Strife, Reason, and a Surging Boar

Three vaguely related proverbs

Suda, s.v. Eris; Mantissa Proverbium 1.60

“Strife that gives birth to strife fosters reason.”

῎Ερις ἔριν τίκτουσα προσμνᾶται λόγον.

The paroemiographer Arsenius adds: “this is applied to those striving over philosophy” (ἤτοι ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐριζόντων).

Michael Apostolius, 17.73

“A boar once pursued an Athenian conflict”: Theocritus. [A proverb] applied to this who love to strive with those who are stronger”

῟Υς πότ’ ᾿Αθηναίαν ἔριν ἤρισεν: Θεόκριτος. ἐπὶ τῶν τοῖς κρείττοσι φιλονεικούντων.

Michael Apostolius, 17.74

“The boar surges up”: A proverb applied to violent [people] and competitive [people or circumstances]”

῟Υς ὀρίνει: ἐπὶ τῶν βιαίων λέγεται καὶ ἐριστικῶν.

Image result for medieval manuscript boar philosopher
 From The Luttrell Psalter, British Library Add MS 42130 (medieval manuscript,1325)

Philosophy, Wickedess and the Enemy of Mankind: More Sayings from Ancient Sages

Some more sayings from the Gnomologium Vaticanum.

“When Antisthenes was asked by someone what he should teach his child, he said “If you want him to live with the gods, philosophy; but if you wish him to live among men, then rhetoric.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, τί· τὸν υἱὸν διδάξει, εἶπεν· „εἰ
μὲν θεοῖς αὐτὸν συμβιοῦν ἐθέλοις, φιλόσοφον· εἰ δὲ ἀνθρώποις, ῥήτορα”.

“Antisthenes used to say that virtue had a short justification while the argument for wickedness was endless.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν ἀρετὴν βραχύλογον εἶναι, τὴν δὲ κακίαν ἀπέραντον.

“When Plato was chattering on at length about something, Antisthenes said “the one who speaks is not the measure of his audience—it is the audience who makes a limit for the speaker!”

῾Ο αὐτὸς Πλάτωνός ποτε ἐν τῇ σχολῇ μακρολογήσαντος εἶπεν·„οὐχ ὁ λέγων μέτρον ἐστὶ τοῦ ἀκούοντος, ἀλλ’ ὁ ἀκούων τοῦ λέγοντος.”

“Anarchasis used to say that the Greeks really messed things up because their craftsman compete and the ignorant judge them.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις ἔφη τοὺς ῞Ελληνας ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι παρ’ αὐτοῖς οἱ μὲν τεχνῖται ἀγωνίζονται, οἱ δ’ ἀμαθεῖς κρίνουσιν.

“When Anacharsis was asked by someone what was humanity’s enemy, he said “themselves”.

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, τί ἐστι πολέμιον ἀνθρώποις, εἶπεν· „αὐτοὶ ἑαυτοῖς”.


“When Anacharsis was asked by someone why jealous people are always aggrieved he said “because their own troubles are not the only thing biting them: other people’s good fortune bothers them too.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί οἱ φθονεροὶ ἄνθρωποι ἀεὶ λυποῦνται, ἔφη· „ὅτι οὐ μόνον τὰ ἑαυτῶν αὐτοὺς κακὰ δάκνει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν πέλας ἀγαθὰ λυπεῖ”.


The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.

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Idomeneus, Cretan Kleptocrat?

In our new political age, it seems that we might require more indirect language to speak the truth. perhaps in these examples below there is something useful for describing kleptocracy.

From the Suda

“To speak Cretan to Cretans: Since they liars and deceivers”

Κρητίζειν πρὸς Κρῆτας. ἐπειδὴ ψεῦσται καὶ ἀπατεῶνές εἰσι.



krêtizein: used for lying and deceiving. People use this phrase because Krêtans are liars.”

κρητίζειν· ἐπὶ τοῦ ψεύδεσθαι καὶ ἀπατᾶν. ἔταττον δὲ τὴν λέξιν ἀπὸ <τοῦ> τοὺς Κρῆτας ψεύστας εἶναι


Zenobius, 4.62.10

“To be a Cretan: People use this phrase to mean lying and cheating. And they say it developed as a proverb from Idomeneus the Cretan. For, as the story goes, when there was a disagreement developed about the greater [share] among the Greeks at troy and everyone was eager to acquire the heaped up bronze for themselves, they made Idomeneus the judge. Once he took open pledges from them that they would adhere to the judgments he would make, he put himself in from of all the rest! For this reason, it is called Kretening.”

Κρητίζειν: ἐπὶ τοῦ ψεύδεσθαι καὶ ἀπατᾶν ἔταττον τὴν λέξιν, καὶ φασὶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ᾿Ιδομενέως τοῦ Κρητὸς τὴν παροιμίαν διαδοθῆναι. Λέγεται γὰρ διαφορᾶς ποτὲγενομένης τοῖς ἐν Τροίᾳ ῞Ελλησιν περὶ τοῦ μείζονος, καὶ  πάντων προθυμουμένων τὸν συναχθέντα χαλκὸν ἐκ τῶν λαφύρων πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς ἀποφέρεσθαι, γενόμενον κριτὴν τὸν ᾿Ιδομενέα, καὶ λαβόντα παρ’ αὐτῶν τὰς ἐνδεχομένας πίστεις ἐφ’ ᾧ κατακολουθῆσαι τοῖς κριθησομένοις, ἀντὶ πάντων τῶν ἀριστέων ἑαυτὸν προτάξαι. Διὸ λέγεσθαι τὸ Κρητίζειν.


Dionysius Attic, Aelian

Krêtizein: to lie. For Idomenus, when he was placed in charge of distributing the bronze from the spoils, chose the best for himself.”

κρητίζειν· τὸ ψεύδεσθαι. ᾿Ιδομενεὺς γὰρ ἐπιτραπεὶς τὸν ἀπὸ τῶν λαφύρων χαλκὸν διανεῖμαι τὸν ἄριστον αὑτῷ ἐξείλετο.



Krêtizein: to lie. For Idomenus, when he was placed in charge of distributing the bronze from the spoils, chose the best for himself.”

Κρητίζειν: τὸ ψεύδεσθαι· ᾿Ιδομενεὺς γὰρ ἐπιτραπεὶς τὸν ἀπὸ τῶν λαφύρων χαλκὸν διανεῖμαι, τὸν ἄριστον αὐτωῖ ἐξείλετο.

Give me the loot.


Marcellus Rests from the Arian Heresy to Complain about Greek Proverbs

Marcellus of Ancyra was a Bishop of the 4th century CE best known for his opposition to the Arian heresy (the belief that Jesus was a son of god, separate from god, and subordinate to him). But he also wrote a treatise on Greek proverbs of which we have a fragment. As far as I know, there isn’t an easily available translation of this fragment (125), so here it is.

Palaiophron did most of the work translating this and deserves the credit for the good parts. One thing to note, here Marcellus regularly speaks of τῶν ἔξωθεν which the LSJ glosses as “foreigners” (or, as my father, a Mainer, used to say “people from away”). But in ecclesiastical Greek, the phrase is equivalent to οἱ ἕξω which means “outsiders” i.e. non-Christians—in this work, the term is likely used to distinguish non-Christian sayings from the Biblical proverbs.


Marcellus, fr. 125 On Greek Proverbs

“It is not out of place, I think, to remind you at present of a few proverbs of non-Christians.

‘EITHER HE DIED OR HE TAUGHT LETTERS’  This proverb, aimed at the appearance of writing, one could take as being spoken against those who teach reading and writing, since another one among them says “You were teaching letters, I was wandering around.” Those who wrote commentaries claimed that this is not so. Rather, they say that the Sicilians—after conquering the Athenians in battle—preserved only those who supported the foundations of education and led them off as teachers for their children while slaying all of the others. A few survivors who returned, when asked by the Athenians about the men who did not fare as well, responded that it was said, ‘EITHER HE DIED OR TAUGHT LETTERS.’

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