Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

The Greatness of Freedom

Epictetus, Discourses 4.54-55

“Tell me this then—does freedom seem to be something great, noble, and valuable to you?

How wouldn’t it be?

Is it possible for someone who receives something so great, noble, and valuable to be miserable?

It is not.

So, when you see someone begging someone else or flattering them against what they really believe, be brave enough to say that this person is not free. And it is not just if someone does this for a meal but if they do it for a cabinet position or another office too…”

Ἔτι οὖν ἀπόκριναί μοι κἀκεῖνο· δοκεῖ σοι μέγα τι εἶναι καὶ γενναῖον ἡ ἐλευθερία καὶ ἀξιόλογον; —

Πῶς γὰρ οὔ;—

Ἔστιν οὖν τυγχάνοντά τινος οὕτως μεγάλου καὶ ἀξιολόγου καὶ γενναίου ταπεινὸν εἶναι;

Οὐκ ἔστιν.

Ὅταν οὖν ἴδῃς τινὰ ὑποπεπτωκότα ἑτέρῳ ἢ κολακεύοντα παρὰ τὸ φαινόμενον αὐτῷ, λέγε καὶ τοῦτον θαρρῶν μὴ εἶναι ἐλεύθερον· καὶ μὴ μόνον, ἂν δειπναρίου ἕνεκα αὐτὸ ποιῇ, ἀλλὰ κἂν ἐπαρχίας ἕνεκα κἂν ὑπατείας

Sophocles, fr. 873 [= Mich. Apostol 13.8]

“Whoever does business with a tyrant is
That man’s slave, even if he starts out free.”

ὅστις γὰρ ὡς τύραννον ἐμπορεύεται
κείνου ‘στι δοῦλος, κἂν ἐλεύθερος μόλῃ.


Traitors and Crowns

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 1068-1070

“I have learned to hate traitors
For there is no sickness
I reject greater than that”

τοὺς προδότας γὰρ μισεῖν ἔμαθον,
κοὐκ ἔστι νόσος
τῆσδ᾿ ἥντιν᾿ ἀπέπτυσα μᾶλλον.

Galen, Method of Medicine 1, 1 19k

“But what is this? For purse-snatchers envy purse-snatches and traitors envy traitors. It’s simple: there’s no person who does have some crowd ready to crown them.”

ἀλλὰ τί τοῦτο; καὶ γὰρ οἱ βαλαντιοτόμοι τὰ τῶν βαλαντιοτόμων ζηλοῦσι καὶ οἱ προδόται τὰ τῶν προδοτῶν καὶ οὐδείς ἐστιν ἁπλῶς ἄνθρωπος ὃς οὐκ ἂν σχοίη χορὸν οἰκεῖον ἐν ᾧ στεφθήσεται.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) gestures toward a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory Jan. 6, 2021 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Some demonstrators later breached security and stormed the Capitol. (Francis Chung/E&E News and Politico via AP Images)

No Greener Grass: Life is Painful Everywhere

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of Mind, 466

“Menander addresses those who believe that some kind of life is singularly free of pain, as some people think about the life of farmers, or of bachelors, or of kings. He reminds rightly (Men. Fr. 281):

‘I once thought, Phanias, that rich men,
who are not pressed to borrow money, do not groan
During the night, don’t turn over and over mumbling
“Alas”, and are able to sleep a sweet and
calm sleep.’

He then proceeds to describe how he has noted that the wealthy suffer the same things as the poor:

‘Is there some relation between life and pain?
Pain abides in a rich life; it’s in a famous one,
It grows old alongside a poor life too.’

But just as, while sailing, cowards and the sick believe that they would fare more easily if they moved from a skiff to a larger boat, or again if they went from there to a trireme, they achieve nothing since they carry their sickness and their cowardice with them. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t separate pains and troubles from the soul. These things come from inexperience in affairs, lack of reason, and an inability or ignorance concerning approaching the present circumstances correctly.

These things storm around the rich and poor; they annoy the married and unmarried too. Men avoid appearing in public because of these things but then cannot endure their peaceful life; because of these things, men pursue advancement in the seats of power but when they get there, they are immediately bored.”

Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἀφωρισμένως ἕνα βίον ἄλυπον νομίζοντας, ὡς ἔνιοι τὸν τῶν γεωργῶν ἢ τὸν τῶν ἠιθέων ἢ τὸν τῶν βασιλέων, ἱκανῶς ὁ Μένανδρος ὑπομιμνήσκει λέγων (fr. 281)

‘ᾤμην ἐγὼ τοὺς πλουσίους, ὦ Φανία,
οἷς μὴ τὸ δανείζεσθαι πρόσεστιν, οὐ στένειν
τὰς νύκτας οὐδὲ στρεφομένους ἄνω κάτω
‘οἴμοι’ λέγειν, ἡδὺν δὲ καὶ πρᾶόν τινα
ὕπνον καθεύδειν•’

εἶτα προσδιελθὼν ὡς καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ὁρᾷ ταὐτὰ πάσχοντας τοῖς πένησιν

‘ἆρ’ ἐστί’ φησί ‘συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος;
τρυφερῷ βίῳ σύνεστιν, ἐνδόξῳ βίῳ
πάρεστιν, ἀπόρῳ συγκαταγηράσκει βίῳ.’

ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ οἱ δειλοὶ καὶ ναυτιῶντες ἐν τῷ πλεῖν, εἶτα ῥᾷον οἰόμενοι διάξειν, ἐὰν εἰς γαῦλον ἐξ ἀκάτου καὶ πάλιν ἐὰν εἰς τριήρη μεταβῶσιν, οὐδὲν περαίνουσι τὴν χολὴν καὶ τὴν δειλίαν συμμεταφέροντες αὑτοῖς, οὕτως αἱ τῶν βίων ἀντιμεταλήψεις οὐκ ἐξαιροῦσι τῆς ψυχῆς τὰ λυποῦντα καὶ ταράττοντα• ταῦτα δ’ ἐστὶν ἀπειρία πραγμάτων, ἀλογιστία, τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι μηδ’ ἐπίστασθαι χρῆσθαι τοῖς παροῦσιν ὀρθῶς. ταῦτα καὶ πλουσίους χειμάζει καὶ πένητας, ταῦτα καὶ γεγαμηκότας ἀνιᾷ καὶ ἀγάμους• διὰ ταῦτα φεύγουσι τὴν ἀγορὰν εἶτα τὴν ἡσυχίαν οὐ φέρουσι, διὰ ταῦτα προαγωγὰς ἐν αὐλαῖς διώκουσι καὶ παρελθόντες εὐθὺς βαρύνονται.

Homer’s Big Brain Energy

 Deane Swift,

An essay upon the life, writings, and character of Dr. Jonathan Swift (pp. 235-7):

Among the admirers of Dr. Swift, many have compared him to Horace, making proper allowances for the respective ages in which they severally flourished. The resemblance however between them is not so exceedingly strong, as that a similitude and manner of writing could have excited the least degree of emulation between them, further than to be equally renowned for their peculiar excellencies. Each of them had, independent of what is generally called a fine taste, a thorough knowledge of the world, superadded to an abundance of learning. Both the one and the other of these great men held the numerous tribe of poets, as well as that motley generation of men called criticks, in the utmost contempt; and at the same time have manifested themselves to be incomparable judges of all that is truly excellent, whether in books or men. Neither of them had the least regard for the Stoicks and whatever may be said of their being of the Epicurean taste, which, if rightly understood, is far from being inconsistent with the highest virtue; neither of them was attached to any particular system of philosophy.

Homer was the darling author of both Horace and swift. Horace declares in his epistle to Lollius, that Homer had abundantly more good sense and wisdom than all the philosophers; and Swift’s opinion was, that Homer had more genius than all the rest of the world put together. Yet neither the one nor the other of them have attempted to imitate his manner; but, like heroes of a bold and true spirit, have industriously followed the bent of nature, and struck out originals of their own.

Saving the State With A Single Body

Cicero, De Domo Sua 63-64

“Leaders, this violence, this crime, this rage was what I defended from the necks of all good people with my body—I met with my skin the full force of civil strife, the explosive savagery of criminals which was just now bursting out because it had found such daring leaders after it had grown for so long as hatred suppressed.

Against me alone the consular firebrands fell, thrown by the tribunes’ hands; all the criminal points of conspiracy which I had broken before struck me. But if I had done what many of the bravest men found pleasing and had decided to face this force in open arms, I would have been victorious with the death of so many criminals who were still citizens or I would have fallen with the Republic following the death of so many good people, something those criminals wished for most.”

Hanc ego vim, pontifices, hoc scelus, hunc furorem meo corpore opposito ab omnium bonorum cervicibus depuli omnemque impetum discordiarum, omnem diu collectam vim improborum, quae inveterata compresso odio atque tacito iam erumpebat nancta tam audaces duces, excepi meo corpore. In me uno consulares faces, iactae manibus tribuniciis, in me omnia, quae ego quondam rettuderam, coniurationis nefaria tela adhaeserunt. Quod si, ut multis fortissimis viris placuit, vi et armis contra vim decertare voluissem, aut vicissem cum magna internicione improborum, sed tamen civium, aut interfectis bonis omnibus, quod illis optatissimum erat, una cum re publica concidissem

Officer Eugene Goodman at the Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021. Image taken from The Hill

Pythagorean Theorem: Avoid Sedition

Sir William Temple, 

Memoirs From the Peace in 1679 to the Author’s Retirement:

And so I take leave of all those airy visions which have so long busied my head about mending the world; and, at the same time, of all those shining toys or follies that employ the thoughts of busy men: and shall turn mine wholly to mend myself; and, as far as consists with a private condition, still pursuing that old and excellent counsel of Pythagoras, that we are, with all the cares and endeavours of our lives, to avoid diseases in the body, perturbations in the mind, luxury in diet, factions in the House, and seditions in the State.

A Secret Messaging Strategy for the De-platformed

Aeneas Tacticus, Fragments LI: on the Sending of Messages”

“People who plan to work with traitors need to know how to send messages. Send them like this. Have a man be sent openly carrying some note about other matters. Have a different letter be secretly placed under the sole of the sandals of the person carrying the first message. Sew it between the layers and have it inscribed on tin to be safeguarded against mud and water.

Once the messenger has arrived to his destination and he has rested for the night, let the intended recipient remove the stitches from the sandals, take the message out, write a response secretly, and send the messenger back once he has written some public message to carry openly. In this way, not even the messenger will know what he carries.”

Τοῖς κεχρημένοις προδόταις ἀναγκαῖον εἰδέναι πῶς ἐπιστολὰς δεῖ αὐτοὺς εἰσπέμπειν. ἀπόστελλε γοῦν οὕτως. πεμπέσθω ἀνὴρ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ φέρων1 ἐπιστολήν τινα περὶ ἄλλων πραγμάτων. τοῦ δὲ πορεύεσθαι μέλλοντος κρυφαίως αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ τῶν ὑποδημάτων πέλμα ἐντεθήτω εἰς τὸ μεταξὺ βιβλίον καὶ καταραπτέσθω· πρὸς δὲ τοὺς πηλοὺς καὶ τὰ ὕδατα εἰς κασσίτερον ἐληλασμένον2 γραφέσθω πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀφανίζεσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ὑδάτων τὰ γράμματα. ἀφικομένου δὲ πρὸς ὃν δεῖ3 καὶ ἀναπαυομένου νυκτὸς ἀναλυέτω τὰς ῥαφὰς τῶν ὑποδημάτων καὶ ἐξελὼν ἀναγνούς τε καὶ4 ἄλλα γράψας λάθρᾳ ἀποστελλέτω τὸν ἄνδρα, ἀνταποστείλας καὶ δούς τι5 φέρειν φανερῶς· οὕτως γὰρ οὔτε ἄλλος οὔτε ὁ φέρων εἰδήσει.

Exhibit in the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.,_6th_century_BC_-_Bata_Shoe_Museum_-_DSC00016.JPG

Homer in a Dudley Accent

Louis MacNeice, Autumn Journal 8.9-24

Eight years back about this time

I came to live in this hazy city

To work in a building caked with grime

Teaching the classics to Midland students;

Virgil, Livy, the usual round,

Principal parts and the lost digamma;

And to hear the prison-like lecture room resound

To Homer in a Dudley accent.

But Life was comfortable, life was fine

With two in a bed and patchwork cushions

And checks and tassels on the washing-line,

A gramophone, a cat, and the smell of jasmine.

The steaks were tender, the films were fun,

The walls were striped like a Russian ballet,

There were lots of things undone

But nobody cared, for the days were early.

Warring Parts of the Soul: Some Fragments on Insurrection

Dio Chrysostom, The 24th Discourse

“If you think that they are harming you and started the insurrection and the chaos, you need to get rid of them completely and not allow them into the assemblies.”

οὓς εἰ μὲν οἴεσθε βλάπτειν ὑμᾶς καὶ στάσεως ἄρχειν καὶ ταραχῆς, ὅλως ἐχρῆν ἀπελάσαι καὶ μὴ παραδέχεσθαι ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις·


Pausanias, Corinth 33

“When everyone was a total insurrection in the city, people say that these women were killed by the opposing rebels and that today they have a festival for them called the Stoning.”

 στασιασάντων δὲ ὁμοίως τῶν ἐν τῇ πόλει ἁπάντων καὶ ταύτας φασὶν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀντιστασιωτῶν καταλευσθῆναι, καὶ ἑορτὴν ἄγουσί σφισι Λιθοβόλια ὀνομάζοντες

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 4.64

“I’ll try to explain in brief who the leaders of the insurrection were and how they came to this point of affairs.”

οἵτινες δ᾿ ἦσαν οἱ τῆς ἐπαναστάσεως ἄρξαντες καὶ δι᾿ οἵων τρόπων ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὰ πράγματα, δι᾿ ὀλίγων πειράσομαι διελθεῖν.

Plato, Republic 4 444b

“I said—so be it, after that we need to examine injustice, I think.”


“[Injustice], then, must be a kind of civil strife of those three pre-existing things: doing too much, overreaching into other people’s business, and insurrection of some part against the whole of the soul in order to take power that doesn’t belong to it even those that part’s nature is to serve the whole. Yeah, we would say these kinds of things I think and that when there is confusion or wandering in them we get injustice, loss of control, wickedness, ignorance, and, to put it briefly, every evil.”

Ἔστω δή, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ· μετὰ γὰρ τοῦτο σκεπτέον οἶμαι ἀδικίαν. |


Οὐκοῦν στάσιν τινὰ αὖ τριῶν ὄντων τούτων δεῖ αὐτὴν εἶναι καὶ πολυπραγμοσύνην καὶ ἀλλοτριοπραγμοσύνην καὶ ἐπανάστασιν μέρους τινὸς τῷ ὅλῳ τῆς ψυχῆς, ἵν’ ἄρχῃ ἐν αὐτῇ οὐ προσῆκον, ἀλλὰ τοιούτου ὄντος φύσει οἵου πρέπειν αὐτῷ δουλεύειν, †τοῦ δ’ αὖ δουλεύειν ἀρχικοῦ γένους ὄντι†;6 | τοιαῦτ’ ἄττα οἶμαι φήσομεν καὶ τὴν τούτων ταραχὴν καὶ πλάνην εἶναι τήν τε ἀδικίαν καὶ ἀκολασίαν καὶ δειλίαν καὶ ἀμαθίαν καὶ συλλήβδην πᾶσαν κακίαν.