Wealth and Wisdom: Did We Get it Wrong?

Teachers and students: the semester is just old enough now that many are questioning their life choices.

From the fragments of Theognetus, another poet so forgotten that he has no home on Wikipedia. But Athenaeus preserves a fragment (3.63)

“Theognetus is responding to these kinds of people when he writes in the Phantom or the Money-Lover:

‘Man, you’re killing me! You are packed full of little speeches
From the Stoa Poikile and you’re sick.
“Wealth is not any man’s possession, it is frost.
Wisdom is truly yours, it is ice, No one ever
Lost wisdom once he found it.” Fuck me!
What kind of a philosopher has god housed me with?
You learned your letters in reverse, wretch.
Your books have turned your life upside down.
You have philosophized nonsense to heaven and earth.
They don’t give a shit about your words.’


πρὸς οὓς καὶ Θεόγνητος ἐν Φάσματι ἢ Φιλαργύρῳ φησὶν ἐκ τούτων (IV 549 M)·

ἄνθρωπ’, ἀπολεῖς με. τῶν γὰρ ἐκ τῆς ποικίλης
στοᾶς λογαρίων ἀναπεπλησμένος νοσεῖς·
‘ἀλλότριόν ἐσθ’ ὁ πλοῦτος ἀνθρώπῳ, πάχνη·
σοφία δ’ ἴδιον, κρύσταλλος. οὐθεὶς πώποτε
ταύτην λαβὼν ἀπώλεσ’.’ ὦ τάλας ἐγώ,
οἵῳ μ’ ὁ δαίμων φιλοσόφῳ συνῴκισεν.
ἐπαρίστερ’ ἔμαθες, ὦ πόνηρε, γράμματα·
ἀντέστροφέν σου τὸν βίον τὰ βιβλία·
πεφιλοσόφηκας γῇ τε κοὐρανῷ λαλῶν,
οἷς οὐθέν ἐστιν ἐπιμελὲς τῶν λόγων.’

4 thoughts on “Wealth and Wisdom: Did We Get it Wrong?

  1. I wonder if this fragment shows a public knowledge (and ridicule of) the Stoic idea of ‘oikeiosis’. The dichotomy between ἀλλότριόν and ἴδιον, and between the external good of wealth and the intrinsic good of wisdom points in this direction. So, συνῴκισεν ends up being a rather learned pun.

    1. Nice idea (and a learned response to a learned fragment). My knee-jerk reaction is that the fragment may be too early for stoicism proper, but that is based on assuming Theognetus belongs to the 3rd century BCE.

      Even if he does, you may be right in identifying some lexical features that would have been recognizably ‘stoic’ to authors like Cicero and Horace.

      But since the fragment comes up in Athenaeus, all bets might be off about dating….

      Thanks for taking this fragment so seriously!

  2. ἀντέστροφέν σου τὸν βίον τὰ βιβλία·

    I see a new t-shirt in my future.

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