“Salt and bean”: A proverb applied to those who pretend to know something but do not know it. [this is because] diviners are in the habit of taking salt and bean in exchange for their interpretations. From this also they offer a bean to those who share in the mysteries”
46 “In the fifth book of his Natural Causes, Theophrastos says that the covering of beans when they are placed near the roots of trees dry out the things that are growing. He also adds that native birds who eat these things constantly become barren. Therefore, for this reason and eventually because of many others the Pythagoreans prohibited the use of the bean. For it makes someone flatulent, and dyspeptic, and brings us bad dreams.
“Plato therefore encourages people to go to sleep with their bodies thus disposed that there be nothing which could introduce any wandering from or disturbance of sleep. From which it is thought that the Pythagoreans prohibited the consumption of beans, because that food causes a great flatulence which is contrary to the tranquility of a mind seeking the truth.”
Iubet igitur Plato sic ad somnum proficisci corporibus adfectis, ut nihil sit, quod errorem animis perturbationemque adferat. Ex quo etiam Pythagoreis interdictum putatur, ne faba vescerentur, quod habet infiationem magnam is cibus tranquillitati mentis quaerenti vera contrariam.
“These are the sayings attributed to Pythagoras: don’t mix a fire with a knife; don’t step over a balance beam; don’t sit on a bushel; don’t eat your heart; don’t help with a burden but put it on; always make your bed; don’t put a god’s image on a ring; don’t leave the outline of a pan in ashes; don’t wipe up a mess with a torch; don’t piss towards the sun; don’t walk on the highway; don’t offer your right hand too easily; don’t share your roof with swallows; don’t keep clawed birds; don’t piss or stand on your cut nails and hair; turn sharp blades away from you; when abroad, don’t turn back at the border
This is what these sayings mean: “don’t mix a fire with a knife” means not inciting the rage or swollen anger of people in power. “Don’t step over a balance beam” means don’t transgress equality and justice. “Don’t sit on a bushel” means keep both today and the future in mind since a bushel is a daily ration. “Don’t eat your heart” clearly means not wearing away your mind with troubles and grief. By saying “Don’t turn around when going abroad” Pythagoras advises people when they are leaving life not to cling to it desperately nor to be overcome by its pleasures. The logic of the rest of the sayings are similar to this and would take a while to go through.”
“This smallest part of a composition is called a phrase [komma]. This often defines a phrase: it is shorter than a clause” [kôlon], as in the previously quoted “Dionysus [is] in Korinth” or “know yourself” or “follow god”, those sayings of the wise men. Brevity is a characteristic of proverbs and maxims and it is cleverer to compress a lot of meaning into a small space, just as seeds have the power of whole trees. If someone works a proverb out at length, it develops into teaching or rhetoric instead of a proverb.”
“I know Simôn and Simôn knows me.” There were two leaders, Nikôn and Simôn. Simone overpowered him because he was a man of the worst ways and it is said that he erased all memory of Nikôn. This proverb is used for people who recognize the evil in one another.”
“Telkhines: evil gods. Or jealous and harmful humans. There were two Telkhines, Simôn and Nikôn. Nikôn overpowered to erase the memory of Simôn. So, there is the proverb, “I know Simon and Simon knows me. This is used for those who recognize evil in one another.”
“I know Simôn and Simôn knows me”: There were two leaders who were evil Telkhinians by birth—for they were making the land infertile by spraying it with water from the Styx. They were Simôn and Nikôn. Simon overpowered because he was the most evil in his ways with the result that he erased any memory of Nikôn. For this reason in the proverb they only name Simôn. The proverb is applied to those who recognize the evil in one another.”
“Simôn, Simonos: a proper name and also a proverb: “No one is more thieving that Simôn.” And Aristophanes adds that whenever [people] see Simôn, they immediately turn into wolves. He was a Sophist who took public property for his own. Simôn and Theoros and Kleonymos are perjurers. Aristophanes has, “if a thunderbolt hits perjurers, how did it not burn Simôn, or Kleônumos or Theôros?”
CW: Profanity. Climate change trauma. I think I am going to be re-posting this one regularly. This goes out to all the politicians, plutocrats, and CEOs who continue to do nothing about climate change. Special recognition for the party of stupidity that denies climate change science.
Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704
“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”
This statement is no less potent or poignant now than 2500 years ago. It signals the vampiric and internally apocalyptic solipsisms of the powerful and the elite. But it also engages with a universal human denial and naive narcissism that allows us to ignore and exacerbate global warming and to throw other people’s children into cages while we cherish our own. This is the voice that says only the now matters, that this quarter’s profits are more important than sustainability and justice, that today’s ends justify any kinds of means.
Unsurprisingly, it is attributed to the Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero.
Suda tau 552 [cribbing Dio Cassius]
“And Tiberius uttered that ancient phrase, “when I am dead, the earth can be fucked with fire”, and he used to bless Priam because he died with his country and his palace.”
The saying seems to predate the Roman Emperors, however. Cicero riffs on this sentiment.
Cicero, De Finibus 3.64
“In turn, they believe that the universe is ruled by the will of the gods and that it is like a city or state shared by humans and gods and that everyone of us is a member of this universe. This is the reason that it is natural for us to put shared good before the personal. Truly, just as the laws prefer the safety of the collective over that of individuals, so too a good and wise person, obedient to the laws and not ignorant of his civic duty, pursues the advantage of the collective over that of an individual or himself.
A traitor to a state need not be hated more than one who undermines common advantage or safety on account of his own. This is why the person who faces death for the republic must be praised, because it bestows glory upon us to care more for our country than ourselves. And this is why it seems an inhuman and criminal voice when people say that they don’t care if all of everything burns when they are dead—as it is typically construed with that common Greek verse—and it is also certainly true that we must care for those who will live in the future for their own sake.”
Mundum autem censent regi numine deorum eumque esse quasi communem urbem et civitatem hominum et deorum, et unumquemque nostrum eius mundi esse partem; ex quo illud natura consequi ut communem utilitatem nostrae anteponamus. Ut enim leges omnium salutem singulorum saluti anteponunt, sic vir bonus et sapiens et legibus parens et civilis offici non ignarus utilitati omnium plus quam unius alicuius aut suae consulit. Nec magis est vituperandus proditor patriae quam communis utilitatis aut salutis desertor propter suam utilitatem aut salutem. Ex quo fit ut laudandus is sit qui mortem oppetat pro re publica, quod deceat cariorem nobis esse patriam quam nosmet ipsos. Quoniamque illa vox inhumana et scelerata ducitur eorum qui negant se recusare quo minus ipsis mortuis terrarum omnium deflagratio consequatur (quod vulgari quodam versu Graeco pronuntiari solet), certe verum est etiam iis qui aliquando futuri sint esse propter ipsos consulendum.
Here’s a more genteel variation on the sentiment:
‘Après moi le déluge’.
Louis XV of France offers a lapidary (and politer) version of the sentiment.
A note about the translation: I use the English profane “fuck” for mikhthênai here for two reasons. First, mignumi is often used in periphrases or euphemism for sex. Second, I think the speaker is effecting a dismissive and aggressively narcissistic stance towards the world which will exist after his death. Such narcissism and self-absorption is so perverse and twisted and yet so utterly common as to demand obscenity and plunge us all into the painfully profane. Third, as my students, and unfortunately my children, can attest, I am profane in real life. This is in part a class issue (I lack certain refinements) but it is also part character (my slight discomfort at class mobility and playing the professional role is expressed through this minor, adolescent rebelliousness).
But, there’s also the zeitgeist. There have been complaints over the years about profanity coming from this website and twitter account. While I understand that language use can be harmful and seem inapposite, I fear that I am insufficiently sympathetic to complaints about vulgar or profane language. We are living in a perverse and obscene time. Effective language, a man once said, is when the sound is an echo of the sense.
Seneca gets the same sense, but makes it a bit more active in his Medea.
Seneca, Medea 426–428
“…The only rest
Is if I see the whole world uprooted along with my ruin.
Let everything depart with me. It is pleasing to destroy while you die.”
…Sola est quies,
mecum ruina cuncta si video obruta;
mecum omnia abeant. trahere, cum pereas, libet.
“How, then, is it possible to prove that Clodius conspired against Milo? For such an audacious, nefarious monster it is enough to show that he had a great reason, that great hope resided in the death of Milo, and that there was great purpose to it. And so, let that proverb of Cassius “Who profited from it?” [cui bono fuerit] frame the players on the stage, if truly good men are compelled to deception by no prize while the wicked often are moved by a small one.
Once Milo was killed, Clodius advanced in these ways: not only was he as a praeter under no consul who would do something about his crime, but he was also a praeter serving under consuls with whose plans if not their actually help he hoped that he would be able to get away with his planned insanities. These men, as I am sure we were thinking, would not want to restrain his actions if they could, since they would think about the great benefit they owed him; men who, even if they wanted to, would hardly be capable of squashing the boldness of the most criminal person, an audacity fully strengthened by time.”
Quonam igitur pacto probari potest insidias Miloni fecisse Clodium? Satis est in illa quidem tam audaci, tam nefaria belua docere, magnam ei causam, magnam spem in Milonis morte propositam, magnas utilitates fuisse. Itaque illud Cassianum, “cui bono fuerit,” in his personis valeat, etsi boni nullo emolumento impelluntur in fraudem, improbi saepe parvo. Atqui Milone interfecto Clodius haec adsequebatur, non modo ut praetor esset non eo consule, quo sceleris nihil facere posset, sed etiam ut eis consulibus praetor esset, quibus si non adiuvantibus, at coniventibus certe speraret posse se eludere in illis suis cogitatis furoribus: cuius illi conatus, ut ipse ratiocinabatur, nec cuperent reprimere, si possent, cum tantum beneficium ei se debere arbitrarentur, et, si vellent, fortasse vix possent frangere hominis sceleratissimi conroboratam iam vetustate audaciam.
The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to consider the most truthful and wisest judge, often used to say in evaluating cases “who stood to profit” [cui bono fuisset]. This is the human way: no one pursues a crime without the hope of some profit.”
Cassius ille, quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat, identidem in causis quaerere solebat, “cui bono” fuisset. Sic vita hominum est, ut ad maleficium nemo conetur sine spe atque emolumento accedere.
“People suffer less because of their enemies than their friends. For they guard against their enemies because they fear them while they remain open to their friends. They too are slippery and likely to conspire.”