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

Education: Insurance for the Shipwrecked

Phaedrus, Fabulae 4.23

“A person of learning always has wealth on on their own.

Simonides, who wrote exceptional lyric poems,
Thanks to this lived more easily with poverty
He began to go around the Asia’s noble cities
Singing the praise of victors for a set price.

Once he had done this to make a wealthier life
He planned to make a seaward journey home.
For it was on Ceos people claim he was born.
He climbed aboard a ship which an awful storm
And its advanced age caused to break apart in the sea.

Some grabbed their money-belts, others their valuable things,
Safeguards for their life. A rather curious man asked
“Simonides, you are saving none of your riches?”
He responded, “Everything that is mine is with me”

Few swam free, because most died weighed down by a drowning burden.
Then thieves arrived and seized whatever each man carried.
They left them naked. By chance, Clazomenae, that ancient city,
Was nearby. The shipwrecked men went that way.
There lived a man obsessed with the pursuit of poetry
Who had often read the poems of Simonides,
He was his greatest distant admirer.

Once he knew Simonides from his speech alone
He greedily brought him home, and decorated him
With clothes, money, servants. The rest were carrying
Signs asking for food. When Simonides by chance
Would see these men he reported “I said that all my things
Were with me: and you lost everything you took.”

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Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet.
Simonides, qui scripsit egregium melos,
quo paupertatem sustineret facilius,
circum ire coepit urbes Asiae nobiles,
mercede accepta laudem victorum canens.
Hoc genere quaestus postquam locuples factus est,
redire in patriam voluit cursu pelagio;
erat autem, ut aiunt, natus in Cia insula.
ascendit navem; quam tempestas horrida
simul et vetustas medio dissolvit mari.
Hi zonas, illi res pretiosas colligunt,
subsidium vitae. Quidam curiosior:
“Simonide, tu ex opibus nil sumis tuis?”
“Mecum” inquit “mea sunt cuncta.”Tunc pauci enatant,
quia plures onere degravati perierant.
Praedones adsunt, rapiunt quod quisque extulit,
nudos relinquunt. Forte Clazomenae prope
antiqua fuit urbs, quam petierunt naufragi.
Hic litterarum quidam studio deditus,
Simonidis qui saepe versus legerat,
eratque absentis admirator maximus,
sermone ab ipso cognitum cupidissime
ad se recepit; veste, nummis, familia
hominem exornavit. Ceteri tabulam suam
portant, rogantes victum. Quos casu obvios
Simonides ut vidit: “Dixi” inquit “mea
mecum esse cuncta; vos quod rapuistis perit.”

Learning From Students in the Classroom

Brandeis University Commencement is today. We say farewell to our graduating students. And now is a time for my confession….

Solon, fr. 18

“I grow old, always learning many things.”

γηράσκω δ’ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος·

Kim Stanley Robinson The Years of Rice and Salt (2003: 758)

“Over time, Bao came to understand that teaching too was a kind of reincarnation, in that years passed and students came and went, new young people all the time, but always the same age, taking the same class; the class under the oak trees, reincarnated. He began to enjoy that aspect of it. He would start the first class by saying, “Look, here we are again.” They never knew what to make of it; same response, every time.

He learned, among other things, that teaching was the most rigorous form of learning. He learned to learn more from his students than they did from him; like so many other things, it was the reverse from what it seemed to be, and colleges existed to bring together groups of young people to teach some chosen few of their elders the things that they knew about life, that the old teachers had been in danger of forgetting.”

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher?

You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb, as long as you live. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 7.8-9

“Both habits, moreover, should be avoided. Don’t imitate bad people, because there are many of them, nor hate the many, because you aren’t like them. Take shelter in yourself, whenever you can. Spend time with people who will make you a better person. Embrace those whom you can make better. Such improvement is a partnership, for people learn while they teach.”

Utrumque autem devitandum est; neve similis malis fias, quia multi sunt, neve inimicus multis, quia dissimiles sunt. Recede in te ipsum, quantum potes. Cum his versare, qui te meliorem facturi sunt. Illos admitte, quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines, dum docent, discunt.

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The Annoying Liberal Arts, Or: Seneca Goes Full-on Bauerlain

Seneca, Moral Epistle 88

“But, truly, the knowledge of many disciplines is pleasurable”. Ok, then, let’s keep only what is necessary from these arts. Do you think that the person who considers superficial matters equal to useful ones and for this reason makes his home a museum of expensive products is reprehensible but not the man who is obsessed with the superfluous aspects of academia? To want to know more than is enough is a kind of excessive delusion.

Why? Well, this extreme pursuit of the liberal arts makes people annoying, wordy, bad-mannered, and overly self-satisfied, even though they have not learned the basics because they pursue the useless.

The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand books. I would pity him if had only read that many useless works. In these books he searched for Homer’s homeland, the real mother of Aeneas, whether Anacreon is more licentious or just drunk, whether Sappho was promiscuous and other various questions which, if you learned them, would have been necessarily forgotten. Go on, don’t say life is long. No, when you turn to your own people too, I will show you many things which should be pruned back with an ax.”

“At enim delectat artium notitia multarum.” Tantum itaque ex illis retineamus, quantum necessarium est. An tu existimas reprendendum, qui supervacua usibus conparat et pretiosarum rerum pompam in domo explicat, non putas eum, qui occupatus est in supervacua litterarum supellectile? Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est.

Quid? Quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. Quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. Misererer, si tam multa supervacua legisset. In his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia, quae erant dediscenda, si scires. I nunc et longam esse vitam nega. Sed ad nostros quoque cum perveneris, ostendam multa securibus recidenda.

These are themes close to the old man’s heart, elsewhere too:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

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 ca. 1350 | The Morgan Library & Museum

The Skills of the Lover of Wisdom

Philo, On Dreams 205

“I certainly feel wonder at the lover of wisdom since, when he practices his art, he brings together and integrates many different things from different sources. For he takes from the children’s grammar the first two subjects—writing and reading—and then from the more mature education knowledge of poets and the learning of ancient history, from arithmetic and geometry precision in topics needing proportion and calculation, from music rhythm and meter, harmonic melodies, as well as chromatic, diatonic, concordant and discordant; from rhetoric, topic, diction, composition, efficiency, memory, and performance; and from philosophy however much has been left out from these other subjects and the rest of things which make a person’s life whole. The lover of wisdom fits all these into the most decorous work, combining great knowledge with the ability to learn even more.”

θαυμάζω μέντοι καὶ | τὸν σοφίας ἐραστήν, ὅτι τὴν αὐτὴν τέχνην ἐπιτετήδευκε, πολλὰ καὶ διαφέροντα ἐκ διαφερόντων εἰς ταὐτὸ συνάγειν καὶ συνυφαίνειν ἀξιῶν. λαβὼν γὰρ ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς παιδικῆς γραμματικῆς δύο τὰ πρῶτα, τό τε γράφειν καὶ τὸ ἀναγινώσκειν, ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς τελειοτέρας τήν τε παρὰ ποιηταῖς ἐμπειρίαν καὶ τὴν ἀρχαίας ἱστορίας ἀνάληψιν, παρὰ δὲ ἀριθμητικῆς καὶ γεωμετρίας τὸ ἀνεξαπάτητον ἐν οἷς ἀναλογίας καὶ λογισμῶν ἐστι χρεία, παρὰ δὲ μουσικῆς ῥυθμοὺς καὶ μέτρα, τά τε ἐναρμόνια καὶ χρωματικὰ καὶ διατονικὰ συνημμένα τε αὖ καὶ διεζευγμένα μέλη, παρὰ δὲ ῥητορικῆς εὕρεσιν, φράσιν, τάξιν, οἰκονομίαν, μνήμην, ὑπόκρισιν, παρὰ δὲ φιλοσοφίας ὅσα τε ἐν ταύταις παραλέλειπται καὶ ἄλλα ἐξ ὧν ἅπας ὁ ἀνθρώπων βίος συνέστηκεν, ἓν ἔργον εὐανθέστατον ἡρμόσατο, εὐμάθειαν πολυμαθείᾳ μίξας.

Wellcome MS 55, f.93., Johann Linder (from here)

“Give the Child a Book and Order Them to Read”

Polybius, Histories 10.47 7-12

“There are many other examples which provide proof for this, but the clearest one of all is that from reading. In this case, if someone sets a person who is illiterate and unaccustomed to reading but not a fool and then place next to him a child who can read, give the child a book and order them to read what is written, it is clear that the man would not be able to believe that while reading one must first understand the image of each letter, then the value of its sound, and then the possible combinations with other letters, all things that require a great deal of time.

When he sees the child reading without pausing seven or five lines, he will not easily be able to believe that the child has not read the book before. He will straight out deny it if the reader observes the rhythm, the pauses, the rough breathings and the smooth breathings too. We should not bar for ourselves, then, anything which is useful because it appears to be difficult at first. No, we must use the force of habit, the means by which humans achieve all good things and even more so when it concerns the matters upon which our very safety depends.”

τοῦ δὲ τοιούτου λόγου παραδείγματα μὲν πολλὰ καὶ ἕτερα πρὸς πίστιν, ἐναργέστατον δὲ τὸ γινόμενον ἐπὶ τῆς ἀναγνώσεως. ἐπὶ γὰρ ἐκείνης, εἴ τις παραστησάμενος ἄνθρωπον ἄπειρον μὲν καὶ ἀσυνήθη γραμματικῆς, τἄλλα δ᾿ ἀγχίνουν, κἄπειτα παιδάριον ἕξιν ἔχον παραστήσας καὶ δοὺς βυβλίον κελεύοι λέγειν τὰ γεγραμμένα, δῆλον ὡς οὐκ ἂν δύναιτο πιστεῦσαι διότι <δεῖ> πρῶτον ἐπὶ τὰς ὄψεις τὰς ἑνὸς ἑκάστου τῶν γραμμάτων ἐπιστῆσαι τὸν ἀναγινώσκοντα, δεύτερον ἐπὶ τὰς δυνάμεις, τρίτον ἐπὶ τὰς πρὸς ἄλληλα συμπλοκάς, ὧν ἕκαστον ποσοῦ χρόνου τινὸς δεῖται.διόπερ ὅταν ἀνεπιστάτως θεωρῇ τὸ παιδάριον ὑπὸ τὴν ἀναπνοὴν ἑπτὰ καὶ πέντε στίχους συνεῖρον, οὐκ ἂν εὐχερῶς δύναιτο πιστεῦσαι διότι πρότερον οὗτος οὐκ ἀνέγνωκε τὸ βυβλίον· εἰ δὲ καὶ τὴν ὑπόκρισιν καὶ τὰς διαιρέσεις, ἔτι δὲ δασύτητας καὶ ψιλότητας δύναιτο συσσῴζειν, οὐδὲ τελέως. διόπερ οὐκ ἀποστατέον οὐδενὸς τῶν χρησίμων διὰ τὰς προφαινομένας δυσχερείας, προσακτέον δὲ τὴν ἕξιν, ᾗ πάντα τὰ καλὰ γίνεται θηρατὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, ἄλλως τε καὶ περὶ τῶν τοιούτων, ἐν οἷς πολλάκις κεῖται τὸ συνέχον τῆς σωτηρίας.

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A Reminder: A Friendly Philosopher is Useless

Plutarch, Fr. 203, recorded in Themistios’ On the Soul (From Stobaeus, iii.13. 68)

“Others will decide whether Diogenes spoke rightly about Plato “What good is a man who has practiced philosophy for a long time and pissed off no one? Perhaps it is right that the philosopher’s speech has a sweetness that wounds like honey.”

Θεμιστίου περὶ ψυχῆς·

Εἰ μὲν οὖν ὀρθῶς ἐπὶ Πλάτωνος εἶπε Διογένης, “τί δαὶ ὄφελος ἡμῖν ἀνδρὸς ὃς πολὺν ἤδη χρόνον φιλοσοφῶν οὐδένα λελύπηκεν;” ἕτεροι κρινοῦσιν. ἴσως γὰρ ὡς τὸ μέλι δεῖ καὶ τὸν λόγον τοῦ φιλοσόφου τὸ γλυκὺ δηκτικὸν ἔχειν τῶν ἡλκωμένων.

Diogenes Laertius, 10.8

“[Epicurus] used to call Nausiphanes an illiterate jellyfish, a cheat and a whore. He used to refer to Plato’s followers as the Dionysus-flatters; he called Aristotle a waste who, after he spent his interitance, fought as a mercenary and sold drugs. He maligned Protagoras as a bellboy, and called Protagoras Democritus’ secretary and a teacher from the sticks. He called Heraclitus mudman, Democritus  Lerocritus [nonsense lord].

Antidorus he called Sannidôros [servile-gifter]. He named the Cynics “Greece’s enemies”; he called the dialecticians Destructionists and, according to him, Pyrrho was unlearned and unteachable.”

πλεύμονά τε αὐτὸν ἐκάλει καὶ ἀγράμματον καὶ ἀπατεῶνα καὶ πόρνην: τούς τε περὶ Πλάτωνα Διονυσοκόλακας καὶ αὐτὸν Πλάτωνα χρυσοῦν, καὶ Ἀριστοτέλη ἄσωτον, <ὃν> καταφαγόντα τὴν πατρῴαν οὐσίαν στρατεύεσθαι καὶ φαρμακοπωλεῖν: φορμοφόρον τε Πρωταγόραν καὶ γραφέα Δημοκρίτου καὶ ἐν κώμαις γράμματα διδάσκειν: Ἡράκλειτόν τε κυκητὴν καὶ Δημόκριτον Ληρόκριτον καὶ Ἀντίδωρον Σαννίδωρον: τούς τε Κυνικοὺς ἐχθροὺς τῆς Ἑλλάδος: καὶ τοὺς διαλεκτικοὺς πολυφθόρους, Πύρρωνα δ᾽ ἀμαθῆ καὶ ἀπαίδευτον.

Cicero, Letter Fragments. Nepos to Cicero IIa

Nepos Cornelius also writes to the same Cicero thus: it is so far away from me thinking that philosophy is a teacher of life and the guardian of a happy life, that I do not believe that anyone needs teachers of living more than the many men who are dedicated to philosophical debate. I certainly see that a great number of those who rush into speeches about restraint and discipline in the classroom live amidst the desire for every kind of vice.”

Nepos quoque Cornelius ad eundem Ciceronem ita scribit: tantum abest ut ego magistram putem esse vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore <et> continentia praecipiant argutissime eosdem in omnium libidinum cupiditatibus vivere. (Lactant. Div. inst. 3.5.10)

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On Timon, D. L. 9.12

“Antigonos says that Timon was fond of drinking; and, whenever he had free time from philosophizing, he wrote poems”

Ἦν δέ, φησὶν ὁ Ἀντίγονος, καὶ φιλοπότης καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν φιλοσόφων εἰ σχολάζοι ποιήματα συνέγραφε

Seneca, Moral Epistle 3.3

“For this is most shameful (and often brought up against us as a reproach), to deal in the words, and not the actual work, of philosophy.”

hoc enim turpissimum est, quod nobis obici solet, verba nos philosophiae, non opera tractare.