Felix Dies Natalis — Sententiae Antiquae: A Pu Pu Platter from our Infancy


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This site and its twitter feed is three years old today.  We have passed from diapers (nappies in the UK!) and a liquid diet to full sentences and a different kind of liquid diet. Here are some quotations from our first few months.


The first post we ever put up:


Homer, Iliad 22.304-5

“May I not die without a fight and without glory but after doing something big for men to come to learn about”

μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,

ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.


A good one for Halloween:

Seneca, De clementia 1.1.6

“No one can wear a mask for very long; affectation soon returns to true nature”

nemo enim potest personam diu ferre, ficta cito in naturam suam recidunt

And this made an appearance again in our aggregation of Seneca quotes.


A reminder to carpere diem, but in Greek:

Semonides, Fragment 3

“We have ample time to be dead yet we live our few years badly”

πολλὸς γὰρ ἥμιν ἐστι τεθνάναι χρονος

ζῶμεν δ᾿ ἀριθμῷ παῦρα κακῶς ἔτεα


One of our many lines about friendship:

Sallust, Catilinae coniuratio 20.4

“Wanting the same thing and also not wanting the same thing: this, ultimately, is true friendship”

idem velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est


Proof that U2 plagiarizes:

Martial, Epigrams 12.46.2

“I can’t live with you or without you”

nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te


A necessary does of humility:

Heraclitus, Fragment 40

“Knowing much doesn’t teach you how to think.”

πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει.


Existential Angst:

Pindar, Pythian 8.95

“What is a person? What is not a person? Man is a dream of a shadow”

τί δέ τις; τί δ’ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ / ἄνθρωπος.


Pithy Rumsfeldian Response:

Tacitus, Agricola 30.4


“Every unknown is overblown”

omne ignotum pro magnifico est


Because we still don’t understand this:

Pisander, fr. 9 (Hesychius 683)

“You can’t reason with Centaurs”

νοῦς οὐ παρὰ Κενταύροισι


Because to err is human:


Cicero, Philippics 12.5

“All men make mistakes; but it is fools who persist in them”

cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis perseverare in errore


This is for Cicero and Seneca who came to unhappy ends:

Sophocles, Electra 1007-8

“Death isn’t the most hateful thing. Worse is when someone wants to die but cannot.”

οὐ γὰρ θανεῖν ἔχθιστον, ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν θανεῖν
χρῄζων τις εἶτα μηδὲ τοῦτ᾽ ἔχῃ λαβεῖν.


A rejected motto:

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.159

“Trivialities occupy fickle minds”

para leves capiunt animos


From a quotable but less well-known sage:

Publilius Syrus, Sententiae M.54

“A bad plan is one that can’t be changed”

malum est consilium quod mutari non potest


The eternal troll of anonymous wit:


CIL IV, 1904

“I am amazed, wall, that you have not fallen in ruins,
you who bear the weight of so many boring inscriptions.”

admiror, paries, te non cecidisse ruinis,
qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas.


Something that may or may not be true about quotation:

Horace, Ars Poetica 309

“The origin and source of good writing is good judgment”.

scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.


As good a way to start as to end:

Parmenides, fr. 6.16


“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.


Thanks to everyone who has read, commented and retweeted over the past three years!

Πόλλ’ ἀγαθὰ γένοιτό ὑμῖν!

Like this:

Homer, Iliad 9.340-3



“Are the sons of Atreus the only men who love their wives? A man who is good and sound of judgment loves his wife and feels a certain concern for her, just as I loved Briseis from the bottom of my heart, even though I carried her off with my spear.”

ἦ μοῦνοι φιλέουσ᾽ ἀλόχους μερόπων ἀνθρώπων
Ἀτρεΐδαι; ἐπεὶ ὅς τις ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς καὶ ἐχέφρων
τὴν αὐτοῦ φιλέει καὶ κήδεται, ὡς καὶ ἐγὼ τὴν
ἐκ θυμοῦ φίλεον δουρικτητήν περ ἐοῦσαν.

Latin Anthology, Codex Salmasianus, 30


“In dreams, Apollo ordered me not to drink wine, and I obey him: now I just drink while I’m awake.”

Phoebus me in somnis vetuit potare Lyaeum.

Pareo praeceptis: tunc bibo, dum vigilo.

Cicero, in Catilinam 2.23

“How will they bear the Appenines covered in frosts and snow? Maybe they think that they can tolerate the cold, because they learned to dance naked at dinner parties.”

Quo autem pacto illi Appeninum atque illas pruinas ac nivis perferent? Nisi idcirco se facilius hiemem toleraturos putant, quod nudi in conviviis saltare didicerunt.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1. 1164-1174: Entropy Strikes! (slowly)


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Some more Lucretius to lighten a Tuesday’s burden:

“Now as he shakes his head slowly the ancient plowman
whispers that his great labors have amounted to nothing
and when he compares his life’s work to former times
he often praises the good fortunes of his father.
It is sad but true: the caretaker of the shriveled vine
blames the passage of time and carps about his generation,
complaining how the older world so full of devotion
managed to support life with much slighter means,
when each man was apportioned a smaller bit of land.
He does not understand that all things deteriorate over time
in the approach to the journey’s end, worn out by the ancient span of years.”


iamque caput quassans grandis suspirat arator
crebrius, in cassum magnos cecidisse labores,               
et cum tempora temporibus praesentia confert
praeteritis, laudat fortunas saepe parentis.
tristis item vetulae vitis sator atque <vietae>
temporis incusat momen saeclumque fatigat,
et crepat, antiquum genus ut pietate repletum               
perfacile angustis tolerarit finibus aevom,
cum minor esset agri multo modus ante viritim;
nec tenet omnia paulatim tabescere et ire
ad capulum spatio aetatis defessa vetusto.

The ‘Homeric’ War of Frogs and Mice, Part 1: The Proem (1-8)


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As I begin from the first page, I pray that the chorus
comes from Helikon for the sake of the song
I have just set down on the tablets at my knees;
a song of limitless strife–the war-rousing work of Ares–
because I hope to send to the ears of all mortal men
how the mice went forth to best the frogs
in imitation of the deeds of the earth born men, the giants.
Or so the tale went among men. It has this kind of beginning.

1 ᾿Αρχόμενος πρώτης σελίδος χορὸν ἐξ ῾Ελικῶνος
2 ἐλθεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἦτορ ἐπεύχομαι εἵνεκ’ ἀοιδῆς
3 ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα,
4 δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην, πολεμόκλονον ἔργον ῎Αρηος,
5 εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι
6 πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν,
7 γηγενέων ἀνδρῶν μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων,
8 ὡς λόγος ἐν θνητοῖσιν ἔην• τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν.

The Batrakhomuomakhia is a mock-epic from antiquity–dated variously from the late Archaic age to the Hellenistic period. Using a pastiche of Homeric style and surprising subject (a battle between tribes of frog and mice), this parody is at once highly ‘literary’ and baldly silly. Of course, we love it.

We love it so much that we’ve been working on the text, a translation, and something of a commentary.  Since we’re already having fun with other oddities and obscurities like the history of Apollonius of Tyre, it made sense to start putting some of the work on the Batrakhomuomakhia here.  Look for more fun as the friendship of a mouse and frog ends in a sudden tragedy compounded by an interspecies blood-feud and the callous machinations of the gods.

A limerick in the spirit of Palaiophron:

The Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice
is not really Homer but it’s still quite nice.
You needn’t suffer to learn
that there’s kleos to earn
And you may find yourself reading it twice.

Hipponax fr. 182: The Wise Man’s Wife (Hipponactic!)


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“The strongest marriage for a wise man
Is to take a woman of noble character—
This dowry alone safeguards a home.
[But whoever takes a fancy woman home...]
<sees his house fall into ruin>
The wise man has a partner instead of a mistress
A woman with a good mind, reliable for a lifetime.”


γάμος κράτιστός ἐστιν ἀνδρὶ σώφρονι
τρόπον γυναικὸς χρηστὸν ἕδνον λαμβάνειν·
αὕτη γὰρ ἡ προὶξ οἰκίαν σώιζει μόνη.
ὅστις δὲ †τρυφῶς τὴν γυναῖκ’ ἄγει λαβών

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συνεργὸν οὗτος ἀντὶ δεσποίνης ἔχει
εὔνουν, βεβαίαν εἰς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον.


This fragment has missing lines and a textual problem in line four. But it is clear that it is similar in sentiment to ideas expressed about marriage in Hesiod and other archaic poets (see below for two characteristic passages from Hesiod). I made up an English line to fill out the general idea of the missing Greek. There’s nothing pretty about it!


Continue reading

History of Apollonius of Tyre, Chapter 27


Once the young man saw this, he ran to his master and said, “Master, the girl, whom you believe dead, actually lives! So that you may more readily believe me, I will free up her breathing.” With a display of vigor, he brought the girl in his own room and placed her upon the couch, opened her clothes, heated the oil, wet some wool, and poured it out above the girl’s chest. The blood, which had been congealed by cold, was made liquid again through the application of heat, and the closed off spirit began to descend once again through her marrow. Once her veins were reopened, the  girl opened her eyes and regained her spirit, which she had earlier lost, and said in soft and rambling speech, “I beg, doctor, that you don’t touch me in any way other than is proper, for I am the wife of one king and the daughter of another.”

Once the youth had seen that which had escaped his master’s art, he came to him full of joy and said, “Master, come to your disciple’s demonstration!” The teacher entered the room and saw the girl alive, whom he though dead, and said to his student, “I approve your skill, I laud your experience, and I am amazed at your diligence! But listen: I don’t want you to have missed the chance of benefiting through your art: take this prize. This is the money which the girl brought with her.” He then gave him the ten sesterces of gold. He also ordered that the girl be revived with healthy foods. After a few days, when he learned that she was sprung from a royal line, his friends were brought forth, and he adopted the girl as his own. As he heard her ask in tears that she not be touched by another man, he put her into seclusion among the priestesses of Diana, where all maidens used to preserve their inviolable chastity.

27 Quod ut vidit iuvenis, ad magistrum suum currit et ait: “Magister, puella, quam credis esse defunctam, vivit. Et ut facilius mihi credas, spiritum praeclusum patefaciam.” Adhibitis secum viribus tulit puellam in cubiculo suo et posuit super lectulum, velum divisit, calefecit oleum, madefecit lanam et effudit super pectus puellae. Sanguis vero ille, qui intus a perfrictione coagulatus fuerat, accepto tepore liquefactus est coepitque spiritus praeclusus per medullas descendere. Venis itaque patefactis aperuit puella oculos et recipiens spiritum, quem iam perdiderat, leni et balbutienti sermone ait: “Deprecor itaque, medice, ne me contingas aliter, quam oportet contingere: uxor enim regis sum et regis filia.”

Iuvenis ut vidit, quod in arte viderat, quod magistrum fallebat, gaudio plenus vadit ad magistrum suum et ait: “Veni, magister, en discipuli tui apodixin.” Magister introivit cubiculum et, ut vidit puellam iam vivam, quam mortuam putabat, ait discipulo suo: “Probo artem, peritiam laudo, miror diligentiam. Sed audi, discipule: nolo te artis beneficium perdidisse; accipe mercedem. Haec enim puella secum attulit pecuniam.” Et dedit ei decem sestertia auri; et iussit puellam salubribus cibis et fomentis recreari.

Post paucos dies, ut cognovit eam regio genere esse ortam, adhibitis amicis in filiam suam sibi adoptavit. Ut rogavit cum lacrimis, ne ab aliquo contingeretur, exaudivit eam et inter sacerdotes Dianae feminas seclusit et collocavit, ubi omnes virgines inviolabiliter servabant castitatem.

Archilochus, Fr. 15: I don’t need money, the gods or politics


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Archilochus declares his lack of concern for most things in one fragment:


“Wealthy Gyges’ stuff doesn’t matter to me.

Jealousy never holds me and I don’t wonder

at the works of the gods. I don’t seek some great tyranny.

These things are far from my eyes.”


οὔ μοι τὰ Γύγεω τοῦ πολυχρύσου μέλει,

οὐδ’ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος, οὐδ’ ἀγαίομαι

θεῶν ἔργα, μεγάλης δ’ οὐκ ἐρέω τυραννίδος·

ἀπόπροθεν γάρ ἐστιν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐμῶν.


But what is it that he wants?  Maybe he just wants to be left alone:


Archilochus, Fragment 14

“No one ever got much pleasure from listening to the public complain”


Αἰσιμίδη, δήμου μὲν ἐπίρρησιν μελεδαίνων

οὐδεὶς ἂν μάλα πόλλ’ ἱμερόεντα πάθοι.



Or maybe he just doesn’t want to be one of the monkeys who lose out to the fox:


Archilochus, fab 81 (Fox and the Monkey)

“After he danced at a gathering of unreasoning animals and earned a reputation, a monkey was elected their king.”


ἐν συνόδῳ τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων πίθηκος ὀρκησάμενος καὶ εὐδοκιμήσας βασιλεὺς ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη

Homer, Iliad 8.145-156


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Diomedes, that expert of the war-cry, answered him thus:

“Yes, sir, you have indeed spoken truly, but this dread burden sets upon my heart and spirit, that one day, Hector will say when he is boasting among the Trojans, ‘The son of Tydeus, in his fear of me, retreated to his ships!’ Thus will he boast; and on that day, I hope the earth will swallow me in her dusty jaws.”

Nestor, the Gerenian horseman answered him thus:

“What a thing to say, thou burning-hearted son of Tydeus. If Hector should call you a knave or a coward, neither Trojan nor Dardanian will believe him, nor especially the wives of the great-spirited Trojan soldiers, since you have cast their once-stout husbands into the dirt.”

Τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης·

ναὶ δὴ ταῦτά γε πάντα γέρον κατὰ μοῖραν ἔειπες·

ἀλλὰ τόδ’ αἰνὸν ἄχος κραδίην καὶ θυμὸν ἱκάνει·

῞Εκτωρ γάρ ποτε φήσει ἐνὶ Τρώεσσ’ ἀγορεύων·

Τυδεΐδης ὑπ’ ἐμεῖο φοβεύμενος ἵκετο νῆας.

ὥς ποτ’ ἀπειλήσει· τότε μοι χάνοι εὐρεῖα χθών.

Τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα Γερήνιος ἱππότα Νέστωρ·

ὤ μοι Τυδέος υἱὲ δαΐφρονος, οἷον ἔειπες.

εἴ περ γάρ σ’ ῞Εκτωρ γε κακὸν καὶ ἀνάλκιδα φήσει,

ἀλλ’ οὐ πείσονται Τρῶες καὶ Δαρδανίωνες

καὶ Τρώων ἄλοχοι μεγαθύμων ἀσπιστάων,

τάων ἐν κονίῃσι βάλες θαλεροὺς παρακοίτας.


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