ἄρξηται “᾿Ιλιόθεν με φέρων” (39.). T.

Horace, Ars Poetica 148-149

“He always rushes to the action and steals
His audience to the story as if it is already known…”

semper ad eventum festinat et in medias res
non secus ac notas auditorem rapit

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11.25-26

“For once he tried to describe the war which happened between the Achaians and Greeks, he did not begin from the beginning, but from wherever he chanced. This is what nearly all liars do, as they embellish and re-weave their tales, never wishing to speak in the order of events.

For, they are less than clear in this way; otherwise, they would be shown false by the tale itself. This can be seen happening now in the courts of law and other places where men lie with skill. But people who wish to show what has happened, as each thing occurred, report in this way: first thing first, second thing second and everything else in order.

This is one explanation for why Homer does not begin his poem naturally; another is that he wished to obscure the beginning and the end the most and to obtain the opposite belief about these things. This is why he does not dare to narrate the beginning and the end clearly, nor does he promise to say anything about them. If he does mention them at all it is in passing and brief and it his clear he is mixing it all up. For he does not dare nor was he able to address these things readily.

This is what happens with liars especially, when someone is saying many different things about a matter and going on about them, because they want to hide some part of it the most, they don’t speak in an organized way or appeal to their audience by ordering things in the same place but where they are most deceptive. This is because they are ashamed to lie and hesitate to proceed, especially when it is about something serious. For this reason, liars do not speak in a loud voice when they come to this moment. Some people stutter and speak unclearly; others act as if they don’t know the truth but heard this from others.

Whoever speaks something true does it fearing nothing. Nor then has Homer spoken about the abduction of Helen or even about the sack of the city simply or in a free manner. Instead, as I was saying, even though he was so very bold, he stumbled and swooned because he knew he was speaking the opposite to the truth and was lying about the very substance of his affair.”

Ἐπιχειρήσας γὰρ τὸν πόλεμον εἰπεῖν τὸν γενόμενον τοῖς Ἀχαιοῖς πρὸς τοὺς Τρῶας, οὐκ εὐθὺς ἤρξατο ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρχῆς, ἀλλ᾿ ὅθεν ἔτυχεν· ὃ ποιοῦσι πάντες οἱ ψευδόμενοι σχεδόν, ἐμπλέκοντες καὶ περιπλέκοντες καὶ οὐθὲν βουλόμενοι λέγειν ἐφεξῆς· ἧττον γὰρ κατάδηλοί εἰσιν· εἰ δὲ μή, ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τοῦ πράγματος ἐξελέγχονται. τοῦτο δὲ ἰδεῖν ἔστι καὶ ἐν τοῖς δικαστηρίοις καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις γιγνόμενον οἳ μετὰ τέχνης ψεύδονται. οἱ δὲ βουλόμενοι τὰ γενόμενα ἐπιδεῖξαι, ὡς ξυνέβη ἕκαστον, οὕτως ἀπαγγέλλουσι, τὸ πρῶτον πρῶτον καὶ τὸ δεύτερον δεύτερον καὶ τἄλλα ἐφεξῆς ὁμοίως. ἓν μὲν τοῦτο αἴτιον τοῦ μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἄρξασθαι τῆς ποιήσεως· ἕτερον δέ, ὅτι τὴν ἀρχὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸ τέλος μάλιστα ἐπεβούλευσεν ἀφανίσαι καὶ ποιῆσαι τὴν ἐναντίαν δόξαν ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν. ὅθεν οὔτε τὴν ἀρχὴν οὔτε τὸ τέλος ἐτόλμησεν εἰπεῖν ἐκ τοῦ εὐθέος, οὐδὲ ὑπέσχετο ὑπὲρ τούτων οὐδὲν ἐρεῖν, ἀλλ᾿ εἴ που καὶ μέμνηται, παρέργως καὶ βραχέως, καὶ δῆλός ἐστιν ἐπιταράττων· οὐ γὰρ ἐθάρρει πρὸς αὐτὰ οὐδὲ ἐδύνατο ἐρεῖν ἑτοίμως. συμβαίνει δὲ καὶ τοῦτο τοῖς ψευδομένοις ὡς τὸ πολύ γε, ἄλλα μέν τινα λέγειν τοῦ πράγματος καὶ διατρίβειν ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς, ὃ δ᾿ ἂν1 μάλιστα κρύψαι θέλωσιν, οὐ προτιθέμενοι λέγουσιν οὐδὲ προσέχοντι τῷ ἀκροατῇ, οὐδ᾿ ἐν τῇ αὑτοῦ2 χώρᾳ τιθέντες, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἂν λάθοι μάλιστα, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὅτι αἰσχύνεσθαι ποιεῖ τὸ ψεῦδος καὶ ἀποκνεῖν προσιέναι πρὸς αὑτό, ἄλλως τε ὅταν ᾖ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων. ὅθεν οὐδὲ τῇ φωνῇ μέγα λέγουσιν οἱ ψευδόμενοι ὅταν ἐπὶ τοῦτο ἔλθωσιν· οἱ δέ τινες αὐτῶν βατταρίζουσι καὶ ἀσαφῶς λέγουσιν· οἱ δὲ οὐχ ὡς αὐτοί τι εἰδότες, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἑτέρων ἀκούσαντες. ὃς δ᾿ ἂν ἀληθὲς λέγῃ τι, θαρρῶν καὶ οὐδὲν ὑποστελλόμενος λέγει. οὔτε οὖν τὰ περὶ τὴν ἁρπαγὴν τῆς Ἑλένης Ὅμηρος εἴρηκεν ἐκ τοῦ εὐθέος οὐδὲ παρρησίαν ἄγων ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὔτε περὶ τῆς ἁλώσεως τῆς πόλεως. καίτοι γάρ, ὡς ἔφην, ἀνδρειότατος ὢν ὑποκατεκλίνετο καὶ ἡττᾶτο ὅτι ᾔδει τἀναντία λέγων τοῖς οὖσι καὶ τὸ κεφάλαιον αὐτὸ τοῦ πράγματος ψευδόμενος.

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Miniature of Sinon from the Vergilius Romanus. He was a liar too.

The Purpose of Song

In 1923 Rainer Maria Rilke published Sonnets to Orpheus, a sequence of poems dedicated to the mythical father of song. The poems are as beautiful and subtle as they are challenging. 

A Platonic concept animates the third sonnet: namely, song’s audial aspect (I treat the word as interchangeable with “music”) should direct us to the art’s higher, pure form. In fact, it should move us beyond the world of appearances and reconcile us with fundamental reality. 

And so Socrates says of song: “certainly it is useful in the search for the beautiful and the good” [Republic 531c]. Like geometry and astronomy, song should “compel contemplation of being itself” [Republic 526e]. 

With these lofty claims in mind, enjoy Rilke:

Sonnets to Orpheus: III

A god is able. But tell me, how could
a man follow him through the narrow lyre?
Man’s mind is conflict. At the meeting of two
heart-paths there is no temple to Apollo.

Song, as you teach it, is not desire,
not an instrument for reaching a goal.
Song is being. For a god, a simple thing.
But when will we be? When will he turn

the earth and the stars toward our being?
Song’s not there, youth, for when you fall in love,
though your voice forces your mouth open. Learn

to forget you sang that way. It will pass.
True singing is breath of another kind:
A breath about nothing. A flutter in the god. A wind.

Plato’s Republic, 531c:

χρήσιμον μὲν οὖν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, πρὸς τὴν τοῦ καλοῦ τε καὶ ἀγαθοῦ ζήτησιν, ἄλλως δὲ μεταδιωκόμενον ἄχρηστον.

526e:

“οὐκοῦν εἰ μὲν οὐσίαν ἀναγκάζει θεάσασθαι, προσήκει . . .”

Rilke’s Die Sonette An Orpheus: III

Ein Gott vermags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll
ein Mann ihm folgen durch die schmale Leier?
Sein Sinn ist Zwiespalt. An der Kreuzung zweier
Herzwege steht kein Tempel für Apoll.

Gesang, wie du ihn lehrst, ist nicht Begehr,
nicht Werbung um ein endlich noch Erreichtes ;
Gesang ist Dasein. Für den Gott ein Leichtes.
Wann aber sind wir? Und wann wendet er

an unser Sein die Erde und die Sterne?
Dies ists nicht, Jüngling, daß du liebst, wenn auch
die Stimme dann den Mund dir aufstößt, – lerne

vergessen, daß du aufsangst. Das verrinnt.
In Wahrheit singen, ist ein andrer Hauch.
Ein Hauch um nichts. Ein Wehn im Gott. Ein Wind.

Rilke at 25 bore some resemblance to young Stalin.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

A Predator and His Council: A Fable for Our Times

Phaedrus 2.6: The Eagle and the Crow

“Against those in power, no one has enough defense
If a wicked adviser also enters the scene
His power and malice ruins their opposition.
An eagle carried a tortoise on high,
When he pulled his body in his armored home to hide,
And rested hidden untouched by any attack,
A crow came on a breeze flying near them:

“You have well seized a precious prize with your talons,
But, if I don’t show what you need to do,
It will pointlessly wear you out with its heavy weight.”

Promised a portion, the crow instructs the eagle to drop
The hard shell from the stars upon a cliff’s rock.
It would be easy to feed on the broken flesh!

The eagle followed up these wicked instructions
And also split the feast with her teacher.
Just so, the tortoise who was safe by nature’s gift.
Was ill-matched to those two and died a sad death.”

Contra potentes nemo est munitus satis;
si vero accessit consiliator maleficus,
vis et nequitia quicquid oppugnant, ruit.
Aquila in sublime sustulit testudinem:
quae cum abdidisset cornea corpus domo,
nec ullo pacto laedi posset condita,
venit per auras cornix, et propter volans
“Opimam sane praedam rapuisti unguibus;
sed, nisi monstraro quid sit faciendum tibi,
gravi nequiquam te lassabit pondere.”
promissa parte suadet ut scopulum super
altis ab astris duram inlidat corticem,
qua comminuta facile vescatur cibo.
inducta vafris aquila monitis paruit,
simul et magistrae large divisit dapem.
sic tuta quae naturae fuerat munere,
impar duabus, occidit tristi nece.

Image result for medieval manuscript eagle and crow and tortoise