Our Own Worst Enemy

Sayings from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

7 “When Antisthenes was asked by someone what he should teach his child, he said “If you want him to live with the gods, philosophy; but if you wish him to live among men, then rhetoric.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, τί· τὸν υἱὸν διδάξει, εἶπεν· „εἰ μὲν θεοῖς αὐτὸν συμβιοῦν ἐθέλοις, φιλόσοφον· εἰ δὲ ἀνθρώποις, ῥήτορα”.

12“Antisthenes used to say that virtue had a short justification while the argument for wickedness was endless.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν ἀρετὴν βραχύλογον εἶναι, τὴν δὲ κακίαν ἀπέραντον.

13 “When Plato was chattering on at length about something, Antisthenes said “the one who speaks is not the measure of his audience—it is the audience who makes a limit for the speaker!”

῾Ο αὐτὸς Πλάτωνός ποτε ἐν τῇ σχολῇ μακρολογήσαντος εἶπεν·„οὐχ ὁ λέγων μέτρον ἐστὶ τοῦ ἀκούοντος, ἀλλ’ ὁ ἀκούων τοῦ λέγοντος.”

14 “Anacharsis used to say that the Greeks really messed things up because their craftsmen compete and the ignorant judge them.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις ἔφη τοὺς ῞Ελληνας ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι παρ’ αὐτοῖς οἱ μὲν τεχνῖται ἀγωνίζονται, οἱ δ’ ἀμαθεῖς κρίνουσιν.

18 “When Anacharsis was asked by someone what was humanity’s enemy, he said “themselves”.

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, τί ἐστι πολέμιον ἀνθρώποις, εἶπεν· „αὐτοὶ ἑαυτοῖς”.

19 “When Anacharsis was asked by someone why jealous people are always aggrieved he said “because their own troubles are not the only thing biting them: other people’s good fortune bothers them too.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί οἱ φθονεροὶ ἄνθρωποι ἀεὶ λυποῦνται, ἔφη· „ὅτι οὐ μόνον τὰ ἑαυτῶν αὐτοὺς κακὰ δάκνει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν πέλας ἀγαθὰ λυπεῖ”.

Harmodius and Aristogeiton: Relief

When I’m Dead, Y’all Can Go Screw

CW: Profanity.

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704

“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.

This statement is no less potent or poignant now than 2500 years ago. It signals the vampiric and internally apocalyptic solipsisms of the powerful and the elite. But it also engages with a universal human denial and naive narcissism that allows us to ignore and exacerbate global warming and to throw other people’s children into cages while we cherish our own. This is the voice that says only the now matters, that this quarter’s profits are more important than sustainability and justice, that today’s ends justify any kinds of means.

Unsurprisingly, it is attributed to the Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero.

Suda tau 552 [cribbing Dio Cassius]

“And Tiberius uttered that ancient phrase, “when I am dead, the earth can be fucked with fire”, and he used to bless Priam because he died with his country and his palace.”

τοῦτο δὲ τὸ ἀρχαῖον ἐφθέγξατο· ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί. καὶ τὸν Πρίαμον ἐμακάριζεν, ὅτι μετὰ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἀπώλετο.

Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta
From Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta

Here’s one explanation:

Appendix Proverbiorum 2.56

“When I am dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.” Note that this [proverb is used] to express that it isn’t necessary to think or worry about the future

᾿Εμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί: ὅτι οὐ δεῖ περὶ τῶν μελλόντων φροντίζειν ἢ δεδιέναι.

The saying seems to predate the Roman Emperors, however. Cicero riffs on this sentiment.

Cicero, De Finibus 3.64

“In turn, they believe that the universe is ruled by the will of the gods and that it is like a city or state shared by humans and gods and that everyone of us is a member of this universe. This is the reason that it is natural for us to put shared good before the personal. Truly, just as the laws prefer the safety of the collective over that of individuals, so too a good and wise person, obedient to the laws and not ignorant of his civic duty, pursues the advantage of the collective over that of an individual or himself.

A traitor to a state need not be hated more than one who undermines common advantage or safety on account of his own. This is why the person who faces death for the republic must be praised, because it bestows glory upon us to care more for our country than ourselves. And this is why it seems an inhuman and criminal voice when people say that they don’t care if all of everything burns when they are dead—as it is typically construed with that common Greek verse—and it is also certain true that we must care for those who will live in the future for their own sake.”

Mundum autem censent regi numine deorum eumque esse quasi communem urbem et civitatem hominum et deorum, et unumquemque nostrum eius mundi esse partem; ex quo illud natura consequi ut communem utilitatem nostrae anteponamus. Ut enim leges omnium salutem singulorum saluti anteponunt, sic vir bonus et sapiens et legibus parens et civilis offici non ignarus utilitati omnium plus quam unius alicuius aut suae consulit. Nec magis est vituperandus proditor patriae quam communis utilitatis aut salutis desertor propter suam utilitatem aut salutem. Ex quo fit ut laudandus is sit qui mortem oppetat pro re publica, quod deceat cariorem nobis esse patriam quam nosmet ipsos. Quoniamque illa vox inhumana et scelerata ducitur eorum qui negant se recusare quo minus ipsis mortuis terrarum omnium deflagratio consequatur (quod vulgari quodam versu Graeco pronuntiari solet), certe verum est etiam iis qui aliquando futuri sint esse propter ipsos consulendum.

Here’s a more genteel variation on the sentiment:

A note about the translation: I use the English profane “fuck” for mikhthênai here for two reasons. First, mignumi is often used in periphrases or euphemism for sex. Second, I think the speaker is effecting a dismissive and aggressively narcissistic stance towards the world which will exist after his death. Such narcissism and self-absorption is so perverse and twisted and yet so utterly common as to demand obscenity and plunge us all into the painfully profane. Third, as my students, and unfortunately my children, can attest, I am profane in real life. This is in part a class issue (I lack certain refinements) but it is also part character (my slight discomfort at class mobility and playing the professional role is expressed through this minor, adolescent rebelliousness).

But, there’s also the zeitgeist. There have been  complaints  over the years about profanity coming from this website and twitter account. While I understand that language use can be harmful and seem inapposite, I fear that I am insufficiently sympathetic to complaints about vulgar or profane language. We are living in a perverse and obscene time. Effective language, a man once said, is when the sound is an echo of the sense.

Seneca gets the same sense, but makes it a bit more active in his Medea.

Seneca, Medea 426–428

“…The only rest
Is if I see the whole world uprooted along with my ruin.
Let everything depart with me. It is pleasing to destroy while you die.”

…Sola est quies,
mecum ruina cuncta si video obruta;
mecum omnia abeant. trahere, cum pereas, libet.

Thanks to @mwiik and @ericvonotter for this.


Spartan Women Once Said…

This is the second part of the sayings attributed to women in the Gnomologium Vaticanum (568-576)

“Sayings of women and their thoughts”

᾿Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα.


“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>


“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”


“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.

Pain in Private; Virtue in Public: Some Sayings of Spartan Women

Plutarch, Moralia Sayings of Spartan Women 242c-d

“A certain girl who lost her virginity to a man in secret and forced an abortion of the fetus handled is so strongly and uttered no sound that she birthed the child without her father and those who were near her knowing. This is because the overcoming of her indiscretion with discretion prevailed over the magnitude of her pains.”

26. Κρύφα τις διαπαρθενευθεῖσα καὶ διαφθείρασα τὸ βρέφος οὕτως ἐνεκαρτέρησε μηδεμίαν προενεγκαμένη φωνήν, ὥστε καὶ τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἄλλους πλησίον ὄντας λαθεῖν ἀποκυήσασα· τὸ γὰρ μέγεθος τῶν ἀλγηδόνων τῇ εὐσχημοσύνῃ τὸ ἄσχημον προσπεσὸν ἐνίκησε.

“A Spartan woman who was being sold and was asked what she knows how to do, answered, “To be faithful.”

27. Λάκαινα πιπρασκομένη καὶ ἐρωτωμένη τί ἐπίσταται, ἔφη, “πιστὰ ἦμεν.”

“Another Spartan woman, when she was captured and asked a similar question, answered, “to keep a house well.”

28. Ἄλλη αἰχμαλωτευθεῖσα καὶ ἐρωτωμένη παραπλησίως, “εὖ οἰκεῖν οἶκον,” ἔφη.

“When a Spartan woman was asked by some man if she would be good if he he purchased her, answered, “I will. And if you don’t purchase me too”

29. Ἐρωτηθεῖσά τις ὑπό τινος, εἰ ἔσται ἀγαθή, ἂν αὐτὴν ἀγοράσῃ, εἶπε, “κἂν μὴ ἀγοράσῃς.”

Theater of Ancient Sparta

What Kind of Men? A Few Spartan Sayings

When I was thinking about Sparta last spring, I kept some of the sayings recorded by Plutarch in my file of “things to be translated”. Here are the last ones. They are not cited with approval. This is Sparta.

Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans (Apophthegmata Lakonica )


“When someone was commending a politician for his talent at amplifying minor matters, Agesilaos remarked that a cobbler is not good at his job if he puts big shoes on small feet.”

Ἐπαινοῦντος δέ τινος ῥήτορα ἐπὶ τῷ δυνατῶς αὔξειν τὰ μικρὰ πράγματα, οὐδὲ σκυτοτόμον, ἔφησεν, εἶναι σπουδαῖον, ὃς μικρῷ ποδὶ ὑποδήματα μεγάλα περιτίθησιν.


“When he was asked to hear a person who could imitate a nightingale, he refused, adding “I have heard the bird many a time.”

Τοῦ δὲ μιμουμένου τὴν τῆς ἀηδόνος φωνὴν ἀκοῦσαι παρακαλούμενος, παρῃτήσατο φήσας “αὐτᾶς ἄκουκα πολλάκις.


“[Agis] said that the Spartans never asked “how many” of the enemy there were, but only “where are they”.

Οὐκ ἔφη δὲ τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους ἐρωτᾶν πόσοι εἰσὶν οἱ πολέμιοι, ἀλλὰ ποῦ εἰσίν.


“When asked what kind of men the Ionians were, he said “bad free men but good slaves”

Ἐρωτηθεὶς δὲ ὁποῖοι ἄνδρες εἰσὶν οἱ Ἴωνες, “ἐλεύθεροι μέν,” ἔφη, “κακοί, δοῦλοι δὲ ἀγαθοί.”


“In response to the Athenian who said the Spartans were uneducated, he said “At least we are the only ones who have learned nothing evil from you.”

Πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἀμαθεῖς καλοῦντα τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους Ἀθηναῖον, “μόνοι γοῦν,” εἶπεν, “ἡμεῖς οὐδὲν μεμαθήκαμεν παρ᾿ ὑμῶν κακόν.”


“In response to someone who praised a musician and was amazed as his talent, he said, “Sir, what prize will you have left for good men when you praise a musician this much?”

Πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἐπαινοῦντα κιθαρῳδὸν καὶ θαυμάζοντα τὴν δύναμιν αὐτοῦ, “ὦ λῷστε,” ἔφη, “ποῖον γέρας παρὰ σοῦ τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἔσται, ὅταν κιθαρῳδὸν οὕτως ἐπαινῇς;”


“While he listened to a musician play, [Demaratus] remarked, “he doesn’t seem so bad at this nonsense”

Ψάλτου δὲ ἀκροώμενος, “οὐ κακῶς,” εἶπε, “φαίνεταί μοι φλυαρεῖν.”


“When someone showed him a city wall and asked if it was strong and high, he said, “isn’t this a place for women?”

Ἐπιδεικνυμένου δέ τινος αὐτῷ τεῖχος καὶ πυνθανομένου εἰ καρτερὸν καὶ ὑψηλόν, “οὐ δὴ γυναικών;” εἶπεν.

224 e-f

“This is what Leotychidas said to Philip, the master of the Orphic mysteries who was extremely poor but was claiming that those initiated into the mysteries by him would be blessed after the end of life: “Fool, why don’t you die as quickly as possible so you can stop whining about your bad luck and poverty?”

Πρὸς Φίλιππον τὸν ὀρφεοτελεστὴν παντελῶς πτωχὸν ὄντα, λέγοντα δ᾿ ὅτι οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτῷ μυηθέντες μετὰ τὴν τοῦ βίου τελευτὴν εὐδαιμονοῦσι, “τί οὖν, ὦ ἀνόητε,” εἶπεν, “οὐ τὴν ταχίστην ἀποθνῄσκεις, Fἵν᾿ ἅμα παύσῃ2 κακοδαιμονίαν καὶ πενίαν κλαίων;”

“When someone was asking why they did not dedicated the weapons of their enemies to the gods, he said that it would neither be right to show the youth or to dedicate to the gods weapons which were taken thanks to the cowardice of their owners.”

Πυθομένου δέ τινος διὰ τί τὰ ἀπὸ τῶν πολεμίων ὅπλα τοῖς θεοῖς οὐκ ἀνατιθέασιν, ἔφη ὅτι τὰ διὰ τὴν δειλίαν τῶν κεκτημένων θηραθέντα οὔτε τοὺς νέους ὁρᾶν καλὸν οὔτε τοῖς θεοῖς ἀνατιθέναι.

Related image
Just stones now.

Dancing in the Dark and Drunk Books: More Proverbs


“The word and the deed together”: [a proverb] applied to things which are accomplished quickly and suddenly”

῞Αμ’ ἔπος, ἅμ’ ἔργον: ἐπὶ τῶν ταχέως τε καὶ ὀξέως ἀνυομένων.


“Walking on the roof with unwashed feet”: A proverb applied to those who approach certain works and deeds ignorantly”

᾿Ανίπτοις ποσὶν ἀναβαίνων ἐπὶ τὸ στέγος. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀμαθῶς ἐπί τινα ἔργα καὶ πράξεις ἀφικομένων.


“To transplant an old tree”: a proverb applied to the impossible

Γεράνδρυον μεταφυτεύειν: ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀδυνάτου.



Zenobius 3.71

“To dance in darkness”: A proverb applied to those who toil over unwitnessed things—their work is invisible.”

᾿Εν σκότῳ ὀρχεῖσθαι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀμάρτυρα μοχθούντων, ὧν τὸ ἔργον ἀφανές.


Michael Apostol 4.95

“My book is drunk: [a proverb] applied to those who ruin certain works; or to philologists.”

Βιβλίον τοὐμὸν μέθυ: πρὸς τοὺς διαφθείροντάς τινα ἔργα· ἢ ἐπὶ τῶν φιλολόγων

Image result for medieval manuscript dancing dark
Le Roman de la Rose, par GUILLAUME DE LORRIS et JEAN DE MEUNG.Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 19156, fol. 6v.

Sweetest in Life: Exploring the Unknown

Sayings Attributed to Socrates in the Gnomologium Vaticanum.


“Socrates, when asked what is sweetest in life, said “education, virtue, and the investigation of the unknown”

Σωκράτης ὁ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἥδιστον ἐν τῷ βίῳ εἶπε· „παιδεία καὶ ἀρετὴ καὶ ἱστορία τῶν ἀγνοουμένων”.


“Socrates, when asked what possession is the most advantageous, said “a steadfast friend.”

Σωκράτης ἐρωτηθεὶς τί κτῆμα συμφορώτατον εἶπε· „φίλος βέβαιος.”


After he had been condemned to die by the Athenians and when his wife Xanthippe was weeping and saying “Socrates, you are dying unjustly”, Socrates the Athenian said to her “would you want me to die justly?”

Σωκράτης ᾿Αθηναῖος καταδικασθεὶς ὑπὸ ᾿Αθηναίων κατακρημνισθῆναι τῆς γυναικὸς Ξανθίππης κλαιούσης καὶ λεγούσης· „ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀδίκως ἀποθνήσκεις” εἶπε πρὸς αὐτήν· „σὺ οὖν ἐβούλου με δικαίως ἀποθνήσκειν;”


“When Socrates saw an uneducated wealthy man he said “Look, a golden sheep!”

<Σ>ωκράτης ἰδὼν πλούσιον ἀπαίδευτον „ἰδού,” φησί, „τὸ χρυσοῦν πρόβατον.”


“Socrates used to say that jealousy is a wound from the truth.”

Σωκράτης ἔλεγε τὸν φθόνον ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ἀληθείας.


“When Socrates was asked if the world is spherical he said “I haven’t examined it from every side.”

Ὁ αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς εἰ σφαιροειδής ἐστιν ὁ κόσμος ἔφη· ” οὐχ ὑπερέκυψα.”


“When he was asked why he was not writing any treatises, Socrates said “because I see the unwritten selling for more than the written.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς διὰ τί συντάγματα οὐ γράφει ἔφη· „ὅτι τὰ ἄγραφα τῶν γεγραμμένων ὁρῶ πλείονος πωλούμενα.”

Image result for Socrates ancient Greek

Or, there’s this: