“….For they are not desirous of honors. It is indeed necessary to add some compulsion and penalty on them if they are intending to be willing to rule. This is likely the reason that a willingness to go to office without facing compulsion is considered shameful.
But the greatest penalty is to be ruled by someone worse if a person is not willing to hold office himself. It seems to me that people of propriety hold office (when they do) because they fear that outcome and that they enter into power not because they are going after something good or because they enjoy it, but because it is necessary and they are not able to entrust it to those better than themselves or their equals.”
The earliest instance of this I can find online is from 1963, in Proceedings and Debates of the Congress, 109, part 29. If you search google books, you will find this quote is really popular in management leadership books where it debuts in the early 2000s and finds steady, unattributed representation.
Wikiquote.com notes that this is an “unsourced quotation”. It should not be considered so, but its use might receive a little more nuanced: this passage is about how ‘good’ people should not be interested in power and enter into it not for profit or possible self-interest, but to prevent lesser people from ruling and harming the state. This is an old-fashioned Greek noblesse oblige. But it is not a fake quote.
"τῆς δὲ ζημίας μεγίστη τὸ ὑπὸ πονηροτέρου ἄρχεσθαι, ἐὰν μὴ αὐτὸς ἐθέλῃ ἄρχειν" "But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule." But yeah, totally fake.
Thanks to those who called me out on the tweet. And to those who didn’t: call me out when I am wrong and I will fix it! As Cicero says: “All men make mistakes; but it is fools who persist in them” cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis perseverare in errore (Philippics 12.5). Or, as I prefer it: “any person can fuck up: but only fools keep fucking up in the same way.”
“Many people have worthless minds but enjoy good luck
And what seems like misfortune ends up good.
And there are others with good plans who have wretched luck
and success never accompanies their deeds.”
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chp. XV:
“The writings of Cicero represent in the most lively colors the ignorance, the errors, and the uncertainty of the ancient philosophers with regard to the immortality of the soul. When they are desirous of arming their disciples against the fear of death, they inculcate, as an obvious, though melancholy position, that the fatal stroke of our dissolution releases us from the calamities of life; and that those can no longer suffer, who no longer exist. Yet there were a few sages of Greece and Rome who had conceived a more exalted, and, in some respects, a juster idea of human nature, though it must be confessed, that in the sublime inquiry, their reason had been often guided by their imagination, and that their imagination had been prompted by their vanity. When they viewed with complacency the extent of their own mental powers, when they exercised the various faculties of memory, of fancy, and of judgment, in the most profound speculations, or the most important labors, and when they reflected on the desire of fame, which transported them into future ages, far beyond the bounds of death and of the grave, they were unwilling to confound themselves with the beasts of the field, or to suppose that a being, for whose dignity they entertained the most sincere admiration, could be limited to a spot of earth, and to a few years of duration. With this favorable prepossession they summoned to their aid the science, or rather the language, of Metaphysics. They soon discovered, that as none of the properties of matter will apply to the operations of the mind, the human soul must consequently be a substance distinct from the body, pure, simple, and spiritual, incapable of dissolution, and susceptible of a much higher degree of virtue and happiness after the release from its corporeal prison. From these specious and noble principles, the philosophers who trod in the footsteps of Plato deduced a very unjustifiable conclusion, since they asserted, not only the future immortality, but the past eternity, of the human soul, which they were too apt to consider as a portion of the infinite and self-existing spirit, which pervades and sustains the universe. A doctrine thus removed beyond the senses and the experience of mankind, might serve to amuse the leisure of a philosophic mind; or, in the silence of solitude, it might sometimes impart a ray of comfort to desponding virtue; but the faint impression which had been received in the schools, was soon obliterated by the commerce and business of active life. We are sufficiently acquainted with the eminent persons who flourished in the age of Cicero, and of the first Caesars, with their actions, their characters, and their motives, to be assured that their conduct in this life was never regulated by any serious conviction of the rewards or punishments of a future state. At the bar and in the senate of Rome the ablest orators were not apprehensive of giving offence to their hearers, by exposing that doctrine as an idle and extravagant opinion, which was rejected with contempt by every man of a liberal education and understanding.”
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chp. XI:
“He [Aurelian] was naturally of a severe disposition. A peasant and a soldier, his nerves yielded not easily to the impressions of sympathy, and he could sustain without emotion the sight of tortures and death. Trained from his earliest youth in the exercise of arms, he set too small a value on the life of a citizen, chastised by military execution the slightest offences, and transferred the stern discipline of the camp into the civil administration of the laws. His love of justice often became a blind and furious passion and whenever he deemed his own or the public safety endangered, he disregarded the rules of evidence, and the proportion of punishments. The unprovoked rebellion with which the Romans rewarded his services, exasperated his haughty spirit. The noblest families of the capital were involved in the guilt or suspicion of this dark conspiracy. A nasty spirit of revenge urged the bloody prosecution, and it proved fatal to one of the nephews of the emperor. The executioners (if we may use the expression of a contemporary poet) were fatigued, the prisons were crowded, and the unhappy senate lamented the death or absence of its most illustrious members. Nor was the pride of Aurelian less offensive to that assembly than his cruelty. Ignorant or impatient of the restraints of civil institutions, he disdained to hold his power by any other title than that of the sword, and governed by right of conquest an empire which he had saved and subdued.”
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, LXVI:
“The most learned Italians of the fifteenth century have confessed and applauded the restoration of Greek literature, after a long oblivion of many hundred years. Yet in that country, and beyond the Alps, some names are quoted; some profound scholars, who in the darker ages were honorably distinguished by their knowledge of the Greek tongue; and national vanity has been loud in the praise of such rare examples of erudition. Without scrutinizing the merit of individuals, truth must observe, that their science is without a cause, and without an effect; that it was easy for them to satisfy themselves and their more ignorant contemporaries; and that the idiom, which they had so marvellously acquired was transcribed in few manuscripts, and was not taught in any university of the West. In a corner of Italy, it faintly existed as the popular, or at least as the ecclesiastical dialect. The first impression of the Doric and Ionic colonies has never been completely erased: the Calabrian churches were long attached to the throne of Constantinople: and the monks of St. Basil pursued their studies in Mount Athos and the schools of the East. Calabria was the native country of Barlaam, who has already appeared as a sectary and an ambassador; and Barlaam was the first who revived, beyond the Alps, the memory, or at least the writings, of Homer. He is described, by Petrarch and Boccace, as a man of diminutive stature, though truly great in the measure of learning and genius; of a piercing discernment, though of a slow and painful elocution. For many ages (as they affirm) Greece had not produced his equal in the knowledge of history, grammar, and philosophy; and his merit was celebrated in the attestations of the princes and doctors of Constantinople. One of these attestations is still extant; and the emperor Cantacuzene, the protector of his adversaries, is forced to allow, that Euclid, Aristotle, and Plato, were familiar to that profound and subtle logician. In the court of Avignon, he formed an intimate connection with Petrarch, the first of the Latin scholars; and the desire of mutual instruction was the principle of their literary commerce. The Tuscan applied himself with eager curiosity and assiduous diligence to the study of the Greek language; and in a laborious struggle with the dryness and difficulty of the first rudiments, he began to reach the sense, and to feel the spirit, of poets and philosophers, whose minds were congenial to his own. But he was soon deprived of the society and lessons of this useful assistant: Barlaam relinquished his fruitless embassy; and, on his return to Greece, he rashly provoked the swarms of fanatic monks, by attempting to substitute the light of reason to that of their navel. After a separation of three years, the two friends again met in the court of Naples: but the generous pupil renounced the fairest occasion of improvement; and by his recommendation Barlaam was finally settled in a small bishopric of his native Calabria. The manifold avocations of Petrarch, love and friendship, his various correspondence and frequent journeys, the Roman laurel, and his elaborate compositions in prose and verse, in Latin and Italian, diverted him from a foreign idiom; and as he advanced in life, the attainment of the Greek language was the object of his wishes rather than of his hopes. When he was about fifty years of age, a Byzantine ambassador, his friend, and a master of both tongues, presented him with a copy of Homer; and the answer of Petrarch is at one expressive of his eloquence, gratitude, and regret. After celebrating the generosity of the donor, and the value of a gift more precious in his estimation than gold or rubies, he thus proceeds: ‘Your present of the genuine and original text of the divine poet, the fountain of all inventions, is worthy of yourself and of me: you have fulfilled your promise, and satisfied my desires. Yet your liberality is still imperfect: with Homer you should have given me yourself; a guide, who could lead me into the fields of light, and disclose to my wondering eyes the spacious miracles of the Iliad and Odyssey. But, alas! Homer is dumb, or I am deaf; nor is it in my power to enjoy the beauty which I possess. I have seated him by the side of Plato, the prince of poets near the prince of philosophers; and I glory in the sight of my illustrious guests. Of their immortal writings, whatever had been translated into the Latin idiom, I had already acquired; but, if there be no profit, there is some pleasure, in beholding these venerable Greeks in their proper and national habit. I am delighted with the aspect of Homer; and as often as I embrace the silent volume, I exclaim with a sigh, Illustrious bard! with what pleasure should I listen to thy song, if my sense of hearing were not obstructed and lost by the death of one friend, and in the much-lamented absence of another. Nor do I yet despair; and the example of Cato suggests some comfort and hope, since it was in the last period of age that he attained the knowledge of the Greek letters.'”
When he arrives in Odysseus’ household, the seer Theoklymenos gets a little judgy:
Homer, Odyssey 20.351-57
“Wretches! What evil is this you are suffering? Now your heads
Are covered with night along with your faces and legs below.
A wailing burns and your cheeks streak with tears
As the walls and fine rafters are sprayed with blood.
The entryway is filled with ghosts, the courtyard is filled with ghosts
Heading to Erebos under the darkness. The sun has perished
From the sky and a wicked mist rushes over us.”
People cite Plutarch (On the Face in the Moon 19), suggesting that he presents this scene as being an eclipse: but he is, in my opinion, satirizing a man who marshals an excess of questionable poetic ‘proofs’ to display his own erudition about eclipses. You can read a free version of this at Lacus Curtius.
Peter Gainsford has a great piece about this from 2012 (TAPA 142 1-22). Over twitter, he pointed out that he did not include P. Oxy. 53, 3710 (M.W. Haslam, 1986) which contains a lot of information about eclipses in conjunction with the passage from the Odyssey.
I have read a good deal of scholia and I am not convinced that the passage changes anything about whether or not this part of Odyssey refers to an eclipse. Some ancient scholars may have thought so—and the scholion implies that—but scholiasts also tend to fill commentary with displays of erudition and minutiae. But, here’s my [hasty] translation of a section of the fragment. You can view the whole fragment here. Also, I welcome any suggestions for cleaning up this translation.
“Aristonikos says that it was the new moon then, from which [we get?] Apollo, since he is the sun himself. Aristarkhos of Samos writes that this is because eclipses happen on the new moon. Thales says that the sun goes into eclipse when the moon is in front of it and when the day [….] marks it, on which it makes the eclipse which some call the thirtieth day and others call the new moon.
Heraclitus says as follows: when the months come together [the eclipse?] appears then before the second new moon and then they grow sometimes less and at other times more. Diodorus explains the same thing. For, after the moon is hidden it moves towards the sun during the final [days] of the month until it impedes the rays of the sun and…..makes it disappear and then in turn….”
“So I resolved to read history, philosophy, economics, and things like that; and I wrote to my mother asking for such books as I had heard of on these topics. She responded with alacrity, and every month the mail brought me a substantial package of what I thought were standard works. In history I decided to begin with Gibbon. Someone had told me that my father had read Gibbon with delight; that he knew whole pages of it by heart, and that it had greatly affected his style of speech and writing. So without more ado I set out upon the eight volumes of Dean Milman’s edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empre. I was immediately dominated both by the story and the style. All through the long glistening middle hours of the Indian day, from when we quitted stables till the evening shadows proclaimed the hour of Polo, I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all. I scribbled all my opinions on the margins of the pages, and very soon found myself a vehement partisan of the author against the disparagements of his pompous-pious editor. I was not even estranged by his naughty footnotes. On the other hand the Dean’s apologies and disclaimers roused my ire.”