Aristotle Said Many Things, But He Did Not Say This One

Image result for character is made by many acts it may be lost by a single one Aristotle

A reader left a comment asking for an investigation of this one. Let’s not beat around the Athenian bush on this one: this is fake, like, really fake.

This seems only recently to have made the leap to Aristotle. It does not seem to be attributed to him in any books, but it appears in Great Thoughts from Master Minds. 1884/1907 by a certain Rev. Haigh.


The quotation is not attributed here, but it sounds like something that may be a summary of Aristotle’s comments on character or habit in the Nicomachean ethics. As far as my ranking of fake Aristotle quotes goes, this is Peisistratos Fake. A vesion that adds “unworthy” and “worthy” shows up in some religious literature in the mid-19th century. By guess is it makes the leap to internet inspirational work through quote texts like this 14000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Preachers, Editors, and Teachers.

Even though this seems like a rather anodyne statement, I think it is really un-Aristotelian and anti-ancient philosophy and general. The notion that you can be for the most part good, but your character is undermined by a single thing is about sin. This is totally Christian and completely not Aristotle.

Here’s some Nicomachaean Ethics as a cleanse 1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”


For UK Election Day, A Reminder: Sh*tting The Bed in Ancient Greek

“Does anyone know the ancient Greek for shitting the bed?”

It is a sign of the high rhetoric of our sophisticated era that this (perhaps rhetorical) question was posed in Marina Hyde’s Guardian opinion piece on the befuddled blond-con PM Boris Johnson who just happens to have a Classical education.* It is perhaps also a sign of my esteemed place in this ecology of elevated discourse that multiple people tweeted me the question. And, finally, it is a sign of my own academic training that I resisted the urge initially because my first thought was “well, now, Ancient Greek just does not have that idiom.”

But, if it did, well, it might look like one of these:

“to shit the bed,” κλινοχέζειν

“bed-shitter,” κλινοχέστης

“to recline in dung,” κοπροκλίνειν

“shit-sleeper,” σκατοκαθεύδων

(for Ancient Greek students, we have two compound infinitives, a compound agentive noun, and a compound participle!)

There are many Greek words for bed apart from klinê. One could also select koitê, strômnê, lektron, or lekhos. I chose klinê because it may be familiar from the English clinomania. I avoided koitê because it has a sexual use in English and the last thing I would want to do is imply that we are talking about a shit-fucking politician. I chose khezein for the verb because it is, according to Henderson’s Maculate Muse, the “standard term” (188). The ending χέστης is a totally made-up agentive from khezein. The participle  χέσας appears for the “shitter”  at Aristophanes Birds 790.

Based on the parallel βορβορκοίτης (“lying in filth,” Batrakh 220) we could have σκατοκοίτης / κοπροκοίτης (“lying in shit”) but I don’t think this compound gets to the sense of the English idiom which is, essentially, to fuck up so completely that you might as well be lying in a post-mortem pile of shit.

If you want to play along, here’s an earlier post about various words for excrement and here’s another with compounds for beds. Apparently this is a “chiefly US expression” reddit is divided on the origin of the phrase, one person asserting that it has to do with bowel evacuation after death.

Ancient Greek seems sadly deficient in scatological proverbs. I found only one:

Arsenius, 6.70c

“You have fallen into Augeus’ dung: this means “you are immersed in filth”

 Εἰς τὴν Αὐγέου κόπρον ἐμπέπτωκας: ἤγουν ἐβορβορώθης.

*”happens to have” is perhaps unfair and untrue. He has this education because he is part of a moneyed elite who use education as one of many tools to decorate the facade of their elitist pillaging of their country and blithe assumption to the privilege of rule.

h/t @brixtandrew and the others who brought this to my attention

I found this while searching:

Sophron, fr. 11

“They filled their bedroom with shit while dancing”

βαλλίζοντες τὸν θάλαμον σκάτους ἐνέπλησαν

Damox, fr. 2. 15-16

“Rub him down with shit / and expel him from school”

μινθώσας ἄφες / ὡς ἐκ διατριβῆς

Image result for shit the bed
Someone made this. It seemed appropriate

Those Who Know, Avoid Fake Quotes

Image result for Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach

This variation on the put down “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach” does not seem to appear before the last decade or so. It is almost just pointed enough to sound like it might come from Greek, but just clearly superficial enough that it can’t be Aristotle. It does not appear to have multiple attributions, so I had to look. It is fake. Peisistratos Level Fake.

But there may be something to its sense. In the Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle explores how some people are good at things without understanding them and that “those people will succeed even though they are witless and without reason, just as some people sing well enough even though they cannot teach others how to sing” (οὗτοι κατορθώσουσι κἂν τύχωσιν ἄφρονες ὄντες καὶ ἄλογοι, ὥσπερ καὶ εὖ ᾄσονται οὐ διδασκαλικοὶ ὄντες, 1247b). In the Metaphysics, Aristotle elaborates (981b8-12):

“In general, an indication of knowledge or ignorance is whether you can teach a thing. This is why we believe that skill rather than experience is understanding. For, the skilled craftsperson can teach, but others cannot.”

Ὅλως τε σημεῖον τοῦ εἰδότος καὶ μὴ εἰδότος τὸ δύνασθαι διδάσκειν ἐστίν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τὴν τέχνην τῆς ἐμπειρίας ἡγούμεθα μᾶλλον ἐπιστήμην εἶναι· 10δύνανται γάρ, οἱ δὲ οὐ δύνανται διδάσκειν.

This is, I think, about the fact that some people are just good at certain things while others actually understand the things they do. Someone who just happens to be good at one kind teaching, for example, because they are charismatic, or persuasive, or just really enthusiastic about one discipline, might not be good at teaching people how to teach.

And some people are just wrong, like the quote above.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 10 (1131a)

“But the sophists who claim that they teach [politics] prove to be quite far off from doing so. They actually don’t know what it is or what it pertains to.”

τῶν δὲ σοφιστῶν οἱ ἐπαγγελλόμενοι λίαν φαίνονται πόρρω εἶναι τοῦ διδάξαι· ὅλως γὰρ οὐδὲ ποῖόν τί ἐστιν ἢ περὶ ποῖα ἴσασιν·


The Antidote for Fake Quotes Is….

This is fake. What is it about fake quotes and numbers?

Image result for Never Forget You're A Man, The Odds Are Always Against You Aristotle

The quote above is so fake that it made me create an eighth category: Motivational Poster Fake. It ain’t real; it also ain’t deep. It shows up in print inspiration books in the 1980s. Somehow we can blame this on boomers, I think

Here’s the updated rating list.. And here’s a list of fake Aristotle quotes.

  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.
  8. Motivational Poster Fake: This kind of quote sounds good, but has nothing to it. It is anti-Philosophical in its gooey sententiousness which values seeming over being to such an extent that it makes us all dumber. Also, it is fake without any roots in antiquity

Some real quotations;

Aristotle, Rhetoric 2 1381 a

“A friend is someone who loves and is loved back. Friends believe they are friends and see their relationship to one another in this way. Because of this, a friend is someone who is a partner in our happiness and a partner in our sorrow not for any other reason but for friendship.”

φίλος δ᾿ ἐστὶν ὁ φιλῶν καὶ ἀντιφιλούμενος. οἴονται δὲ φίλοι εἶναι οἱ οὕτως ἔχειν οἰόμενοι πρὸς ἀλλήλους. 3τούτων δὲ ὑποκειμένων ἀνάγκη φίλον εἶναι τὸν συνηδόμενον τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς καὶ συναλγοῦντα τοῖς λυπηροῖς μὴ διά τι ἕτερον ἀλλὰ δι᾿ ἐκεῖνον.


Aristotle*, Nicomachean Ethics 8.5 (1157b11)

“Disengagement destroys many friendships”

πολλὰς δὴ φιλίας ἀπροσηγορία διέλυσεν.

*This is Aristotle quoting an unknown source!


Plutarch, On Having Many Friends 1

“Shouldn’t we also face up to mockery because, although we have not even made one real friend, we are afraid we might have too many?”

ἆρ᾿ οὖν οὐχὶ καὶ ἡμῖν ἄν τις ἐπιχλευάσειεν ὅτι μηδέπω μίαν φιλίαν κεκτημένοι βεβαίως φοβούμεθα μὴ λάθωμεν εἰς πολυφιλίαν ἐμπεσόντες;

Le Jeunesse d’Aristote by Charles Degeorge


ΕΥ ΓΕ ΒΟΥΜΕΡ: Further Adventures in Sketchy Papyrology

P. Dorchester 19.11.6 Verso [2.5 by 3 Centimeters; Paper]

Recto is a receipt which seems to be for Domitian’s hair tonic. The provenance of the fragment is unknown. It was procured in South Quincy in exchange for a Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificate. Clearly written in the center are three words in a juvenile script:

…] εὖ γε, Βοῦμερ [..

…] ok, Boomer (?) […

The top and bottom are severely burnt. The word in the vocative seems to be a chrononym which likely declines following third declension kinship names.

Βούμηρ           Βουμέρες

Βουμρός          Βουμέρων

Βουμρί            Βουμράσι(ν)

Βουμέρα         Βουμέρας


Ok, this is not an image of the item described above

Bad Manners, Worse Quotations: Some More Fake Socrates

In this week’s Globe Magazine piece “Why Kids Today are So Rude…” by Nicole Graev Lipson, we find a pretty piquant line uncritically attributed to Socrates.socrates (2)

Surprise! This does not actually come from ancient Greece.

The earliest attestation of this quotation I could find with a google search appears in The Massachusetts Teacher, volume 3 (1923), but quote investigator traces this back to 1907.

Luxury 1923

After this, it begins to appear widely in educational writing after the 1950s. The phrase certainly has words that occur in English translations of Plato with some frequency (“tyrant, Luxury” etc.). But essential ideas of disrespect in the passage such as crossing legs or not rising to greet  parents are wholly modern.

I searched a bit through Plato and there is a chance that something like this is somewhere, but for now this seems to be total nonsense. Bartleby got to that point, but buried the lede.

luxury 2

It is disappointing that there was no fact-checking on this one. The Boston area just might host the greatest density of Classicists in the United States. How hard would it be to reach out to someone about Classical quotations?


h/t to the peerless .@professormortis for pointing this out

Fake Words

These are all attested ancient Greek words

ψευδής: “lying, false, untrue”

ψευδησιόδειος: “falsely Hesiod”

ψευδοβασιλεύς: “fake king”

ψευδογράφημα: “bad drawing”

ψευδοδιδασκαλία: “sham education”

ψευδοερημίτης: “fake hermit”

ψευδοκριτής: “counterfeit judge”

ψευδολήρημα: “false nonsense”

ψευδομαρτυρία: “false witness”

ψευδονέρων: “fake Nero”

ψευδόπλουτος: “falsely rich”

ψευδόρκιος: “lying oath”

ψευδοσέληνον: “false moonlight”

ψευδοτρισκαιδέκατος: “wrongly the thirteenth”

ψευδουργός: “liar”

ψευδοφίλιππος: “Fake Philip”

ψευδοχρύσος: “fake gold”

ψευδώνυμος: “false name”

Beekes 2010 supposes the root is “Pre-Greek”

pseud 1Pseud 2