Teachers Are Better than Parents: Some of Aristotle’s Sayings

A selection of Aristotle’s sayings from Diogenes Laertius’ biography (Vitae Philosophorum 5.21):

The following especially pleasant sayings have been attributed to Aristotle.

When asked what profit there is to lying, he said “Whenever we speak the truth, no one believes us”. After he was reproached for giving money to a wretched man, he said, “It wasn’t the character, but the man I pitied.”

He always used to say to his friends and his students whenever or wherever he was lecturing that “as sight takes the light from surrounding air, the soul draws on learning”. Often he used to remark that although the Athenians discovered wheat and laws, they used wheat but not their laws.

He said that the root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet. When he was asked what grows old quickly, he said “thanks”. When asked what hope is, he said “It is dreaming while awake.” When Diogenes was trying to give him figs, he know that if he did not take them that Diogenes had prepared an insult. He took them and said that Diogenes had his insult but lost his figs. When he took them as they were offered a different time, he raised them up as if they were infants and said “Great is Diogenes” and he returned them.

He used to say that three things are needed for education: innate ability, study, and practice. After he heard that he was mocked by someone, he said, “Let him insult me when I am absent.”  He claimed that beauty was more effective than any letter of recommendation.  Others claim that this came from Diogenes and that he said that good looks are gifts from the gods. He said that Socrates was a short-lived tyrant, Plato was naturally superior, and Theophrastus was a silent lie. Theocritus he called an ivory-decked punishment and Carneadas a kingdom requiring no guard.

When asked what the difference was between those who were educated and those who were not, Aristotle said “as great as between the living and the dead.” He used to say that education was an ornament in good times and a refuge in bad. He also believed that teachers should be honored more than parents who merely gave birth. The latter give life, but the former help us live well. To a man boasting that he was from a great city, he said “Don’t look at this, but instead who is worthy of a great country.” When he was asked what a friend is, he replied “one soul occupying two bodies.”

He used to say that some people are sparing as if they will live forever while others spend as if they will die right away. To the man inquiring why we pursue beautiful things so much, he said. “This is a blind man’s question.” When asked what he had gained from philosophy, he said “doing unbidden what some do for fear of the law.”

When asked how students can advance, he said “if they pursue those in front of them and ignore those behind.” To the man talking endlessly when he assailed him with words and asked “Have a worn you out with nonsense”, he said “By Zeus, no! I wasn’t listening to you.” When someone blamed him for giving membership to a base man, he said, “I didn’t give it to a man, but to humanity.” When asked how we should act towards friends, he said “as we would pray they act towards us!” He defined justice as the virtue of a soul arranged in a worthwhile way. He used to say that education was the best provision for old age. In his Memorabilia, Favorinus records that he used to say “the man who has friends is no friend.”


᾿Αναφέρεται δ’ εἰς αὐτὸν καὶ ἀποφθέγματα κάλλιστα ταυτί. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί περιγίνεται κέρδος τοῖς ψευδομένοις, “ὅταν,” ἔφη, “λέγωσιν ἀλήθειαν, μὴ πιστεύεσθαι.” ὀνειδιζόμενός ποτε ὅτι πονηρῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐλεημοσύνην ἔδωκεν, “οὐ τὸν τρόπον,” εἶπεν “ἀλλὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἠλέησα.” συνεχὲς εἰώθει λέγειν πρός τε τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς φοιτῶντας αὐτῷ, ἔνθα ἂν καὶ ὅπου διατρίβων ἔτυχεν, ὡς ἡ μὲν ὅρασις ἀπὸ τοῦ περιέχοντος [ἀέρος] λαμβάνει  τὸ φῶς, ἡ δὲ ψυχὴ ἀπὸ τῶν μαθημάτων. πολλάκις δὲ καὶ ἀπο-τεινόμενος τοὺς ᾿Αθηναίους ἔφασκεν εὑρηκέναι πυροὺς καὶ νόμους· ἀλλὰ πυροῖς μὲν χρῆσθαι, νόμοις δὲ μή.

Τῆς παιδείας ἔφη τὰς μὲν ῥίζας εἶναι πικράς, τὸν δὲ καρπὸν γλυκύν. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί γηράσκει ταχύ, “χάρις,” ἔφη. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστιν ἐλπίς, “ἐγρηγορότος,” εἶπεν, “ἐνύπνιον.” Διογένους ἰσχάδ’ αὐτῷ διδόντος νοήσας ὅτι, εἰ μὴ λάβοι, χρείαν εἴη μεμελετηκώς, λαβὼν ἔφη Διογένην μετὰ τῆς χρείας καὶ τὴν ἰσχάδα ἀπολωλεκέναι· πάλιν τε διδόντος λαβὼν καὶ μετεωρίσας ὡς τὰ παιδία εἰπών τε “μέγας Διογένης,” ἀπέδωκεν αὐτῷ. τριῶν ἔφη δεῖν παιδείᾳ, φύσεως, μαθήσεως, ἀσκήσεως. ἀκούσας ὑπό τινος λοιδορεῖσθαι, “ἀπόντα με,” ἔφη, “καὶ μαστιγούτω.” τὸ κάλλος παντὸς ἔλεγεν ἐπιστολίου συστατικώτερον. οἱ δὲ τοῦτο μὲν Διογένην φασὶν ὁρίσασθαι, αὐτὸν δὲ θεοῦ δῶρον εἰπεῖν εὐμορφίαν· Σωκράτην δὲ ὀλιγοχρόνιον τυραννίδα· Πλάτωνα προτέρημα φύσεως· Θεόφραστον σιωπῶσαν ἀπάτην· Θεόκριτον ἐλεφαντίνην ζημίαν· Καρνεάδην ἀδορυφόρητον βασιλείαν. ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, “ὅσῳ,” εἶπεν, “οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων.” τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἐν μὲν ταῖς εὐτυχίαις εἶναι κόσμον, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἀτυχίαις καταφυγήν. τῶν γονέων τοὺς παιδεύσαντας ἐντιμοτέρους εἶναι τῶν μόνον γεννησάντων· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τὸ ζῆν, τοὺς δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν παρασχέσθαι. πρὸς τὸν καυχώμενον ὡς ἀπὸ μεγάλης πόλεως εἴη, “οὐ τοῦτο,” ἔφη, “δεῖ σκοπεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὅστις μεγάλης πατρίδος ἄξιός ἐστιν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστι φίλος, ἔφη, “μία ψυχὴ δύο σώμασιν ἐνοικοῦσα.”

τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἔλεγε τοὺς μὲν οὕτω φείδεσθαι ὡς ἀεὶ ζησομένους, τοὺς δὲ οὕτως ἀναλίσκειν ὡς αὐτίκα τεθνηξομένους. πρὸς τὸν πυθόμενον διὰ τί τοῖς καλοῖς πολὺν χρόνον ὁμιλοῦμεν, “τυφλοῦ,”  ἔφη, “τὸ ἐρώτημα.” ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ποτ’ αὐτῷ περιγέγονεν ἐκ φιλοσοφίας, ἔφη, “τὸ ἀνεπιτάκτως ποιεῖν ἅ τινες διὰ τὸν ἀπὸτῶν νόμων φόβον ποιοῦσιν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς ἂν προκόπτοιεν οἱ μαθηταί, ἔφη, “ἐὰν τοὺς προέχοντας διώκοντες τοὺς ὑστεροῦντας μὴ ἀναμένωσι.” πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα ἀδολέσχην, ἐπειδὴ αὐτοῦ πολλὰ κατήντλησε, “μήτι σου κατεφλυάρησα;” “μὰ Δί’,” εἶπεν· “οὐ γάρ σοι προσεῖχον.” πρὸς τὸν αἰτιασάμενον ὡς εἴη μὴ ἀγαθῷ ἔρανον δεδωκώς—φέρεται γὰρ καὶ οὕτως—“οὐ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ,” φησίν, “ἔδωκα, ἀλλὰ τῷ ἀνθρωπίνῳ.” ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς ἂν τοῖς φίλοις προσφεροίμεθα, ἔφη, “ὡς ἂν εὐξαίμεθα αὐτοὺς ἡμῖν προσφέρεσθαι.” τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἔφη ἀρετὴν ψυχῆς διανεμητικὴν τοῦ κατ’ ἀξίαν. κάλλιστον ἐφόδιον τῷ γήρᾳ τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγε. φησὶ δὲ Φαβωρῖνος ἐν τῷ δευτέρῳ τῶν ᾿Απομνημονευμάτων (FHG iii. 578) ὡς ἑκάστοτε λέγοι, “ᾧ φίλοι οὐδεὶς φίλος”·

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