Humankind’s Slow Upbringing and What Fathers See

Plutarch, On Affection for Offspring 496e-497a

“The one who planted grapes at the spring equinox harvests them in the fall; he sowed wheat when the Pleaides were setting and reaped them as they rose. Cows, horses, and birds bear young who are already useful—but humankind’s offspring grows slowly and with much toil; our excellence is far away and most fathers die before we attain it.

Neokles did not see Themistokles’ Salamis; Miltiades’ did not witness Cimon’s Eurymedon; Xanthippus never heard Perikles addressing the people nor did Aristôn hear Plato’s philosophy. The fathers of Euripides and Sophokles did not know the victories of their sons. But they did hear their lisping and their first syllables; and they saw their parties, and drinking, and crazy loves—whatever kind of nonsense young men pursue…”

ἀμπελῶν᾿ ἰσημερίας ἐαρινῆς σκάψας μετοπωρινῆς ἐτρύγησε, πυρὸν ἔσπειρε δυομένης Πλειάδος εἶτ᾿ ἀνατελλούσης θερίζει, βόες καὶ ἵπποι καὶ ὄρνιθες ἕτοιμα τίκτουσιν ἐπὶ τὰς χρείας· ἀνθρώπου δ᾿ ἡ μὲν ἐκτροφὴ πολύπονος ἡ δ᾿ αὔξησις βραδεῖα, τῆς δ᾿ ἀρετῆς μακρὰν οὔσης προαποθνήσκουσιν οἱ πλεῖστοι πατέρες. οὐκ ἐπεῖδε τὴν Σαλαμῖνα Νεοκλῆς τὴν Θεμιστοκλέους οὐδὲ τὸν Εὐρυμέδοντα Μιλτιάδης τὸν Κίμωνος, οὐδ᾿ ἤκουσε Περικλέους Ξάνθιππος δημηγοροῦντος οὐδ᾿ Ἀρίστων Πλάτωνος φιλοσοφοῦντος, οὐδ᾿ Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους νίκας οἱ πατέρες ἔγνωσαν· ψελλιζόντων καὶ συλλαβιζόντων ἠκροῶντο καὶ κώμους καὶ πότους καὶ ἔρωτας αὐτῶν οἷα νέοι πλημμελούντων ἐπεῖδον…

Plutarch, On the Education of Children 20

“Once I add a few more things, I will complete my proposals. Beyond all other things, it is necessary that fathers, by avoiding transgressions and doing everything that is required, offer themselves as a clear example to their children, so that when looking at their father’s life as if in a mirror they may turn away from shameful deeds and words. Whoever makes the same mistakes as those for which they punish their sons become their own accusers under their sons’ names without realizing it . Men who live life poorly in every way do not possess the right to criticize their slaves, much less their sons. In addition, they could become their sons’ advisers and teachers of crime. For whenever old men behave shamefully, it is by necessity that their young are the most shameless.”

Βραχέα δὲ προσθεὶς ἔτι περιγράψω τὰς ὑποθήκας. πρὸ πάντων γὰρ δεῖ τοὺς πατέρας τῷ μηδὲν ἁμαρτάνειν ἀλλὰ πάνθ’ ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἐναργὲς αὑτοὺς παράδειγμα τοῖς τέκνοις παρέχειν, ἵνα πρὸς τὸν τούτων βίον ὥσπερ κάτοπτρον ἀποβλέποντες ἀποτρέπωνται τῶν αἰσχρῶν ἔργων καὶ λόγων. ὡς οἵτινες τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν υἱοῖς ἐπιτιμῶντες τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτήμασι περιπίπτουσιν, ἐπὶ τῷ ἐκείνων ὀνόματι λανθάνουσιν ἑαυτῶν κατήγοροι γιγνόμενοι• τὸ δ’ ὅλον φαύλως ζῶντες οὐδὲ τοῖς δούλοις παρρησίαν ἄγουσιν ἐπιτιμᾶν, μή τί γε τοῖς υἱοῖς. χωρὶς δὲ τούτων γένοιντ’ ἂν αὐτοῖς τῶν ἀδικημάτων σύμβουλοι καὶ διδάσκαλοι. ὅπου γὰρ γέροντές εἰσιν ἀναίσχυντοι, ἐνταῦθ’ ἀνάγκη καὶ νέους ἀναιδεστάτους εἶναι.

Euripides, Supp. 1101-2

“Nothing is sweeter to an old father than a daughter”

πατρὶ δ᾽ οὐδὲν †ἥδιον†

γέροντι θυγατρός

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Humankind’s Slow Upbringing and What Fathers See

Plutarch, On Affection for Offspring 496e-497a

“The one who planted grapes at the spring equinox harvests them in the fall; he sowed wheat when the Pleaides were setting and reaped them as they rose. Cows, horses, and birds bear young who are already useful—but humankind’s offspring grows slowly and with much toil; our excellence is far away and most fathers die before we attain it.

Neokles did not see Themistokles’ Salamis; Miltiades’ did not witness Cimon’s Eurymedon; Xanthippus never heard Perikles addressing the people nor did Aristôn hear Plato’s philosophy. The fathers of Euripides and Sophokles did not know the victories of their sons. But they did hear their lisping and their first syllables; and they saw their parties, and drinking, and crazy loves—whatever kind of nonsense young men pursue…”

ἀμπελῶν᾿ ἰσημερίας ἐαρινῆς σκάψας μετοπωρινῆς ἐτρύγησε, πυρὸν ἔσπειρε δυομένης Πλειάδος εἶτ᾿ ἀνατελλούσης θερίζει, βόες καὶ ἵπποι καὶ ὄρνιθες ἕτοιμα τίκτουσιν ἐπὶ τὰς χρείας· ἀνθρώπου δ᾿ ἡ μὲν ἐκτροφὴ πολύπονος ἡ δ᾿ αὔξησις βραδεῖα, τῆς δ᾿ ἀρετῆς μακρὰν οὔσης προαποθνήσκουσιν οἱ πλεῖστοι πατέρες. οὐκ ἐπεῖδε τὴν Σαλαμῖνα Νεοκλῆς τὴν Θεμιστοκλέους οὐδὲ τὸν Εὐρυμέδοντα Μιλτιάδης τὸν Κίμωνος, οὐδ᾿ ἤκουσε Περικλέους Ξάνθιππος δημηγοροῦντος οὐδ᾿ Ἀρίστων Πλάτωνος φιλοσοφοῦντος, οὐδ᾿ Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους νίκας οἱ πατέρες ἔγνωσαν· ψελλιζόντων καὶ συλλαβιζόντων ἠκροῶντο καὶ κώμους καὶ πότους καὶ ἔρωτας αὐτῶν οἷα νέοι πλημμελούντων ἐπεῖδον…

Plutarch, On the Education of Children 20

“Once I add a few more things, I will complete my proposals. Beyond all other things, it is necessary that fathers, by avoiding transgressions and doing everything that is required, offer themselves as a clear example to their children, so that when looking at their father’s life as if in a mirror they may turn away from shameful deeds and words. Whoever makes the same mistakes as those for which they punish their sons become their own accusers under their sons’ names without realizing it . Men who live life poorly in every way do not possess the right to criticize their slaves, much less their sons. In addition, they could become their sons’ advisers and teachers of crime. For whenever old men behave shamefully, it is by necessity that their young are the most shameless.”

Βραχέα δὲ προσθεὶς ἔτι περιγράψω τὰς ὑποθήκας. πρὸ πάντων γὰρ δεῖ τοὺς πατέρας τῷ μηδὲν ἁμαρτάνειν ἀλλὰ πάνθ’ ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἐναργὲς αὑτοὺς παράδειγμα τοῖς τέκνοις παρέχειν, ἵνα πρὸς τὸν τούτων βίον ὥσπερ κάτοπτρον ἀποβλέποντες ἀποτρέπωνται τῶν αἰσχρῶν ἔργων καὶ λόγων. ὡς οἵτινες τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν υἱοῖς ἐπιτιμῶντες τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτήμασι περιπίπτουσιν, ἐπὶ τῷ ἐκείνων ὀνόματι λανθάνουσιν ἑαυτῶν κατήγοροι γιγνόμενοι• τὸ δ’ ὅλον φαύλως ζῶντες οὐδὲ τοῖς δούλοις παρρησίαν ἄγουσιν ἐπιτιμᾶν, μή τί γε τοῖς υἱοῖς. χωρὶς δὲ τούτων γένοιντ’ ἂν αὐτοῖς τῶν ἀδικημάτων σύμβουλοι καὶ διδάσκαλοι. ὅπου γὰρ γέροντές εἰσιν ἀναίσχυντοι, ἐνταῦθ’ ἀνάγκη καὶ νέους ἀναιδεστάτους εἶναι.

Euripides, Supp. 1101-2

“Nothing is sweeter to an old father than a daughter”

πατρὶ δ᾽ οὐδὲν †ἥδιον†

γέροντι θυγατρός

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Education and Easy Burials: Two Socratic Anecdotes

Both of these anecdotes appear in Stobaeus where they are attributed to Aelian

Stob. 4.55.10

When Socrates was about to drink the hemlock, and those accompanying Crito asked him how he wished to be buried, he answered “however is easiest for you.”

ὁ Σωκράτης ἐπεὶ τὸ κώνειον ἔμελλε πίεσθαι, τῶν ἀμφὶ τὸν Κρίτωνα ἐρομένων αὐτὸν τίνα τρόπον ταφῆναι θέλει, “ὅπως ἂν ὑμῖν” ἀπεκρίνατο “ᾖ ῥᾷστον.”

Stob. 2.31.38

“Noble Socrates reproached fathers who did not teach their sons and then, when they were destitute, took their sons to court and sued them as ungrateful because they did not support their parents. He said that the fathers were expecting something impossible: those who have not learned just actions are incapable of performing them”

Σωκράτης ὁ γενναῖος ᾐτιᾶτο τῶν πατέρων ἐκείνους, ὅσοι <μὴ> παιδεύσαντες αὑτῶν τοὺς υἱεῖς, εἶτα ἀπορούμενοι ἦγον ἐπὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς τοὺς νεανίσκους καὶ ἔκρινον αὐτοὺς ἀχαριστίας, ὅτι οὐ τρέφονται ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν. εἶπε γὰρ ἀδύνατον ἀξιοῦν τοὺς πατέρας· μὴ γὰρ οἵους τε εἶναι τοὺς μὴ μαθόντας τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖν αὐτά.

 

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Diomedes, Worse and Better than His Father

Homer, Iliad 4. 370-400

Agamemnon criticizes Diomedes for not rushing into battle by telling him a story of his father. As a side note, Tydeus might not be the best example: he ate human brains.

“Oh man, son of wise-minded Tydeus the horse-tamer,
Why are you lurking, why are you peeping over the bridges of war?
It wasn’t dear to Tydeus, at least, to lurk like this,
But he fought with his enemies far in front of his companions—
That’s what those who saw him toiling say. I never met the man myself
Nor saw him. But they say he was better than the rest.
For, certainly, he went to Mycenae outside of war
As a guest when he was gathering an army with godly Polyneikos.
Then, they went on an expedition to the sacred walls of Thebes,
And they were begging that famous allies would join them.
They were willing to go and they were assenting to what they asked
Until Zeus changed their minds by revealing fateful signs.
So then, after they left and were on the road,
They arrived at the Asopos, deep in reeds and grass
And the Achaeans Tydeus forward on embassy.
There, stranger though he was, horse-driver Tydeus
was not frightened, alone among many Cadmeans.
But he challenged them to contests and won victory in all
easily. Such a guardian was Athena for your father!
But the Cadmeans, drivers of horses, were angered
and, as he departed from the city, they set up a close ambush
of fifty youths; there were two leaders,
Maeon, son of Haemon, peer of the immortals,
and Autophonus’ son, Polyphontes, staunch in fight.
But Tydeus let loose on them a unseemly fate:
he slew them all and only one man he sent to return home:
he sent Maion, trusting in the signs of the gods.
Such a man was Aitolian Tydeus; but he fathered a son
weaker than he in battle, but better in the assembly.”

“ὤ μοι Τυδέος υἱὲ δαΐφρονος ἱπποδάμοιο
τί πτώσσεις, τί δʼ ὀπιπεύεις πολέμοιο γεφύρας;
οὐ μὲν Τυδέϊ γʼ ὧδε φίλον πτωσκαζέμεν ἦεν,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρὸ φίλων ἑτάρων δηΐοισι μάχεσθαι,
ὡς φάσαν οἵ μιν ἴδοντο πονεύμενον· οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε
ἤντησʼ οὐδὲ ἴδον· περὶ δʼ ἄλλων φασὶ γενέσθαι.
ἤτοι μὲν γὰρ ἄτερ πολέμου εἰσῆλθε Μυκήνας
ξεῖνος ἅμʼ ἀντιθέῳ Πολυνείκεϊ λαὸν ἀγείρων·
οἳ δὲ τότʼ ἐστρατόωνθʼ ἱερὰ πρὸς τείχεα Θήβης,
καί ῥα μάλα λίσσοντο δόμεν κλειτοὺς ἐπικούρους·
οἳ δʼ ἔθελον δόμεναι καὶ ἐπῄνεον ὡς ἐκέλευον·
ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς ἔτρεψε παραίσια σήματα φαίνων.
οἳ δʼ ἐπεὶ οὖν ᾤχοντο ἰδὲ πρὸ ὁδοῦ ἐγένοντο,
Ἀσωπὸν δʼ ἵκοντο βαθύσχοινον λεχεποίην,
ἔνθʼ αὖτʼ ἀγγελίην ἐπὶ Τυδῆ στεῖλαν Ἀχαιοί.
αὐτὰρ ὃ βῆ, πολέας δὲ κιχήσατο Καδμεΐωνας
δαινυμένους κατὰ δῶμα βίης Ἐτεοκληείης.
ἔνθʼ οὐδὲ ξεῖνός περ ἐὼν ἱππηλάτα Τυδεὺς
τάρβει, μοῦνος ἐὼν πολέσιν μετὰ Καδμείοισιν,
ἀλλʼ ὅ γʼ ἀεθλεύειν προκαλίζετο, πάντα δʼ ἐνίκα
ῥηϊδίως· τοίη οἱ ἐπίρροθος ἦεν Ἀθήνη.
οἳ δὲ χολωσάμενοι Καδμεῖοι κέντορες ἵππων
ἂψ ἄρʼ ἀνερχομένῳ πυκινὸν λόχον εἷσαν ἄγοντες
κούρους πεντήκοντα· δύω δʼ ἡγήτορες ἦσαν,
Μαίων Αἱμονίδης ἐπιείκελος ἀθανάτοισιν,
υἱός τʼ Αὐτοφόνοιο μενεπτόλεμος Πολυφόντης.
Τυδεὺς μὲν καὶ τοῖσιν ἀεικέα πότμον ἐφῆκε·
πάντας ἔπεφνʼ, ἕνα δʼ οἶον ἵει οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι·
Μαίονʼ ἄρα προέηκε θεῶν τεράεσσι πιθήσας.
τοῖος ἔην Τυδεὺς Αἰτώλιος· ἀλλὰ τὸν υἱὸν
γείνατο εἷο χέρεια μάχῃ, ἀγορῇ δέ τʼ ἀμείνω.”

Schol. ad Il. 4.400a

“[but you] are better in the assembly”: For Tydeus had no part of speech. Antimakhos claims that Tydeus was raised among swineherds; Euripides [says] “he was not clever with words, but with the shield” (Suppl. 902). [Agamemnon] speaks persuasively because he is taking precautions against this speaker, in order that he might be reluctant to respond in defense. For this reason, Diomedes says nothing.”

ἀγορῇ δέ τ’ ἀμείνω: οὐ γὰρ μετεῖχε λόγου Τυδεύς. b | ᾿Αντίμαχός (fr. 13 W.) φησι παρὰ συφορβοῖς τετράφθαι Τυδέα, Εὐριπίδης δὲ „οὐκ ἐν λόγοις ἦν δεινός, ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀσπίδι” (Suppl. 902). | πιθανῶς δὲ προφυλαξάμενος ἀγορητὴν αὐτόν φησιν, ἵνα πρὸς τὴν ἀπολογίαν ὀκνήσῃ· διὸ οὐδὲν προσφθέγγεται ὁ Διομήδης.
A b (BCE3E4)T

 

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What the World Needs Now: Two Ears, One Mouth

On using twitter and the internet to trace the history of a cherished proverb; or, on the birth of a t-shirt.

Last fall, I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

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

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Continue reading “What the World Needs Now: Two Ears, One Mouth”

Plutarch’s Pre-Mother’s Day Advice for Fathers: Be A Good Example

Plutarch, On the Education of Children 20

“Once I add a few more things, I will complete my proposals. Beyond all other things, it is necessary that fathers, by avoiding transgressions and doing everything that is required, offer themselves as a clear example to their children, so that when looking at their father’s life as if in a mirror they may turn away from shameful deeds and words. Whoever makes the same mistakes as those for which they punish their sons become their own accusers under their sons’ names without realizing it . Men who live life poorly in every way do not possess the right to criticize their slaves, much less their sons. In addition, they could become their sons’ advisors and teachers of crime. For whenever old men behave shamefully, it is by necessity that the young are the most shameless.”

Βραχέα δὲ προσθεὶς ἔτι περιγράψω τὰς ὑποθήκας. πρὸ πάντων γὰρ δεῖ τοὺς πατέρας τῷ μηδὲν ἁμαρτάνειν ἀλλὰ πάνθ’ ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἐναργὲς αὑτοὺς παράδειγμα τοῖς τέκνοις παρέχειν, ἵνα πρὸς τὸν τούτων βίον ὥσπερ κάτοπτρον ἀποβλέποντες ἀποτρέπωνται τῶν αἰσχρῶν ἔργων καὶ λόγων. ὡς οἵτινες τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν υἱοῖς ἐπιτιμῶντες τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτήμασι περιπίπτουσιν, ἐπὶ τῷ ἐκείνων ὀνόματι λανθάνουσιν ἑαυτῶν κατήγοροι γιγνόμενοι• τὸ δ’ ὅλον φαύλως ζῶντες οὐδὲ τοῖς δούλοις παρρησίαν ἄγουσιν ἐπιτιμᾶν, μή τί γε τοῖς υἱοῖς. χωρὶς δὲ τούτων γένοιντ’ ἂν αὐτοῖς τῶν ἀδικημάτων σύμβουλοι καὶ διδάσκαλοι. ὅπου γὰρ γέροντές εἰσιν ἀναίσχυντοι, ἐνταῦθ’ ἀνάγκη καὶ νέους ἀναιδεστάτους εἶναι.