We Have Two Ears, One Mouth: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν

I am reposting this in honor of Paul Holdengraber who is leaving the New York Public Library at the end of this year to become the Founding Executive Director of The Onassis Foundation LA. I am eager to see the amazing things Paul will do there, but I know that the NYPL will not be the same without him.

The first version of this post emerged from a conversation Paul and I had on twitter. The conversation and the post were turning points for this blog–it showed me how social media could be a force for good and that there was a lot more we could do with this project in addition to posting passages from Latin and Greek. I wish Paul the best of luck in his new mission.

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

So, the quote I thought sounded Greek, turned out to be Greek. According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar (the full text is available on Perseus). And, honestly, without preening too much, I was happy that the version I settled on (μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα) wasn’t too different from the words attributed to Zeno: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν).

And yet, the story was not over. Gerrit Floss was far from done with us–he found an even earlier Latin version of the line attributed to Apuleius.

As we began to discuss these versions, other voices chimed in with accounts from even more languages. Gerrit helped us trace the life of this proverbial statement to German and Danish:

Of course, here we have a German testimony to a Danish proverb–and I have no idea what kind of authority this has.

Ein dänisches Sprichwort sagt: “Der Mensch hat zwei Ohren und nur einen Mund. Wir sollten also doppelt so viel zuhören, wie wir sprechen.”

(“A Danish saying goes: “Man has two ears and only one mouth. Therefore, we should listen twice as much as we speak.”)

Oh, and later one, we added some Arabic to the mix too!

[The Arabic version of this is dated to the 7th century CE and attributed to a companion of the Prophet Muhammad named Abū ad-Dardā. Thanks to ReemK10 for this]

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We Have Two Ears, One Mouth: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν

Social media overflows with hate and bile. Real news has Nazis marching openly in the streets and a leader of the ‘free world’ refusing to acknowledge it. So, when Paul Holdengraber asked me, as he periodically does, to re-post this entry, I hesitated. Why? There are too many voices calling for us to debate or otherwise engage with the rhetoric of hate, racism, misogyny etc. I fear that the words themselves and their injunction to hear others may be misused as a justification to listen to the abominable and cancerous filth of white supremacy and the alt-right in general.

But I know that part of the greater cultural problem is that we live lives absorbed in our own worldview, incapable of imagining the experience of others, at some basic level incapable of granting them a human life as real as the one we each experience individually. Hate arises from denying others the same legitimacy to live, love, experience and die with meaning that you embrace for yourself. Sometimes, listening instead of talking is a first step toward a better world.

So, I am re-posting the journey below for Paul, for myself, and as a reminder that we are all shaped by the stories we hear and by the fact that other people hear us too. To start, here’s a friendly tweet in Dutch:

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Read More

Less Strength, More Skill: Homeric Boxing

Quid prodest multos vincere luctatione vel caestu, ab iracundia vinci?

“What good is it to conquer many in boxing or wrestling only to be overcome by own own anger?”  -Seneca the Younger, Moral Epistles 88.19

During the funeral games in the Iliad, the victor in the boxing match, the older Epeios—who is described as the “son of Kapaneus, a man knowledgeable in boxing” (εἰδὼς πυγμαχίης υἱὸς Πανοπῆος ᾿Επειός, 23.665) knocks down Euryalos with a single blow (23.660-699). In the scholia to this passage, we find the comment that “this shows, as is right, that they had an art of boxing–it was not just about strength” (schol. B ad Il. 23.665: ἦν δέ, ὡς ἔοικε, καὶ τέχνη παρ’ αὐτοῖς τῆς πυγμῆς, οὐ μόνον ἡ δύναμις).

In the Odyssey, Odysseus returns home in disguise and is forced to box the local beggar Iros to entertain the suitors who are plaguing his home. In this scene, it is again his intelligence that wins the day.

Odyssey 18.89-100

“They led [Iros and Odysseus] into the middle. Both men raised their hands.
Much-enduring, godly Odysseus deliberated then
whether he would pummel him and make the soul depart his fallen opponent
or just strike him enough to lay him out on the ground.
As he deliberated this seemed better to him,
just to strike him so that the Achaians might not figure out who he was.
And then, when their hands were raised, Iros punched his right shoulder,
but Odysseus hit him on the neck under the ear—the bones within
bent. Immediately, dark blood spat from his mouth
And he fell moaning in the dust as he ground his teeth together
and kicked the ground with his feet. Then the arrogant suitors
nearly died with laughter as they raised their hands….”

ἐς μέσσον δ’ ἄναγον· τὼ δ’ ἄμφω χεῖρας ἀνέσχον.
δὴ τότε μερμήριξε πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
ἢ ἐλάσει’ ὥς μιν ψυχὴ λίποι αὖθι πεσόντα,
ἦέ μιν ἦκ’ ἐλάσειε τανύσσειέν τ’ ἐπὶ γαίῃ.
ὧδε δέ οἱ φρονέοντι δοάσσατο κέρδιον εἶναι,
ἦκ’ ἐλάσαι, ἵνα μή μιν ἐπιφρασσαίατ’ ᾿Αχαιοί.
δὴ τότ’ ἀνασχομένω ὁ μὲν ἤλασε δεξιὸν ὦμον
῏Ιρος, ὁ δ’ αὐχέν’ ἔλασσεν ὑπ’ οὔατος, ὀστέα δ’ εἴσω
ἔθλασεν· αὐτίκα δ’ ἦλθεν ἀνὰ στόμα φοίνιον αἷμα,
κὰδ δ’ ἔπεσ’ ἐν κονίῃσι μακών, σὺν δ’ ἤλασ’ ὀδόντας
λακτίζων ποσὶ γαῖαν· ἀτὰρ μνηστῆρες ἀγαυοὶ
χεῖρας ἀνασχόμενοι γέλῳ ἔκθανον. αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

This post is in honor of Paul Holdengraber and his fabulous interviews with the pugilist Mike Tyson.

https://twitter.com/holdengraber/status/868115021427073024

A Twitter correspondent aptly added this:

“Two Ears, One Mouth”: Hunting a Proverb from Zeno to Paul’s Mom

On using twitter and the internet to trace the history of a cherished proverb; or, on the birth of a t-shirt.

Last fall, I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Read More

“Two Ears, One Mouth” (Forever): From Zeno to Seven-Word Autobiographies

Over the weekend I reached out over twitter to Paul Holdengräber about his seven-word autobiography from Brainpickings.org‘s “The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians and Philosophers”. It had been in my head for a few days: “Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth.” 

(And for an interview with the master of eclecticism, Paul, himself, check out the most recent Believer Magazine)

He has two ears and one mouth...
He has two ears and one mouth…

The phrase echoed in my head and it seemed to me like the type of gnomic utterance one might find from the fragments of a Greek philosopher. Without much rigor, I decided Heraclitus could say this.  I said as much to Paul over twitter, and he encouraged me to put it into ancient Greek:

[Ἡράκλειτος γὰρ φησί] ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

My friend, the Fantastic Festus, suggested that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα

And for a bit things got hot and heavy over particles:

I settled on this: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Armand D’Angour gave us a nice version in elegiac couplet:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

Armand added a Latin Elegiac couplet too!

en clarum est rerum ratio, nam invenimus aures
esse homini geminas, os tamen unicum adest.

But not to be completely left out, Gerrit Kloss joined in with his own version:

illud (vera patet ratio) tibi mente tenendum:
auribus est geminis, unius oris homo

So I put one version from above on twitter, and it received some positive feedback:

This was picked up with a ‘novel’ attribution by Salman Rushdie:

At first I joked to my wife that Salman Rushdie had bought a forgery! (In truth, I was pretty excited to get retweeted by him no matter what the context.)  But the story was not over.

In reality, I considered this a tribute more to Paul’s mother than our poor forgeries, until Gerrit Kloss struck again!

So, the quote I thought sounded Greek, turns out to have a parallel in Greek (if not an antecedent!). According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar (the full text is available on Perseus). And, honestly, without preening too much, I was happy that the version I settled on (μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα) wasn’t too different from the words attributed to Zeno: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν). But, to be more honest, this is not the most complicated composition.  Armand’s efforts are far more impressive.

But the discussion engaged more people, and we received this information:

As Gerrit discovered for us, the life of this proverbial statement is pretty interesting:

Of course, here we have a German testimony to a Danish proverb–and I have no idea what kind of authority this has.

Ein dänisches Sprichwort sagt: “Der Mensch hat zwei Ohren und nur einen Mund. Wir sollten also doppelt so viel zuhören, wie wir sprechen.”

(“A Danish saying goes: “Man has two ears and only one mouth. Therefore, we should listen twice as much as we speak.”)

And I couldn’t settle on this alone.  I needed Danish to add to the mix. (Twitter is an amazing drug):

Before I go on and get dizzy, I want to include the original source and a translation.  Note Diogenes is separated from Zeno (founder of Stoicism) by five centuries or so..

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers Book 7, 23.6-24.3 (3rd Century CE)

“When Dionysus the rebel asked Zeno why he failed to correct only him, Zeno replied “Because I do not trust you.” To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.” When he was asked the reason he was reclining at the symposium in silence, he told the man asking to inform the king that someone present knew how to be quiet.”

“Those who questioned him were envoys from Ptolemy and they wished to know what they should say from Zeno when they returned to the king. When he was asked how he feels about slander, he said “The way an envoy does when he returns without an answer.” Apollonius of Tyre recounts that when Krates tried to drag him by the cloak from Stipo, Zeno said, “Crates, the best way to grab philosophers is by the ears. Move them by persuasion. If you force me, my body will be yours, but my soul will be with Stilpo.”

Διονυσίου  δὲ τοῦ Μεταθεμένου εἰπόντος αὐτῷ διὰ τί αὐτὸν μόνον οὐ διορθοῖ, ἔφη, “οὐ γάρ σοι πιστεύω.” πρὸς τὸ φλυαροῦν μειράκιον, “διὰ τοῦτο,” εἶπε, “δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείονα μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν.” ἐν συμποσίῳ κατακείμενος σιγῇ τὴν αἰτίαν ἠρωτήθη· ἔφη οὖν τῷ ἐγκαλέσαντι ἀπαγγεῖλαι πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ὅτι παρῆν τις σιωπᾶν ἐπιστάμενος·

ἦσαν δὲ οἱ ἐρωτήσαντες παρὰ Πτολεμαίου πρέσβεις ἀφικόμενοι καὶ βουλόμενοι μαθεῖν τί εἴποιεν παρ’ αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα. ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς ἔχει πρὸς λοιδορίαν, “καθάπερ,” εἶπεν, “εἰ πρεσβευτὴς ἀναπόκριτος ἀποστέλλοιτο.” φησὶ δ’ ᾿Απολλώνιος ὁ Τύριος, ἕλκοντος αὐτὸν Κράτητος τοῦ ἱματίου ἀπὸ Στίλπωνος, εἰπεῖν, “ὦ Κράτης, λαβὴ φιλοσόφων ἐστὶν ἐπιδέξιος ἡ διὰ τῶν ὤτων· πείσας οὖν ἕλκε τούτων· εἰ δέ με βιάζῃ, τὸ μὲν σῶμα παρὰ σοὶ ἔσται, ἡ δὲ ψυχὴ παρὰ Στίλπωνι.”

Note how listening and silence (alternating with speech) are recurring motifs in this section…

But the ancients weren’t done with us yet. Now it seems that during the Roman Imperial period, the saying “two ears, one mouth” had gained  proverbial status. Gerrit  shared this:

Apuleius too!

Now, some “conclusions”:

  1. Rushdie is smarter than me (but I knew that)
  2. Zeno might be Paul’s Mother (or not)
  3. Paul’s mother may or may not have read Zeno
  4. The sentiment is meaningful enough to have been (a) repeated in different cultural contexts; (b) be generated multiple times; or (c) both.
  5. Armand, again a font of wisdom, waved any existential worry away with Goethe:

To Paul, his mother, and Zeno: I have now started saying this to my children (who look at me and then promptly turn away).

To Armand, Gerrit, Robert and everyone else who helped pull all this together: thanks for some fun and distraction on the internet.

“Two Ears, One Mouth”: Some Greek Composition (in Prose and Verse and Latin Too!)

After seeing it tweeted more than once (and by some people I respect, some I don’t know), I have had Paul Holdengräber’s seven-word autobiography from Brainpickings.org‘s “The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians and Philosophers” in my head for a few days: “Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth.” 

(The article features autobiographies of David Byrne, Don Delillo and Joan Didion too)..

I chewed its meaning over for a while and as I did, it seemed to me like the type of short, close-kept contrast a presocratic philosopher might employ. Without much rigor, I decided Heraclitus could say this.  I said as much to Paul over twitter, and his excitement at the prospect fed my own.

So I tried something deceptively simple, as follows

[Ἡράκλειτος γὰρ φησί] ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Of course, if we wanted to credit Holdengräber’s mother, we could always just write: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

I made these choices based on (1) brevity; (2) style (separating the two nouns with the numbers in between, you know, chiasmus and all); and (3) antithesis. But I couldn’t help thinking I could do better. Or, more probably, that someone else could do better. I sent some emails, and put some open calls on twitter.

Our champion, the Fantastic Festus argues that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα

This gets us back to Paul’s seven words, but I am really uncomfortable with so few particles, so I put one back:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Some initial conversation regarded the interpretation of the English meaning and then moved to concern about the formal aspect of the translation

PIE Lexicon ‏@PIELexicon  1m1 minute ago

@sentantiq @ArmandDAngour How about reading out an idea that “(There) are two ears, but only one mouth” (i.e. much of said is not heard)?

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  2m2 minutes ago

@sentantiq We have two ears for hearing, but only one mouth for speaking?

10:28 AM – 26 Sep 2015 · Details

Daniel Mendelsohn ‏@DMendelsohn1960  47s47 seconds ago

@sentantiq hexameters, perhaps?

10:28 AM – 26 Sep 2015 · Details

I must admit that one of the reasons I picked Heraclitus is that, unlike Empedocles or Parmenides, he is known for verse-like, ambiguous phrasing.  This means that I didn’t have to worry about meter. But Master Mendelsohn’s two simple words made me feel I was missing a real opportunity.

So I appealed to man I know has the ear for music and the proper training to do this up right. (Oh, he also loves limericks)–Armand D’Angour

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  4m4 minutes ago

@sentantiq @DMendelsohn1960 ah I see! sorry to be slow – let’s see if we can do that in Latin, Greek, and English!

Armand, of course, came back with some English verse first that made me laugh aloud.

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  18s19 seconds ago

@sentantiq ‘To grasp the Logos is not far to seek:/ We have two ears to hear, one mouth to speak’.

And, soon enough, Armand did not disappoint with his Greek elegiac couplet:

Armand D’Angour ‏@ArmandDAngour  28m28 minutes ago

@sentantiq @PIELexicon @holdengraber ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι· / τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears”. The Greek elegiac couplet has six ‘feet’ in the first line and five in the second with a heavy pause in the middle.  The effect of the pause in this composition is to make us wait for the “one mouth, two ears” pronouncement. This is really well done.

I also like choice of Elegiac couplet–early in Greece, the couplet was used in what we today call epitaphs (whence the origin of the English adjective ‘elegiac’). I suspect that Paul will like the touch, given that he was eager to have his late mother’s words known. At the very least, I have taken these words to heart.

Note, as well, that he reverses the order of my ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα and eschews the men/de antithesis (which is something I read into the original lines). I don’t know if this is how Heraclitus would have done it, but this sounds almost like part of the Theognidea to me.

Any other suggestions? Any daring souls want to try this in the style of Demosthenes or Thucydides?

Of course, the inimitable Armand was not yet finished: he gave us a Latin Elegiac couplet too!

en clarum est rerum ratio, nam invenimus aures
esse homini geminas, os tamen unicum adest.

Since we have tweeted some of these lines, others have wanted to get in on the fun. Here is a tweet we received with a different attempt at the Latin:

illud (vera patet ratio) tibi mente tenendum:
auribus est geminis, unius oris homo

This version doesn’t have any elision and uses some fun grammar (for those learning Latin–passive periphrastic, genitive of characteristic…). Both Gerrit and Armand use the elegiac couplet in Latin too.

Any prose suggestions?

Coda: Twitter tales

So I put one version from above on twitter, and it received some positive feedback:

A strange and amazing thing happened later–the tweet was picked up by a writer of some eminence:

I have no idea where the ‘novel’ part came from, but if Salman Rushdie wants to consider this quote real, who am I to dispute it?

In reality, I considered this a tribute more to Paul’s mother than our poor forgeries, until twitter disclosed this bit:

διὰ τοῦτο … δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείω μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν

“For this reason, we have two ears, but one mouth: so that we can hear more and say less.”

According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar so many generations ago.

And, I suspect, the circle will only get larger: