Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Train guards and underground drivers are planning to amuse passengers with a range of thought-provoking apophthegms. Most of the examples sound achingly dull.

Classical ones would certainly wake up the carriage. Perhaps the most common Greek sentiment was, 'It is your duty to help your friends and harm your enemies.' So the Greek philosopher Thales, asked how best one could endure adversity, replied, 'If one sees one's enemies doing worse.' He also came up with the following gem: 'There are three attributes for which I am grateful to Fortune: that I was born, first, human and not animal; second, man and not woman; and third, Greek and not barbarian.'

Whoops.

Clearly the squibs must be appropriate for the audience. In the morning, that means businessmen. The Greek Cleobulus had a good eye for targets: 'When a man leaves the house, let him inquire what he intends to do; and when he returns, what he has achieved.' Solon was good on policy-making:

'Measure life as if you have both a short and a long time to live.' For the head-hunter, Pittacus replied to someone who said it was vital to find a good man, 'If you look too carefully, you will never find one. …

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