What Does Philosophy Teach? the Difference Between Knowing Things and How to Think

A warning for schools that might not think philosophy is important

Heraclitus, fr. 40

“Knowing much doesn’t teach you how to think.”

πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει

Dio Chrysostom, Orat. 70.10

“Knowing these things does not make a person’s soul better or preserve it from mistakes. But someone who pursues philosophy and has a share of its learning could never rebel against the best things, nor, because he neglected them, would he prefer something shameful or common instead, or choose to be lazy, or to eat constantly and be drunk.

For to fail to wonder at this things and to cleanse your soul of desire for them is the opposite—instead, philosophy is learning how to hate them and dismiss them. Nevertheless, there’s nothing to stop someone from claiming to be a philosopher and to be an impostor and deceive himself and others”

ὸ γὰρ ταῦτα ἐπίστασθαι οὐδὲν ποιεῖ βελτίω τὴν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ψυχὴν οὐδὲ ἀποτρέπει τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων· φιλοσοφίᾳ δὲ προσέχων τις καὶ μετασχὼν τούτου τοῦ μαθήματος οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἀποσταίη τῶν βελτίστων, οὐδὲ τούτων ἀμελήσας αἰσχρόν τι καὶ φαῦλον προέλοιτ᾿ ἂν πράττειν οὐδὲ ἀργεῖν καὶ ὀψοφαγεῖν καὶ μεθύσκεσθαι. τὸ γὰρ ταῦτα μὴ θαυμάζειν καὶ τὴν τούτων ἐπιθυμίαν ἐξαιρεῖν τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τοὐναντίον εἰς μῖσος αὐτῶν καὶ κατάγνωσιν προάγειν φιλοσοφία ἐστίν. τὸ δέ γε φῆσαι φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ ἀλαζονεύεσθαι καὶ αὑτὸν ἐξαπατῆσαι καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους οὐδὲν ἴσως κωλύει.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 5.4

“The first thing philosophy promises is a shared communion, humanity and friendship with others. Our differences from others will keep us from this promise. We must examine that those very values through which we hope to create admiration do not become laughable and hateful”

Hoc primum philosophia promittit, sensum communem,humanitatem et congregationem. A qua professione dissimilitudo nos separabit. Videamus, ne ista, per quae admirationem parare volumus, ridicula et odiosa sint.


Gnomologium Vaticanum 289

“Erasistratos [the doctor] used to say that medicine was philosophy’s sister: one treats maladies of the spirit, the other treats those of the body.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς τὴν ἰατρικὴν τῆς φιλοσοφίας ἔφησεν ἀδελφὴν εἶναι· τὴν μὲν γὰρ τὰ ψυχικά, τὴν δὲ τὰ σωματικὰ θεραπεύειν ἀῤῥωστήματα.


Epictetus, Encheiridion 22

“If you desire to study philosophy, prepare to be mocked because many people will ridicule you”

Εἰ φιλοσοφίας ἐπιθυμεῖς, παρασκευάζου αὐτόθεν ὡς καταγελασθησόμενος, ὡς καταμωκησομένων σου πολλῶν

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Laurentius de Voltolina

Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 5: Lines 56-66

This is installment five of a working commentary on the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice. We have posted a translation elsewhere and welcome comments or suggestions on any part of this project.


56 Πρὸς τάδε μειδήσας Φυσίγναθος ἀντίον ηὔδα•
57 ξεῖνε λίην αὐχεῖς ἐπὶ γαστέρι• ἔστι καὶ ἡμῖν
58 πολλὰ μάλ’ ἐν λίμνῃ καὶ ἐπὶ χθονὶ θαύματ’ ἰδέσθαι.
59 ἀμφίβιον γὰρ ἔδωκε νομὴν βατράχοισι Κρονίων,
60 σκιρτῆσαι κατὰ γαῖαν, ἐν ὕδασι σῶμα καλύψαι,
61 στοιχείοις διττοῖς μεμερισμένα δώματα ναίειν.
62 εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις καὶ ταῦτα δαήμεναι εὐχερές ἐστι•
63 βαῖνέ μοι ἐν νώτοισι, κράτει δέ με μήποτ’ ὀλίσθῃς,
64 ὅππως γηθόσυνος τὸν ἐμὸν δόμον εἰσαφίκηαι.
65 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ νῶτ’ ἐδίδου• ὁ δ’ ἔβαινε τάχιστα
66 χεῖρας ἔχων τρυφεροῖο κατ’ αὐχένος ἅμματι κούφῳ.


56 μειδήσας: “Grinning”, often appears in responses to speeches in Homer, e.g. Il. 23.555 ( ῝Ως φάτο, μείδησεν δὲ ποδάρκης δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεὺς). This masculine participle seems a bit more popular in the Hellenistic period, see Ap. Rhodes 2.61 and Gr. Anth. 12.126.3.

ἀντίον ηὔδα: “He responded, answered back”; a typical Homeric speech introduction for answering.

57 ξεῖνε λίην αὐχεῖς ἐπὶ γαστέρι
λίην: “excessively”, adv.
αὐχεῖς: “You brag about ..” with ἐπὶ γαστέρι. αὐχεῖς is not a Homeric word, but it does appear in Aeschylus (Ag. 1497; cf. Eur. Her. 31 Χο. εἰ σὺ μέγ’ αὐχεῖς).

ἐπὶ γαστέρι: “on your belly” with the sense of “because of”. See Smyth §1689.2c. This is not a typical use of the preposition in Homer. The phrase does appear in the Odyssey (7.216: οὐ γάρ τι στυγερῇ ἐπὶ γαστέρι κύντερον ἄλλο) but the sense there seems more one of addition or comparison (“there is nothing more shameful beyond a belly”).

ἔστι καὶ ἡμῖν: Dative of possession with subject enjambed in the next line.

58 θαύματ’ ἰδέσθαι: This plural (θαύματ’) does not occur in Homer. For the singular with this infinitive, see Hom. Od. 13.108: φάρε’ ὑφαίνουσιν ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι. The phrase-pattern may have a certain antiquity, however. Cf. the plural at Hes. Th. 834. The rhythmic shape is the same with either ending.

59 ἀμφίβιον…νομὴν: “amphibious realm”; lit. “a double-lived pasture”
Κρονίων: “Son of Kronos”, Zeus, a typical Homeric epithet for Zeus in this position.

60 σκιρτῆσαι κατὰ γαῖαν, ἐν ὕδασι σῶμα καλύψαι: The verb δίδωμι (here, ἔδωκε) often takes an infinitive (i.e. “Zeus grants that we dance upon the earth”). But combined here with the object ἀμφίβιον…νομὴν it seems a bit forced. The chiastic structure of this line (infinitive-prepositional phrases-infinitive) seems rather characteristic of Hellenistic play. Note as well the possible humorous foreshadowing in “covering the body in water” (σῶμα καλύψαι).

61 στοιχείοις: “Parts, or elements”; this is a lengthened or diminutive of στοῖχος which means “row or rank”. The meaning “parts” or “elements” is rather common in philosophical prose. But it also appears more colloquially as well, and a few times in Aesop as in Fab 32.2.9 (“The story shows that no place, no land, no sky nor any part of the water safekeeps murders of men”, ὁ μῦθος δηλοῖ, ὅτι τοὺς φονεῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων οὔτε γῆς οὔτε ἀέρος οὔτε ὕδατος στοιχεῖον οὔτε τόπος ἄλλος φυλάττει). The root noun certainly was available as early as Homer, cf. “in a ranked line” μεταστοιχί (Il. 23.358)
᾿Αναξίμανδρος Πραξιάδου Μιλήσιος. οὗτος ἔφασκεν ἀρχὴν
καὶ στοιχεῖον τὸ ἄπειρον, οὐ διορίζων ἀέρα ἢ ὕδωρ ἢ ἄλλο τι (Diog. Laert. 2.1)

διττοῖς: Un-Homeric. A word such διπλόος would be more common epic usage. Theognis has the non-Attic Δισσαί (837)

δώματα ναίειν: “to inhabit homes”, still governed by ἔδωκε, i.e. “Zeus has granted that we inhabit…” Cf. Hes. Th. 303: ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ δάσσαντο θεοὶ κλυτὰ δώματα ναίειν and νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, θεὰ δ’ ἐν δώματα ναίει (Odyssey 1.51)

μεμερισμένα: “divided” from μερίζω, “to divide”. This participle does not occur in Homer, but it can be found in a scholion to The Odyssey, which says of the Aethiopians: Αἰθίοπες ἀνατολικοὶ καὶ δυσμικοί. κατοικοῦσι δὲ ἀμφότεροι πρὸς τῷ ὠκεανῷ. τούτου χάριν φησὶν “ἔσχατοι ἀνδρῶν.” E. νενέμηνται, μεμερισμένοι εἰσίν. (Scholia in Odysseam, Book 1 Line 23.)This gives the boast of Phusignathos a comic effect by extending his range between the real and semi-mythical worlds. See also line 20, where Okeanoio is a given as a variant of Eridanoio.

62 δαήμεναι: from δάω Homeric infinitive, “to learn”, often with a genitive direct object in Homer Cf. Il. 21.487 (εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις πολέμοιο δαήμεναι…)

εὐχερές: Lit. “ready-to-hand”, i.e. “easy”

63 βαῖνέ… ἐν: tmesis is common in Homer; ἐμβαίνω is often used with getting on ships.

ἐν νώτοισι: “on my back”. The plural is often used metaphorically in Homer for the sea (e.g. Od. 17.146: οἵ κέν μιν πέμποιεν ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάσσης.) but this dative form appears twice in references to portions of meat (Il. 7.321; Od. 14.437), although archaic poetry also uses it with horses (see Theognis 249: οὐχ ἵππων νώτοισιν ἐφήμενος• ἀλλά σε πέμψει)

κράτει δέ με μήποτ’ ὀλίσθῃς: from κρατέω (imperative singular, often confused with the third person indicative κρατεῖ); “Hold me tight so you don’t slip off”; The verb κράτει has no parallels in Homer but appears with a genitive object in Sophocles (Philokt. 1292: πρότεινε χεῖρα, καὶ κράτει τῶν σῶν ὅπλων).

64 γηθόσυνος: “Happy”, a Homeric adjective, e.g. Il. 4.272 ( ῝Ως ἔφατ’, ᾿Ατρεΐδης δὲ παρῴχετο γηθόσυνος κῆρ).

ὅππως …εἰσαφίκηαι: Uncontracted middle aorist optative from ὰφικνέομαι (optative because of ὅππως (lengthened from ὅπως for metrical reasons), object clause of effort). This is a Homeric form, though rare: μὴ καὶ ὑπὲρ μοῖραν δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἰσαφίκηαι, 30.336). In Homer, object clauses may take the subjunctive or optative where Attic might use future forms. See Smyth §2217.

65 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ: A typical speech conclusion, cf. Il. 1.584 (῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ ἀναΐξας δέπας ἀμφικύπελλον)

ὁ δ’: The particle δέ is frequently used to signal a subject change.

ἐδίδου: Imperfect, 3rd singular active. This form occurs once in Homer (Od. 11.289).

66 χεῖρας ἔχων τρυφεροῖο κατ’ αὐχένος:
τρυφεροῖο: Some manuscripts ἀπαλοῖο. Restored, the phrase recalls Iliadic battle language: ἀντικρὺ δ’ ἁπαλοῖο δι’ αὐχένος ἤλυθ’ ἀκωκή, Il.17.49.

κατ’ αὐχένος: “around, along the neck”. This combination is rare in the Classical period.

ἅμματι κούφῳ: “ghostly brine”; Some manuscripts have ἀλματι καλω̣῀,