Let Poets Be Our Teachers

Strabo Geography 1.2.3

“[Eratosthenes] said that the poet arranges everything for delighting the mind and not for education. Quite the opposite—ancients used to say that poetry was the first philosophy which integrates us into life from youth and teaches our characters, informs our experiences, and our actions in a pleasurable way.

The scholars of our day claim that the poet is the only wise person. For this reason too, the cities of Greece educate their children at the earliest stages through poetry, not only of course for the sake of entertaining them, but for nurturing wisdom as well. Indeed, for this reason too, music teachers who instruct those who play strings, lyre, and pipes help to shape their character. For these teachers say that they are also reformers of their ways. It is not only common to hear Pythagoreans making such claims, but even Aristoxenos asserts this, and Homer said that the singers were the wisest people of his day.”

Ποιητὴν γὰρ ἔφη πάντα στοχάζεσθαι ψυχαγωγίας, οὐ διδασκαλίας. τοὐναντίον δ’ οἱ παλαιοὶ φιλοσοφίαν τινὰ λέγουσι πρώτην τὴν ποιητικήν, εἰσάγουσαν εἰς τὸν βίον ἡμᾶς ἐκ νέων καὶ διδάσκουσαν ἤθη καὶ πάθη καὶ πράξεις μεθ’ ἡδονῆς· οἱ δ’ ἡμέτεροι καὶ μόνον ποιητὴν ἔφασαν εἶναι τὸν σοφόν. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ τοὺς παῖδας αἱ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων πόλεις πρώτιστα διὰ τῆς ποιητικῆς παιδεύουσιν, οὐ ψυχαγωγίας χάριν δήπουθεν ψιλῆς, ἀλλὰ σωφρονισμοῦ· ὅπου γε καὶ οἱ μουσικοὶ ψάλλειν καὶ λυρίζειν καὶ αὐλεῖν διδάσκοντες μεταποιοῦνται τῆς ἀρετῆς ταύτης· παιδευτικοὶ γὰρ εἶναί φασι καὶ ἐπανορθωτικοὶ τῶν ἠθῶν. ταῦτα δ’ οὐ μόνον παρὰ τῶν Πυθαγορείων ἀκούειν ἐστὶ λεγόντων, ἀλλὰ καὶ ᾿Αριστόξενος οὕτως ἀποφαίνεται. καὶ ῞Ομηρος δὲ τοὺς ἀοιδοὺς σωφρονιστὰς εἴρηκε.


“But the nature of the poet is yoked to that of the human being—therefore, one cannot be a good poet unless first established as a good person.”

ἡ δὲ ποιητοῦ συνέζευκται τῇ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ οὐχ οἷόν τε ἀγαθὸν γενέσθαι ποιητὴν μὴ πρότερον γενηθέντα ἄνδρα ἀγαθόν.

The Construction and Destruction of Troy in Cite de Dieu / Orosius Master
The Construction and Destruction of Troy, Orosius Master (c. 15th Century CE)

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