Do It Drunk: Some Ancient Advice for Making Decisions

Herodotus, Histories 1.133.3-4

“The [Persians] are really fond of wine. It is not permissable to puke or to piss in front of another—these things are guarded against. And they are in the custom of taking counsel about the most important matters while they are drunk. Whatever seems fit to them while they are deliberating, the housemaster of the place where they deliberate proposes to them on the next day when they are sober. If the idea is pleasing to them when they are sober too, then they adopt it. If it is not, they waive it. When they have debated an issue while sober, they make a final decision while drunk.”

οἴνῳ δὲ κάρτα προσκέαται, καί σφι οὐκ ἐμέσαι ἔξεστι, οὐκὶ οὐρῆσαι ἀντίον ἄλλου. ταῦτα μέν νυν οὕτω φυλάσσεται, μεθυσκόμενοι δὲ ἐώθασι βουλεύεσθαι τὰ σπουδαιέστατα τῶν πρηγμάτων:

[4] τὸ δ᾽ ἂν ἅδῃ σφι βουλευομένοισι, τοῦτο τῇ ὑστεραίῃ νήφουσι προτιθεῖ ὁ στέγαρχος, ἐν τοῦ ἂν ἐόντες βουλεύωνται, καὶ ἢν μὲν ἅδῃ καὶ νήφουσι, χρέωνται αὐτῷ, ἢν δὲ μὴ ἅδῃ, μετιεῖσι. τὰ δ᾽ ἂν νήφοντες προβουλεύσωνται, μεθυσκόμενοι ἐπιδιαγινώσκουσι.

Tacitus ascribes a similar process to the northern barbarians, concluding (Germ. 22):

“therefore, the mindset of everyone has been exposed and made clear and on the next day the issue is discussed again, and for each opportunity a resolution and accounting is reached. They deliberate when they are incapable of lying; they make a plan when incapable of messing it up.”

ergo detecta et nuda omnium mens. postera die retractatur, et salva utriusque temporis ratio est. Deliberant dum fingere nesciunt, constituunt dum errare non possunt.

 

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[Credit to Perseus for having the How and Wells Commentary online]

I Hate Learning Verbs!

Alston Hurd Chase, Time Remembered 2.2:

“Then came a brief quiz on the forms if it was a grammar day. Usually I sent students to the board for these and corrected and graded them immediately. As soon as the class had learned one or two tenses of the verb I began the practice of sending them to the board as soon as class opened to write a tense synopsis, i.e. all the forms of a certain person and number in all moods and voices of a certain verb which they had studied thus far. It fascinated the boys to watch these synopses grow in length from two or three forms until the board could scarcely hold them all. Like all teachers I had pet proverbs, one of which was, ‘A synopsis a day keeps the zeros away.’ This had reference to my much cursed practice of giving a zero for any sentence in which any error of any kind was made with the verb. I explained that the verb was the engine of the sentence, its most important part. This is particularly true in Greek and Latin where the pronoun subject is regularly omitted, the person and number being found in the ending of the verb. Furthermore, each synopsis had to be accompanied by the principal parts, those basic forms from which all other parts of the verb can be derived. Because of the unbelievable variations in the tenses of many Greek verbs a command of the principal parts saves hours of baffling search in the dictionary. (For example, the present of the Greek verb to bear is pher, its future ois, its past definite enengkon. Again, I used to say sententiously, ‘See ye first the principal parts and all other things shall be added unto you.’ Many of my old students who went on with Greek in college rose up and called me blessed for this once hated insistence upon learning the verbs.”

Pliny on the Life of Scholarly Leisure

Pliny (Epistula 1.9) discusses the distress of urban business, and the delight of study in a country retreat:

It is marvelous how on individual days, you can account for your time (or at least, you seem to be able to), but when many days are joined together, the account does not add up. For, if you were to ask someone, ‘What did you do today?’ he would respond, ‘I was there for the ceremony of the toga virilis, I went to an engagement or a wedding, this one guy needed me to sign a document, this other guy needed my legal assistance, and a third man asked for my counsel.’ Now, these things all seem necessary on the day during which you do them, but when you look back and consider that you have done them every day, they seem totally inane, especially once you retire from the city.

Then the thought comes upon you: ‘How many days I have wasted in such cold business!’ This happens to me when I retire to my villa in Laurentum to read, write, or even give a rest to my body, by whose support the spirit is held up. There, I neither hear nor see anything which I would regret hearing or seeing; no one slanders someone else with malicious talk in my presence, and I myself need not reproach anyone, except perhaps myself when I write poorly. I am made anxious by no hopes or fears, and am disquieted by no rumors: I speak only with myself and my books. O, what an upright and pure life! O, sweet, honest leisure, perhaps more beautiful than any business! O sea, o shore, o you true and secluded home of the Muses, how many things you discover, how many things you say! Accordingly you too should abandon that noisy bustle, that vain running-about and those exceptionally unsuitable labors, and as soon as you get the chance, you should give yourself to study or leisure. As our own Atilius said in that most erudite and charming way of his, it is more satisfying to be at leisure than to do nothing. Farewell!

Plinius Minicio Fundano suo s.

Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque non constet. [2] Nam si quem interroges ‘Hodie quid egisti?’, respondeat: ‘Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in consilium rogavit.’ [3] Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: ‘Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!’ [4] Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. [5] Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. [6] O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! [7] Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. [8] Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.

Learning, Knowing, Doing Much: Greek Fragments on Polymathy

Heraclitus, fr. 40

“Knowing much doesn’t teach you how to think.”

πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει.

Democritus, fr. 65

“One must foster thinking-much not learning-much.”

πολυνοΐην, οὐ πολυμαθίην ἀσκέειν χρή.

Isocrates, Letter to Demonicus, 18.1

“If you are a lover of learning, then you will be much-learned.”

᾿Εὰν ᾖς φιλομαθὴς, ἔσει πολυμαθής.

Plato, Lovers [dub.] 139 a5

“Our practice of philosophy, friend, is very different from learning much and practical knowledge of the arts.”

Πολλοῦ ἄρα δεῖ ἡμῖν, ὦ βέλτιστε, τὸ φιλοσοφεῖν πολυμαθία τε εἶναι καὶ ἡ περὶ τὰς τέχνας πραγματεία.

Plato, Laws 819a5-6

“Much more dangerous is broad experience and much-learning with bad training.”

ἀλλ’ ἡ πολυπειρία καὶ πολυμαθία μετὰ κακῆς ἀγωγῆς γίγνεται πολὺ τούτων μείζων ζημία.

Anaxarkhos, fr. 1

“Much-learning both really helps and really hurts the one who possesses it. It helps a righteous man but hurts one who utters easily every word to the whole people. One must know the measures of proper timing. For this is the boundary of wisdom. Those who sing their words at the wrong time, even if they sing the wisest song, instead of establishing an opinion for wisdom receive the blame for foolishness”

πολυμαθίη κάρτα μὲν ὠφελεῖ, κάρτα δὲ βλάπτει τὸν ἔχοντα· ὠφελεῖ μὲν τὸν δεξιὸν ἄνδρα, βλάπτει δὲ τὸν ῥηϊδίως φωνεῦντα πᾶν ἔπος κἠν παντὶ δήμωι. χρὴ δὲ
καιροῦ μέτρα εἰδέναι· σοφίης γὰρ οὗτος ὅρος. οἳ δὲ ἔξω καιροῦ ῥῆσιν ἀείδουσιν, κἢν πεπνυμένην ἀείδωσιν, οὐ τιθέμενοι ἐν σοφίηι γνώμην αἰτίην ἔχουσι μωρίης.

 

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Odysseus’ Wanderings As Allegory

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Generally, then, if one wants to examine it carefully, you will find Odysseus’ wandering to be an allegory. Homer has positioned Odysseus as some kind of an instrument of every kind of virtue and he has used him to philosophize, since he hated the wickedness which governs human life.

The land of the Lotus-eaters, a farm of exotic temptation, represents the temptation of pleasure through which Odysseus sailed in perfect control. He snuffs out the savage anger of each of us with the advice from his words as if cauterizing it. This anger is named the Cyclops, the one who steals away [hypoklôpôn] our faculties of reason.

What of this—does it not seem that Odysseus who ‘overcame the winds’ was the first to anticipate fair sailing through his knowledge of the stars? And he was superior to Kirkê’s drugs because he discovered a cure for addictive delicacies thanks to his deep wisdom.

And his intelligence extends even to Hades so that nothing in the underworld might go unexplored. Who listens to the Sirens and learns a diverse history of all time? Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. The cattle of the sun are about controlling your eating—for he would not even allow starvation to be a compulsion to do injustice.

These stories were told mythically for their audiences, if someone delves into the allegorized wisdom, it will be the most useful to those who apprehend it.”

Καθόλου δὲ τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως πλάνην, εἴ τις ἀκριβῶς ἐθέλει σκοπεῖν, ἠλληγορημένην εὑρήσει·

 πάσης γὰρ ἀρετῆς καθάπερ ὄργανόν τι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα παραστησάμενος ἑαυτῷ διὰ τοῦτο πεφιλοσόφηκεν, ἐπειδὴ τὰς ἐκνεμομένας τὸν ἀνθρώπινον βίον ἤχθηρε κακίας.

 ῾Ηδονὴν μέν γε, τὸ Λωτοφάγον χωρίον, ξένης γεωργὸν ἀπολαύσεως, ἣν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐγκρατῶς παρέπλευσεν·  τὸν δ’ ἄγριον ἑκάστου θυμὸν ὡσπερεὶ καυτηρίῳ τῇ παραινέσει τῶν λόγων ἐπήρωσε.  Κύκλωψ δὲ οὗτος ὠνόμασται, ὁ τοὺς λογισμοὺς ὑποκλωπῶν.

     Τί δ’; οὐχὶ πρῶτος εὔδιον πλοῦν δι’ ἐπιστήμης ἀστρονόμου τεκμηράμενος ἔδοξεν ἀνέμους δεδωκέναι; Φαρμάκων τε τῶν παρὰ Κίρκης γέγονε κρείττων, ὑπὸ πολλῆς σοφίας πεμμάτων ἐπεισάκτων κακῶν λύσιν εὑρόμενος.

     ῾Η δὲ φρόνησις ἕως ῞Αιδου καταβέβηκεν, ἵνα μηδὲ τῶν νέρθεν ἀδιερεύνητον ᾖ.  Τίς δὲ Σειρήνων ἀκούει, τὰς πολυπείρους ἱστορίας παντὸς αἰῶνος ἐκμαθών;  Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

 αἱ δ’ ἡλίου βόες ἐγκράτεια γαστρός εἰσιν, εἰ μηδὲ λιμὸν ἔσχεν ἀδικίας ἀνάγκην.

     ῝Α δὴ μυθικῶς μέν ἐστιν εἰρημένα περὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντας, εἰ δ’ ἐπὶ τὴν ἠλληγορημένην σοφίαν καταβέβηκεν, ὠφελιμώτατα τοῖς μιμουμένοις γενήσεται.

 

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“Read Any Books What Ever Come to Thy Hands”

John Milton, Areopagitica: 

“Not to insist upon the examples of Moses, Daniel, & Paul, who were skilfull in all the learning of the Ægyptians, Caldeans, and Greeks, which could not probably be without reading their Books of all sorts; in Paul especially, who thought it no defilement to insert into holy Scripture the sentences of three Greek Poets, and one of them a Tragedian, the question was, notwithstanding sometimes controverted among the Primitive Doctors, but with great odds on that side which affirm’d it both lawfull and profitable, as was then evidently perceiv’d, when Julian the Apostat, and suttlest enemy to our faith, made a decree forbidding Christians the study of heathen learning: for, said he, they wound us with our own weapons, and with our owne arts and sciences they overcome us. And indeed the Christians were put so to their shifts by this crafty means, and so much in danger to decline into all ignorance, that the two Apollinarii were fain as a man may say, to coin all the seven liberall Sciences out of the Bible, reducing it into divers forms of Orations, Poems, Dialogues, ev’n to the calculating of a new Christian grammar. But, saith the Historian Socrates, The providence of God provided better then the industry of Apollinarius and his son, by taking away that illiterat law with the life of him who devis’d it. So great an injury they then held it to be depriv’d of Hellenick learning; and thought it a persecution more undermining, and secretly decaying the Church, then the open cruelty of Decius or Dioclesian. And perhaps it was the same politick drift that the Divell whipt St. Jerom in a lenten dream, for reading Cicero; or else it was a fantasm bred by the feaver which had then seis’d him. For had an Angel bin his discipliner, unlesse it were for dwelling too much upon Ciceronianisms, & had chastiz’d the reading, not the vanity, it had bin plainly partiall; first to correct him for grave Cicero, and not for scurrill Plautus, whom he confesses to have bin reading not long before; next to correct him only, and let so many more ancient Fathers wax old in those pleasant and florid studies without the lash of such a tutoring apparition; insomuch that Basil teaches how some good use may be made of Margites, a sportfull Poem, not now extant, writ by Homer; and why not then of Morgante, an Italian Romanze much to the same purpose. But if it be agreed we shall be try’d by visions, there is a vision recorded by Eusebius far ancienter then this tale of Jerom to the Nun Eustochium, and besides has nothing of a feavor in it. Dionysius Alexandrinus was about the year 240, a person of great name in the Church for piety and learning, who had wont to avail himself much against hereticks by being conversant in their Books; untill a certain Presbyter laid it scrupulously to his conscience, how he durst venture himselfe among those defiling volumes. The worthy man loath to give offence fell into a new debate with himselfe what was to be thought; when suddenly a vision sent from God, it is his own Epistle that so averrs it, confirm’d him in these words: Read any books what ever come to thy hands, for thou art sufficient both to judge aright, and to examine each matter.”

On Paris’ Weakness and the Glory of Education

Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 42

“For when the barbarians and the Greeks were struggling against each other around Troy because of one man’s lack of self-control they endured the most terrible calamities—some in war, some in the return home—and the god assigned a punishment for that single injustice for one thousand and ten years, providing an oracle for the sack of Troy and requesting the journey of maidens from Locris to the temple of Athena in Troy.

[Pythagoras] used to harangue the young men regarding education too, demanding that they consider how strange it would be to judge rational thought the most desirable of all things when one must judge concerning everything else using it, yet people spend no time nor toil in practicing it. And this is when care given to the body is similar to worthless friends in abandoning you quickly; education, however, is like the most good and noble companions who stay by your side right up to death—and, for some, it provides immortal glory after life is over.”

τῶν γὰρ βαρβάρων καὶ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων  περὶ τὴν Τροίαν ἀντιταξαμένων ἑκατέρους δι’ ἑνὸς ἀκρασίαν ταῖς δεινοτάταις περιπεσεῖν συμφοραῖς, τοὺς μὲν ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ, τοὺς δὲ κατὰ τὸν ἀνάπλουν, καὶ μόνης <ταύτης> τῆς ἀδικίας τὸν θεὸν δεκετῆ καὶ χιλιετῆ τάξαι τὴν τιμωρίαν, χρησμῳδήσαντα τήν τε τῆς Τροίας ἅλωσιν καὶ

τὴν τῶν παρθένων ἀποστολὴν παρὰ τῶν Λοκρῶν εἰς τὸ τῆς ᾿Αθηνᾶς τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἱερόν. παρεκάλει δὲ τοὺς νεανίσκους καὶ πρὸς τὴν παιδείαν, ἐνθυμεῖσθαι κελεύων ὡς ἄτοπον ἂν εἴη πάντων μὲν σπουδαιότατον κρίνειν τὴν διάνοιαν καὶ ταύτῃ βουλεύεσθαι περὶ τῶν ἄλλων, εἰς δὲ τὴν ἄσκησιν τὴν ταύτης μηδένα χρόνον μηδὲ πόνον ἀνηλωκέναι, καὶ ταῦτα τῆς μὲν τῶν σωμάτων ἐπιμελείας τοῖς φαύλοις τῶν φίλων ὁμοιουμένης καὶ ταχέως ἀπολειπούσης, τῆς δὲ παιδείας καθάπερ οἱ καλοὶ κἀγαθοὶ τῶν ἀνδρῶν μέχρι θανάτου παραμενούσης, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν ἀθάνατον δόξαν περιποιούσης.

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