Creative Acts: “The Shifters”, A Free Movie Plot on the Parthenon Marbles

Turns out, someone already thought of this:

 

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Racists Use This Fake Quote From Aristotle

“Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society”

The character of this quotation is alien to Aristotle and ancient Greek ideas including using “tolerance” in this way and “dying society” (see the quora discussion). I poked around a bit through Aristotle, changing some of the ideas (an ancient Greek might think of “sick” or “corrupt” society”) but there is nothing close to this.

While searching, I found the variation “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” attributed to Dr. James Kennedy (an Evangelical preacher) and then Hutton Gibson (father of Mel Gibson and Holocaust Denier). Some of the mis-translations and fake translations can be found in quote books from the 19th century. This one does not appear in any books older than a decade or so and mostly in self-published racist texts whose titles and authors I will not print.

One need only a little familiarity with the discourse of modern politics to hear echoes of right-wing alarmism here. As a Reddit commenter notes, this one seems used to target multiculturalism and support a supremacist world view. Don’t google this to see how people use it, because it will be upsetting. A reddit user did point to the Loeb translation of Politics:

“Also difference of race is a cause of faction, until harmony of spirit is reached; for just as any chance multitude of people does not form a state, so a state is not formed in any chance period of time. ” (Politics Book 5 section 1303a)

Aristotle, Politics 1303a27-30

“Not being of the same tribe is a cause of strife until they “breathe in sync” [breathe together? Sumpneusê], for just as a state does not develop from an accidental mob, so too it does not come together at an accidental time.”

στασιωτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ μὴ ὁμόφυλον, ἕως ἂν συμπνεύσῃ· ὥσπερ γὰρ οὐδ᾿ ἐκ τοῦ τυχόντος πλήθους πόλις γίγνεται, οὕτως οὐδ᾿ ἐν τῷ τυχόντι χρόνῳ. διὸ ὅσοι ἤδη συνοίκους ἐδέξαντο ἢ ἐποίκους οἱ πλεῖστοι ἐστασίασαν

It is easy to take this passage as supporting a racist point of view; I think that it probably is kind of racist, but it connects more with the Greek political idea of homophrosune or homonoia, that a unifying feature of a multiple people must be shared beliefs or aims. Also, rather than focusing on the first clause (the same tribe thing) note the trouble focus on “accident”: states cannot just happen. They need planning, work and a reason to be.

(Also, homonoia is not unproblematic, but at least it leaves open the idea that people who look different can join together in common cause. Maybe that is a pretty low bar, but it is as far from the texts using this fake quote as Olympos is from Tartaros.)

But, don’t fear, I am not going to defend Aristotle here. He can be plenty hateful. The point is, he did not say this stupid thing. And, further, there’s plenty of material he actually did say which is reprehensible. So, why be so lazy and recycle some nonsense from an American preacher?

LSJ Supneu

 

Meme Police: A Collection of things Aristotle Did Not Say

This is likely to be an ongoing list. If you have any additions, explanations, or counterclaims, leave a comment and we will integrate it. The Kiwi Hellenist has started a blog for some other authors.

1. “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”

This is probably a willful twisting of something from the Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1, 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

2. “A Whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

This really popular misattribution may be a poor translation of the Metaphysics

Aristotle, Metaphysics 8.6 [=1045a]

“For however many things have a plurality of parts and are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts, there is some cause of it since even in bodies, for some the fact that the there is contact is the cause of a unity/oneness while for others there is viscosity or some other characteristic of this sort.

πάντων γὰρ ὅσα πλείω μέρη ἔχει καὶ μή ἐστιν οἷον σωρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἀλλ᾿ ἔστι τι τὸ ὅλον παρὰ τὰ μόρια, ἔστι τι αἴτιον, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐν τοῖς σώμασι τοῖς μὲν ἁφὴ αἰτία τοῦ ἓν εἶναι, τοῖς δὲ γλισχρότης ἤ τι πάθος ἕτερον τοιοῦτον.

3. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” [and many variations thereof]

This one has absolutely no basis. Aristotle says many things about education, this just ain’t one of them.

4. “We are What we repeatedly do. Excellence is an act, not a habit.”

This one is has likely slipped into the Internet Aristotle Quotarium from Will Durant’s misconstruing of the Nicomachean Ethics. Indeed, this has been debunked more than a few times. Here’s another version: “Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.” there are many variants

Here’s the closest Aristotle actually gets:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

5. “Knowing Yourself is the Beginning of all Wisdom”

No. I don’t even need to look this up. No. No. No. This is a version of the Delphic Oracles “know thyself” Γνῶθι σαυτόν. At least attribute it to Plato or Aristotle something. Or do what Diogenes Laertius does at give it to Pittakos (1.79.10)

6. “Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”

This is almost Aristotle. It is mostly Francis Bacon (‘Essays’, XXVII “On Friendship” (1612, rewritten 1625). Aristotle said something not to far off, but still not this

Aristotle, Politics 1.2 1253a25–30

“It is clear that the state is naturally prior to each individual person. If each person when separated is not sufficient on his own, just as other parts are to the whole while a person who is incapable of joining commonwealth or does not need any part of a state because of self-sufficiency is either a beast or a god.”

ὅτι μὲν οὖν ἡ πόλις καὶ φύσει πρότερον ἢ ἕκαστος, δῆλον. εἰ γὰρ μὴ αὐτάρκης ἕκαστος χωρισθείς, ὁμοίως τοῖς ἄλλοις μέρεσιν ἕξει πρὸς τὸ ὅλον, ὁ δὲ μὴ δυνάμενος κοινωνεῖν ἢ μηθὲν δεόμενος δι᾿ αὐτάρκειαν οὐθὲν μέρος πόλεως, ὥστε ἢ θηρίον ἢ θεός.

7. “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”

This is total super-capitalist, corporate double-speak nonsense. It does not even remotely sound like Aristotle. I am not sure where it comes from and I cannot find it debunked, but I will keep looking.

8. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

This one is likely a mistranslation or an attribution of a lost saying by Seneca in On Tranquility of mind. But I can’t really justify that by what I have found in the Seneca. Regardless, this is more neo-capitalist nonsense. I have a hard time believing this is anywhere in Aristotle.

A few twitter correspondents responded that this sounds a little bit like the end of the Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle writes “pleasure brings completion to an activity” ( τελειοῖ δὲ τὴν ἐνέργειαν ἡδονή, 1174b). I will not claim that this sounds nothing like the apocryphal translation above, but I will insist that in its context, Aristotle’s comment has nothing to do with “work” in the way it is construed, but instead this is about aesthetic pleasure. The worst version of this meme is this terrible, no-good, evil version:

Note the double emphasis on work? This is the kind of poster a middle manager puts up to ‘motivate’ his underpaid minions before he drives home in his Porsche….

9. “Well-begun is half done”

This is not really Aristotle. The idea is proverbial even when it is kind of quoted by Aristotle. But these words belong to someone else. Here is as close as Aristotle gets:

Aristotle, Politics 5, 1303b

“For the mistake happens in the beginning and the beginning is said to be half of the whole, so that even a minor mistake at the beginning is equal to those made at different stages.”

ἐν ἀρχῇ γὰρ γίγνεται τὸ ἁμάρτημα, ἡ δ᾿ ἀρχὴ λέγεται ἥμισυ εἶναι παντός, ὥστε καὶ τὸ ἐν αὐτῇ μικρὸν ἁμάρτημα ἀνάλογόν ἐστι πρὸς τὰ ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις μέρεσιν.

This particular quotation comes from the Benjamin Jowett translation and is replicated on the wikiquote site. Aristotle in phrasing this as “it is said” (λέγεται) is marking the line as a proverb. Horace’s “The one who has begun has completed half the task.” dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet (Epistle 1.2) is closer to the popular version. Hesiod has “fool does not know that half is greater than the whole” ( Νήπιοι οὐδ’ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός:)

10. “The more you know the more you know you don’t know”

(yes, Pinterest). This is clearly a retread of Plato’s Apology 27d: “I think that I am wiser by this very small bit: I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know.” ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.

11. “To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man. Or, think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do.” 

this shows up a lot in business oriented and inspirational self-help tomes. This does not sound like Aristotle at all. I can’t find anything remotely close to this. Any challengers? (see also the shortened “Think like a wise man, Talk like the common people.”

Image result for To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man. Or, think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do." ~ Aristotle

12. “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness”

This is another indirect attribution that probably comes from Seneca De Tranquilitate Animi 10 (“or [believe] Aristotle that there was never any great genius without a tincture of insanity”. sive Aristoteli nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit). So, it is almost Aristotle, except that we do not have it in any of Aristotle’s extant works (and ancient authors like Seneca, Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius are not beyond making quotes up or misattributing them).

Aristotle does talk about poetry and madness in the Poetics and in his Problems.

Image result for "No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness. aristotle

  1. “Memory is the scribe of the soul”

Ugh. “scribe”? Soul? This one sounds like it a misunderstanding or a fabrication made to sound old-fashioned.

This seems to become really popular at the end of the 19th century where it makes its way into quotation books (Pearls of Thought by Martin Ballou, 1892; Pensnylvania School Journal 42; James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations 1899). This seems off to me and I cannot find a passage to match it. Since there is no work or passage attached to any version of this quotation and there is not even a discussion of it on places like wikiquote, I feel pretty confident calling this one false until someone tells me otherwise.

14. “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

I really did not need to look this one up. The tone of self-help encouragement motivating this quote is really not Aristotelian. I think this might be one of the clearest offenders. But, its essential badness made me google it. This line is often misattributed to Buddha–but it is often attributed to Aristotle…Onassis. So this meme is a new variation on an old virus. I fear we might already be too late

15. “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society”

The character of this quotation is alien to Aristotle and ancient Greek ideas including using “tolerance” in this way and “dying society” (see the quora discussion). I poked around a bit through Aristotle, changing some of the ideas (an ancient Greek might think of “sick” or “corrupt” society”) but there is nothing close to this.

While searching, I found the variation “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” attributed to Dr. James Kennedy (an Evangelical preacher) and then Hutton Gibson (father of Mel Gibson and Holocaust Denier). Some of the mis-translations and fake translations can be found in quote books from the 19th century. This one does not appear in any books older than a decade or so and mostly in self-published racist texts whose titles and authors I will not print.

15. “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

This one is easy. Wikiquote has already debunked it. But the content of the quote as well as its form should be a warning anyway. The final triplet is not really Aristotelian, but it is almost imaginably Greek. This is alleged to come from Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys to the Houses of American Statesmen, but that provides only the second half.

 

16. “The end of labor is to gain leisure.”

This shows up in Tyron Edwards’ A Dictionary of Thoughts in 1909, Century Illustrated Magazine, also from 1909. And then it just keeps on keeping on. This may be Aristotelian, but as far as I can find, it is not really Aristotle.

There are ideas that seem akin to this in Aristotle: in Nicomachean Ethics, for example, he says “[because], happiness seems to reside in leisure, we labor [sacrifice leisure] so that we may have leisure” δοκεῖ τε ἡ εὐδαιμονία ἐν τῇ σχολῇ εἶναι, ἀσχολούμεθα γὰρ ἵνα σχολάζωμεν (1177b). And Aristotle talks a lot about leisure as being desirable and “although leisure and business are both necessary, leisure is more fully an end than business” (εἰ γὰρ ἄμφω μὲν δεῖ, μᾶλλον δὲ αἱρετὸν τὸ σχολάζειν τῆς ἀσχολίας καὶ τέλος, 1337b33-35). Earlier, he repeats the phrase that “business is for the sake of leisure” (ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς), in a series of nearly Orwellian paradoxes: “war is for the sake of peace, business for the sake of leisure, and necessary and useful things are for the sake of the good.” (πόλεμον μὲν εἰρήνης χάριν, ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς, τὰ δ᾿ ἀναγκαῖα καὶ χρήσιμα τῶν καλῶν ἕνεκεν,1333c35-37).

So, for this one, I think we have a bit of an elaborated translation of an essentially Aristotelian idea. But, still, he didn’t really say this—Aristotle is perfectly capable of saying that the telos of a thing is another thing. Where he mentions telos in conjunction with leisure, he writes that leisure itself is an end on its own more than business [read: ‘labor’] is. This is a rather different notion than saying that one is the end of the other.

 

17. “It is unbecoming for a young man to use maxims.”

Eh, yeah. He kind of said this. But what he meant was…ugh.

Image result for aristotle sad bust
Why? Why?

18. “To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.”

This is another one of those lines that is so clearly Un-Aristolelian to anyone who has read a little bit of Aristotle that it seems absurd someone would attribute it to the Stagirite. But, spend a little time lurking on pinterest and inspirational meme-o-ramas, and you’ll find Aristotle and Plato carrying a lot of weight.

This one was attributed to ‘anonymous’ only as recently as last year. Let’s all work together to try to make it stop. Right. Now.

19. “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self

There is some actual Greek for this one (“Aνδρειότερος εἶναι μοί δοκεῖ ὂ τῶν ἐπιθυμῶν ἢ τῶν πολεμίων κρατῶν καὶ γὰρ χαλεπώτατόν ἐστι τὸ ἑαυτόν νικῆσαι) but the manuscript tradition is a little crazy. Basically, this is from multiple levels of quotebook traditions and is probably not Aristotle. It is, also, not really Aristotelian. The short story? It was added to one edition of Stobaeus’ Florilegium because it sounded a little like a quotation from Democritus. I have the story here.

20. “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”

This popular meme has its roots in the deep past…of the 1970s (that’s CE, just to clear up any confusion). Wikiquote suggests it is a mistaken summary or expansion of a section of the Politics but I think it is just modern partisan posturing.

21. “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim of human existence.”

I mean, this is kind of the whole aim and purpose of the Nicomachean Ethics, but this is not a quotation of a translation of it. It is just the kind of vanilla summary that an English Professor might give of the text in some lecture just before the world ends on the SyFy network. This is Helen-Cylon level fake.

The Greeks Were Poetic Thieves (or, Clement Doesn’t Get Poetry)

Clement of Alexandria was an early church father who wrote a book of miscellany entitled the Stromata (“turnings”). In book 6, he takes on Greek plagiarism.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata book 6.2 (Go here for a full translation of this masterpiece)

“Come on, let us put forth the Greeks as witnesses against themselves for their theft. For when they steal their material from one another they show that they are thieves and they illustrate, even if unwillingly, how they secretly expropriate the truth from us to their own tribes. If they do not spare themselves, they will hardly spare us.

I will not mention the beliefs of philosophers, since they all agree  in writing—lest they appear ungrateful—that they have gathered the precepts of their beliefs from those that hold the greatest authority through Socrates.

Once I have offered a few testimonies of the authors most famous and most frequented among the greats and I have unveiled their thieving ways—and after I have done this through a few periods—I will turn to what remains.”

After Orpheus wrote “There is nothing more doglike and frightening than a woman” and Homer wrote in the same way “there is nothing more dreadful and doglike than a woman”. After Musaios wrote “Since craft is much better than strength”, Homer wrote “the woodcutter is much better by wit than by force”.

Again, after Musaios wrote:

In the same way that the fertile field grows plants,
Some fall from the ash-trees and in turn others grow.
So too the tribe and race of man twists and turns.

And then Homer wrote later

The wind makes some leaves fall to the ground and tree
Blooms and grows others, when the spring’s season comes
That’s the way it is with the race of men: one grows, another dies.

And after Homer said: “It ain’t right to boast over men who have been killed.” Arkhilokhos and Kratinos said, “it is not noble to brag over men who have died.”

φέρε μάρτυρας τῆς κλοπῆς αὐτοὺς καθ’ ἑαυτῶν παραστήσωμεν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας· οἱ γὰρ τὰ οἰκεῖα οὕτως ἄντικρυς παρ’ ἀλλήλων ὑφαιρούμενοι βεβαιοῦσι μὲν τὸ κλέπται εἶναι, σφετερίζεσθαι δ’ ὅμως καὶ ἄκοντες τὴν παρ’ ἡμῶν ἀλήθειαν εἰς τοὺς
ὁμοφύλους λάθρᾳ διαδείκνυνται. οἱ γὰρ μηδὲ ἑαυτῶν, σχολῇ γ’ ἂν τῶν ἡμετέρων ἀφέξονται. καὶ τὰ μὲν κατὰ φιλοσοφίαν σιωπήσομαι δόγματα, αὐτῶν ὁμολογούντων ἐγγράφως τῶν τὰς αἱρέσεις διανεμομένων, ὡς μὴ ἀχάριστοι ἐλεγχθεῖεν, παρὰ Σωκράτους εἰληφέναι τὰ κυριώτατα τῶν δογμάτων. ὀλίγοις δὲ τῶν καθωμιλημένων καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ῞Ελλησιν εὐδοκίμων ἀνδρῶν χρησάμενος μαρτυρίοις, τὸ κλεπτικὸν διελέγξας εἶδος αὐτῶν, ἀδιαφόρως τοῖς χρόνοις καταχρώμενος, ἐπὶ τὰ ἑξῆς τρέψομαι.

᾿Ορφέως τοίνυν ποιήσαντος·
ὣς οὐ κύντερον ἦν καὶ ῥίγιον ἄλλο γυναικός,
῞Ομηρος ἄντικρυς λέγει·
ὣς οὐκ αἰνότερον καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο γυναικός.
Γράψαντός τε Μουσαίου·
ὡς αἰεὶ τέχνη μέγ’ ἀμείνων ἰσχύος ἐστίν,
῞Ομηρος λέγει
μήτι τοι δρυτόμος περιγίνεται ἠὲ βίηφι.

clemensvonalexandrien

Πάλιν τοῦ Μουσαίου ποιήσαντος·
ὡς δ’ αὔτως καὶ φύλλα φύει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα·
ἄλλα μὲν ἐν μελίῃσιν ἀποφθίνει, ἄλλα δὲ φύει·
ὣς δὲ καὶ ἀνθρώπων γενεὴν καὶ φῦλον ἑλίσσει.
῞Ομηρος μεταγράφει·
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει, ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.
Πάλιν δ’ αὖ ῾Ομήρου εἰπόντος·
οὐχ ὁσίη κταμένοισιν ἐπ’ ἀνδράσιν εὐχετάασθαι,
᾿Αρχίλοχός τε καὶ Κρατῖνος γράφουσιν, ὃ μέν·
οὐ γὰρ ἐσθλὰ κατθανοῦσι κερτομεῖν ἐπ’ ἀνδράσιν,
Κρατῖνος δὲ ἐν τοῖς Λάκωσι·
φοβερὸν ἀνθρώποις τόδ’ αὖ,
κταμένοις ἐπ’ αἰζηοῖσι[ν] καυχᾶσθαι μέγα.
Αὖθίς τε ὁ ᾿Αρχίλοχος τὸ ῾Ομηρικὸν ἐκεῖνο μεταφέρων·
ἀασάμην, οὐδ’ αὐτὸς ἀναίνομαι· ἀντί νυ πολλῶν, ὧδέ πως γράφει·
ἤμβλακον, καί πού τινα ἄλλον ἥδ’ ἄτη κιχήσατο·

“The Equal of Living Heroes”: Sparta’s Counterfeit Myth

Plutarch, Apophthegmata Lakonica 225 c11-12

“When Xerxes wrote again, “send me your weapons”, [Leonidas] wrote back, “Come and take them”

Πάλιν δὲ τοῦ Ξέρξου γράψαντος ‘πέμψον τὰ ὅπλα’, ἀντέγραψε ‘μολὼν λαβέ.’

The remarkable and tireless Dr. Sarah Bond has composed a piece for Eidolon  about the appropriation of Spartan iconography and values in the modern world (“This Is Not Sparta: Why the Modern Romance with Sparta is a Bad One”). If you live in Europe, the coasts in the US or some other blissful bubble, you may be unaware of the fact that the motto μολὼν λαβέ now adorns weapons and military gear of all kinds and is a favorite of certain right-wing political affiliations.

(When people hear I teach ancient Greek and tell me they love Sparta, I take the same deep breath I take when others ask about ‘Ancient Aliens’ or Atlantis. ‘Sparta’ is a production of modern culture as much as ancient. Every time I have taught the Peloponnesian War I found myself hoping it might turn out different this time…)

Dr. Bond does a great job out outlining the sordid modern history of the appropriation of Spartan ideals. But she is especially good at pointing out “A problematic area for valorizing the Spartans lies not only in quoting their famously short (and often witty) turns of phrase and turning them into bumper stickers, but rather in also looking to the Hellenistic culture as a socio-political model for our own society.

In addition to the eugenics, racism, and fascism at home on this constellation of beliefs, there is this: Sparta was a militarized state which enslaved its neighbors and produced little of worth for the world beyond a mythologized memory of a great fighting force.

When it comes to everything else for which we prize ancient Greece, Sparta was terribly and completely deficient. Tragedy, Epic poetry, lyric poetry, visual art, vases, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science, history, rhetoric, everything Western cultural chauvinist champion about the ‘Greek miracle’* developed every where else in Greece.

Read Bond’s piece. It is a good one. Also, Neville Morely’s post on the use of Sparta by the far right is also a must-read.

And, here are some selections from Spartan ‘culture’.

*These are scare quotes. Even as a Hellenist I do not believe in this terminology. I find it ironic, however, that those who do still cleave to the example of Sparta which is, in many ways, antithetical to ‘core Western values’.

Sparta left some martial poetry. It is, well, uninspiring.

Tyrtaeus, Fr. 10.1-2

“It is a fine thing when a noble man falls
In the first ranks while struggling for his country.”

τεθνάμεναι γὰρ καλὸν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι πεσόντα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν περὶ ἧι πατρίδι μαρνάμενον·

Tytaeus, fr. 11.5-8

“Make your life hateful and make the dark fates
Of death as dear as the rays of the sun.
For you know the destructive deeds of much-wept Ares
And you have learned well the fury of fierce war.”

ἐχθρὴν μὲν ψυχὴν θέμενος, θανάτου δὲ μελαίνας
κῆρας αὐγαῖς ἠελίοιο φίλας.
ἴστε γὰρ ὡς ῎Αρεος πολυδακρύου ἔργ’ ἀΐδηλα,
εὖ δ’ ὀργὴν ἐδάητ’ ἀργαλέου πολέμου

Callinus 1. 12-21

“There’s no way for a man to avoid death once it is fated,
Not even if he is a descendant of the immortal gods.
Often when someone has fled strife and the din of spears
Death’s fate will find him at home.
The unsteady man isn’t dear to the people or longed for,
They grieve for him a little even if he suffers something great.
But the whole host misses a strong-hearted man when he dies
A man the equal of living heroes.
They look at him like a tower before their eyes_
He does work of many though he is just one.”

οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ’, οὐδ’ εἰ προγόνων ἦι γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ’ οἴκωι μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου,
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμωι φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός
τὸν δ’ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας ἤν τι πάθηι·
λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

The most famous epigram associated with Sparta was not composed by a Spartan:

Simonides, Epigram (Greek Anthology,7.249): An Epitaph at Thermopylae

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Aelian, 13.19

“Cleomenes the Laconian asserted—in the manner of Spartans—that Homer was a Spartan poet because he spoke about the right way to go to war and that Hesiod was the Helot’s poet, since he talks about how best to farm.”

῎Ελεγεν ὁ Κλεομένης Λακωνικῶς κατὰ τὸν ἐπιχώριον τρόπον τὸν ῞Ομηρον Λακεδαιμονίων εἶναι ποιητήν, ὡς χρὴ πολεμεῖν λέγοντα· τὸν δὲ ῾Ησίοδον τῶν Εἱλώτων, λέγοντα ὡς χρὴ γεωργεῖν.

Some Sayings Attributed to Spartans in the Gnomologicum Vaticanum

69 “When Agesilaos was asked by someone why Sparta was unwalled he said “don’t lie. It is walled not by stones but by its occupants’ excellence.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί ἀτείχιστός ἐστιν ἡ Σπάρτη, „μὴ ψεύδου”, ἔφη, „τετείχισται γάρ, οὐ λίθοις, ἀλλὰ ταῖς τῶν <ἐνοικούντων ἀρεταῖς>”.

394 “When a Spartan man was asked why the Spartans have small spears he said “because they fight close to the enemy”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ ἐρωτώμενος διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι μικρὰ ἔχουσι τὰ ἐγχειρίδια εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἐγγύθεν τοῖς πολεμίοις μάχονται”.

396 “To someone asking why Spartans foster brevity of speech, a Spartan man said “because it is closest to silence”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα αὐτῷ· „διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν βραχυλογίαν ἀσκοῦσιν;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἔγγιστά ἐστι τοῦ σιωπᾶν”.

Sayings Attributed to Spartan Women, 568-576

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

Image result for ancient Greek spartan shield

The Greeks Were Poetic Thieves (or, Clement Doesn’t Get Poetry)

Clement of Alexandria was an early church father who wrote a book of miscellany entitled the Stromata (“turnings”). In book 6, he takes on Greek plagiarism.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata book 6.2 (Go here for a full translation of this masterpiece)

“Come on, let us put forth the Greeks as witnesses against themselves for their theft. For when they steal their material from one another they show that they are thieves and they illustrate, even if unwillingly, how they secretly expropriate the truth from us to their own tribes. If they do not spare themselves, they will hardly spare us.

I will not mention the beliefs of philosophers, since they all agreeing in writing—lest they appear ungrateful—that they have gathered the precepts of their beliefs from those that hold the greatest authority through Socrates.

Once I have offered a few testimonies of the authors most famous and most frequented among the greats and I have unveiled their thieving ways—and after I have done this through a few periods—I will turn to what remains.”

After Orpheus wrote “There is nothing more doglike and frightening than a woman” and Homer wrote in the same way “there is nothing more dreadful and doglike than a woman”. After Musaios wrote “Since craft is much better than strength”, Homer wrote “the woodcutter is much better by wit than by force”.

Again, after Musaios wrote:

In the same way that the fertile field grows plants,
Some fall from the ash-trees and in turn others grow.
So too the tribe and race of man twists and turns.

And then Homer wrote later

The wind makes some leaves fall to the ground and tree
Blooms and grows others, when the spring’s season comes
That’s the way it is with the race of men: one grows, another dies.

And after Homer said: “It ain’t right to boast over men who have been killed.” Arkhilokhos and Kratinos said, “it is not noble to brag over men who have died.”

φέρε μάρτυρας τῆς κλοπῆς αὐτοὺς καθ’ ἑαυτῶν παραστήσωμεν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας· οἱ γὰρ τὰ οἰκεῖα οὕτως ἄντικρυς παρ’ ἀλλήλων ὑφαιρούμενοι βεβαιοῦσι μὲν τὸ κλέπται εἶναι, σφετερίζεσθαι δ’ ὅμως καὶ ἄκοντες τὴν παρ’ ἡμῶν ἀλήθειαν εἰς τοὺς
ὁμοφύλους λάθρᾳ διαδείκνυνται. οἱ γὰρ μηδὲ ἑαυτῶν, σχολῇ γ’ ἂν τῶν ἡμετέρων ἀφέξονται. καὶ τὰ μὲν κατὰ φιλοσοφίαν σιωπήσομαι δόγματα, αὐτῶν ὁμολογούντων ἐγγράφως τῶν τὰς αἱρέσεις διανεμομένων, ὡς μὴ ἀχάριστοι ἐλεγχθεῖεν, παρὰ Σωκράτους εἰληφέναι τὰ κυριώτατα τῶν δογμάτων. ὀλίγοις δὲ τῶν καθωμιλημένων καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ῞Ελλησιν εὐδοκίμων ἀνδρῶν χρησάμενος μαρτυρίοις, τὸ κλεπτικὸν διελέγξας εἶδος αὐτῶν, ἀδιαφόρως τοῖς χρόνοις καταχρώμενος, ἐπὶ τὰ ἑξῆς τρέψομαι.

᾿Ορφέως τοίνυν ποιήσαντος·
ὣς οὐ κύντερον ἦν καὶ ῥίγιον ἄλλο γυναικός,
῞Ομηρος ἄντικρυς λέγει·
ὣς οὐκ αἰνότερον καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο γυναικός.
Γράψαντός τε Μουσαίου·
ὡς αἰεὶ τέχνη μέγ’ ἀμείνων ἰσχύος ἐστίν,
῞Ομηρος λέγει
μήτι τοι δρυτόμος περιγίνεται ἠὲ βίηφι.

clemensvonalexandrien

Πάλιν τοῦ Μουσαίου ποιήσαντος·
ὡς δ’ αὔτως καὶ φύλλα φύει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα·
ἄλλα μὲν ἐν μελίῃσιν ἀποφθίνει, ἄλλα δὲ φύει·
ὣς δὲ καὶ ἀνθρώπων γενεὴν καὶ φῦλον ἑλίσσει.
῞Ομηρος μεταγράφει·
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει, ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.
Πάλιν δ’ αὖ ῾Ομήρου εἰπόντος·
οὐχ ὁσίη κταμένοισιν ἐπ’ ἀνδράσιν εὐχετάασθαι,
᾿Αρχίλοχός τε καὶ Κρατῖνος γράφουσιν, ὃ μέν·
οὐ γὰρ ἐσθλὰ κατθανοῦσι κερτομεῖν ἐπ’ ἀνδράσιν,
Κρατῖνος δὲ ἐν τοῖς Λάκωσι·
φοβερὸν ἀνθρώποις τόδ’ αὖ,
κταμένοις ἐπ’ αἰζηοῖσι[ν] καυχᾶσθαι μέγα.
Αὖθίς τε ὁ ᾿Αρχίλοχος τὸ ῾Ομηρικὸν ἐκεῖνο μεταφέρων·
ἀασάμην, οὐδ’ αὐτὸς ἀναίνομαι· ἀντί νυ πολλῶν, ὧδέ πως γράφει·
ἤμβλακον, καί πού τινα ἄλλον ἥδ’ ἄτη κιχήσατο·

Some Divergent Greek Views on Heroes: Pluralism in Ancient Poetry

Pindar Olympian 2.2

“What god, what hero and what man will we celebrate?”

τίνα θεόν, τίν’ ἥρωα, τίνα δ’ ἄνδρα κελαδήσομεν;

 

The Greeks have left us some evidence for attitudes about heroes that might surprise some modern readers. The line from Pindar above is a classic account of the hero as a mid-point between man and god, sharing in both worlds but truly part of neither.

One of the things that is different from our usage is that Greek heroes represent, in some readings, a particular generation in time (the race before ours, according to Hesiod in the Works and Days). And this race of heroes whose trials and tribulations give us so many myths included men and women, as the poet Corinna would remind us:

 

Corinna, fr.644 (Apollonius Dyskolus, Pronouns)

“I sing of the virtues of heroes and heroines.”

ἱώνει δ᾿ εἱρώων ἀρετὰς / χεἰρωάδων

 

This ‘race’ of heroes was appropriated to different contexts to different ends. As in our modern world, ‘heroes’ were sometimes portrayed as defenders of men and protectors of the community—and to an extent this is how they feature in the martial poetry of Kallinos of Sparta:

 

Kallinos, Fr. 1.18-21

“The loss is felt by the whole country when a brave man dies,
A man the equal of heroes;
Someone they see as a fortress before their eyes;
Someone who does the work of many even when alone.”

 

λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

 

But the Greeks, like everyone throughout time, were far from unanimous in their opinions about heroes. In the fragments of early comedy, for example, heroes are singled out for that which is their nature: being singled out, and different:

 

Myrtilus, fr. 2 (Titan-pans; Scholia to Aristophanes’ Birds)

“Heroes get ornery and mean when people get too close.”

οἵ ἥρωες δὲ δυσόργητοι καὶ χαλεποὶ τοῖς ἐμπελάζουσι γίνονται

 

And even in early epic, what it means to be a hero is at play. The Iliad and the Odyssey give very different versions of what it means to be heroic (and they oscillate among differing visions in the same narrative. Other epic fragments play with the debates offered in the Homeric poems.

 

Panyasis fr. 12K (=16 Benarbe) 8-9

“I would make the fame of the man who enjoys himself at the feast equal to the one earned by commanding the rest of the army.”

τοῦ κεν ἐγὼ θείμην ἶσον κλέος, ὅς τ’ ἐνὶ δαιτὶ
τέρπηται παρεὼν ἅμα τ’ ἄλλον λαὸν ἀνώγῃ

 

In part, the exploration of what it means to be a hero is a further step in the definition of what it means to be a man, to be a human being, and to live together as people in a city. One of the things that both the Iliad and the Odyssey dramatize is the danger that their heroes can both fend off and cause to their people. This was probably a current in the thought of early Greek philosophers and poets.

 

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

By the time of Classical Athens, it was clear that the outsized ambitions (and honors) of individuals could be undermining to the state. Herein lies the quandary: cities need great men to protect them, but their very strengths often bring ruin. This is dramatized in the heroic myths from Herakles through Odysseus and explored as well in Athenian tragedy.

 

And to end, some random, confusing samples:

 

 

Euripides, fr. 237 (Archelaus)

 

“A young man ought to be bold always,
Since no laid-back man becomes famous.
Work gives birth to a good reputation.”

 

νεανίαν γὰρ ἄνδρα χρὴ τολμᾶν ἀεί·
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ὢν ῥᾴθυμος εὐκλεὴς ἀνήρ,
ἀλλ’ οἱ πόνοι τίκτουσι τὴν εὐδοξίαν.

 

 

Euripides, fr. 257 (Archelaus)

 

“A rash heart and a limited mind
Has destroyed many men: dual evils for whoever has them.”

 

πολλοὺς δ’ ὁ θυμὸς ὁ μέγας ὤλεσεν βροτῶν
ἥ τ’ ἀξυνεσία, δύο κακὼ τοῖς χρωμένοις.

 

 

Euripides, fr. 275 (Auge)

 

“Pray that all who rejoice in tyranny,
Or in some small monarchy in their city, die terribly.
The name ‘freedom’ is worth everything—
Even if he possesses a little, a man who has this is considered great.”

 

κακῶς δ’ ὄλοιντο πάντες οἳ τυραννίδι
χαίρουσιν ὀλίγῃ τ’ ἐν πόλει μοναρχίᾳ·
τοὐλεύθερον γὰρ ὄνομα παντὸς ἄξιον,
κἂν σμίκρ’ ἔχῃ τις, μεγάλ’ ἔχειν νομιζέτω.