Cato, Dicta 34
“Whatever fate hands to you to be done, do it seriously.”
Instanter facias, sors quae tibi tradat agenda.
I am in the odd position of having to write the agenda for 3-4 different meetings a month this year. And while preparing to write an agenda–ok, really, while procrastinating–I find myself musing about this word agenda. See, when it comes time to write more than one the Latin-trained pedant in me quails at saying I need to write agendas because agenda is already neuter plural.
(To be fair, agendas is another plural form, but it means something different.)
For those not initiated into the mysteries of Latin borrowings in English, agenda is the Latin for “things which need to be done”.
From the OED
Sallust, 2nd Letter to Caesar
“Since I have, as it now seems to me, spoken enough about how the people need to be renewed and corrected, I shall speak about what I think you need to do about the senate.”
Nunc quoniam, sicut mihi videor, de plebe renovanda conrigendaque satis disserui, de senatu quae tibi agenda videntur, dicam.
Now, when I see this word and turn the Latin part of my brain on, I automatically think of that most elegant of constructions of obligation, the passive periphrastic. This requires a gerund and a form of “to be” and is periphrastic because its meaning is greater than one might expect from a simple understanding of morphology and semantics.
There are many famous versions of this, but tops are Horace’s Nunc Est Bibendum (“Now is the time to drink”) and Cato’s Cartago Delenda Est (“Carthage Must be destroyed”).
Seneca, De Otio 4
“What if the delay comes not because of the wise person—if the actor is indeed not absent—but what if there are no things to be done? Will you still allow them to pursue their own soul? What outlook does the wise person take in turning to leisure? Well, the thought that what will be done will be an advantage to generations to come. Our school believes that Zeno and Chrysippus achieved more than if they had led armies, gained honors, or made laws. The laws they made were for all humanity, not merely one state.”
Quodsi per ipsum sapientem non est mora, si non actor deest, sed agenda desunt, ecquid illi secum esse permittes? Quo animo ad otium sapiens secedit? Ut sciat se tum quoque ea acturum, per quae posteris prosit. Nos certe sumus qui dicimus et Zenonem et Chrysippum maiora egisse, quam si duxissent exercitus, gessissent honores, leges tulissent. Quas non uni civitati, sed toti humano generi tulerunt.
But what really gets me going when thinking about the word agenda is that the passive periphrastic takes a dative of agent. So, Horace’s Nunc Est Bibendum is general, but with a mihi could just mean “I need to drink” or with an istis could mean “Those jerks really need to drink”.
When I look at that solitary Agenda at the top of the page, I slip into a reverie–who must do these things? Am I supposed to? Am I enjoining people to help? Should someone else do it? Oh, then I go back to running the meeting. The real secret to surviving lots of meetings is being the one to start them and end them.
Seneca, De tranquilitate Animi
“I imagine that Democritus was thinking of this when he started, “Whoever wants to live peacefully should not do too many things in private or public” when he was thinking about useless matters. For if they are necessary, we must pursue not only many but even endless things. But when our solemn duty does not summon us, are actions should be restrained.”
Hoc secutum puto Democritum ita coepisse: “Qui tranquille volet vivere, nec privatim agat multa nec publice,” ad supervacua scilicet referentem. Nam si necessaria sunt, et privatim et publice non tantum multa sed innumerabilia agenda sunt; ubi vero nullum officium sollemne nos citat, inhibendae actiones.
Seneca, EM 85.32
“It would be articulated correctly, if the state of the wise person and the pilot were not different. The wise person’s job is not to do whatever life offers, but to do everything correctly. A captain’s job, however, is to lead the ship into port in any way possible. Skills are assistants, they ought to do what they promise. Wisdom is the mistress and ruler; arts are the servants of life and wisdom commands.”
Hoc recte diceretur, nisi dissimilis esset gubernatoris condicio et sapientis. Huic enim propositum est in vita agenda non utique, quod temptat, efficere, sed omnia recte facere. Gubernatori propositum est utique navem in portum perducere. Artes ministrae sunt, praestare debent, quod promittunt. Sapientia domina rectrixque est; artes serviunt vitae, sapientia imperat.