Tolerate People, Endure Their False Quotations

An old friend of mine reached out about the quote posted below and asked if it is really old Marky A.

Tolerant with yourself

This is a translation of Marcus Aurelius by Gregory Hays

Hays Tolerant

And here’s the Loeb translation by C. R. Haines

Loeb tolerance

Here’s my take:

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.33

“What then? You will wait either for being snuffed out or transformed pleasantly. But until that right moment comes [the end of life] what is there for us? What else but honoring the gods and singing their praise, to do well for people, and to “endure” them and “be restrained and for however much else is within the bounds of flesh and breath, we must remember that they are not really yours or under your power.”

τί οὖν; περιμενεῖς ἵλεως τὴν εἴτε σβέσιν εἴτε μετάστασιν.  ἕως δὲ ἐκείνης ὁ καιρὸς ἐφίσταται, τί ἀρκεῖ; τί δ᾿ ἄλλο ἢ θεοὺς μὲν σέβειν καὶ εὐφημεῖν, ἀνθρώπους δὲ εὖ ποιεῖν, καὶ “ἀνέχεσθαι” αὐτῶν καὶ “ἀπέχεσθαι·” ὅσα δὲ ἐντὸς ὅρων τοῦ κρεᾳδίου καὶ τοῦ πνευματίου, ταῦτα μεμνῆσθαι μήτε σὰ ὄντα μήτε ἐπὶ σοί.

Let’s concede that the Daily Stoic choice takes it out of context and that the translation gives no sense that the Aurelius passage is quoting (and perhaps even misusing) famous dicta of stoic philosophy. Let’s also put aside the fact that the Stoic is bandying about a translation without crediting the translator or acknowledging that this thought has been thrice mediated from one language to another. (And this mediation is shaped in turn by cultural presuppositions.)

Let’s just look at the Greek “ἀνέχεσθαι” αὐτῶν καὶ “ἀπέχεσθαι can mean to “hold back from” but more typically means endure. So, here, “tolerate” is just fine but in Hays’ English maxim it comes off as a bit more benevolent, when in Epictetus (Arrian 3.10) it is more to “submit” or “withstand”, to not react to someone else’s provocation. The verb ἀπέχεσθαι means to be strict only insofar as it means to refrain and in the works of Epictetus generally means restraining from pleasure or desire.

Let me make something clear: this is not a knock against the translator who made choices based on a context to render something in a certain way. My main quibble is presenting this specific translation as authoritatively Aurelius.

So, on my list of ratings for fake quotations, I rate this as “Cylon-Helen Fake“: “Just as Herodotus and Stesichorus report that ‘real’ Helen was replaced with a near-exact copy for the ten years of the Trojan War, so too some quotations are transformed through translation (Latin into Greek, Greek into Latin; or into Modern languages). The intervention of an outside force changes the cultural status of the words.”

Here’s where I will get a bit meaner. This choice of translation is likely popular online because it adheres to a particularly “muscular” or masculine view of stoicism that bubbles up in certain quarters. Being strict and refraining from something are not the same and neither is, to put this stoically, an unmixed virtue. This is not a Stoic value, per se, but the value of an internet meme for stoic cos-play.

One of the things that is really hard to handle about certain forms of modern stoicism is that it overlooks (1) that the biggest stoics  (Seneca and Aurelius) were fabulous rich people with a lot of power and many thousands of people making it possible for them to have easy lives “to be strict” in. It is no accident that Stoicism is popular among the technorich of the Modern age: its Senecan and Aurelian form allows you to focus on yourself and rewards self-restraint and ‘negative’ virtues over notions of responsibility egalitarianism.

(And Eric has written pretty clearly about the vapidity of modern pseudo-Stoicism.)

One of the reasons we started this site almost 10 years ago was that the internet was full of unsourced, low quality translations. We have, of course, ended up contributing to the mess, but we should still strive to (1) provide the original languages of the things we quote and (2) provide the context or access to the context if it is possible.

Let me be clear, this is not a screed against Stoicism, but a reminder that ancient philosophical schools only exist in dialogue with one another. Modern meme-Philosophy also gets to pick and choose, ignoring the fact that someone like Seneca spent years–even decades–studying many forms of philosophy and can be found in his letters and treatises espousing values from many different traditions. Roman philosophers–especially those we call stoics–were eclectics who learned and practiced multiple disciplines.

But that would be too hard today. Unless, of course, you rotate in some Epicurus and Diogenes quotes with your Stoic memes.

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.

 

 

Aristotle Said Many Things, But He Did Not Say This One

Image result for character is made by many acts it may be lost by a single one Aristotle

A reader left a comment asking for an investigation of this one. Let’s not beat around the Athenian bush on this one: this is fake, like, really fake.

This seems only recently to have made the leap to Aristotle. It does not seem to be attributed to him in any books, but it appears in Great Thoughts from Master Minds. 1884/1907 by a certain Rev. Haigh.

character

The quotation is not attributed here, but it sounds like something that may be a summary of Aristotle’s comments on character or habit in the Nicomachean ethics. As far as my ranking of fake Aristotle quotes goes, this is Peisistratos Fake. A vesion that adds “unworthy” and “worthy” shows up in some religious literature in the mid-19th century. By guess is it makes the leap to internet inspirational work through quote texts like this 14000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Preachers, Editors, and Teachers.

Even though this seems like a rather anodyne statement, I think it is really un-Aristotelian and anti-ancient philosophy and general. The notion that you can be for the most part good, but your character is undermined by a single thing is about sin. This is totally Christian and completely not Aristotle.

Here’s some Nicomachaean Ethics as a cleanse 1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

 

For Term Paper Season, Some Random Thoughts on Quotation

Plutarch, Table-Talk 9, (736e)

“Then he included an argument about the apt quotation of poetry, that the one which was most potent was not only charming but also useful.”

ἔπειτα περὶ στίχων εὐκαιρίας ἐνέβαλεν λόγον, ὡς μὴ μόνον χάριν ἀλλὰ καὶ χρείαν ἔστιν ὅτε μεγάλην ἐχούσης. #Plutarch

Athenaeus, 3.107a

“since the whole excerpt is useful for many reasons, but you don’t control it in your memory right now, I will go through the whole thing.”

πᾶσα δ᾿ ἡ ἐκλογὴ χρησίμη οὖσα εἰς πολλά, ἐπεὶ τὰ | νῦν διὰ μνήμης οὐ κρατεῖς, αὐτὸς ἐγὼ διεξελεύσομαι.

Libanius, Letters 3, to Entrechius

“You and I and each man of good intention will quote many passages from tragedy now that this kind of a person has left us.”

ἀλλ᾿ ἐκ τραγῳδίας μὲν πολλὰ μὲν ἐγώ, πολλὰ δὲ σύ, πολλὰ δὲ τῶν εὖ φρονούντων ἕκαστος φθεγξόμεθα τοιαύτης οἰχομένης κεφαλῆς·

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi  8

“Quoting the good words of a bad author will never shame me.”

Numquam me in voce bona mali pudebit auctoris

Image result for medieval manuscript man yelling
Ah, the wheel of fortune. British Library Harley MS 4431, f. 129.

From the Restroom: He Thunders Beneath the Earth

Suetonius, Life of Lucan

“When he was at the beginning of adolescence and learned that his father lived in the country because of a terrible marriage…Although when he was recalled from Athens by Nero he was included among his group of friends and even honored with a quaestorship, he still did not remain in his good graces.

Because he took it badly when Nero suddenly left while he was giving a reading for the sake of holding a senate meeting but for no other real reason accept for chilling the reading, he did not later on restrain himself from either words or deeds against the prince, some of which are well-known.

For instance, once when he was in the public restrooms, he followed a rather clear and loud fart to empty his bowels with a half-line written by Nero as the great crowd of those around him fled: “you could believe that it thundered beneath the earth.”

Hic initio adolescentiae, cum ob infestum matrimonium patrem suum ruri agere longissime cognovisset*** Revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. Siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: Sub terris tonuisse putes.

Defecatory thunder may or may not have been a trope in the ancient world. If you are interested in this kind of content, you may want to consider the Panfarticon.

Nero 1.JPG
An Epoch defining neck-beard

Slandering this Fake Socrates Quote is Perfectly Fine

So, a twitter correspondent (.@stustin) asked me about this one:

Image

This is so fake that it has been debunked by Snopes and Politifact, which traced the simplistic sentiment to a goodreads account in 2008. A simple google books search shows that the misattribution made the leap to books a few years ago and seems to be growing like a virus or cancer.

On my fake quotation scale, this stands somewhere between Peisistratos Fake–because it has been obviously manufactured–and Racist Fake because it is used in political debates by those trying to prevaricate when their interlocutors mention the moral turpitude of someone like a Supreme Court Justice who likes beer and putting his genitals in people’s faces. This is just another one of those lame, nitpicking logic-memes which put on a false mantle of antiquity for authority.

Socrates does talk a lot about slander, but he is usually worried about how slander prejudices audiences against speakers before a debate even happens (he says this in the Apology). In this case, the concern is the opposite of that in the spurious quotation: the quotation fears that debate devolves into name-calling and away from fact whereas Socrates is actually worried that previous name-calling and unquestioned assumptions makes it impossible for his audiences to apprehend the facts of a case.

Plato, Apology 19a

“Well, so be it. I need to defend myself, Athenians, and I need to try to take from you the slander you have absorbed over so long a period in such little time.”

Εἶεν· ἀπολογητέον δή, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, καὶ ἐπιχειρητέον ὑμῶν ἐξελέσθαι τὴν διαβολὴν ἣν ὑμεῖς ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ ἔσχετε ταύτην ἐν οὕτως ὀλίγῳ χρόνῳ.

Arsenius

“The knife cuts, but slander separates friends: a saying of Democritus”

῾Η μὲν μάχαιρα τέμνει· ἡ δὲ διαβολὴ χωρίζει φίλους Δημοκρίτου.

Here’s some more imaginary Socrates from Real Plato:

“I think that I am wiser by this very small bit: I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know.”

ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.

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 it earlier today 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:

 

 

 

From the Restroom: He Thunders Beneath the Earth

Suetonius, Life of Lucan

“When he was at the beginning of adolescence and learned that his father lived in the country because of a terrible marriage…Although when he was recalled from Athens by Nero he was included among his group of friends and even honored with a quaestorship, he still did not remain in his good graces.

Because he took it badly when Nero suddenly left while he was giving a reading for the sake of holding a senate meeting but for no other real reason accept for chilling the reading, he did not later on restrain himself from either words or deeds against the prince, some of which are well-known.

For instance, once when he was in the public restrooms, he followed a rather clear and loud fart to empty his bowels with a half-line written by Nero as the great crowd of those around him fled: “you could believe that it thundered beneath the earth.”

Hic initio adolescentiae, cum ob infestum matrimonium patrem suum ruri agere longissime cognovisset*** Revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. Siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: Sub terris tonuisse putes.

Defecatory thunder may or may not have been a trope in the ancient world. If you are interested in this kind of content, you may want to consider the Panfarticon.

Nero 1.JPG
An Epoch defining neck-beard

Ipse dixit: Citation and Authority

A post by the amazing Dr. Hannah Čulík-Baird, known to the twitter-verse as @opietasanimi.

Sententiae has been calling out fake quotations (particularly of Aristotle) for a while now, to the point where a citational typology has been developed. All of these quotations, real or otherwise, really make me wonder: why do we quote so much in the first place?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, incidentally, criticized the citational impulse, wrote: “All minds quote.” (Just to be clear, this one’s real: it appears in Quotation and Originality. And yes, I do realize the irony of quoting an authority in an essay which will, spoiler alert, ask that we don’t do this so much. There will be much irony.)

HCB1

Back to “All minds quote”, then. We’re trained to do it, and there is also something instinctual about it. We want to situate ourselves. We want to be part of an intellectual framework. We want to show we know things!

Citation acknowledges both that we are not alone (others have felt this way, thought this way), and that we didn’t get here alone (others have done work that set the foundation; we stand on their shoulders). Sara Ahmed has written: “Citation is feminist memory. It is how we leave a trail of where we have been and who helped us along the way.” Marika Rose has stressed that citation is a form of “academic currency” which “has value, ascribes value.”

So, I get it. Citationality makes community, and without that community, and citational trust, scholarly work would be impossible. But what about these Aristotle “quotes”? One of the issues here is that some of the Aristotle sayings — the ones which aren’t completely fabricated, anyway — make their way into popular usage because they were excerpted and placed in a different context. “Memory is the scribe of the soul. — Aristotle” – which does, actually, seem to be fake – appears in several 19th century quotation books, either alongside witty phrases on the topic of “memory” attributed to other venerable writers; or as just one in a larger list of sayings attributed to Aristotle. Presenting Aristotle’s words (or not his words) in this way — as short, pithy sayings — removes much of the substance and flattens out the meaning, which will always depend on the context. And by placing pithy phrases in a list like this, the reader no longer views Aristotle as philosopher in the context of his time and intellectual environment, but as Aristotle the timeless authority.

Recently, I’ve been teaching Cicero and my students were considering a passage from De Officiis (1.113) which contains the phrase: id enim maxime quemque decet, quod est cuiusque maxime suum, i.e. something like: “What best suits each man is whatever is most his own.” In class, I remarked flippantly that this is the kind of thing which would appear on a mug in an etsy shop. “What suits us best is what’s most our own. — Cicero.”

Already wildly popular on etsy and elsewhere is Cicero’s “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” which comes from a short letter to Varro from 46 BCE (Ad Fam. 9.4.1). Although, Cicero says si hortum in biblioteca, “if you have a garden in your library,” which Shackleton Bailey, the famous editor of Cicero’s letters, considered “a rather obscure remark.” The editors before him, Tyrell and Purser, wrote: “Cicero may have been fond of flowers, as some commentators say, but why should the garden be in the library…” They go on to suggest that the text may have been hortum cum biliotheca, “a garden with a library”, which would get us closer to the etsy shop pillows and mugs.

But the earlier part of Cicero’s letter to Varro is banter about philosophical gibberish, which may suggest a more specific meaning here, unknown to us (again: context). Some think that the garden in question is a reference to Epicureanism (Epicurus famously had a garden at Athens).

Anyway, it turns out that the phrase from Cicero’s De Officiis (1.113) was in fact also excerpted as gnomic wisdom in the 19th century. In 1889, it was included in Francis Henry King’s “Classical and Foreign Quotations: Law Terms and Maxims, Proverbs, Mottoes, Phrases, and Expressions in French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Portuguese. With Translations, References, Explanatory Notes, and Indexes” (!). It is the 2007th quotation:

HCB2

The title page of King’s Classical and Foreign Quotations contains the epigraph: “A Quotation without a reference is like a geological specimen of unknown locality,” attributed (with a page number and everything) to Prof. Skeat i.e. the British philologist Walter William Skeat, who produced An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language.

In the introduction, King quotes Skeat more fully: “I protest, for about the hundredth time, against the slipshod method of quoting a mere author’s name, without any indication of the work of that author in which the alleged quotation may be found. Let us have accurate quotations and exact references, wherever such are to be found. A quotation without reference is like a geological specimen of unknown locality.”

HCB3
Evidently, there was some frustration with the contemporary practice of quoting ancient and modern authors without reference (which is not quite context). A practice which, as the many posts here on Sententiae have shown, is the intellectual precursor to Aristotle’s prominence on pinterest.

HCB4

I’m still bothered by the question of why we quote. It is clear that ancient texts have traditionally been mined for their nuggets of wisdom, and that often this kind of mining disrupts meaning. The idea that there is something universal in ancient texts can make us blind to the things in them which are specifically not universal; the peculiarities, the details which connect to, and are sustained by, the broader cultural environment which produced them. The details which don’t actually make sense out of context. Details in text which refer to parts of a culture which are now lost, even though the text remains.

When we quote “blah blah blah — Aristotle” or “blah blah blah — Cicero”, we present something very flat indeed. The context and the meaning of the text recedes from view, and is replaced, instead, with authority. It reminds me of what James Boswell recorded about Samuel Johnson’s response to the accusation that classical quotation was pedantry: “No, Sir, it is a good thing; there is a community of mind in it. Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.” In this context, quotation is essentially a class signifier. A way for elites to communicate.

There’s a famous passage in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum (1.10) that faces this problem head on. (Again, I’m aware of the irony of citing Cicero as an authority here).

qui autem requirunt quid quaque de re ipsi sentiamus, curiosius id faciunt quam necesse est; non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando quam rationis momenta quaerenda sunt. quin etiam obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt auctoritas eorum qui se docere profitentur; desinunt enim suum iudicium adhibere, id habent ratum quod ab eo quem probant iudicatum vident. nec vero probare soleo id quod de Pythagoreis accepimus, quos ferunt, si quid adfirmarent in disputando, cum ex eis quaereretur quare ita esset, respondere solitos “ipse dixit”; “ipse” autem erat Pythagoras: tantum opinio praeiudicata poterat, ut etiam sine ratione valeret auctoritas.

‘Those who seek my personal views on each issue are being unnecessarily inquisitive, for when we engage in argument we must look to the weight of reason rather than authority. Indeed, students who are keen to learn often find the authority of those who claim to be teachers to be an obstacle, for they cease to apply their own judgement and regard as definitive the solution offered by the mentor of whom they approve. I myself tend to disapprove of the alleged practice of the Pythagoreans: the story goes that if they were maintaining some position in argument, and were asked why, they would reply: “The master said so,” the master being Pythagoras. Prior judgement exercised such sway that authority prevailed even when unsupported by reason.’ Translated by P. G. Walsh (2008).

Cicero’s claim here is that over-dependence on the citation of authority is not a healthy intellectual practice. His view is informed by the Academic philosophical stance, which, instead of putting forward positive views rather refined intellectual understanding via refutation and argumentation.

Argumentation is the emphasis. If someone asks you why you think something, you should be able to explain why. In such a context, Cicero derides the members of particular philosophical schools who, from his perspective at least, rely not on argumentation but instead simply invoke authority. The Pythagoreans respond: ipse dixit, “he himself said so.”

Cicero also characterizes Epicurean philosophy as overly dependent on authority. In the De Natura Deorum, the Academic character says to the Epicurean: ista enim a vobis quasi dictata redduntur, quae Epicurus oscitans halucinatus est, “your responses are like your school lessons, gibberish spouted by Epicurus while he fell asleep” (ND 1.72). In the In Pisonem, Cicero takes on the persona of an Epicurean to mock their reverent, citational invocation: ut noster divinus ille dixit Epicurus, “as our divine Epicurus himself said…” (Pis. 59).

In the De Natura Deorum passage, Cicero is aware that an authoritative presence in the classroom can be damaging to student growth if it gives the students the sense that they cannot make their own judgments, but instead must defer to the opinions of their teachers. Cicero rejects the overly inquisitive who want to know what he thinks about the nature of the gods on the grounds that they might run around spouting Cicero dixit – “Cicero said so” – instead of achieving some mastery of the philosophical argumentations contained within this book. But there is artificiality to this that comes from Cicero’s temporary pedagogical stance.

In his political and literary life Cicero, of course, did want to be quoted, because this was a measure of his influence, and his legacy. And, of course, Cicero himself also quoted and invoked authorities all the time: noster Ennius (Arch. 18); noster Plato (Leg. 3.5), etc. etc.

Skeat was frustrated with quotation without reference. But what I want to see is quotation with context. It happens time and again that a nice turn of phrase from an ancient author which sounds fine and maybe somehow inspirational in its disembodied, decontextualized state, turns out to be not so great when you see its original purpose. Quotation basically always changes the nature of the words cited. A quotation takes on a new function in its new context, and it’s worth being aware of that. Sometimes, citation is deliberately designed to change how the original text is viewed.

Fake Aristotle Fakely Rails Against Fighting Inequality

Want to read about more fake Aristotle quotes? We have a post for that….

So, I came across the following in a random Aristotle hashtag search. it is, indubitably, a fake. This is Peisistratos and Racist Level Fake:

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”

This has already been judged a “misattribution” by wikiquotes, but it has a life of its own as a meme that is used to justify inequality. What more a noble pursuit than the counterfeiting of ancient philosophical quotes in the service of upholding injustice!

This little horror shows up in the mid-seventies and has gained new life in the last decade or so. It seems that this is ‘inspired’ (to stretch the meaning of the word) by a segment from the Politics, which, by my reading, provides a very different sentiment from that purveyed by the meme:

Aristotle, Politics 3, 1280a 8-17

“First we must establish what people claim as the definitive boundaries of oligarchy and democracy and what principle of justice characterizes oligarchy and democracy in turn. For all people lay claim to some kind of justice, but they only pursue it up to a point and they do not define justice in its proper entirety.

For example, equality seems to be just and it is, but not to everyone, only to those who are equal to begin with. And so, inequality seems to be just, and, indeed, it is, but not for all people, only those who are not equal. But those people deprive [the concept of the meaning] in respect to those [whom it concerns] and render a bad judgment. The fault behind this is that the judgment is over something that concerns the people [making the judgment] themselves! Nearly all people are poor judges on matters that interest them.”

Ληπτέον δὲ πρῶτον τίνας ὅρους λέγουσι τῆς ὀλιγαρχίας καὶ δημοκρατίας, καὶ τί τὸ δίκαιον τό τε ὀλιγαρχικὸν καὶ δημοκρατικόν. πάντες γὰρ ἅπτονται δικαίου τινός, ἀλλὰ μέχρι τινὸς προέρχονται, καὶ λέγουσιν οὐ πᾶν τὸ κυρίως δίκαιον. οἷον δοκεῖ ἴσον τὸ δίκαιον εἶναι, καὶ ἔστιν, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ πᾶσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἴσοις· καὶ τὸ ἄνισον δοκεῖ δίκαιον εἶναι, καὶ γάρ ἐστιν, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ πᾶσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀνίσοις· οἱ δὲ τοῦτ᾿ ἀφαιροῦσι, τὸ οἷς, καὶ κρίνουσι κακῶς. τὸ δ᾿ αἴτιον ὅτι περὶ αὑτῶν ἡ κρίσις, σχεδὸν δ᾿ οἱ πλεῖστοι φαῦλοι κριταὶ περὶ τῶν οἰκείων.

Just because this sentiment does not belong to Aristotle, does not mean that someone in the ancient world didn’t express (something like) it. H/T to Andrew Riggsby (@AntiqueThought) and John Ma (@Nakhthor) for pointing out these passages.

Cicero Republic 1.43

“But the people have too little participation in common justice and deliberation in monarchies; in aristocracies, the populace is incapable of having the smallest part of freedom since they lack access from any shared governance and power. When all the power is exercised by the people, even if it is done justly and moderately, the equality itself is not equal since it provides for no gradations in honor.”

Sed et in regnis nimis expertes sunt ceteri communis iuris et consilii, et in optimatium dominatu vix particeps libertatis potest esse multitudo, cum omni consilio communi ac potestate careat, et cum omnia per populum geruntur quamvis iustum atque moderatum, tamen ipsa aequabilitas est iniqua, cum habet nullos gradus dignitatis.

 

Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.5

 “You stand very far away from this mistake, I know well, but I cannot keep myself from seeming to warn you when praising the way you maintain differences of class and honor. If these things are mixed up and confused, nothing is more unequal than that kind of equality. Goodbye!”

A quo vitio tu longe recessisti, scio, sed temperare mihi non possum quominus laudem similis monenti, quod eum modum tenes ut discrimina ordinum dignitatumque custodias; quae si confusa turbata permixta sunt, nihil est ipsa aequalitate inaequalius. Vale.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 2.12.5

“But this is judged by the majority—their views are counted but they are not weighed. Nothing else can happen in public decision making in which there is nothing as unequal as this kind of equality. This persists because the right is everyone’s equally even though wisdom is unequally distributed.”

 Sed hoc pluribus visum est. Numerantur enim sententiae, non ponderantur; nec aliud in publico consilio potest fieri, in quo nihil est tam inaequale quam aequalitas ipsa. Nam cum sit impar prudentia, par omnium ius est.

Fake Aristotle