Begging for Books

Petrarch, Letter to Giovanni dell’Incisa:

“But lest Alexandria or Athens trounce upon Rome, or Greece or Egypt insult Italy, remember that we have had princes devoted to study – so many of them, in fact, that it would be difficult to number them, and so devoted to this study that one has been discovered who values the name of philosophy more than that of power. They are studious, I say, not just of the books, but of the things contained within those books. For there are those who stockpile books not as a bulwark for the intellect, but as a decoration for the bedroom.

And – if I might pass over the others – both Julius Caesar and Augustus were concerned about the Roman library. Caesar placed at the head of this enterprise a man (and I would say this with the pardon of Demetrius Phalereus, who has a renowned reputation among the Egyptians) in no way inferior, and perhaps even superior by far – Marcus Varro; by Augustus, Pompeius Macer – himself a most learned man – was made librarian.

That most renowned orator Asinius Pollio burned with the most intense ardor for a Greek and Latin library, and is said to have been the first to make one public. But those are private things. Cato had an insatiable hunger for books (of which Cicero is a witness), and even Cicero had an ardor for acquiring books, which his many epistles to Atticus demonstrate. He did not impose upon Atticus any less forcefully, going on with the firmest insistence and the greatest outpouring of prayers, just as I now do with you. If it is permitted even to the most opulent mind to ask for the patronage of books, what do you think is permitted to the poor one?”

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Sed ne Rome Alexandria vel Athene, et Italie Grecia vel Egiptus insultet, et nobis studiosi principes contigerunt, hique tam multi, ut eos vel enumerare difficile sit, tamque huic rei dediti, ut inventus sit cui philosophie quam imperii carius nomen esset; et studiosi, inquam, non tam librorum, quam libris contentarum rerum. Sunt enim qui libros, ut cetera, non utendi studio cumulent, sed habendi libidine, neque tam ut ingenii presidium, quam ut thalami ornamentum. [11] Atque, ut reliquos sileam, fuit romane bibliothece cura divis imperatoribus Iulio Cesari et Cesari Augusto; tanteque rei prefectus ab altero — pace Demetrii Phalerii dixerim, qui in hac re clarum apud Egiptios nomen habet — nichil inferior, ne dicam longe superior, Marcus Varro; ab altero Pompeius Macer, vir et ipse doctissimus. Summo quoque grece latineque bibliothece studio flagravit Asinius Pollio orator clarissimus, qui primus hanc Rome publicasse traditur. [12] Illa enim privata sunt: Catonis insatiabilis librorum fames, cuius Cicero testis est, ipsiusque Ciceronis ardor ad inquirendos libros, quem multe testantur epystole ad Athicum, cui eam curam non segnius imponit, agens summa instantia multaque precum vi, quam ego nunc tibi. Quodsi opulentissimo ingenio permittitur librorum patrocinia mendicare, quid putas licere inopi?

Enslaving the Children: Populist Politics and the Recipe for Savage Consensus

During the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian Democracy deliberated on and voted for the killing of men and the enslavement of women and children. To ask why is not an idle historical musing.

Thucydides, 5.116.4

“The [Athenians] killed however many of the Melian men were adults, and made the women and children slaves. Then they settled the land themselves and later on sent five hundred colonists.”

οἱ δὲ ἀπέκτειναν Μηλίων ὅσους ἡβῶντας ἔλαβον, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἠνδραπόδισαν. τὸ δὲ χωρίον αὐτοὶ ᾤκισαν, ἀποίκους ὕστερον πεντακοσίους πέμψαντες.


“Around the same period of time in that summer, the Athenians set siege to the Scionaeans and after killing all the adult men, made the women and childen into slaves and gave the land to the Plataeans.”

Περὶ δὲ τοὺς αὐτοὺς χρόνους τοῦ θέρους τούτου Σκιωναίους μὲν Ἀθηναῖοι ἐκπολιορκήσαντες ἀπέκτειναν τοὺς ἡβῶντας, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἠνδραπόδισαν καὶ τὴν γῆν Πλαταιεῦσιν ἔδοσαν νέμεσθαι·

This was done by vote of the Athenian democracy led by Cleon: Thucydides 4.122.6. A similar solution was proposed during the Mytilenean debate. Cleon is described by Thucydides as “in addition the most violent of the citizens who also was the most persuasive at that time by far to the people.” (ὢν καὶ ἐς τὰ ἄλλα βιαιότατος τῶν πολιτῶν τῷ τε δήμῳ παρὰ πολὺ ἐν τῷ τότε πιθανώτατος, 3.36.6)


“They were making a judgment about the men there and in their anger it seemed right to them not only to kill those who were present but to slay all the Mytileneans who were adults and to enslave the children and women.”

περὶ δὲ τῶν ἀνδρῶν γνώμας ἐποιοῦντο, καὶ ὑπὸ ὀργῆς ἔδοξεν αὐτοῖς οὐ τοὺς παρόντας μόνον ἀποκτεῖναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἅπαντας Μυτιληναίους ὅσοι ἡβῶσι, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἀνδραποδίσαι.

In his speech in defense of this policy, Cleon reflects on the nature of imperialism and obedience. Although he eventually failed to gain approval for this vote which was overturned, his arguments seem to have worked on later occasions.

Thucydides, 3.37

“The truth is that because you live without fear day-to-day and there is no conspiring against one another, you think imagine your ‘allies’ to live the same way. Because you are deluded by whatever is presented in speeches you are mistaken in these matters or because you yield to pity, you do not not realize you are being dangerously weak for yourselves and for some favor to your allies.

You do not examine the fact that the power you hold is a tyranny and that those who are dominated by you are conspiring against you and are ruled unwillingly and that these people obey you not because they might please you by being harmed but because you are superior to them by strength rather than because of their goodwill.

The most terrible thing of all is  if nothing which seems right to us is established firmly—if we will not acknowledge that a state which has worse laws which are unbendable is stronger than a state with noble laws which are weakly administered, that ignorance accompanied by discipline is more effective than cleverness with liberality, and that lesser people can inhabit states much more efficiently than intelligent ones.

Smart people always want to show they are wiser than the laws and to be preeminent in discussions about the public good, as if there are no more important things where they could clarify their opinions—and because of this they most often ruin their states. The other group of people, on the other hand, because they distrust their own intelligence, think that it is acceptable to be less learned than the laws and less capable to criticize an argument than the one who speaks well. But because they are more fair and balanced judges, instead of prosecutors, they do well in most cases. For this reason, then, it is right that we too, when we are not carried away by the cleverness and the contest of intelligence, do not act to advise our majority against our own opinion.”

διὰ γὰρ τὸ καθ᾿ ἡμέραν ἀδεὲς καὶ ἀνεπιβούλευτον πρὸς ἀλλήλους καὶ ἐς τοὺς ξυμμάχους τὸ αὐτὸ ἔχετε, καὶ ὅ τι ἂν ἢ λόγῳ πεισθέντες ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἁμάρτητε ἢ οἴκτῳ ἐνδῶτε, οὐκ ἐπικινδύνως ἡγεῖσθε ἐς ὑμᾶς καὶ οὐκ ἐς τὴν τῶν ξυμμάχων χάριν μαλακίζεσθαι, οὐ σκοποῦντες ὅτι τυραννίδα ἔχετε τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ πρὸς ἐπιβουλεύοντας αὐτοὺς καὶ ἄκοντας ἀρχομένους, οἳ οὐκ ἐξ ὧν ἂν χαρίζησθε βλαπτόμενοι αὐτοὶ ἀκροῶνται ὑμῶν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξ ὧν ἂν ἰσχύι μᾶλλον ἢ τῇ ἐκείνων εὐνοίᾳ περιγένησθε.

πάντων δὲ δεινότατον εἰ βέβαιον ἡμῖν μηδὲν καθεστήξει ὧν ἂν δόξῃ πέρι, μηδὲ γνωσόμεθα ὅτι χείροσι νόμοις ἀκινήτοις χρωμένη πόλις κρείσσων ἐστὶν ἢ καλῶς ἔχουσιν ἀκύροις, ἀμαθία τε μετὰ σωφροσύνης ὠφελιμώτερον ἢ δεξιότης μετὰ ἀκολασίας, οἵ τε φαυλότεροι τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τοὺς ξυνετωτέρους ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πλέον ἄμεινον οἰκοῦσι τὰς πόλεις.

οἱ μὲν γὰρ τῶν τε νόμων σοφώτεροι βούλονται φαίνεσθαι τῶν τε αἰεὶ λεγομένων ἐς τὸ κοινὸν περιγίγνεσθαι, ὡς ἐν ἄλλοις μείζοσιν οὐκ ἂν δηλώσαντες τὴν γνώμην, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τοιούτου τὰ πολλὰ σφάλλουσι τὰς πόλεις· οἱ δ᾿ ἀπιστοῦντες τῇ ἐξ ἑαυτῶν ξυνέσει ἀμαθέστεροι μὲν τῶν νόμων ἀξιοῦσιν εἶναι, ἀδυνατώτεροι δὲ τὸν1 τοῦ καλῶς εἰπόντος μέμψασθαι λόγον, κριταὶ δὲ ὄντες ἀπὸ τοῦ ἴσου μάλλον ἢ ἀγωνισταὶ ὀρθοῦνται τὰ πλείω. ὣς οὖν χρὴ καὶ ἡμᾶς ποιοῦντας μὴ δεινότητι καὶ ξυνέσεως ἀγῶνι ἐπαιρομένους παρὰ δόξαν τῷ ὑμετέρῳ πλήθει παραινεῖν.

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Magic Men: Poets, Healers, Prophets and Mages, Another Wondrous Wednesday

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.

Apollonios Paradoxographus,  Historiae Mirabiles 3

1 Epimenides of Crete is said to have been sent by his father and uncles to the field to bring sheep to the city. Once night came upom him he varied his custom and slept for 57 years as many others have written and Theopompos records this in his histories about amazing things in regions.

After this it happened that Epimenides’ family believed he was dead in the intervening years. When he woke from sleep he went in search of the sheep he had been sent for. When he did not find it he went to the field. He was imagining that he had woken on the same day on which he went to sleep. When he came upon a ruined field and a a decaying shelter, he went to the city. After he arrived at he home he recognized everyone there among those who were there in the time when he disappeared.

The Cretans claim—as Theopompos says—that he lived 150 years and then died. There are not a few other impossible stories told about the same man.”

᾿Επιμενίδης ὁ Κρὴς λέγεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν τοῦ πατρὸς ἀποσταλεὶς εἰς ἀγρὸν πρόβατον ἀγαγεῖν εἰς τὴν πόλιν· καταλαβούσης αὐτὸν νυκτὸς παραλλάξαι τῆς τρίβου καὶ κατακοιμηθῆναι ἔτη ἑπτὰ καὶ πεντήκοντα, καθάπερ ἄλλοι τε πολλοὶ εἰρήκασιν, ἔτι <δὲ> καὶ Θεόπομπος ἐν ταῖς ἱστορίαις ἐπιτρέχων τὰ κατὰ τόπους θαυμάσια.

ἔπειτα συμβῆναι ἐν τῷ μεταξὺ χρόνῳ τοὺς μὲν οἰκείους τοῦ ᾿Επιμενίδου ἀποθανεῖν, αὐτὸν δὲ ἐγερθέντα ἐκ τοῦ ὕπνου ζητεῖν ἐφ’ ὃ ἀπεστάλη πρόβατον, μὴ εὑρόντα δὲ πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὸν ἀγρόν—ὑπελάμβανεν δὲ ἐγηγέρθαι τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ, ᾗπερ ἔδοξεν κεκοιμῆσθαι—καὶ καταλαβόντα τὸν ἀγρὸν πεπραμένον καὶ τὴν σκευὴν ἠλλαγμένην ἀπαίρειν εἰς τὴν πόλιν. καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν ἐκεῖθεν πάντα ἔγνω, ἐν οἷς καὶ τὰ περὶ τοῦ χρόνου, καθ’ ὃν ἀφανὴς ἐγένετο.

λέγουσι δὲ οἱ Κρῆτες, ὥς φησιν ὁ Θεόπομπος, ἔτη βιώσαντα αὐτὸν ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα <καὶ ἑπτὰ> ἀποθανεῖν.  λέγεται δὲ περὶ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τούτου καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ὀλίγα παράδοξα.

Epimenides is famous for his sleeping trick in the ancient world–but he was also known for composing a Cretan Theogony.

2 “It is said that Aristeas the Prokonnesian died on some early morning in Prokennesos and on that same day and hour was seen by many in Sicily teaching reading. From there, because this sort of thing occurred with him and he appeared over many years and the phenomenon grew more frequent, the Sicilians built a temple to him an sacrificed to him as a god.”

2᾿Αριστέαν δὲ ἱστορεῖται τὸν Προκοννήσιον ἔν τινι γναφείῳ τῆς Προκοννήσου τελευτήσαντα ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ὥρᾳ ἐν Σικελίᾳ ὑπὸ πολλῶν θεωρηθῆναι γράμματα διδάσκοντα. ὅθεν, πολλάκις αὐτῷ τοῦ τοιούτου συμβαίνοντος καὶ περιφανοῦς γιγνομένου διὰ πολλῶν ἐτῶν καὶ πυκνότερον ἐν τῇ Σικελίᾳ φανταζομένου, οἱ Σικελοὶ ἱερόν τε καθιδρύσαντο αὐτῷ καὶ ἔθυσαν ὡς ἥρωϊ.

Aristeas is also believed to have been an epic poet who traveled great distances.

I have posted Apollonios’ similar tales about Hermotimos (Wonder 3) and Pythagoras (Wonder 7) before.

4 “Abaris was from the Hyperboreans and he himself was a theologer. He also composed oracles as he traveled around the lands, and these survive even to our times. That guy also prophesied earthquakes and famines and similar things and events in the sky.

It is said that he appeared in Lakedaimon and told the Lakonians to make some preventive sacrifices to the gods. And from that time on there was no famine in Lakedaimon.”

4῎Αβαρις δὲ ἐξ ῾Υπερβορέων ἦν μὲν καὶ αὐτὸς τῶν θεολόγων, ἔγραφε δὲ καὶ χρησμοὺς τὰς χώρας περιερχόμενος, οἵ εἰσιν μέχρι τοῦ νῦν ὑπάρχοντες· προέλεγεν δὲ καὶ οὗτος σεισμοὺς καὶ λοιμοὺς καὶ τὰ παραπλήσια καὶ τὰ γιγνόμενακατ’ οὐρανόν. λέγεται δὲ τοῦτον εἰς Λακεδαίμονα παραγενόμενον εἰρηκέναι τοῖς Λάκωσι κωλυτήρια θῦσαι τοῖς θεοῖς, καὶ ἐκ τούτου ὕστερον ἐν Λακεδαίμονι λοιμὸς οὐκ ἐγένετο.

Abaris was also a poet and healer.

5 “Some tales like the following are presented concerning Pherecydes. Once on the island Suros when he was thirsty he  asked for water from one of his relatives. While he was drinking, he said that there would be an earthquake on the island on the third day. Because this happened, the man earned great fame.

When he was returning to Samos to see the temple of Hera and his ship was being taken into the harbor, he said to his fellow passengers that the ship would not make it into the harbor.  As he was still saying this, the darkness fell all around and finally the ship disappeared.”

5 Τὰ δὲ περὶ Φερεκύδην τοιαῦτά τινα ἱστορεῖται. ἐν Σύρῳ ποτὲ τῇ νήσῳ διψῶντα ὑδάτιον αἰτῆσαι παρά τινος τῶν γνωρίμων· τὸν δὲ πιόντα εἰπεῖν σεισμὸν ἐσόμενον ἐν τῇ νήσῳ μετὰ τρίτην ἡμέραν. τούτου δὲ συμβάντος μεγάλην δόξαν αὐτὸν ἀπενέγκασθαι.

πάλιν δὲ εἰς Σάμον πορευόμενον εἰς τὸ τῆς ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν ἰδεῖν πλοῖον εἰς τὸν λιμένα καταγόμενον, καὶ εἰπεῖν τοῖς συνεστῶσιν, ὡς οὐκ εἰσελεύσεται ἐντὸς τοῦ λιμένος· ἔτι δὲ λέγοντος αὐτοῦ καταρραγῆναι γνόφον καὶ τέλος ἀφανισθῆναι τὴν ναῦν.

Like Epimenides, Pherecydes was credited with composing a cosmogony.



Homeric Kids

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. 3:

“His [Philipp Karl Buttmann’s] study of Latin literature is represented by a few papers on Horace, one of which was the precursor of many less judicious attempts to discover interpolations in the pages of that poet. But his main strength lay in Greek Grammar and Homeric Lexicography. His keen interest in Homer even led to his giving his children the Homeric names of Helen and Hector, Achilles and Alexander.”

Tawdry Tuesday Bonus: An Epigram About Sharing

This poem is erotic, in that it is about love and sex. It is tawdry, only if you read ito it.

5.158 Asclepiades

Once I was messing around with compelling Hermione
Who had a girdle decorated with flowers, Paphian goddess,
And inscribed with golden letters. This was written:

‘Love me to completion
And don’t be annoyed if another has me.’

Ἑρμιόνῃ πιθανῇ ποτ᾽ ἐγὼ συνέπαιζον, ἐχούσῃ
ζωνίον ἐξ ἀνθέων ποικίλον, ὦ Παφίη,
χρύσεα γράμματ᾽ ἔχον· “διόλου” δ᾽ ἐγέγραπτο “φίλει με,
καὶ μὴ λυπηθῇς ἤν τις ἔχῃ μ᾽ ἕτερος.”

AN APHRODITE WITH PRIAPOS H. 5.9 cm. Bone Greek, Hellenistic, 3rd-1st cent. B.C. The goddess stands in a relaxed pose, a mantle draped around her waist on a rectangular base. She leans with the left arm on her son Priapos, who is characteristically depicted with an erect phallus and fruit. The precise and detailed rendition show that this is a high-quality piece. Head and right arm of Aphrodite lost.

Statue of Aphrodite with Priapos

Tawdry Tuesday, Medicinal Edition: Priapic Ponds and Neuter Roots

The following two passages are from the Mirabilia of Apollonius the Paradoxographer (usually dated to the 2nd Century BCE, making him one of the earliest extant paradoxographers).

This plant makes you bigger [=BNJ 81 F17]

“Phularkhos writes in the eighth book of his Histories that near the Arabian Gulf there is a spring of water from which if anyone ever anoints their feet what transpires miraculously is that their penis becomes enormously erect.  For some it never contracts completely, while others are put back in shape with great suffering and medical attention.”

14 Φύλαρχος ἐν τῇ η′ τῶν ἱστοριῶν [καὶ] κατὰ τὸν ᾿Αράβιόν φησι κόλπον πηγὴν εἶναι ὕδατος, ἐξ οὗ εἴ τις τοὺς πόδας χρίσειεν, συμβαίνειν εὐθέως ἐντείνεσθαι ἐπὶ πολὺ τὸ αἰδοῖον, καί τινων μὲν μηδ’ ὅλως συστέλλεσθαι, τινῶν δὲ μετὰ μεγάλης κακοπαθείας καὶ θεραπείας ἀποκαθίστασθαι.

This plant makes you smaller [=BNJ 81 F35a]

“Phularkhos in book 20 of the Histories says that there is a white root imported from India which when [people] cut it and smear it over their feet with water, those who are smeared with it experience forgetfulness of sex and become similar to Eunuchs. For this reason still some apply it before they are fully adults and are not aroused for the rest of their life.”

18 Φύλαρχος ἐν <τῇ> κ′ τῶν ἱστοριῶν ἐκ τῆς ᾿Ινδικῆς φησιν ἐνεχθῆναι λευκὴν ῥίζαν, ἣν κόπτοντας μεθ’ ὕδατος καταπλάττειν τοὺς πόδας, τοὺς δὲ καταπλασθέντας ἄνδρας τῆς συνουσίας λήθην ἴσχειν καὶ γίγνεσθαι ὁμοίους εὐνούχοις. διὸ καὶ ἔτι ἀνήβων ὄντων καταχρίουσι καὶ μέχρι θανάτου οὐκ ἐπαίρουσιν.

This anecdote has a later parallel from Athenaeus

Athenaeus, Deipn. 1.32 [=BNJ8135b]

“Phularkhos says that Sandrokottos, the king of the Indians, sent along with other gifts to Seleukos some drugs with erectile powers, the kind of which, when they are applied beneath feet of those who are going to have sex, give the the urge like birds, while some people lose their ability [for sex].”

Φύλαρχος δὲ Σανδρόκοττόν φησι τὸν ᾽Ινδῶν βασιλέα Σελεύκωι μεθ᾽ ὧν ἔπεμψε δώρων ἀποστεῖλαί τινας δυνάμεις στυτικὰς τοιαύτας ὡς ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας τιθεμένας τῶν συνουσιαζόντων οἷς μὲν ὁρμὰς ἐμποιεῖν ὀρνίθων δίκην, οὓς δὲ καταπαύειν.

Phularkhos (Phylarchus) is an Athenian historian from the 3rd century BCE known for his love of anecdote and miraculous detail

Here is an ancient spell for erectile dysfunction (go here for translation note):

Magical Papyri, 7.185

“To be able to fuck a lot: mix fifty [pine nuts] with two measures of honey and seeds of pepper and drink it. To have an erection whenever you want: mix pepper with honey and rub it on your thing.”

Πολλὰ βι[ν]εῖν δύνασθαι· στροβίλια πεντήκοντα μετὰ δύο κυά[θ]ων γλυκέος καὶ κόκκους πεπέρεως τρίψας πίε. Στ[ύ]ειν, ὅτε θέλεις· πέπερι μετὰ μέλιτος τρίψας χρῖέ σου τὸ πρᾶ̣γ̣μ̣α.

A Teacher’s Changed Mind

Quintillian, Institutio Oratoria 3.6:

“I now confess that I find myself of a slightly different opinion than that which I once entertained. Perhaps it was safest for me, in my pursuit of fame, to change nothing of that which I not only thought but even approved for many years. But I do not feel that I was conscious of my judgment having been deluded in any part, especially in that work which I composed with an eye to some use by noble youths. Even Hippocrates, famous for his medicinal art, seems to have acted most nobly in confessing certain of his own mistakes, lest posterity be led astray by them. Even Cicero did not hesitate to condemn some of his previously published works with new books, such as his Catulus and Lucullus and those, of which I have just spoken, about the art of rhetoric.

Indeed, all extended in study would be an entire waste of time if one could not expect to find something better than what has already been said. Yet, none of those things which I formerly taught was an idle waste of time; even the things which I will now teach will be returned to those same particles.

So, let it never be a source of regret for someone to have learned from me: I will just try to collect and outline those things in a more significant way. I hope that it is clear to all that I am not making this discovery plain to others later than I persuaded myself of it.”

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Ipse me paulum in alia quam prius habuerim opinione nunc esse confiteor. Et fortasse tutissimum erat famae modo studenti nihil ex eo mutare quod multis annis non sensissem modo verum etiam adprobassem. Sed non sustineo esse conscius mihi dissimulati, in eo praesertim opere quod ad bonorum iuvenum aliquam utilitatem componimus, in ulla parte iudicii meI. Nam et Hippocrates clarus arte medicinae videtur honestissime fecisse quod quosdam errores suos, ne posteri errarent, confessus est, et M. Tullius non dubitavit aliquos iam editos libros aliis postea scriptis ipse damnare, sicut Catulum atque Lucullum et hos ipsos de quibus modo sum locutus, artis rhetoricae. Etenim supervacuus foret in studiis longior labor si nihil liceret melius invenire praeteritis. Neque tamen quicquam ex iis quae tum praecepi supervacuum fuit; ad easdem enim particulas haec quoque quae nunc praecipiam revertentur. Ita neminem didicisse paeniteat: colligere tantum eadem ac disponere paulo significantius conor. Omnibus autem satis factum volo non me hoc serius demonstrare aliis quam mihi ipse persuaserim.

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