“Ability, Practice, and Time”: Some Ancient Sayings about Education

These sayings [‘Apophthegmata’] are drawn from the Gnomologium Vaticanum. Most are apocryphal.

 

24: “Aristippos used to say the he took money from students not in order to straighten their lives but how so they might learn to spend their money on fine things.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς παρὰ τῶν μαθητῶν λαμβάνειν ἔφασκε μισθόν, οὐχ ὅπως τὸν βίον ἐπανορθώσῃ, ἀλλ’ ὅπως ἐκεῖνοι μάθωσιν εἰς τὰ καλὰ δαπανᾶν.

 

50: “Aristotle said that education is a decoration for the lucky but a refuge for the unfortunate.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν παιδείαν εὐτυχοῦσι μὲν εἶναι κόσμον, ἀτυχοῦσι δὲ καταφύγιον.

 

87: “When he was asked whom he loved more, Phillip or Aristotle, Alexander said “both the same—for the first gave me the gift of life and the second taught me to live well.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνα μᾶλλον ἀγαπᾷ, Φίλιππον ἢ ᾿Αριστοτέλην, εἶπεν· „ὁμοίως ἀμφοτέρους· ὁ μὲν γάρ μοι τὸ ζῆν ἐχαρίσατο, ὁ δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν ἐπαίδευσεν.”

 

164: “Glukôn the philosopher called education a sacred refuge.”

Γλύκων ὁ φιλόσοφος τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἱερὸν ἄσυλον εἶναι.

 

259: “When Demetrios [of Phalerus] was asked what was the noblest of animals he said “A human adorned by education.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τί τῶν ζώων κάλλιστόν ἐστιν εἶπεν· „ἄνθρωπος παιδείᾳ κεκοσμημένος”.

 

302: “[Zeno the Stoic] used to say that education was sufficient for happiness”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν παιδείαν πρὸς εὐδαιμονίαν αὐτάρκη.

 

314: “Heraclitus used to say that learning is a second sun for the educated”

῾Ηράκλειτος τὴν παιδείαν ἕτερον ἥλιον εἶναι τοῖς πεπαιδευμένοις ἔλεγεν.

 

439: [Plato] used to say that someone being educated needs three things: ability, practice and time.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔλεγεν ὅτι ὁ παιδευόμενος τριῶν τούτων χρῄζει· φύσεως, μελέτης, χρόνου.

 

469: “[Protagoras] used to say “knowing a lot helps a lot and hurts a lot.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη· „πολυμαθίη κάρτα μὲν ὠφελέει, κάρτα δὲ βλάπτει”.

 

Democritus and Protagoras by Salvator Rosa

Great Authors Err Too!

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1.24-26

“Let the reader not be persuaded as a matter of course that everything the best authors said is perfect. For they slip at times, they give in to their burdens, and they delight in the pleasure of their own abilities. They do not always pay attention; and they often grow tired. Demosthenes seems to doze to Cicero; Homer naps for Horace. Truly, they are great, but they are still mortals and it happens that those who believe that whatever appears in these authors should be laws for speaking often imitate their lesser parts, since this is easier—and they believe they are enough like them if they emulate the faults of great authors.

Still, one must pass judgment on these men with modesty and care to avoid what often happens when people condemn what they do not understand. If it is necessary to err in either part, I would prefer readers to enjoy everything in these authors rather than dismiss much.”

Neque id statim legenti persuasum sit, omnia quae summi auctores dixerint utique esse perfecta. Nam et labuntur aliquando et oneri cedunt et indulgent ingeniorum suorum voluptati, nec semper intendunt animum, nonnumquam fatigantur, cum Ciceroni dormitare interim Demosthenes, Horatio vero etiam Homerus ipse videatur.  Summi enim sunt, homines tamen, acciditque iis qui quidquid apud illos reppererunt dicendi legem putant ut deteriora imitentur (id enim est facilius), ac se abunde similes putent si vitia magnorum consequantur. Modesto tamen et circumspecto iudicio de tantis viris pronuntiandum est, ne, quod plerisque accidit, damnent quae non intellegunt. Ac si necesse est in alteram errare partem, omnia eorum legentibus placere quam multa displicere maluerim.

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Statues and Canons

“You’re the carpenter’s square ” A proverb instead of a straight-rule [kanôn] and precise weight.”

Γνώμων εἶ: ἀντὶ τοῦ κανὼν καὶ ἀκριβὴς σταθμή.  Arsenius, 5.56f

 

What do we mean when we talk about a canon?

Over the past few years we have seen a return in public discourse to a question of “the canon”. To be honest, calling this a return is a bit dishonest because the issue has been central to discussions about public and university education, the rise and fall of the humanities, and the problematic (re)-construction of “western civilization” since the culture wars of the 1980s. Each iteration is a reactive reassertion in response to justified pressure to question the canon, to open it up, to break it down, and to make space for the majority of people some canons exclude.

One of the most frustrating things about this conversation is that reactions to disassembling or even questioning the canon are basically recycled spasms with different words. Today we hear panic about “cancel culture” and attacks on Aristotle or Homer. Such complaints present the canon as part history, part DNA, but almost always something which unites and forms us. Earlier conversations (e.g. the first period of Bloom) at least debated what belonged in this canon; the recent commentariat is mostly just enraged at the hubris of women and BIPOC students and scholars daring to ask serious questions instead of just imitating and emulating white scholars of old.

This post is already another tired rehearsal, but here’s where we can still do some work. Our discussions rarely ever follow some of the basic tenets of this so-called canon and start with definitions. What is a canon? How long have we had the canon.

In ancient Greek a kanôn is an instrument of measurement. It seems to have non-Greek origins.

Beekes canon

As fans of Robert Beekes will undoubtedly report, he often says that unclear roots are non-Greek in origin. The Mycenaean reflex demonstrates that the word—and perhaps the concept—was available in Greece long before the Classical period, so there’s an extent to which the ultimate etymological origins really don’t matter.

From the Archaic period on, we find the kanôn as a tool for measuring, a standard for building, and then, following the broader cultural discourse around the cognitive metaphor of crooked and straight, symbolic uses for right/just behavior and other kinds of rectitude. A clear and potentially ‘canonized version of this appears in Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, 1113a 29-1113b):

“The good person judges everything rightly, both how things seem and are in truth. For in each thing in particular there are noble and pleasing aspects and a good person differs most in being able to observe what is true for each thing, as if they are a kanôn and measure of these things. It seems that most people are deceived by pleasure. For even though it is not good, it seems to be so and they choose what is pleasing as good and they avoid what causes pain as an evil.”

ὁ σπουδαῖος γὰρ ἕκαστα κρίνει ὀρθῶς, καὶ ἐν ἑκάστοις τἀληθὲς αὐτῷ φαίνεται· καθ᾿ ἑκάστην γὰρ ἕξιν ἴδιά ἐστι καλὰ καὶ ἡδέα, καὶ διαφέρει πλεῖστον ἴσως ὁ σπουδαῖος τῷ τἀληθὲς ἐν ἑκάστοις ὁρᾶν, ὥσπερ κανὼν καὶ μέτρον αὐτῶν ὤν. τοῖς πολλοῖς δὲ ἡ ἀπάτη διὰ τὴν ἡδονὴν ἔοικε γίνεσθαι· οὐ γὰρ οὖσα ἀγαθὸν φαίνεται·αἱροῦνται οὖν τὸ ἡδὺ ὡς ἀγαθόν, τὴν δὲ λύπην ὡς κακὸν φεύγουσιν.

Here a philosophically informed person demonstrates the intelligence and wisdom—what some today might rephrase as taste or good sense—to judge a thing for its worth and to guide their behavior based on this. Of course, one might make the mistake of imagining that different folks might have different takes on what is pleasing and good. Aristotle addresses this elsewhere (On the Soul  411a):

“If the soul must be made out of the elements, it doesn’t need to be from all of them! It is enough for only one pair of opposites to judge itself and its counterpart. Thus we understand the straight and the crooked by the same method: the kanon is the test for them both—but neither the crooked nor the straight provides its own proof. Some might think that the soul is mixed up in everything, which is perhaps why Thales believed that everything was full of gods.”

εἴ τε δεῖ τὴν ψυχὴν ἐκ τῶν στοιχείων ποιεῖν, οὐθὲν δεῖ ἐξ ἁπάντων· ἱκανὸν γὰρ θάτερον μέρος τῆς ἐναντιώσεως ἑαυτό τε κρίνειν καὶ τὸ ἀντικείμενον. καὶ γὰρ τῷ εὐθεῖ καὶ αὐτὸ καὶ τὸ καμπύλον γινώσκομεν· κριτὴς γὰρ ἀμφοῖν ὁ κανών, τὸ δὲ καμπύλον οὔθ᾿ ἑαυτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ εὐθέος. καὶ ἐν τῷ ὅλῳ δέ τινες αὐτὴν μεμῖχθαί φασιν, ὅθεν ἴσως καὶ Θαλῆς ᾠήθη πάντα πλήρη θεῶν εἶναι. τοῦτο δ᾿ ἔχει τινὰς ἀπορίας

Here, he uses kanôn as a metaphor. As any amateur carpenter knows, just because something looks straight or level, does not mean that it is. This passage seems to imply that our soul or mind has the ability to judge things outside of it. But Aristotle makes how these kinds of judgments might work more interesting in a different passage (Nicomachean Ethics 1138a26-35):

“This is the nature of equity itself: it is a correction of the law where it is deficient because it is too general. This is the reason that not all things exist according to law: there are some cases in which it is impossible to establish a law so that we need some kind of vote. For the kanôn of the undefined can only be undefined itself. This is how it is with the lead kanôn used by builders in Lesbos. Just as that kanôn does not stay the same but is reshaped to the curve of a stone, so too a vote/ordinance is made to fit the affairs at hand.  This makes it clear what equitable is, that it is just, and that it is better than certain kinds of justice.”

καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ φύσις ἡ τοῦ ἐπιεικοῦς, ἐπανόρθωμα νόμου ᾗ ἐλλείπει διὰ τὸ καθόλου. τοῦτο γὰρ αἴτιον καὶ τοῦ μὴ πάντα κατὰ νόμον εἶναι, ὅτι περὶ ἐνίων ἀδύνατον θέσθαι νόμον, ὥστε ψηφίσματος δεῖ. τοῦ γὰρ ἀορίστου ἀόριστος καὶ ὁ κανών ἐστιν, ὥσπερ καὶ τῆς Λεσβίας οἰκοδομῆς ὁ μολίβδινος κανών· πρὸς γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ λίθου μετακινεῖται καὶ οὐ μένει ὁ κανών, καὶ τὸ ψήφισμα πρὸς τὰ πράγματα. τί μὲν οὖν ἐστὶ τὸ ἐπιεικές, καὶ ὅτι δίκαιον, καὶ τινὸς βέλτιον δικαίου, δῆλον.

In a passage one could argue is potentially revolutionary, Aristotle notes the slippage between descriptive measures and prescriptive measures and that standards of judgment will need to be changed for different circumstances, especially in search of what is equitable.

During the Roman imperial period, Dio Chrystosom calls law “a straight-edge [kanôn] for affairs, against which we must each align our own manner. Otherwise, we will be crooked and wrong.” (Ἔστι δὲ ὁ νόμος τοῦ βίου μὲν ἡγεμών, τῶν πόλεων δὲ ἐπιστάτης κοινός, τῶν δὲ πραγμάτων κανὼν δίκαιος, πρὸς ὃν ἕκαστον ἀπευθύνειν δεῖ τὸν αὑτοῦ τρόπον· εἰ δὲ μή, σκολιὸς ἔσται καὶ πονηρός, Discourse 75: On Law). Longinus echoes a similar use when he quotes Demosthenes’ On the Crown as complaining that those who betrayed their countries to Philip and then Alexander transgressed “the boundaries and measures [kanones] of all that the Greeks used to hold as good” (, ἃ τοῖς πρότερον Ἕλλησιν ὅροι τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἦσαν καὶ κανόνες, ἀνατετροφότες, Longinus, On the Sublime 1 32, quoting De Corona 96).

The idea of the kanôn as a thing we measure ourselves against overlaps with the philosophical notion of a kanôn as presenting rudimentary basics necessary for a discipline: Epicurus is said to have composed a Kanôn where he “says that our perceptions, preconceptions and feelings provide the criteria for truth. So, Epicureans also make perceptions of imagined ideas function in the same way” (ἐν τοίνυν τῷ Κανόνι λέγων ἐστὶν ὁ Ἐπίκουρος κριτήρια τῆς ἀληθείας εἶναι τὰς αἰσθήσεις καὶ προλήψεις καὶ τὰ πάθη, οἱ δ᾿ Ἐπικούρειοι καὶ τὰς φανταστικὰς ἐπιβολὰς τῆς διανοίας, Diogenes Laertius, Life of Epicurus 30). Such definitions are questioned by Sextus Empiricus as the “Kanon of the verifiable truth” (κανόνος τῆς κατ᾿ ἀλήθειαν τῶν πραγμάτων ὑπάρξεως,) which underlies the positions of Dogmatists and the subtraction of would undermine their belief system (Against the Logicians 1 27).

In philosophy, canonical principles of a discipline can also be extended to principles of canonical behavior, satirized by Lucian (Hermotimus 76):

“If you ever met the kind of Stoic who is at the peak, that kind who neither feels pain nor is attracted by pleasure and never feels anger, but is stronger than envy, looks down on wealth and is completely happy, we need some straight-edge and square for a life of virtue from this sort of person. If this stoic is imperfect in even the smallest way, even though possessing more of everything else, well then they’re not yet happy.”

εἴ τινι ἐντετύχηκας τοιούτῳ Στωϊκῷ τῶν ἄκρων, οἵῳ μήτε λυπεῖσθαι μήθ᾿ ὑφ᾿ ἡδονῆς κατασπᾶσθαι μήτε ὀργίζεσθαι, φθόνου δὲ κρείττονι καὶ πλούτου καταφρονοῦντι καὶ συνόλως εὐδαίμονι. ὁποῖον χρὴ τὸν κανόνα εἶναι καὶ γνώμονα τοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν βίου—ὁ γὰρ καὶ κατὰ μικρότατον ἐνδέων ἀτελής, κἂν πάντα πλείω ἔχῃ—εἰ δὲ τοῦτο οὐχί, οὐδέπω εὐδαίμων.

The applications of canonical standards move easily from description to prescription and are not merely philosophical and ethical, but they also move into the aesthetic. Do just a little searching and you will find reference to the kanôn of Polyclitus, a description about the “proper” proportions of a human body described by Lucian (The Dance, 75)

“I am planning to show the body which is aligned with the kanon of Polycltius. Let it be neither too tall and long now short and dwarfish in shape, but a precisely correct proportion, not being fat, which makes the dance unbelievable, or too thin, which would be skeletal or corpse-like.”

τὸ δὲ σῶμα κατὰ τὸν Πολυκλείτου κανόνα ἤδη ἐπιδείξειν μοι δοκῶ· μήτε γὰρ ὑψηλὸς ἄγαν ἔστω καὶ πέρα τοῦ μετρίου ἐπιμήκης μήτε ταπεινὸς καὶ νανώδης τὴν φύσιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἔμμετρος ἀκριβῶς, οὔτε πολύσαρκος, ἀπίθανον γάρ, οὔτε λεπτὸς ἐς ὑπερβολήν· σκελετῶδες τοῦτο καὶ νεκρικόν.

A tool for measuring, metaphorically or literally, can function to describe the qualities of a thing but can also prescribe the boundaries of a thing itself. A measuring tape can be used to find the length of a thing but a measuring rod can also be used to indicate that something fails to adhere to some externally imposed model. In the example of Polyclitus’ kanôn the ‘ideal’ body is used to mark other bodies as deformed. In the Greek tradition of Aristotle we could say that the male body functions as a kanôn against which the female body is judged monstrous or sub-standard. In the same way, an aesthetic and intellectual canon demarcates space around it outside of which other forms, contents, and peoples are found lacking.

An additional problem comes from the dangers of exemplification: learning from representative models must be done with care. If they are haphazardly offered as “great” and admirable, audiences can be led astray. Plutarch notes this in his How to Study Poetry (25e):

“And so, the young should understand when we urge them to read poems not to have such high beliefs about them and their impressive names because they believe that they are wise and just men, the best kinds and models [kanones] of virtue and rightness.”

Οὕτως οὖν τούτων ἐχόντων ἐπάγωμεν τοῖς Eποιήμασι τὸν νέον μὴ τοιαύτας ἔχοντα δόξας περὶ τῶν καλῶν ἐκείνων καὶ μεγάλων ὀνομάτων, ὡς ἄρα σοφοὶ καὶ δίκαιοι οἱ ἄνδρες ἦσαν, ἄκροι τε βασιλεῖς καὶ κανόνες ἀρετῆς ἁπάσης καὶ ὀρθότητος

Oftentimes, the process of canonization tends to level with an upgrade: people who do big things (in fiction or real life) are never simply one thing or another.

Implicit then in the metaphorical use of the canon is the meaning we have in the modern world, but before we get to these meanings, it is worth considering some more recent history. Following the rise of Christianity, canon came to mean that which was authorized as legitimate by the Church (which Biblical books were divinely inspired; and these are some of the first definitions in the OED) and, eventually, laws and judgments issues by Ecclesiastical authorities. Our first use of the term canon to denote a group of authors seems to be by David Ruhnken in 1768 (Historia Critica Oratorum Graecorum see Montanari in Brill’s New Pauly, s.v. Canon and Easterling in the OCD3 and this blogpost).

Ruhnken uses the term to refer to the groups of lyric poets, orators, and tragedians who were handed down from antiquity. His use seems to have been prescriptive: if we follow his career in Sandys or Rudolph Pfeiffer, he seemed to have been dedicated to working with texts that were not in these groups. As Pat Easterling notes, however, the prescriptive meaning was long latent in scholarly circles: Photios uses it to denote the earlier model on which a later author based his work. As an authoritative, evenly divinely inspired model, the use of canon which emerges in the 19th century probably has more to do with Biblical studies than Aristotelian ethics.

How does any of this matter today? If you search google books or other sources there are very few uses of the term Canon to refer to a collection of ‘Western Great Books’ prior to the 1980s. So let’s be clear about what a canon is and what it does in this post-Biblical tradition: it provides a model with the hope of directing behavior, including ethics and aesthetics. This canon works by excluding one thing from another, by de-authorizing some traditions and burying them, and by rendering the selected object as sacred.

This, I suspect, is central to Harold Bloom’s use of the word canon in 1994’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages which functions almost entirely to exclude certain kinds of things from the halls of good taste (most often meaning any works not by European men). Regular mentions of the Western Canon at All prior to the culture wars of the 1980s/90s are further evidence of a very reactionary stance: in 1870, the Western Canon is used to refer to the imposition of the selection of New Testament Books on African Bishops. And it seems that century’s use of the phrase focused on the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church to the exclusion of others. (Although, to be honest, I would really prefer a church historian to confirm some of these assertions.)

If we can, we need to think about the other phrases people seem to use to mean something similar: in the early 20th century there was an effort to great curricula based on Great Books motivated by the overall concern that education had become too specialized and that students were missing out on the broader interdisciplinary tradition of the liberal arts and “western civilization”.

Both this movement and the subsequent culture wars of the humanities in the 1980s are reactions to higher education being opened up to new audiences: the middle classes of growing universities in the west before and after WW2 and the increasingly class, gender, and race diverse classrooms of the 1960s-1980s. Great books, Western Civilization, and The Western Canon are reactive creations, attempts to impose strict measures and rules on a world in flux.

The problem with the prescriptive canon is it obscures, I think, the aesthetic rule, responsibility of judgment, and any acknowledgment that both aesthetics and judgment are subject to experience and context.

The bigger problem is that our public discussions about canons do not acknowledge the religious and authoritative history of the term and that earlier debates about the canon—even the attempt to establish a singular one—are intentional attempts to create an authoritative culture that privileges a 19th century, Eurocentric, white supremacist, colonialist world view

A few weeks ago, I started asking myself how a canon is like a statue. Both are purportedly erected to honor something which has been lost. But both are much more about the present than they are about the past: they are raised to project a certain view of the world. And while some memorials of this kind are certainly aspirational, even these can be constrictive: those who don’t fit into that view are excluded. The implicit and explicit aesthetic and normative rules of a canon of literature of art has the same impact on expression, belief, and belonging.

A canon is unlike a statue because it cannot be brought down easily and parts of it are so thoroughly knit into our culture that it would be impossible. But we can talk about what it is, we can acknowledge the disproportionate impact canons can have, and we can broaden them understanding, following Aristotle, that to achieve equity, sometimes you need to change the measures you use.

 

Unknown Roman after Polykleitos Pentelic marble, Minneapolis Museum of Art

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edward O. Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5: “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

[Large Figures on the North Porch, Chartres Cathedral]
A story waiting to be told…

Book Learning and Philosophical Sub-disciplines

Julian, To the Cynic Heracleios, Oration 7 (215d-216b)

“I should now say a little bit about the divisions or tools of philosophy. For it is no big deal whether someone applies logic with practical or natural philosophy, for it is similarly necessary in both cases. But these three divisions can each be split into three others. Natural philosophy has theology, mathematics and as a third the examination of things that develop and perish and those that are unseen and which concerns what their essence is and existence entails for each one.

Practical philosophy, because it concerns a single man, has ethics, economics—when it pertains to a household—and politics—when it concerns the state. Logic in turn is demonstrative through truths, but rather violent when dealing with opinions or polemical when concerned with beliefs that merely appear to be true.

These are the subdisciplines of philosophy unless something has escaped me. Indeed, it would not be shocking were some mere soldier incapable of precisely describing or managing these kinds of definitions, since they come not from book learning but from observation and some experience. You can be my witnesses for this to, if you consider how many days there were because the lecture we recently heard and today and in addition the number of matters which have taken my attention. But, the thing I was saying, if I missed anything, and I really don’t think I did, if someone else can finish it, he won’t be my enemy but my friend.”

Μικρὰ οὖν ὑπὲρ τῶν τῆς φιλοσοφίας εἴτε μορίων εἴτε ὀργάνων προρρητέον. ἔστι γὰρ οὐ μέγα τὸ διαφέρον ὁποτέρως ἄν τις τῷ πρακτικῷ καὶ τῷ φυσικῷ τὸ λογικὸν προσαριθμῇ· ἀναγκαῖον γὰρ ὁμοίως φαίνεται κατ᾿ ἀμφότερα. τριῶν δὴ τούτων αὖθις ἕκαστον εἰς τρία τέμνεται, τὸ μὲν φυσικὸν εἰς τὸ θεολογικὸν καὶ τὸ περὶ τὰ μαθήματα καὶ τρίτον τὸ περὶ τὴν τῶν γινομένων καὶ ἀπολλυμένων καὶ τῶν ἀιδίων μέν, σωμάτων δὲ ὅμως θεωρίαν, τί τὸ εἶναι αὐτοῖς καὶ τίς ἡ οὐσία ἑκάστου· τοῦ πρακτικοῦ δὲ τὸ μὲν πρὸς ἕνα ἄνδρα, ἠθικόν, οἰκονομικὸν δὲ τὸ περὶ μίαν οἰκίαν, πολιτικὸν δὲ τὸ περὶ πόλιν· ἔτι μέντοι τοῦ λογικοῦ τὸ μὲν ἀποδεικτικὸν διὰ τῶν ἀληθῶν, τὸ δὲ διὰ τῶν ἐνδόξων βιαστικόν, τὸ δὲ διὰ τῶν φαινομένων ἐνδόξων παραλογιστικόν. ὄντων δὴ τοσούτων τῶν τῆς φιλοσοφίας μερῶν, εἰ μή τί με λέληθε· καὶ οὐδὲν θαυμαστὸν ἄνδρα στρατιώτην μὴ λίαν ἐξακριβοῦν μηδ᾿ ἐξονυχίζειν τὰ τοιαῦτα, ἅτε οὐκ ἐκ βιβλίων ἀσκήσεως, ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς προστυχούσης αὐτὰ ἕξεως ἀποφθεγγόμενον· ἔσεσθε γοῦν μοι καὶ ὑμεῖς μάρτυρες, εἰ τὰς ἡμέρας λογίσαισθε, πόσαι τινές εἰσιν αἱ μεταξὺ ταύτης τε καὶ τῆς ἔναγχος ἡμῖν γενομένης ἀκροάσεως ὅσων τε ἡμῖν ἀσχολιῶν πλήρεις· ἀλλ᾿, ὅπερ ἔφην, εἰ καί τι παραλέλειπται παρ᾿ ἐμοῦ· καίτοι νομίζω γε μηδὲν ἐνδεῖν· πλὴν ὁ προστιθεὶς οὐκ ἐχθρός, ἀλλὰ φίλος ἔσται.

Julian the Apostate Presiding at a Conference by Edward Armitage

Plagues for Steel and Weeds

Statius, Thebaid 2.159–167

“He also [taught] me about juices and grains to treat
Sickness, what medicine might slow excessive bleeding,
What fosters sleep, how to close wounds wide open,
What plague is best ended by steel and what needs herbs.

He also fixed in my heart the principles of justice,
How he used to provide laws revered by Pelion’s peoples
Capable of bringing peace to his own bi-formed race.

That’s as much of the training of my youth I remember, Friends
And it delights me to recall it: mother knows the rest.”

quin etiam sucos atque auxiliantia morbis
gramina, quo nimius staret medicamine sanguis,
quid faciat somnos, quid hiantia vulnera claudat,
quae ferro cohibenda lues, quae cederet herbis,
edocuit monitusque sacrae sub pectore fixit
iustitiae, qua Peliacis dare iura verenda
gentibus atque suos solitus pacare biformes.
hactenus annorum, comites, elementa meorum
et memini et meminisse iuvat: scit cetera mater.’

A sculpture of a very judgmental centaur

 

Livy, 4.25

“An #epidemic in that year provided a break from other problems.”

Pestilentia eo anno aliarum rerum otium praebuit.

Plutarch’s Advice On What To Watch

Plutarch’s prepared guidelines for choosing what to watch on Netflix.

Plutarch, Pericles 1.1

“When Caesar saw that many wealthy foreigners in Rome were carrying around and caring for puppies and monkey babies, he asked whether or not their wives bore children—he was warning in a masterly way that they were wasting our innate love and affection on beasts when it is owed to human beings.

Therefore, when our soul naturally possesses a certain love of learning and love of observation, isn’t it logical to rebuke people who fail to use it for anything worthy of hearing or seeing, people who neglect what is noble or useful?

Perhaps it is necessary for our perception—which apprehends the things it meets through the experience of their force—to examine everything which appears for whether it is useful or not. But each person, if he wishes to use his mind, can naturally turn himself away and change most easily to gaze upon something which seems right—with the result that it is necessary to pursue what is best, not only to look at it, but to be enriched by doing so.”

 Ξένους τινὰς ἐν Ῥώμῃ πλουσίους κυνῶν τέκνα καὶ πιθήκων ἐν τοῖς κόλποις περιφέροντας καὶ ἀγαπῶντας ἰδὼν ὁ Καῖσαρ, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἠρώτησεν εἰ παιδία παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐ τίκτουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες, ἡγεμονικῶς σφόδρα νουθετήσας τοὺς τὸ φύσει φιλητικὸν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ φιλόστοργον εἰς θηρία καταναλίσκοντας ἀνθρώποις ὀφειλόμενον.  ἆρ᾿ οὖν, ἐπεὶ φιλομαθές τι κέκτηται καὶ φιλοθέαμον ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ φύσει, λόγον ἔχει ψέγειν τοὺς καταχρωμένους τούτῳ πρὸς τὰ μηδεμιᾶς ἄξια σπουδῆς ἀκούσματα καὶ θεάματα, τῶν δὲ καλῶν καὶ ὠφελίμων παραμελοῦντας; τῇ μὲν γὰρ αἰσθήσει κατὰ πάθος τῆς πληγῆς ἀντιλαμβανομένῃ τῶν προστυγχανόντων ἴσως ἀνάγκη πᾶν τὸ φαινόμενον, ἄν τε χρήσιμον ἄν τ᾿ ἄχρηστον ᾖ,  θεωρεῖν, τῷ νῷ δ᾿ ἕκαστος εἰ βούλοιτο χρῆσθαι, καὶ τρέπειν ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ καὶ μεταβάλλειν ῥᾷστα πρὸς τὸ δοκοῦν πέφυκεν, ὥστε χρὴ διώκειν τὸ βέλτιστον, ἵνα μὴ θεωρῇ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρέφηται τῷ θεωρεῖν.

 

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A Reminder: One Who Is Disordered Cannot Create Order

Plutarch’s “To the Uneducated Ruler” has no relevance today, at all (780a-c)...

“The majority of kings and rulers are stupid–they imitate those artless sculptors who believe that their over-sized figures seem large and solid if they make them with a wide stance, flexing their muscles, mouths gaped open. For these types of rulers seem merely to be imitating the impressiveness and seriousness of leadership with their deep voice, severe glance, bitter manners and their separate way of living: but they are not really any different from the sculpted colossus which is heroic and godly on the outside, but filled with dirt, stone or lead within.

The real difference is that the weight of the statue keeps it standing straight, never leaning; these untaught generals and leaders often wobble and overturn because of their native ignorance. For, because they have built their homes on a crooked foundation, they lean and slide with it. Just as a carpenter’s square, if it is straight and solid, straightens out everything else that is measured according to it, so too a leader must first master himself and correct his own character and only then try to guide his people. For one who is falling cannot lift others; one who is ignorant cannot teach; one who is simple cannot manage complicated affairs; one who is disordered cannot create order; and one who does not rule himself cannot rule.”

Ἀλλὰ νοῦν οὐκ ἔχοντες οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν βασιλέων καὶ ἀρχόντων μιμοῦνται τοὺς ἀτέχνους ἀνδριαντοποιούς, οἳ νομίζουσι μεγάλους καὶ ἁδροὺς φαίνεσθαι τοὺς κολοσσούς, ἂν διαβεβηκότας σφόδρα καὶ διατεταμένους καὶ κεχηνότας πλάσωσι· καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι βαρύτητι φωνῆς καὶ βλέμματος τραχύτητι καὶ δυσκολίᾳ τρόπων καὶ ἀμιξίᾳ διαίτης ὄγκον ἡγεμονίας καὶ σεμνότητα μιμεῖσθαι δοκοῦσιν, οὐδ᾿ ὁτιοῦν τῶν κολοσσικῶν διαφέροντες ἀνδριάντων, οἳ τὴν ἔξωθεν ἡρωικὴν καὶ θεοπρεπῆ μορφὴν ἔχοντες ἐντός εἰσι γῆς μεστοὶ καὶ λίθου καὶ μολίβδου· πλὴν ὅτι τῶν μὲν ἀνδριάντων ταῦτα τὰ βάρη τὴν ὀρθότητα μόνιμον καὶ ἀκλινῆ διαφυλάττει, οἱ δ᾿ ἀπαίδευτοι στρατηγοὶ καὶ ἡγεμόνες ὑπὸ τῆς ἐντὸς ἀγνωμοσύνης πολλάκις σαλεύονται καὶ περιτρέπονται· βάσει γὰρ οὐ κειμένῃ πρὸς ὀρθὰς ἐξουσίαν ἐποικοδομοῦντες ὑψηλὴν συναπονεύουσι. δεῖ δέ, ὥσπερ ὁ κανὼν αὐτός, ἀστραβὴς γενόμενος καὶ ἀδιάστροφος, οὕτως ἀπευθύνει τὰ λοιπὰ τῇ πρὸς αὑτὸν ἐφαρμογῇ καὶ παραθέσει συνεξομοιῶν, παραπλησίως τὸν ἄρχοντα πρῶτον τὴν ἀρχὴν κτησάμενον ἐν ἑαυτῷ καὶ κατευθύναντα τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ καταστησάμενον τὸ ἦθος οὕτω συναρμόττειν τὸ ὑπήκοον· οὔτε γὰρ πίπτοντός ἐστιν ὀρθοῦν οὔτε διδάσκειν ἀγνοοῦντος οὔτε κοσμεῖν ἀκοσμοῦντος ἢ τάττειν ἀτακτοῦντος ἢ ἄρχειν μὴ ἀρχομένου·

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782b-c

“Among the weak, base and private citizens, ignorance when combined with a lack of power yields little wrongdoing, as in nightmares some trouble upsets the mind, making it incapable of responding to its desires. But when power has been combined with wickedness it adds energy to latent passions. And so that saying of Dionysus is true—for he used to say that he loved his power most when he could do what he wanted quickly. It is truly a great danger when one who wants what is wrong has the power to do what he wants to do.

As Homer puts it “When the plan was made, then the deed was done.” When wickedness has an open course because of its power, it compels every passion to emerge, producing rage, murder, lust, adultery, and greedy acquisition of public wealth.”

Ἐν μὲν γὰρ τοῖς ἀσθενέσι καὶ ταπεινοῖς καὶ ἰδιώταις τῷ ἀδυνάτῳ μιγνύμενον τὸ ἀνόητον εἰς τὸ ἀναμάρτητον τελευτᾷ, ὥσπερ ἐν ὀνείρασι φαύλοις τις ἀνία τὴν ψυχὴν διαταράττει συνεξαναστῆναι ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις μὴ δυναμένην· ἡ δ᾿ ἐξουσία παραλαβοῦσα τὴν κακίαν νεῦρα τοῖς πάθεσι προστίθησι· καὶ τὸ τοῦ Διονυσίου ἀληθές ἐστιν· ἔφη γὰρ ἀπολαύειν μάλιστα τῆς ἀρχῆς, ὅταν ταχέως ἃ βούλεται ποιῇ. μέγας οὖν ὁ κίνδυνος βούλεσθαι ἃ μὴ δεῖ τὸν ἃ βούλεται ποιεῖν δυνάμενον· αὐτίκ᾿ ἔπειτά γε μῦθος ἔην, τετέλεστο δὲ ἔργον (Il. 19.242). ὀξὺν ἡ κακία διὰ τῆς ἐξουσίας δρόμον ἔχουσα πᾶν πάθος ἐξωθεῖ, ποιοῦσα τὴν ὀργὴν φόνον τὸν ἔρωτα μοιχείαν τὴν πλεονεξίαν δήμευσιν.

782

“It is not possible to hide wickedness in power. But, as when someone with vertigo* might go up in a high place and move around, only to become dizzy and uncertain, thus revealing their suffering, so fortune amplifies the untaught and ignorant a little with some wealth, reputation or offices and, once they have risen up, it shows them falling. Or rather, it is the same as when you cannot tell which of some containers is solid and which is cracked but when you pour water into them, the culprit leak is clear: rotten minds cannot manage power, but they ooze out random desires, rages, improprieties, and base manners.”

Οὐδὲ γὰρ λαθεῖν οἷόν τε τὰς κακίας ἐν ταῖς ἐξουσίαις· ἀλλὰ τοὺς μὲν ἐπιληπτικούς, ἂν ἐν ὕψει τινὶ γένωνται καὶ περιενεχθῶσιν, ἴλιγγος ἴσχει καὶ σάλος, ἐξελέγχων τὸ πάθος αὐτῶν, τοὺς δ᾿ ἀπαιδεύτους καὶ ἀμαθεῖς ἡ τύχη μικρὸν ἐκκουφίσασα πλούτοις τισὶν ἢ δόξαις ἢ ἀρχαῖς μετεώρους γενομένους εὐθὺς ἐπιδείκνυσι πίπτοντας· μᾶλλον δ᾿, ὥσπερ τῶν κενῶν ἀγγείων οὐκ ἂν διαγνοίης τὸ ἀκέραιον καὶ πεπονηκός, ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν ἐγχέῃς, φαίνεται τὸ ῥέον· οὕτως αἱ σαθραὶ ψυχαὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας μὴ στέγουσαι ῥέουσιν ἔξω ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις, ταῖς ὀργαῖς, ταῖς ἀλαζονείαις, ταῖς ἀπειροκαλίαις.

*The original Greek seems to be about people with epilepsy (tous epilêptikous)

Plutarch’s Advice On What To Watch

Plutarch’s prepared guidelines for choosing what to watch on Netflix.

Plutarch, Pericles 1.1

“When Caesar saw that many wealthy foreigners in Rome were carrying around and caring for puppies and monkey babies, he asked whether or not their wives bore children—he was warning in a masterly way that they were wasting our innate love and affection on beasts when it is owed to human beings.

Therefore, when our soul naturally possesses a certain love of learning and love of observation, isn’t it logical to rebuke people who fail to use it for anything worthy of hearing or seeing, people who neglect what is noble or useful?

Perhaps it is necessary for our perception—which apprehends the things it meets through the experience of their force—to examine everything which appears for whether it is useful or not. But each person, if he wishes to use his mind, can naturally turn himself away and change most easily to gaze upon something which seems right—with the result that it is necessary to pursue what is best, not only to look at it, but to be enriched by doing so.”

 Ξένους τινὰς ἐν Ῥώμῃ πλουσίους κυνῶν τέκνα καὶ πιθήκων ἐν τοῖς κόλποις περιφέροντας καὶ ἀγαπῶντας ἰδὼν ὁ Καῖσαρ, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἠρώτησεν εἰ παιδία παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐ τίκτουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες, ἡγεμονικῶς σφόδρα νουθετήσας τοὺς τὸ φύσει φιλητικὸν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ φιλόστοργον εἰς θηρία καταναλίσκοντας ἀνθρώποις ὀφειλόμενον.  ἆρ᾿ οὖν, ἐπεὶ φιλομαθές τι κέκτηται καὶ φιλοθέαμον ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ φύσει, λόγον ἔχει ψέγειν τοὺς καταχρωμένους τούτῳ πρὸς τὰ μηδεμιᾶς ἄξια σπουδῆς ἀκούσματα καὶ θεάματα, τῶν δὲ καλῶν καὶ ὠφελίμων παραμελοῦντας; τῇ μὲν γὰρ αἰσθήσει κατὰ πάθος τῆς πληγῆς ἀντιλαμβανομένῃ τῶν προστυγχανόντων ἴσως ἀνάγκη πᾶν τὸ φαινόμενον, ἄν τε χρήσιμον ἄν τ᾿ ἄχρηστον ᾖ,  θεωρεῖν, τῷ νῷ δ᾿ ἕκαστος εἰ βούλοιτο χρῆσθαι, καὶ τρέπειν ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ καὶ μεταβάλλειν ῥᾷστα πρὸς τὸ δοκοῦν πέφυκεν, ὥστε χρὴ διώκειν τὸ βέλτιστον, ἵνα μὴ θεωρῇ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρέφηται τῷ θεωρεῖν.

 

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Children, Afraid of Masks

Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus 3.22

“Look at the children who are scared of masks….”

ζήτει τὰ παιδία· ἐκείνοις τὰ προσωπεῖα φοβερά ἐστιν…

Plutarch, Moralia (On Exile) 300 D

“If we truly encounter some pain and grief, we need to force cheer and ease from the good things we have left to us, smoothing away everything from the outside with our inner strength.

But for those things whose nature bears no evil, but whose pain is completely and simply fashioned from empty opinion, we need to behave as with children who fear masks, putting them into their hands and turning them over, training them not to think too much of them. In this way, by touching things and submitting them to reason, we can uncover their weakness, their emptiness, and their histrionic facade.”

Διὸ κἂν ἀληθῶς κακῷ τινι καὶ λυπηρῷ περιπέσωμεν, ἐπάγεσθαι δεῖ τὸ ἱλαρὸν καὶ τὸ εὔθυμον ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων καὶ ὑπολειπομένων ἀγαθῶν, τῷ οἰκείῳ τὸ ἀλλότριον ἐκλεαίνοντας· ὧν δὲ ἡ φύσις οὐδὲν ἔχει κακόν, ἀλλὰ ὅλον καὶ πᾶν τὸ λυποῦν ἐκ κενῆς δόξης ἀναπέπλασται, ταῦτα δεῖ, καθάπερ τοῖς δεδοικόσι τὰ προσωπεῖα παιδίοις ἐγγὺς καὶ ὑπὸ χεῖρα ποιοῦντες καὶ ἀναστρέφοντες ἐθίζομεν καταφρονεῖν, οὕτως ἐγγὺς ἁπτομένους καὶ συνερείδοντας τὸν λογισμόν, τὸ σαθρὸν καὶ τὸ κενὸν καὶ τετραγῳδημένον ἀποκαλύπτειν.

File:Ancient Greek theatrical mask of Zeus, replica (8380375983).jpg
replica of Theatrical Mask of Zeus