Upon Entering A Classroom: Unsolicited Reflections on Teaching

[This is a revision of an earlier post]

Next week, I start my 18th semester of teaching at my institution. This also means I am well into my second decade of teaching. At the same time, my collaborator and co-conspirator Palaiophron is starting a new position as a Latin teacher in a local high school.

As is my custom, the coming semester fills me with excitement, anxiety and just a little bit of dread. But then again, I started on my teaching journey in the same way. So, before many of us throughout the country (and the world) prepare to return to classrooms, I need to review my thoughts about teaching. (In part to ready myself for an Ancient Greek classroom of over 35 students!).

We all know that technology, politics, and money are changing the way we think, talk and approach the classroom. In applications for positions and awards, the ‘statement of teaching philosophy’ is all the rage; but most of us who practice as teachers, I suspect, operate from a mixture of experience and precept, observation and reaction. Whatever happens outside, we know that teaching is about human beings learning from each other.

So, below, I have gathered my basic precepts, some classical topoi they resonate with, and some very basic explanations. This is unsolicited and probably unneeded, but I write it as much to remind myself as anything else.

“Men become good more from practice than nature.”
ἐκ μελέτης πλείους ἢ φύσεως ἀγαθοί (Critias, fr. 9)

Continue reading “Upon Entering A Classroom: Unsolicited Reflections on Teaching”

Heraclitus, Parmenides and Friends go Back, Up and Down on Time

Heraclitus, Fragment 61

“The road upward and down is one and the same.”

ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή.

Some Heraclitus references.

Parmenides, fr. 6.16

“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.

Euenus (Simplicius on Aristotle’s Physics 4.221a31)

“Time is the wisest and most unteachable thing.”

σοφώτατόν τοι κἀμαθέστατον χρόνος

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 1.1

“We don’t have too little time, but we do waste most of it. Life is long enough for the completion of the greatest affairs—it is apportioned to us generously, if it is wholly well managed.”

non exiguum temporis habemus, sed multum perdidimus. satis longa uita et in maximarum rerum consummationem: large data est, si tota bene conlocaretur.

Diocles, fr. 14 (Photius, a247)

“Let no one of you ever long to get old.
Think instead how to die at the right time
Still young and living life well
And how not to wear on to the toothless time of life.”

μηδείς ποθ᾿ ὑμῶν, ἄνδρες, ἐπιθυμησάτω
γέρων γένεσθαι. περινοησάτω δ᾿
ὅπως νέος ὢν ἀγαθόν τι τῆ̣ ψυχῆ̣ παθὼν
ὥρᾳ καταλύσῃ μηδ᾿ ἀγόμφιόν ποτε
αἰῶνα τρίψει

Sophocles, fr. 65

“No one loves living as much as a man growing old”

τοῦ ζῆν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡς ὁ γηράσκων ἐρᾷ

Cicero, On Old Age 24

“No one is so old that he thinks he could not live another year”

nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet poss

Euripides, fr 25

“Alas, the ancient proverb holds well:
We old men are nothing other than a sound
and an image, lurking imitations of dreams.
We have no mind and but we think we know how to think well.”

φεῦ φεῦ, παλαιὸς αἶνος ὡς καλῶς ἔχει·
γέροντες οὐδέν ἐσμεν ἄλλο πλὴν ψόφος
καὶ σχῆμ’, ὀνείρων δ’ ἕρπομεν μιμήματα·
νοῦς δ’ οὐκ ἔνεστιν, οἰόμεσθα δ’ εὖ φρονεῖν.

Democritus, fr. 296

“Old age is the perfect handicap: it has everything and lacks everything.”

γῆρας ὁλόκληρός ἐστι πήρωσις·
πάντ’ ἔχει καὶ πᾶσιν ἐνδεῖ.

Heraclitus Criticized Achilles’ Wish, The Scholia Set Us Straight: Strife, Heraclitus and the Scholia

In book 18 of the Iliad, when Achilles laments the events that led to the death of Patroklos, he also makes an impossible wish for the gods to erase conflict from the lives of men. Rather than seeing this as an emotional–and somewhat reasonable–desire on Achilles’ part, the presocratic philosopher Heraclitus is alleged to have taken issue.

The comments appear in two traditions of Scholia to the Iliad. Both attempt to explain Heraclitus’ mistakes.

Homer, Iliad 18.107: “I wish that the gods would erase strife from men”

Schol A ad Iliad 18.107: “Heraclitus criticizes Homer because he believes that the nature of things as they are depends upon strife, and here Achilles then seems to be praying for the collapse of the cosmos. To this someone might reply that he is not saying here that strife is something in opposition but rather that it is hateful—this is the reason he adds in the next line “and anger as well” [kholos]. For, the opposition of things [e.g. Heraclitus’ principle of nature] does not drive prudent men out of their powers of reason.”

Schol T. “Heraclitus says that Achilles is praying for the collapse of everything, since all things depend upon their opposites. But Achilles means that this strife is has led to worse affairs. Otherwise [if he doesn’t mean this], this should be allowed, since he is afire with suffering [over the death of Patroklos]”

ex. ὡς ἔρις ἔκ τε θεῶν :

῾Ηράκλειτος (fr. 28 p. 133 M.; Vors. 6 A 22) τὴν τῶν ὄντων φύσιν κατ’ ἔριν συνεστάναι νομίζων μέμφεται ῞Ομηρον, σύγχυσιν κόσμου δοκῶν αὐτὸν εὔχεσθαι. πρὸς ὃν ἄν τις εἴποι ὅτι οὐ λέγει νῦν τὴν ἐναντίωσιν ἔριν, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἔχθραν· ὅθεν ἐπιφέρει „καὶ χόλος” (Σ 108)· οὐ γὰρ ἡ τῶν πραγμάτων ἐναντίωσις τοὺς φρονίμους ἐξίστησι τῶν λογισμῶν. A
ὡς ἔρις ἔκ τε θεῶν: ῾Ηράκλειτος σύγχυσιν αὐτὸν εὔ-
χεσθαι ἁπάντων φησί· κατὰ γὰρ ἐναντίωσιν τὰ πάντα συνέχεσθαι. ἀλλὰ τὴν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἄγουσαν ἔριν νῦν φησιν. ἄλλως τε δοτέον τοῦτο, φλεγμαίνοντος τοῦπάθους

Heraclitus, the General of Fools: Lucretius, de Rerum Natura (1.635-44)

“On that account, those who think that the material element of all things is fire, and that the sum total of things is composed of fire alone, seem to have fallen quite far away from the path of true reason. Heraclitus was the general of such believers, and he entered the fray first. He was famed on account of his obscure language more among the sillier Greeks than those dignified ones who seek the truth. For indeed, fools admire and love everything which they see hidden beneath twisted words, and they consider those things true which can gracefully touch the ear, and which are covered up with a charming sound.”

Quapropter qui materiem rerum esse putarunt               635
ignem atque ex igni summam consistere solo,
magno opere a vera lapsi ratione videntur.
Heraclitus init quorum dux proelia primus,
clarus <ob> obscuram linguam magis inter inanis
quamde gravis inter Graios, qui vera requirunt;               640
omnia enim stolidi magis admirantur amantque,
inversis quae sub verbis latitantia cernunt,
veraque constituunt quae belle tangere possunt
auris et lepido quae sunt fucata sonore.

Felix Dies Natalis — Sententiae Antiquae: A Pu Pu Platter from our Infancy

 

This site and its twitter feed is three years old today.  We have passed from diapers (nappies in the UK!) and a liquid diet to full sentences and a different kind of liquid diet. Here are some quotations from our first few months.

 

The first post we ever put up:

 

Homer, Iliad 22.304-5

“May I not die without a fight and without glory but after doing something big for men to come to learn about”

μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,

ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.

 

A good one for Halloween:

Seneca, De clementia 1.1.6

“No one can wear a mask for very long; affectation soon returns to true nature”

nemo enim potest personam diu ferre, ficta cito in naturam suam recidunt

And this made an appearance again in our aggregation of Seneca quotes.

 

A reminder to carpere diem, but in Greek:

Semonides, Fragment 3

“We have ample time to be dead yet we live our few years badly”

πολλὸς γὰρ ἥμιν ἐστι τεθνάναι χρονος

ζῶμεν δ᾿ ἀριθμῷ παῦρα κακῶς ἔτεα

 

One of our many lines about friendship:

Sallust, Catilinae coniuratio 20.4

“Wanting the same thing and also not wanting the same thing: this, ultimately, is true friendship”

idem velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est

 

Proof that U2 plagiarizes:

Martial, Epigrams 12.46.2

“I can’t live with you or without you”

nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te

 

A necessary does of humility:

Heraclitus, Fragment 40

“Knowing much doesn’t teach you how to think.”

πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει.

 

Existential Angst:

Pindar, Pythian 8.95

“What is a person? What is not a person? Man is a dream of a shadow”

τί δέ τις; τί δ’ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ / ἄνθρωπος.

 

Pithy Rumsfeldian Response:

Tacitus, Agricola 30.4

 

“Every unknown is overblown”

omne ignotum pro magnifico est

 

Because we still don’t understand this:

Pisander, fr. 9 (Hesychius 683)

“You can’t reason with Centaurs”

νοῦς οὐ παρὰ Κενταύροισι

 

Because to err is human:

 

Cicero, Philippics 12.5

“All men make mistakes; but it is fools who persist in them”

cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis perseverare in errore

 

This is for Cicero and Seneca who came to unhappy ends:

Sophocles, Electra 1007-8

“Death isn’t the most hateful thing. Worse is when someone wants to die but cannot.”

οὐ γὰρ θανεῖν ἔχθιστον, ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν θανεῖν
χρῄζων τις εἶτα μηδὲ τοῦτ᾽ ἔχῃ λαβεῖν.

 

A rejected motto:

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.159

“Trivialities occupy fickle minds”

para leves capiunt animos

 

From a quotable but less well-known sage:

Publilius Syrus, Sententiae M.54

“A bad plan is one that can’t be changed”

malum est consilium quod mutari non potest

 

The eternal troll of anonymous wit:

 

CIL IV, 1904

“I am amazed, wall, that you have not fallen in ruins,
you who bear the weight of so many boring inscriptions.”

admiror, paries, te non cecidisse ruinis,
qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas.

 

Something that may or may not be true about quotation:

Horace, Ars Poetica 309

“The origin and source of good writing is good judgment”.

scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.

 

As good a way to start as to end:

Parmenides, fr. 6.16

 

“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.

 

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented and retweeted over the past three years!

Πόλλ’ ἀγαθὰ γένοιτό ὑμῖν!

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Heraclitus, Fr. 53

~ Leave a comment

 

Harmony we can’t see is stronger than harmony we can

 

ἁρμονίη ἀφανὴς φανερῆς κρείττων.

 

(but I also like:

“Unseen harmony is stronger than what we can see”)

Heraclitus fr. 67 1-2

~ 1 Comment

 

“god—day is night, winter summer, war peace, satiety hunger, all things are their opposite—this is the mind”

 

— —ὁ θεὸς ἡμέρη εὐφρόνη, χειμὼν θέρος, πόλεμος εἰρήνη, κόρος λιμός (τἀναντία ἅπαντα· οὗτος ὁ νοῦς)

Yeah, some of this is Orwellian. But does that make it (un)true?

 

Heraclitus, Fragment 110

~ 1 Comment

“It is not better for men to have as much they want”

 

ἀνθρώποις γίνεσθαι ὁκόσα θέλουσιν

οὐκ ἄμεινον

Heraclitus, Fragment 43

~ Leave a comment

 

 

"So, fire isn't the problem?"

“Extinguish arrogance before a fire”

 

ὕβριν χρὴ σβεννύναι μᾶλλον ἢ πυρκαϊήν.

 

How might Prometheus feel about the suggestion?

Heraclitus, fragment 53

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“War is father and king of everything”

 

Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι, πάντων δὲ

βασιλεύς

 

Heraclitus is also a fan of fire.

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