Four Years of Presidential Memories: “The Ascension of Fools” Some Ancient Comments on Stupidity

μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Sophocles, fr. 924

“Stupidity is a terrible opponent to wrestle”
ὡς δυσπάλαιστόν <ἐστιν> ἀμαθία κακόν

Terence, Phormio, 659-660

“Whether I claim he does this because of stupidity or

malice—whether this is a knowing plot, or incompetence, I am unsure.”

utrum stultitia facere ego hunc an malitia
dicam, scientem an imprudentem, incertu’ sum.

Sophocles, fr. 925

“Stupidity really is evil’s sibling”

ἡ δὲ μωρία
μάλιστ᾿ ἀδελφὴ τῆς πονηρίας ἔφυ

Suetonius, Divus Claudius 38

“But he did not stay quiet even about his own stupidity: but claimed that he had faked it on purpose under Gaius because he would have not escaped and advanced to his eventual position otherwise—and that this was supported by certain oracles. But he persuaded no one. And after a brief time, a book was published with the title “The Ascension of Fools” which posited that no one can pretend stupidity.”

Ac ne stultitiam quidem suam reticuit simulatamque a se ex industria sub Gaio, quod aliter evasurus perventurusque ad susceptam stationem non fuerit, quibusdam oratiunculis testatus est; nec tamen49 persuasit, cum intra breve tempus liber editus sit, cui index erat μωρῶν ἐπανάστασις, argumentum autem stultitiam neminem fingere.

Plutarch, Rational Beasts 998a

“Note that a lack of intelligence or stupidity in some animals emerges in contrast with the abilities and sharpness of others as you might compare an ass or a sheep with a fox, a wolf or a bee. It would be the same if you would compare Polyphemos or that idiot Koroibos to your grandfather Autolykos. For I do not think that there is so great a difference between beasts as there is between individual people in thinking, using reason, and in memory.”

ἐννόησον δ᾿ ὅτι τὰς ἐνίων ἀβελτερίας καὶ βλακείας ἐλέγχουσιν ἑτέρων πανουργίαι καὶ δριμύτητες, ὅταν ἀλώπεκι καὶ λύκῳ καὶ μελίττῃ παραβάλῃς ὄνον καὶ πρόβατον· ὥσπερ εἰ σαυτῷ τὸν Πολύφημον ἢ τῷ πάππῳ σου τῷ Αὐτολύκῳ τὸν Κόροιβον ἐκεῖνον τὸν μωρόν οὐ γὰρ οἶμαι θηρίου πρὸς θηρίον ἀπόστασιν εἶναι τοσαύτην, ὅσον ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου τῷ φρονεῖν καὶ λογίζεσθαι καὶ μνημονεύειν ἀφέστηκεν.

Andocides, On His Return 2

“These men must be the dumbest of all people or they are the most inimical to the state. If they believe that it is also better for their private affairs when the state does well, then they are complete fools in pursuing something opposite to their own advantage right now. If they do not believe that they share common interests with you, then they must be enemies of the state”

δεῖ γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἤτοι ἀμαθεστάτους εἶναι πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἢ τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ δυσμενεστάτους. εἰ μέν γε νομίζουσι τῆς πόλεως εὖ πραττούσης καὶ τὰ ἴδια σφῶν αὐτῶν ἄμεινον ἂν φέρεσθαι, ἀμαθέστατοί εἰσι τὰ ἐναντία νῦν τῇ ἑαυτῶν ὠφελείᾳ σπεύδοντες· εἰ δὲ μὴ ταὐτὰ ἡγοῦνται σφίσι τε αὐτοῖς συμφέρειν καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ κοινῷ, δυσμενεῖς ἂν τῇ πόλει εἶεν·

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 21

“A special recognition for stupidity needs to be given to the rhetorician Corvus who said, “Since Xerxes is already sailing against us on his sea, shouldn’t we flee before the earth is taken from us””

Corvo rhetori testimonium stuporis reddendum est, qui dixit: “quidni, si iam Xerses ad nos suo mari navigat, fugiamus, ntequam nobis terra subripiatur?”

Image result for ancient greek stupidity

Stupidity, Evil’s Sibling.

μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Sophocles, fr. 924

“Stupidity is a terrible opponent to wrestle”

ὡς δυσπάλαιστόν <ἐστιν> ἀμαθία κακόν

Terence, Phormio, 659-660

“Whether I claim he does this because of stupidity or

malice—whether this is a knowing plot, or incompetence, I am unsure.”

utrum stultitia facere ego hunc an malitia
dicam, scientem an imprudentem, incertu’ sum.

Sophocles, fr. 925

“Stupidity really is evil’s sibling”

ἡ δὲ μωρία
μάλιστ᾿ ἀδελφὴ τῆς πονηρίας ἔφυ

Suetonius, Divus Claudius 38

“But he did not stay quiet even about his own stupidity: but claimed that he had faked it on purpose under Gaius because he would have not escaped and advanced to his eventual position otherwise—and that this was supported by certain oracles. But he persuaded no one. And after a brief time, a book was published with the title “The Ascension of Fools” which posited that no one can pretend stupidity.”

Ac ne stultitiam quidem suam reticuit simulatamque a se ex industria sub Gaio, quod aliter evasurus perventurusque ad susceptam stationem non fuerit, quibusdam oratiunculis testatus est; nec tamen49 persuasit, cum intra breve tempus liber editus sit, cui index erat μωρῶν ἐπανάστασις, argumentum autem stultitiam neminem fingere.

Plutarch, Rational Beasts 998a

“Note that a lack of intelligence or stupidity in some animals emerges in contrast with the abilities and sharpness of others as you might compare an ass or a sheep with a fox, a wolf or a bee. It would be the same if you would compare Polyphemos or that idiot Koroibos to your grandfather Autolykos. For I do not think that there is so great a difference between beasts as there is between individual people in thinking, using reason, and in memory.”

ἐννόησον δ᾿ ὅτι τὰς ἐνίων ἀβελτερίας καὶ βλακείας ἐλέγχουσιν ἑτέρων πανουργίαι καὶ δριμύτητες, ὅταν ἀλώπεκι καὶ λύκῳ καὶ μελίττῃ παραβάλῃς ὄνον καὶ πρόβατον· ὥσπερ εἰ σαυτῷ τὸν Πολύφημον ἢ τῷ πάππῳ σου τῷ Αὐτολύκῳ τὸν Κόροιβον ἐκεῖνον τὸν μωρόν οὐ γὰρ οἶμαι θηρίου πρὸς θηρίον ἀπόστασιν εἶναι τοσαύτην, ὅσον ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου τῷ φρονεῖν καὶ λογίζεσθαι καὶ μνημονεύειν ἀφέστηκεν.

Andocides, On His Return 2

“These men must be the dumbest of all people or they are the most inimical to the state. If they believe that it is also better for their private affairs when the state does well, then they are complete fools in pursuing something opposite to their own advantage right now. If they do not believe that they share common interests with you, then they must be enemies of the state”

δεῖ γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἤτοι ἀμαθεστάτους εἶναι πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἢ τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ δυσμενεστάτους. εἰ μέν γε νομίζουσι τῆς πόλεως εὖ πραττούσης καὶ τὰ ἴδια σφῶν αὐτῶν ἄμεινον ἂν φέρεσθαι, ἀμαθέστατοί εἰσι τὰ ἐναντία νῦν τῇ ἑαυτῶν ὠφελείᾳ σπεύδοντες· εἰ δὲ μὴ ταὐτὰ ἡγοῦνται σφίσι τε αὐτοῖς συμφέρειν καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ κοινῷ, δυσμενεῖς ἂν τῇ πόλει εἶεν·

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 21

“A special recognition for stupidity needs to be given to the rhetorician Corvus who said, “Since Xerxes is already sailing against us on his sea, shouldn’t we flee before the earth is taken from us””

Corvo rhetori testimonium stuporis reddendum est, qui dixit: “quidni, si iam Xerses ad nos suo mari navigat, fugiamus, ntequam nobis terra subripiatur?”

Image result for ancient greek stupidity

Scapegoating Foreigners for Plagues

Today I published a piece in the Conversation about the function of plagues in ancient myth as frameworks to think about human leadership and how we generally make things worse for ourselves because of our own stupidity, ignorance, or denial

Individuals and groups cope with trauma and fear by externalizing causality, by searching for people or things to blame apart from ourselves. This often takes the form of scapegoating–typically aimed at the weak or those we position as different from ourselves. In Athens’ calamitous plague, this happened too.

Thucydides, 2.48

“The story goes that the sickness started in the part of Ethiopia above Egypt and then it moved to Egypt and Libya and then over most of the King’s land. When it suddenly fell on Athens, it afflicted people in the Piraeus first and it was there that it was said that the Peloponnesians must be throwing drugs into the cisterns, since there were no streams there. Later it spread to the higher part of the city where many more people begin to die.”

  1. ἤρξατο δὲ τὸ μὲν πρῶτον, ὡς λέγεται, ἐξ Αἰθιοπίας τῆς ὑπὲρ Αἰγύπτου, ἔπειτα δὲ καὶ ἐς Αἴγυπτον καὶ Λιβύην κατέβη καὶ ἐς τὴν βασιλέως γῆν τὴν πολλήν. [2] ἐς δὲ τὴν Ἀθηναίων πόλιν ἐξαπιναίως ἐσέπεσε, καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἐν τῷ Πειραιεῖ ἥψατο τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὥστε καὶ ἐλέχθη ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν ὡς οἱ Πελοποννήσιοι φάρμακα ἐσβεβλήκοιεν ἐς τὰ φρέατα: κρῆναι γὰρ οὔπω ἦσαν αὐτόθι. ὕστερον δὲ καὶ ἐς τὴν ἄνω πόλιν ἀφίκετο, καὶ ἔθνῃσκον πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἤδη.

As historians note, epidemics during the time of Justinian were similarly sourced to Africa and the Near East and Medieval people saw the Black Death as coming from the Levant. Thucydides recounts that ,in their desperation to find a cause, the Athenians blamed the Spartans for poisoning their wells, just as Northern Europeans scapegoated Jewish populations in the 14th Century for the bubonic plague (See Marchant, 1891 ad loc.). The Athenians realized that they were wrong about sabotage when the Spartans and their allies started dying too.

(There are accounts of biological warfare from the Ancient world. Ironically, the Athenians are the ones implicated.)

The sad truth of this is not distant to us: as recently as today Fox News’ poster boy for white stupidity, Tucker Carlson, is arguing that it is not racist to call COVID-19 the “Chinese Coronavirus” [not linked too, because, well, it’s stupid and racist). And, last night, our brilliant commander in chief banned travel to and from Europe for non-Americans. This means US Citizens can come home. Oh, and people from the UK can come too. As such, the travel ban is mere improvisational propaganda, an attempt to seem to do something which actually may be worse than doing nothing at all.

Say what you will about the cupidity and stupidity of Agamemnon in the Iliad–when faced with the facts, he understood the cause of the plague and sent Chryseis’ daughter home.

The Plague of AthensMichiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

Other plague posts:

Keep Your Hands Clean With This One Easy Trick!

The Worst Part of a Plague: Despair

The Wages of a Wicked Man: Plague, Broken Walls, Fallen Armies

PSA: An Epidemic’s First Acts

Four Proverbs for Fools

Go here for more information about Ancient Greek collections of proverbs.

Arsenius, 5.29b

“A fool laughs even when nothing is funny.”

Γελᾷ δ’ ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ.

 

Michael Apostolios 3.87

“You are considering ancient history.” A proverb applied to fools and simpletons.

᾿Αρχαϊκὰ φρονεῖς: ἐπὶ τῶν μωρῶν καὶ εὐηθῶν.

 

Michaelos Apostolios 11.92

“A fool can’t keep quiet”

Μωρὸς σιωπᾷν οὐ δύναται.

11.93

“He will blame instead of imitate”: a proverb applied to the uneducable and because it is easier to criticize than emulate.”

Μωμήσεται μᾶλλον ἢ μιμήσεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, καὶ ὅτι τὸ ψέγειν τοῦ μιμεῖσθαι ῥᾳότερον.

 

Roman comments on fools.

Also: μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Related image
Miniature from the Bute Psalter; c. 1270-80

A bonus anecdote for this evening;

Stobaeus 3.34.15

“Solon, after he was asked by Periander over drink—when the former happened to be quiet—whether he was silent because of a loss of words or foolishness, said “No fool could ever be quiet at a drinking party.”

Σόλων ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπὸ Περιάνδρου παρὰ πότον, ἐπεὶ σιωπῶν ἐτύγχανε, πότερα διὰ λόγων σπάνιν ἢ διὰ μωρίαν σιωπᾷ, ‘ἀλλ’ οὐδεὶς ἄν’ εἶπε ‘μωρὸς σιωπᾶν ἐν συμποσίῳ δύναιτο’.

Four Proverbs for Fools

Go here for more information about Ancient Greek collections of proverbs.

Arsenius, 5.29b

“A fool laughs even when nothing is funny.”

Γελᾷ δ’ ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ.

 

Michael Apostolios 3.87

“You are considering ancient history.” A proverb applied to fools and simpletons.

᾿Αρχαϊκὰ φρονεῖς: ἐπὶ τῶν μωρῶν καὶ εὐηθῶν.

 

Michaelos Apostolios 11.92

“A fool can’t keep quiet”

Μωρὸς σιωπᾷν οὐ δύναται.

11.93

“He will blame instead of imitate”: a proverb applied to the uneducable and because it is easier to criticize than emulate.”

Μωμήσεται μᾶλλον ἢ μιμήσεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, καὶ ὅτι τὸ ψέγειν τοῦ μιμεῖσθαι ῥᾳότερον.

 

Roman comments on fools.

Also: μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Related image
Miniature from the Bute Psalter; c. 1270-80

A bonus anecdote for this evening;

Stobaeus 3.34.15

“Solon, after he was asked by Periander over drink—when the former happened to be quiet—whether he was silent because of a loss of words or foolishness, said “No fool could ever be quiet at a drinking party.”

Σόλων ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπὸ Περιάνδρου παρὰ πότον, ἐπεὶ σιωπῶν ἐτύγχανε, πότερα διὰ λόγων σπάνιν ἢ διὰ μωρίαν σιωπᾷ, ‘ἀλλ’ οὐδεὶς ἄν’ εἶπε ‘μωρὸς σιωπᾶν ἐν συμποσίῳ δύναιτο’.

Four Proverbs for Fools

Go here for more information about Ancient Greek collections of proverbs.

Arsenius, 5.29b

“A fool laughs even when nothing is funny.”

Γελᾷ δ’ ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ.

 

Michael Apostolios 3.87

“You are considering ancient history.” A proverb applied to fools and simpletons.

᾿Αρχαϊκὰ φρονεῖς: ἐπὶ τῶν μωρῶν καὶ εὐηθῶν.

 

Michaelos Apostolios 11.92

“A fool can’t keep quiet”

Μωρὸς σιωπᾷν οὐ δύναται.

11.93

“He will blame instead of imitate”: a proverb applied to the uneducable and because it is easier to criticize than emulate.”

Μωμήσεται μᾶλλον ἢ μιμήσεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, καὶ ὅτι τὸ ψέγειν τοῦ μιμεῖσθαι ῥᾳότερον.

 

Roman comments on fools.

Also: μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Related image
Miniature from the Bute Psalter; c. 1270-80

A bonus anecdote for this evening;

Stobaeus 3.34.15

“Solon, after he was asked by Periander over drink—when the former happened to be quiet—whether he was silent because of a loss of words or foolishness, said “No fool could ever be quiet at a drinking party.”

Σόλων ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπὸ Περιάνδρου παρὰ πότον, ἐπεὶ σιωπῶν ἐτύγχανε, πότερα διὰ λόγων σπάνιν ἢ διὰ μωρίαν σιωπᾷ, ‘ἀλλ’ οὐδεὶς ἄν’ εἶπε ‘μωρὸς σιωπᾶν ἐν συμποσίῳ δύναιτο’.

Stupidity, Evil’s Sibling.

μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Sophocles, fr. 924

“Stupidity is a terrible opponent to wrestle”

ὡς δυσπάλαιστόν <ἐστιν> ἀμαθία κακόν

Terence, Phormio, 659-660

“Whether I claim he does this because of stupidity or

malice—whether this is a knowing plot, or incompetence, I am unsure.”

utrum stultitia facere ego hunc an malitia
dicam, scientem an imprudentem, incertu’ sum.

Sophocles, fr. 925

“Stupidity really is evil’s sibling”

ἡ δὲ μωρία
μάλιστ᾿ ἀδελφὴ τῆς πονηρίας ἔφυ

Suetonius, Divus Claudius 38

“But he did not stay quiet even about his own stupidity: but claimed that he had faked it on purpose under Gaius because he would have not escaped and advanced to his eventual position otherwise—and that this was supported by certain oracles. But he persuaded no one. And after a brief time, a book was published with the title “The Ascension of Fools” which posited that no one can pretend stupidity.”

Ac ne stultitiam quidem suam reticuit simulatamque a se ex industria sub Gaio, quod aliter evasurus perventurusque ad susceptam stationem non fuerit, quibusdam oratiunculis testatus est; nec tamen49 persuasit, cum intra breve tempus liber editus sit, cui index erat μωρῶν ἐπανάστασις, argumentum autem stultitiam neminem fingere.

Plutarch, Rational Beasts 998a

“Note that a lack of intelligence or stupidity in some animals emerges in contrast with the abilities and sharpness of others as you might compare an ass or a sheep with a fox, a wolf or a bee. It would be the same if you would compare Polyphemos or that idiot Koroibos to your grandfather Autolykos. For I do not think that there is so great a difference between beasts as there is between individual people in thinking, using reason, and in memory.”

ἐννόησον δ᾿ ὅτι τὰς ἐνίων ἀβελτερίας καὶ βλακείας ἐλέγχουσιν ἑτέρων πανουργίαι καὶ δριμύτητες, ὅταν ἀλώπεκι καὶ λύκῳ καὶ μελίττῃ παραβάλῃς ὄνον καὶ πρόβατον· ὥσπερ εἰ σαυτῷ τὸν Πολύφημον ἢ τῷ πάππῳ σου τῷ Αὐτολύκῳ τὸν Κόροιβον ἐκεῖνον τὸν μωρόν οὐ γὰρ οἶμαι θηρίου πρὸς θηρίον ἀπόστασιν εἶναι τοσαύτην, ὅσον ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου τῷ φρονεῖν καὶ λογίζεσθαι καὶ μνημονεύειν ἀφέστηκεν.

Andocides, On His Return 2

“These men must be the dumbest of all people or they are the most inimical to the state. If they believe that it is also better for their private affairs when the state does well, then they are complete fools in pursuing something opposite to their own advantage right now. If they do not believe that they share common interests with you, then they must be enemies of the state”

δεῖ γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἤτοι ἀμαθεστάτους εἶναι πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἢ τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ δυσμενεστάτους. εἰ μέν γε νομίζουσι τῆς πόλεως εὖ πραττούσης καὶ τὰ ἴδια σφῶν αὐτῶν ἄμεινον ἂν φέρεσθαι, ἀμαθέστατοί εἰσι τὰ ἐναντία νῦν τῇ ἑαυτῶν ὠφελείᾳ σπεύδοντες· εἰ δὲ μὴ ταὐτὰ ἡγοῦνται σφίσι τε αὐτοῖς συμφέρειν καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ κοινῷ, δυσμενεῖς ἂν τῇ πόλει εἶεν·

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 21

“A special recognition for stupidity needs to be given to the rhetorician Corvus who said, “Since Xerxes is already sailing against us on his sea, shouldn’t we flee before the earth is taken from us””

Corvo rhetori testimonium stuporis reddendum est, qui dixit: “quidni, si iam Xerses ad nos suo mari navigat, fugiamus, ntequam nobis terra subripiatur?”

Image result for ancient greek stupidity

“The Ascension of Fools” Some Ancient Comments on Stupidity

μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Sophocles, fr. 924

“Stupidity is a terrible opponent to wrestle”
ὡς δυσπάλαιστόν <ἐστιν> ἀμαθία κακόν

Terence, Phormio, 659-660

“Whether I claim he does this because of stupidity or

malice—whether this is a knowing plot, or incompetence, I am unsure.”

utrum stultitia facere ego hunc an malitia
dicam, scientem an imprudentem, incertu’ sum.

Sophocles, fr. 925

“Stupidity really is evil’s sibling”

ἡ δὲ μωρία
μάλιστ᾿ ἀδελφὴ τῆς πονηρίας ἔφυ

Suetonius, Divus Claudius 38

“But he did not stay quiet even about his own stupidity: but claimed that he had faked it on purpose under Gaius because he would have not escaped and advanced to his eventual position otherwise—and that this was supported by certain oracles. But he persuaded no one. And after a brief time, a book was published with the title “The Ascension of Fools” which posited that no one can pretend stupidity.”

Ac ne stultitiam quidem suam reticuit simulatamque a se ex industria sub Gaio, quod aliter evasurus perventurusque ad susceptam stationem non fuerit, quibusdam oratiunculis testatus est; nec tamen49 persuasit, cum intra breve tempus liber editus sit, cui index erat μωρῶν ἐπανάστασις, argumentum autem stultitiam neminem fingere.

Plutarch, Rational Beasts 998a

“Note that a lack of intelligence or stupidity in some animals emerges in contrast with the abilities and sharpness of others as you might compare an ass or a sheep with a fox, a wolf or a bee. It would be the same if you would compare Polyphemos or that idiot Koroibos to your grandfather Autolykos. For I do not think that there is so great a difference between beasts as there is between individual people in thinking, using reason, and in memory.”

ἐννόησον δ᾿ ὅτι τὰς ἐνίων ἀβελτερίας καὶ βλακείας ἐλέγχουσιν ἑτέρων πανουργίαι καὶ δριμύτητες, ὅταν ἀλώπεκι καὶ λύκῳ καὶ μελίττῃ παραβάλῃς ὄνον καὶ πρόβατον· ὥσπερ εἰ σαυτῷ τὸν Πολύφημον ἢ τῷ πάππῳ σου τῷ Αὐτολύκῳ τὸν Κόροιβον ἐκεῖνον τὸν μωρόν οὐ γὰρ οἶμαι θηρίου πρὸς θηρίον ἀπόστασιν εἶναι τοσαύτην, ὅσον ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου τῷ φρονεῖν καὶ λογίζεσθαι καὶ μνημονεύειν ἀφέστηκεν.

Andocides, On His Return 2

“These men must be the dumbest of all people or they are the most inimical to the state. If they believe that it is also better for their private affairs when the state does well, then they are complete fools in pursuing something opposite to their own advantage right now. If they do not believe that they share common interests with you, then they must be enemies of the state”

δεῖ γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἤτοι ἀμαθεστάτους εἶναι πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἢ τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ δυσμενεστάτους. εἰ μέν γε νομίζουσι τῆς πόλεως εὖ πραττούσης καὶ τὰ ἴδια σφῶν αὐτῶν ἄμεινον ἂν φέρεσθαι, ἀμαθέστατοί εἰσι τὰ ἐναντία νῦν τῇ ἑαυτῶν ὠφελείᾳ σπεύδοντες· εἰ δὲ μὴ ταὐτὰ ἡγοῦνται σφίσι τε αὐτοῖς συμφέρειν καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ κοινῷ, δυσμενεῖς ἂν τῇ πόλει εἶεν·

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 21

“A special recognition for stupidity needs to be given to the rhetorician Corvus who said, “Since Xerxes is already sailing against us on his sea, shouldn’t we flee before the earth is taken from us””

Corvo rhetori testimonium stuporis reddendum est, qui dixit: “quidni, si iam Xerses ad nos suo mari navigat, fugiamus, ntequam nobis terra subripiatur?”

Image result for ancient greek stupidity

Monkey and Fox: An Election Fable for Our Times

Several times during the election season I have tweeted the following lines attributed (weakly) to Archilochus.

Archilochus, fab. 81

“After he danced at a gathering of unreasoning animals and earned a reputation, a monkey was elected their king.”

ἐν συνόδῳ τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων πίθηκος ὀρκησάμενος καὶ εὐδοκιμήσας βασιλεὺς ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη

Archilochus talks about the monkey in another fragment. Here, the monkey meets a fox.

Archilochus, Fr. 185

“I will tell you a fable, Cerycides,
With a mournful message [stick]:
A monkey was traveling ahead of the other animals,
Alone into the distance,
When a clever fox met him,
Possessing a well-formed mind.”

ἐρέω τιν’ ὕμιν αἶνον, ὦ Κηρυκίδη,
ἀχνυμένηι σκυτάληι,
πίθηκος ἤιει θηρίων ἀποκριθεὶς
μοῦνος ἀν’ ἐσχατιήν,
τῶι δ’ ἆρ’ ἀλώπηξ κερδαλῆ συνήντετο,
πυκνὸν ἔχουσα νόον.

monkey-and-fox
Les Fables d’Esope Phrygien, mises en Ryme Francoise. Auec la vie dudit Esope extraite de plusieurs autheurs par M. Antoine du Moulin Masconnois. A Lyon, Par Iean de Tournes, & Guillaume Gazeau. 1547. Fable 41. Du Singe & du Renard.

(confused about the “message stick” [ἀχνυμένηι σκυτάληι]? Me too. For a discussion, see

See Katerina Philippides’ “The Fox and the Wolf: Archilochus’ 81 D/185 W and Pindar’s “Olympian” 6, 87-91 (With Reference to “Pythian” 2)” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica. 9 (2009) 11-21).

The fabulous meeting of the monkey and fox may have even more to say to our times. Here are two fables from the Aesopic tradition. (For an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources for fables, go to mythfolklore.net)

Aesop, Fable 83

“A monkey danced at a gathering of unreasoning animals and, impressing them, was elected king. But a fox, envying him for this, noticed a piece of meat lying in a trap. She led the monkey to where it was, and said that she had discovered a storehouse on her own but did not use it because she had saved the prize for his kingdom. She advised him to take it. When he stupidly approached, he was caught by the trap. When he blamed the fox for leading him to the trap, she said, “Monkey, how are you going to be king of the animals with this kind of mind?”

In this way, people who attempt deeds without any experience slip into misfortune and absurdity.”

ΑΛΩΠΗΞ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΘΗΚΟΣ
ἐν συνόδῳ τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων πίθηκος ὀρχησάμενος καὶ εὐδοκιμήσας βασιλεὺς ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη. ἀλώπηξ δὲ αὐτῷ φθονήσασα ὡς ἐθεάσατο ἔν τινι πάγῃ κρέας κείμενον, ἀγαγοῦσα αὐτὸν ἐνταῦθα ἔλεγεν, ὡς εὑροῦσα θησαυρὸν αὐτὴ μὲν οὐκ ἐχρήσατο, γέρας δὲ αὐτῷ τῆς βασιλείας τετήρηκε καὶ παρῄνει αὐτῷ λαβεῖν. τοῦ δὲ ἀμελετήτως ἐπελθόντος καὶ ὑπὸ τῆς παγίδος συλληφθέντος αἰτιωμένου τε τὴν ἀλώπεκα ὡς ἐνεδρεύσασαν αὐτῷ ἐκείνη ἔφη· „ὦ πίθηκε, σὺ δὲ τοιαύτην ψυχὴν ἔχων τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων βασιλεύεις;”

οὕτως οἱ τοῖς πράγμασιν ἀπερισκέπτως ἐπιχειροῦντες πρὸς τῷ δυστυχεῖν καὶ γέλωτα ὀφλισκάνουσιν.

Aesop, Fab. 14

“While traveling together a fox and a monkey started arguing about their family trees. They were arguing for a while until they came to a graveyard. After he looked there, the monkey moaned. When the fox was asking why, the monkey pointed to the monuments and said, “How can I fail to weep looking at the graves of my ancestors?” The fox responded, “Lie as much as you want. None of them will stand up to refute you!”

It is the same way with men: braggarts lie the most whenever they won’t be challenged.”

ΑΛΩΠΗΞ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΘΗΚΟΣ
ἀλώπηξ καὶ πίθηκος ἐν ταὐτῷ ὁδοιποροῦντες περὶ εὐγενείας ἤριζον. πολλὰ δὲ ἑκατέρου διεξιόντος ἐπειδὴ ἐγένοντο κατά τι<νας τύμβους>, ἐνταῦθα ἀποβλέψας ἀνεστέναξεν ὁ πίθηκος. τῆς δὲ ἀλώπεκος ἐρομένης τὴν αἰτίαν ὁ πίθηκος ἐπιδείξας αὐτῇ τὰ μνήματα εἶπεν· „ἀλλ’ οὐ μέλλω κλαίειν ὁρῶν τὰς στήλας τῶν πατρικῶν μου ἀπελευθέρων καὶ δούλων;” κἀκείνη πρὸς αὐτὸν ἔφη· „ἀλλὰ ψεύδου, ὅσα βούλει. οὐδεὶς γὰρ τούτων ἀναστὰς ἐλέγξει σε.”

οὕτω καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων οἱ ψευδολόγοι τότε μάλιστα καταλαζονεύονται, ὅταν τοὺς ἐλέγχοντας μὴ ἔχωσι.

Here’s a strange variation from Phaedrus:

Phaedrus, Appendix: Simius et Vulpes (Monkey and Fox)

“A monkey was asking a fox for part of her tail
So he could properly cover his naked ass.
The mean fox said, “even if it should grow longer still
I would rather drag my tail through muck and spines
Than share with you the smaller part of mine!”

Vulpem rogabat partem caudae simius,
contegere honeste posset ut nudas nates;
cui sic maligna: “Longior fiat licet,
tamen illam citius per lutum et spinas traham,
partem tibi quam quamvis parvam impartiar.”

And just because I cannot leave well-enough alone:

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.6 (Heracleides)

“Dionysius said to him: “you will also find these lines: ‘an old monkey is not caught in a trap’; ‘he is caught, he is caught after some time’. And in addition to these, he said: “Heracleides is illiterate, but not ashamed of it.”

Διονύσιος ὅτι “καὶ ταῦτα εὑρήσεις:
α. γέρων πίθηκος οὐχ ἁλίσκεται πάγῃ:
β. ἁλίσκεται μέν, μετὰ χρόνον δ᾽ ἁλίσκεται.”
καὶ πρὸς τούτοις: “Ἡρακλείδης γράμματα οὐκ ἐπίσταται οὐδ᾽ ᾐσχύνθη.”

“Only a Fool Would Ask the God…” Plato and Xenophon on Socrates (According to Athenaeus)

In another passage (Apol. 21a), Plato says that Chaerophon asked the Pythia if anyone was wiser than Socrates and that she answered that no one was. In this, as well, Xenophon says something different (Apol.14): “When Chaerophon once asked about me at Delphi, Apollo answered that no one of the present men was more just or wise.”

How is it sensible or persuasive that Socrates, who agreed that he knew nothing, was declared the wisest of all men by the god who knows everything? If this is wisdom, knowing nothing, then knowing everything is foolishness. What need was there for Chaerophon to ask the god about Socrates? It is because itwas right to Believe Socrates when he said about himself that he was not wise. “For the man who would ask such things of a god is a fool”.

Is this the face of a fool?
Is this the face of a fool?

κἀν ἄλλοις δ’ ὁ Πλάτων φησὶ (apol. p. 21 a) Χαιρεφῶντα ἐρωτῆσαι τὴν Πυθίαν εἴ τις εἴη Σωκράτους σοφώτερος· καὶ τὴν ἀνελεῖν μηδένα. κἀν τούτοις δὲ μὴ συμφωνῶν Ξενοφῶν φησι (apol. 14)· ‘Χαιρεφῶντος γάρ ποτε ἐπερωτήσαντος ἐν Δελφοῖς ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ, ἀνεῖλεν ὁ ᾿Απόλλων <πολλῶν> παρόντων μηδένα εἶναι ἀνθρώπων ἐμοῦ μήτε δικαιότερον μήτε σωφρονέστερον.’ πῶς οὖν εὔλογον ἢ πιθανὸν Σωκράτη τὸν ὁμολογοῦντα μηδὲν ἐπίστασθαι σοφώτατον ἁπάντων ὑπὸ τοῦ πάντα ἐπισταμένου θεοῦ ἀναρρηθῆναι; εἰ γὰρ τοῦτό ἐστι σοφία, τὸ μηδὲν εἰδέναι, τὸ πάντα εἰδέναι φαυλότης ἂν εἴη. τίς δ’ ἦν χρεία τῷ Χαιρεφῶντι παρενοχλεῖν τὸν θεὸν περὶ Σωκράτους πυνθανόμενον; αὐτὸς γὰρ ἦν ἀξιόπιστος ὑπὲρ αὑτοῦ λέγων ὡς οὔκ ἐστι σοφός. ‘βλὰξ γάρ τις ἦν τοιαῦτ’ ἐρωτῶν τὸν θεόν,’