Mens sana in corpore sano

We should all try to keep a healthy body in a healthy mind. Keeping the body heathy is fairly simple at least in principle. We just need to do sufficient exercise and eat the right food. I do a little bit of cycling, walking and swimming – just enough to prevent myself from becoming unfit. We can’t ward off the ravages of age or unexpected afflictions but we do have some control over our bodies.

Keeping the mind fit is more problematic. Claims that mind-exercises or Sudoko or crosswords keep the mind alert have now been debunked. Doing them may make you better at mind-exercises, Sudoko or crosswords but not at any other mental activity. This is where for me Ancient Greek comes in. I have set myself the task of reading a certain amount of Greek every day – currently at least a hundred lines of Homer. The point here is that I am exercising my mind in two ways. The first is the actual mental act of translating and the second is the understanding of what I have translated. One exercises the mental processes and the other introduces me to new ideas. There are myriad of other ways of keeping mind and body fit but these are mine.

This is what Plato had to say about the relationship of the mind and the body.

πρὸς γὰρ ὑγιείας καὶ νόσους ἀρετάς τε καὶ κακίας οὐδεμία συμμετρία καὶ ἀμετρία μείζων ἢ ψυχῆς αὐτῆς πρὸς σῶμα αὐτό: ὧν οὐδὲν σκοποῦμεν οὐδ᾽ ἐννοοῦμεν, ὅτι ψυχὴν ἰσχυρὰν καὶ πάντῃ μεγάλην ἀσθενέστερον καὶ ἔλαττον εἶδος ὅταν ὀχῇ, καὶ ὅταν αὖ τοὐναντίον συμπαγῆτον τούτω, οὐ καλὸν ὅλον τὸ ζῷον—ἀσύμμετρον γὰρ ταῖς μεγίσταις συμμετρίαις—τὸ δὲ ἐναντίως ἔχον πάντων θεαμάτων τῷ δυναμένῳ καθορᾶν κάλλιστον καὶ ἐρασμιώτατον.

When we look at health and disease in the body and virtue and vice in the soul, there is no more important proportion (or lack of it) than that of the soul to the body. We don’t think of this or keep it in our minds that when a weaker body contains a strong and great soul, or the opposite, the whole creature is not in a good state. Because it lacks proportion where proportion is most important. But where the proportion is right, it is the best and most lovely sight to see.

Plato Timaeus 87d

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2 Responses to Mens sana in corpore sano

  1. palaiophron says:

    This is an admirable scheme, and reminds me of the plan which Shackleton Bailey described as his mode of study:

    “I decided that every day I would read privately a quota of Greek or
    Latin, one hundred lines of verse or four pages of prose in an Oxford
    Text. I started with four works, taking them in daily rotation: Sophocles’
    Oedipus Rex, Xenophon’s Hellenica, the poems of Catullus, and
    Cicero’s Catilinarian speeches. The reading was conducted on a system
    of my own devising. It proceeded sentence by sentence, with a
    dictionary and usually a translation and/or commentary for checking.
    The sentence would then be read aloud. At the end of a paragraph or
    other appropriate stopping-place, the sentences covered would be
    read aloud consecutively. At the end of the day’s ration, I would traverse
    its content in a mental review.”


    • platosparks says:

      My precise scheme is as follows – I read my daily quota with the help of a commentary or translation and a dictionary. I am getting more and more into the Perseus site supplemented by the Logeion online dictionary but also backed up by real books and real dictionaries. I am lucky to have the large Liddell and Scott which I got free when Reading University were clearing out their books but it is a back-aching task to take it off the shelf so rarely used.

      When I have completed a book of the Iliad or whatever I immediately read it again, then when I have completed the whole volume – say books 1 to 12 of the Iliad then I read the whole volume again. So in total I read each text three times. This has the advantage that the third time I can read far more easily and I get a sense of the whole rather than struggling over individual lines. But it does make the whole process very slow.

      Some books I will read four times because three times is not enough – for example Aeschylus. His choruses are very difficult or Plato’s Timaeus which I find very obscure.


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