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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Theophrastus (372 – 287 BC) was a Greek native of Lesbos who inherited Aristotle’s school, which thrived under his stewardship, and he is known as the father of botany. We must consider the distinctive characters and the general nature of plants from the point of view of their morphology

Theophrastus

Theophrastus, student of Aristotle and the father of botany.

Quotes from Theophrastus sourced from – EGS, GoodReads, BrainyQuote,


Theophrastus quotes

Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.



Superstition would seem to be simply cowardice in regard to the supernatural.

Cowardice would seem to be, in fact, the shrinking of the soul through fear.

An orator without judgment is a horse without a bridle.

One may define flattery as a base companionship which is most advantageous to the flatterer.

Flattery may be considered as a mode of companionship degrading but profitable to him who flatters.

Petty ambition would seem to be a mean craving for distinction.

We must consider the distinctive characters and the general nature of plants from the point of view of their morphology, their behavior under external conditions, their mode of generation, and the whole course of their life.

Irony, roughly defined, would seem to be an affectation of the worse in word or deed. The Ironical Man is one who goes up to his enemies, and volunteers to chat with them, instead of showing hatred. The ironic man having heard, will affect not to have heard, seeing, not to have seen; if he has made an admission, he will say that he does not remember it. Sometimes he has ‘been considering the question’; sometimes he does ‘not know’; sometimes he is ‘surprised’; sometimes it is ‘the very conclusion’ at which he ‘once arrived’ himself. And, in general, he is very apt to use this kind of phrase: ‘I do not believe it’; ‘I do not understand it’; ‘I am astonished.’ Or he will say that he has heard it from some one else: ‘This, however, was not the story that he told me.’ ‘The thing surprises me’; ‘Don’t tell me’; ‘I do not know how I am to disbelieve you, or to condemn him’; ‘Take care that you are not too credulous.’

The flatterer is a person, too, who can run errands to the women’s market without drawing breath. He is the first of the guests to praise the wine; and to say, as he reclines next the host, ‘How delicate is your fare!’

Garrulity is the man discoursing of much and ill-considered talk. 
When, warming to the work, he will remark that the men of the present day are greatly inferior to the ancients; and how cheap wheat has become in the market; and what a number of foreigners are in town; and that the sea is navigable after the Dionysia; and that, if Zeus would send more rain, the crops would be better. [He is filled with information without relevant content.]

Boorishness would seem to be ignorance offending against propriety. 
The Boor is one who, having drunk a posset, will go into the Ecclesia. He vows that thyme smells sweeter than any perfume; he wears his shoes too large for his feet; he talks in a loud voice.

Complaisance may be defined as a mode of address calculated to give pleasure, but not with the best tendency. 
The Complaisant man is very much the kind of person who will hail one afar off with ‘my dear fellow’; and, after a large display of respect, seize and hold one by both hands.

Recklessness is tolerance of shame in word and deed. 
The Reckless man is one who will lightly take an oath, being proof against abuse, and capable of giving it; in character a coarse fellow, defiant of decency, ready to do anything; just the person to dance the cordax, sober and without a mask, in a comic chorus.

Chattiness, if one should wish to define it, would seem to be an incontinence of talk.

The Chatty Man is one who will say to those whom he meets, if they speak a word to him, that they are quite wrong, and that he knows all about it, and that, if they listen to him, they will learn; then, while one is answering him, he will put in, ‘Do you tell me so? — don’t forget what you are going to say’ […]

Gossip is the framing of fictitious saying and doings at the pleasure of him who gossips. 
The Gossip is a person who, when he meets his friend, will assume a demure air, and ask with a smile — ‘Where are you from, and what are your tidings?

Shamelessness may be defined as neglect of reputation for the sake of base gain. 
The Shameless man is one who, in the first place, will and borrow from the creditor whose money he is withholding.

Penuriousness is too strict attention to profit and loss.
 
The Penurious man is one who, while the month is current, will come to one’s house and ask for a half-obol. When he is at table with others, he will count how many cups each of them has drunk; and will pour a smaller libation to Artemis than any of the company.

Grossness is not difficult to define; it is obtrusive and objectionable pleasantry. 
The Gross man is one who will insult freeborn women; who, in a theater, will applaud when others cease, and hiss the actors who please the rest of the spectators.

Unseasonableness consists in a chance meeting disagreeable to those who meet. 
The Unseasonable man is one who will go up to a busy person, and open his heart to him.

Officiousness would seem to be, in fact, a well-meaning presumption in word or deed. 
The Officious man is one who will rise and promise things beyond his power; and who, when an arrangement is admitted to be just, will oppose it, and be refuted.

Stupidity may be defined as mental slowness in speech and action. 

The Stupid man is one who, after doing a sum and setting down the total, will ask the person sitting next to him ‘What does it come to?’

Surliness is discourtesy in words. 

The Surly man is one who, when asked where so-and-so is, will say, ‘Don’t bother me’.

The Superstitious man is one who will wash his hands at a fountain, sprinkle himself from a temple-font, put a bit of laurel-leaf into his mouth, and so go about the day.

Grumbling is undue censure of one’s portion. 
The Grumbler is one who, when his friend has sent him a present from his table, will say to the bearer, ‘You grudged me my soup and my poor wine, or you would have asked me to dinner.’

Distrustfulness is a presumption that all men are unjust. 
The Distrustful man is one who, having sent his slave to market, will send another to ascertain what price he gave.

Offensiveness is distressing neglect of person. 

The Offensive man is one who will go about with a scrofulous or leprous affection, or with his nails overgrown, and say that these are hereditary complaints with him; his father had them, and his grandfather, and it is not easy to be smuggled into his family …

Unpleasantness may be defined as a mode of address which gives harmless annoyance. 
The Unpleasant man is one who will come in an awake a person who has just gone to sleep, in order to chat with him.

Meanness is an excessive indifference to honour where expense is concerned. 

The Mean man is one who, when he has gained the prize in a tragic contest, will dedicate a wooden scroll to Dionysus, having had it inscribed with his own name.

Boastfulness would seem to be, in fact, pretension to advantages which one does not possess. 

The Boastful Man is one who will stand in the bazaar talking to foreigners of the great sums which he has at sea; he will discourse of the vastness of his money-lending business, and the extent of his personal gains and losses; and, while thus drawing the long-bow, will send of his boy to the bank, where he keeps — a drachma.

Arrogance is a certain scorn for all the world beside oneself. 

The Arrogant man is one who will say to a person who is in a hurry that he will see him after dinner when he is taking his walk.

The Coward is one who, on a voyage, will protest that the promontories are pirates; and, if a high sea gets up, will ask if there is any one on board who has not been initiated.

The Oligarchical temper would seem to consist in a love of authority, covetous, not of gain, but of power. 

The Oligarch is one who, when the people are deliberating whom they shall associate with the archon as joint directors of the procession, will come forward and express his opinion that these directors ought to have plenary powers.

Late-learning would seem to mean the pursuit of exercises for which one is too old. 

The Late-Learner is one who will study passages for recitation when he is sixty, and break down in repeating them over his wine.

The habit of Evil-speaking is a bent of the mind towards putting things in the worst light. 

The Evil-speaker is one who, when asked who so-and-so is, will reply, in the style of genealogists, ‘I will begin with his parentage.

The Patronising of Rascals is a form of the appetite for vice. 

The Patron of Rascals is one who will throw himself into the company of those who have lost lawsuits and have been found guilty in criminal causes; conceiving that, if he associates with such persons, he will become more a man of the world, and will inspire the greater awe.

Avarice is excessive desire of base gain. 

The Avaricious man is one who, when he entertains, will not set enough bread upon the table. 

And he will borrow from his acquaintances things of a kind that no one would ask back, — or readily take back, if it were proposed to restore them.


COMMENTS on Theophrastus

We must consider the distinctive characters and the general nature of plants from the point of view of their morphology , their behavior under external conditions, their mode of generation, and the whole course of their life. This is the procedure of the man considered the Father of Botany, but for two thousand years each plant was described but was isolated and not cross-indexed very well until Linnaeus created the Latin two-word nomenclature system with associated definitions within a hierarchical structure.

Irony, roughly defined, would seem to be an affectation of the worse in word or deed. The Ironical Man is one who goes up to his enemies, and volunteers to chat with them, instead of showing hatred. The ironic man having heard, will affect not to have heard, seeing, not to have seen; if he has made an admission, he will say that he does not remember it. Sometimes he has ‘been considering the question’; sometimes he does ‘not know’; sometimes he is ‘surprised’; sometimes it is ‘the very conclusion’ at which he ‘once arrived’ himself. And, in general, he is very apt to use this kind of phrase: ‘I do not believe it’; ‘I do not understand it’; ‘I am astonished.’ Or he will say that he has heard it from some one else: ‘This, however, was not the story that he told me.’ ‘The thing surprises me’; ‘Don’t tell me’; ‘I do not know how I am to disbelieve you, or to condemn him’; ‘Take care that you are not too credulous.’ This reminds me of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (Act I. Scene 3) where Polonius carries on with suggestions to his son Laertes that seem derived from this Theophrastus characterization. Polonius’ comment ends with the famous line, “Unto thyne own self be true, … and then Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Also, in (Act 2, Scene 1), he orders his servant Reynaldo to travel to Paris and spy on Laertes, with advice even more like Theophrastus. Trivial perhaps, but, Polonius’ daughter Ophelia always relates everything to plants, which seems to be another link to Theophrastus, the father of botany.

The flatterer is a person, too, who can run errands to the women’s market without drawing breath. He is the first of the guests to praise the wine; and to say, as he reclines next the host, ‘How delicate is your fare!’ In Hamlet we see the minor courtiers behaving this way.

There are many words defined by Theophrastus, and as I look over them they seem to be copied into the characters of Hamlet. All of this may have been obvious to the Elizabethan viewers who were schooled in the Greek classics, and thus given them an added depth to this already deep play, but to me it was new. In a bit of self-defense there is a direct reference to the theater which Shakespeare often plays to, in a theater, will applaud when others cease, and hiss the actors who please the rest of the spectators.

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