A Drowning and Illiterate Husband

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 477

“All people, then, rushed through Asia to Maximus—both those who were then in power or had been removed from office, and also the strongest representatives of the senates. The people also closed off the entrances to Maximus’ home, leaping with shouts which is what the common people do whenever they might attract someone’s attention.

At the same time the women were pouring into the side-door to his wife and they were amazed at her luck and were asking that she remember them. She demonstrated such a knowledge of philosophy that Maximus seemed unable to swim and ignorant of the alphabet by comparison.”

πάντες οὖν ἄνθρωποι παρὰ τὸν Μάξιμον ἤδη συνετρόχαζον κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν, ὅσοι τε ἦσαν ἐν ἀρχαῖς καὶ ὅσοι τούτων ἀπελέλυντο, τό τε κρεῖττον τῶν βουλευτηρίων. καὶ δῆμος ἐστενοχώρει τὰς προόδους τῷ Μαξίμῳ μετὰ βοῆς πηδῶντες, ἣν δῆμος, ὅταν τινὰ θεραπεύῃ, ἐκ πολλοῦ μεμελέτηκεν· αἵ τε γυναῖκες παρὰ τὴν γυναῖκα τῇ πλαγίᾳ θύρᾳ παρεισεχέοντο, τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν θαυμάζουσαι καὶ μεμνῆσθαι σφῶν ἀξιοῦσαι· ἡ δὲ φιλοσοφίας ἕνεκεν Μάξιμον οὔτε νεῖν οὔτε γράμματα εἰδότα ἀπέφαινεν.

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From the Medieval Manuscripts Blog

Is Being a Student Like Being a Stan?

Dio Chrysostom, On Homer and Socrates 4-6

“If he was a fan, he could also be a student. For whoever is really interested in someone certainly knows what kind of a person he is and in imitating his works and words tries to make himself seem as much like him as possible. This is the very thing which a student seems to do: in imitating and watching the teacher he tries to acquire that art. But observing and associating with someone is not the same as learning.

For many people watch musicians and spend time with them or listen to them every day, but they would not be able to play an instrument unless they spend time attending to the musicians for the purpose of their art. But if you are reluctant to call Socrates a student of Homer and would just like to call him a fan, it makes no difference to me.”

Εἴπερ οὖν ζηλωτής, καὶ μαθητὴς εἴη ἄν. ὁ γὰρ ζηλῶν τινα ὀρθῶς ἐπίσταται δήπου ἐκεῖνον ὁποῖος ἦν καὶ μιμούμενος τὰ ἔργα καὶ τοὺς λόγους ὡς οἷόν τε ἐπιχειρεῖ ὅμοιον αὑτὸν ἀποφαίνειν. ταὐτὸ δὲ τοῦτο καὶ ὁ μαθητὴς ποιεῖν ἔοικε· μιμούμενος τὸν διδάσκαλον καὶ προσέχων ἀναλαμβάνει τὴν τέχνην. τὸ δὲ ὁρᾶν καὶ ξυνεῖναι οὐδέν ἐστι πρὸς τὸ μανθάνειν· πολλοὶ γὰρ καὶ ὁρῶσι τοὺς αὐλητὰς καὶ ξύνεισι καὶ ἀκούουσιν ὁσημέραι, καὶ οὐδ᾿ ἂν ἐμφυσῆσαι τοῖς αὐλοῖς δύναιντο, οἳ ἂν μὴ ἐπὶ τέχνῃ μηδὲ προσέχοντες ξυνῶσιν. ἀλλ᾿ εἴ γε δυσωπῇ μαθητὴν Ὁμήρου τὸν Σωκράτην καλεῖν, ζηλωτὴν δὲ μόνον, οὐδέν μοι διοίσει.

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Yale Manuscript 229, Folio 272v. Courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale

Philosophy and Fear of the Body

Empedocles R87  Hermias 4 Derision of Gentile Philosophers

“Whenever I see myself, I fear my body and I don’t know how I should describe it. Is it human, or dog, or wolf, a bull, a bird, a snake, a dragon, or a chimaira?

For I am changed by philosophers into every kind of beast from the land, the sea, the sky, those of many forms, the wild ones, tame ones, mute animals, singing animals, unthinking ones, thinking ones. I swim. I fly. I creep on the ground. I run. I sit still. And then—Empedocles makes me into a bush too.”

ὅταν δὲ ἐμαυτὸν ἴδω, φοβοῦμαι τὸ σῶμα καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ὅπως αὐτὸ καλέσω, ἄνθρωπον ἢ κύνα ἢ λύκον ἢ ταῦρον ἢ ὄρνιν ἢ ὄφιν ἢ δράκοντα ἢ χίμαιραν· εἰς πάντα γὰρ τὰ θηρία ὑπὸ τῶν φιλοσοφούντων μεταβάλλομαι, χερσαῖα ἔνυδρα πτηνὰ πολύμορφα ἄγρια τιθασσὰ ἄφωνα εὔφωνα ἄλογα λογικά· νήχομαι ἵπταμαι ἕρπω θέω καθίζω. ἔτι δὲ ὁ Ἐμπεδοκλῆς καὶ θάμνον με ποιεῖ.

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What story isn’t about a hellmouth? (Royal ms 19 c I_f. 33r)

 

Awkward Family Conversations: Trysts and Plots Edition

Diogenes Laertius, Crates 6.5.89

“Eratosthenes says that [Crates] had a son with Hipparkhia—about whom we will speak—and that his name was Pasikles. When he was an adolescent, Crates took him to a brothel and said that this was where his father was married.

Marriages of adulterers, he explained, were tragic plots and had exiles or murders as their consequences. Marriages with prostitutes, however, are for comic plots and they produce madness from excessive behavior and drunkenness.”

Ἐρατοσθένης δέ φησιν, ἐξ Ἱππαρχίας, περὶ ἧς λέξομεν, γενομένου παιδὸς αὐτῷ ὄνομα Πασικλέους, ὅτ᾿ ἐξ ἐφήβων ἐγένετο, ἀγαγεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπ᾿ οἴκημα παιδίσκης καὶ φάναι τοῦτον αὐτῷ πατρῷον εἶναι τὸν γάμον· τοὺς δὲ τῶν μοιχευόντων τραγικούς, φυγὰς <γὰρ> καὶ φόνους ἔχειν ἔπαθλον· τοὺς δὲ τῶν ἑταίραις προσιόντων κωμικούς· ἐξ ἀσωτίας γὰρ καὶ μέθης μανίαν ἀπεργάζεσθαι.

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BL Royal 20 C V f 96v

A Good Exercise for Debate: Reading Aloud

Plutarch, “Advice on Keeping Well”, Moralia  130 C-D

“This is why we need to make ourselves accustomed to this exercise and practiced for it by speaking at length. But if there is some worry that our body is lacking or is worn out, then we can read aloud or recite. For reading has the same relation to debate that a ride in a wagon has to exercise—it moves softly on the carriage of another’s words and bears the voice in different direction. But debate provides in addition struggle and strength, since the mind enters into the affair with the body. We should be wary, however, of extremely emotional or spasmodic shouting.”

διὸ δεῖ μάλιστα ποιεῖν ἑαυτοὺς τούτῳ τῷ γυμνασίῳ συνήθεις καὶ συντρόφους ἐνδελεχῶς λέγοντας, ἂν δ᾿ ᾖ τις ὑποψία τοῦ σώματος ἐνδεέστερον ἢ κοπωδέστερον ἔχοντος, ἀναγιγνώσκοντας ἢ ἀναφωνοῦντας. ὅπερ γὰρ αἰώρα πρὸς γυμνάσιόν ἐστι, τοῦτο πρὸς διάλεξιν ἀνάγνωσις, ὥσπερ ἐπ᾿ ὀχήματος ἀλλοτρίου λόγου κινοῦσα μαλακῶς καὶ διαφοροῦσα πράως τὴν φωνήν. ἡ δὲ διάλεξις ἀγῶνα καὶ σφοδρότητα προστίθησιν, ἅμα τῆς Dψυχῆς τῷ σώματι συνεπιτιθεμένης. κραυγὰς μέντοι περιπαθεῖς καὶ σπαραγμώδεις εὐλαβητέον

 

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Fresco, Villa of the Mysteries (Pompeii)

Speech and Its Corresponding Meaning

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 36-38

“Next, let’s consider the way we learn, since learning happens wither through experience or through speech. But of these two approaches, experience comes from this which are demonstrable, the demonstrable is clear, and the clear—because it is obvious—is available to all in common. Such perception which is available to all in common is unteachable. Hence, anything apprehended through experience is not teachable.

Speech either corresponds to some meaning or it does not. If it corresponds to no meaning at all, then it teaches nothing. When it does correspond to some meaning it does it either by intrinsic nature or by established convention. It cannot, in truth correspond to meaning by intrinsic nature since not all people understand the same meaning when they hear it (as when the Greeks listen to barbarians or the barbarians listen to Greeks).

If speech signals meaning by convention, it is clear that people who have absorbed before the meanings to which these words correspond will also comprehend them now, and not because they have learned from them something which was not known—it is more like they are resuscitating what they knew before, while those who lack learning of what they don’t know will not do the same.”

τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο ἀπαιτῶμεν τὸν τρόπον τῆς μαθήσεως. ἢ γὰρ ἐναργείᾳ γίνεται ἢ λόγῳ τὰ τῆς διδασκαλίας. ἀλλὰ τούτων ἡ μὲν ἐνάργεια τῶν δεικτῶν ἐστί, τὸ δὲ δεικτὸν φαινόμενον, τὸ δὲ φαινόμενον, ᾗ φαίνεται, κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτόν, τὸ δὲ κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτὸν ἀδίδακτον· οὐκ ἄρα τὸ ἐναργείᾳ δεικτὸν διδακτόν. ὁ δὲ λόγος ἤτοι σημαίνει τι ἢ οὐ σημαίνει. καὶ μηδὲν μὲν σημαίνων οὐδὲ διδάσκαλός τινὸς ἐστι, σημαίνων δὲ ἤτοι φύσει σημαίνει τι ἢ θέσει. καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐ σημαίνει διὰ τὸ μὴ πάντας πάντων ἀκούειν, Ἕλληνας βαρβάρων καὶ βαρβάρους Ἑλλήνων ἢ Ἕλληνας Ἑλλήνων ἢ βαρβάρους βαρβάρων· θέσει δὲ εἴπερ σημαίνει, δῆλον ὡς οἱ μὲν προκατειληφότες τὰ καθ᾿ ὧν αἱ λέξεις κεῖνται καὶ ἀντιλήψονται τούτων, οὐ τὸ ἀγνοούμενον ἐξ αὐτῶν διδασκόμενοι, τὸ δ᾿ ὅπερ ᾔδεισαν ἀνανεούμενοι, οἱ δὲ χρῄζοντες τῆς τῶν ἀγνοουμένων μαθήσεως οὐκέτι.

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The Proverb Behind Silenus’ Wisdom

According to Plutarch, this conversation is taken from a lost dialogue ascribed to Aristotle, entitled, On the Soul. This passage also shows up in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy chapter 3.

Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius [Moralia, 115a-c]

“There is also the saying you know has been passed around the mouth of many humans over the years.” “what is that?” he asked. The other one, interrupted, “that it is best of all not to exist and then second it is better to die than to live. This has been demonstrated by many examples from the divine.

For certainly they say this concerning Midas after the hunt when he caught Silenus and was asking him and finding out from him what is best for mortals and what should be most preferred. But Silenus was willing to say nothing, but remained stubbornly silent.

After he tried nearly every kind of approach, he persuaded him to provide some answer—so compelled, he said, “brief-lived offspring of a laboring god and harsh fate, why do you force me to tell you what it is better not to know? A life lived in ignorance of your most intimate griefs is the least painful.

But for humans it is not at all possible to have the best thing of all or to have any share of the best nature—since the best thing for all men and women is not to be born. But the second best thing after this and the first available to mortals, is to die as soon as possible after being born.” It is clear that he said this because the way that exists in death is better than the one in life.”

τὸ διὰ στόματος ὂν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ὁρᾷς ὡς ἐκ πολλῶν ἐτῶν περιφέρεται θρυλούμενον.” “τί τοῦτ᾿;” ἔφη. κἀκεῖνος ὑπολαβών “ὡς ἄρα μὴ γενέσθαι μέν,” ἔφη, “ἄριστον πάντων, τὸ δὲ τεθνάναι τοῦ ζῆν ἐστι κρεῖττον. καὶ πολλοῖς οὕτω παρὰ τοῦ δαιμονίου μεμαρτύρηται. τοῦτο μὲν ἐκείνῳ τῷ Μίδᾳ λέγουσι δήπου μετὰ τὴν θήραν ὡς ἔλαβε τὸν Σειληνὸν διερωτῶντι καὶ πυνθανομένῳ τί ποτ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ βέλτιστοντοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ τί τὸ πάντων αἱρετώτατον, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον οὐδὲν ἐθέλειν εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ σιωπᾶν ἀρρήτως· ἐπειδὴ δέ ποτε μόγις πᾶσαν μηχανὴν μηχανώμενος προσηγάγετο φθέγξασθαί τι πρὸς αὐτόν, οὕτως ἀναγκαζόμενον εἰπεῖν, ‘δαίμονος ἐπιπόνου καὶ τύχης χαλεπῆς ἐφήμερον σπέρμα, τί με βιάζεσθε λέγειν ἃ ὑμῖν ἄρειον μὴ γνῶναι; μετ᾿ ἀγνοίας γὰρ τῶν οἰκείων κακῶν ἀλυπότατος ὁ βίος. ἀνθρώποις δὲ πάμπαν οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι τὸ πάντων ἄριστον οὐδὲ μετασχεῖν τῆς τοῦ βελτίστου φύσεως (ἄριστον γὰρ πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι)· τὸ μέντοι μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ πρῶτον τῶν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀνυστῶν, δεύτερον δέ, τὸ γενομένους ἀποθανεῖν ὡς τάχιστα.’ δῆλον οὖν ὡς οὔσης κρείττονος τῆς ἐν τῷ τεθνάναι διαγωγῆς ἢ τῆς ἐν τῷ ζῆν, οὕτως ἀπεφήνατο.”

This comment seems proverbial–split in similar attributions in hexameter and elegiac poetry.

In the Contest of Homer and Hesiod

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”
Homer answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

ἀρ υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
῞Ομηρος·
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.

The passage floats around some. Stobaeus (4.52.22) attributes it to Alcidamas’ Mousaion but the most widely cited source is Theognis. It is listed without attribution by the paroemiographer Michael Apostolos, with the explanation that this is a proverb “[attributed] to people living in misfortune”  (ἐπὶ τῶν δυστυχῶς βιούντων, 3.85.3)

Theognis, 425-428

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
Not to see the rays of the piercing sun
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.
And to lie with a great pile of earth heaped above you.

πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
μηδ᾿ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου,
φύντα δ᾿ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι
καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον.

The Loeb note to this passage suggest that Theognis is merely adding to the hexameter lines, since the pentameter lines add nothing. But I think this is problematic. Consider the similar doublet to the first 2 lines above in Bacchylides.

Bacchylides 5.159–161

“And answering him, he said:
“It is best for mortals not to be born
Nor to see the sun.”

καί νιν ἀμειβόμενος
τᾶδ᾿ ἔφα· ‘θνατοῖσι μὴ φῦναι φέριστον
μηδ᾿ ἀελίου προσιδεῖν

Note how Bacchylides acknowledges the proverbial–or at least ‘other’–status of these lines by putting it into the mouths of one of his characters. Notice the stability of the infinitive construction μὴ φῦναι with the mobility of the dative θνατοῖσι and the lexical variations of θνατοῖσι instead of ἐπιχθονίοισιν and φέριστον instead of ἄριστον.

Sophocles, Oedipus Colonos 1225–1227

“Not being born conquers
every argument. But, then, if someone does emerge,
to return where you came from as fast as possible
is second best by far.”

Μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νι-
κᾷ λόγον· τὸ δ’, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,
βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥ-
κει, πολὺ δεύτερον, ὡς τάχιστα.

Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism 3.230–231) compares the Theognis passage to this fragment from Euripides (fr. 449)

“We should have a gathering to mourn
Someone when they are born, when they come to so many evils
And when someone has died and found a break from evils,
We should be happy and bless them as we carry them from their homes.”

ἐχρῆν γὰρ ἡμᾶς σύλλογον ποιουμένους
τὸν φύντα θρηνεῖν, εἰς ὅσ᾿ ἔρχεται κακά,
τὸν δ᾿ αὖ θανόντα καὶ κακῶν πεπαυμένον
χαίροντας εὐφημοῦντας ἐκπέμπειν δόμων.

Valerius Maximus claimed that Thracians actually did mourn births and celebrate funerals.

A clearer reflection on the proverb is Euripides fr. 235 (from Bellerophon):

“I agree with the thing reported everywhere,
That it is best for a mortal not to be born.”

ἐγὼ τὸ μὲν δὴ πανταχοῦ θρυλούμενον
κράτιστον εἶναι φημὶ μὴ φῦναι βροτῷ·

Note the different superlative at the beginning of the phrase and the singular βροτῷ. Based on the flexibility of the expression and the riffing on it, I would suggest that this is a broadly dispersed cultural idea that has proverbial status at a very early period. Note how Euripides, in another fragment, toys with the more broadly used phrase:

Euripides, fr. 908

“Not existing is better for mortals than being born.”

Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.

Epicurus (Diogenes Laertius, 10.127) thinks that anyone who believes this and says it is a fool since “if he says it because he believes it, how is it he does not just stop living? For this is ready for him to do, if it is completely believed by him.” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως).

And there is, of course, the Ancient Near Eastern context to consider!

Statue of Silenus