“Learn As Long As You Are Ignorant”: Seneca on What He Has to Teach

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher? You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.

But the human race still shames me every time I enter the school. Near to that theater of the Neapolitans, I have to pass that house of Metronax. There, the place is packed too as with a burning desire they judge who is the best flute player. The Greek horn and a herald bring a crowd. But in the place where we seek what a good man is, where how to be a good man may be learned, the smallest audience sits and they seem to most people to be up to no good in their pursuit. They are called useless and lazy. May such derision touch me. For the insults of the ignorant should be heard with a gentle mind. Contempt itself must be held in contempt as we journey toward better things.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum. Pudet autem me generis humani, quotiens scholam intravi. Praeter ipsum theatrum Neapolitanorum, ut scis, transeundum est Metronactis petenti1 domum. Illud quidem fartum est et ingenti studio, quis sit pythaules bonus, iudicatur; habet tubicen quoque Graecus et praeco concursum. At in illo loco, in quo vir bonus quaeritur, in quo vir bonus discitur, paucissimi sedent, et hi plerisque videntur nihil boni negotii habere quod agant; inepti et inertes vocantur. Mihi contingat iste derisus; aequo animo audienda sunt inperitorum convicia et ad honesta vadenti contemnendus est ipse contemptus.

 

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Why Wives Should Learn Geometry and Plato. And, an Eclipse

Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)

“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract woman from inappropriate matters. For, a wife will be ashamed to dance when she is learning geometry. And she will not receive spells of medicine if she is charmed by Platonic dialogues and the works of Xenophon. And if anyone claims she can pull down the moon, she will laugh at the ignorance and simplicity of the women who believe these things because she herself is not ignorant of astronomy and she has read about Aglaonikê. She was the daughter of Hêgêtor of Thessaly because she knew all about the periods of the moon and eclipses knew before everyone about the time when the moon would be taken by the shadow of the earth. She tricked the other women and persuaded them that she herself was causing the lunar eclipse.”

τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα μαθήματα πρῶτον ἀφίστησι τῶν ἀτόπων τὰς γυναῖκας· αἰσχυνθήσεται γὰρ ὀρχεῖσθαι γυνὴ γεωμετρεῖν μανθάνουσα, καὶ φαρμάκων ἐπῳδὰς οὐ προσδέξεται τοῖς Πλάτωνος ἐπᾳδομένη λόγοις καὶ τοῖς Ξενοφῶντος. ἂν δέ τις ἐπαγγέλληται καθαιρεῖν τὴν σελήνην, γελάσεται τὴν ἀμαθίαν καὶ τὴν ἀβελτερίαν τῶν ταῦτα πειθομένων γυναικῶν, ἀστρολογίας μὴ ἀνηκόως ἔχουσα καὶ περὶ Ἀγλαονίκης ἀκηκουῖα τῆς Ἡγήτορος τοῦ Θετταλοῦ θυγατρὸς ὅτι τῶν ἐκλειπτικῶν ἔμπειρος οὖσα πανσελήνων καὶ προειδυῖα τὸν χρόνον, ἐν ᾧ συμβαίνει τὴν σελήνην ὑπὸ γῆς σκιᾶς ἁλίσκεσθαι, παρεκρούετο καὶ συνέπειθε τὰς γυναῖκας ὡς αὐτὴ καθαιροῦσα τὴν σελήνην.

 

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A Failure of Education: Commodus’ Cruelty

From the Historia Augusta on Commodus, 1

“Therefore, when his brother had passed, Marcus tried to educate Commodus with his own writings and those of famous and prominent men. As teachers he had Onesicrates for Greek literature, Antistius Capella for Latin and Ateius Sanctus for rhetoric.

But teachers of so many disciplines were useless in his case—such was the power of his native character or of those who were kept as instructors in the palace. For from his early childhood, Commodus was nasty, dishonest, cruel, desirous, foul-mouthed, and corrupted. For he was already a craftsman in those things which were not proper to the imperial class, such as making chalices, dancing, singing, whistling, playing a fool, and acting the perfect gladiator.

When he was twelve years old, he provided an omen of his cruelty at Centumcellae. For, when his bath was accidentally too cool, he ordered that the bath-slave be thrown into the furnace. Then, the slave who was ordered this, burned a sheep’s skin into the furnace, so that he might convince the punishment was performed through the foulness of the smell.”

mortuo igitur fratre Commodum Marcus et suis praeceptis et magnorum atque optimorum virorum erudire conatus est. habuit litteratorem Graecum Onesicratem, Latinum Capellam Antistium; orator ei Ateius Sanctus fuit.

Sed tot disciplinarum magistri nihil ei profuerunt. tantum valet aut ingenii vis aut eorum qui in aula institutores habentur. nam a prima statim pueritia turpis, improbus, crudelis, libidinosus, ore quoque pollutus et constupratus fuit. iam in his artifex, quae stationis imperatoriae non erant, ut calices fingeret, saltaret, cantaret, sibilaret, scurram denique et gladiatorem perfectum ostenderet. auspicium crudelitatis apud Centumcellas dedit anno aetatis duodecimo. nam cum tepidius forte lautus esset, balneatorem in fornacem conici iussit; quando a paedagogo, cui hoc iussum fuerat, vervecina pellis in fornace consumpta est, ut fidem poenae de foetore nidoris impleret.

 

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Quintilian: Advice for Judging Great Authors

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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“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”.

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Fables to Begin Life; Fables at Its End

Last year we posted a lot of fables. Why? Because they are fabulous. But, also, because they are fun, fascinating, and a fine way to seek shelter from current events (while still doing some thinking). Ancient literature does not include a great deal of critical reflection on the Fable, but we do find it prized at the beginning of an education (by Quintilian) and the end of Socrates’ life.

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 1.9.1-3

“Therefore, let children learn to relay Aesop’s fables—which follow closely the stories of the nursery, in a simple speech and without adding too much and then to write them down in the same unadorned fashion. They should first analyze the verse, then interpret it in their own words, and finally expand it in their own version in which they may either compress some parts or elaborate others with without losing the poet’s meaning.”

[2] igitur Aesopi fabellas, quae fabulis nutricularum proxime succedunt, narrare sermone puro et nihil se supra modum extollente, deinde eandem gracilitatem stilo exigere condiscant; versus primo solvere, mox mutatis verbis interpretari, tum paraphrasi audacius vertere, qua et breviare quaedam et exornare salvo modo poetae sensu permittitur.

Cheiron

Do you think Cheiron taught Achilles fables?

Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 2.5.45

“Then they sentenced[Socrates] to death, adding 80 additional votes to this tally. After he was imprisoned for just a few days, he drank the hemlock, but not without having a few exemplary conversations which Plato describes in the Phaedrus. He also composed a paian which begins: “Hail, Delian Apollo, and Artemis, famous children”. Dionysodôros says that this paian is not his. He also composed Aesopic tales in verse, though not completely well, one of which begins:

“Aesop once said to the men who live in Korinth,
Do not judge virtue according to a jury’s opinion”

And then he was taken from the world of men. Soon, the Athenians changed their minds and closed the wrestling floor and gymnasium. They banished the accusers but put Meletos to death. They honored Socrates with a bronze statue which they placed in the Pompeion. It was mad by Lysippos. As soon as Anytos visited Heracleia, the people expelled him. Not only did the Athenians suffer concerning Socrates, but according to Heracleides they fined Homer fifty drachmae because he was insane and they said Tyrtaeus was out of his mind and they even honored Astydamas and others more than Aeschylus with a bronze statue. Euripides rebukes them in his Palamedes when he says:

“You have butchered/ you have butchered
The all-wise nightingale of the muses
Who caused no harm”

This is one story. But Philochorus claims that Euripides died before Socrates.”

Καὶ οἳ θάνατον αὐτοῦ κατέγνωσαν, προσθέντες ἄλλας ψήφους ὀγδοήκοντα. καὶ δεθεὶς μετ’ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας ἔπιε τὸ κώνειον, πολλὰ καλὰ κἀγαθὰ διαλεχθείς, ἃ Πλάτων ἐν τῷ Φαίδωνί φησιν. ἀλλὰ καὶ παιᾶνα κατά τινας ἐποίησεν, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή· Δήλι’ ῎Απολλον χαῖρε, καὶ ῎Αρτεμι, παῖδε κλεεινώ. Διονυσόδωρος δέ φησι μὴ εἶναι αὐτοῦ τὸν παιᾶνα (FHG ii. 84). ἐποίησε δὲ καὶ μῦθον Αἰσώπειον οὐ πάνυ ἐπιτετευγμένως, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή·

Αἴσωπός ποτ’ ἔλεξε Κορίνθιον ἄστυ νέμουσι
μὴ κρίνειν ἀρετὴν λαοδίκῳ σοφίῃ.

῾Ο μὲν οὖν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἦν· ᾿Αθηναῖοι δ’ εὐθὺς μετέγνωσαν, ὥστε κλεῖσαι καὶ παλαίστρας καὶ γυμνάσια. καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἐφυγάδευσαν, Μελήτου δὲ θάνατον κατέγνωσαν. Σωκράτην δὲ χαλκῇ εἰκόνι ἐτίμησαν, ἣν ἔθεσαν ἐν τῷ Πομπείῳ, Λυσίππου ταύτην ἐργασαμένου. ῎Ανυτόν τε ἐπιδημήσαντα αὐθημερὸν ἐξεκήρυξαν

῾Ηρακλεῶται. οὐ μόνον δ’ ἐπὶ Σωκράτους ᾿Αθηναῖοι πεπόνθασι τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπὶ πλείστων ὅσων. καὶ γὰρ ῞Ομηρον καθά  φησιν ῾Ηρακλείδης (Wehrli vii, fg. 169), πεντήκοντα δραχμαῖς ὡς μαινόμενον ἐζημίωσαν, καὶ Τυρταῖον παρακόπτειν ἔλεγον, καὶ ᾿Αστυδάμαντα πρότερον τῶν περὶ Αἰσχύλον ἐτίμησαν εἰκόνι χαλκῇ.

Εὐριπίδης δὲ καὶ ὀνειδίζει αὐτοῖς ἐν τῷ Παλαμήδει λέγων (588 N2),

ἐκάνετ’ ἐκάνετε τὰν
πάνσοφον, <ὦ Δαναοί,>
τὰν οὐδὲν ἀλγύνουσαν ἀηδόνα μουσᾶν.

καὶ τάδε μὲν ὧδε. Φιλόχορος (FGrH 328 F 221) δέ φησι προτελευτῆσαι τὸν Εὐριπίδην τοῦ Σωκράτους.

Diogenes is not completely fabricating material here. Plato’s Phaedo records that Socrates while imprisoned composed “poems, arranged versions of Aesop’s tales and a prooimon to Apollo” (ποιημάτων ὧν πεποίηκας ἐντείνας τοὺς τοῦ Αἰσώπου λόγους καὶ τὸ εἰς τὸν Ἀπόλλω προοίμιον, 60d). When asked why he was occupying his time in this way, Socrates responds (Phaedo 60e-61a):

“The same dream often came to me in my past life, appearing in different forms from time to time, but saying the same things: “Socrates, make music and work on it.” In earlier time, I believe that it was compelling me and encouraging me to do what I was doing—just as some cheer on runners, in the same way the dream was telling me to do what I was doing, to make music, since philosophy is the greatest music of all and I was working on that. But now that the trial is complete and the festival has delayed my death, it seemed right to me, if the frequent dream really meant for me to make what is normally called music, not to disobey it but to compose.”

πολλάκις μοι φοιτῶν τὸ αὐτὸ ἐνύπνιον ἐν τῷ παρελθόντι βίῳ, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐν ἄλλῃ ὄψει φαινόμενον, τὰ αὐτὰ δὲ λέγον, ‘ὦ Σώκρατες,’ ἔφη, ‘μουσικὴν ποίει καὶ ἐργάζου.’ καὶ ἐγὼ ἔν γε τῷ πρόσθεν χρόνῳ ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ὑπελάμβανον αὐτό μοι παρακελεύεσθαί τε καὶ ἐπικελεύειν, ὥσπερ οἱ τοῖς θέουσι διακελευόμενοι, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὕτω τὸ ἐνύπνιον ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ἐπικελεύειν, μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, ὡς φιλοσοφίας μὲν οὔσης μεγίστης μουσικῆς, ἐμοῦ δὲ τοῦτο πράττοντος. νῦν δ᾽ ἐπειδὴ ἥ τε δίκη ἐγένετο καὶ ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἑορτὴ διεκώλυέ με ἀποθνῄσκειν, ἔδοξε χρῆναι, εἰ ἄρα πολλάκις μοι προστάττοι τὸ ἐνύπνιον ταύτην τὴν δημώδη μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, μὴ ἀπειθῆσαι αὐτῷ ἀλλὰ ποιεῖν

 

(I don’t know if this is the saddest story I have ever read or not. Curse you, Plato).

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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