Don’t Mix a Fire With a Knife: Some Pythagorean Sayings

Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras 17–18

“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.”

Ἦν δ᾿ αὐτῷ τὰ σύμβολα τάδε· πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ μὴ σκαλεύειν, ζυγὸν μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν, ἐπὶ χοίνικος μὴ καθίζειν, καρδίην μὴ ἐσθίειν, φορτίον μὴ συγκαθαιρεῖν, ουνεπιτιθέναι δέ, τὰ στρώματα ἀεὶ συνδεδεμένα ἔχειν, ἐν δακτυλίῳ εἰκόνα θεοῦ μὴ περιφέρειν, χύτρας ἴχνος συγχεῖν ἐν τῇ τέφρᾳ, δᾳδίῳ θᾶκον μὴ ὀμόργνυσθαι, πρὸς ἥλιον τετραμμένον μὴ ὀμίχειν, τὰς λεωφόρους μὴ βαδίζειν, μὴ ῥᾳδίως δεξιὰν ἐμβάλλειν, ὁμωροφίους χελιδόνας μὴ ἔχειν, γαμψώνυχα μὴ τρέφειν, ἀπονυχίσμασι καὶ κουραῖς μὴ ἐπουρεῖν μηδὲ ἐφίστασθαι, ὀξεῖαν μάχαιραν ἀποστρέφειν, ἀποδημοῦντα ἐπὶ τοῖς ὅροις ἀνεπιστρεπτεῖν.

Ἤθελε δ᾿ αὐτῷ τὸ μὲν πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ μὴ σκαλεύειν δυναστῶν ὀργὴν καὶ οἰδοῦντα θυμὸν μὴ κινεῖν. τὸ δὲ ζυγὸν μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν, τουτέστι τὸ ἴσον καὶ δίκαιον μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν. ἐπί τε χοίνικος μὴ καθίζειν ἐν ἴσῳ τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος φροντίδα ποιεῖσθαι καὶ τοῦ μέλλοντος· ἡ γὰρ χοῖνιξ ἡμερησία τροφή. διὰ δὲ τοῦ καρδίαν μὴ ἐσθίειν ἐδήλου μὴ τὴν ψυχὴν ἀνίαις καὶ λύπαις κατατήκειν. διὰ δὲ τοῦ εἰς ἀποδημίαν βαδίζοντα μὴ ἐπιστρέφεσθαι παρῄνει τοῖς ἀπαλλαττομένοις τοῦ βίου μὴ ἐπιθυμητικῶς ἔχειν τοῦ ζῆν μηδ᾿ ὑπὸ τῶν ἐνταῦθα ἡδονῶν ἐπάγεσθαι. καὶ τὰ ἄλλα πρὸς ταῦτα λοιπόν ἐστιν ἐκλαμβάνειν, ἵνα μὴ παρέλκωμεν.

File:Pythagoras with tablet of ratios.jpg
From Raphael’s School of Athens

Screwing Up, Some Proverbs

Euripides, Hippolyus 916

“Oh humanity! You pointlessly fuck up so often!”

ὦ πόλλ᾽ ἁμαρτάνοντες ἄνθρωποι μάτην

 

Arsenius, Proverbs 68a

“If one must screw up, it is more righteous to die unjustly than to kill unjustly”

Εἰ δέοι τι ἁμαρτεῖν, τὸ ἀδίκως ἀπολῦσαι ὁσιώτερον τοῦ
ἀδίκως ἀπολέσαι.

12 97a

“A person who does the most messes up the most.”

῾Ο πλεῖστα πράσσων πλεῖστ’ ἁμαρτάνει βροτῶν.

13 39 h

“You can’t fuck-up twice in a war

Οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν πολέμῳ δὶς ἁμαρτάνειν

 

Lysias, fr. 267 [=Stobaeus 3.12.20]

“Lying the easiest thing for those who mess up frequently.”

Ψεύδεσθαι προχειρότατον τοῖς πολλάκις ἁμαρτάνουσιν.

 

Michael Apostolios, Proverbs

1.70

“A citizen’s screw-up is the state’s shame”

Αἰσχύνη πόλεως πολίτου ἁμαρτία: ἐξ ἀποφθέγματος.

 

8.52

“A nail for a nail. Also, to hammer a nail with a nail. This is for those who try to fix a mistake with another one.

῟Ηλος τὸν ἧλον: καί· Πάτταλος τὸν πάτταλον
ἐξέκρουσεν: ἐπὶ τῶν ἰωμένων δι’ ἁμαρτήματος ἁμάρτημα.

File:Northern France or Flanders, St. Omer or Thèrouanne, 14th century - Leaf from a Psalter- Initial D- A Fool Rebuked by God - 2011.55 - Cleveland Museum of Art.tif
God rebukes a fool

 

War, Some Proverbs

Arsenius

“In war, iron is stronger for safety than gold;
But for living, reason is better than wealth.”

᾿Εν μὲν πολέμῳ πρὸς ἀσφάλειαν σίδηρος χρυσοῦ κρείττων,
ἐν δὲ τῷ ζῆν ὁ λόγος τοῦ πλούτου [Sophocles]

“You can’t fuck-up twice in a war
Οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν πολέμῳ δὶς ἁμαρτάνειν

Zenobius

“War is tear-free” A proverb applied to those who succeed easily through every danger and beyond expectations.”

῎Αδακρυς πόλεμος: ἐπὶ τῶν ἔξω κινδύνου παντὸς ῥᾷστα δὲ καὶ παρ’ ἐλπίδα τὰ πράγματα κατορθούντων.

Michael Apostolios

“Beginning of wars”: A proverb applied to those who try to do wrong
᾿Αρχὴ πολέμων: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀδικεῖν ἐπιχειρούντων.

“Endless War is Sweet”: A proverb applied to those who throw themselves into dangers because of inexperience

Γλυκὺς ἀπείρων πόλεμος: ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπ’ ἀπειρίας ἑαυτοὺς καθιέντων εἰς κινδύνους.

Bronze penteconter

 

Naked Graces and Noble Foxes: Some Proverbs on Gifts

Zenobius 1.71

“A Fox can’t be bribed” this is applied to those who are not easily captured by gifts

᾿Αλώπηξ οὐ δωροδοκεῖται: ἐπὶ τῶν οὐ ῥᾳδίως δώροις ἁλισκομένων.

Zenobius 3.42

“Praise any gift someone gives you.”

Δῶρον δ’ ὅ τι δῷ τις ἐπαίνει

Zenobius, 4.4

“An enemy’s gifts are not gifts, and bring no benefit.” This proverb is mentioned by Sophokles in his Ajax. Euripides also says something similar in the Medea: “the gift of a wicked man brings no benefit”.

᾿Εχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα [=Soph. Ajax 665] μέμνηται τῆς παροιμίας ταύτης Σοφοκλῆς ἐν Αἴαντι μαστιγοφόρῳ. Λέγει δὲ καὶ Εὐριπίδης ἐν τῇ Μηδείᾳ,K Κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς δῶρον ὄνησιν οὐκ ἔχει.

Diogenianus, 4.21

“Gifts persuade the gods and reverent kings. This is applied to those who twist judgments because of bribes.”

Δῶρα θεοὺς πείθει, καὶ αἰδοίους βασιλῆας: ἐπὶ τῶν διὰ δῶρα τὰς δίκας ἀντιστρεφόντων.

Michael Apostolios 1.82

“The Graces are Naked”: [a phrase asserting that] it is right to give thanks for a gift without envy or vanity.”

Αἱ Χάριτες γυμναί: ὅτι δεῖ τὴν δωρεὰν ἀφειδῶς ἢ ἀκενοδόξως χαρίζεσθαι.

gifts

Michael Apostolios, 7.65

“You come, bearing sleepover gifts.” This proverb is applied to those who give many things. That are called sleepover gifts from the practice where on the day after a wedding gifts are carried from the bride’s father to the bridegroom and the bride in procession. A child leads, bearing a white cloak and a burning lamp and a basket-bearer follows him. After them come the rest of the women in order carrying golden items, basins, perfumes, litters, combs, alabaster jars, sandals, chests. Sometimes they take the dowry at the same time.”

᾿Επαύλια δῶρα φέρειν ἥκεις: ἐπὶ τῶν πολλὰ δωρουμένων. ᾿Επαύλια δὲ καλεῖται τὰ μετὰ τὴν ἐχομένην ἡμέραν τῶν γάμων παρὰ τοῦ τῆς νύμφης πατρὸς δῶρα φερόμενα τῷ νυμφίῳ καὶ τῇ νύμφῃ ἐν πομπῆς σχήματι· παῖς γὰρ ἡγεῖται χλανίδα λευκὴν ἔχων καὶ λαμπάδα καιομένην, ἔπειτα μετὰ τοῦτον κανηφόρος· εἶθ’ αἱ λοιπαὶ ἀκολουθοῦσιν ἐφεξῆς, φέρουσαι χρυσία, λεκανίδας, σμήγματα, φορεῖα, κτένας, κοίτας, ἀλαβάστρους, σανδάλια, μυράλιτρα. ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ τὴν προῖκα ἅμα τῶν νυμφίων φέρουσιν.

Michael Apostolios, 8.66

“Heraklean bath.” This is applied to people who take gifts. For Hephaistos gave a bath to Herakles as a gift.”

῾Ηράκλεια λουτρά: ἐπὶ τῶν δῶρα λαμβανόντων. κατὰ δωρεὰν γὰρ ὁ ῞Ηφαιστος ἀνέδωκε λουτρὰ τῷ ῾Ηρακλεῖ.

Arsenius, 13.151

“I, a poor man, don’t want to give a wealthy man a gift.”

Οὐ βούλομαι πλουτοῦντι δωρεῖσθαι πένης·

Arsenius, 15.95a

“Great gifts bring fear of chance.”

Τὰ μεγάλα δῶρα τῆς τύχης ἔχει φόβον,

Brevity and Wit: Demetrius on Compression

See earlier posts for Demetrius on the words for punctuation

Demetrius, On Style 9

“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.”

(9) ἡ δὲ τοιαύτη βραχύτης κατὰ τὴν σύνθεσιν κόμμα ὀνομάζεται. ὁρίζονται δ᾿ αὐτὸ ὧδε, κόμμα ἐστὶν τὸ κώλου ἔλαττον, οἷον τὸ προειρημένον, τὸ [τε] “Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ,” καὶ τὸ “γνῶθι σεαυτόν,” καὶ τὸ “ἕπου θεῷ,” τὰ τῶν σοφῶν. ἔστι γὰρ καὶ ἀποφθεγματικὸν ἡ βραχύτης καὶ γνωμολογικόν, καὶ σοφώτερον τὸ ἐν ὀλίγῳ πολλὴν διάνοιαν ἠθροῖσθαι, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς σπέρμασιν δένδρων ὅλων δυνάμεις· εἰ δ᾿ ἐκτείνοιτό τις τὴν γνώμην ἐν μακροῖς, διδασκαλία γίνεταί τις καὶ ῥητορεία ἀντὶ γνώμης.

Image result for brevity is the soul of wit

Singing While the House Burns Down

Aesop, Fab. 54 (Perry=Chambry 172) Boy and Snails

“A farmer’s child was roasting snails. When he heard them trilling as they cooked, he said, “Most pathetic creatures, You are singing as your homes burn?”

This story makes it clear that everything done at the wrong time should be mocked.”

γεωργοῦ παῖς κοχλίας ὤπτει. ἀκούσας δὲ αὐτῶν τριζόντων ἔφη· „ὦ κάκιστα ζῷα, τῶν οἰκιῶν ὑμῶν ἐμπιπραμένων αὐτοὶ ᾄδετε;”

ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ, ὅτι πᾶν τὸ παρὰ καιρὸν δρώμενον ἐπονείδιστον.

This looks like it has jumped to a proverb in Modern Greek which attributes it to Thucydides and changes the person of the verb, rendering it. “you sing while your homes are burning.” [«Των οικιών ημών εμπιπραμένων, ημείς άδομεν»]. I retweeted  thinking it did not sound much like the ancient historian, but just had to check for it.

https://twitter.com/Andreas50805488/status/1161574040554868736?s=20

So, I think this qualifies on my rating scale as Delphian Graffiti Fake: It has antiquity, but has been reassigned for authority in a new context. I mean, really, who wants to cite Aesop and his animals when we have the gravity of Thucydides.  And, let’s be honest, this is a good line for any age, but especially apt for ours.

Kid should have been careful. Snails are dangerous.Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor, c 1315-1325 via British Library

Here’s some singing about burning down a house:

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704 [=see here for more]

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

 

 

“Living Today Is Too Late”: Some Procrastination in Latin and Greek

Our word ‘procrastination’ is pretty much a direct borrowing from Latin (first attested in English in 1548, according to the OED–we really delayed in adopting it!). There was also a brief-lived adaptation of Latin cunctatio (delay) in English cunctation, cunctatory, cunctatious (etc.) but, thankfully, that fell into disuse. Eventually.

Here are some Greek and Roman thoughts on delay:

From the Suda:

Ἀμβολία: ἡ ὑπέρθεσις: Hesitation: postponement
Ἀναβάλλειν: To Delay
Ἀνάθεσις: ἡ ὑπέρθεσις: A delay: postponement
Διαμέλλει: ἀναβολῇ χρῆται: He/she put something off: to employ procrastination.

A few proverbs from the Suda

“The wings of Daidalos”: used of those who employ delay because they lack a prosthetic.

Δαιδάλου πτερά: ἐπὶ τῶν δι’ ἀπορίαν προσθήκης χρωμένων παρελκύσει.

“The hedgehog would put off childbirth.” This proverb is applied to situations that become worse with delay”

Ἐχῖνος τὸν τόκον ἀναβάλλῃ: λέγεται ἐφ’ ὧν τὸ ἀναβάλλεσθαι πρὸς χείρονος γίνεται.

Image result for Medieval manuscript hedgehog

Terence, Andria 206

“Dave, this is no place for sluggishness or procrastination.”

Dave, nil locist segnitiae neque socordiae,

Propertius, 1.12

“Why can’t you stop flinging a charge of laziness at me—
The claim that Rome, Ponticus, is making me procrastinate?”

Quid mihi desidiae non cessas fingere crimen,
quod faciat nobis, Pontice, Roma moram?

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon 18

“For when beauty, wealth and sex converge upon you, you better not sit or procrastinate!”

κάλλος γὰρ καὶ πλοῦτος καὶ ἔρως εἰ συνῆλθον ἐπὶ σέ, οὐχ ἕδρας οὐδὲ ἀναβολῆς

Cicero, Letters (to Atticus) 10.9

“Fearing this, I fell into this delay. But I might achieve everything if I hurry—if I procrastinate, I lose.”

hoc verens in hanc tarditatem incidi. sed adsequar omnia si propero: si cunctor, amitto.

Cicero, Letters to Friends (Caelius Rufus to Cicero, 87)

“You know how slow and barely effective Marcellus is. And Servius too, the procrastinator….”

nosti Marcellum, quam tardus et parum efficax sit, itemque Servium, quam cunctator

Thucydides, 2.18

“The Peloponnesians believed that when they arrived they would have captured everything outside still immediately, except for his procrastination…”

καὶ ἐδόκουν οἱ Πελοποννήσιοι ἐπελθόντες ἂν διὰ τάχους πάντα ἔτι ἔξω καταλαβεῖν, εἰ μὴ διὰ τὴν ἐκείνου μέλλησιν

Demosthenes, Second Olynthiac 23

“It is no surprise that Philip, when he goes on campaign himself, toiling and present at every event, overlooking no opportunity or season, outstrips us as we procrastinate, vote on things, and make official inquiries.”

οὐ δὴ θαυμαστόν ἐστιν, εἰ στρατευόμενος καὶ πονῶν ἐκεῖνος αὐτὸς καὶ παρὼν ἐφ᾿ ἅπασι καὶ μήτε καιρὸν μήθ᾿ ὥραν παραλείπων ἡμῶν μελλόντων καὶ ψηφιζομένων καὶ πυνθανομένων περιγίγνεται.

Plato, Critias 108d

“I need to do this already, I can’t procrastinate anymore!”

τοῦτ᾿ οὖν αὐτὸ ἤδη δραστέον, καὶ μελλητέον οὐδὲν ἔτι.

Minucius Felix, Octavius 13

“Shouldn’t everyone should respect and imitate the procrastination of Simonides, the lyric poet? When he was asked by the tyrant Hiero what he thought about the nature of the gods, first he asked for a day to think about it. On the next day, he asked for two more days. And he requested another two when reminded again!

Finally, when the tyrant asked the cause of so much delay, he responded that to him “the truth became as much more obscure as the time spent pursuing it”. To my taste, matters that are uncertain should be let as they are. When so many impressive minds disagree, decisions should not be made rashly or speedily for either side to avoid entertaining an old woman’s superstition or the loss of all religion.”

Simonidis Melici nonne admiranda omnibus et sectanda cunctatio? Qui Simonides, cum de eo, quid et quales arbitraretur deos, ab Hierone tyranno quaereretur, primo deliberationi diem petiit, postridie biduum prorogavit, mox alterum tantum admonitus adiunxit. Postremo, cum causas tantae morae tyrannus inquireret, respondit ille ‘quod sibi, quanto inquisitio tardior pergeret, tanto veritas fieret obscurior.’Mea quoque opinione quae sunt dubia, ut sunt, relinquenda sunt, nec, tot ac tantis viris deliberantibus, temere et audaciter in alteram partem ferenda sententia est, ne aut anilis inducatur superstitio aut omnis religio destruatur.”

Martial, 5.58

“Postumus, you always say that you will live tomorrow, tomorrow!
But that ‘tomorrow’ of yours – when does it ever come?
How far off is that ‘tomorrow’! Where is it, or where should it be sought?
Does it lie hidden among the Parthians, or the Armenians?
That ‘tomorrow’ is as old as Priam or Nestor.
For how much can ‘tomorrow’ be purchased?
You will live tomorrow, you say?
Postumus, even living today is too late;
he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.

Cras te uicturum, cras dicis, Postume, semper:
dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando uenit?
Quam longe cras istud! ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami uel Nestoris annos.              5
Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est:
ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri.