How Much of Life Is Truly Lived?

Seneca Moral Epistles 99.10-12

“Consider the vastness of time’s expanse; include the universe too; and then compare what we call human life with this endlessness. You will see how small what we desire to lengthen is. How most of this time weeping and anxiety occupy! How much we pray for death, strength, fear before death comes! How much of life is spent ignorant or inexperienced! Half of it is spent in sleep. Add to this our work, grief, dangers and then you will know that even in the longest life the part that is truly lived is the least. But who would concede for himself that a man does not do better who is permitted to return quickly, who completes his journey before he is tired? Life is neither good nor bad, but it is where good and evil happen”

Propone temporis profundi vastitatem et universum complectere, deinde hoc, quod aetatem vocamus humanam, conpara immenso; videbis, quam exiguum sit, quod optamus, quod extendimus. Ex hoc quantum lacrimae, quantum sollicitudines occupant! Quantum mors, antequam veniat, optata, quantum valitudo, quantum timor! Quantum tenent aut rudes aut inutiles anni! Dimidium ex hoc edormitur. Adice labores, luctus, pericula, et intelleges etiam in longissima vita minimum esse, quod vivitur. Sed quis tibi concedet non melius se habere eum, cui cito reverti licet, cui ante lassitudinem peractum est iter? Vita nec bonum nec malum est; boni ac mali locus est.


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Ignorance vs. Intentional Stupidity

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion

On the Study of Reading – Preface (Part I)

“There are many whom nature has left so destitute of intellect that they are unable to grasp even those things which are easiest to understand; of these people, there seem to be two types. There are certain people who, granting that they are not ignorant of their own dullness, eagerly strive for knowledge with whatever effort they can, and apply themselves to the task with unremitting zeal; though they achieve little from the realization of the work, they seem to deserve something for their efforts. But there are other people who understand that they will never be able to understand the highest things, so they neglect even the smallest ones, and resting secure in their own indolence, we find that the more they waste the light of truth in the most important things, the more they flee from learning the smallest things, which they are actually able to understand. For this reason, the Psalm has it, ‘They did not wish to understand how they could do well.’ Not knowing is, indeed, a far different thing from not wanting to know. Indeed, ignorance is a kind of weakness, but the detestation of knowledge is the sign of a depraved will.

There is, however, yet another group of people whom nature has so enriched that she has offered them a clear approach to the truth. For these people, even if the strength of their mind is not equal to the task, there is not the same virtue or will for cultivating the senses through exercise and natural instruction. For, there are many people who, wrapped up in the business and concerns of this age more than is really necessary, are entirely given to the vices and pleasures of the body, and they bury the treasure of God in the ground; they neither seek the fruit of wisdom, nor the use of good work – these people are on the whole rather detestable. Again, for some people, family poverty or their slender means diminishes the opportunity of learning. Yet, I think that these people can hardly be excused on this account, since we see so many people laboring under famine, thirst, and even want of clothes, who yet attain the fruit of knowledge. Indeed, it is one thing when you are not able (or, I should say, are not easily able) to learn, and it is an entirely different thing when you are able to learn but unwilling to do so. Just as it is more glorious to attain wisdom by virtue alone, when no other opportunities rush to assist you, so too it is much more shameful to have a vigorous intellect and to overflow with wealth while wasting away in idleness.”





[770C] Multi sunt quos ipsa adeo natura ingenio destitutos reliquit ut ea etiam quae facilia sunt intellectu vix capere possint, et horum duo genera mihi esse videntur. [770D] nam sunt quidam, qui, licet suam hebetudinem non ignorent, eo tamen quo valent conamine ad scientiam anhelant, et indesinenter studio insistentes, quod minus habent effectu operis, obtinere merentur effectu voluntatis. ast alii quoniam summa se comprehendere nequaquam posse sentiunt, minima etiam negligunt, et quasi in suo torpore securi quiescentes eo amplius in maximis lumen veritatis perdunt, quo minima quae intelligere possent discere fugiunt. unde psalmista: Noluerunt, inquit, intelligere ut bene agerent. longe enim aliud est nescire atque aliud nolle scire. nescire siquidem infirmitatis est, scientiam vero detestari, pravae voluntatis. est aliud hominum genus quos admodum natura ingenio ditavit et facilem ad veritatem veniendi aditum praestitit, quibus, [771A] etsi impar sit valitudo ingenii, non eadem tamen omnibus virtus aut voluntas est per exercitia et doctrinam naturalem sensum excolendi. nam sunt plerique qui negotiis huius saeculi et curis super quam necesse sit impliciti aut vitiis et voluptatibus corporis dediti, talentum Dei terra obruunt, et ex eo nec fructum sapientiae, nec usuram boni operis quaerunt, qui profecto valde detestabiles sunt. rursus aliis rei familiaris inopia et tenuis census discendi facultatem minuit. quos tamen plene per hoc excusari minime posse credimus, cum plerosque fame siti nuditate laborantes ad scientiae fructum pertingere videamus. [771B] et tamen aliud est cum non possis, aut ut verius dicam, facile non possis discere, atque aliud posse et nolle scire. sicut enim gloriosius est, cum nullae suppetant facultates, sola virtute sapientiam apprehendere, sic profecto turpius est vigere ingenio, divitiis affluere, et torpere otio.

Tawdry Tuesday (NSFW): Heavy-tongued Hipponax With a Word We Don’t Need

Hipponax 135 b

“opening of filth”


Eust. iv.835.13 in Hom. Il. 23.775

Here it is not inapt to say that a mouth spitting out thus might be called an orifice of shit and filth, just as according to ancient inquiry the heavy-tongued Hipponax made a compound when he insulted some woman as a “filth-opening”, when he was mocking her for her dirty child-rearing. He also tore down another women by calling her a “dick-shaker”, because, people claim, she makes a penis dance.”

ἐνταῦθα δὲ οὐκ ἄκαιρον εἰπεῖν καὶ ὅτι στόμα τὸ οὕτως ἀποπτύον ὄνθου λεχθείη ἂν καὶ βορβόρου ὀπή, ὅπερ κατὰ παλαιὰν ἱστορίαν συνθεὶς ὁ βαρύγλωσσος Ἱππῶναξ “βορβορόπην” ὕβρισε γυναῖκά τινα, σκώπτων ἐκείνην εἰς τὸ παιδογόνον ὡς ἀκάθαρτον. ὃς καὶ “ἀνασεισίφαλλον” ἄλλην τινὰ διέσυρεν, ὡς ἀνασείουσαν, φασί, τὸν φάλητα.


“Hipponax calls the woman a “filth-opening” as if he is saying she is unclean, drawing on the word for ‘filth’ (barboros) and also he adds “flasher” from the verb anasuresthai, for “pulling up one’s clothes”.

Ἱππῶναξ δὲ “βορβορόπιν” ὡς ἀκάθαρτον ταύτην φησίν, ἀπὸ τοῦ βορβόρου, καὶ “ἀνασυρτό{πο}λιν” ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀνασύρεσθαι.

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Choosing a Captain on the Ship of Fools

Plato, Republic 6 488a7-89a2

[This was inspired by the “Ship of Fools” post at LitKicks]

Consider this how this could turn out on many ships or even just one: there is a captain of some size and strength beyond the rest of the men in the ship, but he is deaf and similarly limited at seeing, and he knows as much about sailing as these qualities might imply. So, the sailors are struggling with one another about steering the ship, because each one believes that he should be in charge, even though he has learned nothing of the craft nor can indicate who his teacher was nor when he had the time to learn. Some of them are even saying that it is not teachable, and that they are ready to cut down the man who says it can be taught.

They are always hanging all over the captain asking him and making a big deal of the fact that he should entrust the rudder to them. There are times when some of them do not persuade him, and some of them kill others or kick them off the ship, and once they have overcome the noble captain through a mandrake, or drugs, or something else and run the ship, using up its contents drinking, and partying, and sailing just as such sort of men might. In addition to this, they praise as a fit sailor, and call a captain and knowledgeable at shipcraft the man who is cunning at convincing or forcing the captain that they should be in charge. And they rebuke as useless anyone who is not like this.

Such men are unaware what a true helmsman is like, that he must be concerned about the time of year, the seasons, the sky, the stars, the wind and everything that is appropriate to the art, if he is going to be a leader of a ship in reality, how he might steer the ship even if some desire it or not, when they believe that it is not possible to obtain art or practice about how to do this, something like an art of ship-steering. When these types of conflicts are occurring on a ship, don’t you think the one who is a true helmsman would be called a star-gazer, a blabber, or useless to them by the sailors in the ships organized in this way?


νόησον γὰρ τοιουτονὶ γενόμενον εἴτε πολλῶν νεῶν πέρι εἴτε μιᾶς· ναύκληρον μεγέθει μὲν καὶ ῥώμῃ ὑπὲρ τοὺς ἐν τῇ νηὶ πάντας, ὑπόκωφον δὲ καὶ ὁρῶντα ὡσαύτως βραχύ τι καὶ γιγνώσκοντα περὶ ναυτικῶν ἕτερα τοιαῦτα, τοὺς δὲ ναύτας στασιάζοντας πρὸς ἀλλήλους περὶ τῆς κυβερνήσεως, ἕκαστον οἰόμενον δεῖν κυβερνᾶν, μήτε μαθόντα πώποτε τὴν τέχνην μέτε ἔχοντα ἀποδεῖξαι διδάσκαλον ἑαυτοῦ μηδὲ χρόνον ἐν ᾧ ἐμάνθανεν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις φάσκοντας μηδὲ διδακτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν λέγοντα ὡς διδακτὸν ἑτοίμους κατατέμνειν, αὐτοὺς δὲ αὐτῷ ἀεὶ τῷ ναυκλήρῳ περικεχύσθαι δεομένους καὶ πάντα ποιοῦντας ὅπως ἂν σφίσι τὸ πηδάλιον ἐπιτρέψῃ, ἐνίοτε δ’ ἂν μὴ πείθωσιν ἀλλὰ ἄλλοι μᾶλλον, τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἢ ἀποκτεινύντας ἢ ἐκβάλλοντας ἐκ τῆς νεώς, τὸν δὲ γενναῖον ναύκληρον μανδραγόρᾳ ἢ μέθῃ ἤ τινι ἄλλῳ συμποδίσαντας τῆς νεὼς ἄρχειν χρωμένους τοῖς ἐνοῦσι, καὶ πίνοντάς τε καὶ εὐωχουμένους πλεῖν ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς τοὺς τοιούτους, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἐπαινοῦντας ναυτικὸν μὲν καλοῦντας καὶ κυβερνητικὸν καὶ ἐπιστάμενον τὰ κατὰ ναῦν, ὃς ἂν συλλαμβάνειν δεινὸς ᾖ ὅπως ἄρξουσιν ἢ πείθοντες ἢ βιαζόμενοι τὸν ναύκληρον, τὸν δὲ μὴ τοιοῦτον ψέγοντας ὡς ἄχρηστον, τοῦ δὲ ἀληθινοῦ κυβερνήτου πέρι μηδ’ ἐπαΐοντες, ὅτι ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖσθαι ἐνιαυτοῦ καὶ ὡρῶν καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἄστρων καὶ πνευμάτων καὶ πάντων τῶν τῇ τέχνῃ προσηκόντων, εἰ μέλλει τῷ ὄντι νεὼς ἀρχικὸς ἔσεσθαι, ὅπως δὲ κυβερνήσει ἐάντε τινες βούλωνται ἐάντε μή, μήτε τέχνην τούτου μήτε μελέτην οἰόμενοι δυνατὸν εἶναι λαβεῖν ἅμα καὶ τὴν κυβερνητικήν. τοιούτων δὴ περὶ τὰς ναῦς γιγνομένων τὸν ὡς ἀληθῶς κυβερνητικὸν οὐχ ἡγῇ ἂν τῷ ὄντι μετεωροσκόπον τε καὶ ἀδολέσχην καὶ ἄχρηστόν σφισι καλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ταῖς οὕτω κατεσκευασμέναις ναυσὶ πλωτήρων;

Don’t Read the Classics…

[Warning, the following is or at least purports to be satire]

Lucian, A professor of public speaking, 17

“Don’t you read the classics either, not the babbling Isocrates or the charmless Demosthenes, or that boor Plato. Read instead the speeches from a little before our time, the work people call “opinion-pieces”, so that you may draw on them when you need to, as if you were taking something from the pantry.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀναγίγνωσκε τὰ παλαιὰ μὲν μὴ σύ γε, μηδὲ εἴ τι ὁ λῆρος Ἰσοκράτης ἢ ὁ χαρίτων ἄμοιρος Δημοσθένης ἢ ὁ ψυχρὸς Πλάτων, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῶν ὀλίγον πρὸ ἡμῶν λόγους καὶ ἅς φασι ταύτας μελέτας, ὡς ἔχῃς ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνων ἐπισιτισάμενος ἐν καιρῷ καταχρῆσθαι καθάπερ ἐκ ταμιείου προαιρῶν.

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Read Everything, and Attend Every Lecture!

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13 (11-12th Century CE)

“There is no one to whom it has been granted to know everything, but at the same time there is no one who has not chanced to receive some special gift from nature. The prudent reader, then, listens to everyone and reads everything, and spurns no writing, no person, no learning. He seeks from all without discrimination what he sees is lacking in himself, and considers not how much he knows, but how much he does not know. Here, they note that saying of Plato, ‘I prefer to learn everything reverently, rather than to insert my own ideas shamelessly.’ For, why do you blush to learn and feel no shame in ignorance? The first is a greater disgrace than the second. Or, why do you make pretensions to the highest claims when you toss about in the dregs? You should consider, instead, what your abilities are able to accomplish. He approaches the problem best who does so in proper order. Many people, in trying to make a leap, simply fall head-first. Therefore, avoid excessive haste. In this way, you will arrive more quickly to wisdom. Learn gladly what you do not know from everyone, because humility can make common to you what nature has made each person’s private property. You will be wiser than all if you wish to learn from everyone; those who receive gifts from everyone become wiser than everyone.

You should therefore hold no knowledge as worthless, because all knowledge is good. If you have the time, you should not refuse to at least give every writing a once-over. If you find no profit in it, you at least do not waste anything, especially since there is in my opinion no writing which does not at least propose something worthy of being sought, if it is read in a proper spot and order. If a piece of writing does not have anything particularly special about it, the diligent examiner of words will latch on to something not found elsewhere – and the more rare it is, the more delight he will feel.”

nemo est cui omnia scire datum sit, neque quisquam rursum cui aliquid speciale a natura accepisse non contigerit. prudens igitur lector omnes libenter audit, omnia legit, non scripturam, non personam, non doctrinam spernit. indifferenter ab omnibus quod sibi deesse videt quaerit, nec quantum sciat, sed quantum ignoret, considerat. hinc illud Platonicum aiunt: Malo aliena verecunde discere, quam mea impudenter ingerere. cur enim discere erubescis, et nescire non verecundaris? pudor iste maior est illo. aut quid summa affectas cum tu iaceas in imo? considera potius quid vires tuae ferre valeant. aptissime incedit, qui incedit ordinate. [774B] quidam dum magnum saltum facere volunt, praecipitium incidunt. noli ergo nimis festinare. hoc modo citius ad sapientiam pertinges. ab omnibus libenter disce quod tu nescis, quia humilitas commune tibi facere potest quod natura cuique proprium fecit. sapientior omnibus eris, si ab omnibus discere volueris. qui ab omnibus accipiunt, omnibus ditiores sunt.

nullam denique scientiam vilem teneas, quia omnis scientia bona est. nullam, si vacat, scripturam vel saltem legere contemnas. si nihil lucraris, nec perdis aliquid, maxime cum nulla scriptura sit, secundum meam aestimationem, quae aliquid expetendum non proponat, si convenienti loco et ordine tractetur; [774C] quae non aliquid etiam speciale habeat, quod diligens verbi scrutator alibi non inventum, quanto rarius, tanto gratius carpat.

Philosophers Need Life-Coaches (Cornelius Nepos to Cicero)

Cicero, Letter Fragments. Nepos to Cicero IIa

Nepos Cornelius also writes to the same Cicero thus: it is so far away from me thinking that philosophy is a teacher of life and the guardian of a happy life, that I do not believe that anyone needs teachers of living more than the many men who are dedicated to philosophical debate. I certainly see that a great number of those who rush into speeches about restraint and discipline in the classroom live amidst the desire for every kind of vice.”

Nepos quoque Cornelius ad eundem Ciceronem ita scribit: tantum abest ut ego magistram putem esse vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore <et> continentia praecipiant argutissime eosdem in omnium libidinum cupiditatibus vivere. (Lactant. Div. inst. 3.5.10)

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