Deceptive Faces and Useful Snakes

Hyperides was a politician and speech-writer during the 4th century BCE in Athens.

Uncertain Fragments

1. “Teachers must examine whatever is unclear by means of evidence and what is likely.”

Ἃ δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἀφανῆ, ἀνάγκη τοὺς διδάσκοντας τεκμηρίοις καὶ τοῖς εἰκόσι ζητεῖν.

Clem. Alex. Strom. vi. 625


2. “Peoples’ faces bear no traces of their opinions.”

Χαρακτὴρ οὐδεὶς ἔπεστιν ἐπὶ τοῦ προσώπου τῆς διανοίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.

Clem. Alex. Strom. vi. 625 c


11.“A good person must show what they think in words and what they do in deeds”

 Δεῖ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἐπιδείκνυσθαι ἐν μὲν τοῖς λόγοις ἃ φρονεῖ, ἐν δὲ τοῖς ἔργοις ἃ ποιεῖ.

Max. Conf. Loci Comm. col. 729


12. “People are restrained from injustice by two things: fear and shame”

Διὰ δύο προφάσεις τῶν ἀδικημάτων οἱ ἄνθρωποι ἀπέχονται, ἢ διὰ φόβον ἢ διὰ αἰσχύνην.

Max. Conf. Loci Comm. col. 753


13. “The least educated of all things is verbal abuse”

 Πάντων ἀπαιδευτότατον (ἔφη) τὸ λοιδορεῖν.

Dionys. Antiochi, Epist. 79.

Fr. 19.5

“[It is true] that politicians are like snakes. Some snakes are completely hateful: some of those snakes, adders, harm people; but the brown ones eat the adders.”

Εἶναι δὲ τοὺς ῥήτορας ὁμοίους τοῖς ὄφεσι· τούς τε γὰρ ὄφεις μισητοὺς μὲν εἶναι πάντας, τῶν δὲ ὄφεων αὐτῶν τοὺς μὲν ἔχεις τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἀδικεῖν, τοὺς δὲ παρείας αὐτοὺς τοὺς ἔχεις κατεσθίειν.


Norbanus, Caesar, Oedipus: Candidates for Impeachment?

Cicero, De Oratore II. 167

This is a kind of argument deduced from connected notions: “If the highest praise must be given to piety, then you should be moved when you see Quintus Metellus grieving so dutifully”. And, as for a deduction from generalities, “if magistrates owe their power to the Roman people, then why impeach Norbanus when he depends on the will of the citizenry?”

Ex coniunctis sic argumenta ducuntur: ‘si pietati summa tribuenda laus est, debetis moveri, cum Q. Metellum tam pie lugere videatis.’ Ex genere autem: ‘si magistratus in populi Romani potestate esse debent, quid Norbanum accusas, cuius tribunatus voluntati paruit civitatis?’

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 1.30

“Others claim that he feared being compelled to provide a defense for the things he had done in his first consulate against auspices, laws, and legislative actions. For Marcus Cato often announced with an oath that he would impeach Caesar by name, as soon as he dismissed his army.”

Alii timuisse dicunt, ne eorum, quae primo consulatu adversus auspicia legesque et intercessiones gessisset, rationem reddere cogeretur; cum M. Cato identidem nec sine iure iurando denuntiaret delaturum se nomen eius, simul ac primum exercitum dimisisset

Accius, Fr. 598 (From Oedipus)


“They impeach him voluntarily and they separate him
From his good fortune and all his wealth,
A man isolated, bereft, depressed and tortured”

Incusant ultro, a fortuna opibusque omnibus
desertum abiectum adflictum exanimum expectorant.

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“An Equal Amount is Better than More”

Diodorus Siculus, History 9.12

“There is also the story that when the people of Mitylene allowed Pittacus to have half the land over which he fought in single combat, he would not take it. Instead, he assigned an equal portion to each man, saying that an “equal amount is greater than more”. For, since he took the measure of what was greater by fairness not by profit, he judged wisely. He believed that fame and safety would follow equality while gossip and fear followed greed, and they would have quickly reclaimed his gift.”

12. Ὅτι τῶν Μιτυληναίων διδόντων τῷ Πιττακῷ τῆς χώρας ὑπὲρ ἧς ἐμονομάχησε τὴν ἡμίσειαν οὐκ ἐδέξατο, συνέταξε δὲ ἑκάστῳ κληρῶσαι τὸ ἴσον, ἐπιφθεγξάμενος ὡς τὸ ἴσον ἐστὶ τοῦ πλείονος πλεῖον. μετρῶν γὰρ ἐπιεικείᾳ τὸ πλεῖον, οὐ κέρδει, σοφῶς ἐγίνωσκεν· τῇ μὲν γὰρ ἰσότητι δόξαν καὶ ἀσφάλειαν ἀκολουθήσειν, τῇ δὲ πλεονεξίᾳ βλασφημίαν καὶ φόβον, δι᾿ ὧν ταχέως ἂν αὐτοῦ τὴν δωρεὰν ἀφείλαντο.

Cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 1.75

“Then, the Mityleneans honored Pittakos powerfully and gave the rule of the state to him alone. During the ten years he held power, he also corrected the constitution and then surrendered power even though he lived ten years more. The Mityleneans gave him some land, but he donated it as sacred. The plot is called after his name even today. Sôsicrates says that he cut off a little bit for himself, saying that “half is greater than the whole.”

[75] Τότε δ᾽ οὖν τὸν Πιττακὸν ἰσχυρῶς ἐτίμησαν οἱ Μυτιληναῖοι, καὶ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐνεχείρισαν αὐτῷ. ὁ δὲ δέκα ἔτη κατασχὼν καὶ εἰς τάξιν ἀγαγὼν τὸ πολίτευμα, κατέθετο τὴν ἀρχήν, καὶ δέκα ἐπεβίω ἄλλα. καὶ χώραν αὐτῷ ἀπένειμαν οἱ Μυτιληναῖοι: ὁ δὲ ἱερὰν ἀνῆκεν, ἥτις νῦν Πιττάκειος καλεῖται. Σωσικράτης δέ φησιν ὅτι ὀλίγον ἀποτεμόμενος ἔφη τὸ ἥμισυ τοῦ παντὸς πλεῖον εἶναι.

The idea of “half being greater than the whole” is likely proverbial, showing up as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where the narrator uses it when he complains about how the judges act unfairly in their evaluation of cases (by taking bribes): “the fools don’t know how much greater the half is than the whole” νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς.

Diodorus Siculus’ statement that “an equal part is greater than more” is probably a clever departure from the Hesiodic statement. Hesiod’s statement seems to be about greed (wanting more than your due), as glossed by Michael Apostolius


“They don’t know how much greater the half is than the whole”: [this is a proverb used] for those who desire more and lose what they have.

Οὐδ’ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός: ὅτι οἱ τῶν πλειόνων ἐπιθυμοῦντες καὶ ἃ ἔχουσιν ἀποβάλλουσιν.

A unifying theme between the two versions is that in early Greek culture that which is isos is not fair in terms of being equal but it possesses equity in terms of being proper to the recipient’s social status. So, Diodorus’ isos share can map out onto Hesiod’s “half” share.

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Another proverbial moment for Pittakos:

Diodorus Siculus, History 9.12.3

“When Pittacus finally caught up with the poet Alcaeus, a man especially hateful to him who had mocked him savagely in his poems, he released him, remarking that forgiveness is a better choice than vengeance.”

ὅτι καὶ τὸν ποιητὴν Ἀλκαῖον, ἐχθρότατον αὐτοῦ γεγενημένον καὶ διὰ τῶν ποιημάτων πικρότατα λελοιδορηκότα, λαβὼν ὑποχείριον ἀφῆκεν, ἐπιφθεγξάμενος ὡς συγγνώμη τιμωρίας αἱρετωτέρα.

Investigations of What Is and What Is Not

ἡ ἱστορίη: “investigation”
ἡ ἐπισκέψις: “investigation”
ἡ ζήτησις: “Investigation”,  ὁ ζητητής, “Investigator”

Herodotus, 1.1

“This is the testimony of the investigation of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, made so that the things people did may not be wiped clean by time…”

῾Ηροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται

Parmenides, Fr. D6

“There are only two paths of investigation to contemplate:
First, how something is and how it is possible not to be.
This is the way of belief for truth accompanies it.
The other is that it is not and how it is necessary that it not be.
This is a path I am showing you is completely useless to pursue.”

αἵπερ ὁδοὶ μοῦναι διζήσιός εἰσι νοῆσαι·
ἡ μὲν ὅπως ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς οὐκ ἔστι μὴ εἶναι,
πειθοῦς ἐστι κέλευθος (ἀληθείῃ γὰρ ὀπηδεῖ),
ἡ δ’ ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς χρεών ἐστι μὴ εἶναι,
τὴν δή τοι φράζω παναπευθέα ἔμμεν ἀταρπόν·

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 9.45

“After everything was investigated, he would share his findings with the senate…”

comperta omnia senatui relaturum

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars 8 [Vespasian] 3

“I have not found any indications of this, although I have inquired desperately enough.”

Ipse ne vestigium quidem de hoc, quamvis satis curiose inquirerem, inveni.

Tacitus, Dialogus 15

“Ah, but if I could only convince one of you to investigate what the causes of this immense difference may be and tell us, a matter I often ask myself about.”

Ac velim impetratum ab aliquo vestrum ut causas huius infinitae differentiae scrutetur ac reddat, quas mecum ipse plerumque conquiro.

Cicero, De Fato 47

“This is only hoping, not an investigation.”

Optare hoc quidem est, non disputare

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The Strong and the Weak: Reading Some Thucydides

“These well-known speeches have so many unclear and odd phrases that they barely make sense….”

Ipsae illae contiones ita multas habent obscuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur– Cicero, Orator 9.31

“One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια –Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51:

Recently, my friend Mimi Kramer (@nhmeems) was asking about a pretty famous line from the Melian Dialogue. I looked it up and then my brain started hurting. I went to sleep, and looked again. Here are the Athenians speaking to the Melians:

Thucydides, 5.89

“Now, we ourselves will not provide a discreditable length of arguments with noble words that we rule justly because we threw off the Persians or that we are attacking now because we were done wrong by you; nor do we think that you should think you are able to persuade us by claiming either that you did not campaign with the Lakedaimonians when you are their allies or that you did us no harm. No, we each should say what we think is possible to accomplish in truth, because we know that what is just is judged in human reasoning from equal compulsion: those who are in power do what they can and those who are weak allow it.”

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν, ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν ἢ ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα, λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν, οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν, τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι, ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται, δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

Here are some translations of the last few phrases:

Rex Warner: “the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept”.

Benjamin Jowett: “the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”.

Thomas Hobbes “They that have odds of power exact as much as they can, and the weak yield to such conditions as they can get”

The recent translation below, to my taste, does a much better job of not forcing a parallelism into the objects of the last two phrases

Johanna Hanink (How to Think about War, 2019: 169): “We need to accomplish what we can on the basis of what we really think, each side fully aware that justice is only a factor in human decisions when the parties are on equal footing. Those in positions of power do what their power permits, while the weak have no choice but to accept it.”

The last phrases cause some fits because there is no clear object for the verb ξυγχωροῦσιν. Warner, Jowett, and Hobbes seem to have taken δυνατὰ with both πράσσουσι and ξυγχωροῦσιν. While Greek (and Thucydides) is certainly capable of implying this, I think Hanink’s translation is much better for this.

When I try to teach Greek prose analysis to students, I do what I learned from Hardy Hansen (yes, the Hardy Hansen): Kola kai kommata! Break the sentences into levels of subordination and try to find the rhythm and parallels. This speech is actually kind of simple on a structural level (for Thucydides). What makes it bedeviling are some of the individual phrases. I have moved a few phrases to show how the sense works:

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν [λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν]

ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν

ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα,

οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν [λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν]

ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε

ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε

τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι,

ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας [=acc. Subj of infinitive διαπράσσεσθαι in indirect discourse]

ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται,

δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

I am really unsure if it is possible to convey the [forced?] antithesis between δίκαια μὲν and δυνατὰ δὲ in English! (Or what about the repetition τὰ δυνατὰ…δυνατὰ δὲ ?). But, you know, Thucydides is trying to give an idea of the kinds of things people were likely to say….

Thucydides, 1.22

“In respect to however many speeches individuals made, either when they were about to start the war or were already in it, it is hard for me to replicate with precision what was said—and this applies both to the things I heard myself and those from people reported them to me from elsewhere. So the speeches are presented as each speaker would seem to speak most appropriately about the material at hand, and when I am able to, as close as possible to the total sense of what was actually said.”

Καὶ ὅσα μὲν λόγῳ εἶπον ἕκαστοι ἢ μέλλοντες πολεμήσειν ἢ ἐν αὐτῷ ἤδη ὄντες, χαλεπὸν τὴν ἀκρίβειαν αὐτὴν τῶν λεχθέντων διαμνημονεῦσαι ἦν ἐμοί τε ὧν αὐτὸς ἤκουσα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοθέν ποθεν ἐμοὶ ἀπαγγέλλουσιν· ὡς δ᾿ ἂν ἐδόκουν μοι ἕκαστοι περὶ τῶν αἰεὶ παρόντων τὰ δέοντα μάλιστ᾿ εἰπεῖν, ἐχομένῳ ὅτι ἐγγύτατα τῆς ξυμπάσης γνώμης τῶν ἀληθῶς λεχθέντων, οὕτως εἴρηται·

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Divine Dependence: Laws Allegedly Made By Human Beings

Aelius Aristedes, A Reply to Plato 2. 38-39

“What of your righteous art of lawmaking which has uncovered great things for human beings? I think this yields, or already has yielded for along time, to the women at the tripod. People travel to Delphi and inquire about the laws of their state. And then they make their laws in accordance with the utterance that comes from the Pythia (as they have since the time of Lykourgos, one whom it is necessary to bring up before many for the sake of argument).

They say, in fact, that he did not make any law for the Spartans without divine assent. But, it was not since Lykourgos the best of the Greeks did not make the laws that the god acquired the belief of making the laws, but because Lykourgos who was the best of the Greeks gave testimony that the words of the Pythia who knew nothing on her own prevailed. She provided answers as seemed best to the god and the god received the reputation for the laws from the Pythia in turn.”

τί δὲ ἡ σεμνή σοι νομοθετικὴ καὶ τὰ μεγάλα ἀνθρώποις εὑρίσκουσα; οἶμαι μὲν παραχωρήσεται, μᾶλλον δὲ πάλαι παρεχώρησεν ταῖς ἀπὸ τοῦ τρίποδος γυναιξί. βαδίζουσί γε εἰς Δελφοὺς καὶ πυνθάνονται περὶ τῶν πολιτειῶν. καὶ τότε τοὺς νόμους τίθενται πρὸς τὴν ἐλθοῦσαν παρὰ τῆς Πυθίας φωνὴν ἀπὸ Λυκούργου πρώτου, τὸν μετὰ πολλοὺς εἰ δεῖ πρῶτον εἰπεῖν χάριν τοῦ λόγου. οὔκουν φασί γ’ ἐκεῖνον οὐδὲν θεῖναι Λακεδαιμονίοις ἄνευ τῆς παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ φωνῆς, ἀλλ’ ὅμως οὐκ ἐπειδὴ Λυκοῦργος ὁ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἄριστος ἔθηκεν, οὐ διὰ τοῦθ’ ὁ θεὸς δόξαν εἴληφεν τεθεικέναι τοὺς νόμους, ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν Λυκοῦργος ἄριστος ὢν τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἐμαρτύρει τὰ τῆς οὐδὲν ἰδίᾳ γιγνωσκούσης Πυθίας νικᾶν, ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίνατο ὡς ἐδόκει τῷ θεῷ, ὁ δὲ τῷ παρὰ τὴν Πυθίαν μέρει τὴν δόξαν εἴληφε τὴν ἐπὶ τοῖς νόμοις.

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“I hear You’re a Lover of Learning”: An Unlikely Letter to a Leader

Isocrates, Letter to Alexander, 5

“I hear everyone saying how you are a man of goodwill to humanity and lover of learning, not foolishly so, but in practical fashion. For they add that you welcome some of our citizens who have not neglected themselves by pursuing base interests but those in whose presence you would not feel any grief by staying and whose alliance and shared goals would bring you neither harm nor injustice. Indeed, these are the sorts of men wise people should choose to be near.

When it comes to schools of philosophy, people report that you do not despise the practice of eristic argumentation, which you think is right to value in individual conversations, you do think that it is not proper for those in charge of many people or those who rule in monarchies. For, it is not advantageous or proper for those who think that they are greater than others to strive with politicians on their own or to allow others to disagree with them.

I hear that you do not take pleasure in this training, but instead have selected for yourself education about arguments which you might use in response to events which transpire on any given day and which help us us make plans about common affairs. Through this, it is possible to form an appropriate opinion about what will happen in the future and to give commands competently to the people you rule as to what is best for each person to do, you will learn how to make good judgments about what is right and just and opposite to both. In addition, you will learn when to honor and criticize as is fitting for each group.

You are wise, then, in showing concern for these things. For you provide hope to your father and the rest that, as you get older if you persist in these studies, you will outpace others as far in prudence as your father has surpassed all people [in war].”


Ἀκούω δέ σε πάντων λεγόντων ὡς φιλάνθρωπος εἶ καὶ φιλαθήναιος καὶ φιλόσοφος, οὐκ ἀφρόνως ἀλλὰ νοῦν ἐχόντως. τῶν τε γὰρ πολιτῶν ἀποδέχεσθαί σε τῶν ἡμετέρων οὐ τοὺς ἠμεληκότας αὑτῶν καὶ πονηρῶν πραγμάτων ἐπιθυμοῦντας, ἀλλ᾿ οἷς συνδιατρίβων τ᾿ οὐκ ἂν λυπηθείης, συμβάλλων τε καὶ κοινωνῶν πραγμάτων οὐδὲν ἂν βλαβείης οὐδ᾿ ἀδικηθείης, οἵοις περ χρὴ πλησιάζειν τοὺς εὖ φρονοῦντας· τῶν τε φιλοσοφιῶν οὐκ ἀποδοκιμάζειν μὲν οὐδὲ τὴν περὶ τὰς ἔριδας, ἀλλὰ νομίζειν εἶναι πλεονεκτικὴν ἐν ταῖς ἰδίαις διατριβαῖς, οὐ μὴν ἁρμόττειν οὔτε τοῖς τοῦ πλήθους προεστῶσιν οὔτε τοῖς τὰς μοναρχίας ἔχουσιν· οὐδὲ γὰρ συμφέρον οὐδὲ πρέπον ἐστὶ τοῖς μεῖζον τῶν ἄλλων φρονοῦσιν οὔτ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐρίζειν πρὸς τοὺς συμπολιτευομένους οὔτε τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐπιτρέπειν πρὸς αὑτοὺς ἀντιλέγειν.

Ταύτην μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἀγαπᾶν σε τὴν διατριβήν, προαιρεῖσθαι δὲ τὴν παιδείαν τὴν περὶ τοὺς λόγους, οἷς χρώμεθα περὶ τὰς πράξεις τὰς προσπιπτούσας καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ μεθ᾿ ὧν βουλευόμεθα περὶ τῶν κοινῶν· δι᾿ ἣν νῦν τε δοξάζειν περὶ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπιεικῶς, τοῖς τ᾿ ἀρχομένοις προστάττειν οὐκ ἀνοήτως ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἑκάστους, ἐπιστήσει, περὶ δὲ τῶν καλῶν καὶ δικαίων καὶ τῶν τούτοις ἐναντίων ὀρθῶς κρίνειν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τιμᾶν τε καὶ κολάζειν ὡς προσῆκόν ἐστιν ἑκατέρους. σωφρονεῖς οὖν νῦν ταῦτα μελετῶν· ἐλπίδας γὰρ τῷ τε πατρὶ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις παρέχεις, ὡς, ἂν πρεσβύτερος γενόμενος ἐμμείνῃς τούτοις, τοσοῦτον προέξεις τῇ φρονήσει τῶν ἄλλων, ὅσον περ ὁ πατήρ σου διενήνοχεν ἁπάντων

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