And there is nothing about them that I praise so much as their abhorrence of a dull, vacant mind


From Apuleius’ Florida (6.6-12). Classical authors of course often treat the ‘gymnosophists’ – like Tactitus’ Germani – as a means of indirectly criticizing their own culture but that shouldn’t devalue the sentiment.

Sunt apud illos et varia colentium genera … Est praeterea genus apud illos praestabile, gymnosophistae vocantur. Hos ego maxime admiror, quod homines sunt periti non propagandae vitis nec inoculandae arboris nec proscindendi soli; non illi norunt arvum colere vel aurum colare vel equum domare vel taurum subigere vel ovem vel capram tondere vel pascere. Quid igitur est? Unum pro his omnibus norunt: sapientiam percolunt tam magistri senes quam discipuli iuniores. Nec quicquam aeque penes illos audo, quam quod torporem animi et otium oderunt. Igitur ubi mensa posita, priusquam edulia apponantur, omnes adulescentes ex diversis locis et officiis ad dapem conveniunt; magistri perrogant, quod factum a lucis ortu ad illud diei bonum fecerint. Hic alius se commemorat inter duos arbitrum delectum, sanata simultate, reconciliata gratia, purgata suspicione amicos ex infensis reddidisse; itidem alius sese parentibus quaepiam imperantibus oboedisse, et alius aliquid meditatione sua repperisse vel alterius demonstratione didicisse, denique <cetera> ceteri commemorant. Qui nihil habet afferre cur prandeat, impransus ad opus foras extruditur.

Among the Indians there are various classes of inhabitant … They also have a preeminent class of so-called “gymnosophists.” These I admire most of all, because they are men with no skill to train a vine, graft a branch or plow the earth; they have no idea how to till a field, sieve gold, break a horse, tame a bull, or shear or pasture a sheep or a goat. What then is the reason? They know one thing worth all the rest: they study philosophy, both the old men as teachers and the young as pupils. And there is nothing about them that I praise so much as their abhorrence of a dull, vacant mind. Consequently, when the table is laid and the food not yet served, all the young men gather from their different places and occupations to dine, and their teachers ask what good deed they have done from early dawn until that hour of the day.  At this, one reports that he was chosen to arbitrate between two people, and has turned enemies into friends by patching up their quarrel, restoring their goodwill, and allaying their suspicions. Similarly, another reports that he has obeyed certain orders of his parents, and another that he has made some discovery from his own meditation or from another’s explanation, and after that the others mention other matters. If anyone cannot produce a reason why he should dine, he is driven outdoors to work without his dinner.

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