<<< Previous | Main | Tags | Next >>>


[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]

Posted on June 16, 2006
Chance discoveries in the library are so much fun. I came across the book, Forgers and Critics by Anthony Grafton the other day. And how was I to put it back on the shelf after reading the first page and a bit?

Sometime in the fourth century B.C., Heraclides of Pontus quarreled with another philosopher, Dionysius “the Renegade.” Heraclides was a dignified, respectable, and corpulent gentleman; a student of Plato and an expert on natural philosophy, he was known by the nickname ho pompikos, “the stately one” (a pun on his real title, ho pontikos, “the one from Pontus”).

Dionysius was more disreputable. Beginning as a Stoic who denied the existence* of pain and pleasure, he developed an acute eye inflammation which convinced him that his principles were in error. He left his old school (hence his nickname) and spent the rest of his life–apparently a long and happy one–as a Cyrenaic, haunting bars and brothels.

Dionysius forged a tragedy, the Parthenopaeus, and ascribed it to Sophocles. Heraclides, who had done some forgery of his own and should have known better, duly quoted it as genuine. And Dionysius in turn proclaimed his own authorship of the work. When Heraclides insisted that it must be genuine, Dionysius pointed out that the supposed tragedy was an acrostic: the first letters of the lines spelled out the true message (in this case, the name of Dionysius’ boyfriend, Pankalos). Heraclides replied that the appearance of the name could be accidential. Instructed to read on, he found that the acrostic continued with a coherent couplet:
An old monkey isn’t caught by a trap.
Oh yes, he’s caught at last, but it takes time.
Further initial letters spelled out a final, crushing verdict: “Heraclides is ignorant of letters.” When Heraclides had read this, we are told, he blushed.


Author: anne
Date: 2006-06-16

Beautiful. You can call me Ho Pompikos from now on.

(Have you noticed that all of my posts on Explananda form an acrostic? I’ll just let you work out what it is. To make things harder, there are occasional “decoy” letters, not part of the real message – don’t be fooled.)

Author: Chris
Date: 2006-06-16

In grade 13 - yeah, yeah, laugh it up - I had a crush on a girl. I had a writing assignment that was a poem, so I figured I might as well make it an acrostic with her name. I was then asked to read it out in class. Only as I read it out did it occur to me that we would both find it horribly embarrassing if anyone figured out the puzzle. No one did. So, safe, right?

Not quite. Then I started dating another girl, this one insanely jealous. She liked my poems (awwwwwww), so I gave her a bunch. 6 months later (we were still dating) I got a furious phone call. She had been looking over the poems and suddenly seen the acrostic. Wow, she was so mad. And I was all, like, wtf, we weren’t even going out then! But did that get me off the hook? Noooooooo.

Got an acrostic story? Tell it here!

Author: Chris
Date: 2006-06-16

Huh, whaddaya know? I looked at the passage in Diogenes Laertius that I figure Grafton was relying on (Heraclides is actually a very minor figure in my dissertation, so it’s only half-procrastinating) and it turns out that the blushing bit was actually an emendation. If you follow the manuscripts you get “Heraclides is ignorant of letters and isn’t ashamed of it.” I sort of like the emendation that Grafton is reporting, but I suspect there’s nothing really wrong with the manuscripts.

Author: Beemernutt
Date: 2006-06-19

Dear Sir

That is indeed a Heraclidoral gaffe!