“Braver by Overcoming:” Some More Fake Aristotle

Another entry in Meme Police, cue the music. This one’s a little complicated.

Someone asked me about the following quotation this morning. I tried to ignore it and move on with my day, but the internet is a terrible drug.

So, this does not really sound much like Aristotle and I will be the first to admit it. I expected this to be totally fake. I searched around a little, and found a link on wordreference.com which includes the following rather convincing Greek.

“Aνδρειότερος εἶναι μοί δοκεῖ ὂ τῶν ἐπιθυμῶν ἢ τῶν πολεμίων κρατῶν καὶ γὰρ χαλεπώτατόν ἐστι τὸ ἑαυτόν νικῆσαι

This is listed as being from Stobaeus’ Florilegium. This attribution shows up in a quotation book from the 19th century.

Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations 1897

Aristotle 1

There’s more than a little problem with this ascription. First, elsewhere in this particular quotation book, Stobaeus is cited by Roman numeral and Arabic numeral, so, probably according to the standard version published by Wachsmuth and Hense (1884; available through the TLG) or the version edited by Augustus Meineke in 1854. The edition cited in the quotation book is one printed by Hieronymos Frobenius from the 16th century. The editor was Sigismundus Gelenius who only printed part of the Florilegium.

The 19th century editors do slightly different things with this line. Neither of them include it in the full manuscript. Meineke includes it among the Addenda ex edit. Froben (additions from Frobensius).

Aristotle addenda

Wachsmuth and Hense include it in the apparatus criticus (page 502):

Aristotle Hense

The later editors have judged that the original quotation above is not correctly part of the manuscript tradition Stobaeus and was instead added in the margins because of its similarities to the sentiment attributed to Democritus.

Stobaeus 3.17.39, attributed to Democritus [=page 502 Hense]

“Not only brave is the one who is stronger than enemies, but the one who is stronger than pleasures is too.”

᾿Ανδρήιος οὐχ ὁ τῶν πολεμίων μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῶν ἡδονέων κρέσσων.

Democritus’ line is a little different from the Pseudo-Aristotle: where Democritus merely says that the one who overpowers desire is also brave (like one who overpowers enemies), the dubious fragment claims that this man is braver.

I think that it is most likely that this made the leap straight from Meineke’s version to the quotation book without the collator actually consulting Frobenius. According to editorial information above, the line is extracted from a collection of gnomologia (proverbial sayings).

But, it gets a bit more complicated: Here’s the one of the works cited above, the Aristotle Pseudographus.

Valentin Rose Aristoteles Pseudigraphus 1863

Aristotle 2 Rose

This is cited from the section of this text on Pseudo-Aristotle which is titled dubia. In particular, this is from the subsection “sententiae ex florlegiis collectae” [“quotations collected from quotebooks.”). As Rose notes in the introduction, the section attributed here to Maximus are printed in gnomologia from the 12 century CE (Laurentianos XI, 14) and the 11th century (VII, 15). [This is what “La” means above.] Several of these sententiae are attributed to Maximus Monachus, Maximus the Confessor, from the 6th-7th century CE.

So, based on the pretty clear fact that this line is not included in the manuscripts of Stobaeus, but is instead attributed to other florilegia from the medieval period and that its content seems more Stoic (and more stoic-Christian) than anything in Aristotle, I am going to say this is just not Aristotle.

Also, this line is used on reddit (and likely elsewhere) to encourage people who are trying not to masturbate. So, um, let’s be done with it.

This entire process has made me think that I need some sort of rating system, since there are levels of fakery. So, let me explain.

    1. The Real Deal: A quotation from an ancient text which is extant.
    2. Aegis Real: Like the head of the Gorgon Medusa, these quotations have been decontextualized and passed down embedded in some other ancient author. They have been attributed to the same author for a long time, but who really knows.
    3. Delphian Graffiti: A quote of real antiquity, but whose attribution has been shifted for different valence in modern contexts (e.g., “know thyself” has been attributed to almost everyone)
    4. Rhetorica ad Fictum Fake: (with thanks to Hannah Čulík-Baird) Aristotle and Quintilian think it is just fine to make up quotations for persuasive reasons. This actually undermines many of the attributions we have from antiquity. So, this is the kind of fake that is really old and may just be too good to be true.
    5. Cylon-Helen: Just as Herodotus and Stesichorus report that ‘real’ Helen was replaced with a near-exact copy for the ten years of the Trojan War, so too some quotations are transformed through translation (Latin into Greek, Greek into Latin; or into Modern languages). The intervention of an outside force changes the cultural status of the words.
    6. Peisistratos Fake: A quote that is not misattributed or transformed, but merely just dressed up and falsely claimed as antique for political reasons (the tyrant Peisistratos pulled some pretty crazy stunts to get into power). These quotations have no sources in antiquity and are used to enforce modern points of view.
    7. Racist Fake: Quotations of the Peisistratus type but with the particular intention of enforcing a racist world view.

This quotation has some antiquity to it but it is not in any text we have from Aristotle and is not attested until at least the 6th century CE. While it has some Cylon Helen features and not a little of Peisistratos cultural drift going on, it is Delphian Graffiti level fake: it has shifted to Aristotle over time.

10 thoughts on ““Braver by Overcoming:” Some More Fake Aristotle

  1. Where is the TURBOLIKE button!? Sehr wissenschaftlich!

    You know, if we restricted our content more exclusively to quotes, we could rename the blog “Quote People”, i.e…. QUOTE HOMINES.

  2. Τhis is super helpful. I just saw this line attributed to Aristotle on Facebook and I’m glad to know the whole story!

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