Excellent Quality, More Sh*t Aristole Didn’t Say

Here’s a quotation [wrongly] attributed to Aristotle:

“Aristotle on Excellence: Excellence is never an accident; It is the result of high intention; sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution and the vision to see obstacles as opportunities. “

So, if you’re on social media and decorating your virtual life with “ancient quotes” there is a pretty high chance they are nonsense masquerading as something an ancient might say. But there’s nothing remotely Aristotelian about this except for the use of words like “excellence”, “intelligent” and maybe “accident”. If that’s your criteria for making something Aristotelian, you’re better off misattributing the entire dictionary than this absurd b-school pabulum.

If you do a google search for books, this is really popular in the last decade or so, you find this in self help books, business books, etc. But if you search for 20th century, you find a variant that is not attributed to Aristotle:

Quality is never an accident; It is the result of high intention; sincere effort, intelligent and skillful execution; […]. quality represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

There are several variants that combine various elements of these quotations. This is definitely not Aristotle: it is some bizarre love child of modern business child and the “excellence is a habit” misquotation. This is Rhetorica ad Fictum levels of fake.

Also, if you look carefully at the books data, the quote is attributed to a Willa Foster before it becomes pinterest fodder for the Aristotle hound. Here’s a discussion trying to figure out who Will A. Foster is. Some people identify the quote as coming from this William A. Foster.

The closest Aristotle gets to this is here:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 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.


go here for more stuff Aristotle did not say.

Sorry But Aristotle Did Not Say This Thing about Snowflakes

The following quote has recently been attributed to Aristotle. As anyone who has read even a little bit by Aristotle can attest, this is about as far away from an Aristotelian sentiment as you can get.

Oh, Town and Country magazine, you fell for it. I get it. The quotation sounds kind of cool. It is inspiring in that insipid, soul-numbing way motivational posters start out as ‘neat’ and end up as part of a fevered nightmare.

As recently as 2012, this quotation was attributed anonymous (and this appears frequently). So, this one must have jumped attribution quite recently. Please, contact your local office of common sense and decency and let them know we cannot stand for this.

Here’s a real Aristotle quotation about snow:

Aristotle, Prior Analytics, 12b

“To be hot is the nature of fire and snow’s nature is white”

τῷ πυρὶ τὸ θερμῷ εἶναι καὶ τῇ χιόνι τὸ λευκῇ.

 

And here is a Pinterest version for you:

Snow istotle

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.

 

 

Pyrrho on Homer and the Eating Pig

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 9.11 on Pyrrho

“But Philo the Athenian, who was his friend, used to say that he often called to mind Democritus and then Homer, wondering at him and constantly saying “just as the generation of leaves so are the generations of men”. And he liked the fact that Homer compared human beings to wasps, flies and birds. He also used to add these lines: “But, friend, die too: why do you mourn like this? / Patroklos also died and he was much better than you.” He would recite that along with all the passages which attested to the uncertain and empty pursuits, the childish simplicity of humankind.

Poseidonios also passes down a certain story like this about him. When his shipmates were exceedingly anxious because of a storm, he was calm and unshaken in his spirit. After he pointed to a piglet on the boat who was eating, he said that it was right for a wise person to settle into such an untroubled state.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ Φίλων ὁ Ἀθηναῖος, γνώριμος αὐτοῦ γεγονώς, ἔλεγεν ὡς ἐμέμνητο μάλιστα μὲν Δημοκρίτου, εἶτα δὲ καὶ Ὁμήρου, θαυμάζων αὐτὸν καὶ συνεχὲς λέγων, “οἵη περ φύλλων γενεή, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν·”

καὶ ὅτι σφηξὶ καὶ μυίαις καὶ ὀρνέοις εἴκαζε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. προφέρεσθαι δὲ καὶ τάδε·

ἀλλά, φίλος, θάνε καὶ σύ· τίη ὀλοφύρεαι οὕτως;
κάτθανε καὶ Πάτροκλος, ὅ περ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων·

καὶ ὅσα συντείνει εἰς τὸ ἀβέβαιον καὶ κενόσπουδον ἅμα καὶ παιδαριῶδες τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

Ποσειδώνιος δὲ καὶ τοιοῦτόν τι διέξεισι περὶ αὐτοῦ. τῶν γὰρ συμπλεόντων αὐτῷ ἐσκυθρωπακότων ὑπὸ χειμῶνος, αὐτὸς γαληνὸς ὢν ἀνέρρωσε τὴν ψυχήν, δείξας ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ χοιρίδιον ἐσθίον καὶ εἰπὼν ὡς χρὴ τὸν σοφὸν ἐν τοιαύτῃ καθεστάναι ἀταραξίᾳ.

Image result for medieval manuscript piglet
Luttrell Psalter, British Library Add MS 42130 (medieval manuscript,1325-1340), f59v

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.

What’s Your Writing Like Without Quotations?

Diogenes Laertius, Chrysippos  7.7.180

“Apollodorus the Athenian in his Summary of Beliefs, because he wants to demonstrate that the works of Epicurus were written with personal force and were prepared with far fewer quotations than the books of Chrysippos, says in this very wording: “if the books of [Chrysippos] were scrubbed of all the superfluous quotations, only empty paper would be left to him.”

So much for Apollodorus.  The old women who used to sit next to [Chrysippos], according to Diocles, used to claim that he wrote 500 lines each day. Hekatôn reports that he turned to philosophy because the property left to him by his father was confiscated to the royal treasury.”

Καὶ Ἀπολλόδωρος δ᾿ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος ἐν τῇ Συναγωγῇ τῶν δογμάτων, βουλόμενος παριστάνειν ὅτι τὰ Ἐπικούρου οἰκείᾳ δυνάμει γεγραμμένα καὶ ἀπαράθετα ὄντα μυρίῳ πλείω ἐστὶ τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων, φησὶν οὕτως αὐτῇ τῇ λέξει· “εἰ γάρ τις ἀφέλοι τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων ὅσ᾿ ἀλλότρια παρατέθειται, κενὸς αὐτῷ ὁ χάρτης καταλελείψεται.” καὶ ταῦτα μὲν Ἀπολλόδωρος. ἡ δὲ παρεδρεύουσα πρεσβῦτις αὐτῷ, ὥς φησι Διοκλῆς, ἔλεγεν ὡς πεντακοσίους γράφοι στίχους ἡμερησίους. Ἑκάτων δέ φησιν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν, τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ τῆς πατρῴας εἰς τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀναληφθείσης.

25909_2[1]
Hedgehog number 2,  British Library, MS Egerton 1121, f. 44v.

Sorry to Scrooge This Up, But Aristotle Did Not Say This Thing about Snowflakes

The following quote has recently been attributed to Aristotle. As anyone who has read even a little bit by Aristotle can attest, this is about as far away from an Aristotelian sentiment as you can get.

Oh, Town and Country magazine, you fell for it. I get it. The quotation sounds kind of cool. It is inspiring in that insipid, soul-numbing way motivational posters start out as ‘neat’ and end up as part of a fevered nightmare.

As recently as 2012, this quotation was attributed anonymous (and this appears frequently). So, this one must have jumped attribution quite recently. Please, contact your local office of common sense and decency and let them know we cannot stand for this.

Here’s a real Aristotle quotation about snow:

Aristotle, Prior Analytics, 12b

“To be hot is the nature of fire and snow’s nature is white”

τῷ πυρὶ τὸ θερμῷ εἶναι καὶ τῇ χιόνι τὸ λευκῇ.

 

And here is a Pinterest version for you:

Snow istotle

And because I was bored….

Snowy Mountain

What’s Your Writing Like Without Quotations?

Diogenes Laertius, Chrysippos  7.7.180

“Apollodorus the Athenian in his Summary of Beliefs, because he wants to demonstrate that the works of Epicurus were written with personal force and were prepared with far fewer quotations than the books of Chrysippos, says in this very wording: “if the books of [Chrysippos] were scrubbed of all the superfluous quotations, only empty paper would be left to him.”

So much for Apollodorus.  The old women who used to sit next to [Chrysippos], according to Diocles, used to claim that he wrote 500 lines each day. Hekatôn reports that he turned to philosophy because the property left to him by his father was confiscated to the royal treasury.”

Καὶ Ἀπολλόδωρος δ᾿ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος ἐν τῇ Συναγωγῇ τῶν δογμάτων, βουλόμενος παριστάνειν ὅτι τὰ Ἐπικούρου οἰκείᾳ δυνάμει γεγραμμένα καὶ ἀπαράθετα ὄντα μυρίῳ πλείω ἐστὶ τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων, φησὶν οὕτως αὐτῇ τῇ λέξει· “εἰ γάρ τις ἀφέλοι τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων ὅσ᾿ ἀλλότρια παρατέθειται, κενὸς αὐτῷ ὁ χάρτης καταλελείψεται.” καὶ ταῦτα μὲν Ἀπολλόδωρος. ἡ δὲ παρεδρεύουσα πρεσβῦτις αὐτῷ, ὥς φησι Διοκλῆς, ἔλεγεν ὡς πεντακοσίους γράφοι στίχους ἡμερησίους. Ἑκάτων δέ φησιν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν, τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ τῆς πατρῴας εἰς τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀναληφθείσης.

25909_2[1]
Hedgehog number 2,  British Library, MS Egerton 1121, f. 44v.

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.