Philogelos II (2)

Σχολαστικὸς κολυμβῶν παρὰ μικρὸν ἐπνίγη· ὤμοσε δὲ εἰς ὕδωρ μὴ εἰσελθεῖν, ἐὰν μὴ μάθῃ πρῶτον καλῶς κολυμβᾶν.

A pedant nearly drowned while swimming; he swore that he would not go into the water again, if he did not learn first how to swim well.

In his essay on Milton (1843), Macaulay used this joke to illustrate a deep political argument:

“Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever.”

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