Lucid From Afar; Blind up Close: A Talking Point for Older Relatives

Plutarch, “Table Talk”: Moralia 625: Why do older men read writing from farther away?

“The situation which attends sight seemed to us to be the opposite of the solution we found concerning the last matter, since older people hold words farther away from their eyes when they are reading. They cannot read something close. This is made clear when Aeschylus says “But you must gaze upon it from afar—for you could not up close. And you must be a clear-eyed scholar, even though you are old”.

Sophocles too, says the same thing about old men: “Slow is the coming of words which barely enters closed-up ears. But when a man sees from afar, he is completely blind to what is near.”

If, the senses of old men heed intensity and strength more, how is it that in reading they cannot endure light coming from nearby but must put a book farther away and water down the light with air the way that wine is thinned by water?”

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Διὰ τί τὰ γράμματα πόρρωθεν οἱ πρεσβύτεροι μᾶλλον ἀναγιγνώσκουσιν
Ταῦτα δ᾿ ἡμῶν εἰς τὸ προκείμενον εὑρησιλογούντων ἐδόκει τὸ τῆς ὄψεως ἀντιπίπτειν. οἱ γὰρ πρεσβύτεροι πόρρω τὰ γράμματα τῶν ὀμμάτων ἀπάγοντες ἀναγιγνώσκουσιν, ἐγγύθεν δ᾿ οὐ δύνανται· καὶ τοῦτο παραδηλῶν ὁ Αἰσχύλος φησίν (fr. 358)·

σὺ δ᾿ ἐξ ἀπόπτου αὐτόν, οὐ γὰρ ἐγγύθεν
δύναιό γ᾿ ἄν· γέρων δὲ γραμματεὺς γενοῦ
σαφής.

ἐνδηλότερον δὲ Σοφοκλῆς τὸ αὐτὸ περὶ τῶν γερόντων (fr.774)·

βραδεῖα μὲν γὰρ ἐν λόγοισι προσβολὴ
μόλις δι᾿ ὠτὸς ἔρχεται ῥυπωμένου·

εἴπερ οὖν πρὸς τὴν ἐπίτασιν καὶ σφοδρότητα μᾶλλον ὑπακούει τὰ τῶν γερόντων αἰσθητήρια, πῶς ἐν τῷ ἀναγιγνώσκειν τὸν ἐγγύθεν ἀντιφωτισμὸν οὐ φέρουσιν, ἀλλὰ προάγοντες ἀπωτέρω τὸ βιβλίον ἐκλύουσι τὴν λαμπρότητα τῷ ἀέρι καθάπερ οἷον ὕδατι κατακεραννυμένην;

Little By Little: Memory and Education

Plutarch, The Education of Children (Moralia 9)

It is especially important to train and practice children’s memory: for memory is the warehouse of learning. This is why we used to mythologize Memory as the mother of the Muses, making it clear through allegory that nothing creates and nourishes the way memory does. This should be trained in both cases, whether children have a good memory from the beginning or are naturally forgetful. For we may strengthen the inborn ability and supplement the deficiency. The first group will be better than others; but the second will be better than themselves. This is why the Hesiodic line rings true: “If you add a little by little, and you keep doing it, soon you can have something great.”

Parents should also not forget that a skill of memory contributes its great worth not only to education but to life’s actions in general. For the memory of past events becomes an example of good planning for future actions.”

Πάντων δὲ μάλιστα τὴν μνήμην τῶν παίδων ἀσκεῖν καὶ συνεθίζειν· αὕτη γὰρ ὥσπερ τῆς παιδείας ἐστὶ ταμιεῖον, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο μητέρα τῶν Μουσῶν ἐμυθολόγησαν εἶναι τὴν Μνημοσύνην, αἰνιττόμενοι καὶ παραδηλοῦντες ὅτι οὕτως οὐδὲν γεννᾶν καὶ τρέφειν ὡς ἡ μνήμη πέφυκε. καὶ τοίνυν ταύτην κατ᾿ ἀμφότερ᾿ ἐστὶν ἀσκητέον, εἴτ᾿ ἐκ φύσεως μνήμονες εἶεν οἱ παῖδες, εἴτε καὶ τοὐναντίον ἐπιλήσμονες. τὴν γὰρ πλεονεξίαν τῆς φύσεως ἐπιρρώσομεν, τὴν δ᾿ ἔλλειψιν ἀναπληρώσομεν· καὶ οἱ μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἔσονται βελτίους, οἱ δ᾿ ἑαυτῶν. τὸ γὰρ Ἡσιόδειον καλῶς εἴρηται

εἰ γάρ κεν καὶ σμικρὸν ἐπὶ σμικρῷ καταθεῖο
καὶ θαμὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἔρδοις, τάχα κεν μέγα καὶ τὸ
γένοιτο.

μὴ λανθανέτω τοίνυν μηδὲ τοῦτο τοὺς πατέρας, ὅτι τὸ μνημονικὸν τῆς μαθήσεως μέρος οὐ μόνον πρὸς τὴν παιδείαν ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς τὰς τοῦ βίου πράξεις οὐκ ἐλαχίστην συμβάλλεται μοῖραν. ἡ γὰρ τῶν γεγενημένων πράξεων μνήμη τῆς περὶ τῶν μελλόντων εὐβουλίας γίγνεται παράδειγμα.

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This Current Time of Sickness

On the metacognitive deficit:

“Evils of the soul escape most people; for this reason they are worse—they prevent those who suffer from sensing them”

τὰ δ᾿ ἐν ψυχῇ λανθάνει τοὺς πολλοὺς κακά, διὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἐστι καίω, προσαφαιρούμενα τὴν αὑτῶν τοῦ πάσχοντος αἴσθησιν

This and the following passage are from Plutarch’s On Whether Sickness of the Body or Mind Are Worse (Moralia 500 ff). The following (especially the last line of the first paragraph) appears to perpetuate the stigmatizing of mental illness. And it does: many behaviors we today would see as parafunctional and requiring therapy, ancient authors viewed as issues of will.

“Just as, therefore, the storm which keeps you from docking is more dangerous than the one that won’t let you sail, the storms of the soul are worse when they do not allow a person to control or put down his troubled thoughts—this person goes without a helmsman, without ballast in confusion and wandering, taking off in steep and opposite courses until suffering a harrowing shipwreck and crushing his life. This is why it is worse to suffer sickness of mind than the body: For those who are sick, merely suffer; the sick of mind suffer and harm others.

But why is it necessary to repeat the great number of afflictions? Current events remind me of them. Do you see this immense, mix up crowd which clings together and mixes around the seat of government and the market?”

Ὥσπερ οὖν ἐπισφαλέστερος χειμὼν τοῦ πλεῖν οὐκ ἐῶντος ὁ κωλύων καθορμίσασθαι, οὕτως οἱ κατὰ ψυχὴν χειμῶνες βαρύτεροι στείλασθαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἐῶντες οὐδ᾿ ἐπιστῆσαι τεταραγμένον τὸν λογισμόν· ἀλλ᾿ ἀκυβέρνητος καὶ ἀνερμάτιστος ἐν ταραχῇ καὶ πλάνῃ δρόμοις λεχρίοις καὶ παραφόροις διατραχηλιζόμενος εἴς τι ναυάγιον φοβερὸν ἐξέπεσε καὶ συνέτριψε τὸν ἑαυτοῦ βίον. ὥστε καὶ ταύτῃ χεῖρον νοσεῖν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἢ τοῖς σώμασιν· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ πάσχειν μόνον τοῖς δὲ καὶ πάσχειν καὶ ποιεῖν κακῶς συμβέβηκε.

Καὶ τί δεῖ τὰ πολλὰ λέγειν τῶν παθῶν; αὐτὸς ὁ καιρὸς ὑπόμνησίς ἐστιν. ὁρᾶτε τὸν πολὺν καὶ παμμιγῆ τοῦτον τὸν ἐνταῦθα συνηραγμένον καὶ κυκώμενον ὄχλον περὶ τὸ βῆμα καὶ τὴν ἀγοράν;

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William Hogworth, “The Madhouse”

Fire Increases Life: Plutarch, Against Water

Plutarch, On Whether Fire or Water is Better, 958

“Since we have come to this point in the argument: what is more profitable to life than art? Fire exposed every art and preserves them. This is the reason poets have made Hephaistos the first craftsman. Since humans have been given only a little bit of life and—as Ariston puts it—sleep claims half of life like a tax-collector, I would say that darkness is important: even if it were possible to stay awake through the night, this vigil would be useless if fire did not provide the advantages of day to us and strip away the difference between day and night. If there is nothing more important to people than life and fire increases life considerably, how could fire not be the most beneficial thing of all?”

Ἐπεὶ δὲ κατὰ τοῦτο τοῦ λόγου γεγόναμεν, τί τέχνης τῷ βίῳ λυσιτελέστερον; τέχνας δὲ πάσας καὶ ἀνεῦρε τὸ πῦρ καὶ σῴζει· διὸ καὶ τὸν Ἥφαιστον ἀρχηγὸν αὐτῶν ποιοῦσι. καὶ μὴν ὀλίγου χρόνου καὶ βίου τοῖς ἀνθρώποις δεδομένου, ὁ μὲν Ἀρίστων φησὶν ὅτι ὁ ὕπνος οἷον τελώνης τὸ ἥμισυ ἀφαιρεῖ τούτου· ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἂν εἴποιμ᾿ ὅτι σκότος· ἐγρηγορέναι ἂν εἴη διὰ νυκτός, ἀλλ᾿ οὐδὲν ἦν ὄφελος τῆς ἐγρηγόρσεως, εἰ μὴ τὸ πῦρ τὰ τῆς ἡμέρας ἡμῖν παρεῖχεν ἀγαθά, καὶ τὴν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς ἐξῄρει διαφοράν. εἰ τοίνυν τοῦ ζῆν οὐδὲν ἀνθρώποις λυσιτελέστερον καὶ τοῦτο πολλαπλασιάζει τὸ πῦρ, πῶς οὐκ ἂν εἴη πάντων ὠφελιμώτατον;

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The Secrets That You Keep

This has nothing to do with a recent post about Treason.

Plutarch, On Talkativeness, 505a-b

“Some of the other faults and disorders we suffer are dangerous, hateful, or absurd; but talkativeness is all of these things. For chatterboxes are mocked for explaining common affairs,hated for trumpeting bad news, and they risk their lives because they can’t keep secrets. For this reason, when Anacharsis had a feast at Solon’s home and was stretched out to sleep, he covered his genitals with his left hand and placed his right hand over his mouth:  he thought that the tongue demanded the stronger protection! And this is correct. For, one couldn’t easily make a list of how many man have been laid low because of uncontrolled lust any more than the number of cities and governments which a revealed secret has destroyed.”

Τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλων παθῶν καὶ νοσημάτων τὰ μέν ἐστιν ἐπικίνδυνα τὰ δὲ μισητὰ τὰ δὲ καταγέλαστα, τῇ δ᾿ ἀδολεσχίᾳ πάντα συμβέβηκε· χλευάζονται μὲν γὰρ ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς διηγήσεσι, μισοῦνται δὲ διὰ τὰς τῶν κακῶν προσαγγελίας, κινδυνεύουσι δὲ τῶν ἀπορρήτων μὴ κρατοῦντες. ὅθεν Ἀνάχαρσις ἑστιαθεὶς παρὰ Σόλωνι καὶ κοιμώμενος ὤφθη τὴν μὲν ἀριστερὰν χεῖρα τοῖς μορίοις τὴν δὲ δεξιὰν τῷ στόματι προσκειμένην ἔχων· ἐγκρατεστέρου γὰρ ᾤετο χαλινοῦ δεῖσθαι τὴν γλῶτταν, ὀρθῶς οἰόμενος. οὐ γὰρ ἄν τις ἐξαριθμήσαιτο ῥᾳδίως ἄνδρας τοσούτους ἀφροδισίων ἀκρασίᾳ πεπτωκότας, ὅσας πόλεις καὶ ἡγεμονίας λόγος ἐξενεχθεὶς ἀπόρρητος ἀναστάτους ἐποίησε.

I hear the secrets that you keep, when you’re talking in your sleep

Heard And Seen: Disagreeing With Thucydides About Women

Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women 1

“Klea, I do not have the same opinion as Thucydides concerning the virtue of women. For he claims that the best woman is the one who has the slimmest reputation among those outside her home, critical or positive—since he believes that the name of a good woman ought to be locked up and kept indoors just like her body.  Gorgias, in fact, is more appealing to me, since he insists that the fame rather than the form of a woman should be known to many. Indeed, the Roman practice seems best: granting praise to women in public after their death just as for men.

So, when Leontis, one of the best women died, you and I had a rather long conversation which did not lack philosophical solace; and now, just as you have asked, I have written down for you the rest of the things one can say supporting the assertion that the virtue of a man and woman are the same thing. This [composition] is historical and is not arranged for pleasurable hearing. But if some pleasure is possible in a persuasive piece thanks to the nature of its example, then the argument itself does not avoid some charm—that aid to explanation—nor is it reluctant to “mix the Graces in with the Muses, a most noble pairing”, in the words of Euripides, basing its credibility on the love of beauty which is a special province of the soul.”

Περὶ ἀρετῆς, ὦ Κλέα, γυναικῶν οὐ τὴν αὐτὴν τῷ Θουκυδίδῃ γνώμην ἔχομεν. ὁ μὲν γάρ, ἧς ἂν ἐλάχιστος ᾖ παρὰ τοῖς ἐκτὸς ψόγου πέρι ἢ ἐπαίνου λόγος, ἀρίστην ἀποφαίνεται, καθάπερ τὸ σῶμα καὶ τοὔνομα τῆς ἀγαθῆς γυναικὸς οἰόμενος δεῖν κατάκλειστον εἶναι καὶ ἀνέξοδον. ἡμῖν δὲ κομψότερος μὲν ὁ Γοργίας φαίνεται, κελεύων μὴ τὸ εἶδος ἀλλὰ τὴν δόξαν εἶναι πολλοῖς γνώριμον τῆς γυναικός· ἄριστα δ᾿ ὁ Ῥωμαίων δοκεῖ νόμος ἔχειν, ὥσπερ ἀνδράσι καὶ γυναιξὶ δημοσίᾳ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν τοὺς προσήκοντας ἀποδιδοὺς ἐπαίνους. διὸ καὶ Λεοντίδος τῆς ἀρίστης ἀποθανούσης, εὐθύς τε μετὰ σοῦ τότε πολὺν λόγον εἴχομεν οὐκ ἀμοιροῦντα παραμυθίας φιλοσόφου, καὶ νῦν, ὡς ἐβουλήθης, τὰ ὑπόλοιπα τῶν λεγομένων εἰς τὸ μίαν εἶναι καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικὸς ἀρετὴν προσανέγραψά σοι, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα. εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα· εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, οὐ φεύγει χάριν ἀποδείξεως συνεργὸν ὁ λόγος οὐδ᾿ αἰσχύνεται

ταῖς Μούσαις
τὰς Χάριτας συγκαταμιγνὺς
καλλίσταν συζυγίαν,

ὡς Εὐριπίδης φησίν, ἐκ τοῦ φιλοκάλου μάλιστα τῆς ψυχῆς ἀναδούμενος τὴν πίστιν.

Don’t forget the ongoing  virtual conference  “Teaching Leaders and Leadership Through Classics” . (You can participate by registering). The chief organizer–Mallory Monaco Caterine–uses Plutarch a lot to talk about politics and gender (and wrote some great modules for the Synoikisis Ancient Leadership Course)

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Hiding Wickedness With Power

Here a third and likely final selection from Plutarch’s fragmentary essay. Plutarch’s strong feelings about leadership were influenced by Greek and Roman literature and philosophy, but also by the history of living under the Roman Emperors. Plutarch, who lived from 46-120 CE, witnessed some bad emperors and some good ones–but they were all still emperors.

Plutarch, To an Uneducated Ruler 782

“It is not possible to hide wickedness in power. But, as when someone with vertigo* might go up in a high place and move around, only to become dizzy and uncertain, thus revealing their suffering, so fortune amplifies the untaught and ignorant a little with some wealth, reputation or offices and, once they have risen up, it shows them falling. Or rather, it is the same as when you cannot tell which of some containers is solid and which is cracked but when you pour water into them, the culprit leak is clear: rotten minds cannot manage power, but they ooze out random desires, rages, improprieties, and base manners.”

 Οὐδὲ γὰρ λαθεῖν οἷόν τε τὰς κακίας ἐν ταῖς ἐξουσίαις· ἀλλὰ τοὺς μὲν ἐπιληπτικούς, ἂν ἐν ὕψει τινὶ γένωνται καὶ περιενεχθῶσιν, ἴλιγγος ἴσχει καὶ σάλος, ἐξελέγχων τὸ πάθος αὐτῶν, τοὺς δ᾿ ἀπαιδεύτους καὶ ἀμαθεῖς ἡ τύχη μικρὸν ἐκκουφίσασα πλούτοις τισὶν ἢ δόξαις ἢ ἀρχαῖς μετεώρους γενομένους εὐθὺς ἐπιδείκνυσι πίπτοντας· μᾶλλον δ᾿, ὥσπερ τῶν κενῶν ἀγγείων οὐκ ἂν διαγνοίης τὸ ἀκέραιον καὶ πεπονηκός, ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν ἐγχέῃς, φαίνεται τὸ ῥέον· οὕτως αἱ σαθραὶ ψυχαὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας μὴ στέγουσαι ῥέουσιν ἔξω ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις, ταῖς ὀργαῖς, ταῖς ἀλαζονείαις, ταῖς ἀπειροκαλίαις.

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*The original Greek seems to be about people with epilepsy (tous epilêptikous). I changed this for a few reasons. Although I understand ancient physiognomic standards, I am uncomfortable with perpetuating the analogy implied here between sickness of mind and that of body. A person who has such a malady should not be subjected to a comparison to the sick of spirit.