“What kind of sense, then, is there to the idea that a wise person should not let go of good memories but forget bad ones? First, is what we remember under our control? Themistocles, it is said, when Simonides promised to teach him the art of memory, responded, “I’d prefer learning to forget. For I remember things I wish I didn’t and I can’t forget the things I want to.” [Epicurus] was a man of great insight, but the fact us that a philosopher who prohibits remembering asks too much of us.”
Iam illud quale tandem est, bona praeterita non effluere sapienti, mala meminisse non oportere? Primum in nostrane est potestate quid meminerimus? Themistocles quidem, cum ei Simonides an quis alius artem memoriae polliceretur, ‘Oblivionis,’ inquit, ‘mallem; nam memini etiam quae nolo, oblivisci non possum quae volo.’ Magno hic ingenio; sed res se tamen sic habet ut nimis imperiosi philosophi sit vetare meminisse.
Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)
“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract women 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.”
“For [Hermippos] says that when Pythagoras was in Italy he built a little home in the ground and told his mother to write down on a tablet what happened and the time and then to send it down to him until he came up again. His mother did that.
Later, when Pythagoras finally came up again he was shriveled and almost a skeleton. After he came to the assembly, he was saying that he came from Hades. Then he read aloud to them what had happened. And they were overwhelmed by what he said, crying and weeping and believing that Pythagoras was divine. They believed it so much that they gave him their wives so that they might learn some of his philosophy from him. They were called Pythagorean Women. Well, that’s what Hermippos says…”
There is another version of this in the Scholia to Sophocles’ Elektra 62-64
“Pythagoras confined himself in an underground hole and told his mother to tell people that he had died. When he reappeared, he told a lot of marvelous tales about resurrection and the things which happen in the underworld, and, to the living he related a full account of all the companions he happened to meet in the underworld; from this arose the belief that he was Aithalides son of Hermes before the Trojan War, then Euphorbus, then Hermotimus, then Pyrrhus the Delian, and then finally Pythagoras. Sophocles seems to be hinting at this story. Some assert, though unpersuasively, that the lines are aimed at Odysseus. But this is unconvincing, because Odysseus never did anything of the sort.”
“The most famous women Pythagoreans were: Timukha, the wife of Mullias of Kroton, Philtus, the daughter of Theophoris of Kroton amd sister of Bundakos, Okellô and Ekkelô, the sisters of Okkelos and Okkilos of Leukania, Kheilonis, the daughter of the Spartan Kheilôn, Kratêsikleia, a Spartan and wife of Kkleanôr the Spartan, Theano, the wife of Brotinus of Metapontos, Muia, the wife of Milo of Kroton, Lastheneia from Arcadia, Habroteleia the daughter of Habrotelos the Tarentinian, Ekhekrateia from Phlius, Tyrsênis of Sybaris, Pesirrodê of Tarantum, Theadousa the Spartan, Boiô the Argive, Babeluka the Argive, and Kleaikhma the sister of Autokharidas of Laconia. There are seventeen in total.”
“Certainly those who are overcome by emotions are predisposed in this way. For their rages and desires for sex and other types of enticements obviously transform the body too and creates madness in some. Hence, we must call those who are like this the same as those who are uncontrolled.
For being about to speak words is not at all a sign of understanding. For people who are in these states of mind often recite proofs and the verses of Empedocles. But people who have just learned something will repeat the words when they don’t yet understand them. For knowledge needs to be integrated and this requires time. So, those who talk when they are uncontrolled must be considered as if they were actors reciting their lines.”
“The schools of Epicurus and Pyrrho seem to have set forth the indictment against the professors of learning (toùs apò tôn mathemátôn) in a cursory way, although not from the same perspective. The Epicureans argue that none of those things that are taught may contribute to wisdom—this is an argument Epicurus made, as some contend, in order to cover up his own lack of education (for Epicurus was criticized by many for his ignorance: he couldn’t even speak correctly in everyday conversation!). In addition, he also antagonistic in this towards Plato and Aristotle, and other similar men, who were versed in many different fields.”
“Both habits, moreover, should be avoided. Don’t imitate bad people, because there are many of them, nor hate the many, because you aren’t like them. Take shelter in yourself, whenever you can. Spend time with people who will make you a better person. Embrace those whom you can make better. Such improvement is a partnership, for people learn while they teach.”
Utrumque autem devitandum est; neve similis malis fias, quia multi sunt, neve inimicus multis, quia dissimiles sunt. Recede in te ipsum, quantum potes. Cum his versare, qui te meliorem facturi sunt. Illos admitte, quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines, dum docent, discunt.
Seneca, De Beata Vita 17-18
“ ‘This is enough for me: to each day lose one of my vices and recognize my mistakes. I have not perfected my health, nor certainly will I. I hope to relieve my gout rather than cure it, happy if it comes less frequently and cause less pain. But when I compare myself to your feet, I am a sprinter even though crippled.’
I do not say these things for myself—since I am deep in every kind of vice—but for the person who has done something.
You say, “You talk one way but you live another.” This insult, most shameful and hateful friend, was thrown at Plato, tossed at Epicurus, and dropped on Zeno. For all these people were talking not about how they were living themselves but about how they should live. When it comes to virtue, I do not talk about myself, and my fight is with vices, but chiefly my own. When I can, I will live as I should.”
Hoc mihi satis est, cotidie aliquid ex vitiis meis demere et errores meos obiurgare. Non perveni ad sanitatem, ne perveniam quidem; delenimenta magis quam remedia podagrae meae compono, contentus, si rarius accedit et si minus verminatur; vestris quidem pedibus comparatus, debilis1 cursor sum.” Haec non pro me loquor—ego enim in alto vitiorum omnium sum—, sed pro illo, cui aliquid acti est.
“Aliter,” inquis, “loqueris, aliter vivis.” Hoc, malignissima capita et optimo cuique inimicissima, Platoni obiectum est, obiectum Epicuro, obiectum Zenoni; omnes enim isti dicebant non quemadmodum ipsi viverent, sed quemadmodum esset ipsis vivendum. De virtute, non de me loquor, et cum vitiis convicium facio, in primis meis facio. 2Cum potuero, vivam quomodo oportet.
“For comedy—which can provide a great deal to eloquence since it works through every character and feeling—I will explain soon what purpose I think it serves for students in its own place. For, once characters are safely formed, comedy is among the most important things to read. I am speaking of Menander, but I will not bar the others, for the Latin authors also provide some utility.
Students must first read texts which especially nourish the intelligence and strengthen the character. A long life will give them time for the rest of the works which are good mainly for intellectual reasons. The older Latin poets, moreover, who are mostly effective for their innate ability rather than their skill, can offer a lot—especially for building a great vocabulary. One can find a seriousness in their tragedies and in their comedies an elegance and a certain Attic nature. Their compositions are more considered, too, than modern authors who think that the only virtue of writing is its “quotability”. A high register and, if I may say, a kind of power must be found in these authors since we have now stumbled into the vices of pleasure in our manner of speaking too. And, finally, we should lean on the best orators who take from the poems of the ancients to strengthen their claims or decorate their speaking”
Comoediae, quae plurimum conferre ad eloquentiam potest, cum per omnis et personas et adfectus eat, quem usum in pueris putem paulo post suo loco dicam: nam cum mores in tuto fuerint, inter praecipua legenda erit. De Menandro loquor, nec tamen excluserim alios, nam Latini quoque auctores adferent utilitatis aliquid; sed pueris quae maxime ingenium alant atque animum augeant praelegenda: ceteris, quae ad eruditionem modo pertinent, longa aetas spatium dabit. Multum autem veteres etiam Latini conferunt, quamquam plerique plus ingenio quam arte valuerunt, in primis copiam verborum: quorum in tragoediis gravitas, in comoediis elegantia et quidam velut atticismos inveniri potest. Oeconomia quoque in iis diligentior quam in plerisque novorum erit, qui omnium operum solam virtutem sententias putaverunt. Sanctitas certe et, ut sic dicam, virilitas ab iis petenda est, quando nos in omnia deliciarum vitia dicendi quoque ratione defluximus. Denique credamus summis oratoribus, qui veterum poemata vel ad fidem causarum vel ad ornamentum eloquentiae adsumunt.
“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.”
Marcus Cornelius Fronto to Antoninus Augustus Ambr. 390 17
“Aesopus the tragedian reportedly never put a mask on his face until he had looked at it for awhile from the other side so that he might change his gestures and alter his voice in line with the appearance of the mask.”
Tragicus Aesopus fertur non prius ullam suo induisse capiti personam, antequam diu ex adverso contemplaret, ut pro personae voltu gestum sibi capessere ac vocem <adsimulare posset>
Diogenes Laertius, Ariston 160
“[He compared] the wise man to a good actor who could take up the role of both Thersites and Agamemnon and play either appropriately
“There will soon be a time when the tragic actors will believe that their masks and costumes are their real selves. You have these things as material and a plot. Say something so we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a comedian. For they have the rest of their material in common [apart from the words]. If one, then, should deprive the actor of his buskins and his masks and introduce him to the stage as only a ghost, has the actor been lost or does he remain? If he has a voice, he remains.”
“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, whatever kind the playwright desires. If he wishes it to be short, it is short. If he wants it to be long, it is long.
If he wants you to act as a beggar, act even that part seriously. And the same if you are a cripple, a ruler, or a fool. This is your role: to play well the part you were given. It is another’s duty to choose.”
Teles the Philosopher, On Self-Sufficiency (Hense, 5)
“Just as a good actor will carry off well whatever role the poet assigns him, so too a good person should manage well whatever chance allots. For chance, as Biôn says, just like poetry, assigns the role of the first speaker and the second speaker, now a king and then a vagabond. Don’t long to be the second speaker when you have the role of the first. Otherwise, you will create disharmony.”
The contest is open to high school and college students in the US and Canada (as well as the UK and Greece, but on a different schedule with different translations) and there is a $400 prize for first place, and two $200 prizes for second place. We’re using Diane Rayor’s translation and you can choose from a selection of scenes, all of which are available here.
So, record a scene from Medea and submit it by 23rd October 2020. Our panel of judges (including representatives from the British American Drama Academy) will watch all submissions and then announce the winners during the Reading Greek Tragedy Online episode on Medea on 11th November 2020.
This competition has grown out of the weekly meetings of Reading Greek Tragedy Online. We started this project during the early days of the pandemic lockdown in the United States and have learned a lot about Greek tragedy and performance while also maintaining some sense of community even while living alone. We know that this is a year of unparalleled isolation and stress for students and teachers alike, so we designed this project to expand our community and encourage others to strengthen their own.
We encourage creativity and daring, and we welcome all contributions however modest they may seem. Entries can be recorded entirely on zoom, or by groups who are able to share the same space. University or high school groups can enter multiple times, but each actor can appear in only one submission.
“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.