Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Classics Break!: Talk to Julius Caesar

Need a little break? Click the link to Talk to Caesar. Using a clever Applet, he'll chat with you about Brutus, the Ides of March, his picks for the greatest Roman and non-Roman generals of all time, Pompey, Cassius, the Gauls, and Cicero.

BTW, We're speaking at Boston's Learning and the Brain Conference this week and next, and so will be going off the blog briefly. We'll be back blogging on our regular schedule April 26th.

Classical Education and the Modern Era

For logic and rhetoric students, a thorough understanding of the competing ideals, philosphies and plans of today's modernists and postmodernists is essential learning if they want to be able to discuss local and world issues and social and education programs, but there are many more resources available for parents and teachers wanting to share the lessons of antiquity, than lessons of the 20th century.

We've wrestled with this issue as our oldest will be entering his middle school years next year. Here are some of the issues we've wanted to tackle:

1. The blossoming of science and technology and how scientific utopian visions caused trouble in the modern era.
2. Global philosophies and global war.
3. Manipulation of the media for political purposes.
4. The need to see beyond rhetoric behind competing philosophies of human nature, government, and religion.
5. To see how individual heroes (as well as villains) existed in every age, and learn how they met their challenges, where they drew their strength, and how they changed the course of history.

We had been doing Veritas Press cards, but just learning about the Wright Brothers or the Space Shuttle won't do it. It's surprising how poorly middle or high school texts seem to cover the 20th Century, too. We plan to tackle Gileskirk Modernity course next year, but now we're thoroughly enjoying the Teaching Company's course with Vejas Liulevicius on Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century. The audio download ($35) is a steal while it's on sale until mid-May. Highly recommended! The audio download includes lecture outlines, so transcripts aren't needed. Like Professor Fears (Teaching Company Classical History), Professor Liulevicius is an impassioned lecturer who has the knack of identifying essential assumptions and ideas that drove great and villainous leaders and their movements. It's a remarkable story seeing how a vision of a utopian society becomes twisted into a totalitarian nightmare.

In order to make the details of people and places "stick", we've also discovered that making picture flashcards has been invaluable. We'll share them so you can print them out at home. The first lectures have covered changes wrought by the French and Industrial Revolutions, the World Wars, and the ideas and actual realities of the Communist utopia. For additional reading, think about tackling George Orwell's Animal Farm. Because it's an allegory, it may be helpful for some to read this Animal Farm Study Guide ahead of time. Here's an online copy of The Communist Manifesto, too. When we get back from Boston, we'll post more of our links that have been helpful with this course.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ancient Greeks: Pythagoras, Mathematics, and Music

Pythagoras of Samos was a Greek philosopher and mathematician who also founded a mystical relgious movement called Pythagoreanism. He is best known for his Pythagorean theorem which states:

In any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (the side of a right triangle opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs (i.e. the two sides other than the hypotenuse).
The truth is, though, Pythagoras may have picked up this proof on his travels to Asia, as this proof was well known among mathematicians there. For more on the Chinese proof, click here.

The Pythagorean School was a secretive society and so many details are not known, but some rules of the Pythagoreans included strict vegetarianism, prescriptions about silence, incense, picking up what had fallen, physical and moral purification, and a belief that "Everything that exists is a number." In around 400 B.C., the discovery of irrational numbers upset the Pythagoreans.

Pythagoras is also famous for his interest in the Music of the Spheres.

Using a stretched string on a movable bridge, Pythagoras discovered that there were certain intervals that pleased peoples' ears: an octave (1:2), fifth (2:3), and fourth (3:4).

To listen to what these different intervals sound like, check out Harmony and Proportion. More on musical intervals on the guitar and Pythagoras are here.

For younger kids, print out and read this excellent book chapter on Pythagoras and his followers.

More Resources
Listen to Samples of The Music of Ancient Greece
The History of Music
Pythagoras picture

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ancient Romans: Horatius at the Bridge!

"With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old." - Thomas Babbington Macaulay

The story of Horatius Cocles (one-eyed) at the Pons Sublicius bridge (across Tiber River to Rome) is a great one, and Macaulay's Horatius from The Lays of Ancient Rome should be recited aloud (with feeling of course!) after the story read.

There are several versions of Horatius at the Baldwin Project site, but we like this Horatius story best. While most of the men at the bridge fled at the site of the advancing Etruscans, Horatius held his ground and fought courageously, allowing the Romans enough time to destroy all the bridges, saving the city. He lost an eye in the process and dove into the Tiber River. Livy reports he survived and was able to enjoy a statue in his honor from his grateful city.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

What's Your Lifetime Reading List?

In case you haven't seen it, here's Hugh Hewitt's chit chat with David Allen White and John Mark Reynolds about their picks for a Lifetime Book Reading List, or What Every College Freshman and Sophomore Should Read.... For more details, check out the link, but here's my tally of their titles:

The Bible, Shakespeare, Plato's Republic, Dialogues of Plato, The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, David Copperfield, Brothers Karamazov, Brideshead Revisited,, Gulag Archipelago, The Odyssey, Aristotle's Ethics, Oedipus Rex, Augustine's Confessions, Second Treatise on Government by Locke, The Aeneid, The Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, Plutarch, History of the English Speaking People, Dicken's A Child's History of England, Birth of the Modern, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Federalist Papers, Democracy in America, Wealth of Nations, Communist Manifesto, Origin of Species, On the Genealogy of Morals, Civilization and Its Discontents, Abolition of Man, Oresteia,, Summa Theologica, Pascal's Pensees, Pride and Prejudice, Immortal Poems of the English Language, Moby Dick, Essays by Montaigne, Canterbury Tales, The Prince, The Faeire Queene, Calvin's Institutes, Song of Roland, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Paradise Lost, Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy, Cicero's On Friendship and On Duties, Hobbes' Leviathan, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Poems of T.S. Eliot, Witness by Whittaker Chambers, Flannery O'Connor, Mailer's Of a Fire on the Moon, Percy's Lost in the Cosmos.

Many of the classics are available to read online:

Internet Classics Archive
Online Library of Liberty
E-text Catalog at Johnstonia (scroll down)
Malaspina Great Books Curriculum Resources

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Really Learning Latin: Vocabulary, Grammar, Translation, and Wheelocks

When we first started learning Latin, we were delighted learn some ancient Roman or Biblical sayings, and delighted to see how quickly we could be up-and-running. But we hit the wall, and soon found what people meant when the said, "You can't REALLY learn Latin without learning the grammar."

For young children, "soft" Latin programs like Minimus, Latina Christiana, or Prima Latina are probably best, but if you think your student would like to some day continue on in Latin at college, then Latin grammar should be tackled as soon as it is developmentally possible.

An example: if a student has only learned vocabulary or famous phrases, she may be perplexed about how to translate a sentence like: Nauta magnam poêtae fâmam nôn laudat. Who's the subject and how do you figure out which noun is which?

Step 1: It's handy to know the most common word order for Latin Sentences:
Subject - subject's modifiers - Indirect Object - Direct Object - Adverbial Words or Phrases - and Verb.

Step 2: Look for the subject and the noun:
Nauta magnam poêtae fâmam nôn laudat.

Step 3: Look at the word endings - and figure out what function the different nouns are serving in the sentence.
Nauta magnAM poêtAE fâmAM nôn laudat.

The AM will tell me that it's fame that's the direct object (The sailor doesn't praise the reputation, not The sailor doesn't praise the poet), or accusative case. The same ending of magnam means it's paired with fâmam (so great reputation, not great poet), and the AE identifies poêtae as genitive (possessive) so it could be translated as "of the poet".

Final translation: The sailor does not praise the great reputation of the poet.

Now, I confess my son and I still run through the chant "a, ae, ae, am, a; ae arum, is, as, is) to jog our memories for the noun endings, but with more practice we wnat to be able see a word ending and know exactly what function (or possibility of functions) that word has in the sentence. Exact grammar terms have to be learned because it allows communicate precisely about word functions to others when questions arise.

There are many resources for Wheelock's Latin on the web. Before we advance to the next chapter, we first do the self check with drills at University of Houston Latin (Scroll down to the Course 1301 drills). Afterwards we can follow up with Dr J's Latin Grammar Explanations or check out Dale Grote's Latin Study Guide if we have any questions.

Additionl Resources for Latin Online Practice that you may find helpful:
University of Victoria Latin Exercises
Latin Wheelock Practice at
Wheelocks Audio
Real Latin Inscriptions

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Art History: Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell

We found that studying the medieval paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and etchings of Durer were a perfect complement to our reading of Dante's Divine Comedy.

There is something striking about Dante's punishments fitting their crimes, and the organization of hell makes more sense when one realizes that Dante's hierarchy of evil places a greater burden on those who oppose the will of God than those who commit crimes against their fellow men.

Medieval paintings were very important for helping the illiterate Christians gain the basic truths of the Bible. Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) said, "Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read."

WebMuseum: Bosch, Hieronymus
University of NC Lesson Plan: The Nightmares of Hieronymous Bosch
Early Medieval Painting at Beyond Books
Powerpoint of Albrect Durer's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Spark Notes: Themes, Motifs, and Symbolism in Dante's Inferno
Art of the Book in the Middle Ages

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Classics Physics Alive: New Acoustic Discoveries in Ancient Greek Theatres

In a recent article from Nature, researchers at Georgia Tech figured out the science behind the magnificent theatre of Epidaurus. For more detailed, info, click here. it turns out the answer is not from simply an optimal amplification of human frequency pitches, but also careful positioning of the stepped rows of seats to reduce low frequency background noise. Very cool

Excerpt: "They calculate that this structure is perfectly shaped to act as an acoustic filter, suppressing low-frequency sound — the major component of background noise — while passing on the high frequencies of performers' voices...In the first century BC the Roman authority on architecture, Vitruvius, implied that his predecessors knew very well how to design a theatre to emphasize the human voice. "By the rules of mathematics and the method of music," he wrote, "they sought to make the voices from the stage rise more clearly and sweetly to the spectators' ears... by the arrangement of theatres in accordance with the science of harmony, the ancients increased the power of the voice."

ARLT :: Why the Greeks could hear plays from the back row
Structure of the Greek Theatre
The Architecture of Acoustic Control (Modern)
Wired: Scientists Study Sacred Sounds / Church Acoustics

Resources for Dante's The Divine Comedy

We're just reading excerpts from the Divine Comedy (Inferno) on our current journey through the Middle Ages, but we found some of these sites helpful for visualizing the structure of Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

We found this Flash Dante's Inferno site from Eastern Kentucky helpful:

In addition, the Dante Study Guide has helpful listing of symbols, allusions, and discussion points, and different versions of The Divine Comedy in translation are available at Digital Dante

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ancient Greeks: Thales - Scientist, mathematician, philosopher, businessman

Thales of Miletus is often referred to as the father of science, the father of philosophy, and the father of geometry. He was a very clever man, and sought to understand the world through a study of its patterns, rejecting explanations from mythology.

We just discovered Julie Diggins' String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow, and here you can read its Thales Chapter. Among Thales' apparent accomplishments: predicting an eclipse in 585 B.C., successfully predicting a bountiful harvest of olives after several bad seasons (he was certain, he also cornered the market on olive presses beforehand, and made a great deal of money), measuring the height of Egyptian pyramids by "shadow reckoning", a strategy for measuring the distance of a ship at sea, five propositions (with proofs) of plane geometry, a theory of earthquakes (movement of land because it floated on water).

Of course, Thales was also wrong about many things (for instance, he thought all things were composed of water and that magnets (lodestones) had souls), but he inspired many generations of scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers to look for the patterns, rules, and relationships that existed in the natural world.

Math Story / Lesson: On Thales
Wikipedia: Thales
Thales at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Life and Accomplishments of Thales of Miletus
Ancient Greeks

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Animated Bayeux Tapestry

Check out this beautiful animated Bayeux Tapestry at

History of Britain's Bayeux Tapestry

Want to make your own tapestry? Here's a great (and free)Bayeux Tapestry Game Online

Thanks, TAGMAX for the HT.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pursuit of Why: Scientific Reasoning and Botany

It's not an easy thinking teaching scientific reasoning to children because the facts and details of science can easily overwhelm any planned lesson. Facts and details are an important part of science learning, but they shouldn't be the only thing. We think scientific reasoning is best taught as a habit, and to do that, we need to give children the opportunity to observe, speculate, and criticize their speculations.

Here's something to try with your kids. Have them watch the sunflower experiment at the Plants in Motion page. These side-by-side experiments show an somewhat unexpected effect of sun on growing seedlings:

1. What are the two growth conditions for the sunflowers? For a "good" experimental design, what variables should be kept constant (for instance, same soil, same seeds, etc.), and what one variable(sun) the experimental condition?
2. What do you see?
3. Why do you think this happens?
4. Bonus question: How could you test your hypothesis?

If you try this with your children, share some of your discussions with us! We probably do more science at home with our children than other families (we both did some stints in laboratories before), but I was surprised at how much they initially struggled with generating hypotheses. It is hard to do, so it's a good thing to practice!

We were surprised at how many interesting discussion points could come from this little web lab experiment... dark-reared plants are taller with smaller leaves, Greek root, photo (light), synthesis ("syn" = together, "tithermi"=place), energy needed or plant will die, dark-reared plant put energy and resources into vertical growth (plants without sun may be buried deeper and need to grow vertically to reach light), or photosynthesis and the making of leaves might have an energy cost, sacrificing vertical growth to the formation of broader leaves to collect more sun, the idea of the sun like a "switch" - could turn off growth factors affecting the vertical growth of a plant, or turn on factors that start the program for a leaf...

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Art and Music for Easter: Giotto and Handel's Messiah

"And he departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here." ~St Augustine

Our painting of the Resurrection is from Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), who was once a shepard, but went onto fame as a painter, sculptor, and architect and has been called "father of the Italian Renaissance."

For music, we honor George Handel, a devout Christian, composer of his remarkable Messiah (in addition to other works), and generous donor to the poor and orphaned (from The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers: "Handel donated freely to charities even in times when he faced personal financial ruin. He was a relentless optimist whose faith in God sustained him through every difficulty.")

Although many people associate Messiah with Christmas, it is a Lent / East composition. Handel composed the massive work (2 1/2 hours) in just 24 days without leaving his house. He would later say, "Not from me - but from Heaven- comes all."

It's been said the tradition of standing throughout the Hallelujah Chorus dates from when King George II was moved by emotion and chose to stand.

We wish you all the blessings of this Easter week. We'll take a short break from our blog and will be back April 16th!

Giotto - The Resurrection
Web Museum: Biography of Giotto
Listen to Excerpts from Handel's Messiah
Rediscovering Handel's Messiah
Words / Libretto to The Messiah

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Writing Narrative in Progymnasmata

Narrative is one of the first exercises in rhetorical education, and we're approaching narrative first by reading, then by writing to a model, with specific variations or elaborations in mind. The essentials of the narrative are the 5 W's and an H: Who, What, Where, When, Why's, and How.

Narratives can be varied by changes in sequence (e.g. from Quintilian: "pursue it from the middle, either backwards or forwards..."), amplification with vivid details (amplificatio), or addition of dialogue or dialogismus. Additional rhetorical flourishes might include praise for the virtuous, censure for the immoral, summarization of the "take-home message" in the form of a commonplace .

We have just read the chapter on Narrative in D'Angelo's Composition in the Classical Tradition. Some of the choices of reading and writing passages are dreadful, but there are enough examples to choose from, and well-organized condensations of classical techniques of writing, that I found it one the easier books to work with in a homeschool.

The narrative variations that D'Angelo describes are: Condensed, Expanded, and Slanted (like The Three Little Pigs from the Wolf's Side of the Story. The four modes of narrative are Direct Declarative, Indirect Declarative ("It is often said that..."), Interrogative ("Why can't we do more?..."), and Comparative. The Comparative mode juxtaposes the good and the bad together to emphasize the differences or pattern of decision-making made by the individuals being discussed. This last variation is an interesting one, and I can see how it can also enrich the reading. In the example given, phrases such as "instead of" or "should have" are peppered throughout the key decisions made by Daedalus and Icarus, to highlight the mistakes they made (e.g. instead of asking King Minos, or he should have listened to his father).

In classical rhetoric, effective narration is seen as a complement to effective argumentation. From an abstract, "Both Cicero and Quintilian emphasized the place of narration in preparing and arranging orations. Argumentation was understood as the blending of several arts into a complex whole. Viewed as a whole, classical oration had two faces--logical and narrative proof. Proof (confirmatio) was the decontextualized, explicit, logical version of the narrative; and the narrative (narratio) was the contextualized, personalized, implicit version of the proof."

Our own first efforts will be more modest. We're going to rewrite some fables and myths using some variations and employing specific rhetorical figures. We'll post them if they don't look too bad. Do you have any to share? If so please share them with us as comments. We'd love to see 'em.

Writing with Voice
Writing Dialogue
Language Arts: Adding Descriptive Language and Dialogue

Narration and Argumentation - Abstract

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Monday, April 2, 2007

Classical Thinking in Physics and Newton's Laws of Motion

The discovery of the Newton's Laws of Motion provide many insights into how scientific discovery occurs - there are experiments and observations, consideration of unknown or untested variables in the experimental observations, theories knitted together from results and analogies in other systems, more experiments and use of different experimental paradigms, and finally discussions (and often disagreements) with others until one arrives at a consensus.

It was Aristotle who first noticed that masses of heavier weight tended to move more quickly in proportion to their size. This didn't make sense to Galileo Galilei, though, because he knew that projectiles like cannons didn't move in straight lines, but rather in straight curves. There has been a popular story (perhaps perpetuated by Galileo's biographer) that Galileo dropped two canon balls (one 10 times heavier than the other) from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to refute this law of Aristotle. There still remains some controversy over whether Galileo was actually able to show this, but he did try experiments using inclined planes (rolling balls down planes at different heights) to better control for the rates of acceleration and quantitate his results (in a vacuum or no air resistance), items of different mass should fall at the same rate. A page from one of his notebooks can be seen below.

The year Galileo died was 1642, the same year that Isaac Newton was born. Newton's great insight was to realize that a single law might be able to explain an apple falling from a tree, the curving movement of a cannon, and motions of the planets.

Putting his observations with the concept of Universal Gravitation, Newton imagined that if a cannonball were shot horizontally and fast enough from an iman imagined mountaintop, then it might actually orbit the earth. For an animation of Newton's cannon on a mountain, click here

Newton - What Really Happened with the Apple
PBS: Galileo's Experiments
The Galileo Controversy
Galileo's Notes on Motion

Movie: Like Something the Lord Made

Over the weekend, we Like Something the Lord Made, a movie about the life of Dr. Vivien Thomas, a man who overcame racism and poverty to help pioneer innovative techniques in heart surgery. It is an amazing story, one that includes a glimpse into America's segregated past, as well as the strength and resolve of Dr. Thomas and his family. The movie provides a realistic view of innovation in surgical research, as well as the personal courage and self-sacrifice such work takes on all involved.

In addition, there is a small role in the movie for Dr. Helen Taussig, a Cliffie (Hurrah! - Radcliffe, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins) who had dyslexia and was also a champion tennis player, and had quite dramatic pioneering work herself in the field of pediatric cardiology. She lost her hearing by the time she had graduated from Hopkins and relied on lip reading and hearing aids, but "some of her innovations in pediatric cardiology have been attributed to her ability to distinguish the rhythms of normal and damged hearts by touch, rather than by sound."

For families: Despite the title, this is not a "Christian movie" and there is some mild profanity uttered by the chief of surgery (Blalock).

Vivien Thomas
Wikipedia: Something the Lord Made
Movie Review: Something the Lord Had Made
About Dr. Helen Taussig

Previous Latin Sayings of the Week

"Soli deo gloria." - For the glory of God alone.

Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit! - Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

"Lex malla, lex nulla." - St. Thomas Aquinas
(A bad law is no law.)

"Cantantes licet usque (minus via laedit) eamus. " - Let us go singing as far as we go: the road will be less tedious.

"Caelitus mihi vires." - My strength is from heaven.

"Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo Salvatore meo" - My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:45)

In Omnibus Ipse Primatum Tenens “That in all things He (Christ) might have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:16-18)

"Qui bene cantat bis orat." - He who sings well, prays twice - (St Augustine)

"Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te." -
Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. (St Augustine)

"Caelitus mihi vires
." - My strength is from heaven.

"Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est." - Where there is charity and love, God is there.

"Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis ."

Unless you will have believed, you will not understand. - St Augustine

"Deo vindice" - With God as Protector

"Credite amori vera dicenti." - Believe love speaking the truth. (St. Jerome)

De vitiis nostris scalam nobis facimus, si vitia ipsa calcamus." - If we tread our vices under feet, we make them a ladder to rise to higher things. (St. Augustine)

Dei gratia - By the grace of God

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. - The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.

"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." - Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (St. Augustine)

"Deo iuvante" - with God's help

"Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus." - That God may be glorified in all things

"Pax vobiscum." Peace be with you.

"Jubilate Deo." Be joyful in the Lord.

"Ille vir, haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei." He is a man, not of ample means, but full of good faith.

"Facit enim mihi magna qui potens est." - For He that is mighty does to me great things.

"Oremus semper pro invicem." - Let us ever pray for each other.

"Distrahit animum librorum multitudo." - Seneca
A multitude of books distracts the mind.

"Nullam est nunc dictum, quod sit non dictum prius." - Terence
There is nothing said now, that has not been said before.

"Nosce te ipsum." - Plato
Know thyself.

"Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis" - Not for you, not for me, but for us.

"Primum non nocere." - First, do no harm (Hippocrates)

"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." - Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (St. Augustine)

"Deo iuvante" - with God's help

"Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus." - That God may be glorified in all things

"Pax vobiscum." Peace be with you.

"Jubilate Deo." Be joyful in the Lord.

"Ille vir, haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei." He is a man, not of ample means, but full of good faith.

"Facit enim mihi magna qui potens est." - For He that is mighty does to me great things.

"Oremus semper pro invicem." - Let us ever pray for each other.

"Distrahit animum librorum multitudo." - Seneca
A multitude of books distracts the mind.

"Nullam est nunc dictum, quod sit non dictum prius." - Terence
There is nothing said now, that has not been said before.

"Nosce te ipsum." - Plato
Know thyself.

"Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis" - Not for you, not for me, but for us.

"Primum non nocere." - First, do no harm (Hippocrates)

"Dei plena sunt omnia." - Cicero (All things are full of God.)