Monday, May 01, 2017


Getting Even

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.6 (tr. C. R. Haines):
The best way of avenging thyself is not to do likewise.

Ἄριστος τρόπος τοῦ ἀμύνεσθαι τὸ μὴ ἐξομοιοῦσθαι.
Breathing and accent of Ἄριστος are missing from Marcus Aurelius. Edited and Translated by C.R. Haines, rev. ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930? = Loeb Classical Library, 58), p. 132. The mistake persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library. My hard copy has only a "Reprinted and revised" date of 1930, but the bibliography on p. xxxi includes works printed as late as 1966.

The same, as rendered in Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, tr. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 29:
The best way to get even with them is not to resemble them.
Gregory Hays' translation:
The best revenge is not to be like that.
Definition of the middle of ἀμύνω in Liddell-Scott-Jones:
keep or ward off from oneself, guard or defend oneself against, freq. with collat. notion of requital, revenge.
To my taste, this smacks too much of turning the other cheek, an attitude which would have been incomprehensible to many, if not most, ancient Greeks. A speaker in Thucydides 7.68.1 (tr. Benjamin Jowett) said:
We should remember in the first place that men are doing a most lawful act when they take vengeance upon an enemy and an aggressor, and that they have a right to satiate their heart's animosity; secondly, that this vengeance [ἀμύνασθαι], which is proverbially the sweetest of all things, will soon be within our grasp.

καὶ νομίσωμεν ἅμα μὲν νομιμώτατον εἶναι πρὸς τοὺς ἐναντίους οἳ ἂν ὡς ἐπὶ τιμωρίᾳ τοῦ προσπεσόντος δικαιώσωσιν ἀποπλῆσαι τῆς γνώμης τὸ θυμούμενον, ἅμα δὲ ἐχθροὺς ἀμύνασθαι ἐκγενησόμενον ἡμῖν καὶ τὸ λεγόμενόν που ἥδιστον εἶναι.
Likewise Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.11.13:
To exact vengeance is sweet.

τὸ τιμωρεῖσθαι ἡδύ.
See K.J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974; rpt. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), pp. 182-183, and W.V. Harris, "Lysias III and Athenian Beliefs about Revenge," Classical Quarterly 47 (1997) 363-366.

Commentary in Marcus Aurelius. Meditations, Books 1-6. Translated and with an Introduction and Commentary by Christopher Gill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 169-170:
Marcus, here as elsewhere (2.1, 5.22, 5.25.1, 5.28, 11.18.11–11.18.13, 11.18.16–11.18.18) rejects the standard Greco-Roman ethic of retaliation for wrongdoing and urges himself to instruct those who have done him wrong. The idea that retaliation involves 'becoming like' your wrongdoer (and thus harming yourself) evokes some Platonic passages (Tht. 177a, Lg. 728b), compare Epict. Diss. 2.10.26. The paradoxical idea that not becoming like those who wish to harm you is itself a kind of retaliation is a distinctive feature of this passage. See further on relevant Stoic ideas Long 2002: 250–4 (on Epictetus), Gill 2006:451–2.


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