Utilitatis Aliquid: A Literary Syllabus for Eloquence and Erudition

Quintilian 1.8

“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.

File:Robinet Testard32.jpg

Portrait of Matthaeus Platearius d.c.1161 writing “The Book of Simple Medicines”, c.1470 (Wikimedia Commons)

Keep It Simple! Quintilian on Textbooks and Teaching

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 8.1-3

“The order of the material which was collected in the previous five books introduces the concepts of Invention and Disposition. While it is necessary to understand these completely and deeply to obtain the highest level of learning, it is advantageous for those just beginning to be exposed to them rather briefly and directly.

Beginners are often deterred by the difficulty of such a complex and perplexing course of study or, at the very moment when their intelligences require nourishing and cultivation with some indulgence, they are exhausted by the handling of rather obscure material. They also may think they if they have learned these things enough they can consider themselves prepared for eloquence or, because they are addicted to some other fast rules of speaking, they resist any new attempt.

This is why it is the case that those who are the best writers of textbooks diverge the most from eloquence. Beginners need a path to guide them, but it should be clearly laid out, walkable, and easy to see. The talented teacher, then, should choose the best things from all sources and convey those things in the present which are effective without introducing delay by disputing contrary views.”

His fere, quae in proximos quinque libros conlata sunt, ratio inveniendi atque inventa disponendi continetur, quam ut per omnis numeros penitus cognoscere ad summam scientiae necessarium est, ita incipientibus brevius ac simplicius tradi magis convenit. Aut enim difficultate institutionis tam numerosae atque perplexae deterreri solent, aut eo tempore quo praecipue alenda ingenia atque indulgentia quadam enutrienda sunt asperiorum tractatu rerum atteruntur, aut si haec sola didicerunt satis se ad eloquentiam instructos arbitrantur, aut quasi ad certas quasdam dicendi leges alligati conatum omnem reformidant. Unde existimant accidisse ut qui diligentissimi artium scriptores extiterint ab eloquentia longissime fuerint. Via tamen opus est incipientibus, sed ea plana et cum ad ingrediendum tum ad demonstrandum expedita. Eligat itaque peritus ille praeceptor ex omnibus optima et tradat ea demum in praesentia quae placet, remota refutandi cetera mora.

 

Related image

The Transformation of Philosophy into Philology

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“Attalus used to praise a pillow which resisted the weight of the body. I use one like this too, now that I am old, in which it is impossible to leave a trace of my presence. I tell you these things so I might indicate how fiery new students are toward their first attractions to the best matters, if anyone should encourage them or kindle them that way.

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Laudare solebat Attalus culcitam, quae resisteret corpori; tali utor etiam senex, in qua vestigium apparere non possit. Haec rettuli ut probarem tibi, quam vehementes haberent tirunculi impetus primos ad optima quaeque, si quis exhortaretur illos, si quis incenderet. Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

Related image

Roman Sarcophagus with Children, Vienna, Museum of Art History (c. 2nd Century CE)

Teaching–“the most rigorous form of learning”

Solon, fr. 18

“I grow old, always learning many things.”

γηράσκω δ’ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος·

Kim Stanley Robinson The Years of Rice and Salt (2003: 758)

“Over time, Bao came to understand that teaching too was a kind of reincarnation, in that years passed and students came and went, new young people all the time, but always the same age, taking the same class; the class under the oak trees, reincarnated. He began to enjoy that aspect of it. He would start the first class by saying, “Look, here we are again.” They never knew what to make of it; same response, every time.

He learned, among other things, that teaching was the most rigorous form of learning. He learned to learn more from his students than they did from him; like so many other things, it was the reverse from what it seemed to be, and colleges existed to bring together groups of young people to teach some chosen few of their elders the things that they knew about life, that the old teachers had been in danger of forgetting.”

Kim Stanley Robinson is great-souled. This book is beyond simple description. Try it.

Thinking about aging today? Here is another great reflection on aging, teaching, and changing roles in life by Stephanie McCarter.

Image result for herakles and geras

Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

Related image
Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

Children and the Uneducated Need Scary Stories

Strabo 1.8

“Whenever you also consider the amazing and the disturbing, you amplify the pleasure which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years, we must use this sort of thing to entice children, but as their age increases we must lead them to a knowledge of reality as soon as their perception has gotten stronger and they no longer need much cajoling. Every illiterate and ignorant person is in some way a child and loves stories like a child. The one who has been only partially educated is similar, for he does not abound in the ability to reason and, in addition, his childish custom persists. Since not only frightening but also disturbing tales bring pleasure, we need to use both of these kinds of tales for children and those who are grown up too. For children, we provide pleasing fictions to encourage them and frightening tales to deter them.”

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. καὶ ἰδιώτης δὲ πᾶς καὶ ἀπαίδευτος τρόπον τινὰ παῖς ἐστι φιλομυθεῖ τε ὡσαύτως· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ πεπαιδευμένος μετρίως· οὐδὲ γὰρ οὗτος ἰσχύει τῷ λογισμῷ, πρόσεστι δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐκ παιδὸς ἔθος. ἐπεὶ δ᾿ οὐ μόνον ἡδύ, ἀλλὰ καὶ φοβερὸν τὸ τερατῶδες, ἀμφοτέρων ἐστὶ τῶν εἰδῶν χρεία πρός τε τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τοὺς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ· τοῖς τε γὰρ παισὶ προσφέρομεν τοὺς ἡδεῖς μύθους εἰς προτροπήν, εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δὲ τοὺς φοβερούς.

Image result for Ancient Greek vase monsters

Two Accounts for the Name Therapne: Helen Dendrites; Clever Menelaos

In a mythography assignment, several students wrote about cults of Helen in the ancient world (below are some of the secondary texts I told them to consult). I don’t know if I forgot or just never heard of the story of Helen’s death in Rhodes (below). Several students mentioned this (including the one who just wrote about Helen’s deaths). Pausanias presents the best known account of this story; there is a variation from a rhetorician below.

Pausanias 3.19. 9–13

“Therapnê has its name for the country from the daughter of Lelegos. There is a shrine of Menelaos there where they say that Menelaos and Helen are married. The Rhodians do not agree with the Lakedamonians when they say that because Menelaos died and Orestes was still wandering, Helen was expelled by Nikostratos and Megapenthes and arrived in Rhodes where she had help from Poluksô, the wife of Tlepolemos. Poluksô was Argive by birth, and she shared Tlepolemos’ exile to Rhodes after she married him. Then she ruled the island, abandoned with an orphan child. They claim that this Poluksô, once she got her in her power, wanted to take vengeance upon Helen for the death of Tlepolemos. When Helen was bathing, she sent serving women dressed up just like the Furies to her. These women took ahold of Helen and hanged her from a tree. For this reason, there is a shrine to “Helen of the Tree”.

Θεράπνη δὲ ὄνομα μὲν τῷ χωρίῳ γέγονεν ἀπὸ τῆς Λέλεγος θυγατρός, Μενελάου δέ ἐστιν ἐν αὐτῇ ναός, καὶ Μενέλαον καὶ Ἑλένην ἐνταῦθα ταφῆναι λέγουσιν. Ῥόδιοι δὲ οὐχ ὁμολογοῦντες Λακεδαιμονίοις φασὶν Ἑλένην Μενελάου τελευτήσαντος, Ὀρέστου δὲ ἔτι πλανωμένου, τηνικαῦτα ὑπὸ Νικοστράτου καὶ Μεγαπένθους διωχθεῖσαν ἐς Ῥόδον ἀφικέσθαι Πολυξοῖ τῇ Τληπολέμου γυναικὶ ἔχουσαν ἐπιτηδείως· εἶναι γὰρ καὶ Πολυξὼ τὸ γένος Ἀργείαν, Τηλπολέμῳ δὲ ἔτι πρότερον συνοικοῦσαν φυγῆς μετασχεῖν τῆς ἐς Ῥόδον καὶ τῆς νήσου τηνικαῦτα ἄρχειν ὑπολειπομένην ἐπὶ ὀρφανῷ παιδί. ταύτην τὴν Πολυξώ φασιν ἐπιθυμοῦσαν Ἑλένην τιμωρήσασθαι τελευτῆς τῆς Τληπολέμου τότε, ὡς ἔλαβεν αὐτὴν ὑποχείριον, ἐπιπέμψαι οἱ λουμένῃ θεραπαίνας Ἐρινύσιν ἴσα ἐσκευασμένας· καὶ αὗται διαλαβοῦσαι δὴ τὴν Ἑλένην αἱ γυναῖκες ἀπάγχουσιν ἐπὶ δένδρου, καὶ ἐπὶ τούτῳ Ῥοδίοις Ἑλένης ἱερόν ἐστι Δενδρίτιδος.

Polyainos, 2nd Century CE (Strategemata 1.13)

“When Menelaos was leaving from Egypt and bringing Helen along he visited Rhodes. The wife of Tlepolemos, who died at Troy, Poluksô, was grieving when someone announced that Menelaos had arrived with Helen. She was planned to avenge her husband and ran toward the ships with all of the Rhodian men and women gathering up stones and fire. When Menelaos was prevented from departing by a wind, he hid Helen in the hollow ship and put her outfit and crown on the maid who was most beautiful. Because they actually believed that this was Helen, they [hurled] fire and stones at the serving woman and retreated because they believed that the death of Helen was a sufficient retribution for Tlepolemos. Then Menelaos sailed away, keeping Helen.”

Μενέλαος ἐπανιὼν ἀπ’ Αἰγύπτου τὴν ῾Ελένην ἄγων ῾Ρόδῳ προσέσχε. Τληπολέμου δὲ ἐν Τροίᾳ τεθνηκότος γυνὴ Πολυξὼ πενθοῦσα, ἐπειδή τις ἤγγειλε Μενέλεων μετὰ τῆς ῾Ελένης ἥκειν, τιμωρῆσαι τῷ ἀνδρὶ βουλομένη μετὰ ῾Ροδίων ἁπάντων ἀνδρῶν καὶ γυναικῶν αἰρομένων πῦρ καὶ λίθους ἐπὶ τὰς ναῦς κατέδραμε. Μενέλεως ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος ἀναχθῆναι κωλυόμενος τὴν μὲν ῾Ελένην ἐς κοίλην ναῦν κατέκρυψε, τὸν δὲ κόσμον αὐτῆς καὶ τὸ διάδημα θεραπαίνῃ τῇ μάλιστα καλλίστῃ περιέθηκεν. οἱ δὲ (μάλιστα) πιστεύσαντες ῾Ελένην εἶναι πῦρ καὶ λίθους ἐπὶ τὴν θεράπαιναν *** καὶ ὡς ἱκανὴν δίκην ἐπὶ τῷ Τληπολέμῳ λαβόντες τὸν ῾Ελένης θάνατον ἀνεχώρησαν. Μενέλεως δὲ τὴν ῾Ελένην ἔχων ἀπέπλευσεν.

 Image result for ancient greek vase helen death

Some useful texts

Ruby Blondell. Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation. Oxford: 2013.

Linda Lee Clader. Helen: The Evolution from Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 1976.

Lowell Edmunds. Stealing Helen: The Myth of the Abducted Wife in Comparative Perspective. Princeton 2016.

R. Farnell. The Cults of the Greek City States. 5 Volumes.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek myth: a guide to literary and artistic sources. Baltimore.

Robert Fowler. Early Greek Mythography. 2 Vols. 2000 and 2013.

Jennifer Larson. Greek Heroine Cults. Madison, 1995. BL795.H47 L37 1995