I've been using the meditations of Marcus Aurelius as practice in reading and translation, and then checking my answers by peeking at a translation by George Long. In 1.4, Marcus Aurelius says:

Παρὰ τοῦ προπάππου τὸ μὴ εἰς δημοσίας διατριβὰς φοιτῆσαι καὶ τὸ ἀγαθοῖς διδασκάλοις κατ̓ οἶκον χρήσασθαι καὶ τὸ γνῶναι ὅτι εἰς τὰ τοιαῦτα δεῖ ἐκτενῶς ἀναλίσκειν.

After correcting my most glaring mistakes, I got this:

And from my great grandfather, not to strut and preen myself in popular pastimes but to expend the greatest efforts in reading and using the works of great teachers at home.

Long translates this as:

From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally.

How much leeway is there? Is my translation totally invalid? LSJ's entry for διατριβή gives its etymology as essentially "waste of time," and says it can also mean "lecture." (As a retired teacher, I love the fact that these are represented in Greek by the same word.) I can easily see "public lectures," but is a "public school" even a thing in this time and place?

In 1.5:

Παρὰ τοῦ τροφέως τὸ μήτε Πρασιανὸς μήτε Βενετιανὸς μήτε Παλμουλάριος ἢ Σκουτάριος γενέσθαι: καὶ τὸ φερέπονον καὶ ὀλιγοδεές: καὶ τὸ αὐτουργικὸν καὶ ἀπολύπραγμον: καὶ τὸ δυσπρόσδεκτον διαβολῆς.

Again I gave this my best shot, then corrected my worst mistakes using Long, to find this:

And from my nurse, I learned not to belong to the Blues or the Greens, or to Palmoularios or Skoutarios; to hold up to touble and demand little; and to work hard and refrain from meddling or gossiping.


From my governor, to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus, nor a partizan either of the Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators' fights; from him too I learned endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work with my own hands, and not to meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander.

Long has τροφέως translated as "governor." The word doesn't have an entry in the dictionaries I've consulted, but seems clearly to be related to words involving wet-nursing. The picture of his nurse reproving him for a childish enthusiasm for gladiatorial games kind of makes sense to me, although admittedly it does seem more like a masculine topic of conversation. Is there other evidence that τροφέως has this specific meaning, or that this has to be what Marcus Aurelius means by it here? Could it mean something more like a tutor or guardian?

Of course Long was a professional classicist and I'm a rank beginner. But if there was a range of possible translations for a particular word, he had to go ahead and pick one, so I'm curious how broad the possible range is. It seems more reasonable that a servant, not an aristocratic guardian, would demonstrate the value of menial labor.

  • Governor, especially in British English, can be a male tutor; cf. "governess." I think it's less common, though, but I imagine he meant that kind of governor, not someone who governs a province/state (which didn't exist as a title in ancient Greece).
    – cmw
    Mar 21, 2021 at 2:57

1 Answer 1


Your translations are both quite good, but there are a few inaccuracies, especially in the first passage.

In the first passage, there isn't anything in the Greek corresponding to "strut and preen"; φοιτάω is simply to visit regularly or frequent. διατριβή, as you note, is literally simply a pastime of any kind, but the LSJ entry (section A2d) gives "school" as one of its more specific meanings, so "public schools" seems like a reasonable translation of δημοσίας διατριβὰς.

Note in this passage that in the Greek there are three parts to the list of "things learned from my grandfather":

  1. τὸ μὴ εἰς δημοσίας διατριβὰς φοιτῆσαι
  2. τὸ ἀγαθοῖς διδασκάλοις κατ᾽ οἶκον χρήσασθαι
  3. τὸ γνῶναι ὅτι εἰς τὰ τοιαῦτα δεῖ ἐκτενῶς ἀναλίσκειν

Your translation mashes 2 and 3 together. In the last part, γνῶναι ὅτι is "to know that" (not "read").

In the second passage, the word translated "governor" is ὁ τροφεύς, which does indeed mean tutor or guardian. This is a masculine noun, so is unlikely to refer to a nurse (for which the usual word is τίτθη or τιθήνη). Also in this passage, τὸ δυσπρόσδεκτον διαβολῆς is a little more specific than "refrain from gossiping", but means something like "being unwelcoming (from δυσ- plus προσδέχομαι 'receive') to slander".

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