Pickpockets of Words

Quintilian, 8.3 (29-31)

“Sallust is assailed by an epigram of no less repute: “Crispus, pickpocket of the words of Ancient Cato / and architect of Jugurtha’s history”. This is a pitifully minor concern—for it is easy for anyone and really poor because the composer will not fit words to facts but will introduce unrelated facts when the words are easier to use.

Neologism, as I said in the first book, is more a custom of the Greeks who are not reluctant to change words for certain sounds and feelings with a liberty little different from when early human beings first gave names to things. Our rare attempts in compounding or deriving new words have rarely been welcomed as sufficient.”

Nec minus noto Sallustius epigrammate incessitur et verba antiqui multum furate Catonis,: Crispe, Iugurthinae conditor historiae.

Odiosa cura: nam et cuilibet facilis et hoc pessima, quod eius studiosus non verba rebus aptabit, sed res extrinsecus arcesset quibus haec verba conveniant. Fingere, ut primo libro dixi, Graecis magis concessum est, qui sonis etiam quibusdam et adfectibus non dubitaverunt nomina aptare, non alia libertate quam qua illi primi homines rebus appellationes dederunt. Nostri aut in iungendo aut in derivando paulum aliquid ausi vix in hoc satis recipiuntur.

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 British Library MS Additional 49622 fol. 153r

Make Up Words and Authorities Who Said Them!

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking, 17

“There are times when you yourself make up new and different words and decide to call one interpreter “fine-spoken”, another smart man “wise-brained”, or some dancer “hands-wise”. Let shamelessness be the one medicine you use if you offer a solecism or barbarism: immediately offer up the name of someone who doesn’t exist and never did—some poet or scholar—a wise man who was expertly precise in his language and condoned speaking in this way. But don’t read the classics at all, especially not the silly Isocrates, or the Demosthenes blessed with little skill, or the boring Plato. No! read only those speeches from those a little bit before our time and those things they call ‘practice-pieces” so you may have a supply of phrases you can use at the right time as if you were pulling something from a pantry.”

ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ποίει καινὰ καὶ ἀλλόκοτα ὀνόματα καὶ νομοθέτει τὸν μὲν ἑρμηνεῦσαι δεινὸν “εὔλεξιν” καλεῖν, τὸν συνετὸν “σοφόνουν,” τὸν ὀρχηστὴν δὲ “χειρίσοφον.” ἂν σολοικίσῃς δὲ ἢ βαρβαρίσῃς, ἓν ἔστω φάρμακον ἡ ἀναισχυντία, καὶ πρόχειρον εὐθὺς ὄνομα οὔτε ὄντος τινὸς οὔτε γενομένου ποτέ, ἢ ποιητοῦ ἢ συγγραφέως, ὃς οὕτω λέγειν ἐδοκίμαζε σοφὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ τὴν φωνὴν εἰς τὸ ἀκρότατον ἀπηκριβωμένος. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀναγίγνωσκε τὰ παλαιὰ μὲν μὴ σύ γε, μηδὲ εἴ τι ὁ λῆρος Ἰσοκράτης ἢ ὁ χαρίτων ἄμοιρος Δημοσθένης ἢ ὁ ψυχρὸς Πλάτων, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῶν ὀλίγον πρὸ ἡμῶν λόγους καὶ ἅς φασι ταύτας μελέτας, ὡς ἔχῃς ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνων ἐπισιτισάμενος ἐν καιρῷ καταχρῆσθαι καθάπερ ἐκ ταμιείου προαιρῶν.

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Arrighi, Royal 12 C VIII f. 3v. Pandolfo Collenuccio of Pesaro (d. 1504), Lucian, Collenuccio’s Apologues

It Is Their Fault They Suffer: Libanius with Some Malicious Stupidity

At the news that thousands of children are still separated (and being separated) from their families at the border, some Americans lay the blame on their parents, claiming that if they all just stayed home, we wouldn’t have to put them in concentration camps. This is a rather ancient rhetorical strategy.

Libanius, Oration 23.1-2

“We are all hearing the reports that everywhere is filled with corpses—the fields, the roads, the hills, crests, caves, peaks, groves, and trenches—and that some of the corpses are feasts for birds and beasts while the rivers carry others to the sea.

I am sometimes surprised by this news but at other times I blame those who suffer it and I say that they have suffered what is right, that they have earned this for going into exile. You might even say that they invited upon themselves the swords of their murderers.

They would not have suffered these things if they stayed at home. They have met these events because they are wandering and are offering themselves as a feast to these men who have been criminals for a long time. Think of it like this: they have made others into bandits by making the inducement greater! Who could pity people who ruin themselves willingly?”

Τὰ μὲν ἀγγελλόμενα πάντες ἀκούομεν, ἅπαντα εἶναι μεστὰ νεκρῶν, τάς τε ἀρούρας τάς τε ὁδοὺς τά τε ὄρη τούς τε λόφους τά τε σπήλαια καὶ τὰς κορυφὰς τῶν ὀρῶν καὶ τὰ ἄλση καὶ τὰς φάραγγας, τῶν τε νεκρῶν τοὺς μὲν ἑστιᾶν ὄρνιθας καὶ θηρία, τοὺς δὲ ὑπὸ τοῦ ποταμοῦ πρὸς θάλατταν φέρεσθαι.

πρὸς τοίνυν τὰς ἀγγελίας ποτὲ μὲν πλήττομαι, ποτὲ δὲ τοῖς παθοῦσιν ἐγκαλῶ καί φημι δίκαια πεπονθέναι τοὺς τῆς φυγῆς ταῦτα ἀπολαύσαντας. οὓς φαίη τις ἂν αὐτοὺς ἐπισπάσασθαι τὰ τῶν κακούργων ξίφη. ἃ γὰρ οὐκ ἂν ἐπεπόνθεσαν οἴκοι μένοντες, τούτοις περιέπεσον πλανώμενοι θοίνην μὲν αὑτοὺς προθέντες τοῖς πάλαι λῃστεύουσι, ποιήσαντες | δὲ λῃστὰς ἑτέρους τῷ ποιῆσαι πολὺ τὸ πεισόμενον. ἑκόντας οὖν ἀπολωλότας τίς ἂν ἐλεήσειε;

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York Psalter, c. 1170 CE: Adam and Eve Expelled from Eden

Demosthenes On Gift-Giving and Silence

Demosthenes, On the Crown 268-9

“This was my behavior in my actions for the city. In private matters, if any of you do not know that I have been generous and kind and solicitous of those in need, I am silent and I say nothing and present no witness of these things, not the war prisoners I have ransomed, nor the money I have provided for daughters, nor anything like that at all.

This is a rule I live by. I believe that the person who receives a favor should remember it for the rest of time but that the person who does it should forget it immediately for the former to act rightly and the latter not to play the part of a cheap-minded person. To remind someone of a favor you have provided in private and to speak so cheaply is just like reproaching them. I will not do anything like this but however I am considered about these things will be enough for me.”

Ἐν μὲν τοίνυν τοῖς πρὸς τὴν πόλιν τοιοῦτος· ἐν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις εἰ μὴ πάντες ἴσθ᾿ ὅτι κοινὸς καὶ φιλάνθρωπος καὶ τοῖς δεομένοις ἐπαρκῶν, σιωπῶ καὶ οὐδὲν ἂν εἴποιμ᾿ οὐδὲ παρασχοίμην περὶ τούτων οὐδεμίαν μαρτυρίαν, οὔτ᾿ εἴ τινας ἐκ τῶν πολεμίων ἐλυσάμην, οὔτ᾿ εἴ τισιν θυγατέρας συνεξέδωκα, οὔτε τῶν τοιούτων οὐδέν. καὶ γὰρ οὕτω πως ὑπείληφα ἐγὼ νομίζω τὸν μὲν εὖ παθόντα δεῖν μεμνῆσθαι πάντα τὸν χρόνον, τὸν δὲ ποιήσαντ᾿ εὐθὺς ἐπιλελῆσθαι, εἰ δεῖ τὸν μὲν χρηστοῦ, τὸν δὲ μὴ μικροψύχου ποιεῖν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου. τὸ δὲ τὰς ἰδίας εὐεργεσίας ὑπομιμνῄσκειν καὶ λέγειν μικροῦ δεῖν ὅμοιόν ἐστιν τῷ ὀνειδίζειν. οὐ δὴ ποιήσω τοιοῦτον οὐδέν, οὐδὲ προαχθήσομαι, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ποθ᾿ ὑπείλημμαι περὶ τούτων, ἀρκεῖ μοι.

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Enslaving the Children: Populist Politics and Savage Consensus (Vote!)

During the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian Democracy deliberated on and voted for the killing of men and the enslavement of women and children. To ask why is not an idle historical musing.

Thucydides, 5.116.4

“The [Athenians] killed however many of the Melian men were adults, and made the women and children slaves. Then they settled the land themselves and later on sent five hundred colonists.”

οἱ δὲ ἀπέκτειναν Μηλίων ὅσους ἡβῶντας ἔλαβον, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἠνδραπόδισαν. τὸ δὲ χωρίον αὐτοὶ ᾤκισαν, ἀποίκους ὕστερον πεντακοσίους πέμψαντες.

5.32

“Around the same period of time in that summer, the Athenians set siege to the Scionaeans and after killing all the adult men, made the women and childen into slaves and gave the land to the Plataeans.”

Περὶ δὲ τοὺς αὐτοὺς χρόνους τοῦ θέρους τούτου Σκιωναίους μὲν Ἀθηναῖοι ἐκπολιορκήσαντες ἀπέκτειναν τοὺς ἡβῶντας, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἠνδραπόδισαν καὶ τὴν γῆν Πλαταιεῦσιν ἔδοσαν νέμεσθαι·

This was done by vote of the Athenian democracy led by Cleon: Thucydides 4.122.6. A similar solution was proposed during the Mytilenean debate. Cleon is described by Thucydides as “in addition the most violent of the citizens who also was the most persuasive at that time by far to the people.” (ὢν καὶ ἐς τὰ ἄλλα βιαιότατος τῶν πολιτῶν τῷ τε δήμῳ παρὰ πολὺ ἐν τῷ τότε πιθανώτατος, 3.36.6)

3.36

“They were making a judgment about the men there and in their anger it seemed right to them not only to kill those who were present but to slay all the Mytileneans who were adults and to enslave the children and women.”

περὶ δὲ τῶν ἀνδρῶν γνώμας ἐποιοῦντο, καὶ ὑπὸ ὀργῆς ἔδοξεν αὐτοῖς οὐ τοὺς παρόντας μόνον ἀποκτεῖναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἅπαντας Μυτιληναίους ὅσοι ἡβῶσι, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἀνδραποδίσαι.

In his speech in defense of this policy, Cleon reflects on the nature of imperialism and obedience. Although he eventually failed to gain approval for this vote which was overturned, his arguments seem to have worked on later occasions.

Thucydides, 3.37

“The truth is that because you live without fear day-to-day and there is no conspiring against one another, you  imagine your ‘allies’ live the same way. Because you are deluded by whatever is presented in speeches you are mistaken in these matters; or, because you yield to pity, you do not not realize you are being dangerously weak for yourselves and for some favor to your allies.

You do not examine the fact that the power you hold is a tyranny and that those who are dominated by you are conspiring against you and are ruled unwillingly and that these people obey you not because they might please you by being harmed but because you are superior to them by strength rather than because of their goodwill.

The most terrible thing of all is  if nothing which seems right to us is established firmly—if we will not acknowledge that a state which has worse laws which are unbendable is stronger than a state with noble laws which are weakly administered, that ignorance accompanied by discipline is more effective than cleverness with liberality, and that lesser people can inhabit states much more efficiently than intelligent ones.

Smart people always want to show they are wiser than the laws and to be preeminent in discussions about the public good, as if there are no more important things where they could clarify their opinions—and because of this they most often ruin their states. The other group of people, on the other hand, because they distrust their own intelligence, think that it is acceptable to be less learned than the laws and less capable to criticize an argument than the one who speaks well. But because they are more fair and balanced judges, instead of prosecutors, they do well in most cases. For this reason, then, it is right that we too, when we are not carried away by the cleverness and the contest of intelligence, do not act to advise our majority against our own opinion.”

διὰ γὰρ τὸ καθ᾿ ἡμέραν ἀδεὲς καὶ ἀνεπιβούλευτον πρὸς ἀλλήλους καὶ ἐς τοὺς ξυμμάχους τὸ αὐτὸ ἔχετε, καὶ ὅ τι ἂν ἢ λόγῳ πεισθέντες ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἁμάρτητε ἢ οἴκτῳ ἐνδῶτε, οὐκ ἐπικινδύνως ἡγεῖσθε ἐς ὑμᾶς καὶ οὐκ ἐς τὴν τῶν ξυμμάχων χάριν μαλακίζεσθαι, οὐ σκοποῦντες ὅτι τυραννίδα ἔχετε τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ πρὸς ἐπιβουλεύοντας αὐτοὺς καὶ ἄκοντας ἀρχομένους, οἳ οὐκ ἐξ ὧν ἂν χαρίζησθε βλαπτόμενοι αὐτοὶ ἀκροῶνται ὑμῶν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξ ὧν ἂν ἰσχύι μᾶλλον ἢ τῇ ἐκείνων εὐνοίᾳ περιγένησθε.

πάντων δὲ δεινότατον εἰ βέβαιον ἡμῖν μηδὲν καθεστήξει ὧν ἂν δόξῃ πέρι, μηδὲ γνωσόμεθα ὅτι χείροσι νόμοις ἀκινήτοις χρωμένη πόλις κρείσσων ἐστὶν ἢ καλῶς ἔχουσιν ἀκύροις, ἀμαθία τε μετὰ σωφροσύνης ὠφελιμώτερον ἢ δεξιότης μετὰ ἀκολασίας, οἵ τε φαυλότεροι τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τοὺς ξυνετωτέρους ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πλέον ἄμεινον οἰκοῦσι τὰς πόλεις.

οἱ μὲν γὰρ τῶν τε νόμων σοφώτεροι βούλονται φαίνεσθαι τῶν τε αἰεὶ λεγομένων ἐς τὸ κοινὸν περιγίγνεσθαι, ὡς ἐν ἄλλοις μείζοσιν οὐκ ἂν δηλώσαντες τὴν γνώμην, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τοιούτου τὰ πολλὰ σφάλλουσι τὰς πόλεις· οἱ δ᾿ ἀπιστοῦντες τῇ ἐξ ἑαυτῶν ξυνέσει ἀμαθέστεροι μὲν τῶν νόμων ἀξιοῦσιν εἶναι, ἀδυνατώτεροι δὲ τὸν1 τοῦ καλῶς εἰπόντος μέμψασθαι λόγον, κριταὶ δὲ ὄντες ἀπὸ τοῦ ἴσου μάλλον ἢ ἀγωνισταὶ ὀρθοῦνται τὰ πλείω. ὣς οὖν χρὴ καὶ ἡμᾶς ποιοῦντας μὴ δεινότητι καὶ ξυνέσεως ἀγῶνι ἐπαιρομένους παρὰ δόξαν τῷ ὑμετέρῳ πλήθει παραινεῖν.

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Teachers, Destroyers of Eloquence

Petronius, Satyricon, 2

“By your leave, I need to say this: you teachers foremost have destroyed real eloquence. You create certain absurdities by by making your light and silly sounds so that the body of your speech weakens and falls.  Young men were not yet restrained by practice-speeches when Sophocles and Euripides used to be able to discover the words with which things ought to be said.

No shut-in professor had yet destroyed their geniuses when Pindar and the nine Lyric poets were afraid to sing Homer’s verses. And lest I use only poets for proof, I surely do not see that Plato or Demosthenes went through this kind of exercise. The grand style, as I may say, is a humble one—it is not uneven or inflated, but emerges thanks to its natural beauty.”

Pace vestra liceat dixisse, primi omnium eloquentiam perdidistis. Levibus enim atque inanibus sonis ludibria quaedam excitando effecistis, ut corpus orationis enervaretur et caderet. Nondum iuvenes declamationibus continebantur, cum Sophocles aut Euripides invenerunt verba quibus deberent loqui. Nondum umbraticus doctor ingenia deleverat, cum Pindarus novemque lyrici Homericis versibus canere timuerunt. Et ne poetas [quidem] ad testimonium citem, certe neque Platona neque Demosthenen ad hoc genus exercitationis accessisse video.3 Grandis et ut ita dicam pudica oratio non est maculosa nec turgida, sed naturali pulchritudine exsurgit.

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Quintilian on Pedantry

Quintilian, 8.3 (55)

“There is also that phenomenon which is called periergia—as I might call it, an ultimately useless carefulness in which a dilettante contrasts with a scholar the same way superstition differs from religion. So, to summarize, a word which helps neither the understanding nor the form can be said to be a mistake.”

Est etiam quae periergia vocatur, supervacua, ut sic dixerim, operositas, ut a diligenti curiosus et religione superstitio distat. Atque, ut semel finiam, verbum omne quod neque intellectum adiuvat neque ornatum vitiosum dici potest.

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