On an Idiot, a Philosopher, and the Signs of Progress

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 48

“The state and character of an ‘idiot’ is this: he never expects harm or help from himself, but he always looks elsewhere. This is the state and character of a philosopher: he expects all help and harm to come from himself

These are signs of someone making progress: he blames no one; praises no one; criticizes no one; impugns no one; and says nothing about himself as if he were someone or knew something. Whenever he meets an obstacle or is held back, he takes the blame. Whenever anyone praises him, he chuckles to himself while they praise. If someone criticizes him, he offers no defense. He proceeds just like the feeble, taking care not to disturb anything he is developing before it grows firm.

He has banished every desire from himself and he has admitted to disinclination only those aspects of nature which are under our control, He applies a disinterested impulse toward all things. Should he seem to be simple or unlearned, he doesn’t care. In sum, he guards against himself as if he were an enemy conspirator.”

48. Ἰδιώτου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· οὐδέποτε ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ ὠφέλειαν ἢ βλάβην, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξω. φιλοσόφου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· πᾶσαν ὠφέλειαν καὶ βλάβην ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ.

Σημεῖα προκόπτοντος· οὐδένα ψέγει, οὐδένα ἐπαινεῖ, οὐδένα μέμφεται, οὐδενὶ ἐγκαλεῖ, οὐδὲν περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λέγει ὡς ὄντος τινὸς ἢ εἰδότος τι. ὅταν ἐμποδισθῇ τι ἢ κωλυθῇ, ἑαυτῷ ἐγκαλεῖ. κἄν τις αὐτὸν ἐπαινῇ, καταγελᾷ τοῦ ἐπαινοῦντος αὐτὸς παρ᾿ ἑαυτῷ· κἂν ψέγῃ, οὐκ ἀπολογεῖται. περίεισι δὲ καθάπερ οἱ ἄρρωστοι, εὐλαβούμενός τι κινῆσαι τῶν καθισταμένων, πρὶν πῆξιν λαβεῖν.

ὄρεξιν ἅπασαν ἦρκεν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ· τὴν δ᾿ ἔκκλισιν εἰς μόνα τὰ παρὰ φύσιν τῶν ἐφ᾿ ἡμῖν μετατέθεικεν. ὁρμῇ πρὸς ἅπαντα ἀνειμένῃ χρῆται. ἂν ἠλίθιος ἢ ἀμαθὴς δοκῇ, οὐ πεφρόντικεν. ἑνί τε λόγῳ, ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἑαυτὸν παραφυλάσσει καὶ ἐπίβουλον.

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Horas de Leonor de la Vega. BNE Vitr/24/2 Fol. 185v (my daughter likes this image)


Incremental Progress Leads to Sudden Transformation

Plutarch, How One Becomes Aware of Progress in Virtue 75c

“For neither in music nor in grammar could someone understand that he is gaining any ground in learning if he does not chip away at ignorance in these matters but instead senses the presence of an ever constant level of ignorance; nor for a sick man, should treatment fail to effect an easing or lightening  and provide no perception of the affliction yielding and harming until the opposite state unfolds when the body has regained its health in every way.

No, but just as in these categories people make no progress unless they progress by the lightening of their burden, as if on a scale they are raised in the opposite direction, they do not recognize the change.

So too in the pursuit of philosophy no change nor even the perception of change must be supposed unless the soul can cast aside and cleanse itself of stupidity—up to the acquisition of the unmixed and perfect good, it clutches to an equally unmixed evil. For in one part of time or a season, the wise person transforms from a previous abject baseness to a nearly unobtainable excess of virtue, and they suddenly depart completely from a share of wickedness which was unshakeable for so great a length of time.”

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐν μουσικοῖς τις ἢ γραμματικοῖς ἐπιδιδοὺς ἂν γνοίη μηδὲν ἐν τῷ μανθάνειν ἀπαρύτων τῆς περὶ ταῦτα ἀμαθίας ἀλλ᾿ ἴσης ἀεὶ τῆς ἀτεχνίας αὐτῷ παρούσης, οὐδὲ κάμνοντι θεραπεία μὴ ποιοῦσα ῥᾳστώνην μηδὲ κουφισμὸν ἁμωσγέπως τοῦ νοσήματος ὑπείκοντος καὶ χαλῶντος αἴσθησιν ἂν παρέχοι διαφορᾶς, πρὶν εἰλικρινῆ τὴν ἐναντίαν ἕξιν ἐγγενέσθαι παντάπασιν ἀναρρωσθέντος τοῦ σώματος. ἀλλ᾿ ὥσπερ ἐν τούτοις οὐ προκόπτουσιν, ἂν προκόπτοντες ἀνέσει τοῦ βαρύνοντος οἷον ἐπὶ ζυγοῦ πρὸς τοὐναντίον ἀναφερόμενοι μὴ γιγνώσκωσι τὴν μεταβολήν, οὕτως ἐν τῷ φιλοσοφεῖν οὔτε προκοπὴν οὔτε τινὰ προκοπῆς αἴσθησιν ὑποληπτέον, εἰ μηδὲν ἡ ψυχὴ μεθίησι μηδ᾿ ἀποκαθαίρεται τῆς ἀβελτερίας, ἄχρι δὲ τοῦ λαβεῖν ἄκρατον τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τέλειον ἀκράτῳ τῷ κακῷ χρῆται. καὶ γὰρ ἀκαρεὶ χρόνου καὶ ὥρας ἐκ τῆς ὡς ἔνι μάλιστα φαυλότητος εἰς οὐκ ἔχουσαν ὑπερβολὴν ἀρετῆς διάθεσιν μεταβαλὼν ὁ σοφός, ἧς οὐδ᾿ ἐν χρόνῳ πολλῷ μέρος ἀφεῖλε κακίας ἅμα πᾶσαν ἐξαίφνης ἐκπέφευγε.

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Book of Hours, ca. 1325-1330
MS M.700 fol. 2r

Don’t Sleep on Plutarch: Sourcing a Mysterious Hexameter

Plutarch, Life of Lucullus 499

“After he was brought to the Troad, he set up camp in the shrine of Aphrodite. Once he fell asleep at night, he dreamed he say that goddess standing over him and speaking: “Why are you sleeping, great-hearted lion? The fawns are near [for you]”.

After he woke up and called his friends, he explained the dream while it was still night. And then there were some men from Troy who were announcing that thirteen of the king’s ships had been seen sailing near the harbor of the Achaeans going toward Lemnos. Lucuss then went out immediately and captured them and killed their general Isodorus, and then he was sailing after the other captains.

εἰς δὲ Τρῳάδα καταχθεὶς ἐσκήνωσε μὲν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης, κατακοιμηθεὶς δὲ νύκτωρ ἐδόκει τὴν θεὰν ὁρᾶν ἐφεστῶσαν αὐτῷ καὶ λέγουσαν·

Τί κνώσσεις, μεγάθυμε λέον; νεβροὶ δε τοι ἐγγύς.

ἐξαναστὰς δὲ καὶ τοὺς φίλους καλέσας διηγεῖτο τὴν ὄψιν ἔτι νυκτὸς οὔσης. καὶ παρῆσαν ἐξ Ἰλίου τινὲς ἀπαγγέλλοντες ὦφθαι περὶ τὸν Ἀχαιῶν λιμένα τρισκαίδεκα πεντήρεις τῶν βασιλικῶν ἐπὶ Λῆμνον πλεούσας. εὐθὺς οὖν ἀναχθεὶς τούτους μὲν εἷλε καὶ τὸν στρατηγὸν αὐτῶν Ἰσίδωρον ἀπέκτεινεν, ἐπὶ δὲ τοὺς ἄλλους ἔπλει πρῳρέας.

I received an email about this passage from a friend (Aaron Beek) who was wondering where this line came from. Plutarch is famous for his quotation of other ancient others. His Lives are filled with figures who quote constantly; his own essays in the Moralia sometimes seem to be mere thin pretext for the assemblage of ancient sententiae. So, it is more than reasonable to imagine that when he places Lucullus near Troy and has that Trojan-loving Aphrodite speak in a dream, she might speak a line from a Trojan tale of Old.

The problem Aaron and I face that this line seems to have no attestation beyond this scene. The Suda lists this line twice (s.v. Κνώσσω and Λούκουλλος) and it appears in the Oracular Appendix of the Greek Anthology (231). All three appearances undoubtedly have Plutarch as the source. But what was Plutarch’s source? Rather than keeping this question to ourselves, we are bringing it to the world….

Others may contemplate the content of this line and how it might pertain to some moment in the Trojan War narrative (Aaron has suggested that it might work as something said by Aphrodite to Hektor when the Greeks first appear which would be a cool intertext). Since I am a Homeric philologist by training, I need to start by looking at the language.

The thing the strikes me first about this is the epithet. It shows up twice in the Iliad when Glaukos and Asteropaios respond to Diomedes and Achilles (respectively: 6.145, 21.153). Indeed, the epithet is rather popular after Homer too. Here are the lines with the vocative:

Τυδεΐδη μεγάθυμε τί ἢ γενεὴν ἐρεείνεις; Il. 6.145
Πηλεΐδη μεγάθυμε τί ἦ γενεὴν ἐρεείνεις; Il. 21.153

Κοιαντίς, μεγάθυμε, πολυλλίστη βασίλεια, Orph. Hym. 35 (To Leto)
Αἴγυπτε μεγάθυμε· ἀτὰρ πάλι ταῦτα βοήσω, Orac. Sib. 11.119 (2nd BCE=4th CE)
«Πριαμίδη μεγάθυμε, δέμας μακάρεσσιν ἐοικώς, Q.S 6.309
«Κλῦθι, θεὰ μεγάθυμε, σάου δ’ ἐμὲ καὶ τεὸν ἵππον.», Q.S. 12.153
Σεῖο βίβλους μεγάθυμε Κομητὰς ῞Ομηρε δύ’ ἄρδην, Anth. Gr. 15.37
ῥηιδίως, μεγάθυμε, καὶ ἐσσύμενον κατερύκων, Anth. Gr. 16.65

There are other aspects of this line, however, which make me doubt an Archaic or even classical origin. The first is the meter. Here’s how to get six feet (Unless I have missed something here)* Τί κνώ / σσεις ‖ μεγά / θυμε λέ /ον; νεβ / ροὶ δε τοι / ἐγγύς. The adverb ἐγγύς can end the line in Homer, but the combination δε τοι as part of the fifth foot is just dreadful. We do have this combination, however much I hate it. (e.g. Il. 7.48Q ἦ ῥά νύ μοί τι πίθοιο, κασίγνητος δέ τοί εἰμι·cf. 8.104: ἠπεδανὸς δέ νύ τοι θεράπων, βραδέες δέ τοι ἵπποι.)

A second problem for me is the verb κνώσσω, which is highly defective and does not seem to appear much in hexameter (although it appears twice in Pindar [κνώσσοντί, Ol. 13.72; κνώσσων, Pyth. 1.9] and once in Epic. Adesp.[ 2.34: εὖτε νέους κνώσσοντας̣ [ἐποτρύνειε κατ’ αὖλιν]]).

Here’s Beekes on the verb:


Other brief observations: heroes are called lion-hearted in early poetry (in the Iliad: Agenor, Hektor, Achilles and Epeios):, but lions are not really called “great hearted”. To me, this looks like later “paint-by-number” versification: so, the work of a literate writer imitating oral composition rather than a genuinely early line. To add to this–the address “great-hearted lion, there are fawns…” is the use of a metaphor in a way we don’t really find in early epic. There are lots of antecedents in similes etc, but this device seems more Hellenistic. I don’t think I would claim that Plutarch composed this–the fact that he does not provide a source implies that (1) it is so well known that he does not need to or (2) there isn’t one and Plutarch is presenting this as the oracular content of a dream (or it is in fact part of a tradition handed down in the annals of Lucullus).

So, just to recap: to me, this line seems post-classical because of its meter, its address of the figure as a lion, and its diction. That said: my sense is based on privileging the Homeric epics we have (which are Ionian and then standardized a bit to Attic). Other localized traditions might have slightly different vocabulary and conventions. So, if for example, this line did come from the Cypria, it might indeed exhibit different qualities.

Any other ideas?

Some responses from twitter below. My impression of this being post-classical is, as I suspected, a bit warped by my strict focus to Homer. The passage might be typical of oracle speech. In this case, it might not then hail from a Trojan War narrative, unless of course it comes from a section of the narrative that draws on oracular language

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Detail of a miniature of a manticore from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 24v

A Medical Justification for Taking Part in a Feast

Some helpful advice for all our friends taking part in feasts this weekend.

Plutarch, Table Talk 662 c–d

“He said, ‘We only unwillingly and rarely use pain as a tool for treatment because it is the most violent. No one could expel pleasure from all the other medical interventions even if he wanted to—for pleasure accompanies food, sleep, baths, massages, and relaxation, all of which help to revive a sick person by wearing away foreign elements with a great abundance of what is natural.

What pain, what deprivation, what kind of poisonous substance could so easily and quickly resolve a disease that it, once it is cleansed at the right time, wine may also be given to those who want it? Food, when it is delivered with pleasure, resolves every kind of malady and returns us to our natural state, just as a clear sky returning after a storm.’”

“σμικρὰ γάρ,” ἔφη, “καὶ ἄκοντες ὡς βιαιοτάτῳ τῶν ὀργάνων ἀλγηδόνι προσχρώμεθα· τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλων οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ βουλόμενος ἀπώσαιτο τὴν ἡδονήν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τροφαῖς καὶ ὕπνοις καὶ περὶ λουτρὰ καὶ ἀλείμματα καὶ κατακλίσεις ἀεὶ πάρεστιν καὶ συνεκδέχεται καὶ συνεκτιθηνεῖται τὸν κάμνοντα, πολλῷ τῷ οἰκείῳ καὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἐξαμαυροῦσα τὸ ἀλλότριον. ποία γὰρ ἀλγηδών, τίς ἔνδεια, ποῖον δηλητήριον οὕτω ῥᾳδίως καὶ ἀφελῶς νόσον ἔλυσεν, ὡς λουτρὸν ἐν καιρῷ γενόμενον καὶ οἶνος δοθεὶς δεομένοις; καὶ τροφὴ παρελθοῦσα μεθ᾿ ἡδονῆς εὐθὺς ἔλυσε τὰ δυσχερῆ πάντα καὶ κατέστησεν εἰς τὸ οἰκεῖον τὴν φύσιν, ὥσπερ εὐδίας καὶ γαλήνης γενομένης.

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Le Banquet des Vœux du Paon, Jean Wauquelin, Les faits et conquêtes d’Alexandre le Grand, Flandre, atelier de Mons, 1448-1449, Paris, BnF

Drugs of Death and Madness; Also, How Boars Get High

Galen, De Simpl. Med. 11.752.3

“For this reason, mandrake, hemlock, henbane and poppies, those types of substances I was just mentioning, if someone uses them moderately, then they become rather concentrated in their faculties. But if they take more, they are not only compressed but already a bit numb. If they take the maximum sample, they are no longer numb, but already necrotic.”

διὸ καὶ μανδραγόρας καὶ κώνειον, ὑοσκύαμός τε καὶ μήκων, αὐτὰς δὲ λέγω νῦν τὰς πόας, εἰ μὲν μετρίως τις χρήσαιτο, πυκνωτικαὶ ταῖς δυνάμεσιν ὑπάρχουσιν· εἰ δ’ ἐπὶ πλέον, οὐ πυκνωτικαὶ μόνον, ἀλλ’ ἤδη καὶ ναρκωτικαί· εἰ δ’ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον, οὐκέτι ναρκωτικαὶ μόνον, ἀλλ’ ἤδη καὶ νεκρωτικαί.


Plutarch, Table Talk III 649B

“The condition [ivy mixed with wine] induces in those who drink it is not drunkenness but a disruption and madness, just many other substances of this sort like henbane make the mind move manically.”

ὃ γὰρ ἐμποιεῖ τοῖς πιοῦσι πάθος οὐ μέθην ἄν τις εἴποι, ταραχὴν δὲ καὶ παραφροσύνην, οἷον ὑοσκύαμος  ἐμποιεῖ καὶ πολλὰ τοιαῦτα κινοῦντα μανικῶς τὴν διάνοιαν.


Aelian, Varia Historia 1.7

“There are boars in the wild who are also not uninformed about the art of medicine. These animals, as it seems, whenever they forget themselves and eat henbane, they drag themselves backwards in their weakness. Even though they are experiencing spasms, they still make it to the water and there they grab crabs and eat them eagerly. These creatures are the antidote for their suffering and they make themselves healthy again.”

Ἦσαν ἄρα οἱ σῦς οἱ ἄγριοι καὶ θεραπείας ἅμα καὶ ἰατρικῆς οὐκ ἀπαίδευτοι. οὗτοι γοῦν ὅταν αὑτοὺς λαθόντες ὑοσκυάμου φάγωσι, τὰ ἐξόπισθεν ἐφέλκουσι, παρειμένως ἔχοντες [οὕτως] αὐτῶν. εἶτα σπώμενοι ὅμως ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα παραγίνονται, καὶ ἐνταῦθα τῶν καρκίνων ἀναλέγουσι καὶ ἐσθίουσι προθυμότατα. γίνονται δὲ αὐτοῖς οὗτοι τοῦ πάθους φάρμακον καὶ ἐργάζονται ὑγιεῖς αὐτοὺς αὖθις.

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The Wild Boar of Erymanthus by Tomislav Tomi´c



Tawdry Tuesday: The Strongest Thing of All? (NSFW)

Athenaeus Deipnosophists 10.451b-d

“Diphilos in his Theseus says that once three girls from Samos were riddling while drinking at the Adonian festival. Then one of them posed a riddle to the others and asked “What is the strongest thing of all?”

One of them said, “iron” and then as proof of her argument suggested that they can dig or cut everything and use it for most things. Although she was thought well of for this answer, the second girl was saying that a blacksmith is much stronger than this since as he works he also bends even strong iron for whatever he wants to make.

And the third girl answered that a penis is the strongest of all and she explained that when someone buggers the blacksmith with it, he groans.”

Δίφιλος δ᾿ ἐν Θησεῖ τρεῖς ποτε κόρας Σαμίας φησὶν Ἀδωνίοισιν γριφεύειν παρὰ πότον· προβαλεῖν δ᾿ αὐταῖσι τὸν γρῖφον, “τί πάντων ἰσχυρότατον;” καὶ τὰν μὲν εἰπεῖν, “ὁ σίδηρος,” καὶ φέρειν τούτου λόγου τὰν ἀπόδειξιν, διότι τούτῳ πάντ᾿ ὀρύσσουσίν τε καὶ τέμνουσι καὶ χρῶντ᾿ εἰς ἅπαντα. εὐδοκιμούσᾳ δ᾿ ἐπάγειν τὰν δευτέραν φάσκειν τε τὸν χαλκέα πολὺ κρείττω φέρειν ἰσχύν· ἐπεὶ τοῦτον κατεργαζόμενον καὶ τὸν σίδηρον τὸν σφοδρὸν κάμπτειν, μαλάσσειν, ὅ τι ἂν χρήζῃ ποεῖν. τὰν δὲ τρίταν ἀποφῆναι πέος ἰσχυρότατον πάντων, διδάσκειν δ᾿ ὅτι καὶ τὸν χαλκέα στένοντα πυγίζουσι τούτῳ.Image result for ancient greek blacksmith vase

A Model Opening for a Toast at Any Occasion

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (5.211 e-f)

“Posidonios of Apamea records the story of [Athenion] which I am going to lay out even though it is rather long, so that we may examine carefully all men who claim to be philosophers, and not merely trust in their shabby robes and unkempt beards. For, as Agathon says (fr. 12):

If I tell the truth, I won’t make you happy.
But if I am to make you happy, I will say nothing true.

Since the truth, they say, is dear to us, I will tell the whole story about this man.”

περὶ οὗ καθ’ ἕκαστα ἱστορεῖ Ποσειδώνιος ὁ ᾿Απαμεύς, ἅπερ εἰ καὶ μακρότερά ἐστιν ἐκθήσομαι, ἵν’ ἐπιμελῶς πάντας ἐξετάζωμεν τοὺς φάσκοντας εἶναι φιλοσόφους καὶ μὴ τοῖς τριβωνίοις καὶ τοῖς ἀκάρτοις πώγωσι πιστεύωμεν. κατὰ γὰρ τὸν ᾿Αγάθωνα
(fr. 12 N)
εἰς μὲν φράσω τἀληθές, οὐχί σ’ εὐφρανῶ·
εἰ δ’ εὐφρανῶ τί σ’, οὐχὶ τἀληθὲς φράσω.
ἀλλὰ φίλη <γάρ>, φασίν, ἡ ἀλήθεια, ἐκθήσομαι τὰ περὶ τὸν ἄνδρα ὡς ἐγένετο (FHG III 266).


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