Maxim Monday: Ακουσας νοει

Today’s maxim (Ακουσας νοει) is translated in the source I’m using as “Perceive what you have heard.” Let’s see how that translation holds up.  (As usual, definitions are from my trusty Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, with occasional support from the Joint Association of Classical Teachers Greek Course, Reading Greek.)

This short little phrase gave my very rusty Greek skills a serious workout.

  • Ακουσας: This looks like it’s the active aorist of ακουω: to hear, give ear, to listen or give ear to, more rarely c. dat., hence to obey.
  • νοει: Here, I’m even less certain. Is this the imperative aorist of νοεω? Since my dictionary informs me that almost all of its conjugations wind up being something almost unrecognizable (for example, the passive aorist is ενοηθην). However, its definition goes along with the translation: I. to see so as to remark or discern, distinguished from merely seeing, as, “when he saw him he perceived who he was“… II. to think, to be minded, hence, to purpose, intend… of words or expressions, to mean, imply, have a certain sense. III. to think out, devise, contrive. IV. to think or deem that a thing is so and so.

So, if I assume that some combination of the era in which the maxim was composed and the era which my dictionary is aiming at means that I’m right in both cases above, I think the translation works. νοει has connotations of discernment beyond mere observation, of cognition and understanding fully.

But, what’s the context of this maxim? are we supposed to “perceive what (we) have heard” in conversation? Lectures in school? Legal announcements? I suspect it’s meant to imply in all cases. We’re being exhorted to really listen and think about what we hear, not just hear it. That means listening rather than waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can talk. It’s an encouragement toward being thoughtful and perceptive, and that’s pretty hard to argue with.

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