Choosing a Captain on the Ship of Fools

Plato, Republic 6 488a7-89a2

[This was inspired by the “Ship of Fools” post at LitKicks]

Consider this how this could turn out on many ships or even just one: there is a captain of some size and strength beyond the rest of the men in the ship, but he is deaf and similarly limited at seeing, and he knows as much about sailing as these qualities might imply. So, the sailors are struggling with one another about steering the ship, because each one believes that he should be in charge, even though he has learned nothing of the craft nor can indicate who his teacher was nor when he had the time to learn. Some of them are even saying that it is not teachable, and that they are ready to cut down the man who says it can be taught.

They are always hanging all over the captain asking him and making a big deal of the fact that he should entrust the rudder to them. There are times when some of them do not persuade him, and some of them kill others or kick them off the ship, and once they have overcome the noble captain through a mandrake, or drugs, or something else and run the ship, using up its contents drinking, and partying, and sailing just as such sort of men might. In addition to this, they praise as a fit sailor, and call a captain and knowledgeable at shipcraft the man who is cunning at convincing or forcing the captain that they should be in charge. And they rebuke as useless anyone who is not like this.

Such men are unaware what a true helmsman is like, that he must be concerned about the time of year, the seasons, the sky, the stars, the wind and everything that is appropriate to the art, if he is going to be a leader of a ship in reality, how he might steer the ship even if some desire it or not, when they believe that it is not possible to obtain art or practice about how to do this, something like an art of ship-steering. When these types of conflicts are occurring on a ship, don’t you think the one who is a true helmsman would be called a star-gazer, a blabber, or useless to them by the sailors in the ships organized in this way?


νόησον γὰρ τοιουτονὶ γενόμενον εἴτε πολλῶν νεῶν πέρι εἴτε μιᾶς· ναύκληρον μεγέθει μὲν καὶ ῥώμῃ ὑπὲρ τοὺς ἐν τῇ νηὶ πάντας, ὑπόκωφον δὲ καὶ ὁρῶντα ὡσαύτως βραχύ τι καὶ γιγνώσκοντα περὶ ναυτικῶν ἕτερα τοιαῦτα, τοὺς δὲ ναύτας στασιάζοντας πρὸς ἀλλήλους περὶ τῆς κυβερνήσεως, ἕκαστον οἰόμενον δεῖν κυβερνᾶν, μήτε μαθόντα πώποτε τὴν τέχνην μέτε ἔχοντα ἀποδεῖξαι διδάσκαλον ἑαυτοῦ μηδὲ χρόνον ἐν ᾧ ἐμάνθανεν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις φάσκοντας μηδὲ διδακτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν λέγοντα ὡς διδακτὸν ἑτοίμους κατατέμνειν, αὐτοὺς δὲ αὐτῷ ἀεὶ τῷ ναυκλήρῳ περικεχύσθαι δεομένους καὶ πάντα ποιοῦντας ὅπως ἂν σφίσι τὸ πηδάλιον ἐπιτρέψῃ, ἐνίοτε δ’ ἂν μὴ πείθωσιν ἀλλὰ ἄλλοι μᾶλλον, τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἢ ἀποκτεινύντας ἢ ἐκβάλλοντας ἐκ τῆς νεώς, τὸν δὲ γενναῖον ναύκληρον μανδραγόρᾳ ἢ μέθῃ ἤ τινι ἄλλῳ συμποδίσαντας τῆς νεὼς ἄρχειν χρωμένους τοῖς ἐνοῦσι, καὶ πίνοντάς τε καὶ εὐωχουμένους πλεῖν ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς τοὺς τοιούτους, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἐπαινοῦντας ναυτικὸν μὲν καλοῦντας καὶ κυβερνητικὸν καὶ ἐπιστάμενον τὰ κατὰ ναῦν, ὃς ἂν συλλαμβάνειν δεινὸς ᾖ ὅπως ἄρξουσιν ἢ πείθοντες ἢ βιαζόμενοι τὸν ναύκληρον, τὸν δὲ μὴ τοιοῦτον ψέγοντας ὡς ἄχρηστον, τοῦ δὲ ἀληθινοῦ κυβερνήτου πέρι μηδ’ ἐπαΐοντες, ὅτι ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖσθαι ἐνιαυτοῦ καὶ ὡρῶν καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἄστρων καὶ πνευμάτων καὶ πάντων τῶν τῇ τέχνῃ προσηκόντων, εἰ μέλλει τῷ ὄντι νεὼς ἀρχικὸς ἔσεσθαι, ὅπως δὲ κυβερνήσει ἐάντε τινες βούλωνται ἐάντε μή, μήτε τέχνην τούτου μήτε μελέτην οἰόμενοι δυνατὸν εἶναι λαβεῖν ἅμα καὶ τὴν κυβερνητικήν. τοιούτων δὴ περὶ τὰς ναῦς γιγνομένων τὸν ὡς ἀληθῶς κυβερνητικὸν οὐχ ἡγῇ ἂν τῷ ὄντι μετεωροσκόπον τε καὶ ἀδολέσχην καὶ ἄχρηστόν σφισι καλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ταῖς οὕτω κατεσκευασμέναις ναυσὶ πλωτήρων;

Don’t Read the Classics…

[Warning, the following is or at least purports to be satire]

Lucian, A professor of public speaking, 17

“Don’t you read the classics either, not the babbling Isocrates or the charmless Demosthenes, or that boor Plato. Read instead the speeches from a little before our time, the work people call “opinion-pieces”, so that you may draw on them when you need to, as if you were taking something from the pantry.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀναγίγνωσκε τὰ παλαιὰ μὲν μὴ σύ γε, μηδὲ εἴ τι ὁ λῆρος Ἰσοκράτης ἢ ὁ χαρίτων ἄμοιρος Δημοσθένης ἢ ὁ ψυχρὸς Πλάτων, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῶν ὀλίγον πρὸ ἡμῶν λόγους καὶ ἅς φασι ταύτας μελέτας, ὡς ἔχῃς ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνων ἐπισιτισάμενος ἐν καιρῷ καταχρῆσθαι καθάπερ ἐκ ταμιείου προαιρῶν.

Image result for ancient greek and roman oratory

How to Learn; With an Invective Against Pseudo-Intellectuals

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13:

“The beginning of study is humility. Though there are many examples of this, three principles in particular are pertinent to the reader:
First, that he consider no knowledge or writing as worthless;
Second, that he should never blush to learn from anyone;
Third, that once he has gained knowledge, he should not look down upon others.

This has escaped many people, who wished to appear wise before their time. They break out from this point into a certain swollen elation, and begin to pretend to be what they are not while feeling shame about what they are, and withdraw even farther from wisdom in as much as they desire not to be wise, but merely to seem so. I know many people of this sort who, though they do not even know basic principles, feel that it is below their dignity to engage in anything but the highest and most important things, and think that they become important in this way alone, if they read the writings or hear the words of the greatest and wisest writers. They say, ‘We have seen them, we have read from them. They often used to converse with us. Those important, famous writers – they know us!’ I would rather that no one knew me, and that I knew everything! You glory in the fact that you have seen Plato, but have not understood him. I think that it is unworthy of you to listen to me then. I am not Plato, and I have not deserved to see him. This is enough for you: you have drunk from the fountain of philosophy, but would that you were still thirsty! The king has drunk from an earthen cup after using a golden chalice. You have listened to Plato, perhaps you may listen to Chrysippus. As the proverb says, ‘What you don’t know, perhaps Ofellus* knows.’”

*[Perhaps the Stoic philosopher mentioned in Horace’s Satires? I am otherwise unfamiliar with the proverb.]

Principium autem disciplinae humilitas est, cuius cum multa sint documenta, haec tria praecipue ad lectorem pertinent: primum, ut nullam scientiam, nullam scripturam vilem teneat, secundum, ut a nemine discere erubescat, tertium, ut cum scientiam adeptus fuerit, ceteros non contemnat. multos hoc decipit, quod ante tempus, sapientes videri volunt. hinc namque in quendam elationis tumorem prorumpunt, [773D] ut iam et simulare incipiant quod non sunt et quod sunt erubescere, eoque longius a sapientia recedunt quo non esse sapientes, sed putari putant. eiusmodi multos novi, qui, cum primis adhuc elementis indigeant, non nisi summis interesse dignantur, et ex hoc solummodo se magnos fieri putant, si magnorum et sapientium vel scripta legerint vel audierint verba. ‘nos,’ inquiunt, ‘vidimus illos. nos ab illis legimus. saepe nobis loqui illi solebant. illi summi, illi famosi, cognoverunt nos.’ sed utinam me nemo agnoscat et ego cuncta noverim! Platonem vidisse, non intellexisse gioriamini. puto indignum vobis est deinceps ut me audiatis. non ego sum Plato, nec Platonem videre merui. sufficit vobis: ipsum philosophiae fontem potastis, sed utinam adhuc sitiretis! rex post aurea pocula de vase bibit testeo. quid erubescitis? [774A] Platonem audistis, audiatis et Chrysippum. in proverbio dicitur: Quod tu non nosti, fortassis novit Ofellus.

Odyssey and Iliad: Compensation for the Beloved Dead

After the slaughter of the suitors, Odysseus warns his son that they should be wary of their families seeking recompense.

Odyssey 23.118–122:

“For whoever has killed only one man in his country,
one who does not leave many behind to avenge him, flees,
leaving his relatives and his paternal land.
And we have killed the bulwark of the city,
the best by far of the young men in Ithaca.
I order you to think about these things.”

καὶ γάρ τίς θ’ ἕνα φῶτα κατακτείνας ἐνὶ δήμῳ,
ᾧ μὴ πολλοὶ ἔωσιν ἀοσσητῆρες ὀπίσσω,
φεύγει πηούς τε προλιπὼν καὶ πατρίδα γαῖαν·
ἡμεῖς δ’ ἕρμα πόληος ἀπέκταμεν, οἳ μέγ’ ἄριστοι
κούρων εἰν ᾿Ιθάκῃ· τὰ δέ σε φράζεσθαι ἄνωγα.

This passage makes me think of Ajax’s words to Achilles in book 9 where he seems to imply that payment may be rendered in the situation of a murder.

Image result for Ajax Achilles' body

Il. 9.632-638:

“You are relentless: someone might even accept payment
for the murder of a brother or the death of his own child.
and after making great restitution, the killer remains in his country,
and though bereft, the other restrains his heart and mighty anger
once he has accepted the price. But the gods put an untouchable
and wicked rage in your heart over only a girl…”

νηλής· καὶ μέν τίς τε κασιγνήτοιο φονῆος
ποινὴν ἢ οὗ παιδὸς ἐδέξατο τεθνηῶτος·
καί ῥ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν δήμῳ μένει αὐτοῦ πόλλ’ ἀποτίσας,
τοῦ δέ τ’ ἐρητύεται κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
ποινὴν δεξαμένῳ· σοὶ δ’ ἄληκτόν τε κακόν τε
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι θεοὶ θέσαν εἵνεκα κούρης

The scholia to the Iliad contend that Ajax is referring to an actual practice.

Schol. bT ad Il. 9.632-33a

“For it was the custom to give [recompense] to the relatives in order to go into exile for not more than a year…

ἔθος γὰρ ἦν τοῖς συγγενέσι διδόναι πρὸς τὸ μὴ πλέον τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ φεύγειν

One might wonder why Odysseus does not think it fit to offer recompense to the suitors’ families…

The People Don’t Like Us Anymore

Often overlooked is the assembly among the suitors in book 16 of the Odyssey. They hold an assembly of only suitors and contemplate both the consequences of the actions they have already taken and possible solutions.

Odyssey, 16.363–393

They gathered in the assembly together
but they did not allow anyone, a youth or an elder, to join them.
Then Antinoos spoke among them, Eupeithes’ son.

“Wretches, how the gods rescued this man from wickedness!
Our lookouts were sitting every day on the sandy mounts,
always taking turns. And as the sun set
we never slept a night on the shore, but we were sailing on the sea, awaiting dawn in our fast ship, preparing an ambush for Telemachus,
so we might capture him and kill him.
Thus some god has led him home.
Let us here consider a ruinous end for Telemachus,
that he may not flee us. For I do not think
that our acts will come to good while he is alive.
For he is smart in plans and thought on his own,
and the people are no longer completely showing us favor.

Come, before he gathers the Achaians in assembly.
For I do not think that he will delay at all,
but he will be angry and he will rise
and speak among everyone because we were weaving sheer murder for him
and we did not catch him.
They will not praise it when they hear these evil deeds,
but they will accomplish something terrible and drive us from our land,
and we will go to another’s country.
But let us grab him and kill him outside of the city,
in the country or on the road.
We can have his livelihood ourselves and his possessions,
once we divide them up among ourselves into portions.
We can let his mother have her home along with whoever marries her.
If this speech is displeasing to you,
and you want him to live and to have his paternal possessions,
let us not consume his heart-pleasing possessions anymore as we gather here, but let each man from his own home seek bridegifts and woo her.
Then she may marry the man who gives the most and comes fated to her.”

So he spoke, and they all sat there in silence.

Image result for Ancient Greek assembly

Antinoos is no Demosthenes.

αὐτοὶ δ’ εἰς ἀγορὴν κίον ἁθρόοι, οὐδέ τιν’ ἄλλον
εἴων οὔτε νέων μεταΐζειν οὔτε γερόντων.
τοῖσιν δ’ ᾿Αντίνοος μετέφη, Εὐπείθεος υἱός·
“ὢ πόποι, ὡς τόνδ’ ἄνδρα θεοὶ κακότητος ἔλυσαν.
ἤματα μὲν σκοποὶ ἷζον ἐπ’ ἄκριας ἠνεμοέσσας
αἰὲν ἐπασσύτεροι· ἅμα δ’ ἠελίῳ καταδύντι
οὔ ποτ’ ἐπ’ ἠπείρου νύκτ’ ἄσαμεν, ἀλλ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
νηῒ θοῇ πλείοντες ἐμίμνομεν ᾿Ηῶ δῖαν,
Τηλέμαχον λοχόωντες, ἵνα φθείσωμεν ἑλόντες
αὐτόν· τὸν δ’ ἄρα τεῖος ἀπήγαγεν οἴκαδε δαίμων.
ἡμεῖς δ’ ἐνθάδε οἱ φραζώμεθα λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον
Τηλεμάχῳ, μηδ’ ἧμας ὑπεκφύγοι· οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
τούτου γε ζώοντος ἀνύσσεσθαι τάδε ἔργα.
αὐτὸς μὲν γὰρ ἐπιστήμων βουλῇ τε νόῳ τε,
λαοὶ δ’ οὐκέτι πάμπαν ἐφ’ ἡμῖν ἦρα φέρουσιν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγετε, πρὶν κεῖνον ὁμηγυρίσασθαι ᾿Αχαιοὺς
εἰς ἀγορήν· —οὐ γάρ τι μεθησέμεναί μιν ὀΐω,
ἀλλ’ ἀπομηνίσει, ἐρέει δ’ ἐν πᾶσιν ἀναστάς,
οὕνεκά οἱ φόνον αἰπὺν ἐράπτομεν οὐδ’ ἐκίχημεν·
οἱ δ’ οὐκ αἰνήσουσιν ἀκούοντες κακὰ ἔργα·
μή τι κακὸν ῥέξωσι καὶ ἥμεας ἐξελάσωσι
γαίης ἡμετέρης, ἄλλων δ’ ἀφικώμεθα δῆμον.
ἀλλὰ φθέωμεν ἑλόντες ἐπ’ ἀγροῦ νόσφι πόληος
ἢ ἐν ὁδῷ· βίοτον δ’ αὐτοὶ καὶ κτήματ’ ἔχωμεν,
δασσάμενοι κατὰ μοῖραν ἐφ’ ἡμέας, οἰκία δ’ αὖτε
κείνου μητέρι δοῖμεν ἔχειν ἠδ’ ὅς τις ὀπυίοι.
εἰ δ’ ὕμιν ὅδε μῦθος ἀφανδάνει, ἀλλὰ βόλεσθε
αὐτόν τε ζώειν καὶ ἔχειν πατρώϊα πάντα,
μή οἱ χρήματ’ ἔπειτα ἅλις θυμηδέ’ ἔδωμεν
ἐνθάδ’ ἀγειρόμενοι, ἀλλ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο ἕκαστος
μνάσθω ἐέδνοισιν διζήμενος· ἡ δέ κ’ ἔπειτα
γήμαιθ’ ὅς κε πλεῖστα πόροι καὶ μόρσιμος ἔλθοι.”
ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἱ δ’ ἄρα πάντες ἀκὴν ἐγένοντο σιωπῇ.

Come Read With Me: An Ancient Scholar’s Craig’s List Ad

Dio Chrysostom, 18.21

 “I would like it, if it were also pleasing to you, for us to meet at some time and then, spending time with ancient writers and talking about them, be useful to one another.”

βουλοίμην δ᾿ ἄν, εἴ σοι κεχαρισμένον εἴη, καὶ ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ ποτε ἡμᾶς γενέσθαι, ἵνα καὶ ἐντυγχάνοντες τοῖς παλαιοῖς καὶ διαλεγόμενοι περὶ αὐτῶν χρήσιμοί τι γενοίμεθα.

Image result for Ancient Greek and Roman Reading fresco

[I actually find this sentiment a little sweet and completely relatable]

Tawdry Tuesday: Archilochus in the Meadow (NSFW)

These are the final lines of the so-called Cologne Epode attributed to Archilochus (fr. 196a West=s478a). Here is a full version of the text with some commentary. Here is another short article about it.

“That was all I said. Then I lifted the girl
And laid her down in the blossoming flowers.
I covered her with a soft cloak
And placed my arms around her neck.
As she froze in fear like a fawn,
I lightly held her breasts in my hands
Where her skin exposed the newness of her youth.
And once I felt her fine body all around,
I shot off my white force, messing up her fair hair.

τοσ]αῦτ᾽ ἐφώνεον· παρθένον δ᾽ ἐν ἄνθε[σιν
τηλ]εθάεσσι λαβὼν ἔκλινα
….µαλθακῇ δ[έ µιν
χλαί]νῃ καλύψας, αὐχέν᾽ ἀγκάλῃς ἔχων
δεί]µ̣ατι παυ[σ]αµέ̣ν̣ην τὼς ὥστε νέβρ̣[ον εἱλόµην
µαζ]ῶν τε χ̣ερσὶν ἠπίως ἐφηψάµη̣ν
ᾗπε]ρ̣ ἔφην̣ε νέον ἥβης ἐπήλυ̣σις χρόα̣·
ἅπαν τ]ε̣ σῶµ̣α καλὸν ἀµφαφώµενος
λευκ]ὸν ἀφῆκα µένος, ξανθῆς ἐπιψαύ[ων τριχός.

Image result for ancient greek vase ejaculation

There is some debate about what exactly is going on in the sexual act at the end: is this extra-vaginal ejaculation (with the ξανθῆς…τριχός denoting pubic hair) or is this actually describing the poem’s narrator ejaculating on her hair? See the article mentioned above for a brief discussion.

Here’s another lyric fragment that discusses ejaculation. Note the different vocabulary:

Alcaeus, fr. 117. 27-8 

“Whatever someone gives to a prostitute he might as well spill  into the waves of the dark sea”

[     ]ται· πόρναι δ’ ὄ κέ τις δίδ[ωι
ἴ]σα κἀ[ς] πολίας κῦμ’ ἄλ[ο]ς ἐσβ[ά]λην.

The language of that poem makes me wonder if Sophocles is playing with language in the following lines from Antigone (648-649):

“Son, never lose your mind for the pleasure of a woman.”

μή νύν ποτ᾽, ὦ παῖ, τὰς φρένας ὑφ᾽ ἡδονῆς
γυναικὸς οὕνεκ᾽ ἐκβάλῃς

[More literally: “never shoot off your thoughts….”]