Patience for the Human Task: An Evening with Aristotle Turns into a Morning

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1097b-1098a

“Doesn’t it seem that, just as the eye, hand, foot, and every part of the body has a purpose, so too there must be some task beyond all these together for a human being? What then could this be? For simply to live seems shared with plants too—we are looking for humanity’s particular purpose. The survival functions of nourishment and growth should just be set aside.

Following this, some might emphasize the function of sentience—but this seems common too with a horse, a cow and nearly every animal. What is left is the practice from human’s having reason. Of this, we have the part that heeds reason, and the part that possesses it and uses it. What this means can again be divided according to practice—for this seems to be the more proper way to say it.

If the task of the human soul is the practice according to reason rather than without reason, and we say that a task is the same in general for a group as it is for its serious members—just as it will be for a harp player in general the same as for a serious harpist once we accept that the excellence of the task is defined by its particular virtue: it is the task of a harpist to play the harp, the serious one plays it well—if this principle is true, and we propose that the task of a human being is some kind of life, and that life in this regard is the practice of the soul and actions performed with reason, and that the serious person does these things well and nobly, and each thing will be done well according to its intrinsic virtue—if all this is so, then the human good is the exercise of the soul through its own virtue—and if there are multiple kinds of virtues, then it is in accord with the best and most complete of them.

And, still, this happens over a full lifetime. For, one swallow does not make it spring, nor even one day; and thus, neither does one day or any brief amount of time make someone blessed and happy.”

ἢ καθάπερ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ χειρὸς καὶ ποδὸς καὶ ὅλως ἑκάστου τῶν μορίων φαίνεταί τι ἔργον, οὕτω καὶ ἀνθρώπου παρὰ πάντα ταῦτα θείη τις ἂν ἔργον τι; τί οὖν δὴ τοῦτ’ ἂν εἴη ποτέ; τὸ μὲν γὰρ ζῆν κοινὸν εἶναι φαίνεται καὶ τοῖς φυτοῖς, ζητεῖται δὲ τὸ ἴδιον. ἀφοριστέον ἄρα τήν τε θρεπτικὴν καὶ τὴν αὐξητικὴν ζωήν. ἑπομένη  δὲ αἰσθητική τις ἂν εἴη, φαίνεται δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ κοινὴ καὶ ἵππῳ καὶ βοῒ καὶ παντὶ ζῴῳ. λείπεται δὴ πρακτική τις τοῦ λόγον ἔχοντος· τούτου δὲ τὸ μὲν ὡς ἐπιπειθὲς λόγῳ, τὸ δ’ ὡς ἔχον καὶ διανοούμενον. διττῶς δὲ καὶ ταύτης λεγομένης τὴν κατ’ ἐνέργειαν θετέον· κυριώτερον γὰρ αὕτη δοκεῖ λέγεσθαι. εἰ δ’ ἐστὶν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια κατὰ λόγον ἢ μὴ ἄνευ λόγου, τὸ δ’ αὐτό φαμεν ἔργον εἶναι τῷ γένει τοῦδε καὶ τοῦδε σπουδαίου, ὥσπερ κιθαριστοῦ καὶ σπουδαίου κιθαριστοῦ, καὶ ἁπλῶς δὴ τοῦτ’ ἐπὶ πάντων, προστιθεμένης τῆς κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν ὑπεροχῆς πρὸς τὸ ἔργον· κιθαριστοῦ μὲν γὰρ κιθαρίζειν, σπουδαίου δὲ τὸ εὖ· εἰ δ’ οὕτως, [ἀνθρώπου δὲ τίθεμεν ἔργον ζωήν τινα, ταύτην δὲ ψυχῆς ἐνέργειαν καὶ πράξεις μετὰ λόγου, σπουδαίου δ’ ἀνδρὸς εὖ ταῦτα καὶ καλῶς, ἕκαστον δ’ εὖ κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν ἀρετὴν ἀποτελεῖται· εἰ δ’ οὕτω,] τὸ ἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθὸν ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια γίνεται κατ’ ἀρετήν, εἰ δὲ πλείους αἱ ἀρεταί, κατὰ τὴν ἀρίστην καὶ τελειοτάτην. ἔτι δ’ ἐν βίῳ τελείῳ. μία γὰρ χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, οὐδὲ μία ἡμέρα· οὕτω δὲ οὐδὲ μακάριον καὶ εὐδαίμονα μία ἡμέρα οὐδ’ ὀλίγος χρόνος.

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Becoming Good By Doing Good. Or, Not.

Today has made me turn to Aristotle for comfort. 

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1103b

“We develop virtues after we have practiced them beforehand, the same way it works with the other arts. For, we learn as we do those very things we need to do once we have learned the art completely. So, for example, men become carpenters by building homes and lyre-players by practicing the liar. In the same way, we become just by doing just things, prudent by practicing wisdom, and brave by committing brave deeds.”

τὰς δ’ ἀρετὰς λαμβάνομεν ἐνεργήσαντες πρότερον, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων τεχνῶν· ἃ γὰρ δεῖ μαθόντας ποιεῖν, ταῦτα ποιοῦντες μανθάνομεν, οἷον οἰκοδομοῦντες οἰκοδόμοι γίνονται καὶ κιθαρίζοντες κιθαρισταί· οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ μὲν δίκαια πράττοντες δίκαιοι γινόμεθα, τὰ δὲ σώφρονα σώφρονες, τὰ δ’ ἀνδρεῖα ἀνδρεῖοι.

1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

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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:

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Theano: Philosopher, Author, Wit

These sayings are drawn from the Gnomologium Vaticanum. For other testimonia see below.

 

“Theano used to say “It is shameful to be silent on matters about which it is noble to speak and noble to be silent on those shameful to mention”

Θεανὼ ἔφη· ” περὶ ὧν λέγειν καλὸν περὶ τούτων σιωπᾶν αἰσχρὸν καὶ περὶ ὧν αἰσχρὸν λέγειν περὶ τούτων σιωπᾶν καλόν.”

 

“Theano the Pythagorean philosopher was asked how a man and woman might live together and said ‘if they learn to bear each other’s moods’.”

Θεανὼ ἡ πυθαγορικὴ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεῖσα πῶς ἂν δύναιτο γυνὴ καὶ ἀνὴρ συμπεριφέρεσθαι ἀλλήλοις εἶπεν· ” ἐὰν μάθωσι τὰς ἀλλήλων ὀργὰς φέρειν.”

 

“Theano suggested that a woman coming to her husband should strip off her shame along with her clothes and put them all back on again when she left.”

Θεανὼ παρεκελεύσατο ἅμα τοῖς ἱματίοις καὶ τὴν αἰσχύνην ἀποτίθεσθαι τὴν πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα βαδίζουσα<ν>, περιβαλλομένην δὲ πάλιν κομίζεσθαι.

 

“Theano, when asked what number of days a woman was clean from her husband and is was right for her to go to the temple, said ” ‘on the same day from her own husband, but never from another.’ ”

Θεανὼ ἐρωτηθεῖσα ποσταία ἡ γυνὴ ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς καθαρεύει καὶ εἰς ἱερὸν ἰέναι δεῖ αὐτὴν ἔφη· ” ἀπὸ μὲν τοῦ ἰδίου αὐθημερόν, ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ ἀλλοτρίου οὐδέποτε.”

 

“Theano said ‘It is better to trust onself to an unbridled horse than an illogical woman.’ ”

Θεανὼ εἶπε· “κρεῖττόν ἐστιν ἵππῳ ἀχαλινώτῳ ἑαυτὸν πιστεύειν ἢ γυναικὶ ἀλογίστῳ.”

 

“While Theano was walking she showed her forearm and some youth when he saw it said “Nice skin”. She responded, “it’s not communal”.

Θεανὼ πορευομένη ἔξω εἶχε τὸν βραχίονα· νεανίσκος δέ τις ἰδὼν εἶπε· ” καλὸν τὸ δέμας·” ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίνατο· ” ἀλλ’ οὐ κοινόν.”

 

“When Theano the Pythagorean philosopher was asked what eros is, she said ‘the passion of a soul with spare time.’ ”

Θεανὼ ἡ πυθαγορικὴ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί ἐστιν ἔρως ἔφη· ” πάθος ψυχῆς σχολαζούσης.”

 

Suda s.v. Theano (theta 83)

“Theano: from Metapontum or Thurii. A Pythagorean, daughter of Leôphrôn, wife of Karustos of Krotôn, or Brôtinos the Pythagorean. She wrote On Pythagoras, On Virtue to Hippodamos of Thurii, Advice for Woman, and Sayings of the Pythagoreans.”

Θεανώ, Μεταποντίνη ἢ Θουρία, Πυθαγορεία, θυγάτηρ Λεώφρονος, γαμετὴ δὲ Καρύστου ἢ Κρότωνος ἢ Βρωτίνου τοῦ Πυθαγορείου. αὕτη ἔγραψε περὶ Πυθαγόρου, Περὶ ἀρετῆς ῾Ιπποδάμῳ Θουρίῳ,  Παραινέσεις γυναικείας καὶ ᾿Αποφθέγματα Πυθαγορείων.

Diogenes Laertius, 8.42

“Pythagoras also had a wife, named Theanô, the daughter of Brontinus of Kroton. Others say she was Brontinus’ wife and Pyhtagoras’ student.”

[42] Ἦν δὲ τῷ Πυθαγόρᾳ καὶ γυνή, Θεανὼ ὄνομα, Βροντίνου τοῦ Κροτωνιάτου θυγάτηρ: οἱ δέ, γυναῖκα μὲν εἶναι Βροντίνου, μαθήτριαν δὲ Πυθαγόρου…

 

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“Magnetic Inspiration”: My Favorite Passage (and Metaphor) from Plato

Plato’s Ion 533d-534e

“I also see, Ion, and I am about to show you what I think this means. For talking well about Homer is not some skill within you—as I was just saying—but it is a divine power that moves you, just as in that stone which Euripides calls a ‘Magnet” but which most people call Herakleian. For this stone not only moves iron rings but it also imbues the rings with the same power so that they can do the same thing as the stone in turn—they move other rings and as a result there is a great chain of iron and rings connected to each other. But the power from that stone runs through them all. In this way, the Muse herself makes people inspired, and a linked chain of inspired people extend from her.

All the good poets of epic utter those beautiful poems not because of skill but because they are inspired and possessed—the good lyric poets are the same, just as the Korybantes do not dance when they are in their right minds, so too the lyric poets do not compose their fine lines when they are sensible, but when they embark upon their harmony and rhythm, they are in revelry and possessed. They are just like the bacchants who draw honey and milk from rivers when they are possessed, not when they are in their normal state of mind. The soul of the lyric poets does this too, which they themselves admit: for they claim, as I see it, that they bring to us their songs by gathering from the honey-flowing springs from certain gardens and glades of the Muses like bees—and they fly too!

And they speak the truth. For a poet is an empty thing—winged, and sacred and not capable of composing before it is inspired and out of mind, when thought is no longer inside. Until one has gained this state, every person is incapable of composing or giving oracles. Because they compose not by skill—when they say many fine things about their subjects—but by divine dispensation, as you do about Homer, each is only capable of composing well in the arena where the Musa compels—one person composes dithyramb, one encomia, another dance songs, another epic and another iambic poetry. But each is useless in the other genres.”

     ΣΩ. Καὶ ὁρῶ, ὦ ῎Ιων, καὶ ἔρχομαί γέ σοι ἀποφανούμενος ὅ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦτο εἶναι. ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τέχνη μὲν οὐκ ὂν παρὰ σοὶ περὶ ῾Ομήρου εὖ λέγειν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, θεία δὲ δύναμις ἥ σε κινεῖ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ λίθῳ ἣν Εὐριπίδης μὲν Μαγνῆτιν ὠνόμασεν, οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ῾Ηρακλείαν. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς, ἀλλὰ καὶ δύναμιν ἐντίθησι τοῖς δακτυλίοις ὥστ’ αὖ δύνασθαι ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ὅπερ ἡ λίθος, ἄλλους ἄγειν δακτυλίους, ὥστ’ ἐνίοτε ὁρμαθὸς μακρὸς πάνυ σιδηρίων καὶ δακτυλίων ἐξ ἀλλήλων ἤρτηται· πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις ἐξ ἐκείνης τῆς λίθου ἡ δύναμις ἀνήρτηται. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται.

πάντες γὰρ οἵ  τε τῶν ἐπῶν ποιηταὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ οὐκ ἐκ τέχνης ἀλλ’ ἔνθεοι ὄντες καὶ κατεχόμενοι πάντα ταῦτα τὰ καλὰ λέγουσι ποιήματα, καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ὡσαύτως, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες ὀρχοῦνται, οὕτω καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες τὰ καλὰ μέλη ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὰν ἐμβῶσιν εἰς τὴν ἁρμονίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ῥυθμόν, βακχεύουσι καὶ κατεχόμενοι, ὥσπερ αἱ βάκχαι ἀρύονται ἐκ τῶν ποταμῶν μέλι καὶ γάλα κατεχόμεναι, ἔμφρονες δὲ οὖσαι οὔ, καὶ τῶν μελοποιῶν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦτο ἐργάζεται, ὅπερ αὐτοὶ λέγουσι. λέγουσι γὰρ δήπουθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς οἱ ποιηταὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ κρηνῶν μελιρρύτων ἐκ Μουσῶν κήπων τινῶν καὶ ναπῶν δρεπόμενοι τὰ μέλη ἡμῖν φέρουσιν ὥσπερ αἱ μέλιτται, καὶ αὐτοὶ οὕτω πετόμενοι· καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγουσι. κοῦφον γὰρ χρῆμα ποιητής ἐστιν καὶ πτηνὸν καὶ ἱερόν, καὶ οὐ πρότερον οἷός τε ποιεῖν πρὶν ἂν ἔνθεός τε γένηται καὶ ἔκφρων καὶ ὁ νοῦς μηκέτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐνῇ· ἕως δ’ ἂν τουτὶ ἔχῃ τὸ κτῆμα, ἀδύνατος πᾶς ποιεῖν ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν καὶ χρησμῳδεῖν. ἅτε οὖν οὐ τέχνῃ ποιοῦντες καὶ πολλὰ λέγοντες καὶ καλὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, ὥσπερ σὺ περὶ ῾Ομήρου, ἀλλὰ θείᾳ μοίρᾳ, τοῦτο μόνον οἷός τε ἕκαστος ποιεῖν καλῶς ἐφ’ ὃ ἡ Μοῦσα αὐτὸν ὥρμησεν, ὁ μὲν διθυράμβους, ὁ δὲ ἐγκώμια, ὁ δὲ ὑπορχήματα, ὁ δ’ ἔπη, ὁ δ’ ἰάμβους· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα φαῦλος αὐτῶν ἕκαστός ἐστιν.

535e-536a

“Do you understand that the audience is the last of the rings which I was describing as transmitting through one another the power from the Herakleian stone and that you are the middle as the rhapsode and interpreter—that the poet himself is the first ring? The god moves the soul of all of these people wherever he wants, stringing the power from one into another.”

οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής ὁ δὲ θεὸς διὰ πάντων τούτων ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν ὅποι ἂν βούληται τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν.

Fresco of women dancing in a line

Fresco, Museo Nationale, Naples. c. 400 BCE

Learning by the Example of Ulysses: Some Romans on Odysseus

Cicero, Academica II 28 (fragment from an unknown Latin tragedy)

“I see you, I see you. Live, Ulysses, while you can”

video, video te. vive, Ulixes, dum licet

 

Cicero, Letters to Friends 10.13 (To Plancus, 11 May 43)

“You must weave an end fit to the beginning. Whoever defeats Marcus Antonius will win the war. That’s why Homer called Ulysses the “city-sacker” instead of Ajax or Achilles”

tu contexes extrema cum primis. qui enim M. Antonium oppresserit, is bellum confecerit. itaque Homerus non Aiacem nec Achillem sed Ulixem appellavit πτολιπόρρθιον.

 

Tacitus, Germania 3

“But, I digress. Some people believe that Ulysses was taken by that long and fantastic journey and arrived in the German lands. Asciburgium, which is still inhabited on the banks of the Rhine, was founded by Ulysses and named by him. They add too that an altar was built and given the name of his father Laertes, which was found in the same place once. There were also monuments and certain mounds inscribed with Greek letters—these can be found still on the boundary between Germany and Raetia. I do not intend to confirm or refute these things with evidence—let everyone diminish or increase belief from his own inclination.”

ceterum et Ulixen quidam opinantur longo illo et fabuloso errore in hunc Oceanum delatum adisse Germaniae terras, Asciburgiumque, quod in ripa Rheni situm hodieque incolitur, ab illo constitutum nominatumque; aram quin etiam Ulixi consecratam, adiecto Laërtae patris nomine, eodem loco olim repertam, monumentaque et tumulos quosdam Graecis litteris inscriptos in confinio Germaniae Raetiaeque adhuc extare. quae neque confirmare argumentis neque refellere in animo est: ex ingenio suo quisque demat vel addat fidem.

 

Seneca, Epistulae Morales 88

“You ask, ‘where did Ulysses wander?’ rather than trying to ensure that we are not always wandering? We don’t have the time to listen to whether he was tossed between Italy and Sicily or beyond the world we know—indeed, so long a journey could not happen in such constraint—storms of the spirit toss us daily even as our madness compels us towards Ulysses’ sufferings. We never lack beauty to distract our eyes, nor an enemy; from this side wild monsters delight in human flesh too and from that side evil charms our ears. From another quarter still expect shipwrecks and every kind of evil. Teach me this instead: how I might love my country, my wife, my father, and how I may find my way to these true ports even when shipwrecked?”

Quaeris, Vlixes ubi erraverit, potius quam efficias, ne nos semper erremus? Non vacat audire, utrum inter Italiam et Siciliam iactatus sit an extra notum nobis orbem, neque enim potuit in tam angusto error esse tam longus; tempestates nos animi cotidie iactant et nequitia in omnia Vlixis mala inpellit. Non deest forma, quae sollicitet oculos, non hostis; hinc monstra effera et humano cruore gaudentia, hinc insidiosa blandimenta aurium, hinc naufragia et tot varietates malorum. Hoc me doce, quomodo patriam amem, quomodo uxorem, quomodo patrem, quomodo ad haec tam honesta vel naufragus navigem.

 

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Sleep, Death, and Dying: Some Anecdotes for a Monday

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

128 “When Aesop was asked by someone how the greatest trouble might occur among people he responded “If the dead return and ask for their stuff back.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτώμενος ὑπό τινος πῶς ἂν μεγίστη ταραχὴ γένοιτο ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἔφη· „εἰ οἱ τετελευτηκότες ἀναστάντες ἀπαιτοῖεν τὰ ἴδια.”

 

160 “Biôn used to say that [we have] two teachers for death: the time before we were born and sleep.”

Βίων ἔλεγε δύο διδασκαλίας θανάτου εἶναι, τόν τε πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι χρόνον καὶ τὸν ὕπνον.

 

446 “Plato said that sleep was a short-lived death but death was a long-lived sleep.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφησε τὸν μὲν ὕπνον ὀλιγοχρόνιον θάνατον, τὸν δὲ θάνατον πολυχρόνιον ὕπνον.

 

64 “Anaxarkhos, the natural philosopher, when king Alexander said to him “I will hang you” responded: “Threaten others. It is no difference to me whether I rot above or below the earth.”

᾿Ανάξαρχος, ὁ φυσικὸς φιλόσοφος, ᾿Αλεξάνδρου τοῦ βασιλέως εἰπόντος αὐτῷ· „κρεμῶ σε”, „ἄλλοις”, ἔφη, „ἀπείλει· ἐμοὶ δὲ οὐδὲν διαφέρει ὑπὲρ γῆς ἢ κατὰ γῆς σήπεσθαι.”

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Sleep and Death on the Euphronios Krater