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:
Okay, anyone got a reference for this alleged Plato quote?
"He who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, to effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the man of thought and the man of action."
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:
This is a riffing on the Jowett translation of the republic: "Yes, he said, I am quite aware that the mere athlete becomes too much of a savage, and that the mere musician is melted and softened beyond what is good for him."https://t.co/8AHnJ4Awpg
[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.”
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 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.
“Diogenes used to say that educating children was similar to potters’ sculpting because they take clay that is tender and shape it and decorate it how they wish. But once it has been fired, it can’t be shaped any longer. This is the way it is for those who were not educated when they were children: once they are grown, they have been hardened to change.”
People quote Seneca a lot. Why? He’s pithy and quotable. And he wrote a lot. He’s our favorite fabulously wealthy, tyrant-aiding poet-philosopher. Here’s a sampling of some of his words. Search the blog for (too) many more.
On asking nicely
“He who asks timidly, teaches others to refuse”.
qui timide rogat, docet negare
De Beneficiis, 2.5.4
“If someone says he’ll do something ‘later’, that usually means he doesn’t want to do it”.
tarde velle nolentis est
“It is hard work having everyone as a friend; it is enough not to have enemies”.
omnes amicos habere operosum est, satis est inimicos non habere.
De Ira, 1.29
“Why should I fear any of my mistakes, when I can say: ‘See that you no longer act in this way. Now I forgive you.’”
quare enim quicquam ex erroribus meis timeam, cum possim dicere: “vide ne istud amplius facias, nunc tibi ignosco.”
De Clementia, 1.1.6
“No one can wear a mask for very long; affectation soon returns to true nature”
nemo enim potest personam diu ferre, ficta cito in naturam suam recidunt
“It is not the one who has little, but the one who desires more, who is truly poor.”
non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est.
On the Brevity of Life
“We don’t have too little time, but we do waste most of it. Life is long enough for the completion of the greatest affairs—it is apportioned to us generously, if it is wholly well managed.”
non exiguum temporis habemus, sed multum perdidimus. satis longa uita et in maximarum rerum consummationem: large data est, si tota bene conlocaretur.
On Our March to Death
Consolatio at Marciam, 21.6
“From the time that we catch our first glimpse of light, we have entered upon the road to death.”
Ex illo quo primum lucem uidit iter mortis ingressus est….
On Monty Python’s Holy Grail
De Providentia, 2.6
“But even if he falls [his legs fail him], he fights on his knees” sed etiam si cecidit de genu pugnat.