A Lengthy Disquisition on Shit-Talking

Erasmus, Adagia 27:

If you say what you want to say, you will hear what you do not want to hear. St. Jerome cites this in the place of a proverb in his work Against Rufinus: ‘You will hear nothing more than this, except that from the crossroads: when you say what you want, you will hear what you don’t. Terence, in his Andria, writes:

If he continues to say what he wants, he will hear what he doesn’t.

and in his prologue to Phormio:

If he had contended against him with well-chosen words, he would have heard something good in return,

and he even alluded to the same thing in his prologue to Andria:

Let them cease to talk shit, lest they learn of their own crimes.

and somewhat more obscurely, he writes in his prologue to The Eunuch:

Then, if there is anyone who thinks that something here has been spoken a little ungenerously about him, let him think so, but understand that this was not an attack…

for by the word responsum, he means an attack made in return for another. But this passage reminds me that I should contradict the error of certain people who had written in the margin that I read in the following lines because he first did harm [quia laesit prius: indeed, thus it was written in the common copies. I, before anyone else, restored the proper reading, to wit:

Just as [quale sit] he who, first translating them well and describing them badly made bad Latin plays out of good Greek ones, and who now recently did the same for Menander’s Phasma

where the phrase quale sit has the same force as the Greek οἷον or the Latin velut or quod genus sit, which we use when we are about to lay out an example. For he was recounting the act of returning an assault, and then he added an example, and then first [prius] responds to the adverb which follows, recently [nuper]. So the sense is something like, ‘who earlier had translated many plays badly, which you now do not remember, also recently produced that shitty version of the Phasma, which you can remember.’

But, to return to the subject at hand, it seems that Homer was the father of this adage, and we read in this verse of Book 20,

              Ὁπποῖόν κ᾽ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ᾽ ἐπακούσαις, that is,

You will hear such a speech as you have just made.

Similarly, Hesiod, in his Works and Days, writes,

Εἰ δὲ κακόν τ᾽ εἴποις, τάχα κ᾽ αὐτὸς μεῖζον ἀκούσαις,  that is

It is likely that to one talking shit, much shit will be talked in turn.

And again in that same book,

Εἰ δέ κεν ἄρχῃ

Ἤ τι ἔπος εἰπὼν ἀποθύμιον ἠὲ καὶ ἔρξας,

Δὶς τόσα τίννυσθαι μεμνημένος,  that is,

If first you yourself either say or do some bad word or deed, you will see it return to you with doubled interest.

Euripides, in his Alcestis, writes:

Εἰ δ᾽ ἡμᾶς κακῶς

Ἐρεῖς, ἀκούσῃ πολλὰ κοὐ ψευδῆ κακά,  that is,

If you talk some shit to me, you will hear a lot of shit in turn, and it will be true.

But Sophocles expressed the same sentiment in a much more charming way, and Plutarch cites him thus:

Φιλεῖ γὰρ γλῶτταν ἐκχέας μάτην

Ἄκων ἀκούειν οὒς ἑκὼν εἴπῃ λόγους, that is,

Indeed, the one who has tossed about his words carelessly is usually unwilling to hear what he was willing to say.

But the phrase from Sophocles is actually:

Φιλεῖ δὲ πολλὴν γλῶσσαν ἐκχέας μάτην

Ἄκων ἀκούειν οὓς ἑκὼν εἶπεν κακῶς,  that is

The one who pours out words carelessly is usually unwilling to hear the kind of shit he talked.

Indeed, even in our own times, the common saying goes, As you greet someone, so too will you be greeted, which is to say that people will respond to you in the manner of your own speech. Plautus writes, If you speak an insult, you will hear one. Caecilius, in his Chrysius as cited by Gellius, writes: You will hear an insult if you speak one to me. The same sense can be had from that Euripidean verse which one encounters in some authors, Ἀχαλίνων στομάτων ἀνόμου τ᾽ ἀφροσύνης τὸ τέλος δυστυχία, that is, The end of unbridled mouths and ungoverned madness is calamity. Celebrated among Chilon’s sayings is, Μὴ κακολογεῖν τοὺς πλησίον·εἰ δὲ μή, ἀκούσεσθαι ἐφ᾽ οἷς λυπήσεσθαι, that is, Don’t talk shit to those near you; otherwise you will hear what may case you pain. I think one could also add the little verse which Quintilian said was popular among the common people: He did not really insult him, because the other guy insulted him first.



Si dixeris quae vis, quae non vis audies. Diuus Hieronymus in Rufinum nominatim prouerbii loco citat: Nihilque super hoc audies, inquit, nisi illud e triuio: cum dixeris quae vis, audies quae non vis. Terentius in Andria:  Si mihi pergit quae vult dicere, quae non vult audiet. Rursum in prologo Phormionis: Benedictis si certasset, audisset bene. Eodem allusit in prologo Andriae: Desinant Maledicere, malefacta ne noscant sua. Obscurius etiam in prologo Eunuchi: Tum si quis est, qui dictum in se inclementius Existimet esse, sic existimet, sciat  Responsum non dictum esse, responsum enim vocat conuicium conuicio redditum. Sed hic locus admonet, vt quorundam errorem coarguam, qui in margine  dscripserant me in his quae sequuntur legere, quia laesit prius: imo sic legebatur in vulgatis exemplaribus. Ego primus ex fide veterum restitui germanam lectionem, nimirum hanc:

Quale sit, prius   Qui bene vertendo et eas describendo male

Ex Graecis bonis Latinas fecit non bonas, Idem Menandri Phasma nunc nuper dedit,

vt quale sit idem valeat quod apud Graecos οἷον, apud Latinos ‘velut’ aut ‘quod genus sit’, quibus vtimur exemplum proposituri. Meminerat enim de conuicio regerendo, eius mox subiicit exemplum, deinde prius respondet ad aduerbium quod sequitur, nuper. Qui prius male verterat multas fabulas, quarum non meministis, idem nuper dedit ineptam fabulam Phasma, cuius potestis meminisse. Verum vt ad rem redeamus, primus huius adagii pater Homerus fuisse videtur, apud quem hic versus est in Iliadis Υ:

Ὁπποῖόν κ᾽ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ᾽ ἐπακούσαις,  id est Talia dicentur tibi, qualia dixeris ipse.

Item Hesiodus libro, cui titulus Opera et dies: Εἰ δὲ κακόν τ᾽ εἴποις, τάχα κ᾽ αὐτὸς μεῖζον ἀκούσαις,  id est  Fors male dicenti dicentur plura vicissim. Rursus in eodem:

Εἰ δέ κεν ἄρχῃ

Ἤ τι ἔπος εἰπὼν ἀποθύμιον ἠὲ καὶ ἔρξας,

Δὶς τόσα τίννυσθαι μεμνημένος,  id est

Si quod prior ipse

Aut verbum aut factum dicasue gerasue molestum,

Ad te cum duplici rediturum foenore noris.

Euripides in Alcestide:

Εἰ δ᾽ ἡμᾶς κακῶς

Ἐρεῖς, ἀκούσῃ πολλὰ κοὐ ψευδῆ κακά,  id est

Si dixeris nobis male,

Mala inuicem permulta nec falsa audies.

Longe venustius idem extulit Sophocles citante Plutarcho:

Φιλεῖ γὰρ γλῶτταν ἐκχέας μάτην

Ἄκων ἀκούειν οὒς ἑκὼν εἴπῃ λόγους,  id est

Etenim solet qui dicta temere iecerit,

Audire nolens verba, quae dixit volens.

Refertur ex Sophocle:

Φιλεῖ δὲ πολλὴν γλῶσσαν ἐκχέας μάτην

Ἄκων ἀκούειν οὓς ἑκὼν εἶπεν κακῶς,  id est

Qui multa temere verba fudit, is solet

Audire nolens quae volens dixit male.

Quin etiam his nostris temporibus eiusmodi quiddam vulgo dictitant: Vt salutabis, ita et resalutaberis, hoc est vt tua fuerit oratio, ita tibi respondebitur. Plautus: Contumeliam si dices, audies. Caecilius in Chrysio apud Gellium: Audibis male, si male dicis mihi. Eodem pertinet Euripideum illud apud autores passim obuium: Ἀχαλίνων στομάτων ἀνόμου τ᾽ ἀφροσύνης τὸ τέλος δυστυχία, id est Infrenis oris et iniquae vecordiae finis seu vectigal, calamitas. Celebratur et hoc inter Chilonis apophthegmata: Μὴ κακολογεῖν τοὺς πλησίον· εἰ δὲ μή, ἀκούσεσθαι ἐφ᾽ οἷς λυπήσεσθαι, id est Non esse maledicendum iis, quibuscum agimus; alioquin audituros, quae molestiam adferant. Huc arbitror asscribendum versiculum, quem Quintilianus vt vulgo iactatum citat: Nec male respondit, male enim prior ille rogarat.

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