Custom, Violence, and Law

Pindar fr. 169a [=P. Oxy. 2450 (26, 1961), vv. 6–62; = Plato, Gorg. 484b]

“Custom, the king of everything,
Of mortals and immortal alike,
Guides them with the final hand
To the most violent kinds of justice.
I’ll prove this
With the deeds of Herakles
Since he drove the cattle of Geryon
To the Cyclopean gates of Eurystheus
Unpunished and unpaid.

Νόμος ὁ πάντων βασιλεύς
θνατῶν τε καὶ ἀθανάτων
ἄγει δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον
ὑπερτάτᾳ χειρί. Τεκμαίρομαι
ἔργοισιν Ἡρακλέος·
ἐπεὶ Γηρυόνα βόας
Κυκλώπειον ἐπὶ πρόθυρον Εὐρυσθ̣έος
ἀνατεί τε] καὶ ἀπριάτας ἔλασεν

Plato, Gorgias 484a-b

“But when a person comes around with sufficient nature, he shakes off and shatters all these things [laws], escaping them. He tramples all over our precedents and edicts, our pronouncements and all the laws that a contrary to his nature, and our slave rises up to become our master and clearly shows the justice of nature. This is what Pindar seems to indicate in that song when he says…”

ἐὰν δέ γε, οἶμαι, φύσιν ἱκανὴν γένηται ἔχων ἀνήρ, πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσεισάμενος καὶ διαρρήξας καὶ διαφυγών, καταπατήσας τὰ ἡμέτερα γράμματα καὶ μαγγανεύματα καὶ ἐπῳδὰς καὶ νόμους τοὺς παρὰ φύσιν ἅπαντας, ἐπαναστὰς ἀνεφάνη δεσπότης ἡμέτερος ὁ δοῦλος, καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἐξέλαμψε τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιον. δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ Πίνδαρος ἅπερ ἐγὼ λέγω ἐνδείκνυσθαι ἐν τῷ ᾄσματι ἐν ᾧ λέγει ὅτι…

Fragmentary marble relief sculpture with bearded figure looking forward holding a boar's carcass on his shoulder
Roman; Relief of Herakles and the boar; Stone Sculpture

Death, Sleep, and Our Bodies’ Recyclable Clay

Plutarch, Moralia. A Letter of Condolence to Apollonius, 106e-f

“For when is death not present among us? Truly, as Heraclitus says, “living and dying is the same and so is being awake and asleep or youth and old age. For each turns back into the other again.”

Just as someone can make shapes of living things from the same clay and then collapse them and shape something new again repeatedly, so too did nature shape our ancestors from the same material, collapse it, and reshape it to make our parents and us in turn”

πότε γὰρ ἐν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ θάνατος; καί, ᾗ φησιν Ἡράκλειτος, “ταὐτό γ᾿ ἔνι ζῶν καὶ τεθνηκὸς καὶ τὸ ἐγρηγορὸς καὶ τὸ καθεῦδον καὶ νέον καὶ γηραιόν· τάδε γὰρ μεταπεσόντα ἐκεῖνά ἐστι, κἀκεῖνα πάλιν μεταπεσόντα ταῦτα.” ὡς γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ πηλοῦ δύναταί τις πλάττων ζῷα συγχεῖν καὶ πάλιν πλάττειν καὶ συγχεῖν καὶ τοῦθ᾿ ἓν παρ᾿ ἓν ποιεῖν ἀδιαλείπτως, οὕτω καὶ ἡ φύσις ἐκ τῆς αὐτῆς ὕλης πάλαι μὲν τοὺς προγόνους ἡμῶν ἀνέσχεν, εἶτα συνεχεῖς αὐτοῖς3 ἐγέννησε τοὺς πατέρας, εἶθ᾿ ἡμᾶς,

black and white photo of an artist sitting in a studio looking at a sculpture. The woman is sitting on a stool looking at a small figurine on a high table in front of home

Nature vs. Nurture, or On Hands and Walls

Philostratus, Discourse II

“To me, custom and nature are not merely not opposed but they are most closely related, similar and overlapping one another. For custom is the way we approach nature and nature is our avenue to custom; we do call one the starting point and one the result: let nature be called the leader and culture the follower. Custom never would have built walls or outfitted men against them if nature hadn’t given man hands.”

ἐμοὶ δὲ νόμος καὶ φύσις οὐ μόνον οὐκ ἐναντίω φαίνεσθον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ξυγγενεστάτω καὶ ὁμοίω καὶ διήκοντε ἀλλήλοιν· νόμος τε γὰρ παριτητέος ἐς φύσιν καὶ φύσις ἐς νόμον καὶ καλοῦμεν αὐτοῖν τὸ μὲν ἀρχήν, τὸ δ’ ἑπόμενον, κεκληρώσθω δὲ ἀρχὴν μὲν φύσις, νόμος δὲ τὸ ἕπεσθαι, οὔτε γὰρ ἂν νόμος ἐτειχοποίησεν ἢ ὑπὲρ τείχους ὥπλισεν, εἰ μὴ φύσις ἔδωκεν ἀνθρώπῳ χεῖρας….

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wall_street_of_the_tombs_sacred_way_Kerameikos_Athens.jpg

Philostratus?

On Knowledge, Wealth and Fortune

Bacchylides Epinicia, fr. 10.38-53

“Human knowledge has countless forms—
whether learned in some prophetic art
or allotted the Graces’ honor,
the wise man certainly flourishes with golden hope.

Another man aims his dabbled bow at boys.
Others fortify their hearts in the field
Or with herds of cattle.
But the future bears ends that make the path of fortune
unmeasurable.

This thing is best: to be a noble man
envied by many men.

I know something about wealth’s great power:
It makes even the most useless man useful.

But why do I pilot my great tongue so
and drive off the road?
When the moment of victory is appointed for mortals,
only then the wise man must…[ ]
With flutes [pay back the favor of the gods]
And mingle [among those who may envy]

… Μυρίαι δ’ ἀνδρῶν ἐπιστᾶμαι πέλονται·
ἦ γὰρ σ[ο]φὸς ἢ Χαρίτων τιμὰν λελογχὼς
ἐλπίδι χρυσέᾳ τέθαλεν
ἤ τινα θευπροπίαν ἰ-
δώς· ἕτερος δ’ ἐπὶ παισὶ
ποικίλον τόξον τιταίνει·
οἱ δ’ ἐπ’ ἔργοισίν τε καὶ ἀμφὶ βοῶν ἀ[γ]έλαις
θυμὸν αὔξουσιν. Τὸ μέλλον
δ’ ἀκρίτους τίκτει τελευτάς,
πᾶ τύχα βρίσει. Τὸ μὲν κάλλιστον, ἐσθλὸν
ἄνδρα πολλῶν ὑπ’ ἀνθρώπων πολυζήλωτον εἶμεν·
οἶδα καὶ πλούτου μεγάλαν δύνασιν,
ἃ καὶ τ[ὸ]ν ἀχρεῖον τί[θησ]ι
χρηστόν. Τί μακρὰν γ̣[λ]ῶ[σ]σαν ἰθύσας ἐλαύνω
ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ; Πέφαται θνατοῖσι νίκας
[ὕστε]ρον εὐφροσύνα,
αὐλῶν []
μειγν[υ]

χρή τιν[]

The last few lines of this poem are completely fragmentary. In italics I put in something just to complete the sentence. I think that the reference to flutes probably indicates some ritual celebration, but I also wanted the end to repeat the note of warning about the mutability of fortune. 

Write This Down: You are the City. You Are the people

Aeschylus, Suppliants 179-180

“I suggest you safeguard my words by writing them on tablet in your minds”
αἰνῶ φυλάξαι τἄμ᾿ ἔπη δελτουμένας

Aeschylus, Suppliants, 200-204

“Don’t be too aggressive or broken in speech:
These people are especially ready to be angry.
Remember to be accommodating: you are a foreign refugee in need.
To speak boldly is not a fitting move for the weak.”

καὶ μὴ πρόλεσχος μηδ᾿ ἐφολκὸς ἐν λόγῳ
γένῃ· τὸ τῇδε κάρτ᾿ ἐπίφθονον γένος.
μέμνησο δ᾿ εἴκειν· χρεῖος εἶ, ξένη, φυγάς·
θρασυστομεῖν γὰρ οὐ πρέπει τοὺς ἥσσονας.

Aeschylus, Suppliants, 370-375

“You are the city, really. You are the people.
An unjudged chief of state rules
The altar, the city’s hearth,
With only your votes and nods,
With only your scepter on the throne
You judge every need. Be on guard against contamination!”

σύ τοι πόλις, σὺ δὲ τὸ δάμιον·
πρύτανις ἄκριτος ὢν
κρατύνεις βωμόν, ἑστίαν χθονός,
μονοψήφοισι νεύμασιν σέθεν,
μονοσκήπτροισι δ᾿ ἐν θρόνοις χρέος
πᾶν ἐπικραίνεις· ἄγος φυλάσσου.

File:Nicolas Bertin - The Danaides in Hell.jpg

The Danaides in hell, by Nicolas Bertin

Aeschylus, Suppliants 991-997

“Write this down with the many other notes
In your mind of the wisdoms from your father:
An unfamiliar mob is evaluated by time,
But everyone has an evil tongue prepared to lash out
over immigrants and speaking foully is somehow easy.
I advise you not to bring me shame
Now that you are in the age which turns mortal gazes.”

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν γράψασθε πρὸς γεγραμμένοις
πολλοῖσιν ἄλλοις σωφρονίσμασιν πατρός,
ἀγνῶθ᾿ ὅμιλον ἐξελέγχεσθαι χρόνῳ·
πᾶς δ᾿ ἐν μετοίκῳ γλῶσσαν εὔτυκον φέρει
κακήν, τό τ᾿ εἰπεῖν εὐπετὲς μύσαγμά πως.
ὑμᾶς δ᾿ ἐπαινῶ μὴ καταισχύνειν ἐμέ,
ὥραν ἐχούσας τήνδ᾿ ἐπίστρεπτον βροτοῖς

If A Poem Is Written in the Forest….

Martial, 3.8

“Quintus Loves Thais, Which one? The One-eyd Thais.
She’s missing one eye but he’s lost two.”

Thaida Quintus amat. ‘quam Thaida?’ Thaida luscam.
unum oculum Thais non habet, ille duos.

3. 9

“Someone says Cinna writes little poems against me.
No one really writes if nobody reads their poems.”

Versiculos in me narratur scribere Cinna.
Non scribit, cuius carmina nemo legit.

Bonus Epigram from the Greek Anthology

11.252 Lucilius

“If you kiss me, you hate me. And if you hate me, you kiss me.
But if you don’t hate me, dearest friend, don’t kiss me!”

Εἴ με φιλεῖς, μισεῖς με· καὶ εἰ μισεῖς, σὺ φιλεῖς με·
εἰ δέ με μὴ μισεῖς, φίλτατε, μή με φίλει.

File:Marble plaque with epigram of Sopatros MET DP132678.jpg
Marble epigram of Sopatros

Come, Be A Wise Guy Like Me

Epicharmea, fr. 2

“There are many kinds of useful notions in this book,
Against a friend or an enemy, when speaking in court or assembly
Addressing a scoundrel or someone good and noble, for a stranger
Or someone in a rage, for someone drunk, or violent
Or anything bad that happens–this book has a sharp point for them.

It also has wise sayings– whoever heeds them becomes
Better and readier for every situation.
You don’t need to say a lot, just one of these words.
Steer any subject to whichever one of them fits.

Even though I was ready for many things, I used to be blamed
Because I was long winded, and could not give my opinion concisely.
So I listened to this complaint and I composed this craft
So that anyone may say “Epicharmus was a smart dude.
He spoke many clever ideas in short verses and now
He is letting us try to speak briefly as he does too!”

Everyone who learns these things will appear to be wise,
He won’t talk nonsense ever, if he remembers every word.

If someone is annoyed by something in these words,
Not because he has acted wrongly or is in disagreement with them,
Let him know that it is a good misfortune to nurture a broadly-informed mind.”

τεῖδ᾿ ἔνεστι πολλὰ καὶ παν[τ]οῖα, τοῖς χρήσαιό κα,
ποτὶ φίλον, ποτ᾿ ἐχθρόν, ἐν δίκαι λέγων, ἐν ἁλίαι,
ποτὶ πονηρόν, ποτὶ καλόν τε κἀγαθόν, ποτὶ ξένον,
ποτὶ δύσηριν, ποτὶ πάροινον, ποτὶ βάναυσον,αἴτε τις
ἄλλ᾿ ἔχει κακόν τι, καὶ τούτοισι κέντρα τεῖδ᾿ ἔνο.

ἐν δὲ καὶ γνῶμαι σοφαὶ τεῖδ᾿, αἷσιν αἰπίθοιτό τις,
δεξιώτερός τέ κ᾿ εἴη βελτίων τ᾿ ἐς πά[ν]τ᾿ ἀνήρ.
κο]ὔτι πολλὰ δεῖ λέγειν, ἀλλ᾿ ἓν μόνον [τ]ούτων ἔπος,
ποττὸ πρᾶγμα περιφέροντα τῶνδ᾿ ἀεὶ τὸ συμφέρον.
αἰτίαν γὰρ ἦχον ὡς ἄλλως μὲν εἴην δεξιός,
μακρολόγος δ᾿ οὔ κα δυναίμαν ἐν β[ρ]αχεῖ γνώμα[ς λέγ]ειν.
ταῦτα δὴ ᾿γὼν εἰσακούσας συντίθημι τὰν τέχναν
τάνδ᾿, ὅπως εἴπηι τις, Ἐπίχαρμος σοφός τις ἐγένετο,
πόλλ᾿ ὃς εἶ]π᾿ ἀστεῖα καὶ παντοῖα καθ᾿ ἓν ἔπος [λέγων,
πεῖραν] αὐταυτοῦ διδοὺς ὡς καὶ β[ραχέα καλῶς λέγοι.
εὖ δὲ τάδ]ε μαθὼν ἅπας ἀνὴρ φαν[ήσεται σοφός,
οὐδὲ ληρ]ήσει ποτ᾿ οὐδέν, ἔπος ἅπ[αν μεμναμένος.
εἰ δὲ τὸν λαβ]όντα λυπήσει τι τῶνδ[ε τῶν λόγων,
οὔτι μὰν ἄσκεπτ]α δρῶντα τοῖσδ[έ θ᾿ ἧσσον ὁμότροπα,
ἀγαθὸν ἴστω σύμφ]ορόν τε πολυμαθῆ [νόον τρέφειν

poster of barnum and bailey circus
This is the greatest show

Like People who Cannot Be Saved

Theognis, Elegies 61-68

“Don’t make any of these citizens your friend, Polypaides
At least not in your heart for any real need.
But seem to be friendly to all in your speech,
While sharing your business with no one, especially not
Anything serious. For then, you would know the thoughts of vile men,
How there is nothing trustworthy in their actions,
But they adore tricks, deceptions, and conspiracies,
Just like people who cannot be saved.”

μηδένα τῶνδε φίλον ποιεῦ, Πολυπαΐδη, ἀστῶν
ἐκ θυμοῦ χρείης οὕνεκα μηδεμιῆς·
ἀλλὰ δόκει μὲν πᾶσιν ἀπὸ γλώσσης φίλος εἶναι,
χρῆμα δὲ συμμείξῃς μηδενὶ μηδ᾿ ὁτιοῦν
σπουδαῖον· γνώσῃ γὰρ ὀιζυρῶν φρένας ἀνδρῶν,
ὥς σφιν ἐπ᾿ ἔργοισιν πίστις ἔπ᾿ οὐδεμία,
ἀλλὰ δόλους ἀπάτας τε πολυπλοκίας τ᾿ ἐφίλησαν
οὕτως ὡς ἄνδρες μηκέτι σῳζόμενοι.

- description A: youth and bearded man in padded costumes dancing - B: man playing auloi, dancing youth with cup
Athens – painter: Komast Group, KX Painter – period / date: early archaic, ca. 580-570 – Beazley Archive Pottery Database 300303

Doubled Ignorance: Plato on the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Lawmaking

Plato, Laws, 863 c (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Someone wouldn’t be wrong in saying that ignorance is a third cause of f*ck-ups.  But a law-maker would be better in splitting this cause into two, understanding the simple one as a cause of minor mistakes. The doubled ignorance—when someone who is screwing up is held not only by ignorance but by the belief of wisdom too as if they perfectly understand all the things they know nothing about—is the cause of serious and harmful mistakes when it has power and strength.

But when present in people who are weak, doubled ignorance produces the errors of children and old people. A law-maker will consider these mere mistakes and will make laws accordingly, which will be the most lenient and full of pardon of all.”

ΑΘ. Τρίτον μὴν ἄγνοιαν λέγων ἄν τις τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων αἰτίαν οὐκ ἂν ψεύδοιτο· διχῇ μὴν διελόμενος αὐτὸ ὁ νομοθέτης ἂν βελτίων εἴη, τὸ μὲν ἁπλοῦν αὐτοῦ κούφων ἁμαρτημάτων αἴτιον ἡγούμενος, τὸ δὲ διπλοῦν, ὅταν ἀμαθαίνῃ τις μὴ μόνον ἀγνοίᾳ συνεχόμενος ἀλλὰ καὶ δόξῃ σοφίας, ὡς εἰδὼς παντελῶς περὶ ἃ μηδαμῶς οἶδεν, μετὰ μὲν ἰσχύος καὶ ῥώμης ἑπομένης μεγάλων καὶ ἀμούσων ἁμαρτημάτων τιθεὶς αἴτια τὰ τοιαῦτα, ἀσθενείας δὲ ἑπομένης, παίδειά τε ἁμαρτήματα καὶ πρεσβυτέρων γιγνόμενα θήσει μὲν ἁμαρτήματα καὶ ὡς ἁμαρτάνουσιν νόμους τάξει, πρᾳοτάτους γε μὴν πάντων καὶ συγγνώμης πλείστης ἐχομένους.

Medieval Floor Tile with fool

A Leader’s First Duty

Plutarch, Theseus and Romulus 2

“A ruler’s first duty is to save the state itself. This is saved no less in refraining from what is not fitting than from pursuing what is fitting. But the one who shirks or overreaches is no longer a king or a ruler, but in fact becomes a demagogue or a despot. He fills the subjects with hatred and contempt. While the first problem seems to come from being too lenient or a concern for humanity, the second comes from self-regard and harshness.”

δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἄρχοντα σώζειν πρῶτον αὐτὴν τὴν ἀρχήν· σώζεται δ᾿ οὐχ ἧττον ἀπεχομένη τοῦ μὴ προσήκοντος ἢ περιεχομένη τοῦ προσήκοντος. ὁ δ᾿ ἐνδιδοὺς ἢ ἐπιτείνων οὐ μένει βασιλεὺς οὐδὲ ἄρχων, ἀλλ᾿ ἢ δημαγωγὸς ἢ δεσπότης γιγνόμενος, ἐμποιεῖ τὸ μισεῖν ἢ καταφρονεῖν τοῖς ἀρχομένοις. οὐ μὴν ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνο μὲν ἐπιεικείας δοκεῖ καὶ φιλανθρωπίας εἶναι, τοῦτο δὲ φιλαυτίας ἁμάρτημα καὶ χαλεπότητος.

Theseus Minotaur BM Vase E84.jpg
Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC BM E84