Buying Offices: Oligarchy and the Corruption of Elections (Vote!)

Aristotle, Politics 2.7 (1273a-1273b)

“If election based on wealth is oligarchic while election according to excellence is aristocratic, there can be a third system according to which a state is organized as the Carthaginian polity is constructed. For they choose their leaders looking at two issues, especially the most significant offices, that of kings and generals.

But it is right to think that this departure from aristocracy is an error by the lawmaker. For among the most critical issues to consider from the beginning is how the best citizens might be able to have the free time and to refrain from anything inappropriate, both in office and in their private life. If it is right to consider furnishing the means for free time [to rule], it is bad for the most significant positions to be for sale (the kingship and the generalship).

For this law makes wealth more important than virtue and makes the whole state structured around money. Whatever the power structure considers valuable, the opinion of the rest of the citizens will follow. Wherever virtue is not honored above all else, the constitution cannot be aristocratic. It is also likely that those who purchase their offices will make a profit from them when they rule after spending their own money. For, it would be strange if a respectable man who is poor will want to profit but a corrupt man who has spent his own money would be disinclined to do the same.”

εἴπερ οὖν τὸ μὲν αἱρεῖσθαι πλουτίνδην ὀλιγαρχικὸν τὸ δὲ κατ᾿ ἀρετὴν ἀριστοκρατικόν, αὕτη τις ἂν εἴη τάξις τρίτη καθ᾿ ἥνπερ συντέτακται καὶ τοῖς Καρχηδονίοις τὰ περὶ τὴν πολιτείαν· αἱροῦνται γὰρ εἰς δύο ταῦτα βλέποντες, καὶ μάλιστα τὰς μεγίστας, τούς τε βασιλεῖς καὶ τοὺς στρατηγούς. δεῖ δὲ νομίζειν ἁμάρτημα νομοθέτου6 τὴν παρέκβασιν εἶναι τῆς ἀριστοκρατίας ταύτην· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ τοῦθ᾿ ὁρᾶν ἐστὶ τῶν ἀναγκαιοτάτων, ὅπως οἱ βέλτιστοι δύνωνται σχολάζειν καὶ μηδὲν ἀσχημονεῖν, μὴ μόνον ἄρχοντες ἀλλὰ μηδ᾿ ἰδιωτεύοντες. εἰ δὲ δεῖ βλέπειν καὶ πρὸς εὐπορίαν χάριν σχολῆς, φαῦλον τὸ τὰς μεγίστας ὠνητὰς εἶναι τῶν ἀρχῶν, τήν τε βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν στρατηγίαν. ἔντιμον γὰρ ὁ νόμος οὗτος ποιεῖ τὸν πλοῦτον μᾶλλον τῆς ἀρετῆς καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην φιλοχρήματον· ὅ τι δ᾿ ἂν ὑπολάβῃ τίμιον εἶναι τὸ κύριον, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων πολιτῶν δόξαν ἀκολουθεῖν τούτοις· ὅπου δὲ μὴ μάλιστα ἀρετὴ τιμᾶται, ταύτην οὐχ οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι βεβαίως ἀριστοκρατικὴν πολιτείαν. ἐθίζεσθαι δ᾿ εὔλογον κερδαίνειν τοὺς ὠνουμένους, ὅταν δαπανήσαντες ἄρχωσιν· ἄτοπον γὰρ εἰ πένης μὲν ὢν ἐπιεικὴς δὲ βουλήσεται κερδαίνειν, φαυλότερος δ᾿ ὢν οὐ βουλήσεται δαπανήσας.

 

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Buying Offices: Oligarchy and the Corruption of Elections

Aristotle, Politics 2.7 (1273a-1273b)

“If election based on wealth is oligarchic while election according to excellence is aristocratic, there can be a third system according to which a state is organized as the Carthaginian polity is constructed. For they choose their leaders looking at two issues, especially the most significant offices, that of kings and generals.

But it is right to think that this departure from aristocracy is an error by the lawmaker. For among the most critical issues to consider from the beginning is how the best citizens might be able to have the free time and to refrain from anything inappropriate, both in office and in their private life. If it is right to consider furnishing the means for free time [to rule], it is bad for the most significant positions to be for sale (the kingship and the generalship).

For this law makes wealth more important than virtue and makes the whole state structured around money. Whatever the power structure considers valuable, the opinion of the rest of the citizens will follow. Wherever virtue is not honored above all else, the constitution cannot be aristocratic. It is also likely that those who purchase their offices will make a profit from them when they rule after spending their own money. For, it would be strange if a respectable man who is poor will want to profit but a corrupt man who has spent his own money would be disinclined to do the same.”

εἴπερ οὖν τὸ μὲν αἱρεῖσθαι πλουτίνδην ὀλιγαρχικὸν τὸ δὲ κατ᾿ ἀρετὴν ἀριστοκρατικόν, αὕτη τις ἂν εἴη τάξις τρίτη καθ᾿ ἥνπερ συντέτακται καὶ τοῖς Καρχηδονίοις τὰ περὶ τὴν πολιτείαν· αἱροῦνται γὰρ εἰς δύο ταῦτα βλέποντες, καὶ μάλιστα τὰς μεγίστας, τούς τε βασιλεῖς καὶ τοὺς στρατηγούς. δεῖ δὲ νομίζειν ἁμάρτημα νομοθέτου6 τὴν παρέκβασιν εἶναι τῆς ἀριστοκρατίας ταύτην· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ τοῦθ᾿ ὁρᾶν ἐστὶ τῶν ἀναγκαιοτάτων, ὅπως οἱ βέλτιστοι δύνωνται σχολάζειν καὶ μηδὲν ἀσχημονεῖν, μὴ μόνον ἄρχοντες ἀλλὰ μηδ᾿ ἰδιωτεύοντες. εἰ δὲ δεῖ βλέπειν καὶ πρὸς εὐπορίαν χάριν σχολῆς, φαῦλον τὸ τὰς μεγίστας ὠνητὰς εἶναι τῶν ἀρχῶν, τήν τε βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν στρατηγίαν. ἔντιμον γὰρ ὁ νόμος οὗτος ποιεῖ τὸν πλοῦτον μᾶλλον τῆς ἀρετῆς καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην φιλοχρήματον· ὅ τι δ᾿ ἂν ὑπολάβῃ τίμιον εἶναι τὸ κύριον, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων πολιτῶν δόξαν ἀκολουθεῖν τούτοις· ὅπου δὲ μὴ μάλιστα ἀρετὴ τιμᾶται, ταύτην οὐχ οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι βεβαίως ἀριστοκρατικὴν πολιτείαν. ἐθίζεσθαι δ᾿ εὔλογον κερδαίνειν τοὺς ὠνουμένους, ὅταν δαπανήσαντες ἄρχωσιν· ἄτοπον γὰρ εἰ πένης μὲν ὢν ἐπιεικὴς δὲ βουλήσεται κερδαίνειν, φαυλότερος δ᾿ ὢν οὐ βουλήσεται δαπανήσας.

 

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Buying Offices: Oligarchy and the Corruption of Elections Based on Wealth

Aristotle, Politics 2.7 (1273a-1273b)

“If election based on wealth is oligarchic while election according to excellence is aristocratic, there can be a third system according to which a state is organized as the Carthaginian polity is constructed. For they choose their leaders looking at two issues, especially the most significant offices, that of kings and generals.

But it is right to think that this departure from aristocracy is an error by the lawmaker. For among the most critical issues to consider from the beginning is how the best citizens might be able to have the free time and to refrain from anything inappropriate, both in office and in their private life. If it is right to consider furnishing the means for free time [to rule], it is bad for the most significant positions to be for sale (the kingship and the generalship).

For this law makes wealth more important than virtue and makes the whole state structured around money. Whatever the power structure considers valuable, the opinion of the rest of the citizens will follow. Wherever virtue is not honored above all else, the constitution cannot be aristocratic. It is also likely that those who purchase their offices will make a profit from them when they rule after spending their own money. For, it would be strange if a respectable man who is poor will want to profit but a corrupt man who has spent his own money would be disinclined to do the same.”

εἴπερ οὖν τὸ μὲν αἱρεῖσθαι πλουτίνδην ὀλιγαρχικὸν τὸ δὲ κατ᾿ ἀρετὴν ἀριστοκρατικόν, αὕτη τις ἂν εἴη τάξις τρίτη καθ᾿ ἥνπερ συντέτακται καὶ τοῖς Καρχηδονίοις τὰ περὶ τὴν πολιτείαν· αἱροῦνται γὰρ εἰς δύο ταῦτα βλέποντες, καὶ μάλιστα τὰς μεγίστας, τούς τε βασιλεῖς καὶ τοὺς στρατηγούς. δεῖ δὲ νομίζειν ἁμάρτημα νομοθέτου6 τὴν παρέκβασιν εἶναι τῆς ἀριστοκρατίας ταύτην· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ τοῦθ᾿ ὁρᾶν ἐστὶ τῶν ἀναγκαιοτάτων, ὅπως οἱ βέλτιστοι δύνωνται σχολάζειν καὶ μηδὲν ἀσχημονεῖν, μὴ μόνον ἄρχοντες ἀλλὰ μηδ᾿ ἰδιωτεύοντες. εἰ δὲ δεῖ βλέπειν καὶ πρὸς εὐπορίαν χάριν σχολῆς, φαῦλον τὸ τὰς μεγίστας ὠνητὰς εἶναι τῶν ἀρχῶν, τήν τε βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν στρατηγίαν. ἔντιμον γὰρ ὁ νόμος οὗτος ποιεῖ τὸν πλοῦτον μᾶλλον τῆς ἀρετῆς καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην φιλοχρήματον· ὅ τι δ᾿ ἂν ὑπολάβῃ τίμιον εἶναι τὸ κύριον, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων πολιτῶν δόξαν ἀκολουθεῖν τούτοις· ὅπου δὲ μὴ μάλιστα ἀρετὴ τιμᾶται, ταύτην οὐχ οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι βεβαίως ἀριστοκρατικὴν πολιτείαν. ἐθίζεσθαι δ᾿ εὔλογον κερδαίνειν τοὺς ὠνουμένους, ὅταν δαπανήσαντες ἄρχωσιν· ἄτοπον γὰρ εἰ πένης μὲν ὢν ἐπιεικὴς δὲ βουλήσεται κερδαίνειν, φαυλότερος δ᾿ ὢν οὐ βουλήσεται δαπανήσας.

 

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Corpse-Wealth and the Metropolis of Greed: Some Greek and Latin Sayings about the Wealthy

Some useful words:

νεκροφάγος: “corpse-eating”

πλουτοκράτωρ: “plutocrat”

Martial, Epigram 5.81

“You will always be poor, Aemilianus, if you are poor;
nowadays wealth comes to no one but the rich”.

semper pauper eris, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
dantur opes nullis nunc nisi divitibus.

Periander, 1.7 (D.L. 97-97)

“Do nothing for money”

Μηδὲν χρημάτων ἕνεκα πράττειν

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

120 “Aristôn the philosopher used to say that wealthy people who are cheap are like mules who carry gold and silver but eat straw.”

᾿Αρίστων ὁ φιλόσοφος τοὺς πλουσίους καὶ φειδωλοὺς ὁμοίους ἔφησεν εἶναι τοῖς ἡμιόνοις, οἵτινες χρυσὸν καὶ ἄργυρον φέροντες χόρτον ἐσθίουσιν.

265 “Democritus used to say that greed is the mother-city of every wickedness”

Δημόκριτος τὴν φιλαργυρίαν ἔλεγε μητρόπολιν πάσης κακίας.

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Euripides, Fragment 462

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Demosthenes might do things differently

De Corona, 103

“Right now, I want to take you back through the things I did when in power in order. And you, examine them again, anew, for what was best for the state. When I saw, Athenian men, that your navy was in disarray, and that some of the wealthy citizens were essentially untaxed because of the limited expenditures while other citizens of moderate or little wealth were losing what they had, and that the city was falling behind its opportunities because of these circumstances, I made a law through which I forced the wealthy to do what was right and I prevented the poor from suffering injustice—and this was most useful to the city: I ensured that her preparations happened at the necessary time.”

Βούλομαι τοίνυν ἐπανελθεῖν ἐφ’ ἃ τούτων ἑξῆς ἐπολιτευόμην· καὶ σκοπεῖτ’ ἐν τούτοις πάλιν αὖ, τί τὸ τῇ πόλει βέλτιστον ἦν. ὁρῶν γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, τὸ ναυτικὸν ὑμῶν καταλυόμενον καὶ τοὺς μὲν πλουσίους ἀτελεῖς ἀπὸ μικρῶν ἀναλωμάτων γιγνομένους, τοὺς δὲ μέτρι’ ἢ μικρὰ κεκτημένους τῶν πολιτῶν τὰ ὄντ’ ἀπολλύοντας, ἔτι δ’ ὑστερίζουσαν ἐκ τούτων τὴν πόλιν τῶν καιρῶν, ἔθηκα νόμον καθ’ ὃν τοὺς μὲν τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖν ἠνάγκασα, τοὺς πλουσίους, τοὺς δὲ πένητας ἔπαυσ’ ἀδικουμένους, τῇ πόλει δ’ ὅπερ ἦν χρησιμώτατον, ἐν καιρῷ γίγνεσθαι τὰς παρασκευὰς ἐποίησα.

Some bullshit from Seneca

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

A question of character in Xenophon (Memorabilia 4.2.37)

Socrates: “What are poor people and rich people like?”

Euthydemos: “I think that the former, poor men, don’t have enough to spend on what they need while the latter, rich people, have more than enough.”

Socrates: “And you’ve learned then that there are some who have very little but find it not only sufficient but make more out of it, while there are some for whom even very much is never enough?”

Euthydemos: “Yes, by Zeus, you have reminded me correctly: I know some tyrants too who are compelled by want to commit injustice just as if they had nothing.”

Ποίους δὲ πένητας καὶ ποίους πλουσίους καλεῖς; Τοὺς μέν, οἶμαι, μὴ ἱκανὰ ἔχοντας εἰς ἃ δεῖ τελεῖν πένητας, τοὺς δὲ πλείω τῶν ἱκανῶν πλουσίους. Καταμεμάθηκας οὖν ὅτι ἐνίοις μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγα ἔχουσιν οὐ μόνον ἀρκεῖ ταῦτα, ἀλλὰ καὶ περιποιοῦνται ἀπ’ αὐτῶν, ἐνίοις δὲ πάνυ πολλὰ οὐχ ἱκανά ἐστι;

Καὶ νὴ Δί’, ἔφη ὁ Εὐθύδημος, ὀρθῶς γάρ με ἀναμιμνῄσκεις, οἶδα [γὰρ] καὶ τυράννους τινάς, οἳ δι’ ἔνδειαν ὥσπερ οἱ ἀπορώτατοι ἀναγκάζονται ἀδικεῖν.

Corpse-Wealth and Prisons

On the Wealth of Herodes the Athenian (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 547)

“[Herodes] used his wealth in the best way of all men. We do not, however, believe that this was the easiest thing to do, but instead that it was wholly difficult and unpleasant.  For men who are drunk with wealth usually afflict other people with insults. In addition, they make the specious claim that wealth is blind—but even if wealth appears rightly blind at other times, it looked upon Herodes: it gazed upon his friends, his cities, and whole nations since the man was able to keep a watch over them all and make a storehouse of his riches in the opinions of the men with whom he shared them.

For he used to say indeed that it was necessary for the man who would use wealth correctly to provide it to those who need it so that they may not be in need and also to those who didn’t need it, so that they might not become impoverished. He used to call wealth that was not used and was hoarded up by envy “corpse wealth” and the storehouses of those who hoarded their riches “prisons of wealth. He mocked those who believed it was right to sacrifice to their accumulated riches “Aloadae” because [Otos and Ephialtes] had sacrificed to Ares after they imprisoned him.”*

῎Αριστα δὲ ἀνθρώπων πλούτῳ ἐχρήσατο. τουτὶ δὲ μὴ τῶν εὐμεταχειρίστων ἡγώμεθα, ἀλλὰ τῶν παγχαλέπων τε καὶ δυσκόλων, οἱ γὰρ πλούτῳ μεθύοντες  ὕβριν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐπαντλοῦσιν. προσδιαβάλλουσι δὲ ὡς καὶ τυφλὸν τὸν πλοῦτον, ὃς εἰ καὶ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ἐδόκει τυφλός, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ ῾Ηρώδου ἀνέβλεψεν, ἔβλεψε μὲν γὰρ ἐς φίλους, ἔβλεψε δὲ ἐς πόλεις, ἔβλεψε δὲ ἐς ἔθνη, πάντων περιωπὴν ἔχοντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς καὶ θησαυρίζοντος τὸν πλοῦτον ἐν ταῖς τῶν μετεχόντων αὐτοῦ γνώμαις. ἔλεγε γὰρ δή, ὡς προσήκοι τὸν ὀρθῶς πλούτῳ χρώμενον τοῖς μὲν δεομένοις ἐπαρκεῖν, ἵνα μὴ δέωνται, τοῖς δὲ μὴ δεομένοις, ἵνα μὴ δεηθῶσιν, ἐκάλει τε τὸν μὲν ἀσύμβολον πλοῦτον καὶ φειδοῖ κεκολασμένον νεκρὸν πλοῦτον, τοὺς δὲ θησαυρούς, ἐς οὓς ἀποτίθενται τὰ χρήματαἔνιοι, πλούτου δεσμωτήρια, τοὺς δὲ καὶ θύειν ἀξιοῦντας ἀποθέτοις χρήμασιν ᾿Αλωάδας ἐπωνόμαζε θύοντας ῎Αρει μετὰ τὸ δῆσαι αὐτόν.

*This story is told in the Iliad 5.385 as part of Dione’s catalogue of mortals who caused the gods harm.  Otus and Ephialtes captured Ares and put him in a bronze jar.

Scholion to Pindar, Ol.1.1

“He was rather in the habit of praising riches, and we can say that he was a slave to his own wealth-loving nature.”

ἀλλὰ πολύς ἐστιν ἐγκωμιάζων τὸν πλοῦτον, καί φαμεν ἡττᾶσθαι αὐτὸν τῆς ἑαυτοῦ φύσεως φιλοχρημάτου τυγχανούσης.

Herodotus on Being Greek and Resisting Tyranny

7.102.1-7

“After he heard these things, Dêmarêtos was saying the following: “King, since you order me to tell the truth completely and to say things that someone might not be caught in a lie by you later, poverty has always been Greece’s companion, but virtue is acquired, nurtured by wisdom and strong custom. By cultivating this excellence, Greece has warded off both poverty and tyranny.”

῾Ως δὲ ταῦτα ἤκουσε Δημάρητος, ἔλεγε τάδε· «Βασιλεῦ, ἐπειδὴ ἀληθείῃ διαχρήσασθαι πάντως κελεύεις ταῦτα λέγοντα τὰ μὴ ψευδόμενός τις ὕστερον ὑπὸ σέο ἁλώσεται, τῇ ῾Ελλάδι πενίη μὲν αἰεί κοτε σύντροφός ἐστι, ἀρετὴ δὲ ἔπακτός ἐστι, ἀπό τε σοφίης κατεργασμένη καὶ νόμου ἰσχυροῦ· τῇ διαχρεωμένη ἡ ῾Ελλὰς τήν τε πενίην ἀπαμύνεται καὶ τὴν δεσποσύνην.

 

8.144.1-3

“To the Spartan representatives, the Athenians answered as follows: “It was a very human response that the Spartans feared we might make an agreement with the Barbarian. But because we believe it shameful that the Athenian spirit should shudder so, know that there is no amount of gold anywhere or land so exceeding in beauty and location which we would ever wish to take to align with the Persians and enslave Greece.

“There are many, serious reasons which would prevent us from doing these things, even if we were willing: first and greatest are the temples and dedications to the gods which were burned and destroyed. This compels us to seek extreme vengeance rather than making agreements with the man who contrived it. Second, is our common Hellenic blood, our shared language, the shrines of the gods and the sacrifices, customs and ways of living we keep in common—never would it be right for the Athenians to betray these things.

Know this too if you did not happen to know it before, as long as a single Athenian survives there will never be a treaty with Xerxes. Still, we give you thanks for your concern about us, that you have worried for out destroyed home enough that you are willing to supply and feed our people.”cropped-hoplites.jpg

πρὸς δὲ τοὺς ἀπὸ Σπάρτης ἀγγέλους τάδε. ‘τὸ μὲν δεῖσαι Λακεδαιμονίους μὴ ὁμολογήσωμεν τῷ βαρβάρῳ, κάρτα ἀνθρωπήιον ἦν: ἀτὰρ αἰσχρῶς γε οἴκατε ἐξεπιστάμενοι τὸ Ἀθηναίων φρόνημα ἀρρωδῆσαι, ὅτι οὔτε χρυσός ἐστι γῆς οὐδαμόθι τοσοῦτος οὔτε χώρη κάλλεϊ καὶ ἀρετῇ μέγα ὑπερφέρουσα, τὰ ἡμεῖς δεξάμενοι ἐθέλοιμεν ἂν μηδίσαντες καταδουλῶσαι τὴν Ἑλλάδα. ’

‘ [2] πολλά τε γὰρ καὶ μεγάλα ἐστι τὰ διακωλύοντα ταῦτα μὴ ποιέειν μηδ᾽ ἢν ἐθέλωμεν, πρῶτα μὲν καὶ μέγιστα τῶν θεῶν τὰ ἀγάλματα καὶ τὰ οἰκήματα ἐμπεπρησμένα τε καὶ συγκεχωσμένα, τοῖσι ἡμέας ἀναγκαίως ἔχει τιμωρέειν ἐς τὰ μέγιστα μᾶλλον ἤ περ ὁμολογέειν τῷ ταῦτα ἐργασαμένῳ, αὖτις δὲ τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν ἐὸν ὅμαιμόν τε καὶ ὁμόγλωσσον καὶ θεῶν ἱδρύματά τε κοινὰ καὶ θυσίαι ἤθεά τε ὁμότροπα, τῶν προδότας γενέσθαι Ἀθηναίους οὐκ ἂν εὖ ἔχοι. ’

‘ [3] ἐπίστασθέ τε οὕτω, εἰ μὴ πρότερον ἐτυγχάνετε ἐπιστάμενοι, ἔστ᾽ ἂν καὶ εἷς περιῇ Ἀθηναίων, μηδαμὰ ὁμολογήσοντας ἡμέας Ξέρξῃ. ὑμέων μέντοι ἀγάμεθα τὴν προνοίην τὴν πρὸς ἡμέας ἐοῦσαν, ὅτι προείδετε ἡμέων οἰκοφθορημένων οὕτω ὥστε ἐπιθρέψαι ἐθέλειν ἡμέων τοὺς οἰκέτας. ’

Spending Cuts Lead a Professor to Sell Books

Palladas of Alexandria, 9.175

“I am selling Kallimakhos and Pindar and all these
Cases of grammar, since I have a case of poverty.
Dôrotheus has cut my living wage,
Signing off an unholy message against me.
But you, dear Theô, guard me, don’t allow me
To waste my life conjugating with poverty.”

Καλλίμαχον πωλῶ καὶ Πίνδαρον ἠδὲ καὶ αὐτὰς
πτώσεις γραμματικῆς πτῶσιν ἔχων πενίης.
Δωρόθεος γὰρ ἐμὴν τροφίμην σύνταξιν ἔλυσε
πρεσβείην κατ’ ἐμοῦ τὴν ἀσεβῆ τελέσας.
ἀλλὰ σύ μου πρόστηθι, Θέων φίλε, μηδέ μ’ ἐάσῃς
συνδέσμῳ πενίης τὸν βίον ἐξανύσαι.

 

This story may sound depressingly familiar to modern contingent faculty. It resonates with classicists and humanists in particular…

teacher

Proverbs for Pointlessness, Prostitution and Poverty

More Entries from the Suda

“Khamai: on the ground.  There is also a proverb:’ to trace water on the ground’—which is the same as accomplishing nothing. Another example of this is “washing a brick”. These are uttered for tasks that have no end.”

Χαμαί: ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. καὶ παροιμία· Χαμαὶ ἀντλεῖν, ἐν ἴσῳ τῷ οὐδὲν ἐργάζεσθαι. οἷον καὶ τὸ πλίνθον πλύνειν. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνηνύτων λέγεται.

 

“Khoiros: An animal, piglet, piggy. But in Corinth this also means female genitals. This is the origin of the proverb: “You seem like you’re going to sell piggies in Acrocorinth”; we use this to mean “earning a wage in Corinth” because there are many prostitutes there.”

Χοῖρος: τὸ ζῷον. παρὰ Κορινθίοις δὲ τὸ γυναικεῖον αἰδοῖον. ἔνθεν καὶ παροιμία· ᾿Ακροκορινθία ἔοικας χοιροπωλήσειν. ἀντὶ τοῦ ἔοικας μισθαρνήσειν ἐν Κορίνθῳ· πολλαὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖ ἑταῖραι.

pig vase

This is not the pig in the proverb….

“Worshiping Dionysus in Psyra”: A Proverb found in Cratinus.  Psyra is a poor, small island close to Khios and it is unable to produce wine.  Therefore, we use this proverb for people reclining at the symposium but not drinking.  It is also used in reference to other displays of poverty.”

Ψύρα τὸν Διόνυσον ἄγοντες: ἡ παροιμία παρὰ Κρατίνῳ. τὰ δὲ Ψύρα εὐτελὴς νῆσός ἐστι καὶ μικρὰ πλησίον Χίου, μὴ δυναμένη οἶνον ἐνεγκεῖν. λέγομεν οὖν τὴν παροιμίαν ἐπὶ τῶν ἐν συμποσίῳ ἀνακειμένων καὶ μὴ πινόντων. λέλεκται δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν εὐτέλειαν σημαινόντων.

Euripides, Fr. 462 (Cretan Women): Only Death is Friend to the Poor

With the US presidential primary right around the corner, it might do some good to start up a debate about poverty–which will likely be mentioned far more here than by the candidates….

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Euripides, obviously, might disagree with Tibullus (1.1-6):

“Let someone else pile up gleaming gold
And hold as many lots of well-plowed land,
Let constant labor frighten him when an enemy’s near
As war’s clarion blasts send his sleep to flight.
But may my poverty guide me through a settled life
as long as my hearth shines with a tireless light.”

Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
Et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
Quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
Me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti, 5
Dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus.

Although, in a different fragment, Euripides notes the corrupting force of wealth:

Euripides, fr. 54 (Alexander): On the Educational Merits of Poverty?

“Wealth and too much luxury
Are the wrong lessons for manly men.
Poverty is wretched but at least it raises up
Children better at working and getting things done.”

κακόν τι παίδευμ’ ἦν ἄρ’ εἰς εὐανδρίαν
ὁ πλοῦτος ἀνθρώποισιν αἵ τ’ ἄγαν τρυφαί·
πενία δὲ δύστηνον μέν, ἀλλ’ ὅμως τρέφει
μοχθεῖν τ’ ἀμείνω τέκνα καὶ δραστήρια.

The fabulously wealthy Seneca might agree:

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.2.37: A Conversation on the Rich and Poor

Socrates: “What are poor people and rich people like?”

Euthydemos: “I think that the former, poor men, don’t have enough to spend on what they need while the latter, rich people, have more than enough.”

Socrates: “And you’ve learned then that there are some who have very little but find it not only sufficient but make more out of it, while there are some for whom even very much is never enough?”

Euthydemos: “Yes, by Zeus, you have reminded me correctly: I know some tyrants too who are compelled by want to commit injustice just as if they had nothing.”

Ποίους δὲ πένητας καὶ ποίους πλουσίους καλεῖς; Τοὺς μέν, οἶμαι, μὴ ἱκανὰ ἔχοντας εἰς ἃ δεῖ τελεῖν πένητας, τοὺς δὲ πλείω τῶν ἱκανῶν πλουσίους. Καταμεμάθηκας οὖν ὅτι ἐνίοις μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγα ἔχουσιν οὐ μόνον ἀρκεῖ ταῦτα, ἀλλὰ καὶ περιποιοῦνται ἀπ’ αὐτῶν, ἐνίοις δὲ πάνυ πολλὰ οὐχ ἱκανά ἐστι;

Καὶ νὴ Δί’, ἔφη ὁ Εὐθύδημος, ὀρθῶς γάρ με ἀναμιμνῄσκεις, οἶδα [γὰρ] καὶ τυράννους τινάς, οἳ δι’ ἔνδειαν ὥσπερ οἱ ἀπορώτατοι ἀναγκάζονται ἀδικεῖν.

Politics, Ancient and Modern: Men See Wealth as an Indicator of Wisdom (Euripides, fr. 327)

Thus fragment from Euripides’ lost Danae speaks to some of the less pleasant truths about modern politics (and attests to some rather ancient continuities).

“Truly, men love to take the words
Of wealthy men as wisdom, and yet when
Some poor man from a lesser house speaks well
They laugh. But I have often noticed
That poor men are wiser than the rich
And that those who make small offerings to the gods
Are more pious than those who slaughter bulls.”

φιλοῦσι γάρ τοι τῶν μὲν ὀλβίων βροτοὶ
σοφοὺς τίθεσθαι τοὺς λόγους, ὅταν δέ τις
λειτῶν ἀπ’ οἴκων εὖ λέγῃ πένης ἀνήρ,
γελᾶν· ἐγὼ δὲ πολλάκις σοφωτέρους
πένητας ἄνδρας εἰσορῶ τῶν πλουσίων
καὶ <τοὺς> θεοῖσι μικρὰ θύοντας τέλη
τῶν βουθυτούντων ὄντας εὐσεβεστέρους.

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