Advice: No Need to Keep Living

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 1.12:

But now I should wrap up my letter. You ask, ‘Will it come to be thus without any little benefit?’ Fear not! It brings a little something. Well, why do I say ‘something’? It offers you a lot! What is it that I in my voice clearer than hand over as your lesson? ‘It is bad to live in necessity, but there is no necessity to live in necessity.’

So what if there isn’t? All over the many brief, easy roads to liberty lie open. Let us give thanks to the god that no one can be held here in life: we are allowed to stamp necessity underfoot. You say, ‘Epicurus said: what is another’s business to you?’ But this is truly my sentiment: I will continue to bring Epicurus to you, as those who swear upon words and don’t judge what is actually being said, but do it from the fact that they know that those things are best which are shared among us all. Farewell.

Sed iam debeo epistulam includere. ‘Sic’ inquis ‘sine ullo ad me peculio veniet?’ Noli timere: aliquid secum fert. Quare aliquid dixi? multum. Quid enim hac voce praeclarius quam illi trado ad te perferendam? ‘Malum est in necessitate vivere, sed in necessitate vivere necessitas nulla est.’ Quidni nulla sit? patent undique ad libertatem viae multae, breves faciles. Agamus deo gratias quod nemo in vita teneri potest: calcare ipsas necessitates licet. ‘Epicurus’ inquis ‘dixit: quid tibi cum alieno?’ Quod verum est meum est; perseverabo Epicurum tibi ingerere, ut isti qui in verba iurant nec quid dicatur aestimant, sed a quo, sciant quae optima sunt esse communia. Vale.

Educating Students in Windbaggery

George Turnbull, Observations Upon Liberal Education

One exercise should be daily to write a page of English, and after that to examine every word by the grammar rules, and in every sentence they have composed, to oblige them to give an account of the English syntax and construction. Thus an habit would soon be acquired, and they would do it of course. All affected words and harsh transpositions should be noted; every phrase not used in good company exploded; harsh metaphors, which have neither a peculiar light or force, be discarded: Metaphors are a kind of embroidery, which do admirably on proper occasions, but shew a tawdry mind, if it scruples to appear, unless dressed in such finery. Another exercise should be obliging them to speak every day in unwritten thoughts on any subject in English. Let them read an oration in Tully or Livy; let them read it to themselves in Latin as often as they please, then shut the book, and speak the sense of it extempore in unpremeditated words. A little use will make it most agreeably easy: and what a habit is this for a man of quality? Begin with a fable of Phaedrus, thence to a short speech in an historian, you’ll be amazed how soon the would enter into the spirit of Cicero, and plead the cause of Ligarius with his ardour, and feel what they utter. This is the ambition I would have you pursue: afford to gentlemen this distinguishing, this necessary education, and become thus a nursery of state orators.

Homer, Inventor of Geography

Strabo, Geographica 1.1:

Let us take up and inspect more closely each of the things previously stated. First, that we have taken up correctly along with those before us (among whom is Hipparchus) in stating that Homer is the forefather of geographical study, as he not only outstrips all before and after him in his poetic excellence, but also in his knowledge of political life. Not only did he set himself eagerly about practical affairs with an eye to learning about them and transmitting the knowledge to future generations, but he also worked with an eye to learning about individual lands as well as the whole scope of the inhabited world on land and sea. For, even in his circuit of the globe, he did not arrive at a recollection of the farthest lands of the world.

He was the first to show that the world was as it were circled and bathed by the Ocean. Then, of the various lands, he gave some names and posed riddles about others with some little clues. He called by name Libya, Aethiopia, the Sidonians and the Eremboi (whom he referred to as the Arabs of the Caves), but he referred enigmatically to the peoples who lived near the risings and settings of the sun, saying that they were bathed by the ocean.

᾿Αναλαβόντες δὲ καθ’ ἕκαστον ἐπισκοπῶμεν τῶν εἰρημένων ἔτι μᾶλλον. καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι ὀρθῶς ὑπειλήφαμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς καὶ οἱ πρὸ ἡμῶν, ὧν ἐστι καὶ ῞Ιππαρχος, ἀρχηγέτην εἶναι τῆς γεωγραφικῆς ἐμπειρίας ῞Ομηρον, ὃς οὐ μόνον ἐν τῇ κατὰ τὴν ποίησιν ἀρετῇ πάντας ὑπερβέβληται τοὺς πάλαι καὶ τοὺς ὕστερον,  ἀλλὰ σχεδόν τι καὶ τῇ κατὰ τὸν βίον ἐμπειρίᾳ τὸν πολιτικόν, ἀφ’ ἧς οὐ μόνον περὶ τὰς πράξεις ἐσπούδασεν ἐκεῖνος, ὅπως ὅτι πλείστας γνοίη καὶ παραδώσει τοῖς ὕστερον ἐσομένοις, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ περὶ τοὺς τόπους τούς τε καθ’ ἕκαστα καὶ τοὺς κατὰ σύμπασαν τὴν οἰκουμένην γῆν τε καὶ θάλατταν· οὐ γὰρ ἂν μέχρι τῶν ἐσχάτων αὐτῆς περάτων ἀφίκετο τῇ μνήμῃ κύκλῳ περιιών.

Καὶ πρῶτον μὲν τῷ ὠκεανῷ περίκλυστον, ὥσπερ ἔστιν, ἀπέφαινεν αὐτήν· ἔπειτα δὲ τῶν χωρίων τὰ μὲν ὠνόμαζε τὰ δὲ ὑπῃνίττετο τεκμηρίοις τισί, Λιβύην μὲν καὶ Αἰθιοπίαν καὶ Σιδονίους καὶ ᾿Ερεμβούς, οὓς εἰκὸς λέγειν Τρωγλοδύτας ῎Αραβας, ῥητῶς λέγων, τοὺς δὲ πρὸς ταῖς ἀνατολαῖς καὶ δύσεσιν αἰνιττόμενος ἐκ τοῦ τῷ ὠκεανῷ κλύζεσθαι·

Palinurus Takes One for the Team

Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave:

Harpies, Scylla, Charybdis, the Cyclops, Etna in eruption! Each one of the trials which the exiled pilot must have undergone could occasion an anxiety-neurosis or effort-syndrome in a man less well-balanced. One wonders how he reacted to Aeneas’ public account of them. Dido, we know, fell disastrously ‘in love” with Aeneas, and it is when he departs (Aeneas abandoning her after their cave-wedding), that Palinurus speaks again. The fleet has stolen out in the early morning and Dido has set alight her funeral pyre whose glow the sailors see, but Aeneas alone interprets rightly. At once a storm gets up.

But soon the Heav’ns with shadows were overspread;

A swelling Cloud hung hov’ring o’er their Head:

Livid it look’d (the threat’ning of a Storm),

Then Night and Horror Ocean’s Face deform.

The Pilot Palinunis ciy’d aloud,

‘What Gusts of Weather from that gath’ring Cloud

My Thoughts presage ; e’er yet the Tempest roars.

Stand to your Tackle, Mates, and stretch your Oars ;

Contract your swelling Sails, and luff to Wind’

The frighted Crew perform the Task assign’d.

Then, to his fearless Chief, ‘ Not Heav’n,’ said he,

‘ Tho’ Jove himself shou’d promise Italy

Can stem the Torrent of this raging Sea.

Mark how the shifting Winds from West arise,

And what collected Night involves the Skies

Nor can our shaken Vessels live at Sea,

Much less against the Tempest force their way;

’Tis fate diverts our Course ; and Fate we must obey.

Not far from hence, if I observ’d aright

The southing of the Stars and Polar Light,

Sicilia lies ; whose hospitable Shores

In safety we may reach with strugling oars.

The Course resolv’d, before the Western Wind

They scud amain; and make the Port assign’d

It seems clear that Palinurus who had led the fleet between Scylla and Charybdis, recognized that his storm could not be ridden out because he knew it followed on Aeneas’ betrayal of Dido. He also read the true meaning of the fire which they had seen and from that moment realized that was guilty of hubris and impiety; he was ‘not the Messiah’.

In Sicily Aeneas celebrates his arrival with elaborate games. In these — although they include various sailing contests — Palinurus himself does not join and lets the other pilots fight them out. One can imagine him brooding over the storm and his leader’s conduct while the noisy sport proceeds around him. Finally, to prevent the men leaving, the women set fire to the ships and four are destroyed. Here occurs an incident for which no scientific explanation is forthcoming, and which, if the narrator were Palinurus and not Viigil, we would be tempted to ascribe to a delusion of reference. Venus begs Neptune to guarantee that her beloved Aeneas and all his men will not be subjected to any more disasters and storms at sea by their enemy, Juno. Neptune agrees, but warns her that ‘In safety as thou prayest shall he reach the haven of Avernus. Only one shall there be whom, lost in the flood, thou shalt seek in vain; one life shall be given for many.’

Accius’ Trifling Scholarship

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 3.11:

Which and what stupid arguments Accius uses in his Didascalica, where he tries to show that Hesiod is more ancient than Homer.

There is no agreement about the dates of Homer and Hesiod. Some wrote that Homer was older than Hesiod (among these are Philochorus and Xenophanes), while others say that he was younger (including Lucius Accius the poet and Ephorus the historian). But Marcus Varro, in the first book of his Imagines, says that there is little agreement about which of the two was born first, but asserts that there is no doubt that they lived at around the same time, and that this fact is shown by an epigram written on a tripod which is said to have been placed on Mt. Helicon by Hesiod. Accius, in the first book of his Didascalica, uses some pretty weak arguments by which he thinks that it is shown that Hesiod was first in birth. He says, “Because Homer, in the beginning of the Iliad said that Achilles was the son of Peleus but did not say who Peleus was. Without a doubt, he would have said who Peleus was if he had not already seen that it was said by Hesiod already. Similarly, about the Cyclops, he would not have omitted to mention such a shocking fact as that he was one-eyed if it had not been made common knowledge by Hesiod in the songs of an earlier age.” About the fatherland of Homer there was a hell of a lot of argument. Some say that he was from Colophon, others from Smyrna, a few say from Athens, and a few even claim Egyptian birth for him. Aristotle says that he came from the island of Ios. Marcus Varro, in his first book of Imagines, placed this epigram next to the image of Homer: This white she-goat marks out the tomb of Homer, because with this the inhabitants of Ios make sacrificial offerings to the dead.

Quibus et quam frivolis argumentis Accius in didascalicis utatur, quibus docere nititur Hesiodum esse quam Homerum natu antiquiorem.

Super aetate Homeri atque Hesiodi non consentitur. Alii Homerum quam Hesiodum maiorem natu fuisse scripserunt, in quis Philochorus et Xenophanes, alii minorem, in quis L. Accius poeta et Ephorus historiae scriptor. M. autem Varro in primo de imaginibus, uter prior sit natus, parum constare dicit, sed non esse dubium, quin aliquo tempore eodem vixerint, idque ex epigrammate ostendi, quod in tripode scriptum est, qui in monte Helicone ab Hesiodo positus traditur. Accius autem in primo didascalico levibus admodum argumentis utitur, per quae ostendi putat Hesiodum natu priorem: “quod Homerus,” inquit “cum in principio carminis Achillem esse filium Pelei diceret, quis esset Peleus, non addidit; quam rem procul” inquit “dubio dixisset, nisi ab Hesiodo iam dictum videret. De Cyclope itidem,” inquit “vel maxime quod unoculus fuit, rem tam insignem non praeterisset, nisi aeque prioris Hesiodi carminibus involgatum esset.” De patria quoque Homeri multo maxime dissensum est. Alii Colophonium, alii Smyrnaeum, sunt qui Atheniensem, sunt etiam qui Aegyptium fuisse dicant, Aristoteles tradidit ex insula Io. M. Varro in libro de imaginibus primo Homeri imagini epigramma hoc apposuit: capella Homeri candida haec tumulum indicat, quod hac Ietae mortuo faciunt sacra.

Caligula Says: F**k Homer, Livy, Vergil, & Lawyers

Suetonius, Caligula (34):

He went about with no less malice and malignity than arrogance and savagery against the human race of nearly every age. He overthrew the statues of famous men collected by Augustus from the grounds of the Capitoline (on account of limited space) into the Campus Martius and so destroyed them that they could not be restored with their titles intact, and he forbade the construction of any statue or image of anyone alive unless by his decree and initiative. He even thought about getting rid of the poems of Homer, asking why that which had been permitted to Plato, who ejected him from the city which he was founding, should not be permitted to him as well. He was just a little short of removing the writings and images of Vergil and Livy from every library. He said that the first was a no-talent hack with too little learning, and the second was a negligent and prolix windbag in the historical department. On the subject of lawyers, he often boasted by god that he would bring it about that they could make no response except what he wished.

Worst rendition of Caligula ever

Nec minore livore ac malignitate quam superbia saevitiaque paene adversus omnis aevi hominum genus grassatus est. Statuas virorum inlustrium ab Augusto ex Capitolina area propter angustias in campum Martium conlatas ita subvertit atque disiecit ut restitui salvis titulis non potuerint, vetuitque posthac viventium cuiquam usquam statuam aut imaginem nisi consulto et auctore se poni. Cogitavit etiam de Homeri carminibus abolendis, cur enim sibi non licere dicens, quod Platoni licuisset, qui eum e civitate quam constituebat eiecerit? Sed et Vergili ac Titi Livi scripta et imagines paulum afuit quin ex omnibus bibliothecis amoveret, quorum alterum ut nullius ingenii minimaeque doctrinae, alterum ut verbosum in historia neglegentemque carpebat. De iuris quoque consultis, quasi scientiae eorum omnem usum aboliturus, saepe iactavit se mehercule effecturum ne quid respondere possint praeter eum.

Dumping the Academy

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 3.13:

That Demosthenes, while still a young man and a disciple of the philosopher Plato, once heard Callistratus the orator in an address to the people, abandoned Plato, and began to follow Callistratus.

Hermippus wrote that when Demosthenes was still a young man he came regularly to the Academy and was in the habit of listening to Plato. He says, ‘And that Demosthenes, leaving his house as was his habit, was on his way to Plato when he saw many people gathering together. He asked what the reason for that was, and he realized that they were rushing to hear Callistratus. That Callistratus was an orator in the city of Athens, and they call such speakers demagogues there. It seemed like a good idea to take a little break from his route and see whether listening to Callistratus was worth all of the eagerness of the people hastening to him. He came and heard him speaking in the Case Concerning Oropos, and was so moved, despoiled, and captivated, that he began to follow Callistratus from that time, and abandoned the Academy and Plato along with it.’

Demosthenes - Wikipedia

Quod Demosthenes etiamtum adulescens, cum Platonis philosophi discipulus foret, audito forte Callistrato rhetore in contione populi destitit a Platone et sectatus Callistratum est.

Hermippus hoc scriptum reliquit Demosthenen admodum adulescentem ventitare in Academiam Platonemque audire solitum. “Atque is” inquit “Demosthenes domo egressus, ut ei mos erat, cum ad Platonem pergeret complurisque populos concurrentes videret, percontatur eius rei causam cognoscitque currere eos auditum Callistratum. Is Callistratus Athenis orator in republica fuit, quos illi demagogous appellant. Visum est paulum devertere experirique, an digna auditio tanto properantium studio foret. Venit” inquit “atque audit Callistratum nobilem illam ten peri Oropou diken dicentem atque ita motus et demultus et captus est, ut Callistratum iam inde sectari coeperit, Academiam cum Platone reliquerit.”

Epic Bad Taste

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (180):

In this disposition of mind, judge whether I can read all Homer through ‘tout de suite’. I admire its beauties; but, to tell you the truth, when he slumbers, I sleep. Virgil, I confess, is all sense, and therefore I like him better than his model; but he is often languid, especially in his five or six last books, during which I am obliged to take a good deal of snuff. Besides, I profess myself an ally of Turnus against the pious AEneas, who, like many ‘soi-disant’ pious people, does the most flagrant injustice and violence in order to execute what they impudently call the will of Heaven. But what will you say, when I tell you truly, that I cannot possibly read our countryman Milton through? I acknowledge him to have some most sublime passages, some prodigious flashes of light; but then you must acknowledge that light is often followed by darkness visible, to use his own expression. Besides, not having the honor to be acquainted with any of the parties in this poem, except the Man and the Woman, the characters and speeches of a dozen or two of angels and of as many devils, are as much above my reach as my entertainment. Keep this secret for me: for if it should be known, I should be abused by every tasteless pedant, and every solid divine in England.

Law School? More Like “Lie School”!

Giovanni Boccaccio, de Casibus Virorum Illustrium 3.10:

Our present age, having ignored ancient custom, rips little children away, I will not say from the rules of grammar, but from the breasts of their mothers, so that it can force them out not into the schools but into the brothels, in which sacrosanct laws are dragged with a base sort of prostitution from the most just into sinful seductions. This is not done, as some pretend, so that a tender age which will not lose what it has learned will be more aptly imbued with the laws, but rather so that it can be more quickly accommodated to serving avarice. Nor do those who, decked out in robes, mount the cathedrals and pulpits fear to profess this in a sonorous clamour while omitting philosophical proofs as though unnecessary, and defiling the parts from which justice consists and by which the manners of people are reformed for the better by saying, “Let’s forget about these things – they’re superfluous, and don’t teach us how to seek our bread.”

And so, while it doesn’t suffice for armored asses to have neglected what they don’t know, they try even to shamefully mar what is known if they can, pressing on with this mission with all of their strength to the point from which they can disembowel the simplicity and sanctity of the laws and extract quarrels unwilling to come into public notice, and to make the disputes among the litigants immortal with their raillery. And since they celebrate with the loudest acclamation one who, with subterfuge and nefarious sagacity has protected mendacity against the truth for a long time, they nevertheless cultivate, praise, and extol the one to whom, by any fraud whatever, much wealth has accrued, as a father of the laws, an archive of justice, and the reliquary of the truth. O unbending justice of God, how long will you permit this crap?

Portrait by Raffaello Morghen, circa 1822

Presens autem evum, spreta veteri solertia, non dicam a grammaticalibus regulis, sed a nutricum uberibus evellit infantulos, ut eos non in scholis sed in fornicibus trudat, in quibus sacrosancte leges turpi quodam lenocinio ex iustissimis in scelestas trahuntur illecebras; nec agitur hoc – ut aliqui conantur pretendere – ut tenella etas, non dimissura quod ceperit, aptius imbuatur legibus, quin imo ut citius avaritie serviatur. Nec hoc verentur profiteri clamore sonoro qui, fimbriati, cathedras conscendunt et pulpita, dum, omissis phylosophicis demonstrationibus tanquam superfluis et quibus ex partibus iustitia constat et mores hominum reformantur in melius, ore spurcido et obsceno vocabulo aientes: «Sinamus hec: superflua sunt; nec de pane querendo nos instruunt». Et sic dum faleratis onagris non sufficit neglexisse quod nesciunt, conantur etiam turpi nota fedasse, si possint, eo totis incumbentes viribus unde ex simplicitate ac sanctitate legum eviscerare possint nolentia in publicum devenire litigia, et litigantium lites cavillationibus immortales facere. Et cum illum boatu summo celebrent, qui subterfugiis astutiisque nephariis adversus veritatem diu mendacium tutatus est, eum tamen cui quibuscunque fraudibus ample devenere substantie legum patrem iuris archivum veritatisque sacrarium colunt predicant et extollunt. O Dei indeflexa iustitia quam diu pateris hec?

Forget Latin and Get Some Greek!

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (122):

You cannot study much in the Academy; but you may study usefully there, if you are an economist of your time, and bestow only upon good books those quarters and halves of hours, which occur to everybody in the course of almost every day; and which, at the year’s end, amount to a very considerable sum of time. Let Greek, without fail, share some part of every day; I do not mean the Greek poets, the catches of Anacreon, or the tender complaints of Theocritus, or even the porter-like language of Homer’s heroes; of whom all smatterers in Greek know a little, quote often, and talk of always; but I mean Plato, Aristoteles, Demosthenes, and Thucydides, whom none but adepts know. It is Greek that must distinguish you in the learned world, Latin alone will not: and Greek must be sought to be retained, for it never occurs like Latin. When you read history or other books of amusement, let every language you are master of have its turn, so that you may not only retain, but improve in everyone.