A Brother or a Counterfeit: Theognis on Friendship

Theognis, 93-100

“If someone praises you for as long as you see him
But lashes you with an evil tongue when you are apart,
That kind of man is not a very good friend at all.
He’s the kind who speaks smoothly with his tongue, but harbors different thoughts.

Let me have that kind of friend who knows his companion
And puts up with him when he’s mean or in a rage,
Like a brother. But you, friend, keep these things your heart
And you will remember me in future days.”

ἄν τις ἐπαινήσῃ σε τόσον χρόνον ὅσσον ὁρῴης,
νοσφισθεὶς δ᾿ ἄλλῃ γλῶσσαν ἱῇσι κακήν,
τοιοῦτός τοι ἑταῖρος ἀνὴρ φίλος οὔ τι μάλ᾿ἐσθλός.
ὅς κ᾿ εἴπῃ γλώσσῃ λεῖα, φρονῇ δ᾿ ἕτερα.
ἀλλ᾿ εἴη τοιοῦτος ἐμοὶ φίλος, ὃς τὸν ἑταῖρον
γινώσκων ὀργὴν καὶ βαρὺν ὄντα φέρει
ἀντὶ κασιγνήτου. σὺ δέ μοι, φίλε, ταῦτ᾿ ἐνὶ θυμῷ
φράζεο, καί ποτέ μου μνήσεαι ἐξοπίσω.

117-118

“Nothing is harder than recognizing a counterfeit.
But, Kurnos, there is nothing more urgent than guarding against one.”

κιβδήλου δ᾿ ἀνδρὸς γνῶναι χαλεπώτερον οὐδέν,
Κύρν᾿, οὐδ᾿ εὐλαβίης ἐστὶ περὶ πλέονος.

119-128

“One can survive the ruin from counterfeit silver and gold
Kurnos—and a wise person can easily discover it.
But if a dear friend’s mind is hidden in his chest
When he is false and he has a deceptive heart,
Well this the most counterfeit thing god has made for mortals
And it is the most painful thing of all to recognize.
For you cannot know the mind of a man or a woman
Before you investigate them, like an animal under a yoke—
And you cannot imagine what they are like at the right time
Since the outer image often misleads your judgment.”

Χρυσοῦ κιβδήλοιο καὶ ἀργύρου ἀνσχετὸς ἄτη,
Κύρνε, καὶ ἐξευρεῖν ῥάιδιον ἀνδρὶ σοφῶι.
εἰ δὲ φίλου νόος ἀνδρὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι λελήθηι
ψυδρὸς ἐών, δόλιον δ’ ἐν φρεσὶν ἦτορ ἔχηι,
τοῦτο θεὸς κιβδηλότατον ποίησε βροτοῖσιν,
καὶ γνῶναι πάντων τοῦτ’ ἀνιηρότατον.
οὐδὲ γὰρ εἰδείης ἀνδρὸς νόον οὐδὲ γυναικός,
πρὶν πειρηθείης ὥσπερ ὑποζυγίου,
οὐδέ κεν εἰκάσσαις ὥσπερ ποτ’ ἐς ὥριον ἐλθών·
πολλάκι γὰρ γνώμην ἐξαπατῶσ’ ἰδέαι.

1318a-b

“Alas, I am a wretch: because of the terrors I have suffered
I bring pleasure to my enemies and toil to my friends”

῎Ωιμοι ἐγὼ δειλός· καὶ δὴ κατάχαρμα μὲν ἐχθροῖς,
τοῖσι φίλοις δὲ πόνος δεινὰ παθὼν γενόμην.

1079-80

“I’ll fault no enemy when he is noble,
nor will I praise a friend when he is wrong”

Οὐδένα τῶν ἐχθρῶν μωμήσομαι ἐσθλὸν ἐόντα,
οὐδὲ μὲν αἰνήσω δειλὸν ἐόντα φίλον.

1151–52

“Never dismiss a present friend and seek another
Because you are persuaded by the words of cowardly people.”

μήποτε τὸν παρεόντα μεθεὶς φίλον ἄλλον ἐρεύνα
δειλῶν ἀνθρώπων ῥήμασι πειθόμενος.

 595-598

“Dude, let’s be friends with each other at a distance.
With the exception of wealth, there’s too much of any good thing.
But we can be friends for a long time, just spend time with different men
Who have a better grasp of your mind.”

ἄνθρωπ᾿, ἀλλήλοισιν ἀπόπροθεν ὦμεν ἑταῖροι·
πλὴν πλούτου παντὸς χρήματός ἐστι κόρος.
δὴν δὴ καὶ φίλοι ὦμεν· ἀτάρ τ᾿ ἄλλοισιν ὁμίλει
ἀνδράσιν, οἳ τὸν σὸν μᾶλλον ἴσασι νόον.

1219-1220

“It is difficult for an enemy to deceive
But it is easy for a friend to fool a friend.”

᾿Εχθρὸν μὲν χαλεπὸν καὶ δυσμενεῖ ἐξαπατῆσαι,
Κύρνε· φίλον δὲ φίλωι ῥάιδιον ἐξαπατᾶν.

Friendship
Royal 19 C II  f. 59v

The Highest Good: Friendship

Some Latin passages on Friendship

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi

“Still nothing lightens the spirit as much as sweet and faithful friendship. What a good it is when hearts have been made ready in which every secret may be safely deposited, whose understanding of yourself you worry about less than your own, whose conversation relieves your fear, whose opinion hastens your plans, whose happiness dispels your sadness, and whose very sight delights you!”

Nihil tamen aeque oblectaverit animum, quam amicitia fidelis et dulcis. Quantum bonum est, ubi praeparata sunt pectora, in quae tuto secretum omne descendat, quorum conscientiam minus quam tuam timeas, quorum sermo sollicitudinem leniat, sententia consilium expediat, hilaritas tristitiam dissipet, conspectus ipse delectet!

Image result for Ancient Roman Friendship

Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy 3.35

“The most sacred thing of all is friends, something not recorded as luck but as virtue, since the rest of the goods are embraced with a view toward power or pleasure.”

amicorum vero quod sanctissimum quidem genus est, non in fortuna sed in virtute numeratur, reliquum vero vel potentiae causa vel delectationis assumitur

Cicero, De Finibus 1.64

“A subject remains which is especially important to this debate, that is friendship which, as you believe, will completely disappear if pleasure is the greatest good. Concerning friendship, Epicurus himself says that of all the paths to happiness wisdom has prepared, there is none greater, more productive, or more enchanting than this one. And he did not advocate for friendship in speech alone but much more through his life, his deeds and his customs.

Myths of the ancients illustrate how great friendship is—in those tales however varied and numerous you seek from the deepest part of antiquity and you will find scarcely three pairs of friends, starting with Theseus and up to Orestes. But, Epicurus in one single and quite small home kept so great a crowd of friends united by the depth of their love. And this is still the practice among Epicureans.”

XX Restat locus huic disputationi vel maxime necessarius, de amicitia, quam si voluptas summum sit bonum affirmatis nullam omnino fore; de qua Epicurus quidem ita dicit, omnium rerum quas ad beate vivendum sapientia comparaverit nihil esse maius amicitia, nihil uberius, nihil iucundius. Nec vero hoc oratione solum sed multo magis vita et factis et moribus comprobavit. Quod quam magnum sit fictae veterum fabulae declarant, in quibus tam multis tamque variis, ab ultima antiquitate repetitis, tria vix amicorum paria reperiuntur, ut ad Orestem pervenias profectus a Theseo. At vero Epicurus una in domo, et ea quidem angusta, quam magnos quantaque amoris conspiratione consentientes tenuit amicorum greges! quod fit etiam nunc ab Epicureis.

Herodotus 5.24.2

“An intelligent and well-disposed friend is the finest of all possessions.”

κτημάτων πάντων ἐστὶ τιμιώτατον ἀνὴρ φίλος συνετός τε καὶ εὔνοος

Your Ignorance of My Suffering

Libanius, Letters 155

“You don’t know, dear Heortius, the number or the severity of the sicknesses which are assailing me nor how long this has plagued me. For you would not disregard sympathy and criticize me if you did. But ignorance is harmful to human beings everywhere and it has force you to accuse instead of console. I will not call you out for not knowing about my suffering.

But someone of those who easily criticize you might still say that you were ignorant because you failed to inquire and that you did not inquire because of antipathy, and by attracting a suspicion of arrogance to yourself you risk greater accusations. But I will not do this because I don’t think it is right to ruin a strong friendship through nonsense. But whenever something like this happens, once I search around or a likely cause for events, I make a defense to myself on others’ behalf.”

1. Οὐκ οἶσθα, ὦ φίλε Ἐόρτιε, τῶν προσβαλόντων μοι νοσημάτων οὔτε τὸ πλῆθος οὔτε τὸ μέγεθος οὔτ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ὅσον προῆλθε τοῦ χρόνου. οὐ γὰρ ἄν ποτε ὑπερβὰς τὸ συναλγεῖν ἐμέμφου. νῦν δὲ ἡ ἄγνοια πανταχοῦ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις βλαβερὸν καὶ δὴ καὶ σὲ κατηγορεῖν ἐπῆρεν ἀντὶ τοῦ παραμυθεῖσθαι. ἐγὼ δέ σοι οὐκ ἐγκαλῶ τὸ τὰς δυσκολίας ἡμῶν ἀγνοεῖν.

2. καίτοι φαίη τις ἂν τῶν ὥσπερ σὺ ῥᾳδίως ἐπιτιμώντων, ὡς ἀγνοεῖς μὲν τῷ μὴ πυνθάνεσθαι, οὐ πυνθάνῃ δὲ τῷ μισεῖν, καὶ οὕτως ἂν ὑπεροψίαν προφέρων αὐτὸς ἐνέχοιο μείζοσιν. ἐγὼ δὲ τοῦτο οὐ ποιήσω φιλίαν ἰσχυρὰν ὑβρίζειν οὐκ ἀξιῶν συκοφαντίᾳ. ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν τι γένηται τοιοῦτον, ζητήσας αἰτίαν τοῖς πράγμασιν ἐπιεικεστέραν οὕτω πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἐκείνων ἀπολογοῦμαι.

Image result for medieval manuscript sickness
Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon, MS P.A. 78, Folio 36r

A Fine Poem on Friendship

Martial 12.40

“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”

Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.

Image result for medieval manuscript friendship
Royal 19 C II f. 59v

Cicero Needs Nothing So Much as a Friend

Cicero can seem an insufferable windbag in some of his speeches–but some of his letters humanize him.

Cicero to Atticus 1.18 20 Jan 60

“Know that I need nothing so much as a person to whom I can explain the things I worry about, someone who cares about me, who is wise, to whom I may speak and fabricate nothing, lie about nothing, and hold nothing back.

My brother is away, the most honest and beloved man. Metellus is not a man but instead is “shore and air” and “only solitude”. You, moreover, who most wisely lightens by concern and anxiety of spirit with conversation and counsel, you are my companion in public affairs and my confidant in private matters, and who are usually a companion of all my speeches and plans, where are you? I am so completely isolated that I only have as much relaxation as those moments spend with my wife, my little girl and my sweetest Marcus.

For my ambitious and convenient friendships have a certain shine in public affairs, but they bear no domestic fruit. My home is so full with a crowd in the morning but when I go to the forum with flocks of friends, I can’t find a single person in the great crowd to share a joke with or to whisper familiarly.

This is why I am looking for you, why I miss you, and I am also now calling you home. Many things really trouble me and make me anxious—but these are things which I think I can get off my chest once I have your ears for a talk during a single walk.”

Nihil mihi nunc scito tam deesse quam hominem eum quocum omnia quae me cura aliqua adficiunt una communicem, qui me amet, qui sapiat, quicum ego cum loquar nihil fingam, nihil dissimulem, nihil obtegam. abest enim frater ἀϕελέστατος et amantissimus. †Metellus† non homo sed ‘litus atque aër’ et ‘solitudo me<r>a.’ tu autem qui saepissime curam et angorem animi mei sermone et consilio levasti tuo, qui mihi et in publica re socius et in privatis omnibus conscius et omnium meorum sermonum et consiliorum particeps esse soles, ubinam es? ita sum ab omnibus destitutus ut tantum requietis habeam quantum cum uxore et filiola et mellito Cicerone consumitur. nam illae ambitiosae nostrae fucosaeque amicitiae sunt in quodam splendore forensi, fructum domesticum non habent. itaque cum bene completa domus est tempore matutino, cum ad forum stipati gregibus amicorum descendimus, reperire ex magna turba neminem possumus quocum aut iocari libere aut suspirare familiariter possimus. qua re te exspectamus, te desideramus, te iam etiam arcessimus. multa sunt enim quae me sollicitant anguntque, quae mihi videor auris nactus tuas unius ambulationis sermone exhaurire posse.

Image result for medieval manuscript cicero letter to a friend
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Books–Loyal, Forgiving Friends

Cicero, Letters to Friends 175 to Varro

“Know that since I got back to the city, I have renewed my relationships with my old friends—by which I mean my books. It is not as if I avoided their presence because I was judging them, but because they filled me with shame. For I believe that since I submitted myself to events with the most turbulent and faithless companions, I had insufficiently obeyed my books’ commands.

But they have pardoned me. They welcome me back into that ancient communion and they tell me that you were wiser than I was because you persisted in this practice. But this is how I have achieved an understanding with them and why I think I am right to hope that should I see you again it will be easy for me to manage whatever is happening and whatever threatens in the future.”

scito enim me, postea quam in urbem venerim, redisse cum veteribus amicis, id est cum libris nostris, in gratiam. etsi non idcirco eorum usum dimiseram quod iis suscenserem sed quod eorum me suppudebat; videbar enim mihi, cum me in res turbulentissimas infidelissimis sociis demi<si>ssem, praeceptis illorum non satis paruisse. ignoscunt mihi, revocant in consuetudinem pristinam teque, quod in ea permanseris, sapientiorem quam me dicunt fuisse. quam ob rem, quoniam placatis iis utor, videor sperare debere, si te viderim, et ea quae premant et ea quae impendeant me facile laturum.

Image result for ancient roman books
Why, Salvete Amici!

Living Together and Sharing Perception

Aristotle, Nicomachaean Ethics, 9, 1170

“It follows, then, that the most happy person will need to have friends, if he indeed chooses to gaze upon good and appropriate actions. This is what the activities of a good friend are. People also believe that a happy person’s life should be enjoyable. Life is hard for a solitary person. It is not easy to work constantly on your own. It is easier to do with with others and in partnership with them. Activity which is shared—already necessarily pleasant on its own—will be continuous, which is best for a happy person.

[…]

But since the perception of the fact that one is good is desirable and this perception is pleasing on its own, we need to share our friend’s perception that they exist. We achieve this by living together and sharing our words and thoughts. This is exactly what someone might call “living together” for human beings: it does not mean just grazing together like cattle.”

ὁ μακάριος δὴ φίλων τοιούτων δεήσεται, εἴπερ θεωρεῖν προαιρεῖται πράξεις ἐπιεικεῖς καὶ οἰκείας· τοιαῦται δ᾿ αἱ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ φίλου ὄντος.—οἴονταί τε δεῖν ἡδέως ζῆν τὸν εὐδαίμονα. μονώτῃ μὲν οὖν χαλεπὸς ὁ βίος· οὐ γὰρ ῥᾴδιον καθ᾿ αὑτὸν ἐνεργεῖν συνεχῶς, μεθ᾿ ἑτέρων δὲ καὶ πρὸς ἄλλους ῥᾷον. ἔσται οὖν ἡ ἐνέργεια συνεχεστέρα, ἡδεῖα οὖσα καθ᾿ αὑτήν, ὃ δεῖ περὶ τὸν μακάριον εἶναι.

[…]

τὸ δ᾿ εἶναι ἦν αἱρετὸν διὰ τὸ αἰσθάνεσθαι αὑτοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ὄντος, ἡ δὲ τοιαύτη αἴσθησις ἡδεῖα καθ᾿ ἑαυτήν· συναισθάνεσθαι ἄρα δεῖ καὶ τοῦ φίλου ὅτι ἔστιν, τοῦτο δὲ γίνοιτ᾿ ἂν ἐν τῷ συζῆν καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων καὶ διανοίας· οὕτω γὰρ ἂν δόξειε τὸ συζῆν ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων λέγεσθαι, καὶ οὐχ ὥσπερ ἐπὶ τῶν βοσκημάτων τὸ ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νέμεσθαι.

 

1170

“Friendship with many is difficult. It is hard to share the joy and pain of people personally; we may have to grieve and celebrate at the same time.”
οῦτο δ᾿ ἐργῶδες ἐν πολλοῖς ὑπάρχειν. χαλεπὸν δὲ γίνεται καὶ τὸ συγχαίρειν καὶ τὸ συναλγεῖν οἰκείως πολλοῖς

Friends to Find, Friends to Avoid

Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.6

“Tell me, Kritoboulos, he said, if we wanted a good friend, how could we go about finding one? Must we search first for someone who is in control of his stomach, and drinking, a master of lust, sleep and sloth? For the person who is controlled by these things can’t do what is needed for for himself or a friend.

Certainly, he can’t, he said

So, you think that we need to avoid someone who is ruled by these things.

Absolutely, he said.

Ok, he said, what about the cheapskate who is never happy but is always asking those near him for hings and then does not pay back what he borrows or gets hateful when he doesn’t get anything. Does that kind of person seem to be an annoying friend?

Totally.

So, we need to avoid him too?

Yeah. Avoid that guy.

Ok. What about the person who is really good at making money and is really eager for possessions and for this reason is hard to deal with and takes pleasure in getting things but does not want to give anything?

Well, that guy seems to be to be even worse than the last one.”

Εἰπέ μοι, ἔφη, ὦ Κριτόβουλε, εἰ δεοίμεθα φίλου ἀγαθοῦ, πῶς ἂν ἐπιχειροίημεν σκοπεῖν; ἆρα πρῶτον μὲν ζητητέον, ὅστις ἄρχει γαστρός τε καὶ φιλοποσίας καὶ λαγνείας καὶ ὕπνου καὶ ἀργίας; ὁ γὰρ ὑπὸ τούτων κρατούμενος οὔτ᾿ αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ δύναιτ᾿ ἂν οὔτε φίλῳ τὰ δέοντα πράττειν.
Μὰ Δί᾿ οὐ δῆτα, ἔφη.
Οὐκοῦν τοῦ μὲν ὑπὸ τούτων ἀρχομένου ἀφεκτέον δοκεῖ σοι εἶναι;
Πάνυ μὲν οὖν, ἔφη.
Τί γάρ; ἔφη, ὅστις δαπανηρὸς ὢν μὴ αὐτάρχης ἐστίν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀεὶ τῶν πλησίον δεῖται καὶ λαμβάνων μὲν μὴ δύναται ἀποδιδόναι, μὴ λαμβάνων δὲ τὸν μὴ διδόντα μισεῖ, οὐ δοκεῖ σοι καὶ οὗτος χαλεπὸς φίλος εἶναι;
Πάνυ γ᾿, ἔφη.
Οὐκοῦν ἀφεκτέον καὶ τούτου;
Ἀφεκτέον μέντοι, ἔφη.
Τί γάρ; ὅστις χρηματίζεσθαι μὲν δύναται, πολλῶν δὲ χρημάτων ἐπιθυμεῖ καὶ διὰ τοῦτο δυσσύμβολός ἐστι καὶ λαμβάνων μὲν ἥδεται, ἀποδιδόναι δὲ μὴ βούλεται;
Ἐμοὶ μὲν δοκεῖ, ἔφη, οὗτος ἔτι πονηρότερος ἐκείνου εἶναι.

Would this face lie to you? 

A Brother or a Counterfeit: Theognis on Friendship

Theognis, 93-100

“If someone praises you for as long as you see him
But lashes you with an evil tongue when you are apart,
That kind of man is not a very good friend at all.
He’s the kind who speaks smoothly with his tongue, but harbors different thoughts.

Let me have that kind of friend who knows his companion
And puts up with him when he’s mean or in a rage,
Like a brother. But you, friend, keep these things your heart
And you will remember me in future days.”

ἄν τις ἐπαινήσῃ σε τόσον χρόνον ὅσσον ὁρῴης,
νοσφισθεὶς δ᾿ ἄλλῃ γλῶσσαν ἱῇσι κακήν,
τοιοῦτός τοι ἑταῖρος ἀνὴρ φίλος οὔ τι μάλ᾿ἐσθλός.
ὅς κ᾿ εἴπῃ γλώσσῃ λεῖα, φρονῇ δ᾿ ἕτερα.
ἀλλ᾿ εἴη τοιοῦτος ἐμοὶ φίλος, ὃς τὸν ἑταῖρον
γινώσκων ὀργὴν καὶ βαρὺν ὄντα φέρει
ἀντὶ κασιγνήτου. σὺ δέ μοι, φίλε, ταῦτ᾿ ἐνὶ θυμῷ
φράζεο, καί ποτέ μου μνήσεαι ἐξοπίσω.

117-118

“Nothing is harder than recognizing a counterfeit.
But, Kurnos, there is nothing more urgent than guarding against one.”

κιβδήλου δ᾿ ἀνδρὸς γνῶναι χαλεπώτερον οὐδέν,
Κύρν᾿, οὐδ᾿ εὐλαβίης ἐστὶ περὶ πλέονος.

119-128

“One can survive the ruin from counterfeit silver and gold
Kurnos—and a wise person can easily discover it.
But if a dear friend’s mind is hidden in his chest
When he is false and he has a deceptive heart,
Well this the most counterfeit thing god has made for mortals
And it is the most painful thing of all to recognize.
For you cannot know the mind of a man or a woman
Before you investigate them, like an animal under a yoke—
And you cannot imagine what they are like at the right time
Since the outer image often misleads your judgment.”

Χρυσοῦ κιβδήλοιο καὶ ἀργύρου ἀνσχετὸς ἄτη,
Κύρνε, καὶ ἐξευρεῖν ῥάιδιον ἀνδρὶ σοφῶι.
εἰ δὲ φίλου νόος ἀνδρὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι λελήθηι
ψυδρὸς ἐών, δόλιον δ’ ἐν φρεσὶν ἦτορ ἔχηι,
τοῦτο θεὸς κιβδηλότατον ποίησε βροτοῖσιν,
καὶ γνῶναι πάντων τοῦτ’ ἀνιηρότατον.
οὐδὲ γὰρ εἰδείης ἀνδρὸς νόον οὐδὲ γυναικός,
πρὶν πειρηθείης ὥσπερ ὑποζυγίου,
οὐδέ κεν εἰκάσσαις ὥσπερ ποτ’ ἐς ὥριον ἐλθών·
πολλάκι γὰρ γνώμην ἐξαπατῶσ’ ἰδέαι.

1318a-b

“Alas, I am a wretch: because of the terrors I have suffered
I bring pleasure to my enemies and toil to my friends”

῎Ωιμοι ἐγὼ δειλός· καὶ δὴ κατάχαρμα μὲν ἐχθροῖς,
τοῖσι φίλοις δὲ πόνος δεινὰ παθὼν γενόμην.

1079-80

“I’ll fault no enemy when he is noble,
nor will I praise a friend when he is wrong”

Οὐδένα τῶν ἐχθρῶν μωμήσομαι ἐσθλὸν ἐόντα,
οὐδὲ μὲν αἰνήσω δειλὸν ἐόντα φίλον.

1151–52

“Never dismiss a present friend and seek another
Because you are persuaded by the words of cowardly people.”

μήποτε τὸν παρεόντα μεθεὶς φίλον ἄλλον ἐρεύνα
δειλῶν ἀνθρώπων ῥήμασι πειθόμενος.

 595-598

“Dude, let’s be friends with each other at a distance.
With the exception of wealth, there’s too much of any good thing.
But we can be friends for a long time, just spend time with different men
Who have a better grasp of your mind.”

ἄνθρωπ᾿, ἀλλήλοισιν ἀπόπροθεν ὦμεν ἑταῖροι·
πλὴν πλούτου παντὸς χρήματός ἐστι κόρος.
δὴν δὴ καὶ φίλοι ὦμεν· ἀτάρ τ᾿ ἄλλοισιν ὁμίλει
ἀνδράσιν, οἳ τὸν σὸν μᾶλλον ἴσασι νόον.

1219-1220

“It is difficult for an enemy to deceive
But it is easy for a friend to fool a friend.”

᾿Εχθρὸν μὲν χαλεπὸν καὶ δυσμενεῖ ἐξαπατῆσαι,
Κύρνε· φίλον δὲ φίλωι ῥάιδιον ἐξαπατᾶν.

Friendship
Royal 19 C II  f. 59v

Good Words from Bad People

“Quoting the good words of a bad author will never shame me.”
Numquam me in voce bona mali pudebit auctoris
Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 8

Every so often—and perhaps too frequently in some fields—in turns out that a scholar or artist of some renown is a terrible person. Sometimes, they are garden-variety racists masquerading as free speech warriors; sometimes they just might be international criminals, selling ancient objects they don’t own, and trading on their fame and institutions to manipulate others; and, in the worst of times, they are sexual predators, causing irreparable harm while hiding in plain sight.

When these things happen, academic fields face the same challenges we have seen in recent years in film, SFF fiction, and nearly every industry where fame is a commodity that brings power and the cover to abuse with near impunity. We try to cut out the cancer before it does any more damage, but the presence is there for good, in the body. The debate on the existence and merits of ‘cancel culture’ dances around the hard questions of why some people think they’re entitled to fame and why we do in fact have the right to deprive bad actors of financial gain.

But these questions don’t really talk about what happens afterwards. In her 2016 Eidolon piece “Making a Monster”, Sarah Scullin writes about the strange horror of the Holt Parker fiasco, when an author of some influence on ancient sexuality turned out to be a child pornographer, and trying to figure out the balance between cries for a damnatio memoriae and our disciplinary standards of citing work where citation is due.

I have struggled with this question during what seems to be, thanks to our ever restrictive interconnections, the golden age of public assholery. Certain high profile cases of longterm problems suing undergraduates and famous Geniuses stealing papyri have forced me to face the monsters in my bibliography, and the compromises in my acknowledgements. Should I erase the names of people who have broken bad from my forthcoming work? Should I publicly disavow those who helped me in the past?

People and what we make of them

I guess I ask this because, like Scullin in her article, I am not sure of the answer. I incline in part towards not changing a thing, for two reasons. I feel in part that footnotes and acknowledgements to bad men are a kind of disclosure, a owning of the truth that our field is populated by flawed humans like any other. It also attests to the hierarchy of patronage that is central to the academic enterprise. It is a rare person who can make their way in this world without help from someone more experienced and powerful. And, well, power corrupts in all forms. And, well, getting to the top of the academic ladder does not require being a good human being.

So I guess part of the problem is that our performative obeisance exposes us to a chain of associative kleos which, given the tides of time, can go dus- or eu-. But I am also interested in how much of our behavior is based on a static and deeply problematic view of human beings. It is hard for most of us to accept the degree to which persons and personalities are contextual and that in a culture such as ours so much of what we see as signs of character are reactive and transactive negotiations.

A proverb erroneously attributed to Aristotle, “a friend to all is a friend to none”, would seem to indicate that constancy in treatment from one person to another is some kind of a value. In truth, Aristotle seems to come down on the side of not making all the friends in the Nicomachean Ethics 1170e-1171b) where he does say that “people who have many friends and shout familiarly to everyone appear to be friends of no one” (οἱ δὲ πολύφιλοι καὶ πᾶσιν οἰκείως ἐντυγχάνοντες οὐδενὶ δοκοῦσιν εἶναι φίλοι) because Aristotle argues that one significant goal of friendship is the pleasure of sharing each other’s perception of existing and being good.

Is there anyone who is good or bad to everyone they encounter? Indeed, another proverb from ancient Greek—that justice is doing good to your friends and evil to your enemies—would argue the opposite. Why is it so hard for us to comprehend that someone who was kind to us individually was cruel—if not abusive and worse—to someone else? Part of the problem with our response to the fall of great idols is that our shock and surprise runs counter to what we should already know about human beings. We are not stock characters; we are not constant beings; we are, at best, thin veils of temporary will over conflicting insecurities and desire.

Now, I know that pseudo-Lacanian description will gall many, but I would relent only to say that we conflate the reputations we grant to people for work we appreciate or use with the person themself. We make a metonymic error in seeing the kindness done for an individual as a sign of the sum total of a person’s identity. We make people into things they are not and then suffer the paralysis of horror when they turn out to be something different.

 

Things and what we make of them

For me, this runs up, to, and alongside current conversations about cancel culture. I have written before about my reaction to J. K Rowling being a transphobic trainwreck doing to Hogwart’s what not even Voldemort could achieve. My solution is naively simple: separate the art from the artist. We made Rowling into someone who matters because the world she created matters to us.

Any model of reading and reception that persists in centering the author over the audience is, in my ever so humble opinion, a dangerous distraction from reality rooted in a stubbornly individualistic worldview, steeped partly in monotheism and partly in capitalism (on which, more later). A painting had to be made by someone, of course, but it relies on a syntax of space, color, story, and meaning within and against which the painter operates and whose existence is only completed by the viewer who shares some frames of reference. (And this leaves out the contribution of the laborers who made the canvas and paint, the partner who made the painter’s lunch, the friend who sparked an idea, the custodian who cleans so the painter can paint and so on and so on.)

Literary and academic products draw more on conventions and the contributions of groups, especially audiences, than the individual who brings them to shape in the world. As I talked about probably too much, my favorite metaphor for this from ancient Greece comes from Plato’s Ion, where Socrates explains that a rhapsode (like Ion) is merely one of a series of metal rings that translates the magnetic charge from the “magnet” (which is the Muse or divine power) through a poet, through the rhapsode, to an audience. The one thing I would change about this metaphor is to acknowledge that it is iterative and reflexive. The divine Muse is the sum total of a cultural consciousness, that nearly indescribable shared mind of a language and people particularized in one form of art at one time or another.

Ah, yes, what heady language for academic work! One of the great ironies about the work we do in academia, however, is that despite how collaborative it is, how much it depends on the work of prior scholars, current editors, students, friends and teachers, we mostly credit and prize the individual genius of the scholar who somehow manages to write it down. I tend to thank a lot of people in acknowledgements because I am deeply conscious of my own limitations as a thinker and of how much I have been prompted to think, write, and say by others.

There are different ways to talk about how our minds work with each other. From simple things like cognitive offloading—e.g. couples over time specializing in remembering somethings and not others, relying on each other—to more complex models of group minds and distributed cognition (language etc.), it is clear that not only is no man an island, but each of us is less like a leaf on a tree than a cell in a complex organism. We don’t sense it this way because this is just too big a thought for our limited brains. The human species-wide Dunning-Kruger effect just may be that our individual consciousnesses are for the most part too simple to apprehend how complex we are collectively.

But what if someone is really, really bad? Do we need to socially distance ourselves from bad ideas too?

Where do Ideas come from?

Later, in the same passage of the Ion where he describes the metaphor of a magnet offers as proof the case of Tynnichus, a terrible poet who composed a song everyone loves (Plato, Ion 534d-535a)

“The greatest proof of my argument is Tynnichus of Chalcis who never composed any poem worth remembering except for the paean everyone sings, nearly the most beautiful of all songs, a thing he himself calls “some discovery by the Muses”.

In this example, especially, the god seems to me to demonstrate to us so that there is no doubt, that these poems are not human nor by humans but divine and by the gods and, moreover, that poets aer nother other than interpreters of the gods, inspired in the way that each one is inspired. And the god demonstrated this by having the worst poet compose the finest song.

μέγιστον δὲ τεκμήριον τῷ λόγῳ Τύννιχος ὁ Χαλκιδεύς, ὃς ἄλλο μὲν οὐδὲν πώποτε ἐποίησε ποίημα ὅτου τις ἂν ἀξιώσειεν μνησθῆναι, τὸν δὲ παίωνα ὃν πάντες ᾁδουσι, σχεδόν τι πάντων μελῶν κάλλιστον, ἀτεχνῶς, ὅπερ αὐτὸς λέγει,

‘εὕρημά τι Μοισᾶν.’ ἐν τούτῳ γὰρ δὴ μάλιστά μοι δοκεῖ ὁ θεὸς ἐνδείξασθαι ἡμῖν, ἵνα μὴ διστάζωμεν, ὅτι οὐκ ἀνθρώπινά ἐστιν τὰ καλὰ ταῦτα ποιήματα οὐδὲ ἀνθρώπων, ἀλλὰ θεῖα καὶ θεῶν, οἱ δὲ ποιηταὶ οὐδὲν ἀλλ᾽ ἢ ἑρμηνῆς εἰσιν τῶν θεῶν, κατεχόμενοι ἐξ ὅτου ἂν ἕκαστος κατέχηται. ταῦτα ἐνδεικνύμενος ὁ θεὸς ἐξεπίτηδες διὰ τοῦ φαυλοτάτου ποιητοῦ τὸ κάλλιστον μέλος ᾖσεν

Tynnichus was, in a way, an original one-hit wonder of ancient Greece. It can indeed make sense to wonder when someone creates a piece of art so impactful that its greatness is universally acknowledged why they fail to ever approach the same heights. We psychoanalyze the artist’s anxiety and fear of failure, that they are suddenly flame-throwing relievers who have lost the strike zone. But perhaps Socrates’ solution is simpler and more elegant. Tynnichus did not compose a great song again because he never composed it to begin with.

Where do great ideas come from? Our answer to this is almost always shaped by what we are already conditioned to look for. We gaze at the biographies of great men. We peer into their minds, looking for the difference that made them greater than others. But our gaze in many cases needs to look outward in time and space.

We give credit for inventions and innovations to individuals despite evidence to the contrary. There is good reason to lend credence to theories of multiple discovery or convergent evolution, showing that the intellectual background and shared conditions of a period can lead individuals like Newton and Leibniz to the same place (calculus!). Convergent evolution shows that similar solutions can develop for similar problems in similar circumstances without assigning genius to one place or another

And as my Brandeis colleague Aparna Baskaran explores in her work, complex systems that appear to have intelligence and intention (from cell movement to blocks of birds) can be explained by physics and mathematics as having neither. We impose agency and genius on the world because this is the way we see it.

 

Hit those Moneymakers?

“Simonides seems to have been the first to adapt money-making to songs and to compose his works for pay. This is what Pindar says deceptively in his second Isthmian: “For the Muse was not then greedy or out for hire.”
ὁ Σιμωνίδης δοκεῖ πρῶτος σμικρολογίαν εἰσενεγκεῖν εἰς τὰ ᾄσματα καὶ γράψαι ᾆσμα μισθοῦ. τοῦτο δὲ καὶ Πίνδαρος ἐν τοῖς Ἰσθμιονίκαις φησὶν αἰνιττόμενος·
. . . ἁ Μοῖσα γὰρ οὐ φιλοκερδής πω τότ᾿ ἦν οὐδ᾿ ἐργάτις . . . (2. 6).
Scholiast on Aristophanes’ Peace 695-700

A few weeks ago, a few lines of a song by Micah P. Hinson floated into my head and I went to spotify and started listening. I had not listened to Hinson in years and had nearly forgotten about him. So, I started reading about what had happened to him and discovered pretty quickly that I found him to be quite the objectionable chap. Indeed, so objectionable that I felt uncomfortable using a streaming service to send a fraction of a penny to his bank account. But can we truly buy our way into virtue or out of vice?

One indication of the problem in academia is the way we cite work in most systems: author, date, page. It flattens everything about the process of ideamaking and credits an individual. But the meaning made from that citation has the author of the footnote to thank as well as all the unnamed people who contributed to those ideas. Works have lives far beyond the minds of their authors—imagine if children walked around named Christensen 2010 and Christensen 2011! But citing by article name instead of author would be just a way not talking about the problem

The impetus behind boycotting and de-platforming bad actors is to my mind a good one. It is about depriving harmful people of both the ability to cause further harm and to profit from their harmful action. The melodramatic overreaction to “cancel culture” is in part an entrenched power class’s fragility at being held accountable and in part a panic over what was assumed to be an limitless field of earning. (Although, to be fair, the mobbing part of such cancellation introduces new problems.)

The danger comes in the way we translate our social value into economic worth and how our models of remuneration, citation, and authorship are thoroughly commodified. This is easy for me to see in the proverb “give credit where credit is due,” a saying, perhaps coined by Samuel Adams in 1777 . That word credit from the Latin loan or debt (creditum), according to the OED came through French and Italian conveying both the sense of belief trust and the sense of a loan to be made based on belief and trust.

This overlap between an estimation of moral value and a valuation in financial terms is truly ancient, likely predating Alkaios who famously sings “Man is money—no one poor is noble or honored.” χρήματ᾿ ἄνηρ, πένιχρος δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ εἲς πέλετ᾿ ἔσλος οὐδὲ τιμίος (fr. 360). The conceptual metaphor between reputation and potential financial worth is so ingrained in our culture that we rarely question the logic of rich people deserving their riches. (When we know that great wealth cannot actually be acquired without theft and exploitation.)

Our laws and practices in artistic copyright, intellectual property, publication, patents and more are wholly shaped by the definition of ideas as commodity. Even in the humanities, lines of credit on CVs translate into higher paying jobs, higher wages, better positions. In a school like mine, a book published early in a career might yield no royalties, but the raise I receive of 5% of my salary compounded over 30 years of a career can translate into significant wealth. Our lives (Greek, bioi) are shaped by the translation of our activity into livelihood. And this is one of the most pernicious elisions in our language: the worth of a life in nothing but the value of its work.

To what degree is citing or not citing someone we (or others) find reprehensible about deferred credit, about anxiety over the devaluation of our own esteem. In this, perhaps, is an acknowledgement of the collective nature of our ‘products’ in the risk that others bring us.

“Canceling” a terrible person targets cultural esteem and in many cases may harm them economically. (Although, I think that for someone like Rowling, her income growth will turn merely incremental from exponential.) Because I think poets are not wholly responsible for their poems, I can enjoy the verse of a bad person. But I don’t want to pay for it.

But if citation and mention translates into esteem, what does it mean to talk about the good works of bad people in public? What does it mean to cite the useful article of the shitbird academic? My first answer—to be honest about the field that makes us all complicit in propping up petty and nasty people—does not stand up well to the danger that an unmarked acknowledgment now may translate into future benefit for the person whose work I don’t despise.

 

Everything’s Coming Up Solon

“People have an ancient famous proverb:
That you should not judge any mortal lives
You can’t see them as good or bad before someone dies
Λόγος μὲν ἔστ᾿ ἀρχαῖος ἀνθρώπων φανεὶς
ὡς οὐκ ἂν αἰῶν᾿ ἐκμάθοις βροτῶν, πρὶν ἂν
θάνῃ τις, οὔτ᾿ εἰ χρηστὸς οὔτ᾿ εἴ τῳ κακός·
Sophocles, Trachinae 1-3

Some of us like to think that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, but instead, I think we’re really talking about a sphere giving in to entropy. Most things get worse, or at least get to be less of what they were, over time. The likelihood of someone you know upsetting or disappointing you overtime is non-negligible. That’s because none of us are consistently anything except for alive, until we’re not.

In the same essay where he declares himself immune to shame over quoting good words from bad authors, Seneca quotes from Publilius Syrus that “whatever can happen to someone else can also happen to you” (cuivis potest accidere quod cuiquam potest, De Tranq. 9). This line is part of an anti-hubris “check yourself before you wreck yourself” ethic, but it also reminds me of Herodotus’ Solon, who warned Croseus not to count a man as lucky before his days have ended

If you live a thoroughly wretched life but your last day is good, does that mean people to come can call you happy, Solon? And if you do mostly good, but have a really bad day, does that undo the good? And can we even manage to think about whether Solon’s notion is about pleasure at your own good and not actually doing good for other people? Clearly, this is not the place to answer this, but it seems likely that at the end of every person’s life we hear something like, “Indeed, Socrates, after all this talk, I guess we still don’t know what happiness is.”

One peril of admiring (or citing) anyone is that over a lifetime we’re all pretty much certain to disappoint. I like to think that Solon’s logic also contains the corollary that if life can turn out badly at the last moment, it can also turn out well. To believe in the possibility of education one must believe that people have the capacity to change. So, perhaps the bad words of a good author will improve and a bad author might turn out to be a better person some day.

But then we are back to the pageantry of withhdrawal and return, of wondering if someone has reformed truly or is merely back in disguise for more lines of credit. What are our limits on forgiveness? How much do we believe in personal growth? Separating the work from the life and the person from work may help liberate us all. And then we can get back to the hard work of living together and understanding ourselves.

 

Go here for a scholarly debrief on footnote practices.

 

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Quentin Matsys Allegory of Folly