A Saying for Windbags, Chatterers, Praters, etc. etc. etc.

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1.7:

“Δωδωναῖον χαλκεῖον, that is, a Dodonaean cymbal or bell. This is usually said against someone of improper or unsuitable loquacity. Zenodotus cites it from the Ariphorus of Menander. He says however that in Dodona there were two lofty columns; on one of these was placed a bronze basin, and on the other a hanging image of a boy holding a bronze scourge in his hand. Whenever the wind blew violently, it would happen that the whip would strike the basin, which in turn would give out a sound that lasted for a long time. Some refer the saying back to Corinthian bronze, which sounds more clearly than other types of bronze. Stephanus, is his entry for Dodona, mentions this saying. Juvenal seems to have alluded to the saying when he wrote,

‘You would think that so many basins, so many bells had been struck at once

when writing against feminine garrulity. Suidas [the Suda] applies a different interpretation of the saying from the Daemon. He says that there was once an oracle of Zeus in Dodona which was surrounded on all sides by bronze kettles, arranged so that they would all touch each other in turn. So, it necessarily happened that when one was struck, all of them would resound through contact, with the note proceeding from each to the others. That ringing noise lasted for a long time, with the sound going round in a circle. He thinks that it is a proverb spoken against those despicable people who complain about even the smallest thing. Yet Aristotle rejects this idea, and brings to bear a different interpretation, which I have just related, about the two columns and the statue of the boy. Plutarch, in his commentary On Chattering, writes that there was in Olympia a certain portico built with mathematical proportions in such a way that it would echo one voice as many, and on that account was called the Seven-Sounder. He compares excessively loquacious people to this portico, because if you touch them with one little verb, they will immediately pour out such a volume of words that there will not be any total end to their insipid chatter. Julius Pollux mentions this saying in his sixth book, in the chapter about chatty people, by using these words: the bronze from Dodona.”

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Dodonaeum aes.vii

Δωδωναῖον χαλκεῖον, id est Dodonaeum cymbalum aut tintinnabulum. In hominem dici consuevit improbae atque importunae loquacitatis. Zenodotus citat ex Ariphoro Menandri. Tradit autem in Dodona duas fuisse sublimes columnas, in altera positam pelvim aeream, in altera pensile pueri simulachrum flagellum aereum manu tollentis, quoties autem ventus vehementius flauerit, fieri ut scutica impulsa crebrius lebetem feriat isque percussus tinnitum reddat ad multum etiam temporis resonantem. Alii referunt ad aera Corinthia, quae prae caeteris clarius tinniant. Meminit hujus adagii Stephanus in dictione Dodone. Juvenalis ad adagium allusisse videtur, cum ait :

Tot pariter pelves, tot tintinnabula credas


muliebrem garrulitatem taxans. Suidas diversam adagii adfert interpretationem ex Daemone. Ait enim oraculum Jovis quod olim erat in Dodona, lebetibus aereis undique cinctum fuisse, ita ut inuicem sese contingerent. Itaque necessum erat fieri, ut uno quopiam pulsato vicissim et omneis resonarent sonitu per contactum ab aliis ad alios succedente. Durabatque in longum tempus tinnitus ille, videlicet in orbem redeunte sono. Putatque paroemiam dictam in sordidos et quantumvis pusilla de re querulos. Verum Aristoteles hoc commentum ut ficticium refellit adferens aliud interpretamentum, quod modo retulimus, de columnis duabus et simulachro pueri. Plutarchus in commentario Περὶ τῆς ἀδολεσχίας indicat in Olympia porticum quandam fuisse ratione mathematica ita compositam, ut pro una voce multas redderet, atque ob id ἑπτάφωνον appellatam. Cumque hac confert homines impendio loquaces, quos si verbulo tangas, continuo referunt tantum verborum, ut nullus omnino sit garriendi finis. Meminit hujus adagionis et Iulius Pollux libro sexto, capite de loquacibus, his verbis : τὸ ἐκ Δωδώνης χαλκεῖον.

Improving on Antiquity

Coluccio Salutati, de Laboribus Herculis 1.7.11

“The investigations of any science would quickly dry up if posterity had accepted each field’s principles with such simplicity that it thought nothing therein worth inquiring after but what the original thinkers either could or would make known. Indeed, our sciences have grown mature by successive and continual gradations; and, by the force of new and daily considerations, many things have been discovered which not only could escape, but in fact did escape the notice of the first thinkers.”

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Nimis etenim arida foret cuiuslibet artis speculatio si que ex arte dicta sunt adeo simpliciter posteritas recepisset quod nichil in eis duceret speculandum nisi quod inventores ipsi potuerint vel voluerint declarare. Adoleverunt equidem artes successivis et continuis incrementis, et novis in dies considerationibus multa sunt deprehensa que priscos illos nedum latere potuerunt sed sine dubio latuerunt.

This Can Knot Be Undone

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1.6:

“Κάθαμμα λύειν, that is, to loose the knot is said of one who easily completes a task which has been held up in some way. They say that the saying was born from the fact that Midas is said to have been accustomed to be carried by a chariot joined together by some unbreakable knots made out of the core of horn. After this was placed in a temple, there sprang up among the Phrygians a rumor that the one who had loosed this bond would gain power over Asia. Alexander the great undid the bond by removing the pin which held the yoke to the pole; some say that he cut it with his sword. We will mention this story again elsewhere in the story of the ‘Herculean Knot’. Cicero wrote in his fifth book of letters to Atticus, ‘Let there be no honor given to Caesar by the senate, until this knot is loosed’, that is until this business is completed.”

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Κάθαμμα λύειν, id est Nodum solvere, dicebatur qui negotium alioqui impeditum facile conficeret. Natum hinc aiunt, quod tradunt Midam curru nodis quibusdam inexplicabilibus e corni libro connexo vectari solitum. De hoc in templo reposito proditus erat apud Phrygas rumor, ut qui vinculum illius soluisset, eum Asiae imperio potiturum. Alexander Magnus explicuit exempto clavo, qui jugum temoni connectebat ; quidam aiunt gladio dissecuisse. Cujus historiae alio loco mentionem faciemus in proverbio Herculanus nodus. M. Tullius Epistolarum ad Atticum libro quinto : Caesari nullus honos a senatu habeatur, dum hic nodus expeditur, id est dum hoc negotium conficitur.

“To Cast One’s Spear and Leave”

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1.5:

Infixo aculeo fugere

Βαλὼν φεύξεσθαι οἴει; That is, once you have thrown your dart, do you think that you will escape? This is a proverbial metaphor, as when someone immediately withdraws himself after making some outcry or insult, so that he need not be compelled to attend to what he has said or receive something similar in response. Eryximachus, the doctor in Plato’s Symposium, says to Aristophanes, who is about to leave so that he will not be compelled to praise Love, and attempting to elude the question with a few jokes, Βαλών γε, φάναι, ὦ Ἀριστόφανες, οἴει ἐκφεύξεσθαι ; ἀλλὰ πρόσεχε τὸν νοῦν καὶ οὕτως λέγε ὡς δώσων λόγον. Ἴσως μέντοι, ἂν δόξῃ μοι, ἀφήσω σε, that is, It seems, Aristophanes, that you believe that you can escape after hurling that dart at us? Nay, pay attention and talk like you mean to render some reasoned argument. Then, if it seems alright to me, perhaps you may leave.

Plato employs the same expression in his Phaedo and the first book of his Republic, although he here changes the metaphor and relates it to a bather fleeing after having been splashed with water, Ταῦτα εἰπὼν ὁ Θρασύμαχος ἐν νῷ εἶχεν ἀπιέναι, ὥσπερ βαλανεὺς ἡμῶν καταντλήσας κατὰ τῶν ὤτων ἁθρόον καὶ πολὺν τὸν λόγον, that is, Having said these things, Thrasymachus had it in mind to leave, just like a bather having splashed into our ears a full many words. Shortly thereafter, he added Οἷον ἐμβαλὼν λόγον ἐν νῷ ἔχεις ἀπιέναι, that is, You are preparing to leave after discharging your own speech. Plutarch hearkened back to this proverb in his Commentary on Those Who Are Punished Late by Divinity, Ἀλλ᾿ οὐδ᾿ εἰ βαλών, εἶπεν, ἀπηλλάγη, καλῶς εἶχε περιορᾶν τὸ βέλος ἐγκείμενον, that is, If he has left after discharging his dart, it is hardly proper to neglect it once it is fixed in place.

Aristotle, in his third book of Physics, alludes to this saying. In refuting the opinion of Anaxagoras, who had said that the infinite was unmoved and consisted in itself, he says that ‘it is not enough to have simply said this and moved on’, when he ought to have explained the cause why the infinite could not be moved. Οὐ γάρ, inquit, ἱκανόν, τὸ οὕτως εἰπόντα ἀπηλλάχθαι (if I might incidentally correct the orthography, not of Aristotle, but of the printer.) He will therefore agree against those, who make something like oracular pronouncements and thereby provide material for conjecture to others, so that they need not explain why they hold that position.

The proverb seems to have been derived from bees and wasps, who fly away as soon as they fix their stingers. Plato nodded to this in his Phaedo. It may also refer to the Parthians, who would throw their darts at the enemy, quickly turn their horses, and quickly retreat without fighting face-to-face against the enemy. We can also find something very similar to this in Cicero’s forth book On the Ends of the Good, ‘I say that it is like a sharp stone on the foot of one departing, but we will see.’ Indeed, a sharp stone is often painful to walkers. He says more clearly in his oration for Lucius Flaccus, ‘what good did it do Flaccus, who enjoyed good health until he came here? Now he is dead, having discharged his dart and given his testimony.’”


Infixo aculeo fugere.v

Βαλὼν φεύξεσθαι οἴει; id est Jaculo immisso fugiturum te putas ? Metaphora proverbialis, ubi quis dicto convicio seu maleficio quopiam peracto statim subducit sese, ne vel tueri cogatur quod dixerit aut ne mutuum recipiat. Eryximachus, medicus in Convivio Platonis, Aristophani discedere paranti ne cogeretur et ipse laudare Cupidinem ac jocis quibusdam poeticis eludenti : Βαλών γε, φάναι, ὦ Ἀριστόφανες, οἴει ἐκφεύξεσθαι ; ἀλλὰ πρόσεχε τὸν νοῦν καὶ οὕτως λέγε ὡς δώσων λόγον. Ἴσως μέντοι, ἂν δόξῃ μοι, ἀφήσω σε, id est Ut videtur, inquit, Aristophanes, immisso in nos jaculo fugiturum te credis ? Quin tu animum adverte atque ita loquere tanquam rationem redditurus. Sane, si mihi videbitur, fortassis te dimittam. Utitur item in Phaedone et in primo De republica libro, quanquam hoc loco mutat metaphoram et ad balneatorem iniecta aqua discedentem refert : Ταῦτα εἰπὼν ὁ Θρασύμαχος ἐν νῷ εἶχεν ἀπιέναι, ὥσπερ βαλανεὺς ἡμῶν καταντλήσας κατὰ τῶν ὤτων ἁθρόον καὶ πολὺν τὸν λόγον, id est Haec locutus Thrasymachus in animo habebat discedere, ceu balneator quispiam offusis in aures copiosis ac multis verbis. Ac mox eodem in loco, Οἷον ἐμβαλὼν λόγον ἐν νῷ ἔχεις ἀπιέναι, id est Velut injecto dicto paras discedere. Respexit ad proverbium Plutarchus in commentario De iis, qui tarde puniuntur a numine : Ἀλλ᾿ οὐδ᾿ εἰ βαλών, εἶπεν, ἀπηλλάγη, καλῶς εἶχε περιορᾶν τὸ βέλος ἐγκείμενον, id est Quinetiam si discessit, inquit, immisso jaculo, non convenit telum inhaerens negligere. Allusit ad hanc paroemiam Aristoteles in tertio Naturalium auditionum libro. Refellens enim Anaxagorae sententiam, qui dixisset infinitum immotum esse et in seipso conquiescere, negat satis esse dixisse tantum et aufugere, cum causam etiam reddere debuerit, quamobrem infinitum moveri non posset : Οὐ γάρ, inquit, ἱκανόν, τὸ οὕτως εἰπόντα ἀπηλλάχθαι, ut obiter et orthographiam emendem, non Aristotelis, sed typographi. Quadrabit igitur in eos, qui velut oracula quaedam pronuntiant aliis conjectandi materiam ministrantes, ut qui non interpretentur quamobrem ita senserint. Translatum videtur ab apibus aut vespis, quae infixo aculeo statim aufugiunt. Id enim innuit Plato in Phaedone. Potest et ad Parthos referri, qui jaculo coniecto in hostem mox equis versis se fuga proripiunt nec audent comminus congredi. Simillimum est huic, quod est apud Ciceronem libro De finibus bonorum quarto : Scrupulum, inquam, abeunti, sed videbimus. Solet enim scrupulus esse molestus ambulantibus. Idem apertius in oratione pro L. Flacco : Flacco vero quid profuit, qui valuit tam diu dum huc prodiret ? Mortuus est aculeo jam dimisso ac dicto testimonio.

Reading is Like Eating: Here’s How It’s Done

Pier Paolo Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, L:

“In learning, however, it often happens that that which should have been a great help turns out to be a great impediment – I am talking, of course, about eagerness for learning, from which it sometimes happens that students want to take in everything, but are able to retain none of it. For, just as excess food does not nourish the stomach, but rather affects it with disgust while aggravating and weakening the rest of the body, so does the great mass of facts heaped up into the mind easily slip away in the present, while making one’s mind weaker in the future. Therefore, those who are eager for learning should always read many things, but each day they should select a few which their memory is able to let simmer; in this way, they can register three or four things (depending on their mental strength and free time) as the profit of the day. By reading other things it happens that they can preserve by meditation those things which they have already learned, and can make those things which they haven’t learned more familiar every day by constant reading.”

A Renaissance book-wheel

In discendo autem solet esse plerisque impedimento id quod magno adiumento esse debuerat, multa videlicet cupiditas discendi; qua fit ut dum omnia pariter complecti volunt, nihil tenere valeant. Ut enim superfluus cibus non nutrit sed stomachum quidem fastidio afficit, reliquum vero corpus aggravat atque infirmat, ita multa rerum copia simul ingesta memoriae, et facile in praesenti elabitur et in futurum imbecilliorem vim eius reddit. Semper igitur multa legant disciplinae studiosi, sed pauca quotidie deligant quae decoquere eorum memoria possit; sicque tria aut quattuor plurave, ut cuiusque vis erit aut otium, pro eius diei praecipuo lucro seorsum reponant. Alia vero legendo id consequentur, ut quae iam didicerunt meditatione salvent, quae vero nondum, quotidie magis familiaria sibi legendo faciant.

Early Communism in Proverbs

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1

“All things of friends are common”

“Τὰ τῶν φίλων κοινά, that is, ‘All things of friends are held in common.’ Since there is nothing more beneficial or more celebrated than this proverb, it seemed right to begin my review of sayings from here with a favorable omen. Indeed, if this saying were fixed in human souls in the way that is fixed in every mouth, certainly our lives would be disburdened of a great deal of their suffering. From this proverb, Socrates came to the conclusion that all things belonged to good men no less than to the gods. He claimed, first, that the gods possessed all things. Good men are the friends of the gods, and among friends all things are held in common. Therefore, good men possess all things. This is recalled in Euripides’ Orestes:

Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων,

that is,

‘Among friends all things are one.’

Similarly in his Phoenissae,

Κοινὰ γὰρ φίλων ἄχη,

that is,

‘All pain is shared among friends.’

Similarly, in his Andromache:

Φίλων γὰρ οὐδὲν ἴδιον οἵτινες φίλοι

Ὀρθῶς πεφύκασ᾿, ἀλλὰ κοινὰ χρήματα,

that is,

‘Indeed, there is truly nothing private from friends, but all things are shared among them.’

Terence, in his Adelphi, writes:

‘This is indeed an old saying, that all things are common among friends.’

The same saying is said to have been found in the same play by Menander. Cicero, in the first book of his Duties, writes, ‘As it says in the Greek proverb, all things are common among friends.’ This saying is also mentioned by Aristotle in the eighth book of his Ethics, and by Plato in his fifth book of The Laws. In that spot, he tries to show that the happiest state of the republic consists in communal sharing of all things:  Πρώτη μὲν τοίνυν πόλις τέ ἐστι καὶ πολιτεία καὶ νόμοι ἄριστοι, ὅπου τὸ πάλαι λεγόμενον ἂν γίγνηται κατὰ πᾶσαν τὴν πόλιν ὅτι μάλιστα· λέγεται δὲ ὡς ὄντως ἐστὶ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων, that is, the best city, best condition of the republic, and the best laws occur when that old saying is observed throughout the entire state as much as possible. For it is truly said that the affairs of friends are held in common.  Plato also said that that city will be fortunate and happy in which these words are never heard: ‘Mine’, and ‘not mine’. Yet, it is remarkable to say how displeasing that community of Plato’s appeared to Christians – nay, how they even assail it – since nothing more concordant with Christ’s thinking was ever spoken by an ethical philosopher. Aristotle, in Book II of the Politics, tempers Plato’s sentiment somewhat, since he wishes to see possession and private property in the hands of certain people, though he would have virtue and civil society run according to the proverb. Martial, in book II of his Epigrams, mocks a certain Candidus, who always had this proverb on his lips, though he did not otherwise share anything with his friends:

All things are common among friends. Are these the words, Candidus, which you pronounce so grandly all day and night?’ Martial then concludes the epigram, ‘You give nothing, Candidus, yet you claim that things are common among friends?’

Theophrastus puts it elegantly in his little commentary ‘On Brotherly Love’ (as cited by Plutarch): Εἰ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων ἐστί, μάλιστα δεῖ κοινοὺς τῶν φίλων εἶναι τοὺς φίλους, that is, if things are common among friends, it certainly follows that we should be friends with the friends of our friends. It seems that Cicero attributed this proverb to Pythagoras in the first book of his On the Laws when he writes, ‘From where comes that saying, τὰ φίλων κοινὰ καὶ φιλίαν ἰσότητα, that is the communal possessions of friends and friendship/equality? Further, Timaeus (cited in Diogenes Laertius) also claims that this saying first originated with Pythagoras. Aulus Gellius, in the first book of his Attic Nights, chapter nine, claims that Pythagoras was not just the author of this proverb, but he also even brought such a spirit of community to his life and means as Christ wished to see among all Christians. For indeed, whenever anyone had been accepted into Pythagoras’ school, they would first hand over their money and familial possessions into a communal pot. That is called the κοινόβιον, that is ‘communal living’, clearly derived from the communal association of life and fortune.”

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Amicorum communia omnia.i


Τὰ τῶν φίλων κοινά, id est Amicorum communia sunt omnia. Quoniam non aliud hoc proverbio neque salubrius neque celebratius, libuit hinc adagiorum recensionem velut omine felici auspicari. Quod quidem si tam esset fixum in hominum animis, quam nulli non est in ore, profecto maxima malorum parte vita nostra levaretur. Ex hoc proverbio Socrates colligebat omnia bonorum esse virorum non secus quam deorum. Deorum, inquit, sunt omnia. Boni viri deorum sunt amici, et amicorum inter se communia sunt omnia. Bonorum igitur virorum sunt omnia. Refertur apud Euripidem in Oreste :

Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων,

id est

Inter enim amicos cuncta sunt omnia.

Idem in Phoenissis :

Κοινὰ γὰρ φίλων ἄχη,

id est

Communis omnis est amicorum dolor.

Idem in Andromacha :

Φίλων γὰρ οὐδὲν ἴδιον οἵτινες φίλοι

Ὀρθῶς πεφύκασ᾿, ἀλλὰ κοινὰ χρήματα,

id est

Nam vere amicis proprium prorsus nihil,

Sed inter ipsos cuncta sunt communia.

Terentius in Adelphis :

Nam vetus quidem hoc verbum,

Amicorum inter se communia esse omnia.

Testantur et apud Menandrum fuisse in eadem fabula. M. Tullius libro Officiorum primo Ut in Graecorum, inquit, proverbio est, amicorum esse omnia communia. Citatur et ab Aristotele libro Moralium octavo et a Platone De legibus quinto. Quo loco conatur demonstrare felicissimum reipublicae statum rerum omnium communitate constare : Πρώτη μὲν τοίνυν πόλις τέ ἐστι καὶ πολιτεία καὶ νόμοι ἄριστοι, ὅπου τὸ πάλαι λεγόμενον ἂν γίγνηται κατὰ πᾶσαν τὴν πόλιν ὅτι μάλιστα· λέγεται δὲ ὡς ὄντως ἐστὶ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων, id est Prima quidem igitur civitas est reipublicae status ac leges optimae, ubi quod jam olim dicitur, per omnem civitatem, quam maxime fieri potest, observabitur. Dictum est autem vere res amicorum communeis esse. Idem ait felicem ac beatam fore civitatem, in qua non audirentur haec verba : Meum, et non meum. Sed dictu mirum quam non placeat, immo quam lapidetur a Christianis Platonis illa communitas, cum nihil unquam ab ethnico philosopho dictum sit magis ex Christi sententia. Aristoteles libro Politicorum II temperat Platonis sententiam volens possessionem ac proprietatem esse penes certos, caeterum ob usum, virtutem et societatem civilem juxta proverbium. Martialis libro II jocatur in quendam Candidum, cui semper in ore fuerit hoc adagium, cum alioqui nihil impartiret amicis :

Candide, κοινὰ φίλων sunt haec tua, Candide, πάντα,

Quae tu magniloquus nocte dieque sonas ?

Atque ita concludit epigramma :

Das nihil et dicis, Candide, κοινὰ φίλων ?

Eleganter Theophrastus apud Plutarchum in commentariolo, cui titulus Περὶ φιλαδελφίας : Εἰ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων ἐστί, μάλιστα δεῖ κοινοὺς τῶν φίλων εἶναι τοὺς φίλους, id est Si res amicorum communes, maxime convenit, ut amicorum item amici sint communes. M. Tullio libro De legibus primo videtur hoc adagium Pythagorae tribuere, cum ait : Unde enim illa Pythagorica vox, τὰ φίλων κοινὰ καὶ φιλίαν ἰσότητα, id est res amicorum communes et amicitiam aequalitatem. Praeterea Timaeus apud Diogenem Laertium tradit hoc dictum primum a Pythagora profectum fuisse. A. Gellius Noctium Atticarum libro primo, capite nono testatur Pythagoram non solum hujus sententiae parentem fuisse, verumetiam hujusmodi quandam vitae ac facultatum communionem induxisse, qualem Christus inter omneis Christianos esse vult. Nam quicumque ab illo in cohortem illam disciplinarum recepti fuissent, quod quisque pecuniae familiaeque habebant, in medium dabant ; quod re atque verbo Romano appellatur κοινόβιον, id est coenobium, nimirum a vitae fortunarumque societate.

The Accidental Birth of Demogorgon

C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

“Before leaving Statius I cannot forbear adding a paragraph(which the incurious are invited to skip) on a mere curiosity. In the fourth Book of the Thebaid he alludes to a deity he will not name-‘the sovereign of the threefold world ‘ (516). The same anonymous power is probably meant in Lucan’s Pharsalia (vi, 744) where the witch, conjuring a reluctant ghost back into the corpse, threatens it with Him

quo numquam terra vocato
Non concussa tremit, qui Gorgona cernit apertam.

Lactantius in his commentary on the Thebaid says that Statius ‘ means δημιουργόν, the god whose name it is unlawful to know’. This is plain sailing: the demiurge (workman) being the Creator in the Timaeus. But there are two variants in the manuscripts; one is demogorgona, the other demogorgon. From the latter of these corruptions later ages evolved a completely new deity, Demogorgon, who was to enjoy a distinguished literary career in Boccaccio’ s Genealogy of the Gods, in Spenser, in Milton, and in Shelley. This is perhaps the only time a scribal blunder underwent an apotheosis.”

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