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Perishable Thoughts —
Wisdom Begins In Wonder

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 11, 2009

Scott Danner, Chief Operating Officer of Kansas City, Kansas-based Liberty Fruit Co., is a frequent contributor to the Pundit, having sent many items our way, including these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Precision

Perishable Thoughts — Resolve To Succeed

Perishable Thoughts — What is Leadership?

Perishable Thoughts Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Now he sends a quote we think is most appropriate to both dealing with complicated public policy questions — such as the solution to the financial crisis — and with business and personal issues. The quote is from Edith Hamilton:

“For wisdom begins in wonder.”
— By Edith Hamilton
The Greek Way
1930

This quote is culled from the larger section:

“Socrates, when the young Theætetus was introduced to him as a lad of brilliant promise, said to him that he felt sure he had thought of a great deal. The boy answered, Oh, no — not that, but at least he had wondered a great deal. “Ah, that shows the lover of wisdom,” Socrates said, “for wisdom begins in wonder.”

This quote is a paraphrase of the actual translation by Benjamin Jowett of the original Greek dialogue by Plato:

“Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder”
The Dialogues of Plato — Theætetus
By Plato
Est. 400 B.C.

This quote is culled from the larger section:

“I see, my dear Theaetetus, that Theodorus had a true insight into your nature when he said that you were a philosopher, for wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder. He was not a bad genealogist who said that Iris (the messenger of heaven) is the child of Thaumas (wonder).”

Iris translated to English means Rainbow, The Messenger, and Thaumas translated to English means Wonder. (This becomes important to our discussion on where the revised quote comes from.)

We sent Pundit aide-de-camp James Elmer to work on this one, and this is what he came up with:

Edith Hamilton had an abundant affection for the Greeks and their culture, as evidenced in the first chapter of her first work, “The Greek Way.”

No news article archive searches reveal the quote “wisdom begins in wonder” earlier than 2007. Ebsco Host article searches turn up nothing earlier than 1999, and all of these instances of this version of the quote are general reference only.

I believe that as Hamilton, who spoke many languages including Greek, translated and briefly paraphrased the larger section from Theætetus, including: “He was not a bad genealogist who said that Iris (messenger of heaven) is the child of Thaumas (wonder)” easily became “For wisdom (Iris) begins with wonder (Thaumas).”

I’m going to declare the specific authorship of the quote “For wisdom begins in Wonder” to Edith Hamilton. Her mention is the only place in print where it appears.

The popularity of her body of work probably contributed to this quote’s success. Her fifth book, “Mythology (1942), remains in print after six decades and is still used as an introductory text to mythology in high schools and colleges; a mark of its status is that study guides to the book exist,” according to Wikipedia below.

The “Wisdom Begins with Wonder” quote can be viewed here:

The Greek Way to Western Civilization (Google Books) (1943 Edition PDF Attached)
By Edith Hamilton
Published by New American Library, 1930, 1943, 1958, 1993 (Pg. 100)
254 pages, Pg. 115

The “Wisdom Begins with Wonder” quote can be purchased here:

The Greek Way to Western Civilization (Amazon)
By Edith Hamilton
Published by New American Library, 1993 (Pg. 100)
254 pages, Pg. 115

The “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher …” quote can be viewed here:

Harper’s Magazine (Google Books, download entire volume here)
By Making of America Project, Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Published by Harper’s Magazine Co., 1872
Pg. 376

The Dialogues of Plato: Tr. Into English, with Analyses and Introductions (Google Books)
By Plato, Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Published by Scribner, Armstrong and co., 1878
Item notes: v.3
Pg. 356

The “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher …” quote can be purchased here

Theaetetus (Paperback) (Amazon)
By Plato (Author), Translated by Benjamin Jowett
BiblioBazaar, 2007
178 pages, Pg. 107

We may demand of our leaders — in politics and in business — too much certainty. When we think of true genius, say Einstein, one thinks of one who sees wonder in the world and then tries to figure it out.

The MBA revolution, in which management is deemed a science, has led to an expectation that problems are best solved through a managerial process. Yet, it may not be so. That methodology may provide answers to the wrong questions.

Many thanks to Scott Danner and Liberty Fruit Co. for sharing this Perishable Thought.

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Perishable Thoughts is a regular section of the Perishable Pundit. If you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the industry, please send it on. You can do so right here.

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