On the Education of Children: No free person should learn any subject under forced labor.

Socrates said, “For a start then we must introduce children to arithmetic and geometry while they are young, and they must be taught all the preliminaries before they tackle dialectic, without making them learn the system of education compulsorily.”

“What do you mean?”

No free man should learn any subject under forced labor,” I said. “While physical exertion undertaken by force has no adverse effect on the body, any exercise forced on the soul has no lasting value.

“True,” he said.

“So don’t bring your children up by force in their studies,” I said, “but in a playful way so that you are in a better position also to observe what the natural abilities of each pupil are.”

                                                                                    Plato, The Republic, 536a

 

 

Μὴ τοίνυν βίᾳ, εἶπον, ὦ ἄριστε, τοὺς παῖδας ἐν τοῖς μαθήμασιν ἀλλὰ παίζοντας τρέφε, ἵνα καὶ μᾶλλον οἷός τ’ ᾖς καθορᾶν ἐφ’ ὃ ἕκαστος πέφυκεν.

 

Seated Socrates copy
Seated Socrates from Ephesus, Turkey.

People often dismiss the education of children. Plato discusses this explicitly in the Republic. However, it is also discussed by many other authors including Roman authors such as Quintilian and Plutarch.

Quintilianus mentions that forced education, possibly looking back at Plato, is bad for children:

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. A.D. 35-c. 95) was born in Calagurris, Spain, and was brought as a child to Home. Emperor Vespasian appointed him public teacher of oratory in Rome; among his pupils were Pliny the Younger and the future emperor Hadrian. At the age of 48 Quintilian retired from teaching to find time to write his celebrated Institutio Oratoria. The quotations below taken from this book demonstrate that his ideas on childhood education might have been written by a contemporary educator.

Above all things we must take care that the child, who is not yet old enough to love his studies, does not come to hate them and dread the bitterness which he has once tasted, even when the years of infancy are left behind. His studies must be made an amusement.

Study depends on the good will of the student, a quality that cannot be secured by compulsion.

I disapprove of flogging, although it is the regular custom and meets with the acquiescence of Chrysippus [the Stoic philosopher], because in the first place it Is a disgraceful form of punishment and in any case it is an insult, as you will realize if you imagine its infliction at a later age.

I will content myself with saying that children are helpless and easily victimized, and that therefore no one should be given unlimited power over them.

Taken from Pediatrics, November 1973, VOLUME 52 / ISSUE 5. Which summarizes his ancient work: Institutio Oratoria

in Latine:

Nec sum adeo aetatium inprudens ut instandum protinus teneris acerbe putem exigendamque plane operam. Nam id in primis cavere oportebit, ne studia qui amare nondum potest oderit et amaritudinem semel perceptam etiam ultra rudes annos reformidet. Lusus hic sit, et rogetur et laudetur et numquam non fecisse se gaudeat, aliquando ipso nolente doceatur alius cui invideat, contendat interim et saepius vincere se putet: praemiis etiam, quae capit illa aetas, evocetur.

Quintilianus, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1.1, 20.

 

As a educator myself and a father, I have found it difficult to teach when a child is insolent or lazy or acts as if they do not want to learn. I have gotten angry and insolent myself but now realize that these were mistakes. The child learns less and does not enjoy learning anymore. We must take heed in this and apply ancient philosophy to our techniques. Use other forms or methods that help the child enjoy learning, not despise it.

Remember they are a sponge absorbing knowledge instantaneously. As Critias says to Socrates in the Timaeus, Line 26B:

Marvellous, indeed, is the way in which the lessons of one’s childhood “grip the mind,” as the saying is. For myself, I know not whether I could recall to mind all that I heard yesterday; but as to the account I heard such a great time ago, I should be immensely surprised if a single detail of it has escaped me.

ὡς δή τοι, τὸ λεγόμενον, τὰ παίδων μαθήματα θαυμαστὸν ἔχει τι μνημεῖον! ἐγὼ γὰρ ἃ μὲν χθὲς ἤκουσα, οὐκ ἂν οἶδα εἰ δυναίμην ἅπαντα ἐν μνήμῃ πάλιν λαβεῖν· ταῦτα δὲ ἃ πάμπολυν χρόνον διακήκοα, παντάπασι θαυμάσαιμ᾿ ἂν εἴ τί με αὐτῶν διαπέφευγεν.

PlatoTimaeus, Line 26B

 

 

Take a step back, reevaluate the methods, stop, or continue the lesson with less and build upon it the next day. For the teacher, read Quintilianus, read Plato, and read Plutarch as well. Then become a better teacher and person.

Later Plato says:

 

things-of-beauty-left

(Taken from: https://williampcoleman.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/of-things-that-are-how-they-are/).

 

So expose children to the Good. What is that, The Good? Being a good example. Be a good example to them. They will model themselves after YOU.

 

 

 

 

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How do we find the Form of the True Good?

The republic by Plato is a book about questioning what is Justice, but it is also about how to find the True Form of the Good. Actually at the end of book IX, Socrates surprisingly says that the construction of the Just City can probably never happen on this earth and that we must construct it within our minds instead. But how do go about that? One hint is given in The Symposium, by the Priestess from Mantinea, Diotima.

She says, and I am quoting from the end of the Republic by Plato, Appendix I, translated by Desmond Lee, by Penguine books (Because he summarizes it so well. I paraphrase it here with additions):

Anyone who wants to pursue this goal correctly must begin by turning to physical beauty, and then if he (or she) gets the right guidance fall in love with a particular individual and with her (or him) produce thought of beauty. He/She must then perceive that the beauty in one individual is similar to that in another, and that if beauty of form is what he/she is pursuing it is stupid not to recognize that the beauty exhibited by all individuals is the same. With that recognition he/she becomes the lover of all physical beauty, and his/her passion for a single individual slackens as something of a small account.

The next stage is for him/her to reckon beauty of mind more valuable than beauty of body, and if he/she meets someone who has an attractive mind but little bodily charm, to be content to love and care for him/her and produce thoughts which improve the young; this again will compel him/her to look for beauty in habits of life and customs and to recognize that here again all beauty is akin, and that bodily beauty is a poor thing in comparison.

From ways of life he/she must proceed to forms of knowledge and see their beauty too, and look to the fullness of beauty as a whole, giving up the slavish and small-minded devotion to individual examples, whether a girl or boy, man or woman, or a way of life, and turning instead to the great sea of beauty now before their eyes. They can then in their generous philosophical love beget great and beautiful words and thoughts, and be strengthened to glimpse the one supreme form of knowledge, whose object is the beauty of which I will now speak…For anyone who has been guided so far in their pursuit of love, and surveyed these beauties in right and due order, will at this final stage of love suddenly have revealed to himself or herself a beauty whose nature is marvelous indeed, which is the culmination of all his/her efforts.

 Plato, The Symposium, Lines 210a-e

Another is that we must meditate and look inwards. This is suggested by Buddhism, but also by Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius says that we should not expect or hope for Plato’s Republic. We should not even hope for approval by others. This is a personal journey.

Marcus Aurelius says:

 The universal cause is a torrent, sweeping everything in its stream. So, man, what does that mean for you? Do what nature requires at this moment. Start straight away, if that is in your power: don’t look over your shoulder to see if people will know. Don’t hope for Plato’s utopian republic, but be content with the smallest step forward, and regard even that result as unimportant.

μὴ τὴν Πλάτωνος πολιτείαν ἔλπιζε.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IX, 29.

plato-2
Plato indicating that The Good resides in the Forms somewhere up in the sky beyond our world.                                                                 Painting by Raphael, The School of Athens.

 

Bronson Alcott, and George Ripley, tried to found Utopian Schools in Massachusetts in the 19th century, but these schools, Fruitlands and Brookfarm, failed miserably. Bronson Alcott’s daughter, yes, you know her, Louis May Alcott, wrote about it in Wild Oats. So find beauty in things and knowledge. Find it in architecture, nature, in your own mind. Find it in the minds of others, not just their bodies.

 

Menander sums it up in one of his Sententiae #851:

Ψυχῆς ὄλεθρός ἐστι σωμάτων ἔρως.

Destruction of/for the soul is love of bodies (only).

I added the implicit, “only”. So although we all start out loving bodies and people, you must progress beyond this to attain true knowledge and wisdom, and to see the Form of the Good.

See also: What makes a person beautiful? τί ποιεῖ ἄνθρωπον καλόν;

And see: The most beautiful thing, κάλλιστον by Sappho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Virtuously

Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do.
Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.
Sanity means tying it to your own actions.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VI, Line 51

good men

In a classical English translation:

 

He who loves fame considers another man’s activity to be his own good;
and he who loves pleasure, his own sensations; but he who has understanding,
considers his own acts to be his own good.

In the Ancient Greek:

Ὁ μὲν φιλόδοξος ἀλλοτρίαν ἐνέργειαν

ἴδιον ἀγαθὸν ὑπολαμβάνει, ὁ δὲ

φιλήδονος ἰδίαν πεῖσιν, ὁ δὲ νοῦν

ἔχων ἰδίαν πρᾶξιν.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VI, Line 51

 

Don’t live for other’s opinions. Of course, respect your parents and elders, but do not fall into society’s backward thinking. We are all trained from birth how to behave selfishly and this is the problem in today’s world. TV, radio, social media is destroying our culture. STOP watching them. Society is no longer functioning and we need a new path to community, happiness, and dignity. We can achieve this by reading Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and other ancient authors like Seneca, and practicing Stoicism by participating in Stoic Week or Stoic Mindfulness & Resilience Training (SMRT).

(see – http://learn.donaldrobertson.name)

I always think about societies who are living in accordance with Nature outside our own and how different they are especially from Africa or on small islands. They are always respectful of their elders, kind, generous, healthy, and strong. Then Western culture enters their land and they are destroyed.

Who is really correct then?

Are we better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

μῆτερ – Mother

 

 

ἀλλά με σός τε πόθος σά τε μήδεα, φαίδιμ᾿ Ὀδυσσεῦ,σή τ᾿ ἀγανοφροσύνη μελιηδέα θυμὸν ἀπηύρα.

Ὀδύσσεια λ, 202, Ὅμηρος.

 

No, it was longing for you, and for your counsels, glorious Odysseus, and for your gentle-heartedness, that robbed me of honey-sweet life.

Odyssey Book XI, Homer.

 

Take heed from Homer and Odysseus. For Mother’s Day, don’t forget your mother. She misses you like Anticleia misses her own child, Odysseus. Don’t wait telling her how much you appreciate her. Appreciate her on Mother’s Day, and every day of the year before it is too late.

 

tiresias-foretells-the-future-to-odysseus
Anticlea in the Underworld, waiting her turn, while Tiresias foretells the future to Odysseus; Henri Fuselli, c. 1800. Courtesy National Museum Wales, National Museum Cardiff, and the BBC.

The Principle that ought to guide life…

What is this principle? How can we attain it?

Plato says in his dialogue, The Symposium, that it is Love that conquers all. It is Love that makes us want to be noble and virtuous. What do you think? Some may say that the dialogue is overshadowed by things we cannot understand in this age. But I say you must look past the customs, and focus on what is really being said. Then can you say that Love can move mountains?

 

Amor omnia vincit? From The Aeneid, Virgil.

 

οὕτω πολλαχόθεν ὁμολογεῖται ὁ Ἔρως ἐν τοῖς πρεσβύτατος εἶναι. πρεσβύτατος δὲ ὢν μεγίστων ἀγαθῶν ἡμῖν αἴτιός ἐστιν. οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγ᾽ ἔχω εἰπεῖν ὅτι μεῖζόν ἐστιν ἀγαθὸν εὐθὺς νέῳ ὄντι ἢ ἐραστὴς χρηστὸς καὶ ἐραστῇ παιδικά. ὃ γὰρ χρὴ ἀνθρώποις ἡγεῖσθαι παντὸς τοῦ βίου τοῖς μέλλουσι καλῶς βιώσεσθαι, τοῦτο οὔτε συγγένεια οἵα τε ἐμποιεῖν οὕτω καλῶς οὔτε τιμαὶ οὔτε πλοῦτος οὔτ᾽ἄλλο οὐδὲν ὡς ἔρως.

ΣΥΜΠΟΣΙΟΝ, ΠΛΑΤΩΝ. 178ξ  – ~380 B.C.

Thus from many sources Love is agreed to be among others the eldest of gods. Being the eldest, it is the etiology of the greatest good for us. For I am not able to declare what good is better for a youth, the beloved, than a good older lover and for the lover, a beloved. For what is necessary to guide men all of their life, for the ones intending to live nobly, this neither birth is able to implant so nobly, nor honor, nor riches, nor any other thing except Love.

Symposium, Plato. 178C – My own translation.

 

The ‘This’ that love implants is the feelings of shame and honor. For without them, we cannot feel guilty for doing wrong or feel honorable for doing right. Religion in our world will have you think that is god that makes you feel this way. In the end, it is the love of things, knowledge, or persons that does this. The precedent was there long before any modern religion was even known, ~2400 years ago in fact.

Love in the Alcestis by Euripides made Alcestis sacrifice her life for her husband. This act of love even moved the gods to restore her soul from the underworld, Hades.

 

alkestis
Alcestis being brought back from the underworld by Heracles to Admetus.                              Johann Heinrich Tischbein – circa. 1780

 

 

Philosophia, Philosophy, the love of wisdom, makes us want to live a just life, and to find the truth for ourselves, and others. It makes us want to reveal to others reality. Hence, Love is the first cause.

 

Love, in the form of Aphrodite, is what made the earth fertile…

The holy heaven passionately desires to penetrate the earth and passionately desire takes hold of the earth for union with heaven. Rain falls from the brimming fountains of heaven and makes earth conceive and she brings forth for humankind grazing for their flocks, cereals to sustain their life, and the fruit of trees, by the wedlock of the rain she comes to her fulfillment, of this I in part am the cause.

Aphrodite from the lost Tragedy by Aeschylus, The Danaids, ~470 B.C., Fragment 44, Loeb Classical Library.

 

Therefore, read the Symposium, read Alcestis, and learn about Love. Don’t place love in a contemporary view (something to do with only a beloved, a youthful person), but place it among the stars – Love can mean loving your work, your poetry, your family, your spouse, your child, even your readings, your hobby, or your ideas. You can love many things and these things if they are truly the good, truly virtuous and noble then they will make you a better person.

So love wisdom.

 

 

Perhaps later even these things will be pleasing…

We are in hard times, no doubt. We have all faced adversity and the vicissitudes of life. Again reading Classics and Philosophy, especially Stoic Philosophy, can help us cope with these things.

Virgil in his epic poem, The Aeneid, in fact has something to say about these things:

Aeneas has just been shipwreck on the coast of Africa, near Carthage, after a storm, and has just lost most of his ships and men. He now speaks to them about their misfortunes:

…revocāte animōs maestumque timōrem

mittite; forsan et haec ōlim meminisse iuvābit.

Aeneid, Virgil, Versa 202-203.

 

Restore your courage and your gloomy fear let go;

Perhaps one day even these things to have remembered will be pleasing.

The Aeneid, Virgil, Lines 202-203.

 

Aeneas_Tempest
Aeneas in his ship with his men during the tempest. 

 

A well governed state…

Plato has some things to say about a well governed state. Maybe we should take heed in these troubled times.

The one who should rule should not rule for the sake of ruling but for making our society better. Career politicians should not rule for that is what they seek. Instead it should be a person who would rather be doing something else but seeks to make a better society.

“If you discover a life better than ruling for those who are intending to govern, a well-run state becomes a possibility; for only there will the genuinely rich govern, rich not in monetary terms, but in that in which the happy man must be wealthy: a good, intelligent life. But if beggars and those starved of private resources enter public service thinking they must seize the good, it isn’t possible, for when the government becomes a matter of contention, such civil and internal war destroys both them and the rest of the state.”

“That’s very true,” he said.

“Do you have any other way of life that looks down on ruling for political motives,” I asked, “than that of true philosophy?”

“Zeus, no!” he said.

The Republic, Plato, Book VII, 521a

 

εἰ μὲν βίον ἐξευρήσεις ἀμείνω τοῦ ἄρχειν τοῖς μέλλουσιν ἄρξειν, ἔστι σοι δυνατὴ γενέσθαι πόλις εὖ οἰκουμένη· ἐν μόνῃ γὰρ αὐτῇ ἄρξουσιν οἱ τῷ ὄντι πλούσιοι, οὐ χρυσίου ἀλλ’ οὗ δεῖ τὸν εὐδαίμονα πλουτεῖν, ζωῆς ἀγαθῆς τε καὶ ἔμφρονος. εἰ δὲ πτωχοὶ καὶ  πεινῶντες ἀγαθῶν ἰδίων ἐπὶ τὰ δημόσια ἴασιν, ἐντεῦθεν οἰόμενοι τἀγαθὸν δεῖν ἁρπάζειν, οὐκ ἔστι· περιμάχητον γὰρ τὸ ἄρχειν γιγνόμενον, οἰκεῖος ὢν καὶ ἔνδον ὁ τοιοῦτος πόλεμος αὐτούς τε ἀπόλλυσι καὶ τὴν ἄλλην πόλιν.

Ἀληθέστατα, ἔφη.

Ἔχεις οὖν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, βίον ἄλλον τινὰ πολιτικῶν ἀρχῶν καταφρονοῦντα ἢ τὸν τῆς ἀληθινῆς φιλοσοφίας;

Οὐ μὰ τὸν Δία, ἦ δ’ ὅς.

Πολιτεία, Πλάτων, βίβλος Ζ

 

plato-2.jpg
Plato, pointing upwards to the sky where the Forms reside. Detail from the “School of Athens,” by Raphael circa 1510 A.D.

Why pointing upwards? Plato’s philosophy relied on the idea of the Forms which exist not on this earth but in another realm. They represented the true Good of all things. It was the responsibility of the philosopher kings to study these forms as much as possible and then relate them to everyone else through education. However, as we have seen in history people like this are usually ridiculed or run out of town because the general masses refuse to accept a philosopher as a ruler.

I think that we should attempt this once again. Since we have never truly had a philosopher ruler except for Marcus Aurelius, ~120 A.D. in Rome (or actually outside Rome, he was at war most of the time), maybe it is time after 2500 years to actually try to do this.

This should be combined with education of the children in the arts and sciences as well as the Classics, Latin and Ancient Greek. This I believe can change our society back towards the good.