This Perversion of Moral Sentiments

John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams,

24 February 1801:

“I shall not pursue into further details this account of the political condition of the Silesians. You have seen that it is a system of manacles, & fetters, & I hope it will serve to endear to your mind the institutions of your own country. Not that I think it wise to amuse one’s self, or honest to delude others with a general, vague idea, that our form of government & state of society is the best in the world; the last effort to perfection of the human intellect. In contemplating the miseries of mankind, when bowed beneath the yoke of absolute dominion, let us not forget the vices & follies, into which a state of liberty too often leads them. Where there is no freedom of agency there can be neither virtue nor vice. Liberty gives ample scope for the exercise of both; but such is the perverseness, & such are the artifices of the human passions, that vice too often assumes the name, or the disguise of virtue. The historians of the antient Grecian republics impute their final ruin to this perversion of the moral sentiments. It is the most dangerous internal enemy of all Republics, & is the more powerful in proportion as the principle of democracy predominates in the Constitution. It is the duty of every virtuous citizen to stem this current with all his influence, & to withstand the failings in order to promote the happiness of his country…”
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This Poem is Probably about Sex

Theognis, Elegies 949-954 

“Just like a lion confident in its strength I grabbed a fawn
From a doe with my hands but did not drink its blood.
After I climbed the high walls, I did not sack the city.
Although I yoked the horses to the chariot, I did not climb on board.
“Although I have acted, I have not done; Although I am done, I have not finished.
Although I have tried, I have not accomplished. While I have met success, I have not succeeded.”

νεβρὸν ὑπὲξ ἐλάφοιο λέων ὣς ἀλκὶ πεποιθὼς
ποσσὶ καταμάρψας αἵματος οὐκ ἔπιον·
τειχέων δ᾿ ὑψηλῶν ἐπιβὰς πόλιν οὐκ ἀλάπαξα·
ζευξάμενος δ᾿ ἵππους ἅρματος οὐκ ἐπέβην·
πρήξας δ᾿ οὐκ ἔπρηξα, καὶ οὐκ ἐτέλεσσα τελέσσας,
δρήσας δ᾿ οὐκ ἔδρησ᾿, ἤνυσα δ᾿ οὐκ ἀνύσας.

Ah, the World is Wretched: At Least There’s Sappho…

Fragment 1 (Preserved in Dionysus of Halicarnassus’ On Literary Composition 23)

Immortal Aphrodite in your elaborate throne,
Wile-weaving daughter of Zeus, I beseech you:
Don’t curse my heart with grief and pains
My queen—

But come here, if ever at different time
You heeded me somewhere else because you heard
My pleadings, and once you left the golden home of your father
You came

After you yoked your chariot. Then the beautiful, swift
Sparrows ferried you over the dark earth
By churning their wings quickly down through the middle
Of the sky.

And they arrived quickly. But you, blessed one,
Composed a grin on your immortal face
And were asking what in fact it was I suffered that made me
Call you.

“The things which I most wish would happen for me
In my crazy heart”. “Whom, then, do I persuade to
Return you to their love? O Sappho, who is it who
Hurt you?

For if she flees now, she will soon chase you.
If she refuses gifts, then she will give them too.
If she does not love you now, she will love you soon, even if,
She doesn’t want to.”

Come to me now, too, and free me from
my terrible worries. Whatever things my heart longs
to accomplish, you, achieve them—
be my ally.

παῖ] Δ[ί]ος δολ[όπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε,
μή μ’] ἄσαισι [μηδ’ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
[]πότν]ια, θῦ[μον,

ἀλλ]ὰ τυίδ’ ἔλ[θ’, αἴ ποτα κἀτέρωτα
τὰ]ς ἔμας αὔ[δας ἀίοισα πήλοι
ἔκ]λυες, πάτρο[ς δὲ δόμον λίποισα
χ]ρύσιον ἦλθ[ες

ἄρ]μ’ ὐπασδε[ύξαισα· κάλοι δέ σ’ ἆγον
ὤ]κεες στροῦ[θοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας
πύ]κνα δίν[νεντες πτέρ’ ἀπ’ ὠράνωἴθε-
ρο]ς διὰ μέσσω·

αἶ]ψα δ’ ἐξίκο[ντο· σὺ δ’, ὦ μάκαιρα,
μειδιαί[σαισ’ ἀθανάτωι προσώπωι
ἤ]ρε’ ὄττ[ι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι
δη]ὖτε κ[άλ]η[μμι

κ]ὤττι [μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι
μ]αινόλαι [θύμωι· τίνα δηὖτε πείθω
.].σάγην [ἐς σὰν φιλότατα; τίς σ’, ὦ
Ψά]πφ’, [ἀδικήει;

κα]ὶ γ[ὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει,
<αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ’, ἀλλὰ δώσει,>
<αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει>
<κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα.>

<ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον>
<ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι>
<θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον, σὺ δ’ αὔτα>
<σύμμαχος ἔσσο.>

Image result for Aphrodite chariot ancient

Disappointingly, not a sparrow chariot.

To Suffer As Odysseus Did

Theognis, Elegies 991-992

“Sometimes you will lament what you suffer; at other times
You’ll delight in what you do: a different man is able at different times.”

ἄλλοτέ τοι πάσχων ἀνιήσεαι, ἄλλοτε δ᾿ ἔρδων
χαιρήσεις· δύναται δ᾿ ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἀνήρ.


“Evil action is certainly easy for people, Kurnos;
And the completion of something good is hard.”

ῥηϊδίη τοι πρῆξις ἐν ἀνθρώποις κακότητος,
τοῦ δ᾿ ἀγαθοῦ χαλεπή, Κύρνε, πέλει παλάμη


“Don’t remind me of my troubles. I have suffered as Odysseus did
When he returned after ascending from Hades’ great home,
The one who also killed the suitors with a pitiless heart,
Filled with joy for his wedded wife Penelope
Who was waiting for him so long, staying alongside his dear son
Until he embarked on the shores and the vales of his land.”

Μή με κακῶν μίμνησκε· πέπονθά τοι οἷά τ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
ὅστ’ ᾿Αίδεω μέγα δῶμ’ ἤλυθεν ἐξαναδύς,
ὃς δὴ καὶ μνηστῆρας ἀνείλατο νηλέι θυμῶι,
Πηνελόπης εὔφρων κουριδίης ἀλόχου,
ἥ μιν δήθ’ ὑπέμεινε φίλωι παρὰ παιδὶ μένουσα,
ὄφρα τε γῆς ἐπέβη δείλ’ ἁλίους τε μυχούς.

Cicero: I Love Peace, Just not With Him

Cicero, Philippics 7.3

“In this way, I am one who has always been a proponent of peace, especially within the state; even though this is true for all good men, I have still hoped for it among the first ranks. All of the effort of my work has has been in the forum, in the senate house, and in the defense of friends from dangers. From this source we have earned the greatest honors, a modest amount of wealth, and however much dignity I have.

Therefore, I, a beneficiary of peace, as you might say, who, however much of a man I am and I do not claim anything for myself, I certainly would not have been like this within civil peace. I speak dangerously and I shake a little at the thought of the way you might receive this, Senators, but I plead and I ask you, based on my own endless longing to maintain and increase your dignity, that first, even if it is unbelievable that it was said by Marcus Cicero, which is bitter or incredible to your hearing, that you will take what I say without offense and not reject it outright before I explain what I mean. And I will say often that I am a constant champion of peace but I am not looking for peace with Marcus Antonius.

I am turning to the rest of this speech with great hope, Senators, because I have made it through the most dangerous part in silence. Why then do I oppose peace? Because it is corrupt, because it is dangerous, and because it is not possible.”

Itaque ego ille qui semper pacis auctor fui cuique pax, praesertim civilis, quamquam omnibus bonis, tamen in primis fuit optabilis—omne enim curriculum industriae nostrae in foro, in curia, in amicorum periculis propulsandis elaboratum est; hinc honores amplissimos, hinc mediocris opes, hinc dignitatem si quam habemus consecuti sumus—ego igitur pacis, ut ita dicam, alumnus, qui quantuscumque sum (nihil enim mihi adrogo) sine pace civili certe non fuissem—periculose dico: quem ad modum accepturi, patres conscripti, sitis, horreo, sed pro mea perpetua cupiditate vestrae dignitatis retinendae et augendae quaeso oroque vos, patres conscripti, ut primo, etsi erit vel acerbum auditu vel incredibile a M. Cicerone esse dictum, accipiatis sine offensione quod dixero, neve id prius quam quale sit explicaro repudietis—ego ille, dicam saepius, pacis semper laudator, semper auctor, pacem cum M. Antonio esse nolo. Magna spe ingredior in reliquam orationem, patres conscripti, quoniam periculosissimum locum silentio sum praetervectus. Cur igitur pacem nolo? Quia turpis est, quia periculosa, quia esse non potest.

Image result for medieval manuscript marcus antonius

No peace with me?

The Ship of State, Run Aground

Theognis, Elegies 797-798

“One man strongly condemns our betters; another praises them.
But of the commoners, there’s no mention at all”

-τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς ἄλλος μάλα μέμφεται, ἄλλος ἐπαινεῖ,
τῶν δὲ κακῶν μνήμη γίνεται οὐδεμία.


“Kick the empty-minded people in the ass, smack them with a sharp goad,
Put an uncomfortable yoke over their neck.
For no matter how many people the are under the sun
You will find none more in love with a despot.”

λὰξ ἐπίβα δήμῳ κενεόφρονι, τύπτε δὲ κέντρῳ
ὀξέι καὶ ζεύγλην δύσλοφον ἀμφιτίθει·
οὐ γὰρ ἔθ᾿ εὑρήσεις δῆμον φιλοδέσποτον ὧδε
ἀνθρώπων ὁπόσους ἠέλιος καθορᾷ.


“This state has often run to ground like a failing ship
Thanks to the wickedness of its leaders.”

πολλάκις ἡ πόλις ἥδε δι᾿ ἡγεμόνων κακότητα
ὥσπερ κεκλιμένη ναῦς παρὰ γῆν ἔδραμεν.

A Protest Over a Conquered State

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita  6.38

“When the dictator, surrounded by a squad of patricians, was full of rage and threats as he sat down, the matter was pursued with the typical struggle among the tribunes of the plebs—for some of them were proposing a law while others were proposing it. As much as the force of the veto was more powerful, it was still overcome by the attraction of the laws themselves and the people who sponsored them.

Some were already voting “as you say” at the moment when Camillus said, “Romans, since the passion of the tribunes controls you and not authority, you are practicing that veto earned by the secession of the plebs with the same force by which you obtained it, I will support the veto as dictator no more for the whole republic than for your own sake and I will keep safe what has been overturned with my authority.

If at that point Gaius Licinius and Lucius Sextus yield to their colleagues veto, I will not impose a patrician office on the council of the plebs. But, if they try to force their protest as if over a conquered state, I will not allow the power of the tribunate to effect its own destruction.”

Cum dictator, stipatus agmine patriciorum, plenus irae minarumque consedisset atque ageretur res solito primum certamine inter se tribunorum plebi ferentium legem intercedentiumque et, quanto iure potentior intercessio erat, tantum vinceretur favore legum ipsarum latorumque et “uti rogas” primae tum Camillus “Quando quidem” inquit, “Quirites, iam vos tribunicia libido, non potestas regit, et intercessionem secessione quondam plebis partam vobis eadem vi facitis inritam qua peperistis, non rei publicae magis universae quam vestra causa dictator intercessioni adero eversumque imperio tutabor. Itaque si C. Licinius et L. Sextius intercessioni collegarum cedunt, nihil patricium magistratum inseram concilio plebis; si adversus intercessionem tamquam captae civitati leges imponere tendent, vim tribuniciam a se ipsa dissolvi non patiar.”

Image result for roman dictator camillus

The Purpose of Study

John Adams to John Quincy Adams

Amsterdam May 18. 1781

My dear Son


I have this Morning received yours inclosing a Letter from the Duke de la Vauguion.

Please to inform me in your next, when the Vacation begins. It is my Design that you shall come and spend a Part of the Vacation with me.—I approve very much of your taking the Delft Gazette the Writer of which is a great Master of his Language, and is besides a very good Friend to his Country and to yours.

You go on, I presume, with your latin Exercises: and I wish to hear of your beginning upon Sallust who is one of the most polished and perfect of the Roman Historians, every Period of whom, and I had almost said every Syllable and every Letter is worth Studying.

In Company with Sallust, Cicero, Tacitus and Livy, you will learn Wisdom and Virtue. You will see them represented, with all the Charms which Language and Imagination can exhibit, and Vice and Folly painted in all their Deformity and Horror.

You will ever remember that all the End of study is to make you a good Man and a useful Citizen.—This will ever be the Sum total of the Advice of your affectionate Father,

John Adams

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Sex and Death of Vipers: An Allegory?

Aelian, On the Nature of Animals  1.24

“The male viper has sex with the female after he wraps himself around her. She tolerates her husband and doesn’t feel one bit of grief about it. But when they are at the end of their sexual activity, the bride repays her mate with devious affection for this intercourse: for, as she lays astride his neck, she bites it off with his head.

So, while he dies from sex, she gets pregnant. But instead of bearing eggs, she has live offspring and they immediately exhibit the worst part of their nature. They eventually eat through their mother’s womb and emerge, avenging the death of their father. What, oh dear tragedians, are your Oresteses and Alkmaiones in comparison to this?”

24. Ὁ ἔχις περιπλακεὶς τῇ θηλείᾳ μίγνυται· ἡ δὲ ἀνέχεται τοῦ νυμφίου καὶ λυπεῖ οὐδὲ ἕν. ὅταν δὲ πρὸς τῷ τέλει τῶν ἀφροδισίων ὦσι, πονηρὰν ὑπὲρ τῆς ὁμιλίας τὴν φιλοφροσύνην ἐκτίνει ἡ νύμφη τῷ γαμέτῃ· ἐμφῦσα γὰρ αὐτοῦ τῷ τραχήλῳ, διακόπτει αὐτὸν αὐτῇ κεφαλῇ· καὶ ὁ μὲν τέθνηκεν, ἡ δὲ ἔγκαρπον ἔχει τὴν μίξιν καὶ κύει. τίκτει δὲ οὐκ ᾠά, ἀλλὰ βρέφη, καὶ ἔστιν ἐνεργὰ ἤδη <κατὰ>τὴν αὑτῶν φύσιν τὴν κακίστην. διεσθίει γοῦν τὴν μητρῴαν νηδύν, καὶ πρόεισι πάραυτατιμωροῦντα τῷ πατρί. τί οὖν οἱ Ὀρέσται καὶ οἱ Ἀλκμαίωνες πρὸς ταῦτα, ὦ τραγῳδοὶ φίλοι;

Marc Antony Likes to Drink

Plutarch, Life of Antony §9:

“He was therefore hated by many of them, and as Cicero says, was because of his other habits in life hardly pleasing to the noble and right-thinking elements of society, but rather, was an object of contempt. They loathed his unseasonable drunkenness, his excessive meals, his wallowing around in ladies’ chambers, his habit of sleeping in the day, his excited and hung-over rambles, his nightly carousals, theater shows, and idle moments at the feasts of mimes and comedic actors.

It is said that once, after indulging himself at the feast of Hippius the mimic actor and drinking all through the night, he awoke in the morning to the call of public business and, as he strolled to the Forum still full of food, vomited as one of his friends held back his cloak.”

Image result for marc antony

τοῖς μὲν οὖν πολλοῖς ἐκ τούτων ἀπηχθάνετο, τοῖς δὲ χρηστοῖς καὶ σώφροσι διὰ τὸν ἄλλον βίον οὐκ ἦν ἀρεστός, ὡς Κικέρων φησίν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐμισεῖτο, βδελυττομένων αὐτοῦ μέθας ἀώρους καὶ δαπάνας ἐπαχθεῖς καὶ κυλινδήσεις ἐν γυναίοις, καὶ μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν μὲν ὕπνους καὶ περιπάτους ἀλύοντος καὶ κραιπαλῶντος, νύκτωρ δὲ κώμους καὶ θέατρα καὶ διατριβὰς ἐν γάμοις μίμων καὶ γελωτοποιῶν.

λέγεται γοῦν, ὡς ἐν Ἱππίου ποτὲ τοῦ μίμου γάμοις ἑστιαθεὶς καὶ πιὼν διὰ νυκτός, εἶτα πρωῒ τοῦ δήμου καλοῦντος εἰς ἀγορὰν προελθὼν ἔτι τροφῆς μεστὸς ἐμέσειε, τῶν φίλων τινὸς ὑποσχόντος τὸ ἱμάτιον. τὸ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ περιέποντες ἠκολούθουν.

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