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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Apophthegmata , aphorisms, adages, maxims, axioms, sentences,

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The Greeks were the ones who decided that knowledge and advances in knowledge should be taught to citizens and that these were to be educated in that knowledge and respect for the law. Certainly neither the Greeks nor the Romans created a public system similar to modern education, but an education system with its various stages.

In the beginning is the family itself that educates children in the four letters and numbers and on the respect to religion and to rules with examples of ancestors. Then the rich and powerful families responsible to a teacher or paedagogus, usually a slave, education;  the less well people attend schools, which by they are  called "ludus",  game, to 15 years, with the magister, the teacher. For rich young  is organized from the second century BC secondary education in Latin and Greek with grammaticus, who teaches literature and particularly Greek  literature and with  rhetor,  who taughts eloquence; the  luckiest people access to higher education in some Greek city after 18 years.

However, an important element of the education of citizenship, what concerns society,  is the knowledge of the great events and memorable thoughts of illustrious ancestors, teaching by example of the illustrious people.

For example says Plato in his Protagoras, 325d-326a:

After this they send them to school and charge the master to take far more pains over their children's good behavior than over their letters and harp-playing. The masters take pains accordingly, and the children, when they have learnt their letters and are getting to understand the written word as before they did only the spoken, are furnished with works of good poets to read as they sit in class, and are made to learn them off by heart: a here they meet with many admonitions, many descriptions and praises and eulogies of good men in times past, that the boy in envy may imitate them and yearn to become even as they. (translated by W.R.M. Lamb)

Quote of the deeds, words and deeds of those people with educational intent is constant in the writings of any author. To facilitate the use of those sayings which collect such facts or thoughts,  selections and collections of them are edited. These selections are continuously  without interruption from antiquity to the present day, from Plutarch to modern Latin dictionaries of phrases and expressions, or collections of sayings, etc.. through Humanists like Erasmus.

There are constant publishing  of "sayings" attributed to the Seven Sages. Not so long ago Editorial Gredos published in 1991, with the help of Alvaro Galmés, the work "Sayings of the Seven Sages  of  Greece. Moral sentences in verse"  from a Moorish-aljamiad manuscript, it is, a Moorish text on romance , written in Arabic characters.

It is common, for example, to gather   the striking sentences  of noted  authors, such as  the “Marci Tullii Ciceronis Sententia illustriores” of Peter Lagnerio, Paris, 1546. In these codes are examples and said which all kinds of speakers or authors of the XVI, XVII, XVII  centuries  use to adorn their  speeches, sermons, letters, etc..

In fact humanists often prepare a folder or personal binder   which in Latin is called "codex excerptorius, catalog quoting" in which are noted all the passages of the ancients that they find of interest. Sometimes they publish these satchels or just use  them as an aid to adorn their reflections.

These collections receive many names. Some of them should be cited an should be defined, at least the less obvious to the potential reader. It is true that  the perfect synonymy does not exist and  there are differences and nuances between them, but all are agree on the basics: brevity, density of expressed concept, importance to the lives of individual people, especially for moral education.

This use of short sentences full of meaning is somehow precedent for current microblogs ,like twitter, which  facilitate social communication but limiting the number of characters in each message.

They are called aphorisms, apophthegmata, maxims, adages, proverbs, paroimia,  witticisms, axioms, sayings, sentences, gnomic exprexiones, thoughts, advice, opinions, instructions, precepts, judgments, principles, reflections, emblems, satires, apologues, fables and with a Greco-Latin term polyantheae, (Greek πολύς much, and ἄνθος flower) florilegio or anthologies or collections of flowers (literary, naturally).

This blog is defined as “1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world”

Aphorism (from Lat. Aphorismus, and this from  Gr. Ἀφορισμός , from ἀφορίζω, to set limits). According to the Royal Spanish Academy it is defined as "a brief and doctrinal sentence which is proposed as a rule in any science or art. Corominas says "brief statement is given as a rule"; Lazaro Carreter : "short phrase that sums up essential knowledge , often medical or legal. "

Apophthegmata: (from Greek ἀπόφθεγμα, from ἀπό , apo, apart, away, from = apart, away,  and φθέγγομαί, phthengomai = call out, enunciate a judgment). Apophthegma is a brief statement or  brief and memorable sentence of  an illustrious  character which  encloses a moral content. Cicero says in  (On moral duties) De Officiis, I, 104:

and we have many witty sayings of many men — like those collected by old Cato under the title of Bons Mots (apophthegmata)

multaque multorum facete dicta, ut ea, quae a sene Catone collecta sunt, quae vocant ἀποφθέγματα.

(Note: Do not confuse with apothem, a geometry term which refers to a perpendicular line from the center of a polygon to one side).

Axiom:  from  ἀξίωμα, axiom, dignity, from ἀξίόω, just judging from ἄξιος, right), statement whose truth is accepted without discussion to build a moral or intellectual thought.

Gnomic (expression): from γνωμἰκός, gnomikós, judgmental, from γνώμη, Gnome, knowledge, judgment.

Paremy: from Greek  παροιμία,  paroimia, proverb, saying,  instruction.

Adage: from Latin adagium: brief statement which proposes  a moral action.

Maxim and sentence (Latin sententiae): shorthand for "maximae sentences" general proposition that expresses a incontestable truth that provides a standard of conduct or moral warning. Sententia comes from sentire, feel, think; it is a proposition which contains a profound reflection.

Proverb: from Latin proverbium, commonly used phase which involves a moral truth in a nutshell.

Refrain: this comes from the Old French and Occitan refranh, chorus, which became synonymous of proverb from  its function of lyrics chorus.

Acuity is the sustantivación of  acute sayings,"witticisms."

The collections of these sentences or thoughts are called Dicta aurea, Golden sayings,  because they equate its value to the most precious metal, anthologies,  or polyantheae,  (polyantheae, polianteae, from Greek πολύς much, and ἄνθος, flower), miscellaneous or mixtures, etc..

As an example I will comment an famous apophthegma  or maxim attributed to Agesilaus  with  which you try to teach that it is not the occupied  place what  honors  the person, but the person that ennobles the place.

Plutarch says in his Laconica Apophthegmata 2.6:

When he was still a boy, at a celebration of the festival of the naked boys the director of the dance assigned him to an inconspicuous place; and he obeyed, although he was already destined to be king, saying, ‘ Good ! I shall show that it is not the places that make men to be held in honour, but the men the places.’  (Translation by. Frank Cole Babbitt.)

The same Plutarch, in Moralia 149 A, p. 564-5 (Plutarchi Chaeronensis, quae supersunt, omnia: Operum Moralium et .. Volume VI, Edition by Iohan Reiske Iacob, Lipsiae 1777) recalled the episode and said, according to the aforementioned Latin version:

We should not worry on where or who put us behind, but it suited us to be with those with whom we feel.

Non enim curandum est quo loco aut post quos collocemur: sed ut, quibus assidemus, cum iis bene nobis conveniat.

Then he attributes the event to another character, Damonidas in Moralia, 219, 35, pag. 822 (Plutarchi Chaeronensis, quae supersunt, omnia: Operum Moralium et .. Volume VI, Edition Iohan Reiske Iacob, Lipsiae 1777)

Damonidas placed in last place in the choir by director of the choir, said: I congratulate, corego (director), because  you have found a reason to honor this place until now devalued.

Damonidas, ultimo loco in choro constitutus ab eo, qui chorum instituebat: laudo te, inquit, chorage, qui rationem  inveneris, qua hunc quoque locum alioqui  ignominiosum cohonestares. 

In turn Diogenes Laertius in II, 73, tells it  applied to Aristippus:

Being once compelled by Dionysius to enunciate some doctrine of philosophy, "It would be ludicrous," he said, "that you should learn from me what to say, and yet instruct me when to say it." At this, they say, Dionysius was offended and made him recline at the end of the table. And Aristippus said, "You must have wished to confer distinction on the last place." (translated by Robert Drew Hicks)

Erasmus collects  it  referred to Agesilaus in his Apophthegmata, I, Agesilaus, 8, p.18

So the fact, that is educational , is award without strictness  to several different authors already in antiquity.

Therefore less striking is a similar story in modern times we have heard of General and President of the French Republic, Charles De Gaulle and although plausible, it have not been documented by me. According to this version, De Gaulle was once placed in a wrong place according to the protocol and when they tried to correct the error and suggested him  the right place, he refused, saying: "the presidency is where the president is."

Even more recently, in a successfully series of  Spanish Television about  the reign of Isabel the Catholic, issued last December 2, 2013, at the time when King Boabdil gives the city of Granada, his son asks where to go now. Boabdill responds they will  live in a castle in southern where they  will lack nothing; his child asks if that place  is itself proper for a king. His father Boabdil  replied him:

"The palaces do not  dignify the  kings;  are the kings who honor them with his presence."

I don’t know if the writer has taken the quote from a contemporary historical source. Anyway the inclusion in the hit television series shows how the story of Agesilaus remains productive.

I have also heard someone to use a general version of the maxim:

It’s not the profession that dignifies the person, but the person who dignifies the profession.

These phrases, concentrated and rhythmic abstract of a thought or experience, are undoubtedly attractive.

   
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