Aristotle Knew Everything

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 4.15:

“It is difficult to say how much re-reading your letter two or three times soothed my ears, which were so worn down by the noise of the rabble. Even if this letter seemed verbose to you (as I learned from its ending), I find nothing to accuse you of but terseness. And so, I looked on the final threat, in which you claimed that you would write more briefly in the future, with unwilling eyes. I would have you be more prolix. As you will – you’re the father. It is right for me to accommodate my ways to you, and not the other way around. But will the whole business not be in your hands? Or do you not know that quite often the actual event differs from the plan? Perhaps you will hear what forces even one who is eager for silence to talk. You want me to fulfill the threats which I seem to be making now?

I stand as a witness, in the first place, that I have the same opinion of you which Macrobius had of Aristotle (whether it be love or the truth which gave rise to it). That is, I hardly think that you could not know something. If something has slipped your lips which seems to be contrary to the truth, I suspect that you either have not thought it out far enough, or just as Macrobius says of Aristotle, I suspect that you are playing around.”

Dictu difficile est quantum aures meas, vulgari fessas strepitu, epystola tua bis terque relecta permulserit; que quanquam tibi verbosa videretur, ut ex fine cognovi, ego tamen in ea nil preter breviloquium accusavi. Itaque comminationem illam ultimam, quod deinceps compendiosior sis futurus, invitus aspexi; mallem prolixior. Ut libet tamen; tu pater; non te michi, sed me tibi morem gerere dignum est. Sed ita ne totum in tua manu positum erit? an ignoras quod sepe consilio dissimilis est eventus? Audies forte quod vel silentii avidum loqui cogat. Vis quod minitari videor, iam nunc rebus impleam?

Testor in primis eandem me de te opinionem gerere, quam de Aristotile Macrobius, seu illam amor, seu veritas genuerit: vix te aliquid “ignorare posse” arbitror; siquid autem vero adversum tibi excidit, aut minus providisse aut, quod de eodem ait idem, lusisse te suspicor.

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Strange Histories of Jupiter Ammon

Servius, Commentary to Vergil’s Aeneid 4.196

Iarbas: the son of Jupiter Ammon. When Bacchus (or, as others say, Hercules) was attempting an attack on the Indians, and was leading his army through Libya (that is, through Xerolybia), he was worn out by thirst and so begged for help from his father Jupiter. Jupiter showed him a ram, following which Bacchus arrived at a certain spot, in which the ram dug out some earth with its foot, and from this place a fountain flowed forth. Whence it happened that a temple holding a statue with a ram’s horns was established for Jupiter Ammon, who derived his name from the ‘sand’. This story has been contrived either because the god’s responses are sufficiently intricate, or because the Libyans call the ram ‘Ammon’. Others say that this Ammon was born in another place, where there had been a lone sheep, and where he was discovered by some nearby people. He was believed to have been born of Jupiter and the sheep, and named Ammon from the sand, because that is the nature of the ground there. Others say that there is a place between Cyrene and Carthage in which pastors found a boy distinguished by ram horns sitting in the sand and delivering prophecies. When they picked him up, he was silent; when they set him back down, he began to speak again. Soon, when he withdrew from the sight of humans, he was believed to be a god. From that time, they began to cultivate Jupiter with the name Ammon because he had been seen in the sand.

IARBAM: filium Iovis Ammonis. Liber, vel ut alii dicunt, Hercules, cum Indos peteret, et per deserta Libyae, hoc est per Xerolibyam, exercitum duceret, fatigatus siti Iovis patris imploravit auxilium: cui ille arietem ostendit, quem secutus ille pervenit ad locum quendam, in quo aries terram pede suo scalpsit, e quo loco fons manavit. unde factum est, ut Iovi Ammoni, ab arenis dicto, templum cum simulacro cum cornibus arietinis constitueretur: quod ideo fingitur, quia satis eius sunt involuta responsa, aut quia Libyes Ammonem arietem appellant. alii hunc Ammonem in loco natum, ubi sola ovis fuerat, a finitimis inventum dicunt, creditumque ex Iove et ove natum appellatumque Ammonem ab arena, quia ibi tale solum est. alii inter Cyrenas atque Carthaginem locum tradunt fuisse, in quo pastores puerum arietinis cornibus insignem, in arena sedentem ac vaticinantem deprehenderunt. hic sublatus tacebat, repositus loquebatur: mox cum e conspectu hominum subito recessisset, creditus est deus: unde Iovem ideo ibi colere coeperunt, nomine Ammonem, quod in arena fuerat visus.

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The Birth of Political History

J.B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians:

“But if all these circumstances helped and conditioned the achievements of a profoundly original mind, which always thought for itself, we must seek the stimulus which aroused the historical faculty of Thucydides in — the Athenian empire. If it was the wonder of the Greek repulse of the Persian hosts that inspired the epic spirit of Herodotus, it was the phenomenon of the Empire of Athens, a new thing in the history of Hellas, — an empire governed by a democracy, a new thing in the history of the world — that captured the cooler but intense interest of Thucydides. He did not take up his pen to celebrate; his aim was to understand, — to observe critically how that empire behaved in the struggle which was to test its powers. It has not, I think, been sufficiently realised what an original stroke of genius it was to form the idea of recording the history of the war at the very moment of its outbreak. Contemporary history in the strictest meaning of the term was thus initiated. Thucydides watched the events for the purpose of recording them; he collected the material while it was fresh from the making. Further, he designed a history which should be simply a history of the war and of the relations of the militant states, which should confine itself to its theme, and not deviate into geography or anthropology or other things. Thus he was the founder of “political” history in the special sense in which we are accustomed to use the term.”

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Tacitus’ Lost Book: de Manicula

Readers have previously been treated to recently discovered lost texts of Caesar’s Bellum Incivile. We have also recently unearthed a lost appendix to Tacitus’ Annals, translated here for the first time:

“At first, presidents managed the state; gradually, the power of the people was reduced; the domination of Reagan and Bush were not intolerable, and the power of Bush was quickly transferred to Obama. While the state was prosperous, savagery and cowardice invaded minds, and people we contending among each other in their hatred. When Obama had discharged his office, there was no probity, no leader left, but all things were handed into the tiny hands of Manicula who, simulating the president was acting the dictator, was goading everyone on with hatred, and was appropriating for himself the powers of the senate, the magistrates, and the laws with many opposing him in vain. The more prone one was to stupidity, the more he was raised up with honors. Virtue, intelligence, and industry were considered malice. Many, with their hatred turned on other people, were urging Manicula to built a wall, eliminate justice, elevate drunkards to the highest court, and devastate the earth. His first crime was quickly turned into the second, third, fourth… Manicula himself, as his fortune continued to plummet, was conducting himself all the more savagely and promised that he would leave nothing but the ash of a once great nation if all the power of perpetrating evil were not placed in his hands. And so, liberty was lost as many people assisted Manicula.”

Primo civitatem praesidentes habuere; gradatim potestas populi minuta est; non Regani, non Fruticis intolerabilis dominatio, et potentia Fruticis cito in Obamam versa est. florentibus rebus saevitia ignaviaque in animos invasit, et homines inter se odiis decertabant. cum Obama imperio defunctus esset nulla probitas nullusque dux reliquus sed omnia in parvas manus Maniculae tradita sunt qui se praesidentem ferens dictaturam agebat, cunctos odio incitabat, munia senatus magistratuum legum in se trahebat multis frustra adversantibus. quanto quis stultitia promptior honoribus extolleretur. virtus prudentia industria pro malitia habita. multi iam odio in alios verso Maniculam urgebant ut muros aedificaret iustitiam deleret ebrios ad summum tribunal extolleret orbem terrarum vastaret. primum facinus statim in secundum tertium quartum versum. Manicula ipse fortuna in peius cadente eo ferocius se agebat et saepe promisit se nihil praeter cinerem e quondam magna civitate relicturum esse nisi omnis potestas male agendi in se poneretur. ita libertate amissa plerisque Maniculam adiuvantibus.

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Writing Addiction

Petrarch, Epistulae 13.7:

“My friend said, ‘Give me the keys to your cabinet.’ When I, wondering, had given them to him, he straightaway enclosed all of my books and all of my writing instruments, carefully locked it and left. He said, ‘I declare a ten-day holiday for you and therefore order you not to read or write anything during that time.’ I understood the game, and while I seemed to be at rest to him, I felt that I had been mangled. What do you expect? That day felt longer than a year, and was not without tedium. The next day, I had a had a headache from morning ‘til night. The third day arrived and I felt some little shakes from the fever. He returned when he learned of this, and gave me back the keys. So, I suddenly became better. Since he saw that I was afterward nourished by labor, he refrained from a similar attempt. What can I say? Is it true, as the satirist says, that the addiction to writing – as with all other things – is incurable? I would add – is it also contagious? How many do you think that I, who speak with you, have infected with the contagion of this disease? It used to be, within our lifetime, that almost no one wrote this stuff. Now, there is no one who doesn’t write.”

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«Da» inquit, «michi claves armarii tui». Quas cum dedissem admirans, ibi protinus libros omnes meos atque omnia ad scribendum instrumenta conclusit obseravitque solicite atque abiit, et: «Decem» inquit, «tibi dierum ferias indico et ex facto iubeo nequid hoc tempore legas aut scribas». [6] Agnovi ludum: otiosus sibi, mancus michi remanere visus eram. Quid expectas? transiit dies ille anno longior non sine tedio; die altero dolorem capitis a mane ad vesperam passus sum; tertius dies illuxerat: quasdam febris motiunculas sentire ceperam. Rediit ille re cognita clavesque restituit; ita ego repente convalui et ipse postmodum me laboribus ali videns, ut dicebat, a simili se prece continuit. [7] Quid igitur dicam? ita ne verum est ut, sicut ceterarum rerum, sic scribendi “cacoethes insanabile”, quod ait Satyricus; quod ego addo, contagiosus etiam morbus sit? Quam multos enim putas me, qui tecum loquor, morbi huius contagiis infecisse? solebant in memoria nostra rari esse qui hoc scriberent.

 

Frosty, Horace, Death

Some Reflections Signifying Nothing:

Frosty the Snowman is one of the few not-wholly-reprehensible morsels of regurgitated pabulum regularly offered for fireside consumption at this time of year. Compared to other ‘Christmas Classics’ such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty is at least not guilty of teaching children a disturbing or disgraceful lesson. Santa Claus is Coming to Town presents that corpulent old man from the North Pole as a Sejanus or a Stalin (he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake). Rudolph’s story teaches children that it is morally acceptable to mock someone’s physical peculiarities until the boss, inconvenienced by a sudden shift in the weather, realizes that he can profitably exploit a genetic mutation for his own purposes. Frosty, however, is the most Horatian of our Christmas tales – an inversion of the old return of spring trope. The Spring (and with it, life) return in Horace 4.7:

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
     arboribusque comae;

‘The snows have fled, the grass returns to the fields and the leaves to the trees.’

Housman regarded this as the most beautiful poem in Latin, and was famously shaken from his icy English emotional restraint when reading it to a class. Like so much of the best non-scatological Latin poetry, it is a meditation upon the brevity of life and the inevitability of death:

non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te
     restituet pietas;

‘Torquatus, you will not be brought back by your name, your eloquence, or your piety.’

Frosty is in like manner a meditation on death and the brevity of life, but achieves a similar effect through the inversion of the seasons. Frosty melts after being trapped in a greenhouse. The protagonist Karen bitterly laments his death, but Santa reassures her:

‘Don’t cry, Karen. Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. Oh, it sometimes goes away for almost a year at a time and takes the form of Spring and Summer rain, but you can bet your boots that when a good jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn in to Christmas snow all over again!’

In the inverted ontology of Frosty’s world, Spring and Summer now stand in for death, but Winter will bring about Frosty’s rebirth. Karen is forced to reconcile herself to Frosty’s symbolic death every year at the end of the Christmas season. Yet, the pain caused by this ineluctable event is premonitory of Karen’s own death. In Horace’s poem, the cyclical departure of the seasons is precisely what guarantees their immortality. We are supposed to learn from witnessing this cycle of death every year, but we are not to extend the analogy too far:

Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:
     nos ubi decidimus

‘The swift moons make good the celestial loss. But when we die…’

Catullus expresses the same thought, employing the same poetic plural for a singular celestial object (Catullus V):

soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.

‘Suns can fall and return, but as soon as our brief light has fallen, we must sleep one unending night.’

I have enjoyed my winter break, and I am thankful that I was officially off of work for that time. Yet, as I walked away from work on Friday two weeks ago with a sense of giddy anticipation, I nevertheless knew that the break would come to an end, and the good times would be over. I used to take the peculiarly claustrophobic nausea which I feel on Sunday nights at face value – that is, I thought that it was about returning to work. But I enjoy my job – it can’t alone be the source of physical revulsion. Rather, Monday is when Frosty returns to the North Pole, and all of my yesterdays since last Friday ‘have lighted fools the way to dusty death.’ The end of a  vacation is a premonitory tableau of the scene in which the Reaper lays his hand upon me; I knew that this moment would come. I suppose that I don’t actually mind going back to work tomorrow – I just don’t want to die. At moments like these, one can reach for the bottle or for Seneca: ‘Thus, if death is to be feared, it must be feared always. For, what time is exempt from death?’ (Ita si timenda mors est, semper timenda est. Quod enim morti tempus exemptum est?)

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F**k Xenophon!

J.B. Bury, Lectures on the Ancient Greek Historians:

“The engrossing intellectual interest was then political science, and the historical method had not been invented. The men who might otherwise have shone as historians were engaged in speculations on the nature of the state. They were eagerly seeking an answer to the speculative question: What is the best constitution? Only three historians of note arose in this period; they were more or less under the influence of Thucydides, but at long intervals behind.

Of these the only name familiar to posterity is Xenophon, who was probably the least meritorious of the three. To the circumstance that he is one of the very few classical Greek historians whose work has survived, he owes a prominence to which his qualities do not entitle him. In history as in philosophy he was a dilettante; he was as far from understanding the methods of Thucydides as he was from apprehending the ideas of Socrates. He had a happy literary talent, and his multifarious writings, taken together, render him an interesting figure in Greek literature. But his mind was essentially mediocre, incapable of penetrating beneath the surface of things. If he had lived in modem days, he would have been a high-class journalist and pamphleteer; he would have made his fortune as a war-correspondent; and would have written the life of some mediocre hero of the stamp of Agesilaus. So far as history is concerned, his true vocation was to write memoirs. The Anabasis is a memoir, and it is the most successful of his works. It has the defects which memoirs usually have, but it has the merits, the freshness, the human interest of a personal document. The adventures of the Ten Thousand are alive for ever in Xenophon’s pages.”

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