An Opiniative Ass, A Caviller, A Kind of Pedant

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy:

“As Aelian writ of Protagoras and Gorgias, we may say of them all, tantum a sapientibus abfuerunt, quantum a viris pueri, they were children in respect, infants, not eagles, but kites; novices, illiterate, Eunuchi sapientiae. And although they were the wisest, and most admired in their age, as he censured Alexander, I do them, there were 10,000 in his army as worthy captains (had they been in place of command) as valiant as himself; there were myriads of men wiser in those days, and yet all short of what they ought to be. Lactantius, in his book of wisdom, proves them to be dizzards, fools, asses, madmen, so full of absurd and ridiculous tenets, and brain-sick positions, that to his thinking never any old woman or sick person doted worse. Democritus took all from Leucippus, and left, saith he, the inheritance of his folly to Epicurus, insanienti dum sapientiae, &c. The like he holds of Plato, Aristippus, and the rest, making no difference betwixt them and beasts, saving that they could speak. Theodoret in his tract, De cur. grec. affect. manifestly evinces as much of Socrates, whom though that Oracle of Apollo confirmed to be the wisest man then living, and saved him from plague, whom 2000 years have admired, of whom some will as soon speak evil as of Christ, yet re vera, he was an illiterate idiot, as Aristophanes calls him, irrisor et ambitiosus, as his master Aristotle terms him, scurra Atticus, as Zeno, an enemy to all arts and sciences, as Athaeneus, to philosophers and travellers, an opiniative ass, a caviller, a kind of pedant; for his manners, as Theod. Cyrensis describes him, a sodomite, an atheist, (so convict by Anytus) iracundus et ebrius, dicax, &c. a pot-companion, by Plato’s own confession, a sturdy drinker; and that of all others he was most sottish, a very madman in his actions and opinions. Pythagoras was part philosopher, part magician, or part witch. If you desire to hear more of Apollonius, a great wise man, sometime paralleled by Julian the apostate to Christ, I refer you to that learned tract of Eusebius against Hierocles, and for them all to Lucian’s Piscator, Icaromenippus, Necyomantia: their actions, opinions in general were so prodigious, absurd, ridiculous, which they broached and maintained, their books and elaborate treatises were full of dotage, which Tully ad Atticum long since observed, delirant plerumque scriptores in libris suis, their lives being opposite to their words, they commended poverty to others, and were most covetous themselves, extolled love and peace, and yet persecuted one another with virulent hate and malice. They could give precepts for verse and prose, but not a man of them (as Seneca tells them home) could moderate his affections. Their music did show us flebiles modos, &c. how to rise and fall, but they could not so contain themselves as in adversity not to make a lamentable tone. They will measure ground by geometry, set down limits, divide and subdivide, but cannot yet prescribe quantum homini satis, or keep within compass of reason and discretion. They can square circles, but understand not the state of their own souls, describe right lines and crooked, &c. but know not what is right in this life, quid in vita rectum sit, ignorant; so that as he said, Nescio an Anticyram ratio illis destinet omnem, I think all the Anticyrae will not restore them to their wits, if these men now, that held Xenodotus’ heart, Crates’ liver, Epictetus’ lantern, were so sottish, and had no more brains than so many beetles, what shall we think of the commonalty? what of the rest?”

Related image

François-André Vincent – Alcibades Being Taught by Socrates 

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