The Work of a Greek Scholar

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Greek Literature:

“If this were a new University, or if Greek were what it was at the Renaissance, a new and unexplored subject, there would be all sorts of suggestions and prospects of interest to lay before you. But in a University of vast traditions, of long-tried efficiency and fame, the first thing that a new Professor should think of is not to change something in Oxford, but to do his best to be worthy of Oxford. And something similar holds of the subject. True, research is a necessity to understanding : and no study that is really flourishing can help both seeking and finding new things ;true, also, that we have Crete and the Papyri before our eyes. Yet, on the whole, the main work of a Greek scholar is not to make discoveries or to devise new methods, but merely to master as best he can, and to reorder according to the powers of his own understanding, a vast mass of thought and feeling and knowledge already existing, implicit or explicit, in the minds or the published works of his teachers.”

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Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

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Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

On Socrates’ Jokes and Homer’s Lions

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 55.10 On Homer and Socrates

“Dear Friend, if we compare the fox with [Homer’s] lions and leopards and we claim that it either not at all or a just a little different. But, perhaps, you approve of those kinds of things in Homer, when he brings up starlings, or jackdaws, or ashes, or beans, lentals, or when he depicts people winnowing or these portions seem to you to be the worst part of Homer’s poems. So you admire only lions, eagles, Skyllas and Kyklopes, the things he used to enchant dumb people, just as nurses tell children about the Lamia. Truly, just as Homer tries to teach people who are really hard to teach through myths and history, so Sokrates often uses a similar technique, at times he feigns joking because he might help people this way. Perhaps he also butted heads with myth-tellers and historians.”

Δ. Εἴπερ γε, ὦ μακάριε, καὶ τὴν Ἀρχιλόχου ἀλώπεκα τοῖς λέουσι καὶ ταῖς παρδάλεσι παραβάλλομεν καὶ οὐδὲν ἢ μὴ πολὺ ἀποδεῖν φαμεν. ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἴσως καὶ τῶν Ὁμήρου τὰ τοιαῦτα ἀποδοκιμάζεις, ὅπου μέμνηται ψαρῶν ἢ κολοιῶν ἢ ἀκρίδων ἢ δαλοῦ ἢ τέφρας ἢ κυάμων τε καὶ ἐρεβίνθων ἢ λικμῶντας ἀνθρώπους πεποίηκεν, ἀλλὰ ταῦτά σοι δοκεῖ τὰ φαυλότατα εἶναι τῶν Ὁμήρου· μόνους δὲ θαυμάζεις τοὺς λέοντας καὶ τοὺς ἀετοὺς καὶ τὰς Σκύλλας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας, οἷς ἐκεῖνος ἐκήλει τοὺς ἀναισθήτους, ὥσπερ αἱ τίτθαι τὰ παιδία διηγούμεναι τὴν Λάμιαν. καὶ μὴν ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος διά τε μύθων καὶ ἱστορίας ἐπεχείρησε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους παιδεύειν, σφόδρα ἐργώδεις ὄντας παιδευθῆναι, καὶ Σωκράτης πολλάκις ἐχρῆτο τῷ τοιούτῳ, ποτὲ μὲν σπουδάζειν ὁμολογῶν, ποτὲ δὲ παίζειν προσποιούμενος, τούτου ἕνεκεν ἵν᾿ ἀνθρώπους ὠφελοῖ· ἴσως δὲ προσέκρουσε τοῖς μυθολόγοις καὶ τοῖς συγγραφεῦσιν.


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This means something.

#DeadClassics Party: A Wonderful, Terrible Idea

P. Oxy. 1485.

“The Exegete would love for you to dine today, the ninth day, at the temple of Demeter at the seventh hour”

Ἐρωτᾷ σαι διπν[ῆ-]σαι ὁ ἐξηγητὴ[ς] ἐν τῷ Δημητρίῳ σήμερον ἥτις ἐσ-τὶν θ ἀπὸ ὥρ(ας) ζ.

Today we started something a little silly (after being serious for a few hours this morning). I think I was hungry, but I tweeted the following:

As you can probably imagine, the responses were fast coming, erudite and funny. I probably should have not been surprised by the eagerness of the responses. Unlike the other classics game which requires and even prizes a knowledge of the obscure–where people talk about the lost texts from antiquity–this one is fair game for almost anyone.

And it also has the imprint of antiquity: think of all the banquets that are settings for the remains of ancient literature, the Symposia of Xenophon and Plato, Petronius’ absurd feast, the imagined, endless meals of Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists and Plutarch’s Dinner of the Seven Wise Men. Who doesn’t fantasize about a perfect, endless, raucous meal?

Seneca, Contr. 9.11

“A man was killed so that this asshole might dine more pleasantly with his girlfriend?”

Ut iste cum amica cenaret iucundius homo occisus est.

Martial, 2.18

“Eh, I am ashamed, but I’m looking, I’m looking for a your dinner invitation, Maximus.
And you’re looking for a different one. Now, for once, we are equal.”

Capto tuam, pudet heu, sed capto, Maxime, cenam.
tu captas aliam: iam sumus ergo pares.

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Here are just a few below. I storified the first few hours’ worth

Here are just a few tweets, to get you going.


Everyone knows that Catullus made the best dinner invitation ever. Here’s a post about Simonides’ memory and a disastrous dinner.

Tawdry Tuesday: Suetonius and His Defamatory Words

Antiquity has bequeathed to us On Defamatory Words and Where they Come from (ΠΕΡΙ ΒΛΑΣΦΗΜΙΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΘΕΝ ΕΚΑΣΤΗ) attributed to Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Yes, that Suetonius. It seems rather fragmentary, but it produces some gems. A large section include insults about women, but here’s a nice one for a man:

nôthouros: I guess is one who has a bastard ‘tail’ for intercourse. For they use this in respect to male genitals. The kind of man described this way is also called impotent [astutos] and his household is called impotent. For example in Xenarkhos, “the impotent house of the Pelopides”. And there is also “fruitless” [akarpos] and “childless” [agonos] “the house perishes because it experiences the flaccid fates of its masters”.

Νώθουρος, <ἤγουν ὁ νωθὴν ἔχων τὴν οὐρὰν ἐν τῷ συγγίνεσθαι·οὕτω γὰρ ἔλεγον τὸ κατ’ ἄνδρας αἰδοῖον. ῾Ο δὲ τοιοῦτος ἀνὴρ καὶ ἄστυτος ἐλέγετο, καθὰ καὶ οἶκος ἄστυτος>—<οἷον παρὰ Ξενάρχῳ (fr. 1 Kock)·«Πελοπιδῶν ἄστυτος οἶκος», ἤγουν ἄκαρπος, ἄγονος, καί (id. ibid.)· «φθίνει δόμος ἀστύτοισι δεσποτῶν κεχρημένος τύχαις«>—

Astutus, literally “without an erection”. I covered this last week….

Hesychius agrees with the definition

Nôthouros: one who is incapable of having intercourse. Or a donkey.

νώθουρος· ὁ ἀδύνατος συγγίνεσθαι (Com. ad. 1367). ἢ ὄνος

note: συγγιγνώσκω means “agree with”: συγγίγνομαι can mean “talk with” or “communicate with” but also to “have sex with”. Don’t confuse them.

LSJ is just too precious on this:


I think that nôthouros might be the equivalent of “limp-dick”, although I would like to suggest “fake-dick” or “counterfeit-cock” vel sim. (but that comes from a fake etymology with the short vowel omicron for “bastard” (νόθος). This, of course, is impossible. Tell me, Beekes:


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Five Guys Named Thales

As I have written before, I like the Classics thought game of trading some extant piece of literature for something we have allegedly lost (of roughly the same length, importance, or genre). Playing this game well, of course, requires knowing what is lost. Sometimes, I read Diogenes Laertius just for the names of the lost works. There is an elegant beauty in them. I suppose the work mentioned in this passage would probably be boring, but I would still read it.

Vita Philosophorum: Thales 1.38

“There were other people named Thales, as Demetrius the Magnesian writes in his On People with the Same Name, five of them: the orator from Kallatia, who had a difficult style; a painter from Sikyon who was quite talented. The third was really old, from around the time of Hesiod and Homer. Duris mentions the fourth in his On Painting. The fifth was more recent and not well known, but he is mentioned by Dionysus in his Criticisms.

Γεγόνασι δὲ καὶ ἄλλοι Θαλαῖ, καθά φησι Δημήτριος ὁ Μάγνης ἐν τοῖς Ὁμωνύμοις, πέντε· ῥήτωρ Καλλατιανός, κακόζηλος·ζωγράφος Σικυώνιος, μεγαλοφυής·τρίτος ἀρχαῖος πάνυ, κατὰ Ἡσίοδον καὶ Ὅμηρον καὶ Λυκοῦργον· τέταρτος οὗ μέμνηται Δοῦρις ἐν τῷ Περὶζωγραφίας· πέμπτος νεώτερος, ἄδοξος, οὗ μνημονεύει Διονύσιος ἐν Κριτικοῖς.


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True Wealth: Happiness in Poverty

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 1.4:

“Do you know what limits the law of nature would fix for us? Not to feel hunger, thirst, or pain. To dispel hunger and thirst, it is not necessary to sit at the thresholds of fat-cats, not to suffer a weighty brow or even the insulting mass of humanity; nor is it necessary to try your luck on the sea or enlist as a soldier. What Nature wants is easily gotten and ready to hand. All of the sweating in life is over unnecessary trifles – those things which wear out a toga, which compel us to grow old under a tent, which push us to foreign shores. There lies at our fingertips what is enough. The one who finds poverty agreeable is rich indeed.”

Lex autem illa naturae scis quos nobis terminos statuat? Non esurire, non sitire, non algere. Ut famem sitimque depellas non est necesse superbis assidere liminibus nec supercilium grave et contumeliosam etiam humanitatem pati, non est necesse maria temptare nec sequi castra: parabile est quod natura desiderat et appositum. [11] Ad supervacua sudatur; illa sunt quae togam conterunt, quae nos senescere sub tentorio cogunt, quae in aliena litora impingunt: ad manum est quod sat est. Cui cum paupertate bene convenit dives est. Vale.