But to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise

From the conclusion of Plato’s Laches (201B)

Socrates: ….Now if in the debates that we have just held I had been found to know what our two friends did not know, it would be right to make a point of inviting me to take up this work: but as it is, we have all got into the same difficulty, so why should one of us be preferred to another? In my own opinion, none of us should; and this being so, perhaps you will allow me to give you a piece of advice. I tell you, gentlemen—and this is confidential—that we ought all alike to seek out the best teacher we can find, first for ourselves—for we need one—and then for our boys, sparing neither expense nor anything else we can do: but to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise. And if anyone makes fun of us for seeing fit to go to school at our time of life, I think we should appeal to Homer, who said that “shame is no good mate for a needy man.”

ΣΩ. Καὶ γὰρ ἂν δεινὸν εἴη, ὦ Λυσίμαχε, τοῦτό γε, μὴ ἐθέλειν τῳ συμπροθυμεῖσθαι ὡς βελτίστῳ γενέσθαι. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐν τοῖς διαλόγοις τοῖς ἄρτι ἐγὼ μὲν ἐφάνην εἰδώς, τώδε δὲ μὴ εἰδότε, δίκαιον ἂν ἦν ἐμὲ μάλιστα ἐπὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔργον παρακαλεῖν· νῦν δ᾿, ὁμοίως γὰρ πάντες ἐν ἀπορίᾳ ἐγενόμεθα· τί οὖν ἄν τις ἡμῶν τινὰ προαιροῖτο; ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν δὴ αὐτῷ δοκεῖ οὐδένα· ἀλλ᾿ ἐπειδὴ ταῦτα οὕτως ἔχει, σκέψασθε ἄν τι δόξω συμβουλεύειν ὑμῖν. ἐγὼ γάρ φημι χρῆναι, ὦ ἄνδρες—οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔκφορος λόγος—κοινῇ πάντας ἡμᾶς ζητεῖν μάλιστα μὲν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς διδάσκαλον ὡς ἄριστον—δεόμεθα γάρ—ἔπειτα καὶ τοῖς μειρακίοις, μήτε χρημάτων φειδομένους μήτε ἄλλου μηδενός· ἐᾷν δὲ ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς ἔχειν, ὡς νῦν ἔχομεν, οὐ συμβουλεύω. εἰ δέ τις ἡμῶν καταγελάσεται, ὅτι τηλικοίδε ὄντες εἰς διδασκάλων Βἀξιοῦμεν φοιτᾷν, τὸν Ὅμηρον δοκεῖ μοι χρῆναι προβάλλεσθαι, ὃς ἔφη οὐκ ἀγαθὴν εἶναι αἰδῶ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.

The Homer quote is from Odyssey 17.347 as Telemachus and Odysseus-as-beggar have arrived in Odysseus’ home:

Then Telemachus called the swineherd to him, and, taking a whole loaf from the beautiful basket, and all the meat his hands could hold in his grasp, spoke to him, saying:

“Take, and give this to the stranger, and bid him go about himself and beg of the suitors one and all. Shame is no good thing in a man that is in need.”

Τηλέμαχος δ᾿ ἐπὶ οἷ καλέσας προσέειπε συβώτην,
ἄρτον τ᾿ οὖλον ἑλὼν περικαλλέος ἐκ κανέοιο
καὶ κρέας, ὥς οἱ χεῖρες ἐχάνδανον ἀμφιβαλόντι·

“δὸς τῷ ξείνῳ ταῦτα φέρων αὐτόν τε κέλευε
αἰτίζειν μάλα πάντας ἐποιχόμενον μνηστῆρας·
αἰδὼς δ᾿ οὐκ ἀγαθὴ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.”



So to me there is nothing unusual, or unpleasant either, in being tried and tested by Socrates

From Plato’s Laches, as Nicias preps Lysimachus, Socrates’ two partners in the dialogue, for what’s in store.  Text and translation are the Loeb.

Nicias: You strike me as not being aware that, whoever comes into close contact with Socrates and has any talk with him face to face, is bound to be drawn round and round by him in the course of the argument—though it may have started at first on a quite different theme—and cannot stop until he is led into giving an account of himself, of the manner in which he now spends his days, and of the kind of life he has lived hitherto; and when once he has been led into that, Socrates will never let him go until he has thoroughly and properly put all his ways to the test. Now I am accustomed to him, and so I know that one is bound to be thus treated by him, and further, that I myself shall certainly get the same treatment also. For I delight, Lysimachus, in conversing with the man, and see no harm in our being reminded of any past or present misdoing: nay, one must needs take more careful thought for the rest of one’s life, if one does not fly from his words but is willing, as Solon said, and zealous to learn as long as one lives, and does not expect to get good sense by the mere arrival of old age. So to me there is nothing unusual, or unpleasant either, in being tried and tested by Socrates; in fact, I knew pretty well all the time that our argument would not be about the boys if Socrates were present, but about ourselves.

Οὔ μοι δοκεῖς εἰδέναι ὅτι, ὃς ἂν ἐγγύτατα Σωκράτους ᾖ [λόγῳ ὥσπερ γένει]1 καὶ πλησιάζῃ διαλεγόμενος, ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ, ἐὰν ἄρα καὶ περὶ ἄλλου του πρότερον ἄρξηται διαλέγεσθαι, μὴ παύεσθαι ὑπὸ τούτου περιαγόμενον τῷ λόγῳ, πρὶν ἂν ἐμπέσῃ εἰς τὸ διδόναι περὶ αὑτοῦ λόγον, ὅντινα τρόπον νῦν τε ζῇ καὶ ὅντινα τὸν παρεληλυθότα βίον βεβίωκεν· ἐπειδὰν δ᾿ ἐμπέσῃ, ὅτι οὐ πρότερον αὐτὸν ἀφήσει Σωκράτης, πρὶν ἂν βασανίσῃ ταῦτα εὖ τε καὶ καλῶς ἅπαντα. ἐγὼ δὲ συνήθης τέ εἰμι τῷδε καὶ οἶδ᾿ ὅτι ἀνάγκη ὑπὸ τούτου πάσχειν ταῦτα, καὶ ἔτι γε αὐτὸς ὅτι πείσομαι ταῦτα εὖ οἶδα· χαίρω γάρ, ὦ Λυσίμαχε, τῷ ἀνδρὶ πλησιάζων, καὶ οὐδὲν οἶμαι κακὸν εἶναι τὸ ὑπομιμνήσκεσθαι ὅ τι μὴ καλῶς ἢ πεποιήκαμεν ἢ ποιοῦμεν, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸν ἔπειτα βίον προμηθέστερον ἀνάγκη εἶναι τὸν ταῦτα μὴ φεύγοντα, ἀλλ᾿ ἐθέλοντα κατὰ τὸ τοῦ Σόλωνος καὶ ἀξιοῦντα μανθάνειν ἕωσπερ ἂν ζῇ, καὶ μὴ οἰόμενον αὐτῷ τὸ γῆρας νοῦν ἔχον προσιέναι. ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν οὐδὲν ἄηθες οὐδ᾿ αὖ ἀηδὲς ὑπὸ Σωκράτους βασανίζεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ πάλαι σχεδόν τι ἠπιστάμην, ὅτι οὐ περὶ τῶν μειρακίων ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος ἔσοιτο Σωκράτους παρόντος, ἀλλὰ περὶ ἡμῶν αὐτῶν.

Solon’s actual words (referred to again later in the dialogue and in more exact fashion) survive in one of his fragments (fr.10): γηράσκω δ᾿ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος, “I grow old learning ever more and more”.

Do not stir the fire with a sword

From Erasmus’ Adagia (2.6).  My own hasty rendering.


‘Do not stir the fire with a sword’, that is to say, do not provoke someone already stirred to anger.  It is far better to yield and calm his enraged spirit with kind words.  This is the opinion of Saint Jerome and of Demetrius of Byzantium, cited by Athenaeus.
Diogenes Laertius explains that the choleric temperament of violent and wrathful men ought not to be stirred up with reproaches, because the more a flame is stirred up, the stronger it grows.
Plutarch does not judge any differently.
Plato, however, in Book 6 of The Laws, has used this saying of men who strive in vain for what can be in no way accomplished, showing this to have been a type of game – that they would cut up a fire with a sword.
Saint Basil mentions a nearly identical sense in his letter to his nephews – how they wish to cut fire with a sword and draw water with a sieve.
And it is surely to that definition that Lucian refers in book 2 of his True History.  He tells that that at his departure from the Isles of the Blessed, Rhadamanthus ordered him to follow three rules when he came back to our earth: not to stir the fire with a sword, not to eat beans, and not to bed a boy more than 18 years old.  If he kept these in mind, he would one day return to the isle.
It seems that Horace, by this saying, points out cruelty mixed with madness.  For love is in itself mad and if it breaks forth into fighting and murder, the fire is pierced by a sword.  Satire 2.3: “Add bloodshed to these and stire the fire with a sword.”

Πῦρ σιδήρῳ μὴ σκαλεύειν, id est• Ignem gladio ne fodito, hoc est ira percitum ne
lacessas. Quin magis concedere conuenit et blandis verbis tumidum animum
placare. Ita diuus Hieronymus et apud Athenaeum Demetrius Byzantius.
Diogenes Laertius exponit potentium et ferocium iracundiam non esse
conuitiis exagitandam, propterea quod flamma quo magis exagitatur, hoc
magis atque magis inualescit. Neque dissentit ab hoc interpretamento Plutarchus.
Quanquam Plato libro De legibus sexto sic vsurpauit, vt de iis dici
solitum videatur, qui frustra moliuntur quod effici nullo pacto queat, osten-
dens id lusus genus quoddam fuisse, vt ignem gladio dissecarent. Ad eundem
ferme sensum retulit diuus Basilius in Epistola ad nepotes, vt idem sibi velint
ignem gladio dissecare et cribro haurire aquam. Huc nimirum allusit Lucianus
in secundo Verarum narrationum libro, cum ex insulis fortunatis dimitteretur,
fingens se a Rhadamantho admonitum, vt si quando rediret in hunc nostrum
orbem, tria quaedam obseruaret, Μὴ πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ σκαλεύειν, μήτε θερμούς
ἐσθίειν, μήτε παιδὶ ὑπὲρ τὰ ὀκτωκαίδεκα• ἔτη πλησιάζειν, id est Ne gladio ignem
diuerberaret, ne lupinis vesceretur, ne se puero decimumoctauum annum egresso adiunge-
ret. Si quidem horum meminisset, futurum vt aliquando ad eam insulam
reuerteretur. Horatius hoc dicto videtur indicare crudelitatem cum insania
coniunctam. Amor enim per se furor est, qui si erumpat in pugnas ac caedes,
ignis gladio perfoditur. Libro Sermonum secundo, satyra iii.: His adde cruorem
/ atque ignem gladio scrutare.

ᾗ ἐκείνη ὑφηγεῖται

Plato’s Phaedo 82d-83e.  It is too long a passage to fight with the copy/paste issues from the Loeb database.

…but they themselves consider that they must not do anything contrary to philosophy, and by both the release of the soul and its purification they are turned this way and follow it where it leads (ᾗ ἐκείνη ὑφηγεῖται)..

“How, Socrates?”

“I’ll tell you,” he said. “You see those who love learning recognize that philosophy takes in hand their soul, which is utterly bound up in the body and fastened to it and forced to examine reality through it, as if through prison bars, but not by itself on its own, and is wallowing in total ignorance; and philosophy has discerned that the cunning thing about the prisonis that it comes from desire,as if the prisoner were himself the chief accomplice in his being tied up. So what I’m saying is that the lovers of learning recognize that philosophy, in taking their soul in hand in this state, gently reassures it and tries to release it by demonstrating that inquiry through the eyes is full of deception, as also is that through the ears and the other senses. It persuades it to retreat from these senses except where it is necessary to use them, and encourages the soul to gather and collect itself togetherand trust nothing else but itself in itself, whichever of the realities alone by itself it thinks about alone by itself; but to consider nothing as true that it examines through other means, what is variable in varying conditions: that kind of thingis perceivable and visible, but the soul sees what is intelligible and invisible. So thinking it mustn’t oppose this release, the soul of a true philosopher for that reason keeps away from pleasures, desires, pains, and fears as far as it can, reckoning that whenever you’re over much affected by pleasure or pain or fear or desire you don’t suffer so great harm from these, the ones that you’d think,c for example falling ill, or spending money on your desires, but you do suffer the greatest and ultimate of all evils and take no account of it.”

“What is this, Socrates?” said Cebes.

“That the soul of every person, at the same time as experiencing extreme pleasure or pain over something, is compelled to suppose that whatever it is suffering in particularis the most palpable and most real, even though it’s not so. Things like this are especially those seen, or is that not so?”

“Very much so.”

“Isn’t it in this experience that the soul is especially bound fast by the body?”

“How do you mean?”

“Because each pleasure and pain fixes it as if with a nail and pins it to the body and makes it body-like, supposing that whatever the body says is the truth. You see as a result of sharing the body’s beliefsand enjoying the same things, it’s compelled, I think, to become the same in its habits and upbringing that are such that it never reaches Hades in purity but must always depart infected by the body, eso that it quickly falls backinto another body again and grows there like a seed sown, and as a result of this has no part in communion with the divine, the pure and uniform.”

Perhaps indeed there exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world participates

From Within a Budding Grove, somewhat continuing the previous observation of the Platonic imagery often surfacing in Proust – though here I feel he pulls more from Plotinus and the Neoplatonics:

And yet I ought perhaps to have reminded myself that, since it was in all sincerity, abandoning myself to the train of my thoughts, that I had felt, on the one hand, so intensely in sympathy with the work of Bergotte and on the other hand, in the theatre, a disappointment the reason of which I did not know, those two instinctive movements which had both carried me away could not be so very different from one another, but must be obedient to the same laws; and that that mind of Bergotte which I had loved in his books could not be anything entirely foreign and hostile to my disappointment and to my inability to express it. For my intelligence must be a uniform thing, perhaps indeed there exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world participates, towards which each of us from the position of his own separate body turns his eyes, as in a theatre where, if everyone has his own separate seat, there is on the other hand but a single stage. Of course, the ideas which I was tempted to seek to disentangle were probably not those whose depths Bergotte usually sounded in his books. But if it were one and the same intelligence which we had, he and I, at our disposal, he must, when he heard me express those ideas, be reminded of them, cherish them, smile upon them, keeping probably, in spite of what I supposed, before his mind’s eye a whole world of intelligence other than that an excerpt of which had passed into his books, an excerpt upon which I had based my imagination of his whole mental universe. Just as priests, having the widest experience of the human heart, are best able to pardon the sins which they do not themselves commit, so genius, having the widest experience of the human intelligence, can best understand the ideas most directly in opposition to those which form the foundation of its own writings.

J’aurais peut-être dû pourtant me dire que puisque c’était sincèrement, en m’abandonnant à ma pensée, que d’une part j’avais tant sympathisé avec l’uvre de Bergotte et que, d’autre part, j’avais éprouvé au théâtre un désappointement dont je ne connaissais pas les raisons, ces deux mouvements instinctifs qui m’avaient entraîné ne devaient pas être si différents l’un de l’autre, mais obéir aux mêmes lois; et que cet esprit de Bergotte, que j’avais aimé dans ses livres ne devait pas être quelque chose d’entièrement étranger et hostile à ma déception et à mon incapacité de l’exprimer. Car mon intelligence devait être une, et peut-être même n’en existe-t-il qu’une seule dont tout le monde est co-locataire, une intelligence sur laquelle chacun, du fond de son corps particulier porte ses regards, comme au théâtre, où si chacun a sa place, en revanche, il n’y a qu’une seule scène. Sans doute, les idées que j’avais le goût de chercher à démêler, n’étaient pas celles qu’approfondissait d’ordinaire Bergotte dans ses livres. Mais si c’était la même intelligence que nous avions lui et moi à notre disposition, il devait, en me les entendant exprimer, se les rappeler, les aimer, leur sourire, gardant probablement, malgré ce que je supposais, devant son il intérieur, tout une autre partie de l’intelligence que celle dont une découpure avait passé dans ses livres et d’après laquelle j’avais imaginé tout son univers mental. De même que les prêtres, ayant la plus grande expérience du cur, peuvent le mieux pardonner aux péchés qu’ils ne commettent pas, de même le génie ayant la plus grande expérience de l’intelligence peut le mieux comprendre les idées qui sont le plus opposées à celles qui forment le fond de ses propres oeuvres

Being the most elegant of writers in the Greek, he will not wish to appear lacking in taste in Latin

I’m reading last year’s updated reissue of N.G. Wilson’s From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance.  In a slight digression into early approaches to translation – important since using bilingual Latin/Greek texts was a valid learning method for many scholars – Wilson quotes a letter of Leonardo Bruni’s on his approach to rendering Plato’s Phaedo into Latin:

I am keeping close to Plato.  I call up a vision of him, one that speaks Latin, so that he may judge, and I will ask him to bear witness to the translation of his own work.  I translated him in a way that I understand will give him most pleasure.  So first of all I preserve every statement without the least deviation from its meaning; then if a word-for-word rendering is possible without oddity or absurdity, this is most welcome; when it is not possible, I am not so timid as to fear accusation of lese-majeste if I depart a little from the working while preserving the sense, always avoiding absurdity.  This is what Plato by his speeches obliges me to do; being the most elegant of writers in the Greek, he will not wish to appear lacking in taste in Latin.

While Wilson doesn’t give the Latin text he does cite a 1741 Florentine edition of Bruni’s letters edited by L. Mehus (Epistle 1.6).  This edition has conveniently been digitized by Google but I couldn’t manage to match the citations.  Fortunately I have a book buying fund to hand and there’s a 2007 facsimile edition (edited and with a new preface by James Hankins) available.  Likely no one will ever use it again but it will satisfy a morning’s whim.

What else should one do in the time before sunset?

From Plato’s Phaedo (61e) – a portion of Socrates’ conversation with his friends on the day of his sunset execution.  I’ve wanted to use this on bookplates but no one is set up to print Greek.

And it’s perhaps especially fitting for one who is about to take his leave to examine the life beyond and tell stories about it: what kind of experience we think it is. What else should one do in the time before sunset?

καὶ γὰρ ἴσως καὶ μάλιστα πρέπει μέλλοντα ἐκεῖσε ἀποδημεῖν διασκοπεῖν τε καὶ μυθολογεῖν περὶ τῆς ἀποδημίας τῆς ἐκεῖ, ποίαν τινὰ αὐτὴν οἰόμεθα εἶναι· τί γὰρ ἄν τις καὶ ποιοῖ ἄλλο ἐν τῷ μέχρι ἡλίου δυσμῶν χρόνῳ;


To know whether I am a monster more complicated and more furious than Typhon

From Plato’s Phaedrus:

Socrates: But I have no leisure for [this subject] at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous,  when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things. And so I dismiss these matters and accepting the customary belief about them, as I was saying just now, I investigate not these things, but myself, to know whether I am a monster more complicated and more furious than Typhon or a gentler and simpler creature, to whom a divine and quiet lot is given by nature. [Fowler translation]

[229ε]… ἐμοὶ δὲ πρὸς αὐτὰ οὐδαμῶς ἐστι σχολή: τὸ δὲ αἴτιον, ὦ φίλε, τούτου τόδε. οὐ δύναμαί πω κατὰ τὸ Δελφικὸν γράμμα γνῶναι ἐμαυτόν: γελοῖον δή μοι φαίνεται. [230α] τοῦτο ἔτι ἀγνοοῦντα τὰ ἀλλότρια σκοπεῖν. ὅθεν δὴ χαίρειν ἐάσας ταῦτα, πειθόμενος δὲ τῷ νομιζομένῳ περὶ αὐτῶν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, σκοπῶ οὐ ταῦτα ἀλλ᾽ ἐμαυτόν, εἴτε τι θηρίον ὂν τυγχάνω Τυφῶνος πολυπλοκώτερον καὶ μᾶλλον ἐπιτεθυμμένον, εἴτε ἡμερώτερόν τε καὶ ἁπλούστερον ζῷον, θείας τινὸς καὶ ἀτύφου μοίρας φύσει μετέχον