Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

Related image
Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

Ktesippos Beats his Father (and Conditional Madness)

Plato, Euthydemos 298e-299

Dionysodorus said, “Indeed, if you answer me immediately, you will agree with these things. Tell me, do you have a dog?

Ktesippos said “yes, a real scoundrel”

“And does he have puppies?”

“Yes, several just like him.”

“Therefore, your dog is a father.”

“Yup. I even saw him mounting the mother myself.”

“What about this: Isn’t the dog yours?”


“So, since he is a father who is yours then the dog is your father and you are a puppies’ brother?”

And then, Dionysodorus quickly interjected before Ktesippos could speak at all: “And tell me one more thing: do you beat your dog?

Ktesippos laughed then said, “Yes, by the gods, because I can’t beat you!”

“Therefore, you beat your own father”, he said.

“It would be whole lot more just if I would beat your father, since he thought it right to have sons like this!”

Αὐτίκα δέ γε, ἦ δ᾿ ὃς ὁ Διονυσόδωρος, ἄν μοι ἀποκρίνῃ, ὦ Κτήσιππε, ὁμολογήσεις ταῦτα. εἰπὲ γάρ μοι, ἔστι σοι κύων;

Καὶ μάλα πονηρός, ἔφη ὁ Κτήσιππος.

Ἔστιν οὖν αὐτῷ κυνίδια;

Καὶ μάλ᾿, ἔφη, ἕτερα τοιαῦτα.

Οὐκοῦν πατήρ ἐστιν αὐτῶν ὁ κύων;

Ἔγωγέ τοι εἶδον, ἔφη, αὐτὸν ὀχεύοντα τὴν κύνα.

 Τί οὖν; οὐ σός ἐστιν ὁ κύων;

Πάνυ γ᾿, ἔφη.

Οὐκοῦν πατὴρ ὢν σός ἐστιν, ὥστε σὸς πατὴρ γίγνεται ὁ κύων καὶ σὺ κυναρίων ἀδελφός;

Καὶ αὖθις ταχὺ ὑπολαβὼν ὁ Διονυσόδωρος, ἵνα μὴ πρότερόν τι εἴποι ὁ Κτήσιππος, Καὶ ἔτι γέ μοι μικρόν, ἔφη, ἀπόκριναι· τύπτεις τὸν κύνα

τοῦτον; καὶ ὁ Κτήσιππος γελάσας, Νὴ τοὺς θεούς, ἔφη· οὐ γὰρ δύναμαι σέ. Οὐκοῦν τὸν σαυτοῦ πατέρα, ἔφη, τύπτεις. Πολὺ μέντοι, ἔφη, δικαιότερον τὸν ὑμέτερον πατέρα τύπτοιμι, ὅ τι μαθὼν σοφοὺς υἱεῖς οὕτως ἔφυσεν.

Image result for Ancient Greek dog

About seven years ago, soon after the birth  of our first child, I put most of Ancient Greek grammar on powerpoint slides in order to (1) tighten up and improve my Greek courses (I made narrated presentations that I shared with students); (2) create a portfolio of Greek teaching materials that I would use for the foreseeable future; and (3) studiously avoid not writing a book by doing very important work. The sleeplessness of the first few months of my daughter’s life coupled with a special type of cabin-fever (it was 100+ degrees for over 60 days straight) might have warped my judgment a bit. Inspired by Plato’s Euthydemos I wrote the following examples for Greek conditional statements:

Present Simple Conditionals

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν διδάσκει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἐθέλει

If Socrates is teaching your brother, then you brother is wanting/willing to kill the dog

Present General Conditionals

ἐὰν Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν διδάσκῃ, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἐθέλει

If Socrates teaches your brother, then your brother wants to kill the dog.

Present Contrafactual

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐδιδάσκε, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἄν ἠθέλε

If Socrates were teaching your brother, then your brother would want to kill the do

Past Simple 

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν δεδίδαχεν, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἄν ἠθέληκεν

If Socrates did teach your brother, then your brother wanted to kill the dog

Past General

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν διδάσκοι, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἠθέλε

If Socrates taught your brother, then your brother wanted to kill the dog

Past Contrafactual

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐδίδαξεν, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἄν ἠθέλἠσεν

If Socrates had taught your brother, then your brother would have wanted to kill the dog

Future Most Vivid (Future Simple)

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν δίδαξει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἄν ἐθελήσει

If Socrates teaches your brother, then your brother will want to kill the dog

Future More Vivid (Future General)

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν διδάσκῃ, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἄν ἐθελήσει

If Socrates teaches your brother, then your brother will want to kill the dog

Future Less Vivid (Future Less Real)

εἰ Σωκράτης τὸν ἀδελφὸν διδάσκοι, ὁ ἀδελφὸς τὸν κύνα κτεῖναι ἄν ἐθέλοι

If Socrates should teach your brother, then your brother would want to kill the dog

I am teaching my introductory class conditional statements today. I am still using these highly suspect sentences.

Influential Teachers and the Meaning of the Good: Two Anecdotes Concerning Epicurus

Diogenes Laertius 10.2

“Apollodorus the Epicurian writes in his first book of On the Life of Epicurus that the philosopher turned to the study of philosophy when he noted that his teachers could not explain to him the meaning of Chaos in Hesiod.”

᾿Απολλόδωρος δ’ ὁ ᾿Επικούρειος ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ περὶ τοῦ ᾿Επικούρου βίου φησὶν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν καταγνόντα τῶν γραμματιστῶν ἐπειδὴ μὴ ἐδυνήθησαν ἑρμηνεῦσαι αὐτῷ τὰ περὶ τοῦ παρ’ ῾Ησιόδῳ χάους.


“I cannot conceive what the good is if I separate it from the pleasures of taste, from the pleasures of sex, from the pleasures of sound, or those of beautiful bodies.”

Οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἔχω τί νοήσω τἀγαθόν, ἀφαιρῶν μὲν τὰς διὰ χυλῶν ἡδονάς, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς δι᾽ ἀφροδισίων καὶ τὰς δι᾽ ἀκροαμάτων καὶ τὰς διὰ μορφῆς.


Image result for Ancient Greek Epicurus

A few maxims to round things out



  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

Diagoras’ Journey From god-fearing to god-hating

Two Stories about the god-hating Diagoras

Sext. Emp. Against the Scientists 9. 53

“People say that Diagoras the Melian poet of Dithyramb was early on as god-fearing as any other person, since he began his own poem in this way: “everything happens thanks to god and chance.” But when he was harmed by someone who made a false oath and his assailant suffered nothing because of this, he began to say that “there is no god”.

Schol. in Ael. Arist. Rhet= ii 80 Dindorf

“The Diagoras in question was a philosopher. Once, when he was invited to a dinner-party by another philosopher, while his host was boiling lentil and was outside for some reason, the lentils could not be completely boiled because there was no fuel for the fire underneath them. So, Diagoras searched around and, once he found a statue of Herakles nearby, he broke it and tossed it in the fire, intoning “in addition to his twelve labors, divine Herakles now completes this thirteenth.”

Sext. Emp. Against the Scientists 9. 53

Διαγόρας δὲ ὁ Μήλιος διθυραμβοποιὸς ὥς φασι τὸ πρῶτον γενόμενος ὡς εἴ τις καὶ ἄλλος δεισιδαίμων, ὅς γε καὶ τῆς ποιήσεως ἑαυτοῦ κατήρξατο τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον· κατὰ δαίμονα καὶ τύχην πάντα τελεῖται· ἀδικηθεὶς δὲ ὑπό τινος ἐπιορκήσαντος καὶ μηδὲν ἕνεκα τούτου παθόντος μεθηρμόσατο εἰς τὸ λέγειν μὴ εἶναι θεόν.

Schol. in Ael. Arist. Rhet= ii 80 Dindorf

Διαγόρας οὗτος φιλόσοφος ἦν. κληθεὶς δέ ποτε εἰς ἑστιάσιν ὑφ᾿ ἑτέρου φιλοσόφου, ἕψοντος ἐκείνου φακῆν καὶ κατά τινα χρείαν ἔξω 〚ἐκείνου〛 χωρήσαντος, τῆς φακῆς μὴ τελέως ἑψηθῆναι δυναμένης διὰ τὸ μὴ ὑπέκκαυμα ἔχειν τὸ ὑποκείμενον πῦρ, αὐτός τε περιστραφεὶς ὧδε κἀκεῖσε καὶ τὸ τοῦ Ἡρακλέους ἄγαλμα προχείρως εὑρὼν καὶ συντρίψας ἐνίησι τῷ πυρὶ ἐπειπὼν ἐπ᾿ αὐτό· δώδεκα τοῖσιν ἄθλοις τρισκαιδέκατον τόνδ᾿ ἐτέλεσεν Ἡρακλῆς δῖος.

Image result for Ancient Greek Wooden statue hercules

Messing With Socrates

Eupolis, Fr. 356

“I hate Socrates too,
that prattling panhandler
who figured out everything
except where he can get something to eat.”

μισῶ δὲ καὶ Σωκράτην
τὸν πτωχὸν ἀδολέσχην,
ὃς τἆλλα μὲν πεφρόντικεν,
ὁπόθεν δὲ καταφαγεῖν ἔχοι
τούτου κατημέληκεν

Ameipsias, fr. 7

“Socrates, the best of men when there are few and the most foolish among the many:
You have come to see us too? You are brave. Where would you get a cloak?
Your appearance is an embarrassment to cobblers everywhere.”

Σώκρατες ἀνδρῶν βέλτιστ᾿ ὀλίγων, πολλῶν δὲ ματαιοταθ᾿, ἥκεις
καὶ σὺ πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καρτερικὸς γ᾿ εἶ. πόθεν ἄν σοι χλαῖνα γένοιτο;
τουτὶ τὸ κακὸν τῶν σκυτότομων κατ᾿ ἐπήρειαν γεγένηται

Aristophanes, Clouds 392-393 (Socrates speaking to Strepsiades)

Think about what kind of farts come from your stomach.
Is it not normal that this air, which has no bounds, thunders so much?

 σκέψαι τοίνυν ἀπὸ γαστριδίου τυννουτουὶ οἷα πέπορδας·
τὸν δ᾽ ἀέρα τόνδ᾽ ὄντ᾽ ἀπέραντον πῶς οὐκ εἰκὸς μέγα βροντᾶν;

Image result for Ancient GReek Socrates

Want more words for flatulence in Ancient Greek? We can help with that...

The Scandalous Emergence of Latin Professors of Rhetoric

Cicero, De oratore III 24 (Cicero is not the speaker here)

“The logic—or rather, the practice itself without logic—of which words to choose, how to order them and how to end sentences is easy—there is a great forest of subjects which, when they were no longer hoarded by the Greeks for this reason, our own youth nearly forgot them by learning them, and, if you can believe it, there are have emerged in the last two years Latin professors of speech. I applied my power as censor to abolish these teachers—not for the reason that some people are always claiming, that I did not want the youth to have a sharp intelligence—but because I did not wish for their wits to be stunted and for their arrogance to be supported.

For among the Greeks, whatever quality they are, I still uses to see a certain practice of language, a theory and knowledge worthy of humanity; these new teachers, well, I could not see that they could teach anything other than how to be daring—a quality which, even when joined with other virtues ought to be especially avoided itself. And since this is the single thing they offer and their school is one of arrogance, I believed that it was a censor’s duty to ensure it did not expand any farther.”

Verborum eligendorum et collocandorum et concludendorum facilis est vel ratio vel sine ratione ipsa exercitatio; rerum est silva magna, quam cum Graeci iam non tenerent ob eamque causam iuventus nostra dedisceret paene discendo, etiam Latini, si dis placet, hoc biennio magistri dicendi exstiterunt; quos ego censor edicto meo sustuleram, non quo, ut nescio quos dicere aiebant, acui ingenia adolescentium nollem, sed contra ingenia obtundi nolui,  corroborari impudentiam. Nam apud Graecos, cuicuimodi essent, videbam tamen esse praeter hanc exercitationem linguae doctrinam aliquam et humanitate dignam scientiam, hos vero novos magistros nihil intellegebam posse docere nisi ut auderent; quod etiam cum bonis rebus coniunctum per se ipsum est magnopere fugiendum: hoc cum unum traderetur et cum impudentiae ludus esset, putavi esse censoris ne longius id serperet providere.


Related image

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.

Image result for ancient greek aristotle medieval manuscript