Those Who Read Little, Know Little

From dailystoic

Was there a Stoic who didn’t love reading? It’d be hard to name one. The last thing Cato did before he died was read. It’s incredible really, even as Caesar had destroyed the Republic, with the Civil War lost, with his inevitable suicide just hours a way, Cato took the time to read Plato’s Phaedo of Socrates…twice. He was still learning, up until the very end. 

Experience is a key component to wisdom, of course, but there are very few truly wise people out there who do not read, who are not lovers of books. There’s a Latin saying: Qui pauca legit, pauca scit. He who reads little knows little. It’s true. To truly become wise, we have to open our minds to the vast accumulation of experiences that have come before us. To not read widely, as General Mattis has said, is to be functionally illiterate

Chryssippus loved the play Medea so much and quoted from it so often that he joked one of his essays was the “Medea of Chrysippus.” In fact, one can’t pick up the works of Marcus AureliusSeneca, even the sayings of Epictetus without being struck with how intimately familiar these philosophers were with the great writing—fiction, essays, books, and histories—of their time. 

It’s an example—a tradition really—that we have to continue to follow. Gven how much wonderful writing has been published since the time of the ancient Stoics, twenty centuries of books, it is profoundly arrogant and wasteful to not take advantage of it. Marcus Aurelius would have killed to have access to the psychological research at your fingertips. If Chrysippus worshipped Medea then, think about what he’d think about you, having not picked up Shakespeare besides those few begrudging pages in high school? Cato spent his last precious minutes reading about Socrates—and you can’t bear to pull yourself away from your phone?

We read to learThose Who Read Little, Know Littlen. We read to lead. If we don’t read much, we won’t know much. If we don’t seek wisdom, we won’t find it.

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