Emolument’s Claws

“Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd, but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument.”

-Thomas Gaisford

Few clearer proofs of the instrumentalization of knowledge can be given than the question, routinely posed to all students of the liberal arts, “What are you going to do with that?” This reification of knowledge as a discrete entity (a ‘skill set’) represents a fundamental error in the conception of knowledge on the part of those who see its primary value as an instrument.

Since the revival of learning (i.e. the Renaissance), the study of antiquity has never been practical in the sense of yielding concrete and tangible products in the world, yet it did nevertheless confer immense practical advantages on those who had studied it. From the Renaissance through at least the end of the 19th century, classical learning was the key to both civil and ecclesiastical preferment. Amidst the debates about the purpose and accessibility of classics today, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the regression away from an open and democratized classics is in effect simply a return to the discipline’s status quo – a return to classics reserved for the elite as a ticket to social advancement.

For many people, majoring in classics or any of the humanities at less than maximally prestigious schools is not an indulgence in idle caprice, but a seizure at what may be their only opportunity to truly study these subjects before being broken upon the wheel of relentless employment. Some students may be fortunate enough to attend public or private schools which offer instruction in Latin. But often, the halls of the university are the first and only place in which young students have the opportunity to study such recondite subjects. Formal university study thus serves a much more practical purpose than its detractors would concede by providing the basic civic and human education for people who are never able to acquire it earlier in life. Paradoxically, the study of the humanities becomes more practical and, indeed, more necessary as opportunities to explore them are more severely curtailed in elementary and secondary schools. In an age when students could be expected to have received a thoroughgoing humanistic education, the study of antiquity at university may have indeed been little more than the rarefaction and refinement of one’s literary and aesthetic sensibilities. Rich elites with access to educational opportunity may feel that the humanities are an idle indulgence because they are now (or still?) the only ones allowed to enjoy them from an early age. Consequently, humanistic study will continue to become more practical in the way that it has always been ‘practical’ – as a social marker granted to and recognized by an elite class, which paves the golden avenue to social and economic advancement. Benjamin Rush and Thomas Paine both campaigned actively against the primacy of classical language instruction:

The study of the Latin and Greek languages is improper in the present state of society and government in United States. While Greek and Latin are the only avenues to science, education will always be confined to a few people. It is only by rendering knowledge universal, that a republican form of government can be preserved in our country. [Benjamin Rush, Essays Moral, Literary, and Political]

No more Latin should be learned in these schools than is necessary to translate that language into English, and no more Greek than is necessary to read the Greek Testament. One half or two-thirds of the time now misspent in learning more of those two languages should be employed in learning Hebrew and in studying Jewish antiquities. Eastern customs. Eastern geography, ecclesiastical and natural history, and astronomy, all of which are calculated to discover the meaning and establish the truth of many parts of the Scriptures. No one of the Latin nor Greek poets nor historians should be read in these schools, by which means a pious ignorance will be preserved of the crimes of heathen gods and men related not only without censure but often with praise. [Benjamin Rush, Letter to Ashbel Green May 22, 1807]

The study, therefore, of the Greek language (and in the same manner for the Latin) was no other than the drudgery business of a linguist; and the language thus obtained, was no other than the means, as it were the tools, employed to obtain the learning the Greeks had. It made no part of the learning itself, and was so distinct from it, as to make it exceedingly probable that the persons who had studied Greek sufficiently to translate those works, such, for instance, as Euclid’s Elements, did not understand any of the learning the works contained. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]

The peculiarity of Benjamin Rush’s crusade against the classics is that it demonstrated just how useful they were in colonial American society – not, indeed, in the sense of producing anything, but as a mode of communication and exchange, a common intellectual currency. Rush himself could inveigh against the classics because he had at least been granted sufficient education in them. His engineered assault on the classics is a testament to their strength in his day. In our own time, the development of more narrowly technical education has rendered the classics (and the humanities more generally) obsolete as anything but markers of class and wealth (or, for those of us outside the privileged echelons, as markers of foolhardy impracticality). Yet, we have lost something valuable in that common intellectual and cultural currency, and it is not clear that it will ever be replaced as culture becomes increasingly fragmented and ephemeral. The dominant technical and scientific modes of discourse have given birth to this exaggerated ephemerality, but the increasing speed with which cultural products gain currency and lose relevance also poses a significant question about who (i.e. what demographic) ought to be the arbiter of that relevance. I once had a friend who dismissed everything written or produced before the 20th century as irrelevant. Yet, for many of my students, the period of one day is enough to make something feel played-out, hackneyed, and irrelevant. (A meme which is widely circulated in the morning may be dead and overdone by the evening.)

The educational project of Rush and Paine has largely been achieved through the organic process of classics becoming apparently irrelevant to modern life. Yet, this demotion of classics from its primacy in education has increased what Rush and Paine saw as the most pernicious aspect of classical study – its tendency, as an ‘irrelevant’ study, to create a class distinction between those with sufficient wealth and leisure to study dead languages and those who must ply themselves to some more apparently practical study. The liberal arts have once again reclaimed and justified their designation, but only at the expense of much of society submitting to the servitude of purely commercial interest.

The humanities as formalized university study are undoubtedly in peril, but the reasons for and nature of this peril are matters of contention. Where Jordan Peterson might see the humanities as threatened by Theory, a more data-driven analyst might note that English departments thrived under the early heady days of Theory in the second half of the 20th century, when lecture halls were packed by students enjoying a new and exciting mode of engaging with old texts. Reactionaries have long been attracted to the idea that the collapse of the humanities can be attributed to one or two pernicious intellectual trends, but this gross oversimplification masquerading as dispassionate analysis is in itself just the promotion of a particular conservative theoretical framework for understanding humanistic disciplines. Yet another faction attempts to circumvent the political altogether by arguing that the humanities are peculiarly ennobling and thus ought to be studied for their own sake. But this argument is both untenable and wholly ahistorical, resting on rhetoric which has never gone out of fashion since antiquity.

At some point in the ancient world, literature was just literature. In the centuries following Homer, however, literature began to reflect back upon itself in a self-conscious and meaningful way, which may be seen as the seminal form of scholarship as we know it today. By the time of Plato, at least, it is clear that many thinkers were engaged in what we would recognize as humanistic and literary study: poetry is cited and analyzed for linguistic content, its bearing on history and morality, and even its relation to other literary exempla. Plato’s dialogues, taken as cultural records, suggest that these were pleasant and salutary pastimes for the leisured class as well as a way to achieve some measure of practical success in the world. The Sophists with whom Socrates speaks do not study literature for its own sake. Rather, poetry it studied for the utilitarian purpose of moral improvement or the weaponized use to which it may be put in disputation. Even Plato himself views literature as something instrumental or utilitarian, a part of a broader educational program designed to form the complete human.

The Greeks were keen on rhetoric, and their literary studies were often made to serve that enthusiasm, but the Romans went a step farther in institutionalizing rhetoric as the primary branch of education. Though it seems strange to modern sensibilities, a well-educated Roman would have received years of rhetorical training as the basis and aim of education, and may have finished off the larger project with ‘ornamental’ studies like astronomy, mathematics, and others science such as it then was. Literary study was an important part of their program, but not because it was the window to the human soul – rather, a knowledge of the best literature was meant to carry one’s point in debate in addition to forming the character through moral exempla – creating the ideal vir bonus dicendi peritus.

The educational institution of the trivium and quadrivium formalized by Martianus Capella gives primacy to what are thought of as the humanities, but this is an inheritance of the Greco-Roman traditions which made these subjects out to be supremely practical modes for political and personal advancement.

Despite their primacy in the trivium, the humanities experienced some decline during the Middle Ages due to the ambivalence toward pagan authors manifested by Christians such as Augustine, Jerome, and Tertullian. Consider Jerome’s nightmare of being denied access to heaven on the basis of his fondness for Cicero. Augustine laments that in spending so much time reading about Dido’s tears, he was ‘fornicating away from God.’ A certain amount of this ambivalence was retained by Christians of later centuries, but many continued studying pagan authors for two reasons: knowledge of pagan literature could be weaponized to counter the arguments of the irreligious, and the language of pagan authors could serve to improve the eloquence of the Christian message.

Petrarch is given credit for inaugurating the Renaissance not only because of his manuscript hunting, but because we sense in him a genuine enthusiast who was enamoured with antiquity for its own sake. Yet, for all of Petrarch’s ardent enthusiasm, the humanities as reconceived by him were not aimed at studying literature ‘for its own sake’. For Petrarch, Leonaro Bruni, Coluccio Salutati, and others, the study of literature and history may have been pleasing in and of itself, but underlying their progress was the support of money and political interest. Few of the important humanists of the Renaissance did their work independent of temporal power – indeed, they began to revive the old Ciceronian ideal of the active scholar/politician.

Of all historical periods, the Renaissance contributed most to our own sense of the humanities as a distinct arena of study, as well as to the conception of the study of literature as singularly ennobling or worthwhile for its own sake, yet it was also a period during which the study of literature was instrumentalized in an exceptionally striking degree, both for the attainment of tangible political ends as well as being the object of conspicuous consumption and lavish display on the part of wealthy and powerful patrons. In his essay in the Cambridge Companion to the Renaissance, James Hankins notes that much of the intellectual energy of 14th and 15th century humanism was channeled into the broad project of reforming and improving humanity because “Politically, the Renaissance was an age of tyrants and oligarchs, rulers with often questionable titles to legitimacy.” As such, attempts at reforming political systems, or even political theory itself, were of limited value in such an entrenched political climate. The only hope for governmental improvement lay in cultivating the character of the tyrants and oligarchs internally. This represents a revival of the old Platonic ideal of the philosopher king, and accounts for the apparent upswing in rapturous encomia on the study of polite letters. The entire humanist project could, through harnessing the moral-exemplar mode of education borrowed directly from antiquity and combining it with a renewed emphasis on cultivating politesse – especially in the form of refined Latin expression – serve the aim of bringing about a more peaceful, just, and refined society. Who could doubt the value of literary and historical study at a time when it promised the surest route to the improvement of civilization itself?

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, wrote in his educational treatise de Liberorum Educatione: “The study of literature offers a great aid to attaining virtue, and this befits no one more than a king. […] Once learning was abandoned, all virtues fell into decay, because the strength of the military and the imperial office was weakened as though cut at the root.” Piccolomini outlines here the importance of learning and study as a prop to virtue, which is seen as the foundation of political strength and viability. He does not see the decline of ancient Rome’s political fortunes as originating from economic or military problems. Rather, the relative prosperity of the early empire is attributed to the learning of the early emperors, and all later social and military setbacks coincided with the decline in learning among the rulers. He then adds that all who attain temporal power “should strive with the utmost effort that they perform their public duties and engage in philosophy.” In his educational treatise On Studies and Letters, Leonardo Bruni makes effectively the same point about the conjunction of humanist study and action when he speaks of “a real liberal understanding, which joins experience in literature with knowledge of the world.”

This conception of humanistic study as practical training survived the Renaissance and continued unabated into the 18th century, where we read John Adams advising his son John Quincy to ply himself to his classical learning: ‘In company with Sallust, Cicero, Tacitus, and Livy, you will learn wisdom and virtue. […] You will remember that the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.” Among the Founders, there were few of what we might consider pure intellectuals. Though in their own provincial way they were possessed of a certain erudition, they were for the most part hard-headed utilitarians who in literary study appear as Philistines when set against their contemporaries in Europe.

John Marshall claimed that Cicero’s de Officiis was “a salutary discourse on the duties and qualities proper to a republican gentlemen.” There were, however, cracks forming in the traditional system. Benjamin Rush was initially a supporter of the old classical language curriculum, but in 1789 he began to campaign against the study of the ancient languages, arguing that “the human understanding was fettered by prejudice in favor of the Latin and Greek languages.” Yet it is important to note that Rush’s crusade was not meant to displace the humanities from the educational curriculum. It was, rather, supposed to make the study of the humanities more efficient by freeing time for learning modern languages and helping to eliminate class distinctions which were fostered by the classical education system. Even for the study of religion, Rush argued that time would be more profitably employed in the study of eastern languages and history. Rush was a man of applied science and made the most forceful and revolutionary attacks on the traditional humanist-fostered mode of education in early America, but importantly, he did not intend to jettison what we would think of as “the humanities” more generally – all of these were still seen to have practical value in forming the character and contributing to civic prosperity.

As classical language study declined in the mid to late 19th century America, a new set of “humanities” not requiring Latin and Greek began to emerge as electives were first offered on campuses and the concept of a college “major” was created. Early American reformers like Franklin and Rush would no doubt have been well pleased by the development of university courses in history, art, philosophy, and literature which did not require years of preliminary grammar grinding in dead languages as a prerequisite. Yet, in our contemporary culture, the study of these subjects is commonly considered just as frivolous as the ancient languages which preceded them. During this period of curricular expansion in the 19th century, there was simultaneously a shift away from the utilitarian justification rhetoric employed so often in the early days of the republic, toward a new conception of the study of literature as a mode of spiritual self-improvement.

Notwithstanding the shifts in the rhetoric used to advocate for their study, the reasons for pursuing the humanities have not actually changed over the millennia. Rather, our conception of what constitutes utility itself has changed. Where once it was possible to see the formation of mind and character – the creation of a complete and responsible citizen – as supremely useful, our society has begun to opt for a more narrowly mechanistic and industrial definition of utility. It would be easy to ascribe this to something depraved in the character of our times or the rapid and astonishing success of physical science in the past two centuries, but the shift in thought about utility and education did not occur accidentally. The managerial mindset which took over in the administration of both higher education and grade school in this country can be traced back to a readily understood urge within the capitalist framework: the urge to make money. It has long been supposed that America has no class system because social distinction is not strictly inherited. But I remember being told from the earliest stage of my education that the primary benefit of education was to ensure that you did not end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s. The elimination of mandatory classical language study can hardly be said to have democratized education if the only actual effect was to imbue children with the belief that certain ways of life (such as burger flipping) constitute personal failure, and that the chief value of education lies in helping the student to avoid relegation to an undesirable socioeconomic class.

In this way, the actual structure and purpose of education (and higher education in particular) has not changed through the ages. It is meant to serve as an entry point to higher classes and privilege, though now it is devoid of the antiquarian and mystical self-improvement baggage. Who orchestrated this shift in subject matter? Corporate executives. Where the university previously served as the training ground for clerics, ministers, and civil servants angling for a sinecure, it is now a glorified vocational school designed to generate a class of new technologists who will both produce and consume a supply of even more rapidly obsolescent gizmos. One need only look at the emphasis of outreach for STEM education to see the way in which business leaders have convinced the university to prostitute itself for material gain. When students are encouraged to pursue STEM, the goal is not to increase enrollment in classical biology, paleontology, or pure mathematics. The hope, rather, is to maximize the supply of engineers and technicians, understanding that a glut on the market of technical wizards will reduce their cost. The university was intended to be largely immune to this type of pressure, but the ominous shadow of the ‘business community’ has long been cast over the groves of Academus, and – as though business did not already have the loudest voice in this country – administrators hasten to peddle the propaganda of technical education as a way of advocating for the interests of CEOs.

I do not mean to deny that technical education has its import, and I hope that it is clear that I am not arguing for a wholly anti-utilitarian pursuit of the humanities. For more than two millennia, what may be termed “humanistic study” has been deemed eminently useful. But as our knowledge of the world has expanded and the pace of commercial culture has outstripped all else, we have adopted a radically restricted notion of utility – one that cannot see anything useful in the intangible, the immaterial, the human.

Dismissal of the humanities as useless reflects, however, a kind of cognitive dissonance, because the humanities still loom large in contemporary culture. In recent years, classical antiquity has been the focus of an intense proxy battle in the culture wars. The far right and various reactionary monsters see it as a justification for racism and misogyny, while others see the potential for revolutionary improvement in the study of antiquity. The revolutionary power of the Classics was noted by Hobbes: “Hobbes calumniated the Classicks, because they filled young Mens heads with Ideas of Liberty, and excited them to rebellion against Leviathan.” [John Adams to Benjamin Rush, October 13 1810]

For all of the hostility directed against the humanities in popular discourse, people take ancient history and narrative seriously, and regularly employ it to justify systems and actions today. When Trump stole the election, we were assured by the media of Steve Bannon’s intellectual seriousness on the basis of his reading Thucydides. One may detect in the puffery of Steve Bannon’s reading a hearkening back to the time when classical attainment automatically conveyed a kind of social distinction. As access to opportunity to engage in classical reading becomes more restricted, its power to serve as a marker of social and intellectual distinction is increased. Classics, and the humanities more generally, are no less useful than they have ever been. Today’s harnessing of classical antiquity for social ends does not differ materially from the Colonial American habit of employing classical pen names, or the Renaissance compilation of commonplace books to weaponize ancient authority, or the support of Christian messages by repurposing pagan learning. Rather, our conception of utility has changed, and has prepared us for a new age of pure mechanization and exaggerated class distinction. Much is made of the appropriation of classics for evil ends, but this is not unique to our discipline. Any study can be productive of evil when profit is its primary aim.


F**k Donatus, Shakespeare’s Got Talent

John Williams, Stoner (Chp. 9): 

“Charles Walker fiddled for a moment with the sheaf of papers on the desk before him and allowed the remoteness to creep back into his face. He tapped the forefinger of his right hand on his manuscript and looked toward the corner of the room away from where Stoner and Katherine Driscoll sat, as if he were waiting for something. Then, glancing every now and then at the sheaf of papers on the desk, he began.

‘Confronted as we are by the mystery of literature, and by its inenarrable power, we are behooved to discover the source of the power and mystery. And yet, finally, what can avail? The work of literature throws before us a profound veil which we cannot plumb. And we are but votaries before it, helpless in its sway. Who would have the temerity to lift that veil aside, to discover the undiscoverable, to reach the unreachable? The strongest of us are but the puniest weaklings, are but tinkling cymbals and sounding brass, before the eternal mystery.’

His voice rose and fell, his right hand went out with its fingers curled supplicatingly upward, and his body swayed to the rhythm of his words; his eyes rolled slightly upward, as if he were making an invocation. There was something grotesquely familiar in what he said and did. And suddenly Stoner knew what it was. This was Hollis Lomax—or, rather, a broad caricature of him, which came unsuspected from the caricaturer, a gesture not of contempt or dislike, but of respect and love.

Walker’s voice dropped to a conversational level, and he addressed the back wall of the room in a tone that was calm and equable with reason. ‘Recently we have heard a paper that, to the mind of academe, must be accounted most excellent. These remarks that follow are remarks that are not personal. I wish to exemplify a point. We have heard, in this paper, an account that purports to be an explanation of the mystery and soaring lyricism of Shakespeare’s art. Well, I say to you’—and he thrust a forefinger at his audience as if he would impale them— ‘I say to you, it is not true.’ He leaned back in his chair and consulted the papers on the desk. ‘We are asked to believe that one Donatus—an obscure Roman grammarian of the fourth century A.D.— we are asked to believe that such a man, a pedant, had sufficient power to determine the work of one of the greatest geniuses in all of the history of art. May we not suspect, on the face of it, such a theory? Must we not suspect it?’

Anger, simple and dull, rose within Stoner, overwhelming the complexity of feeling he had had at the beginning of the paper. His immediate impulse was to rise, to cut short the farce that was developing; he knew that if he did not stop Walker at once he would have to let him go on for as long as he wanted to talk. His head turned slightly so that he could see Katherine Driscoll’s face; it was serene and without any expression, save one of polite and detached interest; the dark eyes regarded Walker with an unconcern that was like boredom. Covertly, Stoner looked at her for several moments; he found himself wondering what she was feeling and what she wished him to do. When he finally shifted his gaze away from her he had to realize that his decision was made. He had waited too long to interrupt, and Walker was rushing impetuously through what he had to say.

‘ … the monumental edifice that is Renaissance literature, that edifice which is the cornerstone of the great poetry of the nineteenth century. The question of proof, endemic to the dull course of scholarship as distinguished from criticism, is also sadly at lack. What proof is offered that Shakespeare even read this obscure Roman grammarian? We must remember it was Ben Jonson’—he hesitated for a brief moment—’it was Ben Jonson himself, Shakespeare’s friend and contemporary, who said he had little Latin and less Greek. And certainly Jonson, who idolized Shakespeare this side of idolatry, did not impute to his great friend any lack. On the contrary, he wished to suggest, as do I, that the soaring lyricism of Shakespeare was not attributable to the burning of the midnight oil, but to a genius natural and supreme to rule and mundane law. Unlike lesser poets, Shakespeare was not born to blush unseen and waste his sweetness on the desert air; partaking of that mysterious source to whence all poets go for their sustenance, what need had the immortal bard of such stultifying rules as are to be found in a mere grammar? What would Donatus be to him, even if he had read him? Genius, unique and a law unto itself, needs not the support of such a ‘tradition’ as has been described to us, whether it be generically Latin or Donatan or whatever. Genius, soaring and free, must …’

After he became used to his anger Stoner found a reluctant and perverse admiration stealing over him. However florid and imprecise, the man’s powers of rhetoric and invention were dismayingly impressive; and however grotesque, his presence was real. There was something cold and calculating and watchful in his eyes, something  needlessly reckless and yet desperately cautious. Stoner became aware that he was in the presence of a bluff so colossal and bold that he had no ready means of dealing with it.”

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“Braver by Overcoming:” Some More Fake Aristotle

Another entry in Meme Police, cue the music. This one’s a little complicated.

Someone asked me about the following quotation this morning. I tried to ignore it and move on with my day, but the internet is a terrible drug.

So, this does not really sound much like Aristotle and I will be the first to admit it. I expected this to be totally fake. I searched around a little, and found a link on wordreference.com which includes the following rather convincing Greek.

“Aνδρειότερος εἶναι μοί δοκεῖ ὂ τῶν ἐπιθυμῶν ἢ τῶν πολεμίων κρατῶν καὶ γὰρ χαλεπώτατόν ἐστι τὸ ἑαυτόν νικῆσαι

This is listed as being from Stobaeus’ Florilegium. This attribution shows up in a quotation book from the 19th century.

Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations 1897

Aristotle 1

There’s more than a little problem with this ascription. First, elsewhere in this particular quotation book, Stobaeus is cited by Roman numeral and Arabic numeral, so, probably according to the standard version published by Wachsmuth and Hense (1884; available through the TLG) or the version edited by Augustus Meineke in 1854. The edition cited in the quotation book is one printed by Hieronymos Frobenius from the 16th century. The editor was Sigismundus Gelenius who only printed part of the Florilegium.

The 19th century editors do slightly different things with this line. Neither of them include it in the full manuscript. Meineke includes it among the Addenda ex edit. Froben (additions from Frobensius).

Aristotle addenda

Wachsmuth and Hense include it in the apparatus criticus (page 502):

Aristotle Hense

The later editors have judged that the original quotation above is not correctly part of the manuscript tradition Stobaeus and was instead added in the margins because of its similarities to the sentiment attributed to Democritus.

Stobaeus 3.17.39, attributed to Democritus [=page 502 Hense]

“Not only brave is the one who is stronger than enemies, but the one who is stronger than pleasures is too.”

᾿Ανδρήιος οὐχ ὁ τῶν πολεμίων μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῶν ἡδονέων κρέσσων.

Democritus’ line is a little different from the Pseudo-Aristotle: where Democritus merely says that the one who overpowers desire is also brave (like one who overpowers enemies), the dubious fragment claims that this man is braver.

I think that it is most likely that this made the leap straight from Meineke’s version to the quotation book without the collator actually consulting Frobenius. According to editorial information above, the line is extracted from a collection of gnomologia (proverbial sayings).

But, it gets a bit more complicated: Here’s the one of the works cited above, the Aristotle Pseudographus.

Valentin Rose Aristoteles Pseudigraphus 1863

Aristotle 2 Rose

This is cited from the section of this text on Pseudo-Aristotle which is titled dubia. In particular, this is from the subsection “sententiae ex florlegiis collectae” [“quotations collected from quotebooks.”). As Rose notes in the introduction, the section attributed here to Maximus are printed in gnomologia from the 12 century CE (Laurentianos XI, 14) and the 11th century (VII, 15). [This is what “La” means above.] Several of these sententiae are attributed to Maximus Monachus, Maximus the Confessor, from the 6th-7th century CE.

So, based on the pretty clear fact that this line is not included in the manuscripts of Stobaeus, but is instead attributed to other florilegia from the medieval period and that its content seems more Stoic (and more stoic-Christian) than anything in Aristotle, I am going to say this is just not Aristotle.

Also, this line is used on reddit (and likely elsewhere) to encourage people who are trying not to masturbate. So, um, let’s be done with it.

This entire process has made me think that I need some sort of rating system, since there are levels of fakery. So, let me explain.

    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.

This quotation has some antiquity to it but it is not in any text we have from Aristotle and is not attested until at least the 6th century CE. While it has some Cylon Helen features and not a little of Peisistratos cultural drift going on, it is Delphian Graffiti level fake: it has shifted to Aristotle over time.

From Prostitute to Goddess

Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women: Flora (Part II)

(For Part I, please see yesterday’s post, Flora F**ks for Financial Freedom.)

“This Flora, however, (to come to my point) when the end of life was approaching, had no son but a desire of perpetuating her name. Employing, as it seems to me, her feminine cunning, she declared the Roman people to be the heirs of her property for the future glory of her name. In this will, however, a part of her property was set aside so that all of the annual interest would be spent on an anniversary of her birthday with public games. Nor did her opinion deceive her. For, when she had gotten hold of the goodwill of the Roman people through the dispensation of her will, she easily obtained the institution of the annual games in her name. In these games, the people saw among other shameful things (as I think, it was a spectacle calculated to show her profession to posterity) nude prostitutes performing the business of the mimes to the highest delight of the spectators, and exercising themselves in various obscene gestures. From this disgraceful display it was brought about that, whether from the aforementioned interest or from the public treasury, the plebeians (always prone to enjoy sexuality) insisted upon games of this sort, although they were of the most holy character. These games were then called the Floralia after the woman who instituted them.

Yet indeed, after some time the senate, being conscious of the origin of the Floralia, grew embarrassed by the fact that the city which was now the mistress of all the world was being blotted by such an obscene stain, when everyone rushed to sing the praises of a prostitute. When the senate noticed that this stain could not easily be effaced, it imposed upon the initial baseness a detestable and ridiculous error.

The senate fabricated a story for the glorification of Flora, the famous maker of the will, and recited it to the then ignorant public. The story asserted that she had been a native nymph of miraculous beauty, named Clora, who was most ardently beloved and then married by Zephyrus (whom they called Favonius in Latin). This wind, whom she was numbering among the gods due to her own stupidity, gave her either as a gift or as a dowry the status of a deity. To this was added the duty that at the beginning of spring, she would adorn the trees and hills and meadows with flowers and stand forth among them all. Thereupon, her named was gradually changed from Clora to Flora. And since fruits would follow from the blossoms, as – her deity having been satisfied by the games – she would grant them fruits with a certain ample liberty and bring them to fruition, a sacrificial offering and altars and games were granted to Flora by the ancients.

Deceived by this fiction, the Romans numbered along with Juno and the other goddesses this Flora, who while alive had frequented the brothels, laid out before anyone for even a small payment; and they treated her as though Zephyrus carried her into the heavens with his wings. Thus, through her own intelligence and the gift of fortune from ill-gotten money, Flora was converted from a prostitute into a nymph and enriched by the marriage of Zephyrus and the power of divinity, she was celebrated by mortals as sitting in temples with divine honors to such an extent that not only was she changed from Clora to Flora, but she was made famous everywhere though she started off as a remarkable prostitute in her own time.”

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Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Hec autem, ut eo tendam quo cupio, adveniente mortalis vite termino, cum nullus illi filius esset et nominis perpetuandi cupido, ut reor, femineo astu, in futuram sui nominis gloriam, romanum populum substantiarum suarum sibi dixit heredem; in hoc tamen parte divitiarum servata, ut, quod ex ea annuum susciperetur fenus, in anniversarium natalis sui, ludis publice factis, erogaretur omne. Nec eam fefellit opinio. Nam cum gratiam romane plebis ex hereditate suscepta captasset, annuos in memoriam sui nominis fieri ludos obtinuit facile: in quibus, spectante vulgo, ad eius puto questum posteris ostendendum, inter alia turpia, nude meretrices mimorum officium, summa cum inspicientium voluptate, gesticulationibus impudicis et variis exercebant. Qua illecebri ostentatione actum est ut, seu ex fenore suscepto, seu ex ere publico, annis singulis cum instantia ludi huiusmodi, tanquam sanctissimi, a plebe, in libidinem prona, peterentur; et florales ab institutrice etiam dicerentur.

Sane tractu temporis cum senatus, originis eorum conscius, erubesceret, urbem, iam rerum dominam, tam obscena maculari nota, ut in meretricis laudes concurreret omnis, adverteretque illam facile deleri non posse, ad ignominiam subtrahendam, turpitudini detestabilem atque ridiculum superiniunxit errorem.

Finxit quippe in splendorem Flore, inclite testatricis, fabulam, et ignaro iam populo recitavit: illam asserens iam dudum mire pulchritudinis indigenam fuisse nynpham, nomine Cloram, et a zephyro vento, quem latine favonium dicimus, ardentissime amatam et postremo in coniugem sumptam; eique, ab eodem quem, stultitia sua, inter deos nominabant, dotalitio quodam munere, seu propter nuptias, ut fit, deitatem fuisse concessam: hoc cum officio, ut vere primo arbores colles et prata floribus exornaret eisque preesset; et inde ex Clora, Flora etiam diceretur; et quoniam fructus ex floribus sequerentur, ut, deitate eius placata ludis, illos ampla quadam liberalitate concederet et in fructum deduceret, eidem dee sacrum aras ludosque a vetustate fuisse concessos.

Qua seducti fallacia, eam, que vivens fornices coluerat, a quibuscunque etiam pro minima stipe prostrata, quasi suis alis zephyrus illam in celum detulerit, cum Iunone regina deabusque aliis sedere arbitrati sunt. Et sic ingenio suo Flora et fortune munere ex male quesita pecunia, ex meretrice nynpha facta est zephyrique lucrata coniugium et deitatis numen, apud mortales, in templis residens, divinis honoribus celebrata, adeo ut, non solum ex Clora Flora, sed clara ubique locorum, ex insigni sui temporis scorto, facta sit.

Start with the Best Teachers

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, XLIX:

“It seems right here to lay out some definitions of learning and intelligence and the types of each. In which it should first be noted that it is proper to receive not only those lessons which are given to advanced students, but even the very first elements of knowledge from the best teachers; and, that it is proper not to waste time on any random authors, but to look into the best ones. For this reason Philipp, the king of the Macedonians, wanted his son Alexander to learn his first lessons from Aristotle; for this reason, the ancient Romans took care that when they sent their children to school, they would first be brought up on Vergil. Each of these choices was made with the best reason. For, that which is instilled into young minds will set deep roots, and will not easily be removed by any force afterward.

Therefore, if students accustom themselves to the best authors at the beginning, they will always have them foremost and will always use them as guides. If, however, they should drink in any draught of error along the way, they will require twice as much time in their education – they must first get rid of their errors, and then they can partake of true learning. For this reason Timotheus, a famous musician in his own time, who was ordered into exile from Sparta because he increased the number of strings on the cithara and discovered new musical modes, used to charge a fixed price from those students who had never learned anything before; yet he charged a double price from those who had learned something from other teachers.”

Ac de doctrinis quidem et ingeniis ac utrorumque generibus ita videtur definiendum. In quibus est id ante omnia animadvertendum, quod non modo maiora illa praecepta quae provectoribus traduntur, sed et prima quoque atrium elementa ab optimis praeceptoribus accipere convenit, et ex auctoribus librorum, non quibuslibet passim immorari, sed optimis. Qua ratione et Philippus, rex Macedonum, primas litteras ab Aristotele discere Alexandrum voluit, et veteres Romanos suos liberos scholae mancipantes in Vergilio primum erudiri curabant; optima utrique ratione. Nam quod teneris mentibus insitum est, alte radices mittit, nec facile postea divelli ulla vi potest. Ergo si melioribus initio assueverint, illos habebunt praecipuos et veluti ducibus semper utentur. Sin vero errores ullos imbiberint, his duplici tempore opus erit, primum ut errores excutiant, ac deinde ut vera praecepta condiscant. Quamobrem Timotheus, musicus suo tempore illustris, qui ob multiplicatas in cithara chordas et novorum modorum adinventionem Sparta iussus est exulare, ab discipulis quidem, qui nihil apud alios profecissent, certam paciscebatur mercedem, ab iis vero, qui ex aliis quippiam edidicerant, duplam exigebat.

Flora F**ks for Financial Freedom

Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women: Flora (Part I)

“Antiquity seems to attest to the fact that Flora was a Roman woman, whose dishonorable business detracted as much from her dignity as fortune favorably increased her reputation.

She was, as everyone asserts, an extremely rich woman, but they differ concerning her acquisition of this wealth. For some say that she consumed all of the flower of her youth and corporeal beauty among the brothels, pimps, and degenerate young men of her day, and that she would defraud, cheat, and swindle this and that stolid man with her sports and flatteries until she had accumulated those ample riches.

Others however, judging a bit more honestly, relate a pleasant and ridiculous story about her, saying that the custodian of a temple of Hercules in Rome was playing with dice with alternate hands, such that he declared the right hand to play for Hercules, the left hand for himself. They say that the wager was that if Hercules were overcome, the custodian would get a dinner and a girlfriend at the temple’s expense, but if Hercules won, then he would have to provide those things to Hercules from his own account. When Hercules won (indeed, he was in the habit of defeating even monsters), they say that they prepared a dinner for him, and purchased the services of the noble prostitute Flora. When Flora was sleeping in the temple, she had a dream that she slept with Hercules and that he told her that she would receive her fee for the sex from the person whom she encountered when leaving the temple in the morning. Exiting the temple, she then ran into Fanitius, a rich youth, who loved her and took her as a wife. After living with him for a long time, she was left as his heir upon his death, and thus she became rich.

Indeed, there are those who say that this was not Flora, but rather Acca Larentia, who had either nursed Romulus and Remus, or nursed them later. To be sure, I don’t care about this discrepancy, as long as we understand that Flora was a prostitute and rich.”

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Floram romanam fuisse mulierem testari videtur antiquitas: cui quantum decoris ignominiosus questus subtraxit, tantum fame fortuna fautrix ausit.

Hec autem, ut omnes asserunt, ditissima fuit mulier. sed de questu divitiarum discrepant. Nam alii dicunt hanc omnem iuventutis sue ac formositatis corporee florem, inter fornices et lenones scelestosque iuvenes, meretricio publico consumpsisse; et nunc hos, nunc illos stolidos lasciviis blanditiisque — ut talium moris est — substantiarum denudans et undique corradens et excerpens, in eas tam amplissimas devenisse divitias.

Alii vero, honestius arbitrati, lepidam et ridiculam ex ea referunt hystoriam, asserentes Rome edituum Herculis ociosum tesseris ludum inchoasse manibus alternis, quarum cum Herculi dextram statuisset, et sinistram sibi, dicunt fecisse periculum ut, si vinceretur Hercules, ipse sibi de stipe templi cenam et amicam pararet; si vero Hercules victor evaderet, tune illi de pecunia propria illud idem facturum se dixit. Verum cum vicisset Hercules, monstra etiam solitus superare, ei cenam et nobilem meretricem Floram preparasse confirmant. Cui dormienti in templo visum aiunt cum Hercule concubuisse eique ab eodem dictum se suscepturam mercedem concubitus ab eo quem, primo mane, templum exiens, inveniret. Que cum Fanitio, ditissimo iuveni, templum exiens occurrisset, ab eo amata atque deducta est; et, cum secum fuisset diu, ab eodem moriente heres relicta; et sic ditata.

Verum sunt qui dicant hanc non Floram, sed Accam Laurentiam fuisse, que Romulum Remumque seu nutriverat, seu nutrivit postea. Sane huius discordantie ego non curo, dum modo constet Floram meretricem et divitem extitisse.

The Muses Killed Sappho

Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women: Sappho

“Sappho of Lesbos, was a girl from the city of Mytilene, but nothing more of her origin has been left to posterity. To be sure, if we consider her pursuit of literature, we will see restored what age has taken away, namely that she was born of noble parents, because a degenerate or plebeian mind would not have been able to desire or attain to literary production. And so, even though we do not know when she flourished, she was nevertheless of such a noble mind, blossoming in age and form, not content just to known how to join words together, but burning with a great fire of the mind and the persuasive vivacity of her genius, she ascended the lofty and jutting peak of Parnassus with her untiring zeal and, with a lucky stroke of boldness joined herself to the Muses, who willingly accepted her. Having wandered the laurel grove, she came all the way to Apollo’s cave and, bathing in the Castalian water, she took up the plectrum of Phoebus and did not hesitate to touch the strings of her sonorous cithara and draw forth her tunes as the sacred nymphs danced in attendance. All of these things have seemed difficult to even the most studious men.

What more can I say? She came so far with her own earnest zeal that even today her most renowned song shines forth with the testimony of the ancients, and there are bronze statues erected to her and inscribed with her name, and she herself is numbered among the most famous poets. To be sure, even the diadems of princes, the crowns of pontiffs, and the laurels of triumphing generals are not more notable than her splendor. But – if one may credit the story – she was as unhappy in love as she was fortunate in her studies. She was taken by the love of a certain youth, or rather, by an unbearable pestilence. When he proved disinclined to her desire, she mourned his obstinate hardness and they say that she sang some mournful songs. I would have thought that they were elegies (since elegies are usually used for this sort of material) if I had not read that a new type of poetry, employing a different meter from others, had been invented by her after she rejected the forms of older poems. These types of poems are called Sapphics after her even today.

And so what have we learned? It seems that the Muses are to blame. They were able to move the Theban rocks when Amphion touched his lyre, but when Sappho sang, they did not even soften a young man’s heart.”

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Sappho and Alcaeus, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Saphos lesbia ex Mitilena urbe puella fuit, nec amplius sue originis posteritati relictum est. Sane, si studium inspexerimus, quod annositas abstulit pro parte restitutum videbimus, eam scilicet ex honestis atque claris parentibus genitam; non enim illud unquam degener animus potuit desiderasse vel actigisse plebeius. Hec etenim, etsi quibus temporibus claruerit ignoremus, adeo generose fuit mentis ut, etate florens et forma, non contenta solum literas iungere novisse, ampliori fervore animi et ingenii suasa vivacitate, conscenso studio vigili per abruta Parnasi vertice celso, se felici ausu, Musis non renuentibus, immiscuit; et laureo pervagato nemore in antrum usque Apollinis evasit et, Castalio proluta latice, Phebi sumpto plectro, sacris nynphis choream traentibus, sonore cithare fides tangere et expromere modulos puella non dubitavit; que quidem etiam studiosissimis viris difficilia plurimum visa sunt.

Quid multa? Eo studio devenit suo ut usque in hodiernum clarissimum suum carmen testimonio veterum lucens sit, et erecta illi fuerit statua enea et suo dicata nomini, et ipsa inter poetas celebres numerata; quo splendore profecto, non clariora sunt regum dyademata, non pontificum infule, nec etiam triunphantium lauree. Verum — si danda fides est — uti feliciter studuit, sic infelici amore capta est. Nam, seu facetia seu decore seu alia gratia, cuiusdam iuvenis dilectione, imo intolerabili occupata peste, cum ille desiderio suo non esset accomodus, ingemiscens in eius obstinatam duritiem, dicunt versus flebiles cecinisse; quos ego elegos fuisse putassem, cum tali sint elegi attributi materie, ni legissem ab ea, quasi preteritorum carminum formis spretis, novum adinventum genus, diversis a ceteris incedens pedibus, quod adhuc ex eius nomine saphycum appellatur. Sed quid? Accusande videntur Pyerides que, tangente Anphyone lyram, ogygia saxa movisse potuerunt et adolescentis cor, Sapho canente, mollisse noluerunt.