The Travails of an Untimely Tongue

A greek proverb, ascribed to an unknown poet

Strabo, Geography 1.14

“It certainly wasn’t proper for Hesiod to never speak nonsense but to pursue
Established opinions while Homer “sang whatever occurred to an untimely tongue”

ἢ καὶ Ἡσιόδῳ μὲν ἔπρεπε μὴ φλυαρεῖν ἀλλὰ ταῖς κατεχούσαις δόξαις ἀκολουθεῖν, Ὁμήρῳ δὲ
πᾶν ὅττι κεν ἐπ᾿ ἀκαιρίμαν
γλῶσσαν ἴῃ κελαδεῖν;

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 5.217c

“Plato clearly makes a lot of chronological errors in many examples. For, in the words of the poet, “he follows an untimely tongue” and writes things down without discrimination.”

ὁ Πλάτων παρὰ τοὺς χρόνους ἁμαρτάνει δῆλόν ἐστιν ἐκ πολλῶν· κατὰ γὰρ τὸν εἰπόντα ποιητήν
ὅττι κεν ἐπ᾿ ἀκαιρίμαν
γλῶτταν ἔλθῃ,
τοῦτο μὴ διακρίνας γράφει. οὐ γὰρ ἀγράφως τι ἔλεγεν,

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Literary Composition 1

“Students need a great deal of thoughtful oversight and instruction if they are going to avoid writing “whatever word comes to an untimely tongue” and composing randomly any sudden thoughts, instead selecting words that are clear and sophisticated, fitting them together in a way that mixes pleasure with pride.”

οἷς πολλῆς πάνυ καὶ ἔμφρονος δεῖ τῆς πρώτης ἐπιστάσεώς τε καὶ ἀγωγῆς, εἰ μέλλουσι μὴ πᾶν ‘ὅ τι κεν ἐπ’ ἀκαιρίμαν γλῶσσαν ἔπος ἔλθῃ᾿ λέγειν μηδ᾿ εἰκῇ συνθήσειν τὰ προστυχόντα ἀλλήλοις, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκλογῇ τε χρήσεσθαι καθαρῶν ἅμα καὶ γενναίων ὀνομάτων καὶ συνθέσει ταῦτα κοσμήσειν μεμιγμένον ἐχούσῃ τῷ σεμνῷ τὸ ἡδύ.

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 18

“Whenever someone also asks you to speak and others present propose some topics and starting points for the conversation, complain about the difficult ones and mock them as wholly unmanly. When the conversation has started, don’t delay in saying “whatever comes to your untimely tongue…”

“Ἐπειδὰν δὲ καὶ δέῃ λέγειν καὶ οἱ παρόντες ὑποβάλωσί τινας ὑποθέσεις καὶ ἀφορμὰς τῶν λόγων, ἅπαντα μὲν ὁπόσα ἂν ᾖ δυσχερῆ, ψεγέσθω καὶ ἐκφαυλιζέσθω ὡς οὐδὲν ὅλως ἀνδρῶδες αὐτῶν. ἑλομένων δέ, μὴ μελλήσας λέγε ὅττι κεν ἐπ᾿ ἀκαιρίμαν γλῶτταν ἔλθῃ,

Gnomologium Vaticanum 382

“[Kratês] the Cynic used to say that it is better to slip with your foot than your tongue.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη κρεῖττον εἶναι τῷ ποδὶ ὀλισθῆσαι ἢ τῇ γλώττῃ.

Life & Death at the Tip of the Tongue (painting) by Omer Toledano, 2001

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