Drinking Games, Ugly Wives, and Funny Monkeys: The Observational Wit of Anacharsis the Skythian

I posted the sayings of Anacharsis the Scythian last year

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10.50

“Anacharsis the Skythian, when a they had a drinking contest at Periander’s house, asked for the first prize because he was the first of the drinkers to get drunk, believing that the  goal of a drinking contest was the same as running: being first.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις δ’ ὁ Σκύθης παρὰ Περιάνδρῳ τεθέντος ἄθλου περὶ τοῦ πίνειν ᾔτησε τὸ νικητήριον πρῶτος μεθυσθεὶς τῶν συμπαρόντων, ὡς ὄντος τέλους τούτου καὶ τῆς ἐν τῷ πότῳ νίκης ὥσπερ καὶ τῆς ἐν τῷ τρέχειν.

10.64

“Anacharsis has shown that getting drunk keeps our eyes from seeing clearly—that opinions of the drunk tend to be wrong. For when a fellow drinker saw his wife at a party, he said “Anacharsis, you have married an ugly woman.” And he responded, “That’s quite clear to me. But pour me a stronger drink, child, and I’ll make her pretty!”

ὅτι δὲ τὸ μεθύειν καὶ τὰς ὄψεις ἡμῶν πλανᾷ σαφῶς ἔδειξεν ᾿Ανάχαρσις δι’ ὧνεἴρηκε, δηλώσας ὅτι ψευδεῖς δόξαι τοῖς μεθύουσι γίγνονται. συμπότης γάρ τις ἰδὼν αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα ἐν τῷ συμποσίῳ ἔφη· ‘ὦ ᾿Ανάχαρσι, γυναῖκα γεγάμηκας αἰσχράν.’ καὶ ὃς ἔφη· ‘πάνυ γε κἀμοὶ δοκεῖ· ἀλλά μοι ἔγχεον, ὦ παῖ, ποτήριον ἀκρατέστερον, ὅπως αὐτὴν καλὴν ποιήσω.’

14.2

“I also know that Anacharsis the Skythian, when comedians were performing at a dinner party, sat there without laughing. But when a monkey came in, he laughed and said “This is funny by nature; but the man has to practice.”

καίτοι γε οἶδα καὶ ᾿Ανάχαρσιν τὸν Σκύθην ἐν συμποσίῳ γελωτοποιῶν εἰσαχθέντων ἀγέλαστον διαμείναντα, πιθήκου δ’ ἐπεισαχθέντος γελάσαντα φάναι, ὡς οὗτος μὲν φύσει γελοῖός ἐστιν, ὁ δ’ ἄνθρωπος ἐπιτηδεύσει.

Anacharsis.png

Suda

s.v. Angkura: Note that Anakharsis, a Skythian philosopher, invented the anchor and the potter’s wheel. He lived around the time of Kroisos.

Ἄγκυραν: ὅτι Ἀνάχαρσις Σκύθης φιλόσοφος εὗρεν ἄγκυραν καὶ τὸν κεραμεικὸν τροχόν. ἦν δὲ ἐπὶ Κροίσου.

“s.v. Anacharsis, the son of Gnuros, and a Greek woman. A Skythian, philosopher, and brother of the king of the Skythians, Kadouias. He wrote Laws of the Scythians in epic verse, On the Simplicity of the Affairs of Human Life, adding up to around eight hundred lines. He invented the anchor and the potter’s wheel. He died while performing Greek rites because his brother was conspiring against him. According to others, he died in deep old age, nearly 100 years old.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις, Γνύρου, μητρὸς δὲ ῾Ελληνίδος, Σκύθης, φιλόσοφος, ἀδελφὸς Καδουΐα τοῦ Σκυθῶν βασιλέως. ἔγραψε Νόμιμα Σκυθικὰ δι’ ἐπῶν, Περὶ εὐτελείας τῶν εἰς τὸν ἀνθρώπινον βίον ἔπη πάντα ω′. εὗρε δὲ οὗτος ἄγκυραν καὶ τὸν κεραμεικὸν τροχόν. ἦν δὲ ἐπὶ Κροίσου. καὶ τετελεύτηκεν ῾Ελληνικὰς τελετὰς ἐπιτελῶν ἐν Σκύθαις, ἐπιβουλεύσαντος αὐτῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ· κατὰ δέ τινας ἐν γήρᾳ βαθεῖκαὶ μέχρις ἐτῶν ρ′.

Plutarch’s Advice On What To Look At

Plutarch’s prepared guidelines for choosing what to watch on Netflix.

Plutarch, Pericles 1.1

“When Caesar saw that many wealthy foreigners in Rome were carrying around and caring for puppies and monkey babies, he asked whether or not their wives bore children—he was warning in a masterly way that they were wasting our innate love and affection on beasts when it is owed to human beings.

Therefore, when our soul naturally possesses a certain love of learning and love of observation, isn’t it logical to rebuke people who fail to use it for anything worthy of hearing or seeing, people who neglect what is noble or useful?

Perhaps it is necessary for our perception—which apprehends the things it meets through the experience of their force—to examine everything which appears for whether it is useful or not. But each person, if he wishes to use his mind, can naturally turn himself away and change most easily to gaze upon something which seems right—with the result that it is necessary to pursue what is best, not only to look at it, but to be enriched by doing so.”

 Ξένους τινὰς ἐν Ῥώμῃ πλουσίους κυνῶν τέκνα καὶ πιθήκων ἐν τοῖς κόλποις περιφέροντας καὶ ἀγαπῶντας ἰδὼν ὁ Καῖσαρ, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἠρώτησεν εἰ παιδία παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐ τίκτουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες, ἡγεμονικῶς σφόδρα νουθετήσας τοὺς τὸ φύσει φιλητικὸν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ φιλόστοργον εἰς θηρία καταναλίσκοντας ἀνθρώποις ὀφειλόμενον.  ἆρ᾿ οὖν, ἐπεὶ φιλομαθές τι κέκτηται καὶ φιλοθέαμον ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ φύσει, λόγον ἔχει ψέγειν τοὺς καταχρωμένους τούτῳ πρὸς τὰ μηδεμιᾶς ἄξια σπουδῆς ἀκούσματα καὶ θεάματα, τῶν δὲ καλῶν καὶ ὠφελίμων παραμελοῦντας; τῇ μὲν γὰρ αἰσθήσει κατὰ πάθος τῆς πληγῆς ἀντιλαμβανομένῃ τῶν προστυγχανόντων ἴσως ἀνάγκη πᾶν τὸ φαινόμενον, ἄν τε χρήσιμον ἄν τ᾿ ἄχρηστον ᾖ,  θεωρεῖν, τῷ νῷ δ᾿ ἕκαστος εἰ βούλοιτο χρῆσθαι, καὶ τρέπειν ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ καὶ μεταβάλλειν ῥᾷστα πρὸς τὸ δοκοῦν πέφυκεν, ὥστε χρὴ διώκειν τὸ βέλτιστον, ἵνα μὴ θεωρῇ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρέφηται τῷ θεωρεῖν.

 

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A Description of Genius or Madness: An Epistle on Democritus

Hippocrates, Letter 10

A man of ours takes the greatest risks in the city now, Hippocrates, who both in the present moment and in the future has been a hope for fame for the city. May this, by the all the gods, never be a source of envy! When he has become so sick because of the great wisdom which possesses him that as a result he was afraid he might not obtain it—well, that’s how Democritus himself lost hits mind, and then abandoned our city of Abdera.

When he forgot everything, even himself before, he was awake both night and day and was laughing at everything great and small and believing that he would accomplish nothing at all for his whole life. Someone marries, another goes into business, another is a public speaker, another serves in office, he is old, he votes, he votes against things, he is sick, he is wounded, he dies. He laughs at everything, even when he sees the downcast and angry or even those who are happy.

The man is researching into the matters of Hades and he is writing these things and he says that the air is full of ghosts and he heeds the voices of birds. He often gets up alone at night and seems to be singing songs in the silence. And he claims that he often travels into the boundlessness and says that there are an endless number of Democriteis like himself. He lives with his skin ruined as ruined judgment. We fear these things, Hippocrates, and we are anxious about them: so save us, and come home quickly and help our country, do not put us off.”

     Κινδυνεύεται τὰ μέγιστα τῇ πόλει νῦν, ῾Ιππόκρατες, ἀνὴρ τῶν ἡμετέρων, ὃς καὶ τῷ παρόντι χρόνῳ καὶ τῷ μέλλοντι αἰεὶ κλέος ἠλπίζετο τῇ πόλει· μηδὲ νῦν ὅδε, πάντες θεοὶ, φθονηθείη· οὕτως ὑπὸ πολλῆς τῆς κατεχούσης αὐτὸν σοφίης νενόσηκεν, ὥστε φόβος οὐχ ὁ τυχὼν, ἂν φθαρῇ τὸν λογισμὸν Δημόκριτος, ὄντως δὴ τὴν πόλιν ἡμῶν ᾿Αβδηριτῶν καταλειφθήσεσθαι. ᾿Εκλαθόμενος γὰρ ἁπάντων καὶ ἑωυτοῦ πρότερον, ἐγρηγορὼς καὶ νύκτα καὶ ἡμέρην, γελῶν ἕκαστα μικρὰ καὶ μεγάλα, καὶ μηδὲν οἰόμενος εἶναι τὸν βίον ὅλον διατελεῖ. Γαμεῖ τις, ὁ δὲ ἐμπορεύεται, ὁ δὲ δημηγορεῖ, ἄλλος ἄρχει, πρεσβεύει, χειροτονεῖται, ἀποχειροτονεῖται, νοσεῖ, τιτρώσκεται,  τέθνηκεν, ὁ δὲ γελᾷ πάντα, τοὺς μὲν κατηφεῖς τε καὶ σκυθρωποὺς, τοὺς δὲ χαίροντας ὁρῶν. Ζητεῖ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐν Αδου,

Ζητεῖ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐν Αδου, καὶ γράφει ταῦτα, καὶ εἰδώλων φησὶ πλήρη τὸν ἠέρα εἶναι, καὶ ὀρνέων φωνὰς ὠτακουστεῖ, καὶ πολλάκις νύκτωρ ἐξαναστὰς μοῦνος ἡσυχῇ ᾠδὰς ᾄδοντι ἔοικε, καὶ ἀποδημεῖν ἐνίοτε λέγει ἐς τὴν ἀπειρίην, καὶ Δημοκρίτους εἶναι ὁμοίους ἑωυτῷ ἀναριθμήτους, καὶ συνδιεφθορὼς τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ χρῶμα ζῇ. Ταῦτα φοβούμεθα, ῾Ιππόκρατες, ταῦτα ταραττόμεθα, ἀλλὰ σῶζε, καὶ ταχὺς ἐλθὼν νουθέτησον τὴν ἡμῶν πατρίδα, μηδὲ ἡμᾶς ἀποβάλῃς·

Suda s.v. γλουτῶν

“Democritus of Abdera was called the “Laugher” because he laughed at the useless seriousness of human beings”

ὅτι ὁ Δημόκριτος ὁ ᾿Αβδηρίτης ἐπεκλήθη Γελασῖνος διὰ τὸ γελᾶν πρὸς τὸ κενόσπουδον τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

 

More on Democritus:

Robert Burton’s Sketch

Aulus Gellius with Laberius’ Play on Democritus’ Blinding

How To Talk to a Patient (And Look for the Signs of the Deranged)

Rufus of Ephesus, Quest. Medic. 2

“It is right to ask someone who is sick questions from which something of the matters concerning the sickness might be diagnosed and might be treated better. First, I advise to make inquiries from the one who is sick himself. For you might from this learn how much the person is sick or healthy in respect to judgment along with his strength and weakness and what type of sickness and what place he has suffered.

If the patient answers right away and properly and plausibly and without stumbling in speech or sense and if it is according to is typical matter—if he is otherwise orderly, in a gentle and orderly way, but, if otherwise bold or fearful, in a brash or timid manner—it is right to consider him to be in his right mind. But if you ask him some things and he should answer others or forget in the middle of speaking, if his speech is unsteady and unclear and there are shifts from his first manner to the opposite, these are all signs of being deranged.”

     ᾿Ερωτήματα χρὴ τὸν νοσοῦντα ἐρωτᾶν, ἐξ ὧν ἂν καὶ διαγνωσθείη τι τῶν περὶ τὴν νόσον ἀκριβέστερον καὶ θεραπευθείη κάλλιον. πρῶτον δὲ ἐκεῖνο ὑποτίθημι τὰς πεύσεις αὐτοῦ τοῦ νοσοῦντος ποιεῖσθαι. μάθοις γὰρ ἂν ἐνθένδε ὅσα τε κατὰ γνώμην νοσεῖ ἢ ὑγιαίνει ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ῥώμην αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀσθένειαν, καὶ τίνα ἰδέαν νόσου καὶ τίνα τόπον πεπονηκὼς <εἴη>. εἰ μὲν γὰρ ἐφεξῆς τε ἀποκρίνοιτο καὶ μνημονικῶς καὶ τὰ εἰκότα καὶ μηδαμῆ σφαλλόμενος μήτε τῇ γλώττῃ μήτε τῇ γνώμῃ καὶ εἰ καθ’ ὁρμὴν τὴν οἰκείαν, —εἰ μέν ἐστιν ἄλλως κόσμιος, πράως καὶ

κοσμίως, ὁ δ’ αὖ φύσει θρασὺς ἢ δειλὸς θρασέως ἢ δεδοικ<ότ>ως—τοῦτον μὲν χρὴ νομίζειν τὰ γοῦν κατὰ γνώμην καλῶς ἔχειν. εἰ δὲ καὶ ἄλλα σὺ μὲν ἐρωτᾷς, ὁ δὲ ἄλλα ἀποκρίνοιτο καὶ εἰ μεταξὺ λέγων ἐπιλανθάνοιτο, αἱ δὲ τρομώδεις καὶ ἀσαφεῖς γλῶσσαι καὶ αἱ μεταστάσεις ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀρχαίου τρόπου πρὸς τὸ ἐναντίον, πάντα ταῦτα παρακρουστικά.

 

On an Idiot, a Philosopher, and the Signs of Progress

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 48

“The state and character of an ‘idiot’ is this: he never expects harm or help from himself, but he always looks elsewhere. This is the state and character of a philosopher: he expects all help and harm to come from himself

These are signs of someone making progress: he blames no one; praises no one; criticizes no one; impugns no one; and says nothing about himself as if he were someone or knew something. Whenever he meets an obstacle or is held back, he takes the blame. Whenever anyone praises him, he chuckles to himself while they praise. If someone criticizes him, he offers no defense. He proceeds just like the feeble, taking care not to disturb anything he is developing before it grows firm.

He has banished every desire from himself and he has admitted to disinclination only those aspects of nature which are under our control, He applies a disinterested impulse toward all things. Should he seem to be simple or unlearned, he doesn’t care. In sum, he guards against himself as if he were an enemy conspirator.”

48. Ἰδιώτου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· οὐδέποτε ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ ὠφέλειαν ἢ βλάβην, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξω. φιλοσόφου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· πᾶσαν ὠφέλειαν καὶ βλάβην ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ.

Σημεῖα προκόπτοντος· οὐδένα ψέγει, οὐδένα ἐπαινεῖ, οὐδένα μέμφεται, οὐδενὶ ἐγκαλεῖ, οὐδὲν περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λέγει ὡς ὄντος τινὸς ἢ εἰδότος τι. ὅταν ἐμποδισθῇ τι ἢ κωλυθῇ, ἑαυτῷ ἐγκαλεῖ. κἄν τις αὐτὸν ἐπαινῇ, καταγελᾷ τοῦ ἐπαινοῦντος αὐτὸς παρ᾿ ἑαυτῷ· κἂν ψέγῃ, οὐκ ἀπολογεῖται. περίεισι δὲ καθάπερ οἱ ἄρρωστοι, εὐλαβούμενός τι κινῆσαι τῶν καθισταμένων, πρὶν πῆξιν λαβεῖν.

ὄρεξιν ἅπασαν ἦρκεν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ· τὴν δ᾿ ἔκκλισιν εἰς μόνα τὰ παρὰ φύσιν τῶν ἐφ᾿ ἡμῖν μετατέθεικεν. ὁρμῇ πρὸς ἅπαντα ἀνειμένῃ χρῆται. ἂν ἠλίθιος ἢ ἀμαθὴς δοκῇ, οὐ πεφρόντικεν. ἑνί τε λόγῳ, ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἑαυτὸν παραφυλάσσει καὶ ἐπίβουλον.

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Horas de Leonor de la Vega. BNE Vitr/24/2 Fol. 185v (my daughter likes this image)

 

Incremental Progress Leads to Sudden Transformation

Plutarch, How One Becomes Aware of Progress in Virtue 75c

“For neither in music nor in grammar could someone understand that he is gaining any ground in learning if he does not chip away at ignorance in these matters but instead senses the presence of an ever constant level of ignorance; nor for a sick man, should treatment fail to effect an easing or lightening  and provide no perception of the affliction yielding and harming until the opposite state unfolds when the body has regained its health in every way.

No, but just as in these categories people make no progress unless they progress by the lightening of their burden, as if on a scale they are raised in the opposite direction, they do not recognize the change.

So too in the pursuit of philosophy no change nor even the perception of change must be supposed unless the soul can cast aside and cleanse itself of stupidity—up to the acquisition of the unmixed and perfect good, it clutches to an equally unmixed evil. For in one part of time or a season, the wise person transforms from a previous abject baseness to a nearly unobtainable excess of virtue, and they suddenly depart completely from a share of wickedness which was unshakeable for so great a length of time.”

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐν μουσικοῖς τις ἢ γραμματικοῖς ἐπιδιδοὺς ἂν γνοίη μηδὲν ἐν τῷ μανθάνειν ἀπαρύτων τῆς περὶ ταῦτα ἀμαθίας ἀλλ᾿ ἴσης ἀεὶ τῆς ἀτεχνίας αὐτῷ παρούσης, οὐδὲ κάμνοντι θεραπεία μὴ ποιοῦσα ῥᾳστώνην μηδὲ κουφισμὸν ἁμωσγέπως τοῦ νοσήματος ὑπείκοντος καὶ χαλῶντος αἴσθησιν ἂν παρέχοι διαφορᾶς, πρὶν εἰλικρινῆ τὴν ἐναντίαν ἕξιν ἐγγενέσθαι παντάπασιν ἀναρρωσθέντος τοῦ σώματος. ἀλλ᾿ ὥσπερ ἐν τούτοις οὐ προκόπτουσιν, ἂν προκόπτοντες ἀνέσει τοῦ βαρύνοντος οἷον ἐπὶ ζυγοῦ πρὸς τοὐναντίον ἀναφερόμενοι μὴ γιγνώσκωσι τὴν μεταβολήν, οὕτως ἐν τῷ φιλοσοφεῖν οὔτε προκοπὴν οὔτε τινὰ προκοπῆς αἴσθησιν ὑποληπτέον, εἰ μηδὲν ἡ ψυχὴ μεθίησι μηδ᾿ ἀποκαθαίρεται τῆς ἀβελτερίας, ἄχρι δὲ τοῦ λαβεῖν ἄκρατον τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τέλειον ἀκράτῳ τῷ κακῷ χρῆται. καὶ γὰρ ἀκαρεὶ χρόνου καὶ ὥρας ἐκ τῆς ὡς ἔνι μάλιστα φαυλότητος εἰς οὐκ ἔχουσαν ὑπερβολὴν ἀρετῆς διάθεσιν μεταβαλὼν ὁ σοφός, ἧς οὐδ᾿ ἐν χρόνῳ πολλῷ μέρος ἀφεῖλε κακίας ἅμα πᾶσαν ἐξαίφνης ἐκπέφευγε.

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Book of Hours, ca. 1325-1330
MS M.700 fol. 2r

A Medical Justification for Taking Part in a Feast

Some helpful advice for all our friends taking part in feasts this weekend.

Plutarch, Table Talk 662 c–d

“He said, ‘We only unwillingly and rarely use pain as a tool for treatment because it is the most violent. No one could expel pleasure from all the other medical interventions even if he wanted to—for pleasure accompanies food, sleep, baths, massages, and relaxation, all of which help to revive a sick person by wearing away foreign elements with a great abundance of what is natural.

What pain, what deprivation, what kind of poisonous substance could so easily and quickly resolve a disease that it, once it is cleansed at the right time, wine may also be given to those who want it? Food, when it is delivered with pleasure, resolves every kind of malady and returns us to our natural state, just as a clear sky returning after a storm.’”

“σμικρὰ γάρ,” ἔφη, “καὶ ἄκοντες ὡς βιαιοτάτῳ τῶν ὀργάνων ἀλγηδόνι προσχρώμεθα· τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλων οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ βουλόμενος ἀπώσαιτο τὴν ἡδονήν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τροφαῖς καὶ ὕπνοις καὶ περὶ λουτρὰ καὶ ἀλείμματα καὶ κατακλίσεις ἀεὶ πάρεστιν καὶ συνεκδέχεται καὶ συνεκτιθηνεῖται τὸν κάμνοντα, πολλῷ τῷ οἰκείῳ καὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἐξαμαυροῦσα τὸ ἀλλότριον. ποία γὰρ ἀλγηδών, τίς ἔνδεια, ποῖον δηλητήριον οὕτω ῥᾳδίως καὶ ἀφελῶς νόσον ἔλυσεν, ὡς λουτρὸν ἐν καιρῷ γενόμενον καὶ οἶνος δοθεὶς δεομένοις; καὶ τροφὴ παρελθοῦσα μεθ᾿ ἡδονῆς εὐθὺς ἔλυσε τὰ δυσχερῆ πάντα καὶ κατέστησεν εἰς τὸ οἰκεῖον τὴν φύσιν, ὥσπερ εὐδίας καὶ γαλήνης γενομένης.

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Le Banquet des Vœux du Paon, Jean Wauquelin, Les faits et conquêtes d’Alexandre le Grand, Flandre, atelier de Mons, 1448-1449, Paris, BnF

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