The late learner

As we go through life we always strive to learn new things and prevent ourselves ossifying. The trouble is that the older we get the more difficult it is to learn. The problems start to arise if we think we have become experts in our new learning. The late learner or opsimath was a figure of fun in the ancient world. Here Theophrastus describes the late learner in his “Characters”. The late learner thinks he is as good as the young men in learning new things, in physical exercises and in matters of love. Well I suspect we all deceive ourselves sometimes.

These are a few extracts.

ἡ δὲ ὀψιμαθία φιλοπονία δόξειεν ἂν εἶναι ὑπὲρ τὴν ἡλικίαν, ὁ δὲ ὀψιμαθὴς τοιοῦτός τις, οἷος ῥήσεις μανθάνειν ἑξηκονταέτης γεγονὼς καὶ ταύτας λέγων παρὰ πότον ἐπιλανθάνεσθαι.

καὶ εἰς ἡρῷα συμβάλλεσθαι τοῖς μειρακίοις λαμπάδα τρέχειν
καὶ ὅταν ὦσι χοροὶ γυναικῶν, μελετᾶν ὀρχεῖσθαι αὐτὸς αὑτῷ τερετίζων.

Late learning would seem to be a love of effort beyond ones years. This is the sort of man who when he has reached the age of sixty learns passages of literature and when he tries to recite them at a drinking party forgets them.

And at festivals in honour of heroes he joins the young men in running the torch race

And when there are choruses of women, he practices dancing, humming along with himself.

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