Thursday, December 05, 2019


A Sicilian Doctor's Contribution to a Philosophical Discussion

Epicrates, fragment 10, tr. John Dillon, The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy (347–274 BC) (2003; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pp. 7-8:
A: What are Plato and Speusippus and Menedemus up to? On what subjects are they discoursing (diatribousin) today? What weighty idea, what line of argument (logos) is currently being investigated by them? Tell me this accurately, in Earth's name, if you've come with any knowledge of it.

B: Why yes, I can tell you about these fellows with certainty. For at the Panathenaea I saw a troop of lads in the exercise-grounds of the Academy (en gymnasiois Akadēmias), and heard utterances indescribable, astonishing! For they were propounding definitions about nature (peri physeōs aphorizomenoi), and separating into categories the ways of life of animals, the nature of trees, and the classes of vegetables. And in this connection they were investigating to what genus one should assign the pumpkin.

A: And what definition (horos) did they arrive at, and of what genus is the plant?

B: Well now, first of all they all took up their places, and with heads bowed they reflected a long time. Then suddenly, while they were still bent low in study, one of the lads said it was a round vegetable, another that it was a grass, another that it was a tree. When a doctor from Sicily heard this, he dismissed them contemptuously, as talking rubbish.

B: No doubt they got very angry at that, and protested against such insults? For it is unseemly to behave thus in such public gatherings (en leskhais taisde).

A: No, in fact the lads didn't seem to mind at all. And Plato, who was present, very mildly, and without irritation, told them to try again to define the genus to which the pumpkin belongs. And they started once again to attempt a division (diairesis).
"He dismissed them contemptuously" is a euphemism — the Sicilian doctor farted on them (κατέπαρδ᾿ αὐτῶν).


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