Advice for the Holidays — Mother, Zeno, and Apuleius Always Said: “Two Ears, One Mouth”

Now that the holiday season is upon us, hordes of Americans will brave weather and traffic to reunite with their families. This is the perfect moment for considering how to survive after the eating is done. Some advice from Zeno (and many others): “Two Ears, One Mouth,”

A few months back I reached out over twitter to Paul Holdengräber about his seven-word autobiography from Brainpickings.org‘s “The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians and Philosophers”. It had been in my head for a few days: “Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth.” 

I started out by having some fun putting the saying into Greek and enjoining others to do this in Latin and Greek verse.

I settled on this: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα

Armand D’Angour gave us a nice version in elegiac couplet:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

Armand added a Latin Elegiac couplet too!

en clarum est rerum ratio, nam invenimus aures
esse homini geminas, os tamen unicum adest.

But not to be completely left out, Gerrit Kloss joined in with his own version:

illud (vera patet ratio) tibi mente tenendum:
auribus est geminis, unius oris homo

While we we throwing these translations and links to Paul’s stories around online, we found that the saying had a much more complicated history than we’d originally imagined. Gerrit Kloss found it attributed to Zeno.

So, the quote I thought sounded Greek, turned out to be Greek. According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar (the full text is available on Perseus). And, honestly, without preening too much, I was happy that the version I settled on (μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα) wasn’t too different from the words attributed to Zeno: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν).

But the situation grew more complicated.

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