Scholarship and Superfluous Detail

Ah, pedantry. I may have had some thoughts about it….

Artemon of Pergamon (New Jacoby: BNJ 569 F 3 [=Schol. on Pind., Pyth. 1, inscr. a])

“Golden Lyre”: The poem has been written for Hieron; Pindar allegedly said this according to the historian Artemon because Hieron promised him a golden lyre. But these kinds of things are full of superfluous detail”

Χρυσέα φόρμιγξ] γέγραπται μὲν ὁ ἐπίνικος ῾Ιέρωνι, λέγεται δὲ ὁ Πίνδαρος οὕτως ἐπιβεβλῆσθαι κατὰ ᾽Αρτέμωνα τὸν ἱστορικόν, ὅτι δὴ αὐτῶι ὁ ῾Ιέρων χρυσῆν ὑπέσχετο κιθάραν . τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα περιεργίας πεπλήρωται.

From LSJ 1902

περιεργαζόμαι, “to take more pains than enough about a thing, to waste one’s labor” 2. “to be a busybody”

περιεργία: “over-exactness” II. “officiousness” III. “curious arts”

περίεργος: “careful overmuch” II. “done with especial care”; “overwrought, too elaborate, superfluous”

περιεργοπένητες: “poor scholars”

Suda, Kappa 504

Kataglôttismata: “tonguing-down”: all sorts of kisses. Fabrications. All kinds of massages with sweet oils. Also, superfluous words. Or the “tonguing-down” is a rather excessive kiss. Or, it is flattery”

Καταγλωττίσματα: περίεργα φιλήματα. καταπλάσματα, παντοῖαι μυραλοιφίαι, ἢ περιλαλήματα. ἢ εἶδος φιλήματος περιεργότερον τὸ καταγλώττισμα: ἢ κολάκευμα.

Breviary of Renaud de Bar, France, 1302-1303: http://www.lazerhorse.org/2015/05/17/medieval-art-weird-manuscript/

From Senecan’t to Senecan

Seneca, that champion essayist of antiquity, began his collection of moral epistles to Lucullus with an urgent plea:

Persuade yourself that the matter stands as I write: some time is stolen from us, some is drawn off, and some just flows away. The most shameful loss, though, is the one which occurs through negligence. If you wish to take note, you will see that a large part of life slips away from those who act badly, the greatest portion slips away from those who do nothing, and all of life slips away from those who are busy doing something else. What person can you cite who places a price upon his time, who takes an account of the day, who understands that he is dying every day? We are deceived in this, that we look forward to death: a large part of it has already gone by, and whatever part of our lives is in the past is death’s property now. Therefore, act as you claim to do, and embrace every hour; thus it will happen that you weigh out less of tomorrow, if you throw your hand upon today. Life runs away when it is delayed. All things, my Lucilius, are foreign to us: time alone is ours. Nature has granted us the possession of this one fleeting, slippery thing, from which she expels whoever wishes it. The stupidity of humans is so great that they allow the smallest, most worthless things (certainly, those which can be retrieved) to be added to their account when they have accomplished them, but no one thinks that he owes any debt when he receives time, though this is the one thing which no one is able to pay back readily. [Moral Epistles, 1.1]

If Seneca’s advice sounds modern and well-fitted to our age, it is perhaps only because one could easily imagine hearing it from any of today’s podiums of self-righteous assholery, from the TED stage to a podcast. Seneca was not, however, addressing a generation born into wage prostitution. Readers and audiences may be fascinated by accounts of the pleasure/utility maximizing routines of tech and finance bros, and Stoicism may have taken off among the aforementioned douchenozzles, but Stoicism as a practice can only ever really appeal to the wealthy. Anyone who can practice abstinence and denial must necessarily exist among some kind of surplus.

But to return to Seneca and that invidious monster, time. There is no doubt that many of us are wasting our time in the sense that we are employing it upon activities which we would not freely choose. Though we may have some apparent choice about what we do (though far less than we ostensibly do), the fact is that we must have jobs which will require a certain amount of time (not production) from us. As a teacher, I have sold my time to the school, and am paid regardless of how much students learn (or don’t) on the basis of the fact that I am there during my contract hours. Other career options may lie open, but how many of them would differ from my current job in this crucial respect?

Moreover, the very idea of the wage system is based upon the premise that no one would work entirely of their own accord. Consider this exchange from the most important cinematic creation of all time, Office Space:

PETER: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you would do if we had a million dollars and didn’t have to work. And invariably, whatever we would say, that was supposed to be our careers. If you wanted to build cars, then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.

SAMIR: So what did you say?

PETER: I never had an answer. I guess that’s why I’m working at Initech.

MICHAEL: No, you’re working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If that quiz worked, there would be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.

Elsewhere, Peter claims that if he had a million dollars, he would do nothing. Though many of us can surely think of something which we would do if freed from the dread bondage of working life, I doubt that many people would continue to work at their jobs if they did not have to. Seneca himself was rich, and though he held various official positions, these were not strictly necessary to his pecuniary survival. Seneca could afford for all of his time to remain his own. Moreover, Seneca’s leisure was built upon a system of brutal slavery, and so his life may not serve as the most edifying model.

Yet, independent of class concerns, the old clichés about time so popular among the old Roman elites are perhaps even more salient today than they were in antiquity. Consider for a moment those famous lines of our main man Horace:

Cut back long hope. While we speak, a hateful age will have escaped. Seize the day, trusting as little as possible to tomorrow.

spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit invida

aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. [Odes, 1.11]

This has always been good advice in light of the brevity of human life, but how much more compelling is it at the end of civilization? The further we stumble into the future, the more dire the warnings about the earth’s future inability to support human life become. That is of course wholly independent of the geopolitical shitshow in which any misstep in the carefully calibrated shit choreography could instantly precipitate a war of global extinction. In an increasingly globalized yet simultaneously fragmented world, one in which democracy is rapidly being subverted by authoritarianism and oligarchy, perhaps Seneca’s claim is true – perhaps the only thing which is truly ours is our time.

Thus it is that I declare myself a Plus-Temporist. What is Plus-Temporism? A general sense that in addition to rectifying other social injustices inflicted by capitalism, we should as a society reclaim our time – from employers, from advertisers, from the hucksters selling us time-sucking but vacuous entertainments. Computerization and, more recently, wholesale automation promised a reduction in human labor, but have instead resulted in greater working hours for those people with traditional jobs (i.e. not gigs), as they struggle to stave off the threat of being replaced entirely by soulless automata.

For my own part, I used to assign homework to my students on occasion, but I recently told them that I had come to the conclusion that homework is immoral. As it stands, they spend eight hours in school every day – is that not enough? Seneca oversimplifies the solution by suggesting that one should simply opt out and reclaim their time on their own, but the individual retreat from impositions on one’s time is a privilege exclusively reserved for the rich. Is the forty hour (or worse) work week not just an absurd anachronism? And so, perhaps we should make a larger cooperative effort to reduce the amount of time which people have taken from them. We may not know what tomorrow will bring, but once it arrives, we know that today has departed and taken with it another twenty four hours of our limited lives.

Four Proverbs for Fools

Go here for more information about Ancient Greek collections of proverbs.

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