Back to School, Fools: You Were Made For Learning!

“Who would not be made dull if he had to bear a single teacher of a single science throughout the entire day?”

Quis vero non obtundatur, si per totum diem unius artis unum magistrum ferat?

-Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione, chp. 95


Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione cp.6

“We encounter few, however, who are unteachable by nature. For just as birds (as Quintilian notes) are born for flying, and horses for running, and beasts for savagery, so too are cunning and mental activity the proper sphere of humanity. Dull and ineducable people are therefore born no more according to nature than are prodigious and remarkable bodies are in monsters. And though one person might excel another in natural talent, there is no one to be found who cannot attain something with a bit of application.”

“Pauci tamen reperiuntur quibus natura indocilis est. Sicut enim aves ad volatum (Quintilianus ait), equi ad cursum, as saevitiam ferae gignuntur, sic hominis propria est agitatio mentis atque solertia; hebetes vero et indociles non magis secundum naturam quam prodigiosa corpora et insignia monstris eduntur. Et quamvis alius alium praestet ingenio, nemo tamen reperitur qui nihil sit studio consecutus.”


Quintilian, Institutio 1.1.1-3

“It is a false complaint that the faculty of understanding what is taught is granted to only a few, and that most people waste their time and energy due to the slowness of their intellect. Just the opposite: you can find many who have an easy time with thinking, and are ready to learn. Certainly, this is natural for humans, just as birds are born to fly, horses are born to run, and beasts are born for savagery; similarly, the activity and ingenuity of the mind is peculiarly our own.

Slow and ineducable people are no more the product of human nature than are giants and wondrously deformed people, but these have been but few. A proof of this is the fact that the hope of many things shines forth in children: if it passes away with age, it is clear that the fault lay not with human nature, but with our lack of care. One might object, ‘But nevertheless, some people are superior in intellect to others.’ I readily concede that point; but that will do more for some than for others. However, no one will be found who has pursued nothing with effort.”

Falsa enim est querela, paucissimis hominibus vim percipiendi quae tradantur esse concessam, plerosque vero laborem as tempora tarditate ingenii perdere. Nam contra plures reperias et faciles in excogitando et ad discendum promptos. Quippe id est homini naturale, ac sicut aves ad volatum, equi ad cursum, ad saevitiam ferae gignuntur, ita nobis propria est mentis agitatio atque sollertia: unde origo animi caelestis creditur. Hebetes vero et indociles non magis secundum naturam hominis eduntur quam prodigiosa corpora et monstris insignia, sed hi pauci admodum fuerunt. Argumentum, quod in pueris elucet spes plurimorum: quae cum emoritur aetate, manifestum est non naturam defecisse sed curam. “Praestat tamen ingenio alius alium.”  Concedo; sed plus efficiet aut minus: nemo reperitur qui sit studio nihil consecutus.

Martial, 5.58

“Lupus, you ask long and anxiously to what teacher you should entrust your son. I advise you to avoid all teachers and professors: don’t let him have anything to do with the books of Cicero or Vergil. Let him leave Tutilius to his own reputation. If he writes verses, you will disown him as a poet. Does he want to learn a more… pecuniary skill? Make him learn to be a lute player or a flute player; if he seems a bit on the untalented side, just make him an auctioneer or a builder.”


Cui tradas, Lupe, filium magistro
quaeris sollicitus diu rogasque.
Omnes grammaticosque rhetorasque
deuites moneo: nihil sit illi
cum libris Ciceronis aut Maronis;              5
famae Tutilium suae relinquat;
si uersus facit, abdices poetam.
Artes discere uolt pecuniosas?
Fac discat citharoedus aut choraules;
si duri puer ingeni uidetur,              10
praeconem facias uel architectum.

Plutarch, Alexander 8.1-2

“Aristotle, more than others, seems to me to have fostered in Alexander a love of healing. For he delighted not just in talking about medicine but he even used to help his sick friends and assign to them certain therapies and treatments, as one can see from his letters. He was by nature a lover of language, a lover of learning and a lover of reading. Because he believed and named the Iliad the roadmap of military excellence, he took a copy corrected by Aristotle which they called the “Box-Iliad” and he always had it with his knife lying under his pillow, as Onesikritos recounts. And when he did not have other books deep in Asia, he ordered Harpalos to send him some. Harpalos sent him the books of Philistos, the tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, and the dithyrambs of Telestos and Philoxenos.

In the beginning, Alexander revered Aristotle and said that he loved him no less than his father because he was alive thanks to one and living well thanks to the other. Later, he was rather suspicious of him, not so much that he harmed him at all, but his attachment and attention were not as eager as before—and this was a sign of their alienation.”

Alexander and Aristotle
Alexander and Aristotle (Artist Unknown)

Δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ τὸ φιλιατρεῖν ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ προστρίψασθαι μᾶλλον ἑτέρων ᾿Αριστοτέλης. οὐ γὰρ μόνον τὴν θεωρίαν ἠγάπησεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ νοσοῦσιν ἐβοήθει τοῖς φίλοις, καὶ συνέταττε θεραπείας τινὰς καὶ διαίτας, ὡς ἐκ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν λαβεῖν ἔστιν. ἦν δὲ καὶ φύσει φιλόλογος καὶ φιλομαθὴς καὶ φιλαναγνώστης, καὶ τὴν μὲν  ᾿Ιλιάδα τῆς πολεμικῆς ἀρετῆς ἐφόδιον καὶ νομίζων καὶ ὀνομάζων, ἔλαβε μὲν ᾿Αριστοτέλους διορθώσαντος ἣν ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος καλοῦσιν, εἶχε δ’ ἀεὶ μετὰ τοῦ ἐγχειριδίου κειμένην ὑπὸ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον, ὡς ᾿Ονησίκριτος ἱστόρηκε (FGrH 134 F 38)· τῶν δ’ ἄλλων βιβλίων οὐκ εὐπορῶν ἐν τοῖς ἄνω τόποις, ῞Αρπαλον ἐκέλευσε πέμψαι, κἀκεῖνος ἔπεμψεν αὐτῷ τάς τε Φιλίστου βίβλους καὶ τῶν Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους καὶ Αἰσχύλου τραγῳδιῶν συχνάς, καὶ Τελέστου καὶ Φιλοξένου διθυράμβους. ᾿Αριστοτέλην δὲ θαυμάζων ἐν ἀρχῇ καὶ ἀγαπῶν οὐχ ἧττον, ὡς αὐτὸς ἔλεγε, τοῦ πατρός, ὡς δι’ ἐκεῖνον μὲν ζῶν, διὰ τοῦτον δὲ καλῶς ζῶν, ὕστερον ὑποπτότερον ἔσχεν, οὐχ ὥστε ποιῆσαί τι κακόν, ἀλλ’ αἱ φιλοφροσύναι τὸ σφοδρὸν ἐκεῖνο καὶ στερκτικὸν οὐκ ἔχουσαι πρὸς αὐτόν, ἀλλοτριότητος ἐγένοντο τεκμήριον.

Terence Adelphoe 414-417

“Demio: I pass over nothing; I accustom him to it: I have
him look as if into a mirror at the lives of everyone
that he make take from others an example for himself.
Do this!” Syrus: Rightly, Correctly. DE: Don’t do this! SY: Cleverly!
DE: This is praiseworthy: SY: That is the thing! DE: This is a fault.”

DE. …
nil praetermitto: consuefacio: denique
inspicere tamquam in speculum in uitas omnium
iubeo atque ex aliis sumere exemplum sibi.
hoc facito. SY. Recte sane. DE. Hoc fugito. SY. Callide.
DE. Hoc laudist. SY. Istaec res est. DE. Hoc uitio datur.

Horace, Satires 1.4: 120-126

“This is how [my father]
used to train me as a boy with stories and whether he was
ordering me to do something, he would say “You have a precedent for doing this’ and he would offer as example one
of the selected officials.
Or, if he was forbidding me from something,
Don’t doubt that he would ask whether
“This was dishonorable and unproductive if done
Or not or if this or that man was aflame from
A bad reputation…
….sic me
formabat puerum dictis et, sive iubebat
ut facerem quid, ‘habes auctorem, quo facias hoc’
unum ex iudicibus selectis obiciebat,
sive vetabat, ‘an hoc inhonestum et inutile factu
necne sit, addubites, flagret rumore malo cum
hic atque ille?’ …

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