Your Strongest Argument is Total Sh*t!

Leonardo Bruni, Whether the Literate and the Mob Spoke the Same Way in the Times of Terence and Cicero

Let the question be then whether the common people in Rome through the times of the poet Terence and of Cicero spoke as those whom we now say speak in good, literate Latin, or whether there was one type of speech among the common people and another among the literate.

Your first and indeed strongest argument is that orators in the senate, in court, and in meetings delivered their speeches in Latin, which they would not have done if they were not understood by everyone.

Further, the comedies of Terence and Plautus were recited to the people in the very same language in which they were written, and you say that this indicates that the common people spoke in the same way. For who could they delight if they were not understood?

These seem to you to be the firmest proofs and most certain arguments for your opinion. I, however, don’t think that they are any greater proofs than the fact that the Gospel and the solemn rites of the Mass are delivered in literate Latin before a crowd of listeners. 

Indeed, people understand this stuff even if they are illiterate, yet they themselves nevertheless do not speak thus, nor do they know how to speak thus (though they understand), precisely because it is far easier to understand foreign speech than to produce it.

Therefore, let us brush aside your arguments if you please.

Sit igitur quaestio utrum Romae per Terentii poetae et M. Tullii tempora vulgus ita loquebatur ut loquuntur hi quos nunc latine litterateque loqui dicimus, vel alius fuerit vulgi sermo, alius litteratorum. 

Tua quidem prima ac potissima ratio est quod oratores in senatu iudiciisque et concionibus latine orabant, quod non fecissent nisi a cunctis intelligerentur. 

Praeterea Terentii Plautique comoediae recitabantur ad populum ea ipsa lingua qua scriptae sunt, idque signum esse ais quod eodem modo vulgus loquebatur. Quomodo enim delectarent nisi intelligerentur? 

Hae tibi firmissimae probationes videntur ac certissima argumenta opinionis tuae. Ego autem non maiora ista puto quam nunc sint Evangelia Missarumque solemnia latine ac litterate in audientium turba pronunciari. 

Intelligunt enim homines, licet inlitterati sint, nec tamen ipsi ita loquuntur nec illo modo loqui scirent, licet intelligant, propterea quod longe facilius est intelligere alienum sermonem quam proferre. 

Discutiamus igitur, si placet, argumenta tua, et quid valeant videamus.

Dream Deities

 Lucretius, de rerum natura 5.1161-1182

Now what cause made the spirits of the gods spread through great races and filled cities with altars and took care that people tend to solemn sacrifices, the holy things which now flourish in great things and places, from where even now there comes an innate horror in mortals, which calls to life new shrines to the gods all over the world and compels people to celebrate in festal days – it is not hard to render an account of this in words. To be sure, even then mortal ages saw certain distinguished appearances with a waking mind, even more so when they saw them with marvelously increased bodies in their dreams.

They attributed sense to these because they seemed to move their limbs, to emit haughty voices with a noble face and ample strength. They gave eternal life, because their appearances were always fully fleshed out and their form remained unchanging, and yet they thought that those who were augmented by such strengths could not be conquered rashly by any power. They thought that these far excelled everyone else in good fortune, because the fear of death hardly ever vexed any of them, and because they saw them effect many miraculous things in dreams and take no effort in doing it.


Nunc quae causa deum per magnas numina gentis
pervulgarit et ararum compleverit urbis
suscipiendaque curarit sollemnia sacra,
quae nunc in magnis florent sacra rebus locisque,
unde etiam nunc est mortalibus insitus horror,
qui delubra deum nova toto suscitat orbi
terrarum et festis cogit celebrare diebus,
non ita difficilest rationem reddere verbis.
quippe etenim iam tum divom mortalia saecla
egregias animo facies vigilante videbant
et magis in somnis mirando corporis auctu.
his igitur sensum tribuebant propterea quod
membra movere videbantur vocesque superbas
mittere pro facie praeclara et viribus amplis.
aeternamque dabant vitam, quia semper eorum
subpeditabatur facies et forma manebat,
et tamen omnino quod tantis viribus auctos
non temere ulla vi convinci posse putabant.
fortunisque ideo longe praestare putabant,
quod mortis timor haut quemquam vexaret eorum,
et simul in somnis quia multa et mira videbant
efficere et nullum capere ipsos inde laborem.

Put the Living in Your Head and STFU About the Dead

Erasmus, Adagia 152

It is proper to remember the living. This is an old adage directed at those who talk excessively about the dead. It is commonly thought to be a bad omen to have the dead one the tip of one’s tongue and to bring them forth and cite them in speech. For this reason M. Varro in Book 3 of On the Latin Language thinks that letum (death) is derived ἀπὸ τῆς λήθης, that is from forgetting, as if to suggest that it is proper for one to move into oblivion once they have died. In funerals, it was once customary to hear from the announcet: “He has been given to death.” 

The adage is related by Cicero in his On the Ends of Good and Evil. There, when Piso and then Quintus Cicero have said that they are violently moved by the recollection of famous men from the contemplation of the places in which they had at some time been when they were alive, and when each of them decided by whose memory they were delighted the most, Pomponius Atticus added as if joking, ‘But I, whom you are accustomed to upbraiding as totally given over to Epicurus, am much more in the camp of Phaedrus, whom I esteem foremost, as you know, in the gardens of Epicurus, which we were just passing, but I remember the living in accordance with the advice of the ancient proverb: yet I could not forget Epicurus if I wanted to, since our closest friends have his image not just on tablets, but even on their cups and rings.’ So much for Cicero.

Similarly, Plautus in his Truculentus

You may know a person while they live; once they are dead, you should remain silent.

But now the rabble doesn’t even remember the good deeds of friends, since this saying of Thales is rightly celebrated, that it is proper to be mindful no less of absent friends than of present ones.

Vivorum meminisse oportet. Vetus adagium in eos, qui plurimum de vita defunctis loquuntur, id quod vulgo putant ominosum mortuos in ore habere eosque ut velut citatos in sermonem adducere. Unde et M. Varro libro De lingua Latina tertio putat lethum ἀπὸ τῆς λήθης, id est oblivione dictum, quasi in oblivionem abire conveniat, qui vita excesserit, atque in funeribus sic quondam a praecone dici solere: Ollus letho datus est. Refertur adagium a Cicerone libro quinto De finibus bonorum et malorum. Ubi cum Piso, deinde Q. Cicero dixissent se vehementer commoveri recordatione clarorum virorum ex contemplatione locorum in quibus aliquando vivi versati fuissent, et uterque recensuisset, quorum memoria potissimum delectaretur, tum Pomponius Atticus quasi iocans: At ego, inquit, quem vos ut deditum Epicuro insectari soletis, sum multum equidem cum Phaedro, quem unice diligo, ut scitis, in Epicuri hortis, quos modo praeteribamus, sed veteris proverbii admonitu vivorum memini; nec tamen Epicuri licet oblivisci, si cupiam, cuius imaginem non modo in tabulis nostri familiares, sed etiam in poculis et anulis habent. Hactenus Cicero. Plautus item in Truculento:

Dum vivit, hominem noveris; dum mortuus est, quiescas.

At nunc vulgus ne beneficium quidem amicorum meminit, cum Thaletis dictum iure celebretur oportere non minus absentium amicorum quam praesentium memores esse.

Take Heed and Sow Your Seed

Erasmus, Adagia 141:

“Don’t hesitate to sow.”

A rustic adage, but not an unworthy one, which could be made to refer to this volume: don’t wait to sow. By this we are warned not to avoid doing any of those things from which nothing at all of effort but much indeed of benefit can spring forth, if not for the present, then certainly later, and if not for ourselves, then certainly for our offspring. Columella writes in his twelfth book of De Re Rustica: “Therefore this common saying about the setting of trees has been taken up by rustic people: don’t hesitate to sow.” For building sometimes drains its profits, business depends on fortune and often turns out badly for not a few people. In the same way, one thing or another is either a disadvantage or a danger to this person or that person, but much benefit is taken from planting trees and yet it does not depend on great outlay of effort.” Vergil expressed the same sentiment in the second book of his Georgicswith the addition of a figure: “And we hesitate still to sow and expend our care?”

Serere ne dubites

Rusticanum adagium, sed non indignum, quod in hoc volumen referatur: Serere ne dubites. Quo monemur, ne quando pigeat eiusmodi rerum aliquid moliri, a quibus nihil omnino dispendii, plurimum emolumenti possit proficisci, si non in praesens, certe in posterum, si non nobis, at saltem posteris. Columella libro De re rustica duodecimo: Quare vulgare illud de arborum positione rusticis usurpatum: Serere ne dubites. Nam aedificatio nonnunquam exhaurit fructus, negotiatio pendet a fortuna neque paucis male cessit. Eundem ad modum ex aliis aliud atque aliud est vel incommodi vel periculi, sed ex arboribus conserendis plurimum capitur commoditatis neque magno tamen impendio constat. Eandem sententiam Vergilius addita figura sic extulit libro Georgicôn secundo: Et dubitamus adhuc serere atque impendere curam ?

Saved from Atomism!

Claudian, Against Rufinus 1.1-24

Often my doubtful mind was drawn in two directions by the thought of whether the gods cared for the earth or whether there was no divine director and all mortal things flowed on as if by chance. For when I sought the laws of the world and the prescribed limits of the sea and the wanderings of the year and the interchange of night and day, then I thought that all things were established by the plan of a god who ordered crops to come forth at various times, ordered the moon to burn with an alien fire and for the sun to be filled with its own; who stretched the shores to the waves and balanced the earth on the middle of its axis. But when I saw human affairs wrapped in such darkness and the wicked flourishing for so long while the pious were vexed, and while religion was once again shaken and in decline, I began to follow the path of another school (not by my own will) which affirms that the seeds of things move through a vacuum and that fortune is not ruled by any art, and which thinks, in an ambiguous way, either that there are no gods or that their do not care for us. But finally, the punishment of Rufinus resolved this mental tumult and absolved the gods. No longer do I complain that the unjust gave reached the heights of the world: they are raised high so that they can rush headlong with a greater fall.

Saepe mihi dubiam traxit sententia mentem,
curarent superi terras an nullus inesset
rector et incerto fluerent mortalia casu.
nam cum dispositi quaesissem foedera mundi
praescriptosque mari fines annique meatus
et lucis noctisque uices, tunc omnia rebar
consilio firmata dei, qui lege moueri
sidera, qui fruges diuerso tempore nasci,
qui uariam Phoeben alieno iusserit igni
conpleri Solemque suo, porrexerit undis
litora, tellurem medio librauerit axe.
sed cum res hominum tanta caligine uolui
aspicerem laetosque diu florere nocentes
uexarique pios, rursus labefacta cadebat
religio causaeque uiam non sponte sequebar
alterius, uacuo quae currere semina motu
adfirmat magnumque nouas per inane figuras
fortuna non arte regi, quae numina sensu
ambiguo uel nulla putat uel nescia nostri.
abstulit hunc tandem Rufini poena tumultum
absoluitque deos. iam non ad culmina rerum
iniustos creuisse queror; tolluntur in altum
ut lapsu grauiore ruant.

Hey Poindexter, You Don’t Know Sh*t!

Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance (32):

“I don’t say these things in an effort to avoid their judgment, but so that they who are ignorant may feel some shame (if they are capable of it) in making their judgment. For, on this subject, I do not just embrace the opinion of friendly jealousy, but even the judgment of hostile hatred, and in sum, if someone pronounces that I am ignorant, I agree with him! When I myself think over how many things are lacking to me, toward which my mind, eager for knowledge, exerts itself, I sadly and silently recognize my own ignorance. But in the meantime, while the end of my present exile is near, at which point this imperfection (from whence our knowledge derives) will be terminated, I am consoled by the thought of our shared nature. I think that it happens to all good and modest minds, that they learn about themselves and derive consolation therefrom. For those who get hold of great knowledge (I am speaking according to the standards of human learning), it is always small when considered in itself, but it becomes great in light of the narrow circumstances from which it is derived, and certainly looks great when compared to others. Otherwise, I ask you, how small and insignificant is the knowledge granted to one mind? Nay, how much like nothing is the knowledge of any one person, whoever they be, when it is compared not just to the knowledge of God, but to one’s own fund of ignorance?”


Non hec dico, ut declinem forum, sed ut pudeat, siquis est pudor, iudicasse qui nesciunt. Ego etenim de hac re non modo sententiam amicabilis amplector invidie, sed hostilis odii, et ad summam, quisquis ignarum me pronuntiat, mecum sentit. Nam et ego ipse recogitans quam multa michi desint ad id quo sciendi avida mens suspirat, ignorantiam meam dolens ac tacitus recognosco. Sed me interim, dum presentis exilii finis adest, quo nostra hec imperfectio terminetur, qua ex parte nunc scimus, nature communis extimatione consolor. Idque omnibus bonis ac modestis ingeniis evenire arbitror, ut agnoscant se pariter ac solentur; his etiam quibus ingens obtigit scientia — secundum humane scientie morem loquor — que in se semper exigua, pro angustiis quibus excipitur, et collata aliis ingens fit. Alioquin quantulum, queso, est, quantumcunque est, quod nosse uni ingenio datum est? Imo quam nichil est scire hominis, quisquis sit, si non dicam scientie Dei, sed sui ipsius ignorantie comparetur?

Wild Claims to Massive Fame

Montesquieu, Considerations on the Greatness and the Decline of the Romans (Part 1)

We should not take up the same idea of Rome in its beginnings which we give to the cities which we see today, unless it be one of those in Crimea, made for enclosing spoils, beasts, and the produce of the country. The ancient names of Rome’s principal cities correspond to this usage.

The city did not have the same streets, unless one called by that name the continuation of the paths which lead to them. Houses were located without order, and were very small; for the people, being always at work or in a public place, hardly kept themselves within their houses.

But the greatness of Rome soon appeared in its public buildings. The accomplishments which gave, and give even today, the highest idea of their power, were completed under the kings. They began from that point to construct their eternal city.

Il ne faut pas prendre de la ville de Rome, dans ses commencements, l’idée que nous donnent les villes que nous voyons aujourd’hui, à moins que ce ne soit de celles de la Crimée, faites pour renfermer le butin, les bestiaux et les fruits de la campagne. Les noms anciens des principaux lieux de Rome ont tous du rapport à cet usage.
La ville n’avait pas même de rues, si l’on n’appelle de ce nom la continuation des chemins qui y aboutissaient. Les maisons étaient placées sans ordre et très petites : car les hommes, toujours au travail ou dans la place publique, ne se tenaient guère dans les maisons.
Mais la grandeur de Rome parut bientôt dans ses édifices publics. Les ouvrages qui ont donné et qui donnent encore aujourd’hui la plus haute idée de sa puissance ont été faits sous les Rois On commençait déjà à bâtir la ville éternelle.
Romulus et ses successeurs furent presque toujours en guerre avec leurs voisins pour avoir des citoyens, des femmes ou des terres. Ils revenaient dans la ville avec les dépouilles des peuples vaincus : c’étaient des gerbes de blé et des troupeaux ; cela y causait une grande joie. Voilà l’origine des triomphes, qui furent dans la suite la principale cause des grandeurs où cette ville parvint.

Ennius the Press Secretary

Petrarch, Africa 9.10-31:

Ennius sat silently meditating on the deck, the constant witness to and companion in Scipio’s affairs. Scipio approached him and began in these pleasant words:

‘Will you never break your silence, o my sweet solace of my many labors? Speak, I beg you. For you can see my heart melting away from many cares. You’re accustomed to ease them with your pleasant speech. Just relax your face, loosen your expression, if highest Apollo gave you the talent which you excel in at your birth, if the crowd of the goddesses washed you as an infant submerged in the Castalian pool on sacred Helicon, led you to the high hills, and have you the pen, the voice, and the mind of a poet.’

Ennius raised his head at these words and spoke thus: ‘O young flower of Italy, certain pledge of divine offspring, why does it please you to be moved by my mouth, or why do you order me thus? Indeed, I was considering in my silent heart that no age will ever bring forth a greater work of outstanding virtue than the one which our happy age sees; no one will ever move anything great under his mind for whom an honest name does not sound among his great hopes, who will not, coming to the point, wish to recall the deeds of Scipio, who would not wish to see your face as a gift. The greater fame of the grave will remain for you after the grave, for Spite plucks away at mortal achievements. But Death consumes Envy and wards it off from the funeral busts. Your glory had already conquered this pest, and now it safely flees the ground, the diseases and malignant habits of people, through the lofty breezes, and bore itself as the equal to the gods.”

Petrarch - Wikipedia

Puppe ducis media tacitus meditansque sedebat

Ennius, assiduus rerum testisque comesque;

Scipio quem tandem aggreditur verbisque benignis

Excitat incipiens: “Nunquamne silentia rumpes,

O michi multorum solamen dulce laborum?

Fare, precor; nam perpetuis tabentia curis

Pectora nostra vides. Placido sermone levare

Illa soles; faciesque modo, tantum ora resolve,

Si tibi nascenti, quo polles, summus Apollo

Ingenium celeste dedit, si turba dearum

Castalio infantem demersum gurgite lavit

Ex Elicone sacro, collesque eduxit in altos,

Et calamum et vocem tribuit mentemque poete.”

Ennius auditis caput extulit atque ita fatur:

“O flos Italie, iuvenis, stirpisque deorum

Certa fides, quid nunc nostro placet ore moveri,

Quidve iubes? Equidem tacito modo pectore mecum

Volvebam quod nulla ferent iam secula maius

Eximie virtutis opus, quam nostra quod etas

Leta videt, nullusque unquam sub mente movebit

Grande aliquid, cui non, magnas spes inter, honestum

Nomen in ore sonet, qui non venturus ad actum

Scipiade meminisse velit, pro munere vultus

Non cupiat vidisse tuos. Maiorque sepulcri

Post cineres te fama manet. Mortalia Livor

Carpit enim; at Mors Invidiam consumit et arcet

Ac procul a bustis abigit. Tua gloria pridem

Vicerat hanc pestem, iamque altas tuta per auras

Fugit humum morbosque hominum moresque malignos,

Seque parem tulit alma deis.

How Many Gods Do You Count?

Montesquieu, Dissertation on Roman Politics in Religion (Part 14)

The political system which prevailed in the religion of the Romans developed itself more fully in their victories. If they had listened to superstition, they would have brought among the vanquished the gods of the victors; they would have overturned their temples; and, in establishing a new mode of worship, they would have imposed upon them a cruder servitude than before. Rome herself submitted to the gods of foreigners, and received them in her breast; and through this connection, the strongest which can exist among humans, she attached herself to people who regarded her more as the sanctuary of religion than as the mistress of the world.

But, in order to avoid multiplying the number of beings, the Romans, following the example of the Greeks, adroitly mixed the foreign gods among their own. If they found among their conquests a god who had some resemblance to one of those worshipped in Rome, they adopted it, as it were, in giving it the name of a Roman deity, and they accorded it, if I may use the expression, the rights of the bourgeoisie in their city. So, when they found some famous hero who had purged the land of some monster, or who subjugated some barbarous people, they gave him straightaway the name of Hercules. ‘We have pierced all the way to the Ocean,’ says Tacitus, ‘and we have found there the columns of Hercules: either because Hercules was there, or because we have attributed to this hero all of the deeds worthy of Herculean glory.’

Varro counted forty four of these defeaters of monsters; Cicero counted but six, twenty two Muses, five Suns, four Vulcans, five Mercuries, four Apollos, three Jupiters. Eusebius goes farther: he counts as many Jupiters as there were people.

The Romans, who had no other divinity than the genius of the Republic, paid no attention to the disorder and confusion which they introduced into mythology: the credulity of the people, which is always beyond ridicule and extravagance, made up for it all.

La politique qui régnait dans la religion des Romains se développa encore mieux dans leurs victoires. Si la superstition avait été écoutée, on aurait porté chez les vaincus les dieux des vainqueurs: on aurait renversé leurs temples ; et, en établissant un nouveau culte, on leur aurait imposé une servitude plus rude que la première. On fit mieux : Rome se soumit elle-même aux divinités étrangères, elle les reçut dans son sein ; et, par ce lien, le plus fort qui soit parmi les hommes, elle s’attacha des peuples qui la regardèrent plutôt comme le sanctuaire de la religion que comme la maîtresse du monde.

Mais, pour ne point multiplier les êtres, les Romains, à l’exemple des Grecs, confondirent adroitement les divinités étrangères avec les leurs : s’ils trouvaient dans leurs conquêtes un dieu qui eût du rapport à quelqu’un de ceux qu’on adorait à Rome, ils l’adoptaient, pour ainsi dire, en lui donnant le nom de la divinité romaine, et lui accordaient, si j’ose me servir de cette expression, le droit de bourgeoisie dans leur ville. Ainsi, lorsqu’ils trouvaient quelque héros fameux qui eût purgé la terre de quelque monstre, ou soumis quelque peuple barbare, ils lui donnaient aussitôt le nom d’Hercule. « Nous avons percé jusqu’à l’Océan, dit Tacite, et nous y avons trouvé les colonnes d’Hercule ; soit qu’Hercule y ait été, soit que nous ayons attribué à ce héros tous les faits dignes de sa gloire. »

Varron a compté quarante-quatre de ces dompteurs de monstres ; Cicéron n’en a compté que six, vingt-deux Muses, cinq Soleils, quatre Vulcains, cinq Mercures, quatre Apollons, trois Jupiters. Eusèbe va plus loin: il compte presque autant de Jupiters que de peuples.

Les Romains, qui n’avaient proprement d’autre divinité que le génie de la république, ne faisaient point d’attention au désordre et à la confusion qu’ils jetaient dans la mythologie : la crédulité des peuples, qui est toujours au-dessus du ridicule et de l’extravagant, réparait tout.

More Cyrenaic Wisdom

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers – Aristippus (70)

“When someone proposed a riddle to Aristippus and asked him to solve it, Aristippus responded, ‘You idle fool, you want this solved, even though it offers us plenty of trouble in its unsolved state?’

He said that it was better to be a beggar than to be uneducated, for a beggar is lacking money, but the uneducated person is lacking humanity.

One time, when upbraided, he ran away. When someone pursued him, asking why he fled, he responded, ‘Because you have the power of talking trash, and I have the power of not listening.’

When someone said that he always saw philosophers at the doorways of the rich, Aristippus replied, ‘So too you always find doctors at the doorways of the sick. But one would not on that account choose rather to be sick than to be a doctor.”


Αἴνιγμά τινος αὐτῷ προτείναντος καὶ εἰπόντος, “λῦσον,” “τί, ὦ μάταιε,” ἔφη, “λῦσαι θέλεις ὃ καὶ δεδεμένον ἡμῖν πράγματα παρέχει;” ἄμεινον ἔφη ἐπαιτεῖν ἢ ἀπαίδευτον εἶναι· οἱ μὲν γὰρ χρημάτων, οἱ δ’ ἀνθρωπισμοῦ δέονται. λοιδορούμενός ποτε ἀνεχώρει· τοῦ δ’ ἐπιδιώκοντος εἰπόντος, “τί φεύγεις;”, “ὅτι,” φησί, “τοῦ μὲν κακῶς λέγειν σὺ τὴν ἐξουσίαν ἔχεις, τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἀκούειν ἐγώ.” εἰπόντος τινὸς ὡς ἀεὶ τοὺς φιλοσόφους βλέποι παρὰ ταῖς τῶν πλουσίων θύραις, “καὶ γὰρ οἱ ἰατροί,” φησί, “παρὰ ταῖς τῶν νοσούντων· ἀλλ’ οὐ παρὰ τοῦτό τις ἂν ἕλοιτο νοσεῖν ἢ ἰατρεύειν.”