For Those In the Know

Anonymous Epigram (Greek Anthology 7.128)

I am Heraclitus. Why do you buffoons
Wrestle with me? It was not for you
I labored, but for those in the know.
To me, one man is worth thirty thousand,
And an infinite number not worth one man.
This I would say even in Persephone’s house.

For those in the know, here are some fragments of Heraclitus to wrestle with:

If all that exists should become smoke, nostrils would pick out one thing from the other.

A man in the night kindles a light in himself after his sight is extinguished. A living man, but he engages with a dead man when he sleeps. And when he wakes, he understands sleeping man.

For souls, it’s death to become water, and for water, it’s death to become earth. But from earth water is born, and from water, a soul.

In any event, the name of the bow is life but its work is death

The exchange: all things for fire and fire for all things; and in like manner, goods for gold and gold for goods.

Epigram 7.128
Ἡράκλειτος ἐγώ: τί μ᾽ ἄνω κάτω ἕλκετ᾽ ἄμουσοι;
οὐχ ὑμῖν ἐπόνουν, τοῖς δ᾽ ἔμ᾽ ἐπισταμένοις.
εἷς ἐμοὶ ἄνθρωπος τρισμύριοι, οἱ δ᾽ ἀνάριθμοι
οὐδείς. ταῦτ᾽ αὐδῶ καὶ παρὰ Περσεφόνῃ.

εἰ πάντα τὰ ὄντα καπνὸς γένοιτο, ῥῖνες ἂν διαγνοῖεν

ἄνθρωπος ἐν εὐφρόνῃ φάος ἅπτεται ἑαυτῷ ἀποσβεσθείς ὄψεις, ζῶν δὲ ἅπτεται τεθνεῶτος εὕδων, ἐγρηγορὼς ἅπτεται εὕδοντος.

ψυχῇσιν θάνατος ὕδωρ γενέσθαι, ὕδατι δὲ θάνατος γῆν γενέσθαι, ἐκ γῆς δὲ ὕδωρ γίνεται, ἐξ ὕδατος δὲ ψυχή

τῷ οὖν τόξῳ ὄνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος

πυρός τε ἀνταμοιβὴ τὰ πάντα καὶ πῦρ ἁπάντων ὅκωσπερ χρυσοῦ χρήματα καὶ χρημάτων χρυσός.

Cleansing the City

Plutarch, Romulus 24

“Then a plague fell on the land, bringing unexpected death to people without sickness, also infecting the crops with barrenness and making the cattle stop reproducing. Drops of blood rained on the city too which added great superstition to the compulsory suffering.

When similar things happened to the people in Laeurentum, it seemed obvious to everyone that it was the crime against justice over Tatius and the murdered ambassadors which drove divine rage against the cities. Once the murderers were surrendered and punished on both sides, the horrors clearly ebbed. Romulus also cleansed the city with purificatory rites which people allege are still celebrated in our time at the Ferentine gate.”

XXIV. Ἐκ τούτου λοιμὸς ἐμπίπτει, θανάτους μὲν αἰφνιδίους ἀνθρώποις ἄνευ νόσων ἐπιφέρων, ἁπτόμενος δὲ καὶ καρπῶν ἀφορίαις καὶ θρεμμάτων ἀγονίαις. ὕσθη δὲ καὶ σταγόσιν αἵματος ἡ πόλις, ὥστε πολλὴν προσγενέσθαι τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις πάθεσι δεισιδαιμονίαν. ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ τοῖς τὸ Λαύρεντον οἰκοῦσιν ὅμοια συνέβαινεν, ἤδη παντάπασιν ἐδόκει τῶν ἐπὶ Τατίῳ συγκεχυμένων δικαίων ἐπί τε τοῖς πρέσβεσι φονευθεῖσι μήνιμα δαιμόνιον ἀμφοτέρας ἐλαύνειν τὰς πόλεις. ἐκδοθέντων δὲ τῶν φονέων καὶ κολασθέντων παρ᾿ ἀμφοτέροις, ἐλώφησεν ἐπιδήλως τὰ δεινά· καὶ καθαρμοῖς ὁ Ῥωμύλος ἥγνισε τὰς πόλεις, οὓς ἔτι νῦν ἱστοροῦσιν ἐπὶ τῆς Φερεντίνης πύλης συντελεῖσθαι.

Petter Paul Rubens, Romulus and Remus

Send Us Someone Smart

Libanius Oration 33

“Free your cities of these kinds of troubles and send us a smart person eager for work, someone who will act more than they prattle, who will persuade more than force, and who will help the poor and not wear them down, someone who will understand what is possible and what is not along with the right time for abuse and the right time for threats.

Altogether, someone nothing like the plague here.”

Ἀπάλλαξον δὴ τὰς σαυτοῦ πόλεις τοιούτων κακῶν καὶ πέμψον ἄνδρα νοῦν τε ἔχοντα καὶ πόνων ἐπιθυμητὴν καὶ πλείω πράξοντα ἢ λαλήσοντα καὶ | πείσοντα μᾶλλον ἢ ἀναγκάσοντα καὶ βοηθήσοντα πένησιν, οὐκ ἐπιτρίψοντα, καὶ διαγνωσόμενον, τί μὲν δυνατόν, τί δὲ οὔ, καὶ καιρὸν μὲν πληγῶν, καιρὸν δὲ εἰσόμενον ἀπειλῆς, ὅλως οὐδὲν ἐοικότα τῷ λοιμῷ τούτῳ.

Profiles in Courage: Why Republicans May Ride the Trump Train Off ...

Wounds Healed Just in Time

Ovid, Ex Ponto 1.3 83-94

“While I should tell all the tales, in no age
Has anyone been sent to a more horrible place so far from their home.
For this reason, let your wisdom overlook someone in sorrow
Who does not do so much of what you ask in your words.

I still confess that if my wounds could heal
Then they could heal only with your orders.
But I fear that you pointlessly labor to help me
And that your aid will not heal my sick ruin.

I do not claim these things because I have special wisdom,
But I am more familiar with myself than a doctor.
Despite all this, your willing kindness has come to me
Just when I needed something good.”

persequar ut cunctos, nulli datus omnibus aevis
tam procul a patria est horridiorve locus.
quo magis ignoscat sapientia vestra dolenti
qui facit ex dictis, non ita multa, tuis.
nec tamen infitior, si possint nostra coire
vulnera, praeceptis posse coire tuis.
sed vereor ne me frustra servare labores
nec iuver admota perditus aeger ope.
nec loquor haec, quia sit maior prudentia nobis,
sed sum quam medico notior ipse mihi.
ut tamen hoc ita sit, munus tua grande voluntas
ad me pervenit consuliturque boni.

More from Hieronymus Bosch

Poetic Fitness

Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (Chp. 1)

At school, (Christ’s Hospital,) I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe master, the Reverend James Bowyer. He early moulded my taste to the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare Lucretius, (in such extracts as I then read,) Terence, and above all the chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman poets of the, so called, silver and brazen ages; but with even those of the Augustan aera: and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic to see and assert the superiority of the former in the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and diction. At the same time that we were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us read Shakespeare and Milton as lessons: and they were the lessons too, which required most time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learned from him, that poetry, even that of the loftiest and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes. In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word; and I well remember that, availing himself of the synonymes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would not have answered the same purpose; and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the original text.

In our own English compositions, (at least for the last three years of our school education,) he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, Muse, Muses, and inspirations, Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hippocrene were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear him now, exclaiming “Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Muse, boy, Muse? Your nurse’s daughter, you mean! Pierian spring? Oh aye! the cloister-pump, I suppose!” Nay certain introductions, similes, and examples, were placed by name on a list of interdiction. Among the similes, there was, I remember, that of the manchineel fruit, as suiting equally well with too many subjects; in which however it yielded the palm at once to the example of Alexander and Clytus, which was equally good and apt, whatever might be the theme. Was it ambition? Alexander and Clytus!—Flattery? Alexander and Clytus!—anger—drunkenness—pride—friendship—ingratitude—late repentance? Still, still Alexander and Clytus! At length, the praises of agriculture having been exemplified in the sagacious observation that, had Alexander been holding the plough, he would not have run his friend Clytus through with a spear, this tried, and serviceable old friend was banished by public edict in saecula saeculorum. I have sometimes ventured to think, that a list of this kind, or an index expurgatorius of certain well-known and ever-returning phrases, both introductory, and transitional, including a large assortment of modest egoisms, and flattering illeisms, and the like, might be hung up in our Law-courts, and both Houses of Parliament, with great advantage to the public, as an important saving of national time, an incalculable relief to his Majesty’s ministers, but above all, as insuring the thanks of country attornies, and their clients, who have private bills to carry through the House.

Changing Nature and Isolation’s End

Philo, On Rewards and Punishments 89-90

“At that time, it seems likely that bears, lions, panthers and those animals in India—elephants and tigers—and however many other creates have unconquerable valor and strength will shift from loneliness and isolation to a shared life. From imitating herd animals they will slowly become tame in the presence of human beings.

After this, they will no longer coil in anger as before, but some will be flabbergasted and behave humbly as if before a leader or natural master and others will get happily excited, showing domesticated affection and love just like those little dogs who signal their giddiness with wagging tails. Then, too, the races of scorpions and snakes and the other creepy critters will leave their venom unused.”

τότε μοι δοκοῦσιν ἄρκτοι καὶ λέοντες καὶ παρδάλεις καὶ τὰ παρ᾿ Ἰνδοῖς, ἐλέφαντές τε καὶ τίγρεις, καὶ ὅσα ἄλλα τὰς ἀλκὰς καὶ τὰς δυνάμεις ἀήττητα μεταβαλεῖν ἐκ τοῦ μονωτικοῦ τε καὶ μονοτρόπου πρὸς τὸ σύννομον· κἀκ τοῦ πρὸς ὀλίγον μιμήσει τῶν ἀγελαίων ἡμερωθήσεται πρὸς τὴν ἀνθρώπου φαντασίαν, μηκέτι ὡς πρότερον ἀνερεθισθέντα, καταπλαγέντα δ᾿ ὡς ἄρχοντα καὶ φύσει δεσπότην εὐλαβῶς ἕξει, ἔνια δὲ καὶ τοῦ χειροήθους ἅμα καὶ φιλοδεσπότου τῇ παραζηλώσει, καθάπερ τὰ Μελιταῖα τῶν κυνιδίων ταῖς κέρκοις μεθ᾿ ἱλαρωτέρας κινήσεως προσσαίνοντα. τότε καὶ τὰ σκορπίων γένη καὶ ὄφεων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἑρπετῶν ἄπρακτον ἕξει τὸν ἰόν·

British Library, Sloane MS 1975, Folio 13r

Germanicus: Skinny Legs & Post-Mortem Revenge

Suetonius, Caligula (§3):

It is pretty well agreed that all of the virtues of body and mind were conjoined in Germanicus as they had been in no one else: exceptional form and fortitude, an intelligence excelling in both types of eloquence and learning, a singular benevolence and the marvelous, effective eagerness to garner people’s favor and deserve their love.

The thinness of his legs was less suited to his form, but that too was remedied by assiduous horse riding after meals. He often assaulted an enemy face to face. He even gave triumphal speeches, and among the other monuments of his studies, he left behind some Greek comedies. Both at home and abroad, to free and to federated cities, he went as a citizen without lictors. If he ever recognized the tombs of famous men anywhere, he would give sacrifices to their Manes. As he was about to bury the old and dispersed remains of those slain in the Varian disaster, he was the first to embark upon collecting them and carrying them with his own hand. Even to his detractors, whoever they were and for whatever cause he had acquired them, he was so gentle and kind that when Piso rescinded his decrees and violated his client-patron relations, he did not take it into his mind to be angry with him until he found out that he was being assailed by poisons and curses; and even then, he did not take it any farther than renouncing his friendship with Piso in the approved ancient manner, and entrusted the revenge, should anything befall him, to his domestics.

Omnes Germanico corporis animique virtutes, et quantas nemini cuiquam, contigisse satis constat: formam et fortitudinem egregiam, ingenium in utroque eloquentiae doctrinaeque genere praecellens, benivolentiam singularem conciliandaeque hominum gratiae ac promerendi amoris mirum et efficax studium. Formae minus congruebat gracilitas crurum, sed ea quoque paulatim repleta assidua equi vectatione post cibum. Hostem comminus saepe percussit. Oravit causas etiam triumphalis; atque inter cetera studiorum monimenta reliquit et comoedias Graecas. Domi forisque civilis, libera ac foederata oppida sine lictoribus adibat. Sicubi clarorum virorum sepulcra cognosceret, inferias Manibus dabat. Caesorum clade Variana veteres ac dispersas reliquias uno tumulo humaturus, colligere sua manu et comportare primus adgressus est. Obtrectatoribus etiam, qualescumque et quantacumque de causa nanctus esset, lenis adeo et innoxius, ut Pisoni decreta sua rescindenti, clientelas divexanti non prius suscensere in animum induxerit, quam veneficiis quoque et devotionibus impugnari se comperisset; ac ne tunc quidem ultra progressus, quam ut amicitiam ei more maiorum renuntiaret mandaretque domesticis ultionem, si quid sibi accideret.

Starting Fights with Doctors

Horace, Epistles 1.8

“Celsus Albinovanus: Hello! I hope this finds you well.

Muse, take this message to Nero’s friend and secretary,
Should he ask how I’m doing, tell him that even though I threatened
Many fine things, I don’t live rightly or pleasantly.

And this isn’t because hail ruined my vines or heat shrank my olives
Or because my flock is getting sick in a far-away field.
No, it’s that my mind is less well than any part of my body.

I don’t want to listen or learn about anything that relieves the disease.
I start fights with doctors; I fly into a rage with friends
Over why they want to get me out of this deadly funk.
I keep stalking what hurt me, I avoid anything I suspect will help.
I flit back and forth, wanting the Tibur in Rome and in Rome the Tibur.

After that, ask him if he’s well, how he and his stuff are,
How his standing is with the young man and his crew.
If he says “well”, first, rejoice! But then
Leave this reminder in his little ears:
“As you bear fortune, Celsus, we’ll bear you.”

Celso gaudere et bene rem gerere Albinovano
Musa rogata refer, comiti scribaeque Neronis.
si quaeret quid agam, dic multa et pulchra minantem
vivere nec recte nec suaviter; haud quia grando
contuderit vitis oleamque momorderit aestus,
nec quia longinquis armentum aegrotet in agris;
sed quia mente minus validus quam corpore toto
nil audire velim, nil discere, quod levet aegrum;
fidis offendar medicis, irascar amicis,
cur me funesto properent arcere veterno;
quae nocuere sequar, fugiam quae profore credam;
Romae Tibur amem ventosus, Tibure Romam.
Post haec, ut valeat, quo pacto rem gerat et se,
ut placeat iuveni percontare utque cohorti.
si dicet, “recte,” primum gaudere, subinde
praeceptum auriculis hoc instillare memento:
“ut tu fortunam, sic nos te, Celse, feremus.”

Fresco from “House of Sirico” Pompeii (Aeneas with Dr, Iapyx)

Sophomore Sophistry

Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson:

The truth, however, is, that he loved to display his ingenuity in argument; and therefore would sometimes in conversation maintain opinions which he was sensible were wrong, but in supporting which, his reasoning and wit would be most conspicuous. He would begin thus: ‘Why, Sir, as to the good or evil of card-playing—’ ‘Now, (said Garrick,) he is thinking which side he shall take.’ He appeared to have a pleasure in contradiction, especially when any opinion whatever was delivered with an air of confidence; so that there was hardly any topick, if not one of the great truths of Religion and Morality, that he might not have been incited to argue, either for or against.

Flavio Biondo, On the Words of Roman Speech, (I):

There is a great dispute among the learned people of our time, and a contention in which I have often been involved, whether it is the maternal and as it were, among the rude and unlettered mass in our age vulgar idiom, or by the use of grammatical art, which we call Latin, that the Romans were accustomed to employ as their established mode of speaking.

Arguments are not lacking to those who either impugn or defend one side or the other of this debate. If I were to draw them into the fray, it would become apparent on what foundations each side rests, and there will be material for this dispute so tossed before the eyes of all that any fool ignorant of the laws of speaking, or, as the Florentines are in the habit of calling him, a market-stall judge, would not hesitate to bring forth his opinion easily and ex tempore.

Which I would yet maintain must be born by the judgment of the learned and most knowledgeable in Roman things if for no other reason than so that, when you and many others, the ornaments of the age in judgment, seem to dissent in turn, I alone, in a situation where such great men either entertain contradictions or feel uncertainly, would dare to affirm it for sure.

Magna est apud doctos aetatis nostrae homines altercatio, et cui saepenumero interfuerim contentio, maternone et passim apud rudem indoctamque multitudinem aetate nostra vulgato idiomate, an grammaticae artis usu, quod latinum appellamus, instituto loquendi more Romani orare fuerint soliti.

Nec desunt argumenta utramque vel impugnantibus vel defendentibus partem; quae si in medium adduxero, qualibus utrique nitantur fundamentis apparebit; eritque omnium oculis adeo subiecta huiusce disceptationis materies, ut quilibet iurisdicundi ignarus, sive, ut dicere Florentini solent, iudex emporinus, faciliter et ex tempore sententiam ferre non dubitet.

Quam tamen et docti et rerum romanarum callentissimi iudicio vel ea ratione servaverim ferendam, ne, cum tu pluresque alii, omnium iudicio saeculi ornamenta, invicem dissentire videamini, ego unus, in quo tales viri vel contraria sentiant vel addubitent, id ausim affirmare.

Sailing With Fortune to the Grave

Euripides, Trojan Women 102-105

“Sail following the stream, sail following fate,
Don’t set the prow of your life
Against the waves, sailing against fortune.”

πλεῖ κατὰ πορθμόν, πλεῖ κατὰ δαίμονα,
μηδὲ προσίστω πρῷραν βιότου
πρὸς κῦμα πλέουσα τύχαισιν.


“Don’t believe that anyone who is lucky is blessed
Before they’re dead.”

…τῶν δ᾽ εὐδαιμόνων
μηδένα νομίζετ᾽ εὐτυχεῖν, πρὶν ἂν θάνῃ.


“Any mortal is a fool who takes some pleasure
From imagining their good luck is safe: in its turns
Fortune’s like a crazed person leaping this way one day
And then another, no one ever keeps the same good luck.”

θνητῶν δὲ μῶρος ὅστις εὖ πράσσειν δοκῶν
βέβαια χαίρει: τοῖς τρόποις γὰρ αἱ τύχαι,
ἔμπληκτος ὡς ἄνθρωπος, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἄλλοσε
πηδῶσι, κοὐδεὶς αὐτὸς εὐτυχεῖ ποτε.


“I imagine it makes no difference to the dead
If they receive some rich funeral.
This is the source of silly pride for the living.”

δοκῶ δὲ τοῖς θανοῦσι διαφέρειν βραχύ,
εἰ πλουσίων τις τεύξεται κτερισμάτων:
κενὸν δὲ γαύρωμ᾽ ἐστὶ τῶν ζώντων τόδε.

Hecuba Kills Polymestor, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi
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