Boys behaving badly. Very badly: Seneca Rhetor, Controversiae 1.5

Let’s dive right into some smart-ass, none-too-suave rhetorical comments. Authorship and background come later. Because boys behaving badly is rather sad…even in today’s society, comments identical  to these can still be heard and, alas, thought even more often.

Here’s the situation:

“A raped woman has two choices at law: either marriage without dowry to her assailant, or his death.”

On a single night. one man raped two women. One demands his death, the other marriage.”

Rapta raptoris aut mortem aut indotatas nuptias optet. Vna nocte quidam duas rapuit; altera mortem optat, altera nuptias.

There are practical legal issues….

“Look! The law offered two punishments for the rapist. You will not be unavenged; a wife without a dowry, that will be his punishment. The first woman replies as before Íf he dies, it will be for both of us; if reprieved, it will be for you, not me.'”

nempe lex duas poenas scripsit uitiatori: alteram passurus est; non eris inulta, nam raptor non erit inpunitus: habebit poenam, indotatam uxorem. Respondet: non eodem modo: morietur, sed utrique; seruabitur, sed non mihi. 

“Revenge, fathers and brothers! Revenge, husbands!  Let the harshness of the laws be transcended: now women get raped in pairs.”

Vindicate patres, uindicate fratres, uindicate mariti; fortior publicae disciplinae seueritas surgat: iambinae rapiuntur. 

So far, bad behavior comes from the rapist. But it gets much worse…

“Porcius Latro: He was getting ready to rape a third woman, but he ran out of night.”

Porci Latronis. Iam se parabat in tertiam, nisi nox defecisset

“Argentarius had the same idea, but added ‘He is not satisied with one woman, not even on one night.'”

Argentarius eundem sensum dixit hoc adiecto: non est una contentus, ne una quidem nocte. 

“Of the Latin speakers, Triarius said ‘I congratulate you, virgins, that the dawn came swiftly.’ Argentaius said ‘You ask what ended his rapes? Daylight. Latro: ‘he was just getting ready for a third rape, but the night was too short for him.'”

Triarius: gratulor uobis, uirgines, quod citius inluxit. Argentarius dixit: quaeritis quid isti finem rapiendi fecerit? dies. Latro: iam se parabat in tertiam, nisi nox defecisset.

Is sad. Regrettably, such sentiments still exist today. Is sadder: in two thousand years, some things haven’t changed much. Some boys didn’t get it then, don’t get it now. I’ve heard such sentiments not in the neighborhood gin mill, but from some well-degreed and well-known academics. Hopefully, in two thousand more years….

Now where did all this come from, and why?

Most everyone knows of Seneca the philosopher, aka Seneca the Younger, author of All Those Letters as well as the rather edgy Apocolocyntosis on the death of the emperor Claudius. Fewer know about his father, Seneca Rhetor, aka Seneca the Elder. Fewer still have read any of the Elder’s works. A pity, for in our current era of polarized government, rhetoric is everywhere.

Two of Seneca the Elder’s works have been preserved in part. The Suasoriae, imaginary speeches of persuasion: the 300 Spartans debate wherther to stand or flee, Agamemnon debates whether to sacrifice you-know-who, and several more. The Controversiae, the basis for this post, preserve rhetorical exercises.

In each of the Controversiae, a theme is given based on Roman law. Then there are various ideas on epigrammatic phrases to use, sententiae, aka “wise-ass comments.” Then various plans for speaking, and sometimes examples of the orations. The Controversiae have been damaged in transmission, so not all of this appears in each of the Controversiae.

The Latin is not too hard and could be used at the intermediate level. And excellent two volume edition of these works was edited by Michael Winterbottom for the Loeb Classical Library. The editor is Corpus Chirsti Professor of Latin emeritus at the University of Oxford and specialized in Roman rhetoricians; he was also one of my undergraduate teachers. A most learned man who wore his learning lightly.

Did you know the entire Loeb Library is available digitally and gratis for members of CAMWS? I’m not in that association’s territory, but I belong, and membership includes a subscription to Classical Journal. A great value! Ask the owner of this site for details. This is a plug!

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