“Ethics Book 2” by Aristotle (349 BC)

“Ethics Book 2” by Aristotle (349 BC)

Ch. 1

  • Virtue has 2 kinds: intellectual & moral
    • Intellectual – created & increased by instructed which requires time & experience
    • Moral & Ethical – product of habit [ethos]
      • no moral virtues are given at birth by nature – no natural property can be altered by habit
      • gravity pulls a stone down & can’t be trained to move it upwards no matter how many times you throw it upwards
  • Virtues aren’t engendered in us by nature or by violation of nature
    • Nature gives us the capacity to receive them & it’s brought to maturity by habit
  • Faculties are given to us by nature in potential form
    • Exhibit their actual exercise afterwards
    • We don’t acquire faculty of sight or hearing by practice
    • Virtues acquired by practicing them, just like the arts
    • We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts & brave by doing brave acts
  • Legislation has lawgivers making citizens good by training them in habits of right action
  • Good form of being vs. bad form of being
    • Actions from which any virtue is produced are the same as those that are destroyed
    • You become a good builder by practicing building well & a bad one by practicing building badly
    • By acting in dangerous situations & forming a habit of fear or confidence, we become either cowardly or courageous
  • Some men become temperate & gently, others profligates & irascible
    • Moral dispositions are formed as result of corresponding activities
    • Must control the character of our activities because our dispositions depend on it
    • Important to be trained from childhood in our habits

Ch. 2

  • This book has a more practical purpose than most branches of Philosophy – conduct & how to act rightly
    • Important because it determines our dispositions
  • Probably not an exact science – more of an outline
    • Conduct & expediency have nothing fixed or invariable about them – suited toward circumstances – inexact
  • Moral qualities destroyed by excess & deficiency
    • Strength is destroyed by too much or too little exercise
    • Health is destroyed by too much or too little food & drink
      • Also true with temperance, courage & other virtues
  • Running away from everything in hear never makes a man brave but cowardly & fearing nothing whatever makes a man rash.
  • Indulging in every pleasure turns a man profligate & shunning all pleasure makes a man insensible
    • Preservation by observance of the mean
  • Strength produced by eating food & undergoing exertion
    • Strong men can eat & exert a lot
  • Temperance built by abstaining & courage built by enduring terrors

Ch. 3

  • Signs of dispositions come from pleasure & pain from our actions
    • Those who abstain find abstinence pleasurable
    • A profligate finds abstinence irksome
    • A brave man faces danger with pleasure & all events without pain
    • A coward faces danger with pain
  • 1 – Pleasure causes us to do base actions & pains causes us to abstain from doing noble actions. Must be trained from childhood to like & dislike proper things (education)
  • 2 – If virtues are about actions & feelings, everything & every action is potent with pleasure & pain. Virtue is about pleasure & pain
  • 3 – Pain is the medium of punishment & is a sort of medicine that has the tendency to work through opposites
  • 4 – Every formed disposition of the soul realizes its full nature in relation to & in dealing with it, it can be corrupted or improved – pleasures & pains – pursuing & avoiding them at the wrong times, in wrong manner or by some other error.
    • Moral virtue is quality of acting in its best way with respect to pleasures & pains & vice is opposite
  • 5 – 3 things to choose: the noble, the expedient & the pleasant. 3 things to avoid: the base, the harmful, the painful.
    • A good man is likely to go for the right & a bad man is likely to go for the wrong, especially with pleasure
    • Pleasure is common to man & lower animals & it’s a concomitant of all objects of choice because the noble & the expedient are pleasant to us.
  • 6 – Susceptibility to pleasure comes from infancy & is hard to eradicate & is ingrained in our lives
  • 7 – We regulate our actions by pleasure & pain. They’re our main concern is feeling pleasure & avoiding pain affect our conduct
  • 8 – Harder to fight against pleasure than anger. Virtue is dealing with the harder is better & leads to success
    • Pleasure & pain are subjects of virtues & political science
      • He who behaves well toward them is good & he who doesn’t is bad

Ch. 4

  • Difficulty in saying just men do just acts because then they’re just or temperate already – do thing well all the time
    • You can be good at something & make mistakes, but your excellence stops when that happens.
  • Art is a bad analogy because it’s done well with excellence but acts done in conformity with virtues aren’t of a certain domain
    • More of a state of mind when doing them
  • Must act with knowledge, deliberately choosing the act & for its own sake & must come from a permanent disposition of the character
    • Art doesn’t do any of these – it’s just knowledge
      • Only thing in common is that repeated action improves the skill or virtue
  • Actions are called just & temperate when just & temperate men do them or would do them. The agent is just & temperate not when he does them but when he does them in a way that just & temperate man do them
    • You don’t have a chance of being just & temperate if you don’t do them but if you’re acting to become known as just without reasons just men do them, you’re still not just

Ch. 5

  • What is virtue?
    • Definition: something to do with the state of the soul. One of these 3:
      • 1 – an emotion
      • 2 – a capacity
      • 3 – a disposition
    • Emotion – desire, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, friendship, hatred, longing, jealousy & pity – state of consciousness accompanied by pleasure & pain
    • Capacity – capacity or ability to feel emotions
    • Disposition – formed state of character where we are ill- or well-disposed to emotion. Badly disposed to emotion. Badly disposed if we get angry with regularity & violence. Well-disposed if we get angry with moderation.
    • Virtues & vices – aren’t emotions because we don’t say a man is “good” or “bad” based on his emotions, only according to virtues & vices.
      • We aren’t blamed for them, only if we get angry in a certain way
      • We’re praised or blamed for our virtues & vices
      • We don’t get angry or afraid out of choice but we are moved by our emotions or are “disposed”
    • Virtues & vices aren’t capacities because we aren’t called “good” or “bad” based on our capacity for emotions
      • We have capacities by nature but aren’t good or bad by nature
    • If virtues & vices aren’t emotions or capacities, they must be dispositions

Ch. 6

  • Defining virtue as a disposition isn’t enough
    • Must say what kind of disposition
    • All excellence has 2 qualities
      • Makes a thing good itself
      • Causes it to perform its function well
      • e.g. Excellence in a horse makes it a good horse, good at carrying its rider, good at galloping & facing the enemy
      • With men, excellence makes him a good man & makes him perform his function well
  • Take the halfway between excess & defect – the 2 extremes
    • Too much food for one person might be too little food for another
    • An expert avoids excess & defect
  • With moral excellence, e.g. courage
    • You can at extremes be frightened or be bold, too much or too little – both are wrong
    • But these feelings felt at the right time, right occasion, towards the right people & in the right matter
    • Excess & defect are errors to be avoided
  • Virtue is a mean state & being able to hit the mean
    • It’s easy to miss the target in many ways & difficult to hit it
      • Badness is manifold & goodness is simple
    • A settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions & emotions, mostly observing the mean – a principle a prudent man would choose
      • Mean of vices of excess & defect
  • Some acts can’t be mean & can only be evil: malice, shamelessness, envy, adultery, theft & murder
    • Can’t murder the right person at the right time & in the right place or commit adultery with the right woman at the right time & in the right place
    • Commission of any of these is wrong
      • No excess or deficiency in justice & temperance because the mean is the extreme & not to be extreme in them is bad

Ch. 7

  • Enough of talking in generalities, let’s apply them to specific virtues
    • Courage – the mean of fear & confidence
      • Excess is rashness & defect is cowardice
    • Temperance – the mean of enjoyment of pleasures
      • Excess is profligacy & defect is insensibility
    • Giving & getting money – the mean is liberality
      • Excess is being prodigal & defect is meanness
    • Magnificence
      • Excess is tastelessness & vulgarity & defect is paltriness
    • Honor & Dishonor – mean is honorable
      • Excess is vanity & defect is smallness of soul
    • Aspirations – no word for mean
      • Excess is ambition & defect is lack of ambition
    • Telling the truth about oneself – mean is being truthful
      • Excess is boasting & exaggeration & defect is self-deprication
    • Being socially pleasant – mean is being witty
      • Excess is being buffoonish & defect is being boorish
    • Friendliness – mean is friendly
      • Excess is obsequiousness & flattery, & defect is being quarrelsome or surly
    • Righteous indignation – mean between envy & malice with respect to the neighbors’ success
      • Righteous indignant man is pained by undeserved good fortunes of others
      • Jealous man pained by all good fortune of others
      • Malicious man pleased by others’ bad fortunes

Ch. 8

  • Justice is observing the mean
    • 2 vices (excess & defect) & 1 virtue (the mean)
    • A brave man looks rash compared to a coward & cowardly compared to a rash man
    • Temperate man looks insensible compared to a profligate & profligate compared to an insensible man
      • Each vicious man tries to push the virtuous man to the other extreme
    • Some extremes are worse than others
      • Courage – cowardice is more against the mean than rashness
      • Temperance – profligacy is more against the mean than insensibility
    • The vice less against the mean (virtue) is less likely to be our natural indignation
      • We’re inclined toward pleasure & away from pain & our tendencies reflected that

Ch. 9

  • We’ve showed moral virtue is a mean between 2 vices (excess & defect)
    • We should hit the middle point in feelings & actions
    • But it’s difficult enough to find the middle point
      • Where’s the middle of a circle? Can you actually find it?
      • What’s the right amount of anger or amount of money to spend
    • 1 – must sail between Scylla & Charybdis (both are bad!)
      • Middle way is best but the 2nd best way is the lesser of evils
    • 2 – Recognize the errors you’re prone to & drag yourself in the opposite direction – more likely to find middle path
    • 3 – Be guarded against what’s pleasant & painful because we aren’t impartial judges
      • It won’t be easy to do – a little divergence is OK
      • You are only blamed for diverging widely

“Poetics” by Aristotle

“Poetics” by Aristotle


  • Trying to tackle poetry, variations – giving the the essentials, structure of plot & parts of a good poem, etc.
  • Epics, tragedies, comedies, dithryambic poetry, flute & lyre music & all forms of imitation
    • differences – medium, objects & manner of imitation
  • People imitate, either consciously or unconsciously, through color, form, voice, rhythm, language or harmony
  • Flutes & lyres use harmony & rhythm – dancing using rhythm w/o harmony – with emotion, character & action
  • You can use any of these in combination with each other


  • Objects of imitation are men in action
    • must represent as better or worse than in real life
  • Each mode of imitation will exhibit the difference & become a distinct king of imitation of objects
    • can use with dance, music, verse, etc.
    • Homer makes men better than they are
    • Cleophon shows them as they are
    • Hegemon & Thasian did parodies
    • Nicochares made them worse
    • Use different tactics with respect to verse & language depending on now you wish to portray them


  • Another way to differentiate is how they are imitated
    • with same medium, objects, poets can imitate by narration
    • they can impersonate Homer or use their own voices
    • 3 differences – medium, object & manner
      • Sophocles imitated Homer with higher types of character
      • Aristophanes did too with people’s actions
    • Giving “drama” to poems – representing action
    • Dorians claim to have invented both tragedy & comedy
    • Megarians claim comedy
    • Peloponnesian Dorians claim tragedy


  • Reason for Poetry’s birth
    • 1 – Instinct of imitation implanted from childhood, learning earliest lessons
      • view with pain when we think of monstrous animals & dead bodies
      • we enjoy seeing imitation b/c when we think of ourselves learning & saying “I recognize that in my life!”
      • You might be taken in other ways, too
    • 2 – Imitation is in our nature, as are harmony & rhythm. They continued w/ dancing & music until poetry was born.
      • Poetry diverged
        • Graver spirits – imitate actions of good/noble men
        • Trivial – imitate mean people (satires), no earlier than Homer, as well as lampooning
      • Homer is preeminent b/c he excelled at imitation, laid out foundation of comedy by dramatizing the ludicrous
        • Lampooning turned into comedy
        • Epics led to tragedy (a higher form of art than comedy)
  • Tragedy & comedy began as improvization
    • tragedy began as dithryambic poetry
    • comedians sand phallic songs
    • tragedy advanced slowly but each step was a development & eventually found a natural form & stopped there.
  • Aeschylus – first to add a second actor, diminished the importance of the chorus & advanced dialogue
  • Sophocles – increased to 3 actors & used scene-painting
  • Once dialogue came about, nature sorted out the right meters
    • Iambic – colloquial/conversational
  • Number of episodes/acts & acts other accessories would be hard to do a history about


  • Comedy is an imitator of a lower type
    • The mask is ugly & distorted but no pain is implied
    • tragedy’s history is detailed but comedy’s isn’t b/c it was never taken seriously
    • comedy had already solidified in its form by the time any famous poets came around
      • plots started in Sicily but solidified by Athenians in its form
  • Epics are similar to tragedies – imitates higher characters
    • epic is narrated & in one king of meter
    • tragedies limit themselves to one day in the plot or a little more
    • epic has no limit in time
    • All elements of epics are in a tragedy but not vice versa


  • Tragedy – serious, complete, of magnitude, embellished language, in an artistic manner, action, non-narrative, & fear & pity play large
    • embellished language – with rhythm & harmony
    • tragic drama – spectacular equipment, song & diction – metrical arrangement of words
    • plot – action & arrangement of incidents
    • 1 – Plot – the soul of tragedy
    • 2 – Character – same with painting, if you have beautiful colors but the picture/character is confused, it’s not as good as a chalk outline
    • 3 – Thought – saying what’s possible or pertinent in given circumstances. While character reveals moral purpose, thought is where something is proved to be or not to be, or a general maxim is enunciated
    • 4 – Diction – expression of words – essence in prose & verse
    • 5 – Song – chief place for embellishments
    • 6 – Spectacle – least artistic or least connected to poetry. Depends more on stage manager than the poet


  • Plot – tragedy must be imitation of action, complete, whole & of a certain magnitude
    • Whole – must have a beginning, middle & end
      • Beginning – doesn’t need something to precede it
      • Middle – must have something before it & something after it. The plot can’t end haphazardly.
      • End – must have something before it but nothing follows it
    • Must have an orderly arrangement of parts & be of a certain magnitude [beauty requires a bigness]
      • not too small or trivial & not too large as to confuse or overwhelm the audience.
      • has a length that can be embraced by memory – all are mostly the same length
      • must have a change from good to bad fortune or bad to good


  • Plot’s unity doesn’t need to rely on a hero’s unity of character
    • you can’t reduce a man’s life to a single unit
    • Some poets imagine Heracles as 1 man & think that his story must be written as a unity – far too long!
    • Homer didn’t include all Odysseus’s adventures but made the Odyssey & Iliad center around a single action
    • Plot must imitate one subject, one action & the whole forms a structural union around it such that removing any part of it will cause the plot to be disjointed.
    • If something’s presence or absence makes no difference, then it’s not an organic part of the whole


  • It’s not the poet’s job to relate what happened but what might happen – what’s possible according to probability or necessity
    • the poet & history are the same in this
    • Herodotus – could put history into verse but it’s still history
    • Difference is history actually happened, drama might happen
    • Poetry is higher & more philosophical b/c it tends to be more universal
      • Shows how a person may speak or act based on probability or necessity
    • comedy is around probability then inserts names & characters
    • Tragedy uses real names to be more credible & make the story seem more plausible
      • Some tragedies use a couple of real names & the rest are fictitious
    • You don’t have to stick to legends – the usual subjects of tragedy
    • Poets should write poems around plots & not write plots around poems
      • If historical subject, write poetry but stick to what’s possible or necessary
    • Epeisodic – worst king
      • acts succeed each other without probable or necessary sequence
      • bad poets compose them by their own fault
      • good poets compose them to please actors but stretch beyond its natural capacity
    • Tragedy must inspire fear or pity using surprise, & cause & effect


  • Plots – simple or complex based on real life
    • Simple – change of fortune happens without situation reversal or recognition
    • Complex – change of fortune happens with situational reversal or recognition


  • Reversal of situation – change by which action switches around to its opposite
    • Oedipus – messenger comes to cheer him up & relieve him of alarms about his mother
    • Lynceus – being led to his death & Danaus goes with him to kill him but Danaus is the one who’s killed & Lynceus ends up being spared
  • Recognition – change from ignorance to knowledge – producing love or hate between people
    • Oedipus – coincidental with situation reversal
    • in inanimate objects too
    • must be connected with the plot & action
    • should produce fear or pity
    • causes/leads to a good or bad fortune
    • maybe only one person recognizes
      • Iphigenia – is revealed to Orestes by sending a letter
      • later Orestes is revealed to her
    • 2 parts cause plot to turn on surprise
      • another is a scene where a destructive or painful action happens on stage – death, agony, wounds (scene of suffering)


  • Now to quantitative parts – separate parts of tragedy
    • Prologue – precedes parode of chorus
    • Episode – entire part of tragedy between complete choric songs
    • Parode – first undivided utterance of chorus
    • Stasimon – choric ode without anapaests or trochaic tetrameters
    • Commos – joint lamentation between chorus & actors


  • What a poet should be aiming for & should avoid
    • Perfect tragedy – in complex form, provoke fear or pity
      • Change of fortune – DO NOT take a man of prosperity from prosperity to adversity – it’s not tragic, only shocking
    • No bad man from adversity to prosperity – pisses the audience off
    • Pity for unmerited misfortune & fear misfortune for a man just like us
    • Character – between 2 extremes – a man not eminently good or bad but one whose misfortune is brought about by error or frailty, not vice or depravity
    • Single in issue – not from vice but error, fortune from good to bad
    • Like Euripides – he followed these principles, ending unhappily
    • With double threads, catastrophe for good & bad
      • Poets write for the audience & detracts from tragic form


  • Fear & pity – come about through spectacle but result from inner structure
    • Plot to be constructed so if you only just hear the play, you’ll hear it with terror & melt with pity [Oedipus]
    • less about artistry & more about extraneous aids
    • sense of terrible & monstrous
    • pleasure of spectator from pity & fear
    • Actions happen between friends, enemies or those indifferent
      • Enemies – killing each other don’t evoke pity except for suffering
      • Indifferents – don’t evoke pity either
      • Friends & family – because they’re near & dear to each other
        • don’t even have to tinker with legends – Clytamnestra was killed by Orestes & Eriphyle killed by Alcmaeon
        • Poet shows his genius by setting up the situation himself
    • Action cause consciously
      • How Euripides got Medea to kill her kids
    • May also be done in ignorance or tie of kinship or friendship is discovered afterwards [Oedipus]
    • Another form – about to act with knowledge &then doesn’t act
    • Another form – about to do irreparable deed through ignorance & makes discovery before deed’s done
    • Shock isn’t necessarily tragic because there’s no disaster – rarely use
    • Better is deed is perpetuated, especially in ignorance & discovered later
    • Best  – in Cresphontes, Merope is about to kill her son but recognizes him & ends up sparing him
    • Iphigenia recognizes Orestes in time


  • Character – FOUR AIMS
    • Must be good – speech or action manifesting moral purpose exposes character -> If good purpose -> good character, even slaves & women
    • Propriety – valor for men but not for women or unscrupulously clever
    • Character – true to life – believable
    • Consistency – if inconsistent, be consistently inconsistent
      • motive – less degradation of character [Menelaus in Orestes] of indecorous & inappropriate character
      • lament of Odysseus in the Scylla
      • Iphigenia at Aulis – doesn’t resemble her later suppliant self
      • Always aim for necessity & probabilty
        • speak in a way that is probable & the event must be followed by necessary/probable sequence
    • In unraveling of plot, must come out of the plot itself & not from Deus ex Machina, e.g. Medea, Return of Greeks in Iliad
      • Deus ex Machina – only for events external to drama – antecedent/subsequent events beyond human knowledge & needing to be foretold
      • Within action – nothing can be irrational
    • Tragedy is about people above common level – true to life yet more beautiful
    • Poet is to represent man as irascible, indolent or with other defects, preserve the type & ennoble it [Achilles by Homer]


  • Kinds of Recognition
    • 1 – least artistic – from ignorance, by signs, stars – could be congenital, maybe acquired after birth – bodily marks, scars, necklaces
      • Odysseus is recognized by a scar by his nurse & swineherds
      • Use of tokens as proof
      • Bath scene in Odyssey
    • 2 – Invented by poet, not artistic ether, done as poet requires in play
      • Orestes just tells Iphigenia who he is
      • She reveals herself in a letter
    • 3 – Depends on memory – when the sight of something awakens a feeling [Cyprians of Dicaeogenes] or Lay of Alcinous, where Odysseus hears a lure, recalls the past & weeps – recognition
    • 4 – Reasoning [Choephori] – Iphigenia realizes that Orestes looks like her & that he must be her brother
      • Maybe a composition of recognition based on a false inference by one character
      • Odysseus disguised – nobody could bend a bow but Odysseus & only he would know that the bow, which was unseen & reveals who he is
      • Recognitions are best when they come from incidents & discovery is done naturally [Oedipus]
        • Iphigenia sens a letter – natural occurrence
      • Dispense with artificial tokens, amulets, etc


  • Poets should place the scene as far away as possible from his eyes, as if he’s a spectator & unlikely to overlook any inconsistencies
    • Found in Carcinus – audience saw inconsistencies & hated the play
    • Most show, to those who are likely to feel emotion, a play most convincing through natural sympathy with the characters.
    • All audience’s emotions must be properly brought out when appropriate
      • Poet should write an outline & fill in action & details afterwards
      • Give names & fill in episodes
    • In Tragedy, brief summary – Orestes is captured by madness & delivered by a purification rite
    • In Epic, brief summary – Odysseus is away for years, watched jealously by Poseidon, his home is depleted by his wife’s suitors who are plotting against his son. He finally gets home, meets up with friends, attacks the suitors & gets his life back


  • Tragedies have 2 parts
    • Complication – incidents extraneous to action & bit of action
    • Unravelling/Dénouement – extends from beginning of change of fortune until the end
  • Four Kinds of Tragedy
    • 1 – Complex – depends entirely on situation reversal & recognition
    • 2 – Pathetic – motive is passion [Ajax, Ixion]
    • 3 – Ethical – motive is ethical [Phthiotides, Peleus]
    • 4 – Simple – w/o situation reversal & recognition
  • Try to combine all elements or as many as possible
  • Make complication & dénouement both good – both parts must be mastered!
  • Don’t turn an epic into a tragedy & a tragedy into an epic
  • Epics are so because of length & each part has its own magnitude
  • Those who try to dramatize the Fall of Troy instead of just parts fail utterly or the play does badly on stage
  • Don’t forget to use the Chorus like Sophocles used it. They should be a part of all this not just interludes


  • Thought – every thought produced by speech – proof, refutation, excitation of pity & fear, anger, suggestion of importance
    • dramatic incidents must do the same as speech in evoking emotion
    • Incidents speak for themselves without speech
    • Speech must be produced by the speaker
  • Diction – art of delivery – what are prayer, statement, threat, question, answer, etc.?
    • Not to know this is no huge crime – Homer uses a prayer as a commend to a god


  • Letter – indivisible sound
  • Syllable – one beat of speech
  • Connecting word – prepositions connect 2 words
  • Noun – subject, object
  • Verb – word of action
  • Inflection – in Greek grammar, changes the case of a word to change or give a word additional significance
  • Sentence/phrase – composition of words to give one or more ideas


  • Compound word – 2 or more words combined together to have a new or different meaning
  • Current word – word commonly used today
  • Metaphor – a concept/word not to be taken literally
  • Analogy – makes a comparison between 2 different things or ideas
  • New word – never been used before & made up by the poet
  • Lengthened word – adding extra syllables to a word
  • Altered word – recast parts of a word for a different meaning


  • Perfection of style – bearing clear without being too Laconic. Use proper or current words
    • Clear diction raised above commonplace & may use unusual words [strange, metaphor, etc.]
    • Style made from unusual words is a riddle if it’s made wholly of them
    • Riddle – expresses true facts under impossible combinations (only in metaphor)
    • Diction of strange terms is jargon – may be necessary
    • Deviating from normal language gives it distinction, while conformity gives it clarity
    • To use all of these types too much would be obnoxious but some use is good & gives the language distinction
    • Compounds & lengthened words help the text match or fit with the rhythm & harmony of the meter


  • Plot ought to be built on dramatic principles
    • Subject to have a single action
    • Whole with beginning, middle & end
    • Resembles life & gives the audience some pleasure
    • Historical events should have some basis in reality but also possibility
      • Homer’s example – Whole Trojan war wasn’t the plot – war had no beginning or end but plot focuses on one section [also w/ Cypria]


  • Epics must be simple, complex, ethical or pathetic
    • They have 4 of the 6 parts of tragedy – NOT song & spectacle but has reversals, recognitions, suffering [Best example is Homer]
    • Different to tragedy on scale & meter, has larger dimensions
      • Tragedy can’t have all those plot lines
      • Tragedy must confine action to players & on a stage
    • Epics’ events can occur simultaneously, if relevant – diverts the mind & conduces to grandeur, story’s relieved by episode
    • Poet shouldn’t speak for himself – only narrate
    • Many actions couldn’t occur on stage [Pursuit of Hector]
    • Homer tells lies skillfully (secret is fallacy)
      • Assume that if one thing is, then a second thing is seen to be there -> not necessarily true but the author pulls you along
      • Prefer probably impossibilities to improbably possibilities
      • Don’t compose plot with irrational parts
        • If irrational – exclude it from events/action of the play
      • Diction to be elaborated in pauses of action where there’s no character or thought


  • Solutions to Difficulties – must imitate 1 of 3 things
    • 1 – Things as they are or were
    • 2 – Things as they are said or thought to be
    • 3 – Things as they ought to be – using language [current, rare, metaphors]
  • 2 Kinds of faults in poetry
    • 1 – Those concerning its essence (plotholes or terrible characters or language)
    • 2 – Those concerning details (anachronisms, continuity mistakes)
      • if a poet wants to imitate something but does so incorrectly, the error is inherent in the poetry
      • if a poet makes a wrong choice – represents a horse throwing out both its off legs at once or technical inaccuracies – error is not essential
      • if a poet describes the impossible – guilty of an error but may be justified if goal is attained – embellished action
        • Does the error affect the essentials of the poem or are they accidental?
      • if a description isn’t true – could reply but they’re as they ought to be [Sophocles & Euripides] -> Is it poetically good or bad?
      • Punctuation may answer questions
      • Ambiguity needs to be cleared up
      • Make metaphors clearly understood to be metaphors
      • Contradictions should be examined with the same rules as dialectic refutation
  • 5 Critical Objections
    • Impossibility
    • Improbability
    • Morally harmful
    • Contradictory
    • Contrary to artistic correctness


  • Epic v Tragedy
    • High refinement appeals to better sort of audience
    • Art that imitates anything & everything is unrefined
    • Audience is supposed to be too dull to understand something on their own – restless movements by performers confuse the audience
      • Bad musicians distract physically to distract from bad play
      • Tragedy has that defeat
    • Epics addressed to a cultivated audience who don’t need gesture
      • Tragedy is lower mostly due to histrionic art – gesticulation can be overdone
      • Not all action is overdone but there are bad performers
    • Tragedies would not make good epics
      • imagine Oedipus as long as the Iliad
    • Epic has less unity – can furnish several tragedies
    • Tragedy is superior in all respects & fulfills function of better arts – produces pleasure proper to it
      • Attains its end more perfectly

“Meno” by Plato

“Meno” by Plato

  • Meno was a young, rich nobleman from Thessaly
  • Anytos was an Athenian politician, later accuser at Socrates’s trial


Meno – Can virtue be taught? Does it come by practice? If neither, do you get it through nature or another way?

Socrates – I’ve always thought people from your neck of the woods were smart & that they’d always answer freely without fear if asked such a question. But, unfortunately, we’re not as smart as you in Athens. Ask that question around here & you’re likely to get blank looks, shrugs or questions in return. I don’t even know what virtue is, let alone where it comes from.

Meno – Are you serious?

Socrates – I don’t even know anyone who does know.

Meno – You knew Gorgias. Don’t you think that he knew?

Socrates – Maybe. What did he say? I can’t remember.

Meno – A man’s virtue is to manage public business, help friends, hurt enemies & stay out of trouble. A woman’s virtue is to manage the house, keep the stores safe & obey her husband. There are other virtues for boys, girls & old people. There are many kinds of virtue depending on your activities, age, etc.

Socrates – OK. If I asked you what a bee was, you’d tell me there were different kinds of bees. They may be different but what do they all have in common that make them all bees? Likewise, virtues may be different but what do they all have in common in that men, women, the old & children all can have them? Is managing public affairs justly & is managing the household justly virtuous?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – So, it’s not possible to manage affairs justly without being just. Being just is a virtue. All the virtues you’ve listed are only activities performed justly… What did Gorgias say?

Meno – To be able to rule men.

Socrates – Can a slave rule his master? If he rules, would he still be a slave? Shouldn’t we add “justly” to “to be able to rule men”?

Meno – Yes, justice is a virtue.

Socrates – Is it “a virtue”, or “virtue” itself?

Meno – What do you mean?

Socrates – Take “roundness”. A figure can be round  but “figure” is not necessarily “roundness” because we know there are other types of figures.

Meno – I see… Yes, there are other virtues, like courage, temperance, wisdom, high-mindedness, etc.

Socrates – So, we’ve found a few examples but what do they all have in common? “Roundness” is a type of figure but you must allow for others. “White” is a type of color, but not all colors. I’d like a definition that ties all virtues together.

Meno – What would you say what color was to someone who didn’t know?

Socrates – The truth. If he’s being a dick about it, I’d explain & then tell him to take it or leave it. If he’s friendly, I’d walk him through it. For a figure, I’d say, “something bounded & ended”.

Meno – What about color?

Socrates – We were talking about Gorgias’s definition of virtue…

Meno – You first.

Socrates – Very well, but you’re just ordering me about. OK… [Does an imitation of Gorgias] “Color is an emanation from figures symmetrical with sight & perceptibility to the senses.”

Meno – Very nice. I like that answer!

Socrates – I figured you would. But that answer can also apply to a question about smell, sound, etc. So, what about virtue then?

Meno – “To rejoice in what’s handsome & to be able…” as a poet once said. It’s the desire for handsome things & to be able to provide them.

Socrates – Don’t we all want good things but just differ in what we see as “good”? Do people want “bad” things if they know they’re bad?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – Why?

Meno – To have them.

Socrates – Because they benefit from them or because they injure?

Meno – Some because they benefit. Some because they injure.

Socrates – Those who want bad things don’t know what they are but desire them because they thought they were good but in reality, they’re bad. Those who don’t know will think they’re good & desire good. Those who want them because they injure know that they will injure but don’t know that to injure will make them wretched.

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – Who wants to be wretched?

Meno – No one.

Socrates – Nobody unless he wants to be wretched… Isn’t misery or wretchedness just the desire for bad things & actually getting them?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – If virtue is the desire for good things & to be able to provide them, desiring makes no difference between one man & another – only in their ability – the power to get good things.

Meno – Yes. Gold, silver, public appointments & honor are the highest things.

Socrates – Could you add “justly” to that?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – It seems like no matter what you do, for it to be virtuous, you have to do it justly.

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – So not getting silver, gold, public appointments, etc. when it’s unjust is also virtuous. Getting those thing is no more just or unjust than not getting them. Just using justice makes everything good. Whatever you do with virtue is virtuous. But I still need a definition for virtue. What is it?

Meno – You’re lucky you live here & not somewhere else. They’d lynch you. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.

Socrates – I’ve heard people of all kinds talk about virtue at great length with eloquence. They say the soul is immortal & it’s reborn after death & can never be destroyed. Since the soul is immortal, there can be nothing we don’t know. There is no learning, just remembering.

Meno – Explain that.

Socrates – I’ll demonstrate it using your servant. [Starts with things the servant understands, asks questions & the servant begins to understand geometry & arithmetic.] I’m not teaching him a thing. He’s only remembering my questions. He starts off not remembering anything & answers my carefully worded questions. Now he remembers. It might have been difficult but he got there in the end. By numbing the pain & not launching right away into difficult questions, he’s learned. We didn’t put thoughts into his head that weren’t originally his.

Meno – No, they must have been there all the while.

Socrates – It’s like they came from a dream. No one taught him, only asked him. It must be a form of remembering. He’d either got it before, or he always knew it. It wouldn’t have been in this lifetime because he didn’t know it.

Meno – No one had ever taught it to him.

Socrates – If knowledge & truth are always in us, the soul must be immortal. Anything you know must be re-learned or remembered. In order to know what is really unknown, we must be braver & less idle than if we believed that it’s impossible to know & not worth trying.

Meno – OK. Let’s find out if virtue can be taught or if you’re born with it.

Socrates – I think we’d better find out what it is before. Let’s approach this matter as if it were geometry. Is virtue a form of knowledge?

Meno – I think so.

Socrates – If something is good, but separate from knowledge, then there’s something that exists outside of knowledge. I think there’s no good that knowledge doesn’t have. So maybe virtue is a form of knowledge.

Meno – Yes

Socrates – Health, strength, good looks, wealth – there are all good but are the helpful?

Meno – Yes

Socrates – But sometimes they do harm?

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – When used correctly, they help & when used incorrectly, they harm. You said temperance, justice, courage & cleverness are good things for the soul.

Meno – Yes

Socrates – But you don’t think they’re a form of knowledge & somehow separate. Are they sometimes harmful & sometimes helpful? Courage isn’t intelligence. It’s more like boldness. If a man is senselessly bold, he’s harmed. If he’s sensefully bold, he’s helped.

Meno – Yes

Socrates – The same is true with temperance & cleverness. With sense, they’re good & without it, they’re bad. So, it seems with the soul, wisdom leads to happiness & senseless leads to unhappiness. Virtue must be a sort of wisdom. It all revolves around your soul

Meno – Yes

Socrates – So, wealth, heal, strength, etc. – we said they can harm or help. Using wisdom makes them help & not using wisdom makes them harm. A senseless soul will use them badly & a wise soul will use them well. It doesn’t depend on the soul, just on whether or not the soul uses wisdom. Using wisdom is good & not using it is bad. Virtue is a form of wisdom & nature doesn’t make us good or bad.

Meno – Right.

Socrates – If that were true, you could just isolate the good away from the bad to protect them. If men aren’t good or bad by nature, it must be learned or taught.

Meno – Yes.

Socrates – What if we’re wrong… If it can be taught, there must be teachers & students. If there aren’t any, it probably can’t be taught.

Meno – You don’t think there are any teachers?

Socrates – I’ve tried to find them without any luck. I know others have tried, too [ANYTOS ENTERS]. Say, Anytos, your father became a wealthy guy without any luck or inheritance but by his own wisdom. If we wanted Meno to become a doctor, would we send him to learn with the doctors?

Anytos – And if we wanted him to be a shoemaker, we’d send him to learn with a shoemaker?

Socrates – In general, if you want to learn something, you’ll have to learn it from someone who practices it. It would be stupid to do otherwise. Meno says he wants wisdom & virtue. Should he got to those who claim to be virtuous & teach it?

Anytos – Who might that be?

Socrates – Sophists.

Anytos – Hell no! You don’t want to go see them. They’re turn you into an absolute maniac.

Socrates – They say they know how to do good. But you say they’ll corrupt us through their teachings. & they want money on top of all that! I knew a guy, Protagoras, who made way more money than any artist or shoemaker. If a shoemaker did his job as poorly as you say Sophists do, you’d know it with in a month by the shoe falling apart. But Protagoras got away with it for over 40 years without anyone noticing it. His name is still praised by the Sophists. Do you think the Sophists know what they’re doing to their students? Or do you think they’re crazy & have no idea.

Anytos – They know what they’re doing. It’s crazy to pay them for what they do. It’s crazier to send your kids off to them. & what’s craziest of all is that cities allow these charlatans to hand around corrupting their young with their bullshit!

Socrates – Have you ever been trained by one?

Anytos – No way would I ever go near one of them!!

Socrates – How do you know anything about them if you’ve never been near them?

Anytos – I know how they operate.

Socrates – Well, we don’t want to send Meno to a charlatan, just to someone who can teach him virtue. I was about to send him to a sophist but as you say, they probably aren’t the ones to see. Perhaps you can suggest one?

Anytos – Any gentleman in Athens would be a better teacher than a Sophist.

Socrates – Did they learn or become virtuous by luck. If they got lucky, how could they teach it?

Anytos – I guess they probably learned from their fathers. Don’t you think we’ve got virtuous men here in Athens?

Socrates – I know politicians. They’ve always been around. But have they taught virtue? Meno & I have been discussing whether or not virtue can be taught or if comes naturally or another way… Was naval hero Themistocles a good man?

Anytos – None better.

Socrates – Wouldn’t he have provided virtue lessons to his son by himself or hired a teacher if he could? He taught his son to be an expert at horses. Why not do the same with virtue? Did he wish to teach his son but not make him any more virtuous than the neighbors’ kids? If virtue could be taught, could we believe he wouldn’t provide lessons for him?

Anytos – Probably not.

Socrates – One of the best men of the past? Not a grand teacher of virtue? It’s hard to believe. What about Aristeides? Was he good?

Anytos – Yes.

Socrates – He taught his sons & gave them the best teachers you get in Athens. But he never gave them lessons in virtue. & Pericles’s sons? He taught them to be the best horsemen Athens has ever seen. He gave them the best education money could buy. No virtue teacher, though. Thucydides’s sons were educated & he got them the best wrestling coach & they became the best wrestlers in Greece. No courses in virtue…

Anytos – No…

Socrates – Isn’t it clear that all these great men with money could provide their kids with an education but never taught them virtue. I think it’s because it can’t be taught.

Anytos – Be careful. It’s easy to do more harm than good in most cities. It’s even easier in Athens… [ANYTOS LEAVES]

Socrates – I guess Anytos left because he thought I was defaming those men & him as well… Do you have good men in Thessaly?

Meno – Absolutely.

Socrates – Do they teach virtue?

Meno – No… Sometimes you hear it can be taught. Sometimes you hear that it can’t be taught.

Socrates – Only Sophists claim that it can be taught. Do you think that they teach it?

Meno – Gorgias always laughed at those who claimed it because he just thought they were teaching them how to speak cleverly.

Socrates – Do you think they taught virtue?

Meno – I’m not sure… Sometimes I think so & other times I don’t.

Socrates – You aren’t alone. Theogonis said the same as you. That it can’t be & then said it can be. Can you think of any other subject whose teachers are thought not only not to teach but not even to know the subject itself? If students are confused, they must be bad teachers.

Meno – Correct.

Socrates – If neither Sophists nor gentlemen can teach virtue, there are probably no teachers or students. Then it probably can’t be taught.

Meno – Looks like it. Are there any good men at all?

Socrates – Maybe we should try to find out how good men become good. Good men must be useful & guide their business correctly. If a man knows the way from here to Larissa (region where Thessaly, north of Athens), he goes there himself & can guide others there as well.

Meno – Right.

Socrates – If a man who’s never been there before guess & is correct, then a good guess isn’t any worse than knowledge. They both guide to the right action.

Meno – But the one with knowledge will always be right. The one who makes good guesses will be wrong sometimes.

Socrates – Not if he always guesses correctly.

Meno – I suppose so. Why is knowledge any better than good guesses? How are they different?

Socrates – Well, like it is with statues. You’ve got to nail them down to something otherwise they’ll disappear. They’ll be stolen, get knocked over or the wind will take them away. If you don’t do that, there’s little point in owning one. As long as they stay, they’re wonderful. But we all know sooner or later, they’ll be gone or broken. They’re not worth much unless they’re fastened down. Having a good guess isn’t worth much in the long run unless you start to understand why you’re right, and cause & effect. When you do that, it turns into knowledge. That’s why it’s better.

Meno – Nicely put. I think I get it.

Socrates – Good guesses guide us no better or worse than knowledge. Good guesses aren’t inferior to knowledge in their results. A man is as useful to his city if he’s a good guesser than if he is knowledgeable, no matter how knowledge or good guessing skills are acquired.

Meno – So, not by nature.

Socrates – The good doesn’t not come by nature. But if not from nature, can it be taught? Since we don’t have teachers & students, probably not.

Meno – Correct.

Socrates – Good guesses & knowledge do just as well as each other in guiding us. If a man has either, he’s useful. If he’s not useful by knowledge, at least he guesses well. That’s how politicians keep a state afloat. It has no more to do with knowledge & understanding than an oracle or a diviner, or poets or artists. When they are right, they are divinely inspired but have no understanding of why they’re right.

Meno – Seems right.

Socrates – Women call a good man divine.

Meno – Don’t let Anytos catch you saying that. He won’t like it.

Socrates – Whatever… He’ll hear about it sooner or later. Virtue comes not from nature or learning but from divine allotment or dispensation.

“Enchiridion” by Epictetus (c.125)

“Enchiridion” by Epictetus (c.125)

  • Things you can control:
    • opinion, aim, desire, aversion
      • all of your own affairs
      • by nature free & unrestricted
    • if you confuse them with things you can’t control, you’ll be sad & disappointed
    • if you focus purely on these, you won’t do anything against your will, won’t be harmed or have enemies
  • Things you can’t control:
    • body, property, reputation, office
      • all not of your own affairs
    • don’t go for these or you’ll only be disappointed if you don’t get them
      • avoid them to be happy
  • Think of unpleasant things
    • say to them: you’re just a semblance & you’re not real
    • Think: Is this within my control? Or not?
      • If in your control, or not, be prepared to walk away
  • Focusing on things you can’t control or can’t get will make you sad & disappointed
    • things you want to avoid but can’t will make you sad
    • things you want but can’t get will make you sad
    • Focus on things you can get & can control & make sure that your desires, opinions & avoidances are properly placed
    • Do so with discretion, gentleness & moderation
  • Remember to notice what category things are in (controllable or not controllable)
    • if a valuable object breaks, remember it’s just a thing
    • if a loved one dies, remember you can bear the pain if you choose to do so
  • When doing anything, remember to maintain your harmony with nature, no matter what happens
  • Disturbances come from views of things, not things
    • The thought of death is worse than death
    • Don’t put views into things & people
  • Don’t become elated by excellence or down by failure
    • Maintaining harmony with nature is most important
  • Be perpetually attentive to what’s most important, especially when around trivial things
  • Sickness or lameness is only a hindrance to the body
    • Don’t let it affect your will because you’ll be hindered twice
  • Whenever confronted by a situation, think:
    • How can I make the most of this?
    • Pain builds strength, annoyance builds patience
  • Don’t whine about losing things
    • You’ve been borrowing it & now it has been returned: people & things
  • Better to die of hunger w/o grief than to be affluent & in constant worry
    • Think: this is the price of peace & tranquility. Everything has its price. Nothing can be had for nothing
  • Don’t worry about looking like a fool to others
    • It’s hard to be in harmony with nature & maintain external appearances
  • Don’t wish to live forever
    • It’s not going to happen & you’ll only be disappointed when it doesn’t happen
    • Don’t make wishes for things you can’t control
  • Don’t yearn for your desires
    • Wait for it to come to you
    • At some point, you’ll be worthy to feast with the gods
    • Don’t always take things as they are laid out for you
      • If you can resist, then you can even command the gods
  • If you see someone grieving, don’t worry
    • Think: what hurts him is the view he allows himself to have of it
    • You may groan along with him but don’t groan on the inside
  • Remember, you’re just an actor in a play
    • The author may cast you as a cripple, a peasant or a king
    • Play your part to the best of your ability
  • Nothing is portended to anyone or anything
  • You’ll be unconquerable if you only fight battles you can win
    • Don’t be bewildered by appearances, honors, etc
    • Don’t wish for high roles – just focus on what you can control
  • Allow terrible things to appear so you’ll be used to them & won’t panic
  • If you are prone philosophy be prepared to be mocked
    • If you are persistent, they’ll come around & admire you
  • Don’t worry about not being believed
    • What’s it to you to get power based on people’s belief?
    • Friends who don’t believe you aren’t much as friends
    • Better to have self-respect & harmony w/ nature than to worry what others thing
  • You can learn about nature through things everyone agrees with
    • Things break & people die
  • Before you do something, think about what you have to do before & after as well as during
    • You may not know how to prepare for success or how to deal with consequences
    • In participating in the Olympics, you have to follow rules, eat right, exercise, practice, etc
      • If you don’t prepare, you could hurt yourself or suffer defeat & swear off the activity
    • Think before you do & you’ll be much more likely to succeed
  • Duties are independent of relations
    • Whether or not your father is good or bad, your duty to him is the same
    • You’ll only be hurt when you consent to be hurt
    • Think of your duties as family member, citizen, neighbor or commander
  • If something’s not in your power, it can’t be good or bad
    • it’s indifferent to you
    • It’s within your power to make the right use of it
  • Piety toward the gods
    • Have the right opinions of them
    • Obey them & yield to them
      • You’ll never find fault with them or think they neglect you
      • If you focus on good/bad events you’ll be disappointed
  • Forge a character you can have in public or alone
    • Be mostly silent & say only what needs to be said
    • Don’t go into discourse too often
      • if you do, don’t focus on vulgar topics: sports, food, drink or people
      • Don’t take oaths if you can help it
    • Only eat & drink what you need
      • same with clothes, home & company you keep
      • nothing for show or luxury
    • Don’t fool around women too much
      • don’t brag about doing so
      • don’t condemn those who do
    • If someone speaks badly of you, think:
      • He was ignorant of the real me
    • Refrain from acclamations, derision & violent emotions
    • In private events, maintain your dignity & gravity
    • If before anyone in power, hope he doesn’t notice you
      • if you can’t avoid it, just deal with it
    • Don’t brag about your adventures
  • If you are excited about anticipated pleasure
    • allow it to wait for your leisure or some delay
    • If it’s not too gratifying, go ahead but don’t get carried away
  • When doing something needed to be done
    • Don’t hide from being seen doing it
    • If people misunderstand think:
      • Why do people censure me for it?
  • When at a feast, don’t pig out
    • You might have a huge appetite but have some courtesy for the host
      • You have to balance hunger & etiquette
  • You try to avoid walking on nails b/c they hurt
    • do the same with your mind
      • take care before acting
  • Women over the age of 14 are flattered by being someone’s “mistress”
    • they are only qualified to give pleasure to men
    • They begin to adorn themselves
    • But they will only truly be honored if they appear beautiful in demeanor & modestly virtuous
  • You look stupid only worrying about the physical
    • Exercise, drinking, eating
    • You look like an animal
    • Apply strength to reason
  • Everything has 2 handles
    • one by which you can carry & one by which you can’t
    • learn which one is which & act accordingly
  • Makes no sense to say:
    • I’m richer than you therefore I’m better than you
    • I’m more eloquent than you therefore I’m better than you
  • Makes more sense to say
    • I’m richer than you therefore I have more stuff than you
    • I’m more eloquent than you there for my style is better than yours
  • If someone does something that seems wrong outwardly, withhold opinion
    • until you know his motives completely
  • Don’t tell people you’re a philosopher or talk to them about your principles
    • Show them by your actions naturally
  • Don’t publicize your virtue
  • A vulgar person looks to the external world for help or confirmation
    • A proficient person looks within
  • To understand nature, follow her
    • make use of instructions
  • Follow principles as laws & ignore the detractors
    • How long will you allow yourself to delay improvement?
    • Will wallow until your death regretting it
  • Don’t lie. Learn why not to lie. & Learn what a good demonstration of why not is.

“The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon

“The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon

  • Socrates always said what was on his mind to friends
    • Also made sure that they were independent enough to pursue the avenues they were suited for
    • He knew all his friends very well – often probing their minds w/ questions
  • He taught his friends w/ all his heart the things a person ought to know, & at least be familiar w/ any subject
    • Geometry – Good for surveying & owning property, & being able make use of the land. Going too far into it excluded research into other subjects
    • Astronomy – helped plan journeys by land or sea. It helped hunters & pilots measure distances & directions. But trying to know why the gods made the heavens that way wasn’t possible to understand & trying to do so would drive you crazy
    • Arithmetic – good for business & geometry – but don’t get carried away!
    • Health – you should learn all you can from those who know what to eat, drink & how to exercise
  • He was often forewarned by a deity of what to do & what not to do. Some thought he was crazy for this – he wasn’t.
  • He lived w/ a death sentence hanging over him for 30 days. It was so long b/c it was during the month when it was illegal to execute prisoners
    • But during this period, he lived exactly how he lived before
    • When he had been indicted, he wouldn’t even discuss the case.
      • When pressed on trying to build his defense, he replied:
        • “Don’t you think I have been preparing for it all my life?”
    • He refused to stop his way of life because his life had been growing in goodness
      • If he were to live on, he would have died of old age soon anyway
  • He felt if he were to die unjustly, let those who killed him bear the shame of killing him
    • Posterity judges the dead based on the injustice they did much more than the injustice they had to bear
    • He said he’d be remembered fondly, much more than those who took his life because he lived his life to make others better & to corrupt or wrong nobody.
  • Anyone who knew Socrates knew what sort of a man he was & they searched for virtue & helped out anyone in their own quest
    • He was so religious that he did nothing without consulting the gods
    • He was so just that he did no injury to anyone
    • He was so self-controlled that he never chose the pleasanter over the better course
    • He was so wife that he need no counselor & never erred in his judgment of good & bad
      • He suggested that everyone follow virtue & gentleness
        • Seemed to be a truly good & happy man.

The Histories by Herodotus – Book II, “Euterpe”

Rather than summarizing every passage (all 182 of them!), I’ll just put a few interesting stories & facts Herodotus gives in the 2nd book of the Histories. If you want every damned detail, I suppose you can read the entire text yourself (go here!)

The Histories by Herodotus – Book II, “Euterpe”

  • Egyptian Geography
    • boundaries – Arabian hills to the east, Libyan hills to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the north & to the south, the Nile becomes impassable due to a series of cataracts as it approaches the Ethiopian hills
    • Arabian hills had quarries which supplied most of the stone used to build the pyramids
      • Arabian gulf separates Egypt from Arabian & goes out to the Erythaean Sea – now considered the Arabian Sea & Indian Ocean
    • Nile River – overflows every year, flooding the surrounding lands as far as 2 days of travel from the banks. The Egyptians never could explain it. Greek possible explanations:
      • Winds block water from flowing to the sea & it spills over the banks
      • Nile flows from ocean to ocean & delays cause backups which spill over
      • Melting snows in Ethiopia. Herodotus doesn’t believe this because Ethiopia’s too hot
        • MODERN EXPLANATION: Actually Ethiopian rain causes an immense amount of water that flows downhill, going North & floods over the banks once the river becomes level.
    • Egyptians have no concept of European style of rain
      • The only water comes from the Nile & its tributaries
        • They don’t know how long it is.
      • It goes south, bends a couple of times & goes to up to Ethiopia
        • Not many people have made the trip
        • Details on how far or high it goes are hazy



  • Egyptian Animals
    • not very many wild animals in Egypt
      • most are domesticated, often considered sacred
    • animals have designated guardsmen whose jobs run in the family from father to son – sacred jobs
    • Killing animals for food is quite an ordeal
      • people shave their kids’ heads, weigh the hair & take the same weight in silver to buy food from fishmonger, who cuts it up in a special manner
      • If you kill an animal in anger – punishment is death
      • If you kill an animal by accident – punishment is a decent fine
        • Killing hawks or ibises either on purpose or by accident – punishment is death
    • Cats are everywhere
      • When one dies, the family who tends to it shaves each member’s eyebrows
      • They are embalmed in Bubastis
    • Dog are popular too
      • When one dies, family shaves their heads
      • Dogs are buried in their own town in a special graveyard
    • Ibises are buried in Hermopolis
    • Hawks & shrews are buried in Buto
    • Crocodiles
      • Herodotus describes a crocodile – Most Greeks probably had never seen one or heard one described before
      • They can either be seen as holy or evil
      • They were kept as pets near Lake Moeris & often wore jewelry
      • They had special crocodile graveyards
      • Eaten in Elephantine
    • Hippopotamus
      • Herodotus describes a hippopotamus – Most Greeks probably had never seen one or heard one described before
    • Phoenix
      • Sacred & very rare bird – only known of in Heliopolis
        • Once every 500 years, old one dies
        • It had red feathers w/ gold edges & was about the size of an eagle
        • Its child flies to Arabia, takes the dead parent & covers it in myrrh, flies it back to Heliopolis to the Temple of the Sun & buries it there
    • Other sacred animals: snakes w/ horns, flying snakes, eels, otters & foxgeese


  • Egyptian customs
    • very different to the Greeks
    • Women went to the market while the men stayed at home & loomed
      • even the weave of the looms there are backwards compared to Europe
    • Women stand to pee while the men sit
    • They eat outside & only go inside to do private things
    • Very religious people
    • In many places, not allowed to eat fish.
      • Beans often frowned upon
      • No goats b/c they are symbolized in Pan – very high god
    • Pigs are seen as dirty
      • You must clean yourself even if you’ve gone near one
    • 3 days a month, they take enemas & emetics to clean themselves out
      • they bathe four times a day
    • Will eat just about anything so long as it isn’t sacred or unclean
    • Not open to foreign customs
      • But have similar poems/songs to the Greeks
        • There may have been some transfer of these from one to another
          • Probably from Egypt to Greece & not the other way around
    • Young men must prostrate themselves to older men walking by
    • They wear a linen tunic & woolen robe over it
      • But must take off woolen robe if going into a temple, as wool is not allowed inside
    • Doctors only treat one type of disorder or one part of the body, i.e. one doctor for the eyes, one doctor for the stomach, etc.
    • When a man dies, the women of the family cover their heads w/ mud or plaster & walk around outside with their tits out, beating them in unison
      • The men have to do the same but they do so separately from the women
      • The body is taken away to be embalmed…


  • Egyptian Embalming – The embalmer has 3 different methods
    • Expensive way
      • Take an iron hook up through the nose & remove the brain
      • Head is rinsed out
      • Cut out abdomen & remove organs
      • Rinse out the body w/ palm wine & aromatics
      • Dump mound of salt on the body & leave for 70 days
      • Wrap up the body in bandages held together w/ glue or tar
      • Put body in a wooden box & place it in a burial chamber up right
    • Cheaper way
      • take syringes w/ cedar tree oil & inject it into the abdomen
      • cover the body w/ salt for 70 days
      • organs dry up & only the flesh remains
      • body is returned to the family for burial
    • Cheapest way
      • give the body an enema
      • cover in salt for 70 days
      • return body to family for burial
    • Rich men usually are delayed in embalming for about 4 days after death
    • If you died from a crocodile attack, only Nile priests could embalm you & bury you


  • Egyptian Religion
    • Claim to be the first to discover the solar calendar
      • Gave it 12 months from observations from the stars
        • 30 days x 12 months w/ 5 extra days to round the year out completely
        • 12 months represented by 12 gods, similar to the Greeks’ gods
    • Priests shave their heads to avoid lce
      • the examine flocks for signs of uncleanliness
        • if unclean, marked accordingly
          • unclean animals may not be sacrificed
        • if clean, marked accordingly
      • Sacrifices – victim is marked, led to an altar
        • wood is burned & a libation poured over it
        • a god is invoked
        • the animal is killed, decapitated, chanted upon
        • the body & meat are sold
          • if not sold, it’s thrown into the river
      • Disemboweling
        • skinned the animal
        • abdomen removed
        • legs, shoulders cut off
        • body filled with bread & honey & cooked
          • during the cooking, people beat themselves, then eat
      • Only male bovine are used in sacrifices
        • cows are too holy/sacred
          • when they die, they are thrown into the river
    • Minor differences between Greek & Egyptian Gods
      • Names
        • Ammun = Zeus
        • Isis = Bacchus
      • Heracles was 1 of the 2nd set of 12 gods
        • First set gods had 8 gods, then 2nd had 12
        • Egyptian Heracles was older than the Greek Heracles
          • Temple in Tyre is proof of that
          • Greek one is a hero, not a god
            • The Greeks said that he went down to Egypt & the locals tried to sacrifice him to Zeus but instead he killed them all
            • Herodotus doesn’t believe that story
              • Egyptians don’t even sacrifice cows, never mind people
      • Estimated 17000 years between beginning of time to Herodotus’s time (5th century BC)
    • Greeks must have learned about Pan from Egyptian
      • Pigs sacrificed for Dionysius’s festival
        • no phalluses strapped on
        • only on 18 inch figures paraded around with the cocks as big as the body
    • Most Greek gods come from Egypt
      • Except Neptune, Juno, Vesta
      • Egyptians don’t worship heroes
    • The pre-cursors to the Greeks, Pelasgi, had similar rituals for the gods as the Egyptians but w/o names
      • They called the gods “Theoi” which means disposers
      • Oracles encouraged worship of the gods
      • Only by the time of Homer & Hesiod did the Greeks have names & powers for individual gods
    • Oracles may have actually been Egyptian women kidnapped & enslaved
      • One taken to Greece in Delphi
      • One taken to Libya in Cyrene
    • Egyptians may have started congregations, processions, litanies which the Greeks learned & used
      • Bubastis, Busiris, Sais, Buto – all had different rituals
        • Bubastis – the Festival of Diana
          • women & men sailed in boats up the Nile
          • some women played castanets & some men played pipes
            • others clapped & sang
          • Once ashore, they’d abused each other, dance around, eat & drink tons of wine
            • Est’d 700000 attendees


Interesting Stories from Egyptian History

  • Psammetichus’s Experiment
    • King Psammetichus wanted to know who the oldest race was & came up with an experiment
    • Took 2 newborn children to a shepherd who never spoke to them & rarely had contact with them
    • Listened to what the babies said & both said “becos”, the Phrygian word for “bread”
    • This made him believe that the Phrygians were the oldest race (from South Turkey)
  • Proteus’s role in the Trojan War
    • Alexander (aka Paris) took Helen from Menelaus & tried to go back to Troy
    • A storm brought them to Egypt
    • His servants heard that if they were able to reach the Temple of Hercules, they couldn’t be returned to their owner
      • They told the Egyptians that Alexander had raped Helen & wronged Menelaus
      • The priest/warden of the Nile sent a message to Proteus, the king about the situation
    • Proteus told him to bring them to Memphis to see what the whole story was
      • Alexander tried to lie but his slaves ratted him out
    • Proteus didn’t want to execute him but didn’t want to allow him to go free
      • Decided that he’d have to let Alexander go but w/o Helen or Menelaus’s money
    • Menelaus, after Helen had been kidnapped, took his army to Troy
      • The Argives besieged the city, demanding Helen back, along Menelaus’s money & some sort of penalty
      • Trojans didn’t have her b/c she was in Egypt
      • Menelaus didn’t believe them & took the city & burned it
      • Helen wasn’t there, so Menelaus went to see Proteus after getting word Helen might be in Egypt
    • He got to Egypt, got Helen & his money back
      • Couldn’t leave b/c of bad weather
      • He took 2 local children & sacrificed them to a god for better weather
      • The locals heard about this & chased them out to sea & the last anyone ever heard of them was around Libya
  • Rhampsinitus & the Thief
    • King Rhampsinitus ordered a treasury built for all his money & jewelry
      • One worker made one stone in the room moveable so he could come & go w/o ever getting caught
    • He told his sons about his secret on his deathbed
    • They went into the treasury a few times & helped themselves
      • The king eventually caught on to this & ordered traps to be set out in the treasury
    • The 2 sons went back in to get more money when one of them was caught in a trap
      • The brother caught in the trap told the other to kill him & cut off his head so he couldn’t be ID’d
    • The king had the body displayed outside with strict orders for it not to be buried or even mourned
      • The mother didn’t like that & told her son to get the body back or she’d rat him out
    • The song took a donkey w/ a few wine skins on its back & walked by the guards near the body
      • the skins conveniently leaked & the son bemoaned the fact
      • He decided that the wine would be gone before he could do anything about it & invited the guard to help themselves to as much as they wanted.
      • When the guards passed out, he took the body on the donkey back to his mother
    • The King found out & devised another plan
    • He enlisted his daughter to work at a brothel & asked her before doing any deed to ask each man what the worst thing he’d ever done was
      • Once she heard something she would call for the guard to arrest the thief
      • The thief suspected something & tucked a dead man’s arm under his cloak
      • He told her about the treasury, killing his brother & cutting off his head, as well as getting the guards drunk to steal the body back for his mother
      • The daughter yelled for the guards & tried to grab his arm but she grabbed the dead man’s arm & he got away
    • The king was furious but also really impressed by the thief’s cunning
      • He decided to offer him immunity if he turned himself in
      • The thief did & the king offered him his daughter in marriage

Lake Moeris w/ pyramids

  • The Labyrinth at Lake Moeris
    • Near the City of Crocodile (Crocodilopolis) by Lake Moeris, a giant labyrinth was built
      • Herodotus finds it more impressive than anything he’d ever seen in Greece
    • It had 12 roofed courts facing one another
      • 6 facing north & 6 facing south – all in a line
      • There was a wall enclosing all of them
    • There were double sets of rooms, 3000 total
      • 1500 above ground & 1500 below ground
      • Herdotus was only allowed to see the ones above ground
        • the ones below had sacred burial chambers for kings & others had crocodiles in them
      • The rooms had winding passages in & out of courts, very complicated pillared corridors from room to room, room to court, etc.
      • It was roofed by stone & the walls were engraved & pillars were made of white stone
      • At the end of the labyrinth was a pyramid 240 feet tall with animal engravings
    • Lake Moeris was beside the labyrinth
      • it had a perimeter of 420 miles
      • the deepest point was 300 feet
      • it was completely man-made
      • in the middle were 2 pyramids, 150 feet above water & 150 below water
    • The lake didn’t have any natural inflowing or outflowing channels as most of the country has no water apart from the Nile
      • The channels had to be built underground via an artificial channel connecting it to the Nile
      • 6 months of the year the water flowed in
      • 6 months of the year the water flowed out
    • Herodotus saw no trace of spoil (land/soil, etc. from the hole dug in the ground
      • Locals say they just let the first flow into the Nile which carried it away
      • Herodotus heard something similar happening in Nineveh w/ the Tigris River.



How Herodotus thinks the pyramids were built. Drawing taken from: http://www.hunkler.com/pyramids/r18_259.gif

The Histories by Herodotus – Book I, “Clio” X – Cyrus Meets His End Against the Messagetae [201-216]

Cyrus lost his blood head.

The Histories by Herodotus – Book I, “Clio”

X – Cyrus Meets His End Against the Messagetae [201-216]

  • After conquering Babylon made for the Massagetae eastward beyond the River Araxes.
  • The Araxes is about the size of the Danube with fairly large islands. Their inhabitants mostly ate roots and tree fruit. They burnt parts of a tree and sat around the fire. They’d act drunk, sing and dance. The river was divided into channels by Cyrus, creating bogs and swamps. The people mostly ate raw fish and wore seal skins. The River ended in the Caspian Sea (Herodotus was wrong about this).
  • That’s the only connection to the Caspian Sea, which takes 15 days to row across and 8 days up and down. The Caucus Mountains are at its shore and the largest mountain range on earth (to Herodotus’s time). Many different tribes live there. They have dyes from trees, which they used to dye clothes and paint pictures on their clothes that won’t fade. Cyrus wanted the Massagetae had a queen, Tomyris, who had inherited the throne after her husband died. Cyrus sent envoys, asking for her marriage. She was hip to his plan and sent them away. He marched there with an army, built a bridge across the river and made for the city.
  • While Cyrus was preparing, Tomyris sent a messenger to him, telling him to stop fighting and be happy with peace in his own kingdom. Since she knew he wouldn’t stop, she said “Meet us at the river in 3 days. Which side of the river you’ll be on will tell us your intentions.” Cyrus wanted to cross the river.
  • Croesus didn’t like the idea. “If you think you’re immortal and a king, remember that you won’t always have good luck. If you lose, you lose everything – your throne, your kingdom, your life. If you win, you don’t win very much. You’ll have to chase them around, catch them and beat them. You shouldn’t have to bow to a woman. Just cross the river, if they choose to interpret that as aggression, so be it. But we’ll set up a Persian feast, one like they’ve never seen before. We’ll get them drunk and full and then kill them.
  • Cyrus liked the idea and told her he’d cross the river. His son, Cambyses would go back to Persia with Croesus. He was told to treat him well if things ended badly. Then he crossed the river.
  • He spent the night on the other side of the river and had a dream about Hystaspes’s son with wings, 1 over Europe and 1 over Asia. He woke up, borthered that Hystaspes’s son, Darius, was plotting against him, the founder of the Persian Empire, giving them a great life. But Hystaspes should go back to Persia and they’ll discuss it later.
  • The dream wasn’t a plot by Darius but a vision that one day Darius would be king. Hystaspes couldn’t imagine any Persian plotting against Cyrus. But if he insisted, he’ll handover Darius.
  • Cyrus set up a camp with bad soldiers and set up the feast. Tomyris’s men saw this and joined. Once a sleep, the Persians killed most of them and imprisoned the rest. When Tomyris heard the news, she sent a messenger, “You took my son, Spargapises. Bring him back to me unharmed and I’ll give you land. If you don’t, I’ll kill you.”
  • Spargapises begged for freedom and when he was freed, he killed himself.
  • Tomyris head and sent the army into battle. They were much tougher than other opponents. Archers and warriors fought and fought, and the Massagetae won. Cyrus died and most of his army did with him. Tomyris found his body and dunked his head in blood, to give him more of the taste of blood he wanted.
  • The Massagetae were like the Scythians – fought on horseback and foot, used arrows, lances and battleaxes, all of either brass or gold.
  • The wines were held in common but each man has only one wife. Old people were sacrificed and eaten. If he died of disease, nobody ate him and he’d be buried sadly because he didn’t have the honor of sacrifice. They didn’t eat grains but fish, herds and milk. They worshiped the sun and sacrificed horses to it.

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