The Oars of Odysseus: Seneca, de Brevitate Vitae XIII

“No one can doubt but that these men, who are held up by the study of useless literary problems, expend a lot of labor upon accomplishing nothing; there is even a large band of them among the Romans. The Greeks were afflicted with that disease, which forced them to ask how many oars Odysseus had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey were written first, and further whether they were composed by the same author, and other things of the same general import. If you hold your peace on these topics, they do nothing to advance your own silent knowledge, or if you bring them up in conversation, you will not seem more learned, but rather, more troublesome.”

Nam de illis nemo dubitabit quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem esset auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae siue contineas nihil tacitam conscientiam iuuant, siue proferas non doctior uidearis sed molestior.

NOTE: This passage becomes directly relevant to a dear friend with the substitution of filiorum for remigum.

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