Learning, Knowing, Doing Much: Greek Fragments on Polymathy

Heraclitus, fr. 40

“Knowing much doesn’t teach you how to think.”

πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει.

Democritus, fr. 65

“One must foster thinking-much not learning-much.”

πολυνοΐην, οὐ πολυμαθίην ἀσκέειν χρή.

Isocrates, Letter to Demonicus, 18.1

“If you are a lover of learning, then you will be much-learned.”

᾿Εὰν ᾖς φιλομαθὴς, ἔσει πολυμαθής.

Plato, Lovers [dub.] 139 a5

“Our practice of philosophy, friend, is very different from learning much and practical knowledge of the arts.”

Πολλοῦ ἄρα δεῖ ἡμῖν, ὦ βέλτιστε, τὸ φιλοσοφεῖν πολυμαθία τε εἶναι καὶ ἡ περὶ τὰς τέχνας πραγματεία.

Plato, Laws 819a5-6

“Much more dangerous is broad experience and much-learning with bad training.”

ἀλλ’ ἡ πολυπειρία καὶ πολυμαθία μετὰ κακῆς ἀγωγῆς γίγνεται πολὺ τούτων μείζων ζημία.

Anaxarkhos, fr. 1

“Much-learning both really helps and really hurts the one who possesses it. It helps a righteous man but hurts one who utters easily every word to the whole people. One must know the measures of proper timing. For this is the boundary of wisdom. Those who sing their words at the wrong time, even if they sing the wisest song, instead of establishing an opinion for wisdom receive the blame for foolishness”

πολυμαθίη κάρτα μὲν ὠφελεῖ, κάρτα δὲ βλάπτει τὸν ἔχοντα· ὠφελεῖ μὲν τὸν δεξιὸν ἄνδρα, βλάπτει δὲ τὸν ῥηϊδίως φωνεῦντα πᾶν ἔπος κἠν παντὶ δήμωι. χρὴ δὲ
καιροῦ μέτρα εἰδέναι· σοφίης γὰρ οὗτος ὅρος. οἳ δὲ ἔξω καιροῦ ῥῆσιν ἀείδουσιν, κἢν πεπνυμένην ἀείδωσιν, οὐ τιθέμενοι ἐν σοφίηι γνώμην αἰτίην ἔχουσι μωρίης.


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