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.

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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;

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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.


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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 lyre. 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.


“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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