The Poets

May 05, 2014

On Thales and His Fall


Quod est ante pedes nemo spectat, caeli scrutantur plagas


… and he was fixed on Pleiades,
Who moved across the tranquil night-
Her glinting gown, though hard to see,
Had lured him to her precious sight.

He plotted, mapped her silent course,
Made measurement of where she fled.
Her beauty, that compelling force,
It had him stroll whereso she led.

And led he was through starry dark-
Through midnight glade and hill and dell-
Til suddenly, without a mark,
A pit appeared and Thales fell.



Thales (pronounced ‘thay-lees’) is a pre-Socratic philosopher and polymath who endeavored to know as much as he could about the natural world, including heavenly bodies- a Thoreau on steroids, if you will. 

This fable of him stumbling into a pit because of his passionate fixation on celestial bodies was first expressed by Socrates in Plato’s dialogue, Theaetetus. Socrates says there, “While he was studying the stars and looking upwards, he fell into a pit, and a neat, witty Thracian servant girl jeered at him, they say, because he was so eager to know the things in the sky that he could not see what was there before him at his very feet.” 

There is a moral to this story, and many have given a positive statement with regard to Thales’ heavenly fixation (and stumbling), and many a negative one. I am so dying to hear your interpretation of the moral of this particular fable, and of the poem. Please, for God’s love, bless me with your opinion (there are no right or wrong answers) ...

The above quote in Latin, given by Cicero, is rendered in English: ‘No one regards what is before his feet when searching out the regions of the sky.’


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