Forget Pepto-Bismol. How about Some Post-Prandial Philology?

Plutarch, Advice on Keeping Well (Moralia 133)

This segment comes from Plutarch’s advice about how to support proper digestion. Apart from walking, moderate discussions of historical and poetic issues are encouraged.

“But many of the problems of science are airy and inviting and there are many digressions which possess ethical reflections and such “soul-fitting” character, as Homer calls it—and none of these topics are off-putting. Such time spent in historical and poetic investigations some men have called, not unsweetly, a “second table” for people who love literature (philologoi) and the arts (philomusoi). There are in addition painless tales and legends and it is less trouble to talk and listen to something about the flute and lyre than it is to listen to a flute or lyre actually being played. The right amount of time for this is as long as it takes for the digestion to become master of the food that was consumed and become generally more agreeable.”

ἀλλὰ πολλὰ μέν ἐστι τῶν φυσικῶν προβλημάτων ἐλαφρὰ καὶ πιθανά, πολλαὶ δὲ διηγήσεις ἠθικὰς  σκέψεις ἔχουσαι καὶ τοῦτο δὴ τὸ “μενοεικές,” ὡς Ὅμηρος ἔφη, καὶ μὴ ἀντίτυπον. τὰς δ᾿ ἐν ἱστορικαῖς καὶ ποιητικαῖς ζητήσεσι διατριβὰς οὐκ ἀηδῶς ἔνιοι δευτέρας τραπέζας ἀνδράσι φιλολόγοις καὶ φιλομούσοις προσεῖπον. εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ διηγήσεις ἄλυποι καὶ μυθολογίαι, καὶ τὸ περὶ αὐλοῦ τι καὶ λύρας ἀκοῦσαι καὶ εἰπεῖν ἐλαφρότερον ἢ λύρας αὐτῆς φθεγγομένης ἀκούειν καὶ αὐλοῦ. μέτρον δὲ τοῦ καιροῦ τὸ τῆς τροφῆς καθισταμένης ἀτρέμα καὶ συμπνεούσης τὴν πέψιν ἐγκρατῆ γενέσθαι καὶ ὑπερδέξιον.

It might just be the conversation that makes us feel better.

Giving Gifts this Year? Some Classical Warnings

Epigonoi Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.275

“Poems are certainly praised, but great gifts are what is sought.”

carmina laudantur sed munera magna petuntur.

Sophocles, Ajax, 664-5

“But the old saying is true: the gifts of enemies are no gifts, and sure to yield no profit.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἀληθὴς ἡ βροτῶν παροιμία,
ἐχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα

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Aeschylus, fr. 279a2

“Alone of the gods, Death doesn’t long for gifts.”

μόνος θεῶν γὰρ Θάνατος οὐ δώρων ἐρᾶι·


Solon, 13.64

“The gifts of the gods must not be rejected”

δῶρα δ᾿ ἄφυκτα θεῶν γίγνεται ἀθανάτων


Nostoi, fr. 8.1

“Gifts debase the minds and actions of men”

δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα


Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.

A Farewell to Storify: Some Stories Before They’re Gone

The service Storify is going to close over the next years. Even though we have not used the format often, we have used it a few times in conjunction with some of our more unconventional moments. Below are the five stories we have made.

  1. Earlier this fall, we used Storify to assemble a twitter discussion about M. L West’s new Teubner. This was interesting and edifying for some, even if some on Facebook felt otherwise.

Story: A Group Review of West’s Teubner

2. About a month before Thanksgiving we asked which figures from Greco-Roman antiquity people would invite to dinner. There were lots of favorites, but some surprises too.

Story: DeadClassics Party

3. At the beginning of the fall, I used Storify to bring together my burgeoning obsession with animal noises in other languages.

Story: Zooglossia, What Animals Say in Different Languages

4. Over the summer, Erik and I spent some time at a museum. We took some pictures, posted some things. People seemed to enjoy it. The result? Storify!

Story: SententiaeAntique IRL: Erik and Joel Go to a Museum

5. But by far the most poignant use was when we noted the passing of a cherished Latin teacher at UTSA by debuting the hastag #mylatinteacher to recognize the contributions Latin teachers have made to so many lives.

Story: Gratitude for My Latin Teacher


Storify: Multas gratias tibi. Ave atque Vale

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Seasonal Advice: Should We Accept Gifts from Bad People?

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.14

“Indeed, I think that we should not look for an advantage from any person whose public esteem is low. Why? Shouldn’t what Claudius offered have been accepted? It should have been, but just as something given by chance which you know might immediately turn bad.

Why do we distinguish between these two instances just combined? A gift is not beneficial when its best part is missing—when it is given because of high esteem. A lot of money, if it is not given rightly or freely, is no more beneficial than a warehouse. There are many gifts which should be accepted but create no obligations.”

Ego vero nullius puto expetendum esse beneficium, cuius vile iudicium est. Quid ergo? Non erat accipiendum a Claudio, quod dabatur? Erat, sed sicut a fortuna, quam scires posse statim malam fieri. Quid ista inter se mixta dividimus? Non est beneficium, cui deest pars optima, datum esse iudicio: alioqui pecunia ingens, si non ratione nec recta voluntate donata est, non magis beneficium est quam thesaurus. Multa sunt autem, quae oportet accipere nec debere.


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Bishop Engilmar Celebrating Mass, benedictional, Regensburg, about 1030-40

Death and Love from Friendship

Augustine, Confessions 4.8-9

“Certainly, the comfort of various friends used to repair and refresh me—friends whom I once loved in your place. This was an immense fiction and a long-lasting lie, the incitement of which in our ears made our mind corrupted. But my fiction would was not relenting even if some of my friends would die.

There were other things that attracted my mind more: conversation, laughter, doing each other favors, reading sweet-tongued books together, having fun, being serious, sometimes disagreeing without anger just as a people might do on his own and even mixing up our many agreements with occasional dissent. We get pain when some are absent only to receive them with joy as they return. By these kinds of signs coming from the heart of those who love and love in return, through their mouth, tongue, eyes and a thousand very grateful gestures,  fan the burning of our minds and  make one out of many.

This is what is loved in friends and what we love such that the human conscience—if it does not love what loves it back or if it does not return love when loved—seeks nothing from that source except for a sign of kindness. This is where grief comes from if someone dies—the shadows of sorrows—and when sweetness turns bitter a heart weighs heavy and the loss of the life of those who are dying is the death of those still alive.”

Maxime quippe me reparabant atque recreabant aliorum amicorum solacia, cum quibus amabam quod pro te amabam, et hoc erat ingens fabula et longum mendacium, cuius adulterina confricatione corrumpebatur mens nostra pruriens in auribus. sed illa mihi fabula non moriebatur, si quis amicorum meorum moreretur. alia erant quae in eis amplius capiebant animum, conloqui et conridere et vicissim benivole obsequi, simul legere libros dulciloquos, simul nugari et simul honestari, dissentire interdum sine odio tamquam ipse homo secum atque ipsa rarissima dissensione condire consensiones plurimas, docere aliquid invicem aut discere ab invicem, desiderare absentes cum molestia, suscipere venientes cum laetitia: his atque huius modi signis a corde amantium et redamantium procedentibus per os, per linguam, per oculos et mille motus gratissimos, quasi fomitibus conflare animos et ex pluribus unum facere.

 Hoc est quod diligitur in amicis, et sic diligitur ut rea sibi sit humana conscientia si non amaverit redamantem aut si amantem non redamaverit, nihil quaerens ex eius corpore praeter indicia benivolentiae. hinc ille luctus si quis moriatur, et tenebrae dolorum, et versa dulcedine in amaritudinem cor madidum, et ex amissa vita morientium mors viventium.

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Hot and cold bath Livre de la Vigne nostre Seigneur, France ca. 1450

Buying Offices: Oligarchy and the Corruption of Elections Based on Wealth

Aristotle, Politics 2.7 (1273a-1273b)

“If election based on wealth is oligarchic while election according to excellence is aristocratic, there can be a third system according to which a state is organized as the Carthaginian polity is constructed. For they choose their leaders looking at two issues, especially the most significant offices, that of kings and generals.

But it is right to think that this departure from aristocracy is an error by the lawmaker. For among the most critical issues to consider from the beginning is how the best citizens might be able to have the free time and to refrain from anything inappropriate, both in office and in their private life. If it is right to consider furnishing the means for free time [to rule], it is bad for the most significant positions to be for sale (the kingship and the generalship).

For this law makes wealth more important than virtue and makes the whole state structured around money. Whatever the power structure considers valuable, the opinion of the rest of the citizens will follow. Wherever virtue is not honored above all else, the constitution cannot be aristocratic. It is also likely that those who purchase their offices will make a profit from them when they rule after spending their own money. For, it would be strange if a respectable man who is poor will want to profit but a corrupt man who has spent his own money would be disinclined to do the same.”

εἴπερ οὖν τὸ μὲν αἱρεῖσθαι πλουτίνδην ὀλιγαρχικὸν τὸ δὲ κατ᾿ ἀρετὴν ἀριστοκρατικόν, αὕτη τις ἂν εἴη τάξις τρίτη καθ᾿ ἥνπερ συντέτακται καὶ τοῖς Καρχηδονίοις τὰ περὶ τὴν πολιτείαν· αἱροῦνται γὰρ εἰς δύο ταῦτα βλέποντες, καὶ μάλιστα τὰς μεγίστας, τούς τε βασιλεῖς καὶ τοὺς στρατηγούς. δεῖ δὲ νομίζειν ἁμάρτημα νομοθέτου6 τὴν παρέκβασιν εἶναι τῆς ἀριστοκρατίας ταύτην· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ τοῦθ᾿ ὁρᾶν ἐστὶ τῶν ἀναγκαιοτάτων, ὅπως οἱ βέλτιστοι δύνωνται σχολάζειν καὶ μηδὲν ἀσχημονεῖν, μὴ μόνον ἄρχοντες ἀλλὰ μηδ᾿ ἰδιωτεύοντες. εἰ δὲ δεῖ βλέπειν καὶ πρὸς εὐπορίαν χάριν σχολῆς, φαῦλον τὸ τὰς μεγίστας ὠνητὰς εἶναι τῶν ἀρχῶν, τήν τε βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν στρατηγίαν. ἔντιμον γὰρ ὁ νόμος οὗτος ποιεῖ τὸν πλοῦτον μᾶλλον τῆς ἀρετῆς καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην φιλοχρήματον· ὅ τι δ᾿ ἂν ὑπολάβῃ τίμιον εἶναι τὸ κύριον, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων πολιτῶν δόξαν ἀκολουθεῖν τούτοις· ὅπου δὲ μὴ μάλιστα ἀρετὴ τιμᾶται, ταύτην οὐχ οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι βεβαίως ἀριστοκρατικὴν πολιτείαν. ἐθίζεσθαι δ᾿ εὔλογον κερδαίνειν τοὺς ὠνουμένους, ὅταν δαπανήσαντες ἄρχωσιν· ἄτοπον γὰρ εἰ πένης μὲν ὢν ἐπιεικὴς δὲ βουλήσεται κερδαίνειν, φαυλότερος δ᾿ ὢν οὐ βουλήσεται δαπανήσας.


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Elections and the Good Life

Seneca, De Vita Beata 2

“Now, in truth, the people stand against reason as champion of their own wickedness. And this happens as in elections when, the flitting breeze has changed direction and the very people who chose their candidates are amazed that these candidates were selected. We approve the same thing one moment and hate it another. This is the product of every decision which is dependent upon the majority’s opinion.

When what is debated is the good life, it is useless for you to respond to me “This side seems to be in the majority. For this is likely the worse side. Humanity is not so well governed that the better ways please the majority of people. The crowd is proof of the worst choice.”

Nunc vero stat contra rationem defensor mali sui populus. Itaque id evenit quod in comitiis, in quibus eos factos esse praetores idem qui fecere mirantur, cum se mobilis favor circumegit. Eadem probamus, eadem reprehendimus; hic exitus est omnis iudicii, in quo secundum plures datur.

Cum de beata vita agetur, non est quod mihi illud discessionum more respondeas: “Haec pars maior esse videtur.” Ideo enim peior est. Non tam bene cum rebus humanis agitur, ut meliora pluribus placeant; argumentum pessimi turba est.

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Seneca here echoes some anti-democratic opinion that was popular among ancient thinkers from Plato on. Similar prejudices against majority rule are emerging here and there in response to current events. Such sneering dismissal of the wishes of the majority is likely also a result of a disengagement from the needs of the majority. Blithe confidence–if not satisfaction–in one’s superior taste and sense in respect to the majority serves only to preserve the exclusivity of one’s claims to superiority. It does little to serve the common good. But, hey, some people don’t even believe that there is such a thing as the common good!