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.)


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:


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.”

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.


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

“Braver by Overcoming:” Some More Fake Aristotle

Another entry in Meme Police, cue the music. This one’s a little complicated.

Someone asked me about the following quotation this morning. I tried to ignore it and move on with my day, but the internet is a terrible drug.

So, this does not really sound much like Aristotle and I will be the first to admit it. I expected this to be totally fake. I searched around a little, and found a link on which includes the following rather convincing Greek.

“Aνδρειότερος εἶναι μοί δοκεῖ ὂ τῶν ἐπιθυμῶν ἢ τῶν πολεμίων κρατῶν καὶ γὰρ χαλεπώτατόν ἐστι τὸ ἑαυτόν νικῆσαι

This is listed as being from Stobaeus’ Florilegium. This attribution shows up in a quotation book from the 19th century.

Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations 1897

Aristotle 1

There’s more than a little problem with this ascription. First, elsewhere in this particular quotation book, Stobaeus is cited by Roman numeral and Arabic numeral, so, probably according to the standard version published by Wachsmuth and Hense (1884; available through the TLG) or the version edited by Augustus Meineke in 1854. The edition cited in the quotation book is one printed by Hieronymos Frobenius from the 16th century. The editor was Sigismundus Gelenius who only printed part of the Florilegium.

The 19th century editors do slightly different things with this line. Neither of them include it in the full manuscript. Meineke includes it among the Addenda ex edit. Froben (additions from Frobensius).

Aristotle addenda

Wachsmuth and Hense include it in the apparatus criticus (page 502):

Aristotle Hense

The later editors have judged that the original quotation above is not correctly part of the manuscript tradition Stobaeus and was instead added in the margins because of its similarities to the sentiment attributed to Democritus.

Stobaeus 3.17.39, attributed to Democritus [=page 502 Hense]

“Not only brave is the one who is stronger than enemies, but the one who is stronger than pleasures is too.”

᾿Ανδρήιος οὐχ ὁ τῶν πολεμίων μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῶν ἡδονέων κρέσσων.

Democritus’ line is a little different from the Pseudo-Aristotle: where Democritus merely says that the one who overpowers desire is also brave (like one who overpowers enemies), the dubious fragment claims that this man is braver.

I think that it is most likely that this made the leap straight from Meineke’s version to the quotation book without the collator actually consulting Frobenius. According to editorial information above, the line is extracted from a collection of gnomologia (proverbial sayings).

But, it gets a bit more complicated: Here’s the one of the works cited above, the Aristotle Pseudographus.

Valentin Rose Aristoteles Pseudigraphus 1863

Aristotle 2 Rose

This is cited from the section of this text on Pseudo-Aristotle which is titled dubia. In particular, this is from the subsection “sententiae ex florlegiis collectae” [“quotations collected from quotebooks.”). As Rose notes in the introduction, the section attributed here to Maximus are printed in gnomologia from the 12 century CE (Laurentianos XI, 14) and the 11th century (VII, 15). [This is what “La” means above.] Several of these sententiae are attributed to Maximus Monachus, Maximus the Confessor, from the 6th-7th century CE.

So, based on the pretty clear fact that this line is not included in the manuscripts of Stobaeus, but is instead attributed to other florilegia from the medieval period and that its content seems more Stoic (and more stoic-Christian) than anything in Aristotle, I am going to say this is just not Aristotle.

Also, this line is used on reddit (and likely elsewhere) to encourage people who are trying not to masturbate. So, um, let’s be done with it.

This entire process has made me think that I need some sort of rating system, since there are levels of fakery. So, let me explain.

    1. The Real Deal: A quotation from an ancient text which is extant.
    2. Aegis Real: Like the head of the Gorgon Medusa, these quotations have been decontextualized and passed down embedded in some other ancient author. They have been attributed to the same author for a long time, but who really knows.
    3. Delphian Graffiti: A quote of real antiquity, but whose attribution has been shifted for different valence in modern contexts (e.g., “know thyself” has been attributed to almost everyone)
    4. Rhetorica ad Fictum Fake: (with thanks to Hannah Čulík-Baird) Aristotle and Quintilian think it is just fine to make up quotations for persuasive reasons. This actually undermines many of the attributions we have from antiquity. So, this is the kind of fake that is really old and may just be too good to be true.
    5. Cylon-Helen: 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.
    6. Peisistratos Fake: A quote that is not misattributed or transformed, but merely just dressed up and falsely claimed as antique for political reasons (the tyrant Peisistratos pulled some pretty crazy stunts to get into power). These quotations have no sources in antiquity and are used to enforce modern points of view.
    7. Racist Fake: Quotations of the Peisistratus type but with the particular intention of enforcing a racist world view.

This quotation has some antiquity to it but it is not in any text we have from Aristotle and is not attested until at least the 6th century CE. While it has some Cylon Helen features and not a little of Peisistratos cultural drift going on, it is Delphian Graffiti level fake: it has shifted to Aristotle over time.

Horrible Things Happen to Heraclitus on the Internet

This quotation appears

page 237

It is marked as misattributed on wikiquote (where its original attestation seems to be Gabriel Suarez’s The Tactical Rifle, which assigns it to a certain Hericletus [sic]); Reddit has also marked it as a misquotation, although it assigns it to the apocryphal “Cynic Epistles” which were attributed to Heraclitus (this text is not available online as far as I can find; I have ordered it).

It is disturbing how popular this is as a meme: you can find it on quotefancy, pinterest, and way too many other places (it is of particular importance on sites that glorify firearms and snipers). Oh, it has also made the leap to popular history books, appearing in Paul B Bardunias’ and Fred Ray’s “Hoplites at War.”

To anyone who has read any of the extant fragments from Heraclitus, this is clearly not even remotely his style (here’s a cool site where you can find his fragments in Greek and translation). While it may be a bit too much to expect the internet to be familiar with Heraclitean obscurity, this passage sounds thoroughly and depressingly modern. It is not, of course, out of the character of Greek poetry to idolize a promakhos (the person who fights in front for his community), but phrasing and the “bring the others back” denouement is against the basic aesthetics of Greek martial poetry (see, for example, Callinus or Tyrtaeus). Of course, since all we have from Heraclitus is fragmentary, we are, as it were, in the dark.

Here’s one fragment that might work as inspiration:

Fr. 49 (103)

“One person is ten thousand to me, if he is the best.”

Εἷς ἐμοὶ μύριοι, ἐὰν ἄριστος ᾖ.

And here are a few more if we are looking for bellicose Pre-socratic quotations:

the best

Fr. 53 (44)

“War is father and king of everything. War proves some to be gods and others human beings; it makes some slaves and others free.”

Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς, καὶ τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς ἔδειξε τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους, τοὺς μὲν δούλους ἐποίησε τοὺς δὲ ἐλευθέρους.

Fr. 80 (72)

“One must know that war is common, that justice is strife, and that all things happen through strife by necessity”

εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τὸν πόλεμον ἐόντα ξυνόν, καὶ δίκην ἔριν, καὶ γινόμενα πάντα κατ’ ἔριν καὶ χρεών.

The text is problematic here, another version: Εἰδέναι χρὴ τὸν πόλεμον ἐόντα ξυνόν, καὶ δίκην ἔριν· καὶ γινόμενα πάντα κατ᾿ ἔριν καὶ †χρεώμενα†.

Fr. 48 (66)

“The bow’s name is life but its work is death.”

Τοῦ βιοῦ οὔνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος.

This version keeps the wordplay between biós (“bow”) and bíos (“life”). Another version obscures this punning:

βίος: τῶι οὖν τόξωι ὄνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος.



Not too Hard or Too Soft: Plato Likes His Citizens Just Right

In a recent blog post, Neville Morley takes on a quotation attributed to Plato (and sometimes Thucydides) which makes an assertion about the preeminence of the scholar-athlete. When Neville put out a query about the line on Twitter, it drew my attention, because, well, sourcing quotes is a great way not to start editing an article. (Also, I seem to like doing it.)

Here’s the quotation:

As far as I can tell, this seems to use the language of Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic in a rather liberal summary:

Plato, Republic 410b-d (Book 3)

[Socrates] “Isn’t it the case then, Glaukos,” I said, “that those who set out education in both music and athletic training did not do it for the reason some believe they did, so that they might care for the body with one and the soul with the other?”

“But, what do you mean?” [Glaukos Said]

I said, “They run the risk of providing both for the soul in particular.”

“How is this the case?”

I said, “Have you not noticed how those who cling particularly to athletic training throughout life but have little to do with music develop a certain personality? Or, vice versa, how those who do the opposite turn out?”

“Um, what do you mean?” he said.

‘Well, the first kind of person ends up especially wild and mean-spirited while the other is equally effeminate and extremely mild,” I said.

“Ah, I see,” he said, “I have noticed that those who have submitted to constant athletic training end up wilder than is necessary and those devoted to music become accordingly more effeminate than would be good for them.”

“Truly,” I said, “this wildness emerges from the fiery spirit of our nature and, when it is cultivated properly, becomes bravery but if it is developed more than is necessary, it turns into meanness and harshness, as one might guess.”

     ῏Αρ’ οὖν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὦ Γλαύκων, καὶ οἱ καθιστάντες μουσικῇ καὶ γυμναστικῇ παιδεύειν οὐχ οὗ ἕνεκά τινες οἴονται καθιστᾶσιν, ἵνα τῇ μὲν τὸ σῶμα θεραπεύοιντο, τῇ δὲ τὴν ψυχήν;

     ᾿Αλλὰ τί μήν; ἔφη.

     Κινδυνεύουσιν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ἀμφότερα τῆς ψυχῆς ἕνεκα τὸ μέγιστον καθιστάναι.

     Πῶς δή;

     Οὐκ ἐννοεῖς, εἶπον, ὡς διατίθενται αὐτὴν τὴν διάνοιαν οἳ ἂν γυμναστικῇ μὲν διὰ βίου ὁμιλήσωσιν, μουσικῆς δὲ μὴ ἅψωνται; ἢ αὖ ὅσοι ἂν τοὐναντίον διατεθῶσιν;

     Τίνος δέ, ἦ δ’ ὅς, πέρι λέγεις;

     ᾿Αγριότητός τε καὶ σκληρότητος, καὶ αὖ μαλακίας τε καὶ ἡμερότητος, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ—

     ῎Εγωγε, ἔφη· ὅτι οἱ μὲν γυμναστικῇ ἀκράτῳ χρησάμενοι ἀγριώτεροι τοῦ δέοντος ἀποβαίνουσιν, οἱ δὲ μουσικῇ μαλακώτεροι αὖ γίγνονται ἢ ὡς κάλλιον αὐτοῖς.

     Καὶ μήν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τό γε ἄγριον τὸ θυμοειδὲς ἂν τῆς φύσεως παρέχοιτο, καὶ ὀρθῶς μὲν τραφὲν ἀνδρεῖον ἂν εἴη, μᾶλλον δ’ ἐπιταθὲν τοῦ δέοντος σκληρόν τε καὶ χαλεπὸν γίγνοιτ’ ἄν, ὡς τὸ εἰκός.

The bigger problem is that I think the summative quote misses out on the spirit and nuance of the original. (Mirabile Dictu! Internet discourse oversimplifies as it appropriates the past!)

A few notes on the translation. Greek mousikê can mean the poetic arts along with singing, dancing, and playing instruments. Given the content of poetry in the Archaic age, one could even dare to see early elements of philosophy here. So, in the modern sense, I would probably call this “Arts and Humanities”. Indeed, at 411d, Socrates suggests that one who is not trained in mousikê “has no love of learning in his soul, since he has not tasted of any learning or inquiry, nor had a share of logic or any other type of mousikê, he becomes feeble, mute, and blind.” (οὐκ εἴ τι καὶ ἐνῆν αὐτοῦ φιλομαθὲς ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ, ἅτε οὔτε μαθήματος γευόμενον οὐδενὸς οὔτε ζητήματος, οὔτε λόγου μετίσχον οὔτε τῆς ἄλλης μουσικῆς, ἀσθενές τε καὶ κωφὸν καὶ τυφλὸν γίγνεται)

The adjective agrios, which I translate as “wild” is given by others as savage. It contrasts, I think, with being civilized. Malakias means “softness” but, as with modern Greek, it conveys effeminacy. I went with the heteronormative, misogynistic language even if it does not map completely onto Plato’s meaning.

Neville Morley, in a follow up exchange, said that he thinks the idea of the spurious quotation is based on the content of this part of the Republic all the way up to 412. At 410e, the speakers agree that the guardians of the state should possess qualities from both extremes. A man who has no training in mousikê  will use only force and not reason to resolve disputes (he becomes a “hater of reason” μισόλογος).

The way this guy is standing, I expect to start hearing “when you’re a Jet…”

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