Presidential Advice: Keep Up With Latin and Greek!

Letter From Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 6 October 1820:

“Your letter of the 28th came to hand yesterday, and, as I suppose you are now about leaving Richmond for Columbia, this letter will be addressed to the latter place. I consider you as having made such proficiency in Latin & Greek that on your arrival at Columbia you may at once commence the study of the sciences: and as you may well attend two professors at once, I advise you to enter immediately with those of Mathematics & Chemistry. after these go on to Astronomy, Natl philosophy, Natl history & Botany. I say nothing of Mineralogy or Geology, because I presume they will be comprehended in the Chemical course. nor shall I say any thing of other branches of science, but that you should lose no time on them until the accomplishment of those above named, before which time we shall have opportunities of further advising together. I hope you will be permitted to enter at once into a course of mathematics, which will itself take up all that is useful in Euclid, and that you will not be required to go formally thro’ the usual books of that Geometer. that would be a waste of time which you have not to spare, and if you cannot enter the Mathematical school without it, do not enter it at all, but engage in the others sciences above mentioned. Your Latin & Greek should be kept up assiduously by reading at spare hours: and, discontinuing the desultory reading of the schools. I would advise you to undertake a regular course of history & poetry in both languages, in Greek, go first thro’ the Cyropaedia, and then read Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenies & Anabasis, Arrian’s Alexander, & Plutarch’s lives,, for prose reading: Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey, Euripides, Sophocles in poetry, & Demosthenes in Oratory; alternating prose & verse as most agreeable to yourself. in Latin read Livy, Caesar, Sallust Tacitus, Cicero’s Philosophies, and some of his Orations, in prose; and Virgil, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Horace, Terence & Juvenal for poetry. After all these, you will find still many of secondary grade to employ future years, and especially those of old age and retirement.”

What To Do With an Exceptional Man?

In which Aristotle gets frightening (because people take this stuff very seriously):


Aristotle, Politics 1284b25-34

“But in the best state, there is an important question: what should be done when a man is conspicuous not for some other quality such as strength, wealth or networks of friends but for virtue? For, indeed, no one would claim it is right to exile or disenfranchise a man like this. Nor could you say that we should rule him. For if would be the same as if they should think it right to split up the duties and rule over Zeus. What is left, and what seems natural, is for everyone to obey a man like this happily in order to make this type of king revered in their cities.”

ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τῆς ἀρίστης πολιτείας ἔχει πολλὴν ἀπορίαν, οὐ κατὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἀγαθῶν τὴν ὑπεροχήν, οἷον ἰσχύος καὶ πλούτου καὶ πολυφιλίας, ἀλλὰ ἄν τις γένηται διαφέρων κατ’ ἀρετήν, τί χρὴ ποιεῖν; οὐ  γὰρ δὴ φαῖεν ἂν δεῖν ἐκβάλλειν καὶ μεθιστάναι τὸν τοιοῦτον· ἀλλὰ μὴν οὐδ’ ἄρχειν γε τοῦ τοιούτου· παραπλήσιον γὰρ κἂν εἰ τοῦ Διὸς ἄρχειν ἀξιοῖεν, μερίζοντες τὰς ἀρχάς. λείπεται τοίνυν, ὅπερ ἔοικε πεφυκέναι, πείθεσθαι τῷ τοιούτῳ πάντας ἀσμένως, ὥστε βασιλέας εἶναι τοὺς τοιούτους ἀιδίους ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν.


Image result for ancient greek aristotle

Some Anecdotes from Antisthenes

From Diogenes of Laertius on Antisthenes the Cynic


General sex-ed (on consent?), 6.3 

“we should have sex with the kind of women who will be grateful”

χρὴ τοιαύταις πλησιάζειν γυναιξὶν αἳ χάριν εἴσονται


Advice for disorganized students, 6.5

“When a friend was complaining to him that he had lost his notes, he said “You should have inscribed them on your soul and not on paper.”

γνωρίμου ποτὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀποδυρομένου ὡς εἴη τὰ ὑπομνήματα ἀπολωλεκώς, “ἔδει γάρ,” ἔφη, “ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ αὐτὰ καὶ μὴ ἐν τοῖς χαρτίοις καταγράφειν.”


On recognizing a failed state

“States fail when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men”

τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.


On Brothers and More 6.6-7

“When brothers agree, he used to say, no walls are stronger than their shared life. The right clothing, he said, is that which survives the water with you when you’re shipwrecked. When he was reproached for spending time with wicked men, he said “doctors always hang out with the sick and don’t get a fever!” He used to say that it was strange that we separate the wheat from the chaff, the useless in war, but we do not ban wicked men from public life. When asked what benefit he derived from philosophy, he replied “to be able to converse with myself.” When someone asked him for some accompaniment to drinking, he said, “if you play the flute with me.”  When Diogenes asked him for a cloak, he told him to double his tunic over. When someone asked him what was the most important thing to learn, he said, “how to avoid having to unlearn”. He advised that when men were spoken of badly, they should endure it more than if they were struck by stones.”

῾Ομονοούντων ἀδελφῶν συμβίωσιν παντὸς ἔφη τείχους ἰσχυροτέραν εἶναι. τοιαῦτ’ ἔφη δεῖν ἐφόδια ποιεῖσθαι ἃ καὶ ναυαγήσαντι συγκολυμβήσει. ὀνειδιζόμενός ποτ’ ἐπὶ τῷ πονηροῖς συγγενέσθαι, “καὶ οἱ ἰατροί,” φησί, “μετὰ τῶν νοσούντων εἰσίν, ἀλλ’ οὐ πυρέττουσιν.” ἄτοπον ἔφη τοῦ μὲν σίτου τὰς αἴρας ἐκλέγειν καὶ ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τοὺς ἀχρείους, ἐν δὲ πολιτείᾳ τοὺς πονηροὺς μὴπαραιτεῖσθαι. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί αὐτῷ περιγέγονεν ἐκ φιλοσοφίας, ἔφη, “τὸ δύνασθαι ἑαυτῷ ὁμιλεῖν.” εἰπόντος αὐτῷ τινος παρὰ πότον, “ᾆσον,” “σύ μοι,” φησίν, “αὔλησον.” Διογένει χιτῶνα αἰτοῦντι πτύξαι προσέταξε θοἰμάτιον. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί τῶν μαθημάτων ἀναγκαιότατον, “τὸ περιαιρεῖν,” ἔφη, “τὸ ἀπομανθάνειν.” παρεκελεύετό τε κακῶς ἀκούοντας καρτερεῖν μᾶλλον ἢ εἰ λίθοιςτις βάλλοιτο.


Image result for Antisthenes the cynic

Gregory the Great Says: “Forget Grammar, Donatus be Damned”

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. 1

“Towards the close of the long letter prefixed to the Moralia, he confesses his contempt for the art of speech, and admits that he is not over-careful in the avoidance of barbarisms or inaccurate uses of prepositions, deeming it ‘ utterly unworthy to keep the language of the Divine Oracles in subjection to the rules of Donatus’; and this principle he applies to his own commentary, as well as to the sacred text. His attitude towards the secular study of Latin literature is well illustrated in the letter to Desiderius, bishop of Vienne. He is almost ashamed to mention the rumour that has reached him, to the effect that the bishop was in the habit of instructing certain persons in grammatical learning. ‘ The praises of Christ cannot be pronounced by the same lips as the praises of Jove’. He hopes to hear that the bishop is not really interested in such trifling subjects. Elsewhere, however, the study of Grammar and the knowledge of the liberal arts are emphatically commended on the ground of the aid they afford in the understanding of the Scriptures; but the genuineness of the work, in which this opinion is expressed is doubtful. Later writers record the tradition that Gregory did his best to suppress the works of Cicero, the charm of whose style diverted young men from the study of the Scriptures’, and that he burnt all the books of Livy which he could find, because they were full of idolatrous superstitions. It was even stated that he set the Palatine Library on fire, lest it should interfere with the study of the Bible, but the sole authority for this is John of Salisbury’ (d. 1 180), and the statement is unworthy of credit. “

Vengeance, Justice and Civil Strife: A Timeless Tale

Hesiod, Works and Days, 265

“The man who does evil against another harms himself.”
οἷ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων

Plato, Gorgias, 473a5
“Doing wrong is worse than suffering it”
τὸ ἀδικεῖν τοῦ ἀδικεῖσθαι κάκιον εἶναι


Thucydides, 3.82.7-8 

“To exact vengeance from someone was thought to be more important than not suffering at all. If oaths were ever taken in turn, were strong because each person was at a loss and had no power at all. But as soon as one of them had the advantage, he attached if he saw anyone unguarded: it was sweeter to take vengeance despite a pledge than to do so openly. It was thought generally to be safe and to have won a prize for intelligence, prevailing by deceit. Many wicked people become famous for being clever than good people do for being ingenuous. Men are ashamed by the latter but delight in the former.

To blame for all of these things the love of power and a love of honor. From both, they fell into a voluntary love of conflict. For those who were in charge of the state each claimed identities for themselves, some the equal rights of the masses, the others the wisdom of the aristocrats; while guarding the common goods in word, they were making them the contest’s prize, competing with one another to be pre-eminent, they dared the most terrible things—and they surpassed them with greater acts of vengeance too. They did not regard either justice or advantage for the city…”

ἀντιτιμωρήσασθαί τέ τινα περὶ πλείονος ἦν ἢ αὐτὸν μὴ προπαθεῖν. καὶ ὅρκοι εἴ που ἄρα γένοιντο ξυναλλαγῆς, ἐν τῷ αὐτίκα πρὸς τὸ ἄπορον ἑκατέρῳ διδόμενοι ἴσχυον οὐκ ἐχόντων ἄλλοθεν δύναμιν· ἐν δὲ τῷ παρατυχόντι ὁ φθάσας θαρσῆσαι, εἰ ἴδοι ἄφαρκτον, ἥδιον διὰ τὴν πίστιν ἐτιμωρεῖτο ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ προφανοῦς, καὶ τό τε ἀσφαλὲς ἐλογίζετο καὶ ὅτι ἀπάτῃ περιγενόμενος ξυνέσεως ἀγώνισμα προσελάμβανεν. ῥᾷον δ’ οἱ πολλοὶ κακοῦργοι ὄντες δεξιοὶ κέκληνται ἢ ἀμαθεῖς ἀγαθοί, καὶ τῷ μὲν αἰσχύνονται, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ἀγάλλονται. πάντων δ’ αὐτῶν αἴτιον ἀρχὴ ἡ διὰ πλεονεξίαν καὶ φιλοτιμίαν· ἐκ δ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐς τὸ φιλονικεῖν καθισταμένων τὸ πρόθυμον. οἱ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι προστάντες μετὰ ὀνόματος ἑκάτεροι εὐπρεποῦς, πλήθους τε ἰσονομίας πολιτικῆς καὶ ἀριστοκρατίας σώφρονος προτιμήσει, τὰ μὲν κοινὰ λόγῳ θεραπεύοντες ἆθλα ἐποιοῦντο, παντὶ δὲ τρόπῳ ἀγωνιζόμενοι ἀλλήλων περιγίγνεσθαι ἐτόλμησάν τε τὰ δεινότατα ἐπεξῇσάν τε τὰς τιμωρίας ἔτι μείζους…


Image result for sententiae antiquae it is better to suffer wrong

No Fence-sitters in a Time of Civil Strife

Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians

“Because [Solon] noticed that his city was often breaking out into civil strife and that some of the citizens welcomed the results because of ambivalence, he made a law particularly aimed at these people: whoever did not pick up arms for one side or the other during a time of civil conflict was to be disenfranchised and have no part of the state.”

ὁρῶν δὲ τὴν μὲν πόλιν πολλάκις στασιάζουσαν, τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν ἐνίους διὰ τὴν ῥᾳθυμίαν [ἀγα]πῶντας τὸ αὐτόματον, νόμον ἔθηκεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἴδιον, ὃς ἂν στασιαζούσης τῆς πόλεως μ[ὴ] θῆται τὰ ὅπλα μηδὲ μεθ’ ἑτέρων, ἄτιμον εἶναι καὶ τῆς πόλεως μὴ μετέχειν.

Image result for Solon ancient greek

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 10.1.2

“In all honesty, I shall ignore that law of Solon—your countryman and, I suppose, mine too—which mandated death for anyone who was a part of neither side in a time of civil strife [or sedition]: unless you advise otherwise, I will abstain from that side and this one. But the other side is more certain to me—nevertheless, I won’t race ahead of myself on this.”

ego vero Solonis, popularis tui et ut puto etiam mei, legem neglegam, qui capite sanxit si qui in seditione non alterius utrius partis fuisset, et, nisi si tu aliter censes, et hinc abero et illim. sed alterum mihi est certius, nec praeripiam tamen.


Giorgio Agamben, Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm. Stanford, 2015, 16:

“The stasis…takes place neither in the oikos nor in the polis, neither in the family nor in the city; rather, it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family and the political space of the city. In transgressing the threshold, the oikos is politicized; conversely, the polis is ‘economised’, that is, it is reduced to an oikos. This means that in the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicisation and depoliticisation, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticized in the family.”

Governments, Fame and More Maxims from Epicurus

from Diogenes Laertius


6. “Whatever one can have once prepared for the sake of protecting against other men—governments or kingdoms—was good by nature”

VI. ῞Ενεκα τοῦ θαρρεῖν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, ἦν κατὰ φύσιν [ἀρχῆς καὶ βασιλείας] ἀγαθόν, ἐξ ὧν ἄν ποτε τοῦτο οἷός τ’ ᾖ παρασκευάζεσθαι.


7. “Some men have wished to become famous and widely known, believing that this will make them strong against [danger from] other people. If the life of these kinds of people is really safe, then they have obtained a natural good. If it is not safe, they have not not accomplished what nature urged from the beginning.”

VII. ῎Ενδοξοι καὶ περίβλεπτοί τινες ἐβουλήθησαν γενέσθαι, τὴν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἀσφάλειαν οὕτω νομίζοντες περιποιήσεσθαι. ὥστ’ εἰ μὲν ἀσφαλὴς ὁ τῶν τοιούτων βίος, ἀπέλαβον τὸ τῆς φύσεως ἀγαθόν· εἰ δὲ μὴ ἀσφαλής, οὐκ ἔχουσιν οὗ ἕνεκα ἐξ
ἀρχῆς κατὰ τὸ τῆς φύσεως οἰκεῖον ὠρέχθησαν.


8. “No pleasure is evil on its own, but the things that produce some pleasures introduce problems far greater than the pleasures”

VIII. Οὐδεμία ἡδονὴ καθ’ ἑαυτὸ κακόν· ἀλλὰ τὰ τινῶν ἡδονῶν ποιητικὰ πολλαπλασίους ἐπιφέρει τὰς ὀχλήσεις τῶν ἡδονῶν.


9. “If all pleasure could be heaped up together, if it were possible for this to occur in time, through all of experience, and the most powerful parts of nature, there never would have been differences in the pleasures”

IX. Εἰ κατεπυκνοῦτο πᾶσα ἡδονή, καὶ χρόνῳ καὶ περὶ ὅλον τὸ ἄθροισμα ὑπῆρχεν ἢ τὰ κυριώτατα μέρη τῆς φύσεως, οὐκ ἄν ποτε διέφερον ἀλλήλων αἱ ἡδοναί.


10. “If the things that produced pleasure for the unhappy could relieve fears of the mind concerning the matters of the universe, death, and coming pain—if they could teach the limit of desires, we would never have to find any fault thing them as they overfilled with pleasures from everywhere since they would have neither physical nor mental pain which is evil.”

X. Εἰ τὰ ποιητικὰ τῶν περὶ τοὺς ἀσώτους ἡδονῶν ἔλυε τοὺς φόβους τῆς διανοίας τούς τε περὶ μετεώρων καὶ θανάτου καὶ ἀλγηδόνων, ἔτι τε τὸ πέρας τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν ἐδίδασκεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴχομεν ὅ τι μεμψαίμεθα αὐτοῖς πανταχόθεν ἐκπληρουμένοις τῶν ἡδονῶν καὶ οὐθαμόθεν οὔτε τὸ ἀλγοῦν οὔτε τὸ λυπούμενον ἔχουσιν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τὸ κακόν.


Image result for Epicurus medieval