“The spirit must be warned that it loves things which will one day leave—no, they are already leaving. Whatever is granted to you by fortune, take it as if it has no guaranty. Seize up the pleasures of your children and allow your children to enjoy you in turn. And drink down every bit of joy without stopping.
Nothing is promised to you for this evening—I have granted too much a pledge—nothing is promised for this hour. You must hurry, we are being chased from behind. Soon this friend will be elsewhere, soon these friendships will be lost lost when the battle’s cry is raised. In truth, everything is stolen away. Poor are you fools who do not know how to live in flight.”
Saepe admonendus est animus, amet ut recessura, immo tamquam recedentia. Quicquid a fortuna datum est, tamquam exempto auctore possideas. Rapite ex liberis voluptates, fruendos vos in vicem liberis date et sine dilatione omne gaudium haurite; nihil de hodierna nocte promittitur—nimis magnam advocationem dedi—, nihil de hac hora. Festinandum est, instatur a tergo. Iam disicietur iste comitatus, iam contubernia ista sublato clamore solventur. Rapina verum omnium est; miseri nescitis in fuga vivere!
“Moderation was missing from this enthusiastic person in two ways. He did not know how to take a break from work nor how to start it again. When he brought himself to write, the days used to join with nights and he was pushing himself mercilessly without a break, stopping only when he was completely worn out. But when he stopped then, he would lose himself in every kind of game and distraction. Indeed, when he entrusted himself to the forest and the mountains, he was the equal to those born to the forests and mountains, those wild men, in endurance of labor and expertise of the hunt. He was so completely engaged with the embrace of that lifestyle that he could scarcely be dragged back to his former life.
But when he did get himself under control and took himself from alluring leisure, he used to fall into his studies with such passions that he seemed not so much to have lost nothing as to have gained much.
It is clear that everyone benefits from a mental vacation—energy is gathered in leisure and all the sadness which is developed through endless pursuit of work can be dispelled though the enjoyment of distractions. But no one benefited more from a vacation than Latro. Every time he used to speak after a break, he would speak more sharply and with more force—he used to glory in how his mind was refreshed and his strength made whole. And he would squeeze as much from himself as he desired. He did not know how to portion out his powers—but he was a master of unrestrained tyranny—his eagerness had to be stopped because it was not able to be controlled…”
In utramque partem vehementi viro modus deerat: nec intermittere studium sciebat nec repetere. Cum se ad scribendum concitaverat, iungebantur noctibus dies, et sine intervallo gravius sibi instabat, nec desinebat nisi defecerat: rursus cum se remiserat, in omnes lusus, in omnes iocos se resolvebat; cum vero se silvis montibusque tradiderat, in silvis ac montibus natos, homines illos agrestis, laboris patientia et venandi sollertia provocabat, et in tantam perveniebat sic vivendi cupiditatem ut vix posset ad priorem consuetudinem retrahi. At cum sibi iniecerat manum et se blandienti otio abduxerat, tantis viribus incumbebat in studium ut non tantum nihil perdidisse sed multum adquisisse desidia videretur. Omnibus quidem prodest subinde animum relaxare; excitatur enim otio vigor, et omnis tristitia, quae continuatione pertinacis studii adducitur, feriarum hilaritate discutitur: nulli tamen intermissio manifestius proderat. Quotiens ex intervallo dicebat, multo acrius violentiusque dicebat; exultabat enim <animo>2 novato atque integro robore, et tantum a se exprimebat quantum concupierat. Nesciebat dispensare vires suas, sed inmoderati adversus se imperii fuit, ideoque studium eius prohiberi debebat quia regi non poterat…
Seneca the Younger, De Tranquillitate Animi, 5
“Our minds must be allowed a break—once rested, they will rise better and sharper. Just as fertile fields must not be overworked—for endless productivity will exhaust them soon—so too continuous work crushes the force of our minds; but rested and relaxed they restore their own powers. Weakness and weariness are born to minds from constant efforts.”
Danda est animis remissio; meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. Ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum—cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas,—ita animorum impetus adsiduus labor franget, vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi; nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.
Fragments of Dio Chrysostom, Stob. Flor. 4, XIX
“It is right, then, to be be proper master and to permit those who want to rest sometimes. For breaks are preparation for toil—the both, the lyre and human kind become their best through resting.”
“Next, let’s consider the way we learn, since learning happens wither through experience or through speech. But of these two approaches, experience comes from this which are demonstrable, the demonstrable is clear, and the clear—because it is obvious—is available to all in common. Such perception which is available to all in common is unteachable. Hence, anything apprehended through experience is not teachable.
Speech either corresponds to some meaning or it does not. If it corresponds to no meaning at all, then it teaches nothing. When it does correspond to some meaning it does it either by intrinsic nature or by established convention. It cannot, in truth correspond to meaning by intrinsic nature since not all people understand the same meaning when they hear it (as when the Greeks listen to barbarians or the barbarians listen to Greeks).
If speech signals meaning by convention, it is clear that people who have absorbed before the meanings to which these words correspond will also comprehend them now, and not because they have learned from them something which was not known—it is more like they are resuscitating what they knew before, while those who lack learning of what they don’t know will not do the same.”
“Don’t say it, if you look upon here,
The little Atthis…
Woe for the muse whose fine gifts she knew—
Her soul went to heaven when she was eight years old.
She left tears and moans of grief for her dear parents
Who, terribly, made her this monument instead of a marriage
When she went down to deep Acheron and Hades’ home,
All their hopes were poured into the fire and ash.”
“Then Hispala divulged the origin of the rituals. First, in the beginning, the shrine was the province of women and no man was permitted to enter. They kept three days set apart in a year when people could be admitted into Bacchic rites during the day. Married women were typically made the priests in turn.
Paculla Annia, priestess from Campania, changed everything at an alleged indication from the gods. For she also initiated men, her own sons, Minius and Herrenius Cerrinius, into the rites and turned it into a nighttime ritual instead of a day one, substituting five days of rituals in a single month for three in a whole year.
Since the time when the rituals were mixed in this way with men and women together and the rituals happening at night, no kind of crime or vice has been omitted from them. There were more rapes of men committed against other men than women. And those who were less eager for assault or rather sluggish to commit crimes, were offered up in the place of sacrificial animals.
To consider nothing a sin, this was the greatest achievement of religion among them. Men who seemed like they were out of their mind would provide prophecies by madly shaking their bodies. Married women in a Bacchant’s dress and with hair untied would run to the Tiber with burning torches in their hands and when they immersed them in the water they would come out still burning because of the treatment of sulfur and calcium upon them.”
Tum Hispala originem sacrorum expromit. primo sacrarium id feminarum fuisse, nec quemquam eo virum admitti solitum; tres in anno dies statos habuisse, quibus interdiu Bacchis initiarentur; sacerdotes in vicem matronas creari solitas. Pacullam Anniam Campanam sacerdotem omnia, tamquam deum monitu, immutasse: nam et viros eam primam filios suos initiasse, Minium et Herennium Cerrinios; et nocturnum sacrum ex diurno, et pro tribus in anno diebus quinos singulis mensibus dies initiorum fecisse. ex quo in promiscuo sacra sint et permixti viri feminis, et noctis licentia accesserit, nihil ibi facinoris nihil flagitii praetermissum. plura virorum inter sese quam feminarum stupra esse. si qui minus patientes dedecoris sint et pigriores ad facinus, pro victimis immolari. nihil nefas ducere, hanc summam inter eos religionem esse. viros, velut mente capta, cum iactatione fanatica corporis vaticinari; matronas Baccharum habitu crinibus passis cum ardentibus facibus decurrere ad Tiberim, demissasque in aquam faces, quia vivum sulpur cum calce insit, integra flamma efferre.
“There’s a story of the tyrant of Troezen. Because he wanted to get rid of any plots and conspiracies against him, he ordered that no one could talk to anyone else in public or private. This was an impossible and harsh matter. But the people circumvented the tyrant’s command: they were nodding to each other and using hand gestures too. They also used angry, calm, or bright facial expressions. Each person was clear to all in his emotions, showing the suffering in his spirit on his face by grimacing at bad news or implacable conditions.
These actions caused the tyrant annoyance too—for he was believing that even silence accompanied by plentiful gestures was contriving something bad for him. So, he stopped this too.
One of those who was burdened and troubled by this absurdity was longing to end the monarchy. A group rose up with him and stood together sharing their tears. A report came to the tyrant that no one was using gestures any longer, because, instead, they were trafficking in tears. Because he was eager to stop this, he was proclaiming not only slavery of the tongue and gestures, but he was even trying to ban the freedom of the eyes we get from nature. So he went there without delay with his bodyguards to stop the tears. But as soon as the people saw him they took away his bodyguards’ weapons and killed the tyrant.”
This reminds me of the wisdom of Silenus: the best thing for a human is to have never been born and the second best thing is for them to die immediately. Do you have this quote in your bank @sentantiq? I think it’s in Pseudo Plutarch and definitely in Oedipus at Colonus. https://t.co/Y7oMMYo4gN
Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius [Moralia, 115a-c]
“There is also the saying you know has been passed around the mouth of many humans over the years.” “what is that?” he asked. The other one, interrupted, “that it is best of all not to exist and then second it is better to die than to live. This has been demonstrated by many examples from the divine.
For certainly they say this concerning Midas after the hunt when he caught Silenus and was asking him and finding out from him what is best for mortals and what should be most preferred. But Silenus was willing to say nothing, but remained stubbornly silent.
After he tried nearly every kind of approach, he persuaded him to provide some answer—so compelled, he said, “brief-lived offspring of a laboring god and harsh fate, why do you force me to tell you what it is better not to know? A life lived in ignorance of your most intimate griefs is the least painful.
But for humans it is not at all possible to have the best thing of all or to have any share of the best nature—since the best thing for all men and women is not to be born. But the second best thing after this and the first available to mortals, is to die as soon as possible after being born.” It is clear that he said this because the way that exists in death is better than the one in life.”
The passage floats around some. Stobaeus (4.52.22) attributes it to Alcidamas’ Mousaion but the most widely cited source is Theognis. It is listed without attribution by the paroemiographer Michael Apostolos, with the explanation that this is a proverb “[attributed] to people living in misfortune” (ἐπὶ τῶν δυστυχῶς βιούντων, 3.85.3)
“First, it is best for mortals to not be born. Not to see the rays of the piercing sun
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible. And to lie with a great pile of earth heaped above you.”
The Loeb note to this passage suggest that Theognis is merely adding to the hexameter lines, since the pentameter lines add nothing. But I think this is problematic. Consider the similar doublet to the first 2 lines above in Bacchylides.
“And answering him, he said:
“It is best for mortals not to be born
Nor to see the sun.”
Note how Bacchylides acknowledges the proverbial–or at least ‘other’–status of these lines by putting it into the mouths of one of his characters. Notice the stability of the infinitive construction μὴ φῦναι with the mobility of the dative θνατοῖσι and the lexical variations of θνατοῖσι instead of ἐπιχθονίοισιν and φέριστον instead of ἄριστον.
Sophocles, Oedipus Colonos 1225–1227
“Not being born conquers
every argument. But, then, if someone does emerge,
to return where you came from as fast as possible
is second best by far.”
Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism 3.230–231) compares the Theognis passage to this fragment from Euripides (fr. 449)
“We should have a gathering to mourn
Someone when they are born, when they come to so many evils
And when someone has died and found a break from evils,
We should be happy and bless them as we carry them from their homes.”
Note the different superlative at the beginning of the phrase and the singular βροτῷ. Based on the flexibility of the expression and the riffing on it, I would suggest that this is a broadly dispersed cultural idea that has proverbial status at a very early period. Note how Euripides, in another fragment, toys with the more broadly used phrase:
Euripides, fr. 908
“Not existing is better for mortals than being born.”
Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.
Epicurus (Diogenes Laertius, 10.127) thinks that anyone who believes this and says it is a fool since “if he says it because he believes it, how is it he does not just stop living? For this is ready for him to do, if it is completely believed by him.” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως).
And there is, of course, the Ancient Near Eastern context to consider!
"happier than either are those who have not yet come into being and have never witnessed the miseries that go on under the sun."– Ecc 4:3