From the Restroom: He Thunders Beneath the Earth

Suetonius, Life of Lucan

“When he was at the beginning of adolescence and learned that his father lived in the country because of a terrible marriage…Although when he was recalled from Athens by Nero he was included among his group of friends and even honored with a quaestorship, he still did not remain in his good graces.

Because he took it badly when Nero suddenly left while he was giving a reading for the sake of holding a senate meeting but for no other real reason accept for chilling the reading, he did not later on restrain himself from either words or deeds against the prince, some of which are well-known.

For instance, once when he was in the public restrooms, he followed a rather clear and loud fart to empty his bowels with a half-line written by Nero as the great crowd of those around him fled: “you could believe that it thundered beneath the earth.”

Hic initio adolescentiae, cum ob infestum matrimonium patrem suum ruri agere longissime cognovisset*** Revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. Siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: Sub terris tonuisse putes.

Defecatory thunder may or may not have been a trope in the ancient world. If you are interested in this kind of content, you may want to consider the Panfarticon.

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An Epoch defining neck-beard

* Peacocks! * Pythagoras! * Homer! * Ennius! * (Featuring the Loser Euphorbus)

Cornutus, Commentary on Persius 6.10:

Thus writes Ennius in the beginning of his Annals, where he says that in a dream he saw Homer claiming that he had once been a peacock, and that his soul had been transferred from there into Ennius according to the doctrine of Pythagoras, who said that human souls, through a process of palingenesis (that is, a repeated birth) are able to enter new bodies as they leave their old ones behind. He used the phrase ‘the fifth’ in accordance with the opinion that the soul of Pythagoras was moved into a peacock, from the peacock to Euphorbius, from Euphorbius to Homer, and from Homer to Ennius. Or, to be sure, he said ‘the fifth’ because Ennius was named Quintus.

A large presence of the peacock in Roman mosaics

sic Ennius in Annalium suorum principio, ubi se dicit vidisse in somnis Homerum dicentem fuisse quondam pavonem et ex eo translatam in se animam esse secundum Pytagorae philosophi definitionem, qui dicit animas humanas per palingenesiam, id est per iteratam generationem, exeuntes de corporibus in alia posse corpora introire. ideo autem, “quintus” dixit propter eam opinionem quae dicit animam Pytagorae in pavonem translatam, de pavone vero ad Euphorbium, de Euphorbio ad Homerum, de Homero autem ad Ennium. vel certe quod cognomento Ennius dicitur.

The Folly of Preemptive Forgiveness

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.13-15:

“I have, in my lack of discretion, incurred the pleasing censure which was once leveled by Marcus Cato against Aulus Albinus, who was consul with Lucius Lucullus. This Albinus once wrote a book of Roman history in Greek. In the first part of his History it is written that no one should be made at him if anything in that book were to be found ill composed or sloppily written. ‘For,’ he said, ‘I am a Roman man, born in Latium, and Greek is most foreign to me.’ With that, he asked pardon and release from bad opinion in the event that he had made any errors. When Marcus Cato read this, he said, ‘Aulus, you’re a goddamn fool for preferring to ask pardon for an offense rather than not commit it altogether; for, we usually ask for pardon when we either make a mistake unaware or have committed some crime under compulsion. I ask you, who forced you to commit that for which, before you have even done it, you have asked to be pardoned?’”

Sed ne ego incautus sum, qui venustatem reprehensionis incurri a M. quondam Catone profectae in A. Albinum qui cum L. Lucullo consul fuit.  Is Albinus res Romanas oratione Graeca scriptitavit. In eius historiae primo scriptum est ad hanc sententiam neminem succensere sibi convenire, si quid in illis libris parum composite aut minus eleganter scriptum foret. Nam sum, inquit, homo Romanus, natus in Latio; et eloquium Graecum a nobis alienissimum est. Ideoque veniam gratiamque malae existimationis, si quid esset erratum, postulavit. Ea cum legisset M. Cato: Ne tu, inquit, Aule, nimium nugator es, cum maluisti culpam deprecari quam culpa vacare: nam petere veniam solemus aut cum inprudentes erravimus aut cum noxam imperio conpellentis admisimus. Te, inquit, oro, quis perpulit ut id committeres quod, priusquam faceres, peteres ut ignosceretur?

Following In Their Ink Stains

Angelo Poliziano, Letter to Paolo Cortesi:

I beg you, don’t bind yourself to that superstition which would allow nothing of your own to delight you, and force you never to turn your eyes away from Cicero. But when you have read Cicero and other good authors much and often, and have worn out their pages, learned them, cooked them down, and filled your heart with the knowledge of many things, and now you will prepare to compose something, it is now that I would have you swim without a life preserver (as they say). You should occasionally be your own adviser, and set aside that fretful and anxious solicitude of writing only Cicero – make a trial of your own strength! For those who only contemplate with astonishment those ridiculous things which you all call lineaments are neither able to imitate them well enough (believe me), and at the same time, they slow the action of one’s own intelligence, and as it were stand in the runner’s way and make (to use the expression from Plautus) a delay. But as one cannot run well if they strive only to place their foot in other people’s tracks, so no one can write well if they do not dare to depart from what has been written before. Finally, you should consider that it is the mark of an unlucky intellect to bring nothing forth of its own, but always to imitate others.

Angelo Poliziano

quaeso, ne superstitione ista te alliges, ut nihil delectet quod tuum plane sit, et ut oculos a Cicerone deicias. Sed cum Ciceronem, cum bonos alios multum diuque legeris, contriveris, edidiceris, concoxeris et rerum multarum cognitione pectus impleveris, ac iam componere aliquid ipse parabis, tum demum velim (quod dicitur) sine cortice nates, atque ipse tibi sis aliquando in consilio, sollicitudinemque illam morosam nimis et anxiam deponas effingendi tantummodo Ciceronem tuasque denique vires universas pericliteris. Nam qui tantum ridicula ista quae vocatis liniamenta contemplantur attoniti, nec illa ipsa (mihi crede) satis repraesentant, et impetum quodammodo retardant ingenii sui, currentique velut obstant, et(ut utar Plautino verbo) remoram faciunt. Sed ut bene currere non potest qui pedem ponere studet in alienis tantum vestigiis, ita nec bene scribere qui tamquam de praescripto non audet egredi. Postremo scias infelicis esse ingenii nihil a se promere, semper imitari.

The Fruitless Toil of Worry: Two Passages on Happiness

Horace, Odes 2.16 25-32

“The spirit which is happy for a single day
Has learned not to worry about what remains
And tempers bitter tastes with a gentle smile—
Nothing is blessed through and through.

A swift death stole famed Achilles away;
Drawn-out old age wore Tithonos down.
Perhaps some hour will hand to me
Whatever it has refused to you.”

laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
oderit curare et amara lento
temperet risu; nihil est ab omni
parte beatum.

abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tithonum minuit senectus,
et mihi forsan, tibi quod negarit,
porriget hora.

Bacchylides, Processionals fr. 11-12

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”

εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυρία
μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ᾿ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον.

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BLMedieval Sloane MS 278, 1280-1300

A Lover of Pleasure, A Hater of Toil

Suda entry on Aulus Postumius:

“Aulus Postumius was a man of property and the highest birth, and true to his own birth he was gossipy, loquacious, and notably given to boasting. Having taken an interest from his earliest youth in Greek education and language, he entirely immersed himself in these studies to such a degree that he scandalized the older and more dignified members of the Roman establishment. Finally, he wrote a poem and a history of practical deeds. In the preface to this work, he entreats his chance readers to grant him some pardon, if he as a Roman was not able to fully take command of the Greek language and the judicious use of it. This is a mark of absolute absurdity, and is almost as bad as if someone writing an account of athletic events like boxing or the pancration were to go to the stadium and, when the time to fight arrived, asked the pardon of the spectators in the event that he could not endure the physical exertion or the blows of his opponent. Obviously, this king of man incurs mockery and judgment out of hand. The same thing should happen to other history writers like him, lest they dare things beyond what is good. Aulus Postumius was a lover of pleasure and a hater of toil.”

Wall painting from Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Αὖλος Ποστόμιος οἰκίας μὲν ἦν καὶ γένους πρώτου, κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν φύσιν στωμύλος καὶ λάλος καὶ πέρπερος διαφερόντως. ἐπιθυμήσας δ’ εὐθέως ἐκ παίδων τῆς ῾Ελληνικῆς ἀγωγῆς καὶ διαλέκτου πολὺς μὲν ἦν ἐν τούτοις καὶ κατακορής, ὥστε δι’ ἐκεῖνον καὶ τὴν αἵρεσιν τὴν ῾Ελληνικὴν προσκόψαι τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις καὶ τοῖς ἀξιολογωτάτοις τῶν ῾Ρωμαίων, τέλος δὲ καὶ ποίημα γράφων καὶ πραγματικὴν ἱστορίαν ἐνεχείρησεν· ἐν ᾗ διὰ τοῦ προοιμίου παρεκάλει τοὺς ἐντυγχάνοντας συγγνώμην ἔχειν, εἰ ῾Ρωμαῖος ὢν μὴ δύνηται κατακρατεῖν τῆς ῾Ελληνικῆς διαλέκτου καὶ τῆς κατὰ χειρισμὸν οἰκονομίας· ὅπερ ἐστὶ πάσης ἀτοπίας σημεῖον, καὶ παραπλήσιον, ὡς ἂν εἴ τις ἐς τοὺς γυμνικοὺς ἀγῶνας ἀπογραψάμενος πυγμὴν ἢ παγκράτιον, παρελθὼν ἐς τὸ στάδιον, ὅτε δέοι μάχεσθαι, παραιτοῖτο τοὺς θεωμένους συγγνώμην ἔχειν, ἐὰν μὴ δύνηται τὸν πόνον ὑπομένειν μήτε τὰς πληγάς. δῆλον γὰρ ὡς εἰκὸς γέλωτα τὸν τοιοῦτον ὀφλεῖν καὶ τὴν δίκην ἐκ χειρὸς λαμβάνειν· ὅπερ ἔδει καὶ τοὺς τοιούτους ἱστοριογράφους, ἵνα μὴ κατετόλμωντοῦ καλῶς ἔχοντος. ἦν δὲ καὶ φιλήδονος καὶ φυγόπονος.

I’m No Swindler, I Know Greek!

Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater:

What followed, however, was somewhat worse.  “Oh, my lord,” answered my landlady (according to her own representation of the matter), “I really don’t think this young gentleman is a swindler, because —”  “You don’t think me a swindler?” said I, interrupting her, in a tumult of indignation: “for the future I shall spare you the trouble of thinking about it.”  And without delay I prepared for my departure.  Some concessions the good woman seemed disposed to make; but a harsh and contemptuous expression, which I fear that I applied to the learned dignitary himself, roused her indignation in turn, and reconciliation then became impossible.  I was indeed greatly irritated at the bishop’s having suggested any grounds of suspicion, however remotely, against a person whom he had never seen; and I thought of letting him know my mind in Greek, which, at the same time that it would furnish some presumption that I was no swindler, would also (I hoped) compel the bishop to reply in the same language; in which case I doubted not to make it appear that if I was not so rich as his lordship, I was a far better Grecian.  Calmer thoughts, however, drove this boyish design out of my mind; for I considered that the bishop was in the right to counsel an old servant; that he could not have designed that his advice should be reported to me; and that the same coarseness of mind which had led Mrs. Betty to repeat the advice at all, might have coloured it in a way more agreeable to her own style of thinking than to the actual expressions of the worthy bishop.

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