Category Archives: Socrates

The Male Libido is Like Being Chained to a Madman

Socrates? Sophocles? Plato? Cephalus? Russell Brand? David Niven? Kingsley Amis? Apocryphal?

sophocles04Dear Quote Investigator: There is an ancient and provocative simile that helps to explicate the irrational actions of infatuated males:

The male libido is like being chained to a madman.
To have a penis is to be chained to a madman.

These words have been attributed to Socrates, Sophocles, and Plato, but I have never seen a solid citation. Perhaps this is not really a venerable observation. The comedian and actor Russell Brand mentioned the adage in his memoir “My Booky Wook” and credited Socrates. Would you please examine this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI hypothesizes that these expressions have evolved from remarks contained within one of the most famous works of Ancient Greece “The Republic” by Plato. The confusing multiple attributions stem from the indirect framing of the quotation.

In Book 1 of “The Republic” Socrates approached Cephalus and asked him about his experiences in the latter part of life. Cephalus responded by presenting some of his thoughts about aging and then relaying key remarks made by the prominent playwright Sophocles. Hence, the primary comments were made by Sophocles and were transmitted though Cephalus to Socrates and then were written by Plato.

Here is an excerpt from a translation of “The Republic” published in 1852. This passage did not mention chains; however, later translations used the word “bondage” with its connotations of enchainment, Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

…I may mention Sophocles the poet, who was once asked in my presence, ‘How do you feel about love, Sophocles? are you still capable of it?’ to which he replied, ‘Hush! if you please: to my great delight I have escaped from it, and feel as if I had escaped from a frantic and savage master.’ I thought then, as I do now, that he spoke wisely. For unquestionably old age brings us profound repose and freedom from this and other passions.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1852, The Republic of Plato, Translated into English by John Llewelyn Davies and David James Vaughan (Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge), Book 1, Quote Page 3 and 4, Macmillan and Company, Cambridge. (Google Books Full View) link

“To Be Is To Do” “To Do Is To Be” “Do Be Do Be Do”

Kurt Vonnegut? Frank Sinatra? Jean-Paul Sartre? Dale Carnegie? Bud Crew? Socrates? Anonymous?

socrates08Dear Quote Investigator: The 1982 novel “Deadeye Dick” by the popular author Kurt Vonnegut mentioned the following piece of graffiti:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

I think this tripartite list first appeared in bathroom stalls in the 1960s or 1970s, but sometimes different authors were specified. Could you explore the history of this humorous scrawled message?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published description located by QI of a graffito that conformed to this template appeared in the “Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas in January 1968. According to the columnist Paul Crume the graffito was created in an incremental process by three different people. The initiator was a local businessman in Richardson, Texas: 1

Bud Crew says that a month ago he wrote this on the warehouse wall at Bud’s Tool Cribs in Richardson: “‘The way to do is to be.’—Leo-tzu, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “‘The way to be is to do.’—Dale Carnegie,”

Recently, says Crew, an anonymous sage has added still another axiom: “‘Do be, do be, do.’ — Frank Sinatra.”

The phrase ascribed to the famous vocalist Sinatra was derived from his version of the song “Strangers in the Night” which was a number-one hit in 1966. Near the end of the track Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that could be transcribed as “do de do be do” or “do be do be do”. This distinctive and memorable stylization has sometimes been parodied. 2

In July 1968 this graffito tale was included in a syndicated series called “Weekend Chuckles” from General Features Corporation; hence, it achieved wide dissemination. Some details were omitted, e.g., Bud Crew’s name was not given, but the graffito was nearly identical. The spelling of “Leo-tzu” was changed to “Lao-tse”: 3

One fellow was inspired to write on a warehouse wall: “The way to do is to be.—Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “The way to be is to do.—Dale Carnegie.”

Recently an anonymous sage has added still another message: “Do be, do be, do.—Frank Sinatra.”

In January 1969 a real-estate agent named Joe Griffith ran an advertisement in a South Carolina newspaper that included the tripartite message. The first two statements in this instance were shortened and simplified. In addition, one of the attributions was switched to Socrates: 4

Joe Griffith Sez:
“TO BE IS TO DO” Dale Carnegie
“TO DO IS TO BE” Socrates
“DO BE DO BE DO” Frank Sinatra

The message continued to evolve over the decades and many philosophers and authors have been substituted into the template including: Dale Carnegie, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, John Stuart Mill, William James, William Shakespeare, and Bertrand Russell. The punchline ascribed to Frank Sinatra, in some form, is usually preserved though a variety of other lines have been added to the joke as shown in the 1990 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1968 January 29, Dallas Morning News, Paul Crume’s Big D, Quote Page A1, Column 6, Dallas, Texas. (The spelling “Leo-Tzu” is used in the original text instead of the more common “Lao-Tzu”) (GenealogyBank)
  2. YouTube video, Title: Strangers in The Night – Frank Sinatra, Artist: Frank Sinatra, Uploaded on July 6, 2007, Uploaded by: kumpulanvideo, (Quotation starts at 2 minute 23 seconds of 5 minutes 10 seconds) (Accessed on youtube.com on October 18, 2013) link
  3. 1968 July 28, Times-Picayune, Section 2, Weekend Chuckles, (Syndicated by General Features Corp.), Quote Page 3, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1969 January 31, The News and Courier (Charleston News and Courier), (Advertisement for Joe Griffith Inc., Realtor), Quote Page 15B, Column 2, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

The Secret of Change Is to Focus All of Your Energy, Not on Fighting the Old, But on Building the New

Socrates? Dan Millman? All-Night Gas-Station Attendant? Nick Nolte? Apocryphal?

peaceful01Dear Quote Investigator: A friend recently offered me a piece of advice that he thought reflected ancient wisdom:

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

These words were attributed to Socrates, but they sound like a modern incantation to me. Could you examine this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1980 the first edition of “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by the world-class gymnast Dan Millman was released. The book was a fictionalized memoir that explored the physical and mental challenges Millman faced in his early life and the spiritual growth he experienced. The main catalyst of his spiritual journey was an attendant at an all-night gas station who became his mentor in 1966. Millman gave this enlightened counselor the nickname “Socrates”, and the quotation above was spoken by the modern fictionalized character and not the ancient Socrates. Here is an excerpt containing the quote in the 1984 edition: 1

Back in the office, Socrates drew some water from the spring water dispenser and put on the evening’s tea specialty, rose hips, as he continued. “You have many habits that weaken you. The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

The book was published in multiple editions, and was made into a movie in 2006 with Nick Nolte playing Socrates. Millman became a successful coach, self-help author, and lecturer.

The reassignment of the quotation to the Greek luminary was, no doubt, facilitated by confusion between the matching names. This is a known mechanism for misattribution. An illustrative example with a passage from a fictional Cicero was explored by QI here.

Here is one additional citation and the conclusion.

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Notes:

  1. 1984, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives by Dan Millman, Quote Page 113, H J Kramer, Inc., Tiburon, California, Distributed by Publisher’s Group West, Emeryville, California. (Verified on paper)

The Mind Is Not a Vessel That Needs Filling, But Wood That Needs Igniting

William Butler Yeats? Plutarch? Socrates? Plato? Apocryphal?

yeatsplutarch03Dear Quote Investigator: There is a superb quotation about education that I have encountered many times. Here is a collection of examples with attributions that I have been accumulating. None of the examples came with citations:

  • Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel —Socrates
  • Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —William Butler Yeats
  • Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —Plutarch
  • The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. —Plutarch

What do you think? Who should properly be given credit, and what was the original statement? It is embarrassing to find that even educators who should be sensitized to the problems of improper or non-existent citations are sometimes careless. But my criticism is muted because determining a proper ascription can be difficult, as your website illustrates.

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Socrates or William Butler Yeats produced one of these sayings. These two attributions apparently are incorrect.

This family of statements probably originated with a passage in the essay “On Listening” in Moralia by the Greek-born philosopher Plutarch who lived between 50 and 120 AD. 1 The following excerpt was translated by Robin Waterfield for a 1992 Penguin Classics edition. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth. Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbours for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his innate flame, his own intellect, …

Here is an alternative translation of the first sentence published in the 1927 Loeb Classical Library edition: 3

For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2008, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy by Simon Blackburn, (2nd revised edition), Entry: Plutarch, Oxford University Press, (Accessed Online Oxford Reference on March 28, 2013)
  2. 1992, Essays by Plutarch, Translation by Robin Waterfield, On Listening, Quote Page 50, Penguin Classics, London and New York. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1927, Moralia by Plutarch, Volume 1 of the Loeb Classical Library edition, “De auditu” by Plutarch, (“On Listening to Lectures”), Webpage maintained by Bill Thayer. (QI has not verified this text on paper) (Accessed penelope.uchicago.edu on March 28, 2013) link

Misbehaving Children in Ancient Times

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a great quote by Plato or Socrates about the misbehavior of children in antiquity that I read in the New York Times. The quote shows that the problems between generations are not just a recent occurrence. Instead, the conflicts between parents and offspring are timeless [NY8]:

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

I wanted to use this quote, so I needed to know who said it; however, the NYT website contained a surprise. The newspaper had retracted the quote and now there was a note that said “Its origin is unclear, although many researchers agree that Plato is not the source.” I am sure I have seen this quote before. Can you tell me where it came from and who said it?

Quote Investigator: The quote is so entertaining and it fills its niche so well that it is cited repeatedly around the globe. Over the decades the quotation or a close variant has appeared in newspapers such as: Oakland Tribune of California in 1922; The Bee of Danville, Virginia in 1946; Winnipeg Free Press of Manitoba, Canada in 1976; The Sunday Herald of Chicago, Illinois in 1982; the Sun-Herald of Sydney, Australia in 2005; and the Taipei Times of Taiwan in 2008 [SOC1-SOC6]. The words are usually attributed to Socrates and the confusion with Plato is understandable because Plato’s dialogues are the primary source of knowledge concerning Socrates.

QI has determined that the author of the quote is not someone famous or ancient.

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