(Necessary) Bigamy in Classical Athens? Socrates’ Two Wives

A few years back, when I was collecting some anecdotes about Socrates’ wife Xanthippê, I willfully ignored the Suda’s comments on his second wife:

“And Socrates took home two wives: he had a son Lamprokles from Xanthippê and two sons with Myrto the daughter of Aristeides the just, Sophroniskos and Menedêmos or Menexenos, as some believe.”

καὶ γαμεταῖς δὲ συνῴκησε δύο, Ξανθίππῃ, ἀφ’ ἧς ἔσχεν υἱὸν Λαμπροκλέα·καὶ δευτέρᾳ Μυρτοῖ, τῇ ᾿Αριστείδου τοῦ δικαίου θυγατρί, ἐξ ἧς ἐγένετο Σωφρονίσκος καὶ Μενέδημος ἢ Μενέξενος, ὥς τισι δοκεῖ.

This detail doesn’t fit the basic narrative of an impoverished philosopher with a nagging wife. There is an explanation in the tradition found in Diogenes Laertius’, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 2.26

“Aristotle records that Socrates had two wives. The first was Xanthippe who gave him a son, Lamprokles. The second was Myrto, who was the daughter of Aristeides the Just, whom he married without a dowry. She gave him two sons, Sophroniskos and Menexenos. Others report that he married Myrto second. And some—including Satyros and Hieronymous of Rhodes— claim that he married both at the same time. (They assert that because the Athenians had a lack of men and wanted to increase their number, they voted that citizen may marry one woman and have children with another. This is what Socrates did.)”

Φησὶ δ’ ᾿Αριστοτέλης (Rose 93) δύο γυναῖκας αὐτὸν ἀγαγέσθαι· προτέραν μὲν Ξανθίππην, ἐξ ἧς αὐτῷ γενέσθαι Λαμπροκλέα· δευτέραν δὲ Μυρτώ, τὴν ᾿Αριστείδου τοῦ δικαίου θυγατέρα, ἣν καὶ ἄπροικον λαβεῖν, ἐξ ἧς γενέσθαι Σωφρονίσκον καὶ Μενέξενον. οἱ δὲ προτέραν γῆμαι τὴν Μυρτώ φασιν· ἔνιοι δὲ καὶ ἀμφοτέρας ἔχειν ὁμοῦ, ὧν ἐστι Σάτυρός τε (FHG iii. 163) καὶ ῾Ιερώνυμος ὁ῾Ρόδιος (Hiller, xxvi. 3). φασὶ γὰρ βουληθέντας ᾿Αθηναίους διὰ τὸ λειπανδρεῖν συναυξῆσαι τὸ πλῆθος, ψηφίσασθαι γαμεῖν μὲν ἀστὴν μίαν, παιδοποιεῖσθαι δὲ καὶ ἐξ ἑτέρας· ὅθεν τοῦτο ποιῆσαι καὶ Σωκράτην.

Most of the anecdotes in Diogenes’ life speak of Xanthippe and not Myrto. Athenaeus repeats the detail (13.556a) and notes that if it were true, it probably would have been mentioned by the comic poets. But are there other records of legalized polygamy in classical Greece?

And what about the sons? Regardless of the mother, the number accords with what Plato has Socrates say in the Apology (34d) “I have three sons, Athenians, one an adolescent and two still children….” (μοί εἰσι καὶ ὑεῖς γε, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, τρεῖς, εἷς μὲν μειράκιον ἤδη, δύο δὲ παιδία·)

Socrates

A face only (two) women could love….

Strabo (6.3.3) mentions something similar among the Spartans during their conflict with the Messenians. The Spartans are also said to have a concern about their lack of population at 8.5.4). Apart from some fragmentary historians, however, there’s not much evidence for the laws. Our good friend and contributor the Fabulous Festus pointed me to a Roman account:

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, 15.20

[Euripides] is reported to have hated women in a rather serious way, either because he despised the company of women by nature or because he had two wives at the same time (which was the law made by Athenian decree) and was worn down by his marriages. Aristophanes also memorializes his hatred in the first version of the Thesmophoriazusae:

Now, then, I address and advise all women
To punish this man for many reasons:
He has accosted us with bitter evils,
This man raised on a garden’s bitter harvest.

And Alexander the Aitolian composed these lines about Euripides:

The strident student of strong Anaxagoras, the mirth-hater,
Addressed me and never got used to making jokes while drinking.
But what he wrote, honey or a Siren could have made.”

6 Mulieres fere omnes in maiorem modum exosus fuisse dicitur, sive quod natura abhorruit a mulierum coetu sive quod duas simul uxores habuerat, cum id decreto ab Atheniensibus facto ius esset, quarum matrimonii pertaedebat. 7 Eius odii in mulieres Aristophanes quoque meminit en tais proterais Thesmophoriazousais in his versibus:

Νῦν οὖν ἁπάσαισιν παραινῶ καὶ λέγω
τοῦτον κολάσαι τὸν ἄνδρα πολλῶν οὕνεκα·
ἄγρια γὰρ ἡμᾶς, ὦ γυναῖκες, δρᾷ κακά,
ἅτ’ ἐν ἀγρίοισι τοῖς λαχάνοις αὐτὸς τραφείς.

8 Alexander autem Aetolus hos de Euripide versus composuit:

Ὁ δ᾽ Ἀναξαγόρου τρόφιμος χαιου στρίφνος μὲν ἔμοιγε προσειπεῖν
καὶ μισογελος καὶ τοθαζειν οὐδὲ παρ᾽ οἶνον μεμαθεκως,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ τι γράψαι, τοῦτ᾽ ἂν μέλιτος καὶ Σειρηνον ἐτετεύχει.

Praying the Right Way, With Socrates

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, 7.6 ext 1

“Our time won’t last while I relate the native examples, since our empire finds its safety and growth not so much from strength of bodies as from vigor of our minds. Therefore, let Roman intelligence for the most part be put aside under silent admiration—instead  we will turn to similar examples from foreign peoples.

Socrates, some kind of an earth-bound oracle of human wisdom, believed that nothing more should be sought from the immortal gods beyond asking them for good. This is because only they know what is helpful for each individual and we often pray for that which it would be better if we did not have. Indeed, would that the mortal mind be enveloped in the darkest shadows, since it so often spreads the blindest prayers into wide open error!

You seek riches which were the death of many! You desire honors which have ruined more than a few. You contemplate those very reigns that are often known to end in misery. You have reached your hand to glorious marriages which sometimes make homes shine while they shake others to the ground. So stop drooling stupidly over future causes of your troubles as if they are the most fortunate matters and entrust yourself entirely to divine will since those who are in the habit of easily giving good things can also choose them appropriately”

Tempus deficiet domestica narrantem, quoniam imperium nostrum non tam robore corporum quam animorum vigore incrementum ac tutelam sui comprehendit. maiore itaque ex parte Romana prudentia in admiratione tacita reponatur, alienigenisque huius generis exemplis detur aditus.

Socrates, humanae sapientiae quasi quoddam terrestre oraculum, nihil ultra petendum a dis immortalibus arbitrabatur quam ut bona tribuerent, quia ii demum scirent quid unicuique esset utile, nos autem plerumque id votis expeteremus quod non impetrasse melius foret: etenim densissimis tenebris involuta mortalium mens, in quam late patentem errorem caecas precationes tuas spargis! divitias appetis, quae multis exitio fuerunt; honores concupiscis, qui complures pessum dederunt; regna tecum ipsa volvis, quorum exitus saepenumero miserabiles cernuntur; splendidis coniugiis inicis manus: at haec ut aliquando illustrant, ita nonnumquam funditus domos evertunt. desine igitur stulta futuris malorum tuorum causis quasi felicissimis rebus inhiare, teque totam caelestium arbitrio permitte, quia qui tribuere bona ex facili solent, etiam eligere aptissime possunt.

 

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Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates

There have been several articles over the years (both in print, the fine piece by T. E. Strunk and online: a website and a editorial) about Martin Luther King’s engagement with the Classics–specifically the figure of Socrates and Plato’s Apology–and its influence on his thought and his rhetoric. I think those who want to ‘correct’ his response and reception of Classical models should just be ignored; those who note, however, that such reception must also be understood from a particular theological perspective put their efforts to far better work.

On this day in his honor, I do think it is worthwhile for us to reflect on the process of reception and how MLK made his own Socrates in a way that enriched his life and those of his interlocutors–both the addressees of his Letter from Birmingham Jail and the generations of cultural respondents who have followed him. MLK refers to Socrates three times in that letter:

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

“In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion?”

“To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.”

While a classical Platonist might quibble, what I see hear is the creation of a personal Socrates from multiple texts. In the first passage, Socrates has a revelatory power not dissimilar to Jesus’–this is the Socrates of the parable of the Cave (from the Republic, the philosopher who dabbled in the idea of the ideal forms. This Socrates promises that the world we experience isn’t the real world but that with practice and grace we may be able to through the fallacies that surround us. The second and third passages model a different kind of Socrates, one that is particularly Christian, but also one who models a positive and constructive apostasy close to MLK’s own heart and life.

Apology 30e

“Now, Athenians, I am considerably lacking in defending myself, as one might expect, but instead I do it for you, so that you don’t make a mistake against a god’s gift to you by convicting me. For, if you kill me, you will not easily find another like me—simply put—even if it is rather ridiculous to say—you will lose someone dedicated to the city thanks to the god just as to a great and noble horse who has become sluggish because of its size and needs to be roused from its languor by some gadfly. This seems to be the way the god has attached me to the city.

 I am the kind of person who wakes you up, persuades you and reproaches you and I do not stop assailing each one of you everywhere and all day long. No other like this will arise for you easily, men, but if you listen to me, you will spare me. Perhaps, however, because you are annoyed just like drowsy people suddenly awakened, and you listen to Anytos you could easily kill me and then spend the rest of your life sleeping if the god fails to send anyone else to you because he cares about you.

That I really happen to be the sort of person who is sent to the city by the god you might recognize from this: It don’t seem to care about my own affairs and to worry about my household being neglected for this many years in the manner that is normal for people. Instead, I am always laboring on your behalf, going to each person in private as a father or older brother would, trying to persuade you to care for what is most important.”

νῦν οὖν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, πολλοῦ δέω ἐγὼ ὑπὲρ ἐμαυτοῦ ἀπολογεῖσθαι, ὥς τις ἂν οἴοιτο, ἀλλὰ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, μή τι ἐξαμάρτητε περὶ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δόσιν ὑμῖν ἐμοῦ καταψηφισάμενοι. ἐὰν γάρ με ἀποκτείνητε, οὐ ῥᾳδίως ἄλλον τοιοῦτον εὑρήσετε, ἀτεχνῶς, εἰ καὶ γελοιότερον εἰπεῖν, προσκείμενον τῇ πόλει ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ὥσπερ ἵππῳ μεγάλῳ μὲν καὶ γενναίῳ, | ὑπὸ μεγέθους δὲ νωθεστέρῳ καὶ δεομένῳ ἐγείρεσθαι ὑπὸ μύωπός τινος· οἷον δή μοι δοκεῖ ὁ θεὸς ἐμὲ τῇ πόλει προστεθηκέναι—τοιοῦτόν τινα ὃς ὑμᾶς ἐγείρων καὶ πείθων καὶ ὀνειδίζων ἕνα ἕκαστον οὐδὲν παύομαι τὴν ἡμέραν ὅλην πανταχοῦ προσκαθίζων. τοιοῦτος οὖν ἄλλος οὐ ῥᾳδίως ὑμῖν γενήσεται, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν ἐμοὶ πείθησθε, φείσεσθέ μου· ὑμεῖς δ’ ἴσως τάχ’ ἂν ἀχθόμενοι, ὥσπερ οἱ νυστάζοντες ἐγειρόμενοι, | κρούσαντες ἄν με, πειθόμενοι Ἀνύτῳ, ῥᾳδίως ἂν ἀποκτείναιτε, εἶτα τὸν λοιπὸν βίον καθεύδοντες διατελοῖτε ἄν, εἰ μή τινα ἄλλον ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἐπιπέμψειεν κηδόμενος ὑμῶν. ὅτι δ’ ἐγὼ τυγχάνω ὢν τοιοῦτος οἷος ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ πόλει δεδόσθαι, ἐνθένδε ἂν κατανοήσαιτε· οὐ γὰρ ἀνθρωπίνῳ ἔοικε τὸ ἐμὲ τῶν μὲν ἐμαυτοῦ πάντων ἠμεληκέναι καὶ ἀνέχεσθαι τῶν οἰκείων ἀμελουμένων τοσαῦτα ἤδη ἔτη, τὸ δὲ ὑμέτερον πράττειν ἀεί, ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ προσιόντα ὥσπερ πατέρα ἢ ἀδελφὸν πρεσβύτερον πείθοντα ἐπιμελεῖσθαι ἀρετῆς.

This gadfly Socrates stands as the model for the conscientious objector, the social activist, the cultural warrior who agitates for the improvement of her or his state to the point of the sacrifice of self for the greater good.

The reason I wish to dismiss many of those who critique MLK’s use of Socrates as in some way inauthentic is that I believe their policing of his reception has cultural authoritarianism at its core. Even from the beginning of the 4th century BCE the figure of Socrates has been one of the apostate in construction and reception. Xenophon’s Socrates and Plato’s are different. Hell, Plato’s Socrates is rarely the same from one dialogue to the next. His lessons and values shift not just among his students but over time.

MLK’s amalgamation of Socrates is not just a stage in the religio-historical reception of Socrates and, therefore, a vital and important version, but it is also a model of the reception of Socrates as a model by a member of a marginalized group. We can learn from MLK’s Socrates and our responses to his identification with the Platonic figure. And, I dare say, we can learn more from the importance of such a figure from MLK than from standard academic responses.

Here is a passage I have been mulling over the past few days:

“An attempt, termed ‘feminist standpoint theory’ was made by Harstock (1983) to theorize the value of drawing on particular perspectives. The underlying assumption within this theory is that structural privilege precludes clarity of thought because there is no impetus to theorize ‘the norm’. By contrast, structural marginalization increases clarity of thought because such persons not only have access to dominant understandings but also have access to ‘abnormal’ or subjugated perspectives.”

Sam Warner. “Disrupting Identity Through Visible Therapy: A Feminist Post-Structuralist Approach to Working with Women Who have Experienced Child Sexual Abuse.” Feminist Review 68 (2001) 115-139.

As many of us who have taught literature, art, and language in diverse classrooms know intuitively, students who have been marginalized by race, language, gender, sexual identification, or ability, can ‘read’ and ‘understand’ the experiences of individuals of privilege and structural advantages with far more success than the other way around. MLK’s reading of what Socrates means from a broader cultural perspective thus not teaches us merely about what he found valuable in the figure, but it also teaches us about the broader cultural valences.

When Socrates stands up for his beliefs and dedicates himself to the betterment of the state, he sacrifices his own personal good for the good of the state. To this day, activists from all walks of life–but especially those from the margins–risk their own health, wealth, and future success to make the world better for others. For MLK, Socrates was a source of strength, and I suspect, comfort.

Observing this is important not just for us to appreciate the cultural position of both figures–but also for educators and the continuing discussion of how relevant Classics remains and how the reception of Socrates provides encouragement and direction for those who wish to make our world a better place.

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On Socrates’ Jokes and Homer’s Lions

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 55.10 On Homer and Socrates

“Dear Friend, if we compare the fox with [Homer’s] lions and leopards and we claim that it either not at all or a just a little different. But, perhaps, you approve of those kinds of things in Homer, when he brings up starlings, or jackdaws, or ashes, or beans, lentals, or when he depicts people winnowing or these portions seem to you to be the worst part of Homer’s poems. So you admire only lions, eagles, Skyllas and Kyklopes, the things he used to enchant dumb people, just as nurses tell children about the Lamia. Truly, just as Homer tries to teach people who are really hard to teach through myths and history, so Sokrates often uses a similar technique, at times he feigns joking because he might help people this way. Perhaps he also butted heads with myth-tellers and historians.”

Δ. Εἴπερ γε, ὦ μακάριε, καὶ τὴν Ἀρχιλόχου ἀλώπεκα τοῖς λέουσι καὶ ταῖς παρδάλεσι παραβάλλομεν καὶ οὐδὲν ἢ μὴ πολὺ ἀποδεῖν φαμεν. ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἴσως καὶ τῶν Ὁμήρου τὰ τοιαῦτα ἀποδοκιμάζεις, ὅπου μέμνηται ψαρῶν ἢ κολοιῶν ἢ ἀκρίδων ἢ δαλοῦ ἢ τέφρας ἢ κυάμων τε καὶ ἐρεβίνθων ἢ λικμῶντας ἀνθρώπους πεποίηκεν, ἀλλὰ ταῦτά σοι δοκεῖ τὰ φαυλότατα εἶναι τῶν Ὁμήρου· μόνους δὲ θαυμάζεις τοὺς λέοντας καὶ τοὺς ἀετοὺς καὶ τὰς Σκύλλας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας, οἷς ἐκεῖνος ἐκήλει τοὺς ἀναισθήτους, ὥσπερ αἱ τίτθαι τὰ παιδία διηγούμεναι τὴν Λάμιαν. καὶ μὴν ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος διά τε μύθων καὶ ἱστορίας ἐπεχείρησε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους παιδεύειν, σφόδρα ἐργώδεις ὄντας παιδευθῆναι, καὶ Σωκράτης πολλάκις ἐχρῆτο τῷ τοιούτῳ, ποτὲ μὲν σπουδάζειν ὁμολογῶν, ποτὲ δὲ παίζειν προσποιούμενος, τούτου ἕνεκεν ἵν᾿ ἀνθρώπους ὠφελοῖ· ἴσως δὲ προσέκρουσε τοῖς μυθολόγοις καὶ τοῖς συγγραφεῦσιν.

 

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This means something.

Education and Easy Burials: Two Socratic Anecdotes

Both of these anecdotes appear in Stobaeus where they are attributed to Aelian

Stob. 4.55.10

When Socrates was about to drink the hemlock, and those accompanying Crito asked him how he wished to be buried, he answered “however is easiest for you.”

ὁ Σωκράτης ἐπεὶ τὸ κώνειον ἔμελλε πίεσθαι, τῶν ἀμφὶ τὸν Κρίτωνα ἐρομένων αὐτὸν τίνα τρόπον ταφῆναι θέλει, “ὅπως ἂν ὑμῖν” ἀπεκρίνατο “ᾖ ῥᾷστον.”

Stob. 2.31.38

“Noble Socrates reproached fathers who did not teach their sons and then, when they were destitute, took their sons to court and sued them as ungrateful because they did not support their parents. He said that the fathers were expecting something impossible: those who have not learned just actions are incapable of performing them”

Σωκράτης ὁ γενναῖος ᾐτιᾶτο τῶν πατέρων ἐκείνους, ὅσοι <μὴ> παιδεύσαντες αὑτῶν τοὺς υἱεῖς, εἶτα ἀπορούμενοι ἦγον ἐπὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς τοὺς νεανίσκους καὶ ἔκρινον αὐτοὺς ἀχαριστίας, ὅτι οὐ τρέφονται ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν. εἶπε γὰρ ἀδύνατον ἀξιοῦν τοὺς πατέρας· μὴ γὰρ οἵους τε εἶναι τοὺς μὴ μαθόντας τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖν αὐτά.

 

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Socrates’ Marriage Advice: Damned if You Do….

Socrates is famous in ancient anecdotes for his struggles with his wife XanthippeIn this Roman anecdote, he dispenses some wonderful advice about marriage.

 

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Sayings and Deeds 7.6 ext 1b-c

“[Socrates] used to say that those who act as so that they become as they would wish to seem finish short and well-known roads to glory. With this saying he was clearly warning that humans should drink virtue itself rather than follow its shadow.

Socrates also, when asked by a certain young man whether he should take a wife or abstain from matrimony altogether, said that whichever he did he would regret it. “From second option, you will experience loneliness, childlessness, the end of your family, and a foreign heir; from the other option, you will have perpetual annoyance, a weaving of complaints, questions about the dowry, the down-turned brows of inlaws, a talkative mother-in-law, a hunter for other people’s marriages, and the uncertain bearing of children.’ He would not endure that the youth believe he was making a choice of happy material in the context of harsh matters.”

Idem expedita et compendiaria via eos ad gloriam pervenire dicebat qui id agerent ut quales videri vellent, tales etiam essent. qua quidem praedicatione aperte monebat ut homines ipsam potius virtutem haurirent quam umbram eius consectarentur.

Idem, ab adulescentulo quodam consultus utrum uxorem duceret an se omni matrimonio abstineret, respondit utrum eorum fecisset, acturum paenitentiam. ‘hinc te’ inquit ‘solitudo, hinc orbitas, hinc generis interitus, hinc heres alienus excipiet, illinc perpetua sollicitudo, contextus querellarum, dotis exprobratio, adfinium grave supercilium, garrula socrus lingua, subsessor alieni matrimonii, incertus liberorum eventus.’ non passus est iuvenem in contextu rerum asperarum quasi laetae materiae facere dilectum.

 

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Praying the Right Way, With Socrates

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, 7.6 ext 1

“Our time won’t last while I relate the native examples, since our empire finds its safety and growth not so much from strength of bodies as from vigor of our minds. Therefore, let Roman intelligence for the most part be put aside under silent admiration—instead  we will turn to similar examples from foreign peoples.

Socrates, some kind of an earth-bound oracle of human wisdom, believed that nothing more should be sought from the immortal gods beyond asking them for good. This is because only they know what is helpful for each individual and we often pray for that which it would be better if we did not have. Indeed, would that the mortal mind be enveloped in the darkest shadows, since it so often spreads the blindest prayers into wide open error!

You seek riches which were the death of many! You desire honors which have ruined more than a few. You contemplate those very reigns that are often known to end in misery. You have reached your hand to glorious marriages which sometimes make homes shine while they shake others to the ground. So stop drooling stupidly over future causes of your troubles as if they are the most fortunate matters and entrust yourself entirely to divine will since those who are in the habit of easily giving good things can also choose them appropriately”

Tempus deficiet domestica narrantem, quoniam imperium nostrum non tam robore corporum quam animorum vigore incrementum ac tutelam sui comprehendit. maiore itaque ex parte Romana prudentia in admiratione tacita reponatur, alienigenisque huius generis exemplis detur aditus.

Socrates, humanae sapientiae quasi quoddam terrestre oraculum, nihil ultra petendum a dis immortalibus arbitrabatur quam ut bona tribuerent, quia ii demum scirent quid unicuique esset utile, nos autem plerumque id votis expeteremus quod non impetrasse melius foret: etenim densissimis tenebris involuta mortalium mens, in quam late patentem errorem caecas precationes tuas spargis! divitias appetis, quae multis exitio fuerunt; honores concupiscis, qui complures pessum dederunt; regna tecum ipsa volvis, quorum exitus saepenumero miserabiles cernuntur; splendidis coniugiis inicis manus: at haec ut aliquando illustrant, ita nonnumquam funditus domos evertunt. desine igitur stulta futuris malorum tuorum causis quasi felicissimis rebus inhiare, teque totam caelestium arbitrio permitte, quia qui tribuere bona ex facili solent, etiam eligere aptissime possunt.

 

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Fables to Begin Life; Fables at Its End

Last year we posted a lot of fables. Why? Because they are fabulous. But, also, because they are fun, fascinating, and a fine way to seek shelter from current events (while still doing some thinking). Ancient literature does not include a great deal of critical reflection on the Fable, but we do find it prized at the beginning of an education (by Quintilian) and the end of Socrates’ life.

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 1.9.1-3

“Therefore, let children learn to relay Aesop’s fables—which follow closely the stories of the nursery, in a simple speech and without adding too much and then to write them down in the same unadorned fashion. They should first analyze the verse, then interpret it in their own words, and finally expand it in their own version in which they may either compress some parts or elaborate others with without losing the poet’s meaning.”

[2] igitur Aesopi fabellas, quae fabulis nutricularum proxime succedunt, narrare sermone puro et nihil se supra modum extollente, deinde eandem gracilitatem stilo exigere condiscant; versus primo solvere, mox mutatis verbis interpretari, tum paraphrasi audacius vertere, qua et breviare quaedam et exornare salvo modo poetae sensu permittitur.

Cheiron

Do you think Cheiron taught Achilles fables?

Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 2.5.45

“Then they sentenced[Socrates] to death, adding 80 additional votes to this tally. After he was imprisoned for just a few days, he drank the hemlock, but not without having a few exemplary conversations which Plato describes in the Phaedrus. He also composed a paian which begins: “Hail, Delian Apollo, and Artemis, famous children”. Dionysodôros says that this paian is not his. He also composed Aesopic tales in verse, though not completely well, one of which begins:

“Aesop once said to the men who live in Korinth,
Do not judge virtue according to a jury’s opinion”

And then he was taken from the world of men. Soon, the Athenians changed their minds and closed the wrestling floor and gymnasium. They banished the accusers but put Meletos to death. They honored Socrates with a bronze statue which they placed in the Pompeion. It was mad by Lysippos. As soon as Anytos visited Heracleia, the people expelled him. Not only did the Athenians suffer concerning Socrates, but according to Heracleides they fined Homer fifty drachmae because he was insane and they said Tyrtaeus was out of his mind and they even honored Astydamas and others more than Aeschylus with a bronze statue. Euripides rebukes them in his Palamedes when he says:

“You have butchered/ you have butchered
The all-wise nightingale of the muses
Who caused no harm”

This is one story. But Philochorus claims that Euripides died before Socrates.”

Καὶ οἳ θάνατον αὐτοῦ κατέγνωσαν, προσθέντες ἄλλας ψήφους ὀγδοήκοντα. καὶ δεθεὶς μετ’ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας ἔπιε τὸ κώνειον, πολλὰ καλὰ κἀγαθὰ διαλεχθείς, ἃ Πλάτων ἐν τῷ Φαίδωνί φησιν. ἀλλὰ καὶ παιᾶνα κατά τινας ἐποίησεν, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή· Δήλι’ ῎Απολλον χαῖρε, καὶ ῎Αρτεμι, παῖδε κλεεινώ. Διονυσόδωρος δέ φησι μὴ εἶναι αὐτοῦ τὸν παιᾶνα (FHG ii. 84). ἐποίησε δὲ καὶ μῦθον Αἰσώπειον οὐ πάνυ ἐπιτετευγμένως, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή·

Αἴσωπός ποτ’ ἔλεξε Κορίνθιον ἄστυ νέμουσι
μὴ κρίνειν ἀρετὴν λαοδίκῳ σοφίῃ.

῾Ο μὲν οὖν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἦν· ᾿Αθηναῖοι δ’ εὐθὺς μετέγνωσαν, ὥστε κλεῖσαι καὶ παλαίστρας καὶ γυμνάσια. καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἐφυγάδευσαν, Μελήτου δὲ θάνατον κατέγνωσαν. Σωκράτην δὲ χαλκῇ εἰκόνι ἐτίμησαν, ἣν ἔθεσαν ἐν τῷ Πομπείῳ, Λυσίππου ταύτην ἐργασαμένου. ῎Ανυτόν τε ἐπιδημήσαντα αὐθημερὸν ἐξεκήρυξαν

῾Ηρακλεῶται. οὐ μόνον δ’ ἐπὶ Σωκράτους ᾿Αθηναῖοι πεπόνθασι τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπὶ πλείστων ὅσων. καὶ γὰρ ῞Ομηρον καθά  φησιν ῾Ηρακλείδης (Wehrli vii, fg. 169), πεντήκοντα δραχμαῖς ὡς μαινόμενον ἐζημίωσαν, καὶ Τυρταῖον παρακόπτειν ἔλεγον, καὶ ᾿Αστυδάμαντα πρότερον τῶν περὶ Αἰσχύλον ἐτίμησαν εἰκόνι χαλκῇ.

Εὐριπίδης δὲ καὶ ὀνειδίζει αὐτοῖς ἐν τῷ Παλαμήδει λέγων (588 N2),

ἐκάνετ’ ἐκάνετε τὰν
πάνσοφον, <ὦ Δαναοί,>
τὰν οὐδὲν ἀλγύνουσαν ἀηδόνα μουσᾶν.

καὶ τάδε μὲν ὧδε. Φιλόχορος (FGrH 328 F 221) δέ φησι προτελευτῆσαι τὸν Εὐριπίδην τοῦ Σωκράτους.

Diogenes is not completely fabricating material here. Plato’s Phaedo records that Socrates while imprisoned composed “poems, arranged versions of Aesop’s tales and a prooimon to Apollo” (ποιημάτων ὧν πεποίηκας ἐντείνας τοὺς τοῦ Αἰσώπου λόγους καὶ τὸ εἰς τὸν Ἀπόλλω προοίμιον, 60d). When asked why he was occupying his time in this way, Socrates responds (Phaedo 60e-61a):

“The same dream often came to me in my past life, appearing in different forms from time to time, but saying the same things: “Socrates, make music and work on it.” In earlier time, I believe that it was compelling me and encouraging me to do what I was doing—just as some cheer on runners, in the same way the dream was telling me to do what I was doing, to make music, since philosophy is the greatest music of all and I was working on that. But now that the trial is complete and the festival has delayed my death, it seemed right to me, if the frequent dream really meant for me to make what is normally called music, not to disobey it but to compose.”

πολλάκις μοι φοιτῶν τὸ αὐτὸ ἐνύπνιον ἐν τῷ παρελθόντι βίῳ, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐν ἄλλῃ ὄψει φαινόμενον, τὰ αὐτὰ δὲ λέγον, ‘ὦ Σώκρατες,’ ἔφη, ‘μουσικὴν ποίει καὶ ἐργάζου.’ καὶ ἐγὼ ἔν γε τῷ πρόσθεν χρόνῳ ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ὑπελάμβανον αὐτό μοι παρακελεύεσθαί τε καὶ ἐπικελεύειν, ὥσπερ οἱ τοῖς θέουσι διακελευόμενοι, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὕτω τὸ ἐνύπνιον ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ἐπικελεύειν, μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, ὡς φιλοσοφίας μὲν οὔσης μεγίστης μουσικῆς, ἐμοῦ δὲ τοῦτο πράττοντος. νῦν δ᾽ ἐπειδὴ ἥ τε δίκη ἐγένετο καὶ ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἑορτὴ διεκώλυέ με ἀποθνῄσκειν, ἔδοξε χρῆναι, εἰ ἄρα πολλάκις μοι προστάττοι τὸ ἐνύπνιον ταύτην τὴν δημώδη μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, μὴ ἀπειθῆσαι αὐτῷ ἀλλὰ ποιεῖν

 

(I don’t know if this is the saddest story I have ever read or not. Curse you, Plato).

Selling Wheat in a Barley Market: The Wit of Bion the Philosopher

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 4.47–49 (On Bion)

“To speak truly concerning other matters, Bion was a shifty guy, a diverse-minded sophist, and someone who gave many avenues of attack to those who wanted to harm philosophy. In some manners, he was puffed up and capable of great arrogance. He left a great many commentaries and sayings which can be very useful. For example, when he was reproached for not hunting after a young man he said “it’s not possible to grab soft cheese with a hook.”

When someone asked who suffers more from worry, he said “whoever wants to prosper the most”. When he was asked if someone should get married—for this story is also reported about Bion—he said if you marry an ugly woman, you will have a burden; if she is pretty, you will have her in common.” He said that old age is a harbor for all evils: at least, they all retreat into the same place. He called fame the mother of virtues, beauty a foreign good, and wealth the tendons of business. To someone who had eaten up his inheritance, he said “The land consumed Amphiarus, but you ate your land.” To be incapable of enduring an evil is a great evil. He used to condemn those who burned men as if they could not feel but cauterize them as if they do.

He always used to say that it was preferable to give favor to another than to take it. For this harms the body and the soul. And he used to slander Socrates, saying that if he had a desire for Alcibiades and resisted, he was stupid. But if he did not desire him, he did nothing impressive. He also used to say that the road to Hades was easy: at least because people get there with their eyes closed. He used to mock Alcibiades by saying that when he was young he separated men husbands from their wives; but when he was older, he stole wives from their husbands.

When the Athenians were obsessed with rhetoric, he taught philosophical subjects in Rhodes. To someone who criticized him for this, he said, “I brought wheat, can I sell barely?”

Καὶ ἦν ὡς ἀληθῶς ὁ Βίων τὰ μὲν ἄλλα πολύτροπος καὶ σοφιστὴς ποικίλος καὶ πλείστας ἀφορμὰς δεδωκὼς τοῖς βουλομένοις καθιππάζεσθαι φιλοσοφίας: ἔν τισι δὲ καὶ πομπικὸς καὶ ἀπολαῦσαι τύφου δυνάμενος. πλεῖστά τε καταλέλοιπεν ὑπομνήματα, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀποφθέγματα χρειώ δη πραγματείαν περιέχοντα. οἷον ὀνειδιζόμενος ἐπὶ τῷ μὴ θηρᾶσαι μειράκιον, “οὐχ οἷόντε,” εἶπεν, “ἁπαλὸν τυρὸν ἀγκίστρῳ ἐπισπᾶσθαι.”

[48] ἐρωτηθείς ποτε τίς μᾶλλον ἀγωνιᾷ, ἔφη, “ὁ τὰ μέγιστα βουλόμενος εὐημερεῖν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς εἰ γήμαι–ἀναφέρεται γὰρ καὶ εἰς τοῦτον–ἔφη, “ἐὰν μὲν γήμῃς αἰσχράν, ἕξεις ποινήν: ἂν δὲ καλήν, ἕξεις κοινήν.” τὸ γῆρας ἔλεγεν ὅρμον εἶναι τῶν κακῶν: εἰς αὐτὸ γοῦν πάντα καταφεύγειν. τὴν δόξαν <ἀρ>ετῶν μητέρα εἶναι: τὸ κάλλος ἀλλότριον ἀγαθόν: τὸν πλοῦτον νεῦρα πραγμάτων. πρὸς τὸν τὰ χωρία κατεδηδοκότα, “τὸν μὲν Ἀμφιάραον,” ἔφη, “ἡ γῆ κατέπιε, σὺ δὲ τὴν γῆν.” μέγα κακὸν τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι φέρειν κακόν. κατεγίνωσκε δὲ καὶ τῶν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους κατακαόντων μὲν ὡς ἀναισθήτους, παρακαόντων δὲ ὡς αἰσθανομένους. 5

[49] ἔλεγε δὲ συνεχὲς ὅτι αἱρετώτερόν ἐστι τὴν ὥραν ἄλλῳ χαρίζεσθαι ἢ ἀλλοτρίας ἀποδρέπεσθαι: καὶ γὰρ εἰς σῶμα βλάπτεσθαι καὶ εἰς ψυχήν. διέβαλε δὲ καὶ τὸν Σωκράτην, λέγων ὡς εἰ μὲν εἶχεν Ἀλκιβιάδου χρείαν καὶ ἀπείχετο, μάταιος ἦν: εἰ δὲ μὴ εἶχεν, οὐδὲν ἐποίει παράδοξον. εὔκολον ἔφασκε τὴν εἰς ᾄδου ὁδόν: καταμύοντας γοῦν ἀπιέναι. τὸν Ἀλκιβιάδην μεμφόμενος ἔλεγεν ὡς νέος μὲν ὢν τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀπαγάγοι τῶν γυναικῶν, νεανίσκος δὲ γενόμενος τὰς γυναῖκας τῶν ἀνδρῶν. ἐν Ῥόδῳ τὰ ῥητορικὰ διασκούντων τῶν Ἀθηναίων τὰ φιλοσοφούμενα ἐδίδασκε: πρὸς οὖν τὸν αἰτιασάμενον ἔφη, “πυροὺς ἐκόμισα καὶ κριθὰς πιπράσκω;”

Image result for Philosopher Bion

 

The Danger of Students without Teaching: Against Illiterate Literacy

 

Plato, Phaedrus 274e-275a (go here for the full dialogue)

Socrates is telling a story of the invention of writing in Egypt

“When it came to the written letters, Theuth said, ‘This training, King, will make Egyptians wiser and will give them stronger memories: for it is a drug for memory and wisdom!’ But the king replied, “Most inventive Theuth, one man is able to create technology, but another judges how much harm and benefit it brings to those who use it. Just so now you, who are father of letters, declare the opposite of what they are capable because of your enthusiasm. This craft will engender forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it from the disuse of the memory since they will trust external writing struck by others, no longer recalling their own thoughts within them. You have discovered a drug for reminding, not one for memory; you will offer students the reputation of wisdom but not the true thing. For many who become students without instruction will seem to know a lot when they are mostly ignorant and difficult to be around, since they have become wise for appearance instead of wise.’

Ph. Socrates, you can easily make up any story about Egypt that you want to”

ἐπειδὴ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς γράμμασιν ἦν, Τοῦτο δέ, ὦ βασιλεῦ, τὸ μάθημα, ἔφη ὁ Θεύθ,

σοφωτέρους Αἰγυπτίους καὶ μνημονικωτέρους παρέξει, μνήμης τε γὰρ καὶ σοφίας φάρμακον εὑρέθη. ῾Ο δ’ εἶπεν, ῏Ω τεχνικώτατε Θεύθ, ἄλλος μὲν δυνατὸς τεκεῖν τὰ τέχνης, ἄλλος δὲ κρῖναι, τίν’ ἔχει μοῖραν βλάβης τε καὶ ὠφελείας τοῖς μέλλουσι χρῆσθαι. Καὶ νῦν σὺ πατὴρ ὢν γραμμάτων δι’ εὔνοιαν τοὐναντίον εἶπες ἢ δύναται. Τοῦτο γὰρ τῶν μαθόντων λήθην μὲν ἐν ψυχαῖς παρέξει, μνήμης ἀμελετησίᾳ, ἅτε διὰ πίστιν γραφῆς ἔξωθεν ὑπ’ ἀλλοτρίων τύπων, οὐκ ἔνδοθεν αὐτοὺς ὑφ’ αὑτῶν ἀναμιμνησκομένους. Οὐκοῦν οὐ μνήμης ἀλλ’ ὑπομνήσεως φάρμακον εὗρες, σοφίας δὲ τοῖς μαθηταῖς δόξαν οὐκ ἀλήθειαν πορίζεις. πολυήκοοι γάρ σοι γενόμενοι ἄνευ διδαχῆς πολυγνώμονες εἶναι δόξουσιν, ἀγνώμονες ὡς ἐπὶ πλῆθος ὄντες καὶ χαλεποὶ ξυνεῖναι, δοξόσοφοι γεγονότες ἀντὶ σοφῶν.

ὦ Σώκρατες, ῥᾳδίως σὺ Αἰγυπτίους καὶ ὁποδαποὺς ἂν ἐθέλῃς λόγους ποιεῖς.

Image result for Ancient Egyptian writing

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