Evil Words Lead to Evil Deeds

Basil the Great, to Young Men 5

“For growing comfortable with wicked words is a kind of path towards wicked deeds. For this reason, we must defend the soul with all care, just in case we overlook something of the worse nature in accepting pleasure from words, as those who receive poisons with honey.

Therefore, we will not praise the poets when they slander, mock, or show people lusting or drunk, or when they characterize happiness with a full table or corrupting songs. And we shall pay the least attention to their words about he gods, especially when they describe them as being many in number and in discord with each other. For in their poems, brothers war with brothers, parents fight with children, and the children have war without truce against their parents. We will leave to the stage performers those adulterous acts of the gods, their lusts and sex out in the open, and especially those of the highest and best of all, Zeus, how they tell it, those stories someone would blush even if they were telling them about animals!”

ἡ γὰρ πρὸς τοὺς φαύλους τῶν λόγων συνήθεια, ὁδός τίς ἐστιν ἐπὶ τὰ πράγματα. διὸ δὴ πάσῃ φυλακῇ τὴν ψυχὴν τηρητέον, μὴ διὰ τῆς τῶν λόγων ἡδονῆς παραδεξάμενοί τι λάθωμεν τῶν χειρόνων, ὥσπερ οἱ τὰ δηλητήρια μετὰ τοῦ μέλιτος προσιέμενοι, οὐ τοίνυν ἐπαινεσόμεθα τοὺς ποιητὰς οὐ λοιδορουμένους, οὐ σκώπτοντας, οὐκ ἐρῶντας ἢ μεθύοντας μιμουμένους, οὐχ ὅταν τραπέζῃ πληθούσῃ καὶ ᾠδαῖς ἀνειμέναις τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν ὁρίζωνται.πάντων δὲ ἥκιστα περὶ θεῶν τι διαλεγομένοις προσέξομεν, καὶ μάλισθ᾿ ὅταν ὡς περὶ πολλῶν τε αὐτῶν διεξίωσι καὶ τούτων οὐδὲ ὁμονοούντων. ἀδελφὸς γὰρ δὴ παρ᾿ ἐκείνοις διαστασιάζει πρὸς ἀδελφὸν καὶ γονεὺς πρὸς παῖδας καὶ τούτοις αὖθις πρὸς τοὺς τεκόντας πόλεμός ἐστιν ἀκήρυκτος. μοιχείας δὲ θεῶν καὶ ἔρωτας καὶ μίξεις ἀναφανδόν, καὶ ταῦτάς γε μάλιστα τοῦ κορυφαίου πάντων καὶ ὑπάτου Διός, ὡς αὐτοὶ λέγουσιν, ἃ κἂν περὶ βοσκημάτων τις λέγων ἐρυθριάσειε, τοῖς ἐπὶ σκηνῆς καταλείψομεν.

Ljeviska008.jpg
From wikimedia commons

Where Do Snakes Come From? A Spine-Tingling Explanation

Past mid-October, it is about time things start to get a bit creepy…

Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 1.51

“People say that the spine of a human corpse turns into a snake as the marrow decomposes. As the beast slips out, so the most savage creature is born from the mildest. In this way the remains of men who were once fine and noble rest and they have peace as their prize just as the soul too does of these kinds of men according to what is sung and hymned by the wise.

But the spines of evil men bring forth these kinds of things after life too. Well, the truth is that the story is either completely a myth or if these things prove trustworthy, then it seems to me that the evil man’s corpse has earned this reward of becoming the serpent’s father.”

Ῥάχις ἀνθρώπου νεκροῦ φασιν ὑποσηπόμενον τὸν μυελὸν ἤδη τρέπει ἐς ὄφιν· καὶ ἐκπίπτει τὸ θηρίον, καὶ ἕρπει τὸἀγριώτατον ἐκ τοῦ ἡμερωτάτου· καὶ τῶν μὲν καλῶν καὶ ἀγαθῶν τὰ λείψανα ἀναπαύεται, καὶ ἔχει ἆθλον ἡσυχίαν, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ τῶν τοιούτων τὰ ᾀδόμενά τε καὶ ὑμνούμενα ἐκ τῶν σοφῶν· πονηρῶν δὲ ἀνθρώπων ῥάχεις τοιαῦτα τίκτουσι καὶ μετὰ τὸν βίον. ἢ τοίνυν τὸ πᾶν μῦθός ἐστιν, ἤ, εἰ ταῦτα οὑτωσὶπεπίστευται, πονηροῦ νεκρός, ὡς κρίνειν ἐμέ, ὄφεως γενέσθαι πατὴρ τοῦ τρόπου μισθὸν ἠνέγκατο.

Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º, Folio 57r

 

Unicorns: Where they Come From, What They’re Good For

Aelian, On The Nature of Animals 3.41

“India gives birth to single-horned horses, people say, and the same land feeds single-horned asses too. They get drinking cups from these horns. And if anyone puts fatal poison inside of them, when someone drinks from them, the conspiracy won’t hurt him at all. It seems that the horn of both the horse and the ass is a ward against evil.”

Ἵππους μονόκερως γῆ Ἰνδικὴ τίκτει, φασί, καὶ ὄνους μονόκερως ἡ αὐτὴ τρέφει, καὶ γίνεταί γε ἐκ τῶν κεράτων τῶνδε ἐκπώματα. καὶ εἴ τις ἐς αὐτὰ ἐμβάλοι φάρμακον θανατηφόρον, ὁ πιών, οὐδὲν ἡ ἐπιβουλὴ λυπήσει αὐτόν· ἔοικε γὰρ ἀμυντήριον τοῦ κακοῦ τὸ κέρας καὶ τοῦ ἵππου καὶ τοῦ ὄνου εἶναι.

Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 132, Folio 70r

The Gift of the Briefest of Lives

Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 2.4

“Some animals are called Ephemera and they take their name from the length of their life. For they are born in wine and when the container is opened they fly out, they see the light, and they die. Therefore, nature has granted that they come into life but it has also rescued them from the evils in life, since they neither experience any suffering of their own and they know nothing of others’ misfortunes.”

Ζῷα ἐφήμερα οὕτω κέκληται, λαβόντα τὸ ὄνομα ἐκ τοῦ μέτρου τοῦ κατὰ τὸν βίον· τίκτεται γὰρ5ἐν τῷ οἴνῳ, καὶ ἀνοιχθέντος τοῦ σκεύους τὰ δὲ ἐξέπτη καὶ εἶδε τὸ φῶς καὶ τέθνηκεν. οὐκοῦν παρελθεῖν μὲν αὐτοῖς ἐς τὸν βίον ἔδωκεν ἡ φύσις, τῶν δὲ ἐν αὐτῷ κακῶν ἐρρύσατο τὴν ταχίστην, μήτε τι τῶν ἰδίων συμφορῶν ᾐσθημένοις μήτε μήν τινος τῶν ἀλλοτρίων μάρτυσι γεγενημένοις.

Cricket in a cage

A King Implicates Himself

Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana VII

“The king, swelling up with rage because of what was said, responded, “You think that I am lying about them, when I have discovered that they are the most disgusting of people who are plotting against me?

And you are saying that they are good people, and serious? Well, I suppose if they were asked about you that they wouldn’t say that you’re a wizard, a madman, a braggart who is greedy and breaks the laws? That’s how evil your conspiracy is, you filthy criminals.

The trial will prove everything. I know how much you all swore under other, why you did it, when you did it, and what you sacrificed, as if I were there and joined in with you!”

Ἀνοιδήσας δ᾿ ὁ βασιλεὺς ὑφ᾿ ὧν ἤκουσε “συκοφάντην με οὖν” εἶπεν “ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς εἴληφας, ἵν᾿ οὓς ἐγὼ μιαρωτάτους ἀνθρώπων καὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς ἐπιπηδῶντας εὗρον, σὺ δ᾿, ὡς χρηστοί τέ εἰσι λέγεις καὶ νωθροί; καὶ γὰρ ἂν κἀκείνους ἡγοῦμαι ὑπὲρ σοῦ ἐρωτωμένους μήθ᾿ ὡς γόης εἶ, φάναι, μήθ᾿ ὡς ἴτης, μήθ᾿ ὡς ἀλαζών, μήθ᾿ ὡς φιλοχρήματος, μήθ᾿ ὡς φρονῶν ὑπὲρ τοὺς νόμους, οὕτως, ὦ μιαραὶ κεφαλαί, κακῶς ξυντέταχθε. ἐλέγξει δ᾿ ἡ κατηγορία πάντα· καὶ γὰρ ὁπόσα ὀμώμοται ὑμῖν, καὶ ὑπὲρ ὧν καὶ ὁπότε καὶ τί θύσασιν, οὐδὲν μεῖον οἶδα, ἢ εἰ παρετύγχανόν τε καὶ ἐκοινώνουν.”

The Ant-lion (from bestiary.ca)

The Wakeful Mind and Happiness

Cicero, De Finibus 5. 87

“For this reason we must examine whether or not it is possible for the study of the philosophers to bring us [happiness].”

Quare hoc videndum est, possitne nobis hoc ratio philosophorum dare.

 

Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 2.1 (1219a25)

“Let the work of the mind be the performance of life—and what this means is using life and being awake (for sleep is some kind of a rest and cessation of life). As a result, since the work of the mind and its virtue are identical, then the work of virtue is an earnest life.

This, then, is the complete good, which is itself happiness. For it is clear from what we have argued—as we said that happiness was the best thing; the goals and the greatest of the goods are in the mind, but aspects of the mind are either a state of being or an action—it is clear that, since an action is better than a state and the best action is better than the best state, that the performance of virtue is the greatest good of the mind. Happiness, then, is the action of a good mind.”

Ἔτι ἔστω ψυχῆς ἔργον τὸ ζῆν ποιεῖν, τοῦτοχρῆσις καὶ ἐγρήγορσις (ὁ γὰρ ὕπνος ἀργία τις καὶ ἡσυχία)· ὥστ᾿ ἐπεὶ τὸ ἔργον ἀνάγκη ἓν καὶ ταὐτὸ εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τῆς ἀρετῆς, ἔργον ἂν εἴη τῆς ἀρετῆς ζωὴ σπουδαία.

τοῦτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ τέλεον ἀγαθόν, ὅπερ ἦν ἡ εὐδαιμονία. δῆλον δὲ ἐκ τῶν ὑποκειμένων (ἦν μὲν γὰρ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον, τὰ δὲ τέλη ἐν ψυχῇ καὶ τὰ ἄριστα τῶν ἀγαθῶν, τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ ἢ ἕξις ἢ ἐνέργεια), ἐπεὶ βέλτιον ἡ ἐνέργεια τῆς διαθέσεως καὶ τῆς βελτίστης ἕξεως ἡ βελτίστη ἐνέργεια ἡ δ᾿ ἀρετὴ βελτίστη ἕξις, τὴν τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐνέργειαν τῆς ψυχῆς ἄριστον εἶναι. ἦν δὲ καὶ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον· ἔστιν ἄρα ἡ εὐδαιμονία ψυχῆς ἀγαθῆς ἐνέργεια.

ψυχή: can be translated into English as “spirit” or “soul” instead of “mind”. I avoided the former to sidestep the implication that Aristotle is making some kind of a mystical argument; I avoided the latter because it has such strong religious associations in English.

Seneca De Beneficiis 22

“A just reason for happiness is seeing that a friend is happy—even better, is to make a friend happy.”

iusta enim causa laetitiae est laetum amicum videre, iustior fecisse

Image result for medieval manuscript philosophy happiness
Ms 3045 fol.22v Boethius with the Wheel of Fortune, from ‘De Consolatione Philosophiae’, translated by Jean de Meung

Preferring Tears to Laughter

Stob. Flor. 4. 23 Attributed to Dio Chrysostom

“Constant, loud laughter is worse than anger. This is why it reaches a peak among prostitutes and rather foolish children. Personally, I think that a face is decorated better by tears than laughter. I think this because, generally, some kind of learning accompanies tears; while a lack of control comes with laughter. No one encourages an arrogant person by weeping; but laughter builds up his hopes.”

Γέλως δὲ συνεχὴς καὶ μέγας θυμοῦ κακίων· διὰ τοῦτο μάλιστα ἑταίραις ἀκμάζων καὶ παίδων τοῖς ἀφρονεστέροις. ἐγὼ δὲ κοσμεῖσθαι πρόσωπον ὑπὸ δακρύων ἡγοῦμαι μᾶλλον ἢ ὑπὸ γέλωτος. δάκρυσι μὲν γὰρ ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πλεῖστον σύνεστι καὶ μάθημά που χρηστόν, γέλωτι δὲ ἀκολασία. καὶ κλάων μὲν οὐδεὶς προυτρέψατο ὑβριστήν, γελῶν δὲ ηὔξησεν αὐτοῦ τὰς ἐλπίδας.

The Magdalen Weeping

I might have to disagree with Sir Golden-Mouth on this one. I think it is much better to be like…

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