Pliny Writes to Redfin

Pliny Letters 3.19

“I am seeking your advice in a personal matter, as I usually do. The property next to mine, which intrudes upon it in many places, is for sale. This interests me for many reasons, but there are a few detractors too. The foremost attraction is the beauty of joining the lands and then, which is no less useful than pleasurable, to be able to visit both at the same time on the same trip, to have both under the same steward and have nearly all the same workers, to build and decorate only one house, provided the other was kept safe. On this balance sheet, I place the expenditure of furniture, domestic labor, gardeners, and handymen along with hunting materials since there is a big different in cost if you have all of these in one place instead of spreading them around several.

Against this, I fear that it may be irrational to leave a property of so great a size to the same climate risks and the same fortunes. It seems safer to dilute risk by having property in different places. In addition, there is a much delight in a change of location and a journey between places. The final point of our decision is this: the fields are fertile and has access to water; the property is filled with fields, vineyards, and a forest which produces a regular income.”

Plinius Calvisio Rufo Suo S.

1Adsumo te in consilium rei familiaris, ut soleo. Praedia agris meis vicina atque etiam inserta venalia sunt. In his me multa sollicitant, aliqua nec minora  deterrent. Sollicitat primum ipsa pulchritudo iungendi; deinde, quod non minus utile quam voluptuosum, posse utraque eadem opera eodem viatico invisere, sub eodem procuratore ac paene isdem actoribus habere, unam villam colere et ornare, alteram tantum tueri. Inest huic computationi sumptus supellectilis, sumptus atriensium topiariorum fabrorum atque etiam venatorii instrumenti; quae plurimum refert unum in locum conferas an in diversa dispergas. Contra vereor ne sit incautum, rem tam magnam isdem tempestatibus isdem casibus subdere; tutius videtur incerta fortunae possessionum varietatibus experiri. Habet etiam multum iucunditatis soli caelique mutatio, ipsaque illa peregrinatio 5 inter sua. Iam, quod deliberationis nostrae caput est, agri sunt fertiles pingues aquosi; constant campis vineis silvis, quae materiam et ex ea reditum


Wanna Be A Baller, Shot Caller, Lib’ral Arts Degree Hanging On The Wall-a

Pier Paolo Vergerio,
de Ingenuis Moribus et Liberalibus Adulescentiae Studiis (§2):

But while it is right that all people (especially parents) should be such as to seek to educate their children properly and since it is fitting that children should be such that they seem worthy of good parents, yet it is especially true for those who occupy a lofty place in society, whose every saying and deed is exposed to the public eye, that they should be educated in the most important subjects, so that they can be considered worthy of the fortune and rank of dignity which they achieve. It is only fair that those who think that all the best is owed to them should be examples of the best themselves. Nor is there any more sure or stable principle of ruling than that those who get hold of power should be judged by all to be the most worthy of it.

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“But there’s got to be a better way!”

Verum cum omnes homines deceat (parentes quidem in primis) eos esse qui recte erudire suos liberos studeant et filios deinde tales qui parentibus bonis digni videri possint, praecipue tamen qui excelsiore loco sunt, quorumque nihil neque dictum neque factum latere potest, decens est ita principalibus artibus instructos esse, ut et fortuna et gradu dignitatis quam obtinent digni habeantur. Aequum est enim qui sibi summa omnia deberi volunt, debere et eos summa omnia de se praestare. Nec est ulla certior aut stabilior regnandi ratio quam si hi qui regna obtinent, ab omnibus dignissimi omnium regno iudicentur.

Hands and Feet, Speech and Mind: Evaluating a Person in Early Greek Poetry

Simonides, Fr. 37.1-3

“It is hard for a man to be truly good, built evenly with hands, feet and mind without blame.”

ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι
χαλεπὸν χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόωι
τετράγωνον ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον·

Gregory Nagy (Best of the Achaeans  1979, 1999) has drawn on the work of others to argue that in early Greek poetry (especially Homer and Hesiod) there is a tension between character and activities associated with force (biê) and intelligence (mêtis). He sees Achilles and Odysseus as representing these vectors respectively and, in turn, as the antagonism or contrast between the heroes and (in part) their epics as an extension or embodiment of these basic qualities. Similarly, structural interpretations of Greek myth have mapped these tensions onto gendered polarities as well—for Hesiod’s Theogony, the conflict between the male and female forces can be conceptualized as well as one between male biê and female mêtis. (For this, see especially, Leonard Muellner, The Anger of Achilles 1996)

In Simonides (above) the “hands and feet” are metonyms for physical deeds while the mind (noos) represents acts of mêtis (be them planning or speaking). In the Odyssey, the hero’s mêtis is often illustrated with reference to his noos or operations thereof. That the reference to a complete man by Simonides recalls these tensions and laments the rarity of the person who can resolve them is supported in part by a few passages from the Odyssey. In the first, it is clear that “hands and feet” represent deeds. In the second, Odysseus himself opposes this concern with the hands and feet as those of “appearance” and not thought or speaking.

Odyssey 8.147-8

“For as long as he lives, a man has no greater glory
than that which he wins with his own hands and feet”

οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.

Odyssey 8.166-177

“Friend, you don’t speak well. No, you’re like a wreck of a man.
The gods don’t distribute charms in this well to all men,
Not in form, brains or their ability to speak
For while one man is less than impressive in appearance,
But a god crowns his form with words. And people delight
As they gaze upon him, while he speaks strongly,
With reverent shame, and he is conspicuous among those assembled
As they look upon his travel to the city as if he were a god.
Another man in turn is similar to the immortals in appearance,
But not charm hands about his words at all.
That’s you: brilliant in appearance and not anyone
Not even a god could make you otherwise. But you’re useless at thinking.”

“ξεῖν’, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες· ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας.
οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ’ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ’ ἀγορητύν.
ἄλλος μὲν γὰρ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει· οἱ δέ τ’ ἐς αὐτὸν
τερπόμενοι λεύσσουσιν, ὁ δ’ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει,
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
ἐρχόμενον δ’ ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
ἄλλος δ’ αὖ εἶδος μὲν ἀλίγκιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
ἀλλ’ οὔ οἱ χάρις ἀμφὶ περιστέφεται ἐπέεσσιν,
ὡς καὶ σοὶ εἶδος μὲν ἀριπρεπές, οὐδέ κεν ἄλλως
οὐδὲ θεὸς τεύξειε, νόον δ’ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι.

The passage above is especially charged in the Odyssey for a few reasons. For one, by calling the young Phaeacian prince atasthalos (ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας) Odysseus aligns them with people who bring destruction upon themselves, including his own men and the suitors in Ithaca (For the atasthalia theme in the Odyssey see especially Cook, The Odyssey in Athens 1995; Bakker, The Meaning of Meat 2013, 96-119). I think that the comparison of the Phaeacians to the suitors is especially damning here. Both groups are characterized as being especially stupid, reckless, and concerned overmuch with leisure activities.

I think there is also an emerging political valence to the contrast. A presocratic fragments supports this.

Xenophanes, fr. 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

As I have written elsewhere, “swiftness of feet” is a metonym for biê and the type of hero who succeeds through force and deeds rather than intelligence. For Xenophanes, this quality is an obstacle to eunomia (good governance). I cannot help but think that Simonides, Xenophanes and Homer are all involved in the same debate about what kind of a person should lead a city. Let’s not forget Archilochus too:

Archilochus, fr. 114

“I don’t love a tall leader, or one striding far,
Or one who takes pride in his hair or shaved head.
No, give me a shorter man, who looks bowed near the shins
But who is sure on his feet, and strong of heart.”

οὐ φιλέω μέγαν στρατηγὸν οὐδὲ διαπεπλιγμένον
οὐδὲ βοστρύχοισι γαῦρον οὐδ’ ὑπεξυρημένον,
ἀλλά μοι σμικρός τις εἴη καὶ περὶ κνήμας ἰδεῖν
ῥοικός, ἀσφαλέως βεβηκὼς ποσσί, καρδίης πλέως.

Pottery amphora decorated in the Fikellura style with a running man. Neck, triple cable. Shoulder, chain of simplified pomegranates, joined alternately. The diameter of the mouth is 0.16 m. from back to front, 0.135 m. between the handles: some pinching is common in Fikellura, but this is the extreme instance so far as is known.
c. 530 BCE (Miletus). Held in the British Museum: 1864,1007.156


The Odyssey pretty clearly falls on the side of mêtis and speech, as is clear from its hero. Ancient scholars sensed the themes deployed with Telemachus as well.

Schol QT ad Od. 8.166

“Friend, you do not speak well”: It is the Homeric custom to evaluate even the character of one you meet from his words. For elsewhere someone says about Telemachus “you are one of noble blood, dear child, based on the way you are speaking” (4.611). This is because he thinks that being well-born and educated necessarily coincide, and that speaking is conspicuous beyond all else. But Odysseus, does not maintain absolutely that he is reckless, but instead that he is like someone who is thanks to his response and what he said.”

ξεῖν’, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες] ἔθος ἐστὶν ῾Ομηρικὸν ἐκ τῶν λόγων χαρακτηρίζεσθαι καὶ τὸν τρόπον τοῦ ἐντυγχάνοντος. καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις περὶ τοῦ Τηλεμάχου “αἵματος εἶς ἀγαθοῖο, φίλον τέκος, οἷ’ ἀγο-ρεύεις” (δ, 611.)· οἰόμενος τὸν εὐγενῆ καὶ πεπαιδευμένον ἀναγκαίως ὁμιλεῖν, πρεπόντως δὲ πάντα λέγειν. ᾿Οδυσσεὺς δὲ, οὐ γὰρ διεβεβαιώσατο τὸ ἀτάσθαλον αὐτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλ’ ἐοικέναι φησὶ τούτῳ διὰ τὸ ἀντειπεῖν καὶ εἰρηκέναι. Q.T.



Excellence in Historiography

Joseph Addison, The Spectator (No.420):

“As the Writers in Poetry and Fiction borrow their several Materials from outward Objects, and join them together at their own Pleasure, there are others who are obliged to follow Nature more closely, and to take entire Scenes out of her. Such are Historians, natural Philosophers, Travellers, Geographers, and in a Word, all who describe visible Objects of a real Existence.

It is the most agreeable Talent of an Historian, to be able to draw up his Armies and fight his Battels in proper Expressions, to set before our Eyes the Divisions, Cabals, and Jealousies of great Men, and to lead us Step by Step into the several Actions and Events of his History. We love to see the Subject unfolding it self by just Degrees, and breaking upon us insensibly, that so we may be kept in a pleasing Suspense, and have time given us to raise our Expectations, and to side with one of the Parties concerned in the Relation. I confess this shews more the Art than the Veracity of the Historian, but I am only to speak of him as he is qualified to please the Imagination. And in this respect Livy has, perhaps, excelled all who went before him, or have written since his Time. He describes every thing in so lively a Manner, that his whole History is an admirable Picture, and touches on such proper Circumstances in every Story, that his Reader becomes a kind of Spectator, and feels in himself all the Variety of Passions which are correspondent to the several Parts of the Relation.”

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The History of Saturnalia, Part I

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.7:

“It seems right to me to bring up the origin of the Saturnalia, which pertains not to the arcane nature of divinity, but as it is discussed mixed with fantastic tales or as it is revealed to the common people by natural philosophers. Indeed, the hidden accounts dripping from the font of undistilled truth cannot be narrated even in the sacred rites themselves. If anyone follows them, he must keep them hidden within the confines of his mind. So, our friend Horus may reconsider with me those things which may be known on this topic. Janus once obtained that region which is now called Italy as his kingdom along with Cameses, who equally possessed this land, so that the region is called Camesene, and the town called Janiculum (as Hyginus, following Protarchus Trallanius relates it). Afterward, the kingdom returned to Janus alone. He is thought to have taken on a second face, so that he could see things which are both before and after him. Clearly, this is to be referred to the prudence and wisdom of the king, who knew both past and future things, as Antevorta and Postvorta, obviously the most apt companions in divinity, are worshiped among the Romans. This Janus then received Saturn, carried by ship, as a guest. Janus then learned from Saturn the knowledge of agriculture and improved that rude and savage food before the discovery of grain. He then made him a companion on the throne.”

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Saturnaliorum originem illam mihi in medium proferre fas est, non quae ad archanam divinitatis naturam refertur, sed quae aut fabulosis admixta disseritur aut a physicis in vulgus aperitur. Nam occultas et manantes ex meri veri fonte rationes ne in ipsis quidem sacris enarrari permittitur: sed si quis illas adsequitur, continere intra conscientiam tectas iubetur. Unde quae sciri fas est Horus noster licebit mecum recognoscat. Regionem istam, quae nunc vocatur Italia, regno Ianus optinuit, qui, ut Hyginus Protarchum Trallianum secutus tradit, cum Camese aeque indigena terram hanc ita participata potentia possidebant, ut regio Camesene, oppidum Ianiculum vocitaretur. Post ad Ianum solum regnum redactum est, qui creditur geminam faciem praetulisse, ut quae ante quaeque post tergum essent intueretur: quod procul dubio ad prudentiam regis sollertiamque referendum est, qui et praeterita nosset et futura prospiceret, sicut Antevorta et Postvorta, divinitatis scilicet aptissimae comites, apud Romanos coluntur. Hic igitur Ianus, cum Saturnum classe pervectum excepisset hospitio et ab eo edoctus peritiam ruris ferum illum et rudem ante fruges cognitas victum in melius redegisset, regni eum societate muneravit.

While We Live, Sing a Song for Me

These are fragments which may or may not be a whole. They made me think of Bettina Joy de Guzman. There’s nothing like death obsession in the Fall….

P. Oxy. xv. 1921, no. 1795, p. 113 [Anonymous = LCL Anonymous Hexamers 125]

“Don’t try to do injustice nor to return injustice done
Avoid murders and avoid battles, don’t deign to argue—
Then you will hurt only a short time and you won’t think about it later.

Play a song for me.

You saw the spring, winter, the summer. These are eternal.
Even the sun has set and night is taking what’s owed her.
Don’t try to find where the sun comes from or where the water’s home,
But where you can buy some fragrance and and wreaths.

Play a song for me.

I used to want to have three free-flowing honey springs,
five milk rivers, ten of wine, twelve of perfume
two from clear fountains and three from snow.
I used to want a boy and a girl near a fountain.

Play a song for me.

The Lydian pipe and the Lydian games of the lyre work for me.
The Phrygian reed and the leather-topped drum work for me too.
As long as I live I love to sing these things and when I die
Put a flute above my head and a lyre near my feet.

Play a song for me.

Who has ever discovered how to measure wealth and poverty?
Or who again has ever found how much gold human beings need?
Today, still, whoever has money always wants more of it
And the wretch is tortured like the poor even though he’s rich.

Play a song for me.

If you ever see a corpse or walk by quiet graves,
That’s when you look into the mirror we all share: the dead expected this.
Time is on loan and life’s lender is a prick.
Whenever he demands repayment, you must pay the bill by grieving.

Play a song for me.

It was the king Xerxes who said he shared everything with god,
But he crossed the Lemnian water in defeat with a single rudder.
Midas was rich; Kinyras was triply blest,
But who has ever gone to Hades with more than a single coin?

Play a song for me.,.”

μηδ᾿ ἀδικεῖν ζήτει, μηδ᾿ ἂν ἀδι[κῆι πρ]οσερίσηις·
φεῦγε φόνους καὶ φεῦγε μάχας, φ[εῖ]σαι διαφρονε[ῖ]ν,
εἰς δ᾿ ὀλίγον πονέσεις, καὶ δεύτερον οὐ μεταμέληι.

αὔ[λει μοι

Ἶδες ἔαρ, χειμῶνα, θέρος· ταῦτ᾿ ἐστι διόλου·
ἥλιος αὐτὸς [ἔδυ], καὶ νὺξ τὰ τεταγμέν᾿ ἀπέχει·
μὴ κοπία ζητεῖν πόθεν ἥλιος ἢ πόθε[ν] ὕδωρ,
ἀλλὰ π[ό]θεν τ[ὸ] μύρον καὶ τοὺς στεφάνου[ς] ἀγοράσηις.

αὔλει μο[ι.

Κρήνας αὐτορύ[το]υς μέλ[ιτ]ος τρεῖς ἤθελον ἔχειν,
πέντε γαλακτορύτους, οἴνου δέκα, δ[ώδε]κα μύρου,
καὶ δύο πηγαίων ὑδάτων, καὶ τρεῖς χιονέων·
παῖδα κατὰ κρήνην καὶ παρθένον ἤθελον ἔχειν.
αὔλει μο[ι.

Λύδιος αὐλὸς ἐμοὶ τὰ δὲ Λύδια παίγματα λύρας
κα[ὶ] Φρύγ[ιο]ς κάλαμος τὰ δὲ ταύρεα τύμπανα πονεῖ·
ταῦτα ζῶν ἆισαί τ᾿ ἔραμαι καὶ ὅταν ἀποθάνω
αὐλὸν ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς θέτε μοι παρὰ ποσ(σ)ὶ δὲ λύρη[ν.

αὔλει μοι.

Μέτρα τί[ς] ἀν πλούτου, τίς ἀνεύρατο μέτρα πενίας
ἢ τίς ἐν ἀνθρώποις χρυσοῦ πάλιν εὕρατο μέτρον;
νῦν γὰρ ὁ χρήματ᾿ ἔχων ἔτι πλε[ί]ονα χρήματα θέλει,
πλούσιος ὢν δ᾿ ὁ τάλας βασανίζεται ὥσπερ ὁ πένης.

αὔλ[ει μοι.

Νεκρὸν ἐάν ποτ᾿ ἴδηις καὶ μνήματα κωφὰ παράγηις
κοινὸν ἔσοπτρον ὁρᾶι(ς)· ὁ θανὼν οὕτως προσεδόκα.
ὁ χρό[ν]ος ἐστὶ δάνος, τὸ ζῆν πικρός ἐσθ᾿ ὁ δανίσας,
κἂν τότ᾿ ἀπαιτῆσαί σε θέληι, κλαίων [ἀ]ποδιδοῖς.

αὔλει μοι.

Ξέρξης ἦν βασιλε[ὺ]ς ὁ λέγων Διὶ πάντα μερίσαι,
ὃς δυσ(ὶ) πηδαλ[ί]ο[ι]ς μόνος ἔσχισε Λήμνιον ὕδωρ.
ὄλβι(ο)ς ἦν ὁ Μίδας, τρὶς δ᾿ ὄλβιος ἦν ὁ [Κ]ινύρ[α]ς,
ἀλλὰ τίς εἰς Ἀίδα ὀβολοῦ πλέον ἤλυθεν ἔχων;

αὔλει μοι.

Memento mori
Mosaic from Pompeii

Then, there’s always this:

Sleep, Pregnancy, and Head Wounds: Some Hippocratic Aphorisms

Hippocrates of Cos, Aphorisms

The aphorisms attributed to Hippocrates of Cos contain a range of medical ‘wisdom’. There are hundreds. Here are a handful.

2.3 “Sleep, or sleeplessness, should either come beyond moderation, can be bad.”

III. Ὕπνος, ἀγρυπνίη, ἀμφότερα μᾶλλον τοῦ μετρίου γινόμενα, κακόν.

2.7 “Bodies that have wasted away over a long amount of time should be healed slowly. Those that have declined quickly, should be healed quickly.”

VII. Τὰ ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ λεπτυνόμενα σώματα νωθρῶς ἐπανατρέφειν, τὰ δὲ ἐν ὀλίγῳ, ὀλίγως.

2.44 “People who are naturally rather fat die more quickly than the thin.”

XLIV. Οἱ παχέες σφόδρα κατὰ φύσιν, ταχυθάνατοιγίνονται μᾶλλον τῶν ἰσχνῶν.

5.38 “When a woman is pregnant and carrying twins, should either breast become thin, she loses one child. If the right breast thins, she loses the male child; if the left one does, the female.”

XXXVIII. Γυναικὶ ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσῃ ἢν ὁ ἕτερος μασθὸς ἰσχνὸς γένηται, δίδυμα ἐχούσῃ, θάτερον ἐκτιτρώσκει· καὶ ἢν μὲν ὁ δεξιὸς ἰσχνὸς γένηται, τὸ ἄρσεν· ἢν δὲ ὁ ἀριστερός, τὸ θῆλυ.

6.18 “A serious wound striking either the bladder, the head, the heard, the brain, some part of the smaller intestine, the stomach or the liver, is mortal.”

XVIII. Κυστιν διακοπέντι, ἢ ἐγκέφαλον, ἢ καρδίην, ἢ φρένας, ἢ τῶν ἐντέρων τι τῶν λεπτῶν, ἢ κοιλίην, ἢ ἧπαρ, θανατῶδες.

7.58 “Whenever the brain is concussed for any reason, people immediately become speechless.”

LVIII. Ὁκόσοισιν ἂν ὁ ἐγκέφαλος σεισθῇ ὑπό τινος προφάσιος, ἀνάγκη ἀφώνους γενέσθαι παραχρῆμα.

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Physician treating a patient (Attic red-figurearyballos, 480–470 BC). Image taken from Wikipedia.