According to Plutarch, Alcibiades once punched a teacher because he didn’t have any books of Homer to lend him. Imagine if the volatile Alcibiades were a student today in Texas or one of the other American states where students at public universities may now legally carry concealed firearms (if licensed)!
[Molôn aphes not Molôn labe: trans: “Come, but leave it”.]
Of course, this is riffing on the ubiquitous “μολὼν λαβέ” motto that has appeared on everything from t-shirts to personalized guns (I went through a couple iterations of this with the inimitable Armand D’Angour last fall).
(seriously. do a google image search for “molon labe”. it is sickening).
Plutarch, Apophthegmata Lakonica 225 c11-12
“When Xerxes wrote again, “send me your weapons”, [Leonidas] wrote back, “Come and take them”
Before I announced my departure for New England I actually had a few conversations with students about the policy and was shocked by how many said they would likely carry a weapon. When I first moved to Texas I was surprised by how many people blithely assumed they were not safe unless they had a firearm and how many rode around with long-guns in their vehicles or slept with them by their beds.
Just to be clear–I grew up with a closet full of guns in rural Maine. Gun safety consisted of not playing with guns and keeping ammunition elsewhere. I actually had a friend in seventh grade whose brother accidentally shot him in the face (not with our guns; the friend lived, thankfully). I am not an ignorant, inexperienced anti-gun nut. No, I am a reflective person who thinks campuses are sanctuaries and more guns do not make people safer. Period.
I had a brief fantasy about writing about the cultural appropriation of this phrase from the apochryphal Plutarch to the Texas revolution, constructions of Spartan and American masculinity, and political fantasy. (Wikipedia gives a decent history.) But I was (1) too depressed by it and (2) didn’t want to get shot.
So, for my friends staying in Texas and those in similar states, I have made the poster above modelling the phrase μολὼν ἀφές on the original (and probably made-up) Laconic saying. Stay safe.
The phrase echoed in my head and it seemed to me like the type of gnomic utterance one might find from the fragments of a Greek philosopher. Without much rigor, I decided Heraclitus could say this. I said as much to Paul over twitter, and he encouraged me to put it into ancient Greek:
[Ἡράκλειτος γὰρ φησί] ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα
My friend, the Fantastic Festus, suggested 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
And for a bit things got hot and heavy over particles:
So, the quote I thought sounded Greek, turns out to have a parallel in Greek (if not an antecedent!). According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar (the full text is available on Perseus). And, honestly, without preening too much, I was happy that the version I settled on (μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα) wasn’t too different from the words attributed to Zeno: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν). But, to be more honest, this is not the most complicated composition. Armand’s efforts are far more impressive.
But the discussion engaged more people, and we received this information:
“When Dionysus the rebel asked Zeno why he failed to correct only him, Zeno replied “Because I do not trust you.” To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.” When he was asked the reason he was reclining at the symposium in silence, he told the man asking to inform the king that someone present knew how to be quiet.”
“Those who questioned him were envoys from Ptolemy and they wished to know what they should say from Zeno when they returned to the king. When he was asked how he feels about slander, he said “The way an envoy does when he returns without an answer.” Apollonius of Tyre recounts that when Krates tried to drag him by the cloak from Stipo, Zeno said, “Crates, the best way to grab philosophers is by the ears. Move them by persuasion. If you force me, my body will be yours, but my soul will be with Stilpo.”