Read Like the Bees

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Puerorum Educatione:

“We do not advise people to read all the poets by the way and to affix their minds entirely to them. For, since many of these are amatory verses and full of vice, attention ought not to be paid to all of the things which are said by them, just as neither all theologians nor all philosophers should be heard. But when they commemorate the sayings or deeds of excellent men, then the reader ought to be moved and inflamed in all his mind and try himself to be such as they were. But when they happen upon mention of wicked people, they ought to flee their example. Listen to Basilius, the most sanctified and experienced man: ‘We praise the poets, not when they relate chastisements, nor when they imitate lovers or drunks or chatty people, nor when they define happiness by the rich man’s table and dissolute singing; we praise them least of all when they say something about the gods, especially when they suggest that they are many and discordant among themselves.’ And a little later, ‘These same things should be said of other writers, and then especially when they are read for pleasure.’ And again, ‘But now most of all we embrace orators, when they either extol virtue or fulminate against vices.’ In our readings of poets and other writers, we ought to imitate bees. For, as some take nothing from flowers except the odor and the color, bees know how to take honey out of them; thus, those who follow not only the pleasure of the words are able to derive some profit. Nor, further, do all bees approach flowers equally, nor do they completely consume those which they approach, but rather, they take that which is needed for their work, and they leave the rest behind.”


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