Horrible Things Happen to Heraclitus on the Internet

This quotation appears

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It is marked as misattributed on wikiquote (where its original attestation seems to be Gabriel Suarez’s The Tactical Rifle, which assigns it to a certain Hericletus [sic]); Reddit has also marked it as a misquotation, although it assigns it to the apocryphal “Cynic Epistles” which were attributed to Heraclitus (this text is not available online as far as I can find; I have ordered it).

It is disturbing how popular this is as a meme: you can find it on quotefancy, pinterest, and way too many other places (it is of particular importance on sites that glorify firearms and snipers). Oh, it has also made the leap to popular history books, appearing in Paul B Bardunias’ and Fred Ray’s “Hoplites at War.”

To anyone who has read any of the extant fragments from Heraclitus, this is clearly not even remotely his style (here’s a cool site where you can find his fragments in Greek and translation). While it may be a bit too much to expect the internet to be familiar with Heraclitean obscurity, this passage sounds thoroughly and depressingly modern. It is not, of course, out of the character of Greek poetry to idolize a promakhos (the person who fights in front for his community), but phrasing and the “bring the others back” denouement is against the basic aesthetics of Greek martial poetry (see, for example, Callinus or Tyrtaeus). Of course, since all we have from Heraclitus is fragmentary, we are, as it were, in the dark.

Here’s one fragment that might work as inspiration:

Fr. 49 (103)

“One person is ten thousand to me, if he is the best.”

Εἷς ἐμοὶ μύριοι, ἐὰν ἄριστος ᾖ.

And here are a few more if we are looking for bellicose Pre-socratic quotations:

the best

Fr. 53 (44)

“War is father and king of everything. War proves some to be gods and others human beings; it makes some slaves and others free.”

Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς, καὶ τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς ἔδειξε τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους, τοὺς μὲν δούλους ἐποίησε τοὺς δὲ ἐλευθέρους.

Fr. 80 (72)

“One must know that war is common, that justice is strife, and that all things happen through strife by necessity”

εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τὸν πόλεμον ἐόντα ξυνόν, καὶ δίκην ἔριν, καὶ γινόμενα πάντα κατ’ ἔριν καὶ χρεών.

The text is problematic here, another version: Εἰδέναι χρὴ τὸν πόλεμον ἐόντα ξυνόν, καὶ δίκην ἔριν· καὶ γινόμενα πάντα κατ᾿ ἔριν καὶ †χρεώμενα†.

Fr. 48 (66)

“The bow’s name is life but its work is death.”

Τοῦ βιοῦ οὔνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος.

This version keeps the wordplay between biós (“bow”) and bíos (“life”). Another version obscures this punning:

βίος: τῶι οὖν τόξωι ὄνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος.

 

 

Advice for the Holidays — Mother, Zeno, and Apuleius Always Said: “Two Ears, One Mouth”

Now that the holiday season is upon us, hordes of Americans will brave weather and traffic to reunite with their families. This is the perfect moment for considering how to survive after the eating is done. Some advice from Zeno (and many others): “Two Ears, One Mouth,”

A few months back I reached out over twitter to Paul Holdengräber about his seven-word autobiography from Brainpickings.org‘s “The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians and Philosophers”. It had been in my head for a few days: “Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth.” 

I started out by having some fun putting the saying into Greek and enjoining others to do this in Latin and Greek verse.

I settled on this: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Armand D’Angour gave us a nice version in elegiac couplet:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

Armand added a Latin Elegiac couplet too!

en clarum est rerum ratio, nam invenimus aures
esse homini geminas, os tamen unicum adest.

But not to be completely left out, Gerrit Kloss joined in with his own version:

illud (vera patet ratio) tibi mente tenendum:
auribus est geminis, unius oris homo

While we we throwing these translations and links to Paul’s stories around online, we found that the saying had a much more complicated history than we’d originally imagined. Gerrit Kloss found it attributed to Zeno.

So, the quote I thought sounded Greek, turned out to be Greek. According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar (the full text is available on Perseus). And, honestly, without preening too much, I was happy that the version I settled on (μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα) wasn’t too different from the words attributed to Zeno: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν).

But the situation grew more complicated.

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