Literary Studies = A Public Disease

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, XXXI:

“Nor are you eager to imitate those (and there is a great crowd of them in our times) who are afraid of earning a reputation for erudition as some kind of disgrace. Nor do you approve of the sentiment of Licinius, one-time emperor of Rome, who referred to literature a disease and public plague. Plato had it much better when he said that states would be much happier if either those eager for wisdom ruled them, or if it happened that their rulers chanced to pursue wisdom. Indeed, it is true that the study of literature does not take away either madness or malignity; rather, just as literature is a great help to those who are born for virtue and wisdom, so too does it serve as an instrument of concealing stupidity or some worse crime for those who are not inclined to virtue. For (lest we stray too far from Roman princes), we know that Claudius was learned, and his stepson and successor Nero is agreed to have been among the most learned men of his age. Yet, the first was known for insanity, and the other was steeped in cruelty and every vice. Nevertheless, Nero often said, under the guise of feigned clemency, that he wished he had never learned his letters*. Surely, he should have so wished, if he could have been merciful in no other way than through ignorance!”

*Note: That is, so that he could not sign the orders for executions.

The Remorse of Nero

‘The Remorse of Nero’ by John William Waterhouse. 1878.

Neque enim imitari eos studes (est autem horum nostris temporibus turba ingens) qui sibi opinionem doctrinae ut dedecus abhorrent aut Licinii, quondam Romanorum imperatoris, sententiam probas, qui litteras virus ac pestem publicam appellabat. Multo magis quod ille beatas ait fore res publicas, si vel studiosi eas sapientiae regerent vel earum rectores sapientiae studere contigisset. Et quidem quod verum est, litterarum disciplinae neque dementiam adimunt neque malignitatem, quin magis, ut eos qui ad virtutem et sapientiam nati sunt magnopere adiuvant, ita persaepe sunt aut iudicia stultitiae detegendae aut instrumenta perniciosioris iniuriae. Nam et Claudium (ne a Romanis principibus discedamus) sane doctum accepimus et Neronem, eius privignum atque in principatu successorem, eruditum in primis fuisse constat, quorum prior insignis vecordiae fuit, alter crudelitate atque omnibus flagitiis contaminatus. Qui tamen sub obtentu clementiae dixit aliquando optare se litteras nescire. Quod et optandum sibi profecto fuerat, si modo non alia ratione quam litterarum ignarus esse clemens potuisset!

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