Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Perspicadius and the Plagiarist

Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  For over two millennia this statement has provided thinkers a rationale for their queries.  These words have inspired those wanting to reflect upon their life and be deliberative in their actions.  What most people don’t realize is that the Athenian philosopher stole this line from the fifth-century orator, Perspicadius of Corinth, and pulled it out of context.  Historians of ancient Greece had only recently discovered the Corinthian’s original words buried in a Carolingian codex on the discarded shelf of a French monastery.  Posterity is more familiar with Perspicadius’s oft-cited line: “All Athenians are assholes.”  (Harsh for pious ears, a medieval scribe amended the phrase to “All Cretans are Liars” and attributed it to Epimenides of Knossos.)  Here are the words of Perspicadius: “The unexamined life is not worth living, but it is even more worthwhile to live your life without any thought at all.  Consider the beasts of the field.  Do they not live without introspection? Do they not care about their purpose or the meaning to life and yet they seem to be content?  Why should man be different?”  As it turns out, historians think the randy Socrates plagiarized the first statement in order to entice Athenian teens wanting to study philosophy under the master.  For the younger boys, Socrates used candy.  The historical damage has been done.  Socrates lives on in the memories of future generations, while the deeper truths of Perspicadius remain in obscurity.