Aristotle on Golf

2004-12-05

Back in college a Classics professor of mine provided the following text to a class I was taking on Aristotle's Poetics, and I've just found a copy on the 'net, so herewith some pseudo-Aristotelian wisdom:

Concerning Golf, and how many parts of it there are, and how we ought to play it, and as many things as belong to the same method, let us speak, beginning from the Tee according to the nature of the treatise. For there are some who begin not only after teeing the ball, but also immediately after breakfasting themselves: but this is not golf, but incontinence or even licentiousness.

Now it is possible to play in several ways: for perhaps they strike indeed, yet not as is necessary, nor where, nor when; as the man who played in the Parks and wounded the infant: for this was good for him, yet not absolutely, nor for the infant. Wherefore here as in other things we should aim at the mean between excess and defect. For the player in excess hits the ball too often, as they do in baseball; and the deficient man can not hit it at all, except by accident: as it is related of the man who kicked at his caddie as they do in soccer. For the beginning is to hit it: and the virtue of a good golfer is to hit well and according to reason and as the professional would hit. And to speak briefly, to play golf is either the part of a man of genius or a madman, as has been said in the Poetics.

And because it is better to hit a few times than many -- for the good is finite, but the man who goes round in three hundred strokes stretches out in the direction of the infinite -- some have said that here too we ought to remember the saying of Hesiod, "The half is better than the whole," thinking not rightly, according at least to my opinion: for in relation to your adversary it is much better to win the Hole than the Half. And Homer is a good master both in other respects and also here: for he alone has taught us how to lie as is necessary, both as to the hole, and otherwise.

Again, every art and every method, and likewise every action and intention aims at the good. Some, therefore, making a syllogism, aim at a Professor: for Professors, they say, are good (because dry things are good for men, as has been said in the Ethics), and this is a Professor: but perhaps they make a wrong use of the major premise. At any rate, having hit him, it is better to act in some such way as this, not, as a tragedian, seeking recognition; for this is most unpleasant, and perhaps leads to a catastrophe. It is doubted, whether the man who killed his tutor with a golf-ball, acted voluntarily or involuntarily; for on the one hand he did not do it deliberately, since no one deliberates about the result of chance, as, for instance, whether one will hit the ball this time at any rate or not: yet he wished to kill him, and was glad having done it: and probably on the whole it was a mixed action.

Are we then, to call no man happy till he has finished his round, and according to Solon, to look to the end? For it is possible to be fortunate for a long time and yet at last to fall into a ditch.


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