Choosing a Captain on the Ship of Fools

Plato, Republic 6 488a7-89a2

[This was inspired by a”Ship of Fools” post at LitKicks]

Consider this how this could turn out on many ships or even just one: there is a captain of some size and strength beyond the rest of the men in the ship, but he is deaf and similarly limited at seeing, and he knows as much about sailing as these qualities might imply. So, the sailors are struggling with one another about steering the ship, because each one believes that he should be in charge, even though he has learned nothing of the craft nor can indicate who his teacher was nor when he had the time to learn. Some of them are even saying that it is not teachable, and that they are ready to cut down the man who says it can be taught.

They are always hanging all over the captain asking him and making a big deal of the fact that he should entrust the rudder to them. There are times when some of them do not persuade him, and some of them kill others or kick them off the ship, and once they have overcome the noble captain through a mandrake, or drugs, or something else and run the ship, using up its contents drinking, and partying, and sailing just as such sort of men might. In addition to this, they praise as a fit sailor, and call a captain and knowledgeable at shipcraft the man who is cunning at convincing or forcing the captain that they should be in charge. And they rebuke as useless anyone who is not like this.

Such men are unaware what a true helmsman is like, that he must be concerned about the time of year, the seasons, the sky, the stars, the wind and everything that is appropriate to the art, if he is going to be a leader of a ship in reality, how he might steer the ship even if some desire it or not, when they believe that it is not possible to obtain art or practice about how to do this, something like an art of ship-steering. When these types of conflicts are occurring on a ship, don’t you think the one who is a true helmsman would be called a star-gazer, a blabber, or useless to them by the sailors in the ships organized in this way?

 

νόησον γὰρ τοιουτονὶ γενόμενον εἴτε πολλῶν νεῶν πέρι εἴτε μιᾶς· ναύκληρον μεγέθει μὲν καὶ ῥώμῃ ὑπὲρ τοὺς ἐν τῇ νηὶ πάντας, ὑπόκωφον δὲ καὶ ὁρῶντα ὡσαύτως βραχύ τι καὶ γιγνώσκοντα περὶ ναυτικῶν ἕτερα τοιαῦτα, τοὺς δὲ ναύτας στασιάζοντας πρὸς ἀλλήλους περὶ τῆς κυβερνήσεως, ἕκαστον οἰόμενον δεῖν κυβερνᾶν, μήτε μαθόντα πώποτε τὴν τέχνην μέτε ἔχοντα ἀποδεῖξαι διδάσκαλον ἑαυτοῦ μηδὲ χρόνον ἐν ᾧ ἐμάνθανεν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις φάσκοντας μηδὲ διδακτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν λέγοντα ὡς διδακτὸν ἑτοίμους κατατέμνειν, αὐτοὺς δὲ αὐτῷ ἀεὶ τῷ ναυκλήρῳ περικεχύσθαι δεομένους καὶ πάντα ποιοῦντας ὅπως ἂν σφίσι τὸ πηδάλιον ἐπιτρέψῃ, ἐνίοτε δ’ ἂν μὴ πείθωσιν ἀλλὰ ἄλλοι μᾶλλον, τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἢ ἀποκτεινύντας ἢ ἐκβάλλοντας ἐκ τῆς νεώς, τὸν δὲ γενναῖον ναύκληρον μανδραγόρᾳ ἢ μέθῃ ἤ τινι ἄλλῳ συμποδίσαντας τῆς νεὼς ἄρχειν χρωμένους τοῖς ἐνοῦσι, καὶ πίνοντάς τε καὶ εὐωχουμένους πλεῖν ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς τοὺς τοιούτους, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἐπαινοῦντας ναυτικὸν μὲν καλοῦντας καὶ κυβερνητικὸν καὶ ἐπιστάμενον τὰ κατὰ ναῦν, ὃς ἂν συλλαμβάνειν δεινὸς ᾖ ὅπως ἄρξουσιν ἢ πείθοντες ἢ βιαζόμενοι τὸν ναύκληρον, τὸν δὲ μὴ τοιοῦτον ψέγοντας ὡς ἄχρηστον, τοῦ δὲ ἀληθινοῦ κυβερνήτου πέρι μηδ’ ἐπαΐοντες, ὅτι ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖσθαι ἐνιαυτοῦ καὶ ὡρῶν καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἄστρων καὶ πνευμάτων καὶ πάντων τῶν τῇ τέχνῃ προσηκόντων, εἰ μέλλει τῷ ὄντι νεὼς ἀρχικὸς ἔσεσθαι, ὅπως δὲ κυβερνήσει ἐάντε τινες βούλωνται ἐάντε μή, μήτε τέχνην τούτου μήτε μελέτην οἰόμενοι δυνατὸν εἶναι λαβεῖν ἅμα καὶ τὴν κυβερνητικήν. τοιούτων δὴ περὶ τὰς ναῦς γιγνομένων τὸν ὡς ἀληθῶς κυβερνητικὸν οὐχ ἡγῇ ἂν τῷ ὄντι μετεωροσκόπον τε καὶ ἀδολέσχην καὶ ἄχρηστόν σφισι καλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ταῖς οὕτω κατεσκευασμέναις ναυσὶ πλωτήρων;

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Hieronymus Bosch, “Ship of Fools”

Life’s Purpose, The Pursuit of Knowledge?

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 7.2

“Hêrillos the Karthaginian said that our purpose was knowledge: we should live by adducing the life of knowledge to everything and surrendering nothing to ignorance. He believed that knowledge was a practice of the imagination, imperturbable by argument. He used to say that there was no single end, but that it changed depending on events and situations, just as a bronze figure could be made into either Alexander or Socrates.”

Ἥριλλος δ᾿ ὁ Καρχηδόνιος τέλος εἶπε τὴν ἐπιστήμην, ὅπερ ἐστὶ ζῆν ἀεὶ πάντ᾿ ἀναφέροντα πρὸς τὸ μετ᾿ ἐπιστήμης ζῆν καὶ μὴ τῇ ἀγνοίᾳ διαβεβλημένον. εἶναι δὲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην ἕξιν ἐν φαντασιῶν προσδέξει ἀνυπόπτωτον ὑπὸ λόγου. ποτὲ δ᾿ ἔλεγε μηδὲν εἶναι τέλος, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς περιστάσεις καὶ τὰ πράγματ᾿ ἀλλάττεσθαι αὐτό, ὡς καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν χαλκὸν ἢ Ἀλεξάνδρου γινόμενον ἀνδριάντα ἢ Σωκράτους.”

Lactantius, Inst. Div. 3.7

“The highest good according to Herillus is knowledge; according to Zeno, to live congruously with nature, and according to some Stoics, to pursue virtue.”

Herilli summum bonum est scientia, Zenonis cum natura congruenter vivere, quorundam Stoicorum virtutem sequi.

Cicero, De Finibus 2.14

“Erillus, moreover, since he refers everything back to knowledge, imagines one certain good, but it is not the greatest good by which you could steer a life. For this reason, Erillus has been dismissed for a long time. No one has directly disputed him since Chrysippus.”

Erillus autem ad scientiam omnia revocans unum quoddam bonum vidit, sed nec optimum nec quo vita gubernari possit. Itaque hic ipse iam pridem est reiectus; post enim Chrysippum non sane est disputatum.

Cicero, Academica  2.42

“I am not including the philosophies which now seem abandoned, for example Erillus who positioned the highest good in thinking and knowledge. Although he was a pupil of Zeno, you can see how much he disagreed with him and how little with Plato.”

Omitto illa quae relicta iam videntur—ut Erillum, qui in cognitione et scientia summum bonum ponit; qui cum Zenonis auditor esset, vides quantum ab eo dissenserit et quam non multum a Platone.

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Porphyry’s Royal name and Fabulous Style

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.19

“Although some philosophers conceal their teachings in obscure phrase, just as poets hide theirs in myth, Porphyry praised clarity as a cure-all, and because he had sampled it in his own experience, he inscribed it in his work and brought it back to daylight.”

τῶν δὲ φιλοσόφων τὰ ἀπόρρητα καλυπτόντων ἀσαφείᾳ, καθάπερ τῶν ποιητῶν τοῖς μύθοις, ὁ Πορφύριος τὸ φάρμακον τῆς σαφηνείας ἐπαινέσας καὶ διὰ πείρας γευσάμενος, ὑπόμνημα γράψας εἰς φῶς ἤγαγεν.

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.55-4.56

Porphyry

“Porphyry’s birthplace was Tyre—the first city of the ancient Phoenicians—and his forebears were not men of low status. He received a fitting education and  advanced so far and gained so much that when he became a student of Longinus, he was even an adornment to his teacher in a short time.  At that time, Longinus was a kind of living library or a mobile museum. He was tasked with editing ancient authors, as many others before him had been, like Dionysius the Karian who was the most famous of them all. In his Syrian town, Porphyry was at first called Malkhos, a word that can mean king. It was Longinus who named him Porphyry, changing his name to the emblem of royal raiment.”

Alongside Longinus, Porphyry achieved the summit of education—the pinnacle of grammar and even rhetoric, the skill Longinus had achieved. He did not prefer that subject the most, but he learned every type of philosophy thoroughly.  For Longinus was by far the best man at that time at everything—the majority of his books are still circulated and people wonder at them. And if anyone criticized an ancient author, his opinion had no strength before Longinus’ judgment completely supported it.”

<ΠΟΡΦΥΡΙΟΣ>. Πορφυρίῳ Τύρος μὲν ἦν πατρίς, ἡ πρώτη τῶν ἀρχαίων Φοινίκων πόλις, καὶ πατέρες δὲ οὐκ ἄσημοι. τυχὼν δὲ τῆς προσηκούσης παιδείας, ἀνά τε ἔδραμε τοσοῦτον καὶ ἐπέδωκεν, ὡς—Λογγίνου μὲν ἦν ἀκροατής—καὶ ἐκόσμει τὸν διδάσκαλον ἐντὸς ὀλίγου χρόνου. Λογγῖνος δὲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ἐκεῖνον βιβλιοθήκη τις ἦν ἔμψυχος καὶ περιπατοῦν μουσεῖον, καὶ κρίνειν γε τοὺς παλαιοὺς ἐπετέτακτο, καθάπερ πρὸ ἐκείνου πολλοί τινες ἕτεροι, καὶ ὁ ἐκ Καρίας Διονύσιος πάντων ἀριδηλότερος. Μάλχος δὲ κατὰ τὴν Σύρων πόλιν ὁ Πορφύριος ἐκαλεῖτο τὰ πρῶτα (τοῦτο δὲ δύναται βασιλέα λέγειν)· Πορφύριον δὲ αὐτὸν ὠνόμασε Λογγῖνος, ἐς τὸ βασιλικὸν τῆς ἐσθῆτος παράσημον τὴν προσηγορίαν ἀποτρέψας. παρ’ ἐκείνῳ δὴ τὴν ἄκραν ἐπαιδεύετο παιδείαν, γραμματικῆς τε εἰς ἄκρον ἁπάσης, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνος, ἀφικόμενος καὶ ῥητορικῆς· πλὴν ὅσον οὐκ ἐπ’ ἐκείνην ἔνευσε, φιλοσοφίας γε πᾶν εἶδος ἐκματτόμενος. ἦν γὰρ ὁ Λογγῖνος μακρῷ τῶν τότε ἀνδρῶν τὰ πάντα ἄριστος, καὶ τῶν βιβλίων τε αὐτοῦ πολὺ πλῆθος φέρεται, καὶ τὸ φερόμενον θαυμάζεται. καὶ εἴ τις κατέγνω τινὸς τῶν παλαιῶν,  οὐ τὸ δοξασθὲν ἐκράτει πρότερον ἀλλ’ ἡ Λογγίνου πάντως ἐκράτει κρίσις.

 In his Homeric QuestionsPorphyry presents a classic formulation for how to ‘read’ Homer (1.12-14):

“Because I think to best to make sense of Homer through Homer, I usually show by example how he may interpret himself, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in other ways.”

᾿Αξιῶν δὲ ἐγὼ ῞Ομηρον ἐξ ῾Ομήρου σαφηνίζειν αὐτὸν ἐξηγούμενον ἑαυτὸν ὑπεδείκνυον, ποτὲ μὲν παρακειμένως, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐν ἄλλοις.

 

Although this is our earliest extant reference to what is attributed now to the principles of the Alexandrian librarian and editor Aristarchus, the D Scholia to the Iliad (5.385) provide an important testimonium:

“Aristarchus believed it best to make sense of those things that were presented more fantastically by Homer according to the poet’s authority, that we not be overwhelmed by anything outside of the things presented by Homer.”

᾿Αρίσταρχος ἀξιοῖ τὰ φραζόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ μυθικώτερον ἐκδέχεσθαι, κατὰ τὴν Ποιητικὴν ἐξουσίαν, μηδὲν ἔξω τῶν φραζομένων ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ περιεργαζομένους.

The Gods Don’t Hate Those Who Suffer…

Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1. 45-46

“You can understand from the two popular lines which Epictetus wrote about himself that the gods do not completely hate those who suffer because of a range of miseries in this life, but that there are some secret causes which the curiosity of a few may be able to sense:

“I, Epictetus, was born a slave with a crippled body
both an Irus in poverty and dear to the gods.

You have, I believe, sufficient argument why the name “servant” should not be despised or taboo, since concern for a slave affected Jupiter and because it turns out that many of them are faithful, intelligent, brave, and even philosophers!”

45. cuius etiam de se scripti duo versus feruntur, ex quibus illud latenter intellegas, non omni modo dis exosos esse qui in hac vita cum aerumnarum varietate luctantur, sed esse arcanas causas ad quas paucorum potuit pervenire curiositas:

δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ᾿ ἀνάπηρος,
καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοις.

46. habes, ut opinor, adsertum non esse fastidio despiciendum servile nomen, cum et Iovem tetigerit cura de servo et multos ex his fideles providos fortes, philosophos etiam extitisse constiterit.

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A Drowning and Illiterate Husband

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 477

“All people, then, rushed through Asia to Maximus—both those who were then in power or had been removed from office, and also the strongest representatives of the senates. The people also closed off the entrances to Maximus’ home, leaping with shouts which is what the common people do whenever they might attract someone’s attention.

At the same time the women were pouring into the side-door to his wife and they were amazed at her luck and were asking that she remember them. She demonstrated such a knowledge of philosophy that Maximus seemed unable to swim and ignorant of the alphabet by comparison.”

πάντες οὖν ἄνθρωποι παρὰ τὸν Μάξιμον ἤδη συνετρόχαζον κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν, ὅσοι τε ἦσαν ἐν ἀρχαῖς καὶ ὅσοι τούτων ἀπελέλυντο, τό τε κρεῖττον τῶν βουλευτηρίων. καὶ δῆμος ἐστενοχώρει τὰς προόδους τῷ Μαξίμῳ μετὰ βοῆς πηδῶντες, ἣν δῆμος, ὅταν τινὰ θεραπεύῃ, ἐκ πολλοῦ μεμελέτηκεν· αἵ τε γυναῖκες παρὰ τὴν γυναῖκα τῇ πλαγίᾳ θύρᾳ παρεισεχέοντο, τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν θαυμάζουσαι καὶ μεμνῆσθαι σφῶν ἀξιοῦσαι· ἡ δὲ φιλοσοφίας ἕνεκεν Μάξιμον οὔτε νεῖν οὔτε γράμματα εἰδότα ἀπέφαινεν.

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From the Medieval Manuscripts Blog

A Debate for the Panopticon: Live Unknown or Out-loud

Ancient philosophy offers what might be a surprising defense of living life publicly (i.e. through social media)

Plutarch, “On Whether Living Unknown is a Wise Precept”

1128a “But isn’t this very thing somehow evil—“living unknown” is like tomb-robbing, no? But living is a shameful thing, so that we should all be ignorant about it? I would say instead don’t even live badly in secret, but be known, be advised, and change! If you have virtue, don’t be useless; if you have weakness, don’t go without help.”

Ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μὲν αὐτὸ τὸ πρᾶγμα πῶς οὐ πονηρόν· λάθε βιώσας—ὡς τυμβωρυχήσας; ἀλλ᾿ αἰσχρόν ἐστι τὸ ζῆν, ἵνα ἀγνοῶμεν πάντες; ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἂν εἴποιμι μηδὲ κακῶς βιώσας λάθε, ἀλλὰ γνώσθητι, σωφρονίσθητι, μετανόησον· εἴτε ἀρετὴν ἔχεις, μὴ γένῃ ἄχρηστος, εἴτε κακίαν, μὴ μείνῃς ἀθεράπευτος.

1129b

“If you take public knowledge away from your life just as you might remove light from a drinking party—to make it possible to pursue every pleasure in secret—then “live unknown” indeed.

Εἰ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ βίου καθάπερ ἐκ συμποσίου φῶς ἀναιρεῖς τὴν γνῶσιν, ὡς πάντα ποιεῖν πρὸς ἡδονὴν ἐξῇ λανθάνουσιν, “λάθε βιώσας.”

The saying “live unknown” was attributed in antiquity to Epicurus. It had reached proverbial status by the Byzantine era (from the Suda):

λάθε βιώσας· “Live unknown”: This is said customarily in a proverb but enacted by deed. “Live unknown so that I might expect no one living or dead to understand what I say”

Λάθε βιώσας: τοῦ τε ἐν παροιμίᾳ λέγεσθαι εἰωθότος, ἔργῳ βεβαιωθέντος ὑπ’ ἐκείνου, τοῦ λάθε βιώσας: ὥστε οὐδένα τῶν τότε ζώντων ἀνθρώπων οὔτε τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἐλπίσαιμ’ ἂν εἰδέναι οἷον λέγω.

“Neokles, an Athenian philosopher and Epicurus’ brother. He wrote a book defending his own choice [of discipline]. The saying “Live unknown” is his.

Νεοκλῆς, ᾿Αθηναῖος, φιλόσοφος, ἀδελφὸς ᾿Επικούρου. ὑπὲρ τῆς ἰδίας αἱρέσεως. ὅτι Νεοκλέους ἐστὶ τό, λάθε βιώσας.

 

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Philosophy and Fear of the Body

Empedocles R87  Hermias 4 Derision of Gentile Philosophers

“Whenever I see myself, I fear my body and I don’t know how I should describe it. Is it human, or dog, or wolf, a bull, a bird, a snake, a dragon, or a chimaira?

For I am changed by philosophers into every kind of beast from the land, the sea, the sky, those of many forms, the wild ones, tame ones, mute animals, singing animals, unthinking ones, thinking ones. I swim. I fly. I creep on the ground. I run. I sit still. And then—Empedocles makes me into a bush too.”

ὅταν δὲ ἐμαυτὸν ἴδω, φοβοῦμαι τὸ σῶμα καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ὅπως αὐτὸ καλέσω, ἄνθρωπον ἢ κύνα ἢ λύκον ἢ ταῦρον ἢ ὄρνιν ἢ ὄφιν ἢ δράκοντα ἢ χίμαιραν· εἰς πάντα γὰρ τὰ θηρία ὑπὸ τῶν φιλοσοφούντων μεταβάλλομαι, χερσαῖα ἔνυδρα πτηνὰ πολύμορφα ἄγρια τιθασσὰ ἄφωνα εὔφωνα ἄλογα λογικά· νήχομαι ἵπταμαι ἕρπω θέω καθίζω. ἔτι δὲ ὁ Ἐμπεδοκλῆς καὶ θάμνον με ποιεῖ.

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What story isn’t about a hellmouth? (Royal ms 19 c I_f. 33r)