“To those chattering song-fighters at the feast,
The greased-up grammarians of Aristarchus,
Men who don’t like to joke or drink but lie there
Playing childish games with Nestor and Priam,
Don’t leave me—in their words—to be “booty and spoil”.
Today I am not eating “Goddess, sing the rage…”
“I can’t endure a wife and grammar,
Impoverishing grammar, and a wife unjust.
The suffering from both is death and fate.
I have now just barely fled from grammar,
But I cannot retreat from this man-fighting wife:
Our contract and Roman custom forbid it!”
Fronto LaudesFumi et Pulveris [Ambr 249 Caesari suo Fronto. [139 a.d.]]
“Many of my readers may perhaps hate my subject from the title because it is impossible for anything serious to be made of smoke and dust. But you, thanks to your outstanding intelligence, will judge whether these words are wasted or put well.
The subject does, however, seem to ask for a few things to be written about the logic of its composition, since nothing written of this kind of thing noble enough in the Roman tongue exists except for what poets touch in comedies or farces. Anyone who tests himself at writing of this kind will select a mass of ideas and put them together closely, joining them cleverly, but without including many useless and doubled words and then make sure to end each sentence with clarity and skill.
In legal speeches, however, it goes differently because we often pay special attention to sentences ending harshly and artlessly. In this matter, we must labor differently so that nothing is left rude and out of place, instead making sure that everything is interconnected as in a robe with clear borders and ornate edges. Finally, just as the final verses in epigrams should have some kind of shine to them, a sentence should be ended with some kind of a clasp or brooch.
Pleasing the audience, however, should pursued among the first goals. For this kind of address is not composed for defense in a capital trial nor to advocate for the passing of a law, nor to exhort an army, nor to enrage a mass of people, but for delights and pleasure. Nevertheless, we must speeches we do about serious and wonderful things—the small matters must be compared and equaled to great ones. And, finally, the greatest virtue in this kind of speech is the conceit of seriousness. Stories of the gods or heroes should be interwoven where they fit. At he same time, lines of poetry which pertain applicable proverbs, and even clever fictions, as long as the fiction is added by some kind of clever argument.
The chief challenge, then, is to order the materials so that their presentation has a logical connection. This is what Plato faults Lysias for in the Phaedrus, that he has combined his thoughts so carelessly that the first one could be exchanged with the last without any kind of loss. We can only escape this danger if we organize our thoughts in categories so that we do not mix them in an indiscriminate and disordered way like those mixed dishes, but instead arrange it so that the preceding idea reaches into the next one and then shares its boundary, where the second thought begins where the first one has ended, and a sequence emerges in this way, so that we seem to step rather than jump along our way.”
Plerique legentium forsan rem de titulo contemnant, nihil <enim> serium , potuisse fieri de fumo et pulvere: tu pro tuo excellenti ingenio profecto existimabis lusa sit opera4ista an locata. 2. Sed res poscere videtur de ratione scribendi pauca praefari, quod nullum huiuscemodi scriptum Romana lingua extat satis nobile, nisi quod poetae in comoediis vel atellanis adtigerunt. Qui se eiusmodi rebus scribendis exercebit, crebras sententias conquiret, easque dense conlocabit et subtiliter coniunget, Ambr. neque verba multa geminata supervacanea | in-ferciet; tum omnem sententiam breviter et scite concludet. Aliter in orationibus iudiciariis, ubi sedulo curamus ut pleraeque sententiae durius interdum et incautius1finiantur. Sed contra istic laborandum est, ne quid inconcinnum et hiulcum relinquatur, quin omnia ut in tenui veste oris detexta et revimentis sint cincta. Postremo, ut novissimos in epigrammatis versus habere oportet aliquid luminis, sententia clavo aliquo vel fibula terminanda est.
In primis autem sectanda est suavitas. Namque hoc genus orationis non capitis defendendi nec suadendae legis nec exercitus hortandi nec inflammandae contionis scribitur, sed facetiarum et voluptatis.Ubique vero ut de re ampla et magnifica loquendum, parvaeque res magnis adsimilandae comparandaeque. Summa denique in hoc genere orationis virtus est adseveratio. Fabulae deum vel heroum tempestive inserendae; item versus congruenteset proverbia accommodata et non inficete conficta mendacia, dum id mendacium argumento aliquo lepido iuvetur.
Ambr 247 4. Cum primis autem difficile est argumenta ita disponere ut sit ordo eorum rite connexus. Quod Ambr.ille | Plato Lysiam culpat in Phaedro, sententiarum ordinem ab eo ita temere permixtum, ut sine ullo detrimento prima in novissimum locum transferantur, et novissima in primum, eam culpam ita devitabimus, si divisa generatim argumenta nectemus, non sparsa nec sine discrimine aggerata, ut ea quae per saturam feruntur, sed ut praecedens sententia in sequentem laciniam aliquam porrigat et oram praetendat; ubi prior sit finita sententia, inde ut sequens ordiatur; ita enim transgredi potius videmur quam transilire.
“Sôsikrates, in his Successions, says that when Pythagoras was asked by Leon, the tyrant of the Phliasians, who he was, he said, “a philosopher,” and that he said life was like the Great Games. Some people go there to compete, others go to make money, and the best people go to watch. For in life, some people have a slavish nature and they hunt for glory or profit, while philosophers search for the truth.”
Plato compares life to a game too, just a different one….
Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b
“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”
And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)
“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”
Edmund Wilson, Reflections on the Teaching of Latin:
It is still possible for a student to- day, as it was forty years ago, to have been through four or five years of Latin and yet, as I have recently had a chance to note, not to have learned, for example, the words for the commonest colors and animals, the parts of the body and the seasons of the year. Why?
The answer is: Caesar and Cicero – the military vocabulary of the one, the highfalutin rhetoric of the other. And what is the reason for prescribing these writers? The answer to this is that Caesar, at some now remote point of the past, was selected as the only example of classical Latin prose that was simple and straight-forward enough for a schoolboy to make his way through, and that Cicero represented the ideal of Latin diction at a time when it was thought essential for every educated man to write Latin. And why the years of grinding at grammar at the expense of learning to read? This is a part of the ancient tradition of abstract intellectual discipline. The justification for it is the same as the justification for piling problems of algebra on students who have no mathematical interests and will never have occasion to use algebra. Both at worst have a minimum of practical use. Latin syntax does give us some training in the relation of words in a sentence, as algebra gives us some idea of what is involved in mathematical method; but there is nevertheless a fallacy in this old ideal. It strikes us as rather monstrous when we read about how Karl Marx, that intellectual prodigy, used to exercise his mental muscles by committing to memory whole pages of languages he did not understand; yet actually our teaching of Latin inflicts something not very different. The student is made to memorize pages of declensions, conjugations, and rules for grammatical constructions that mean little or nothing to him as language.
Does the minimum of real Latin that he acquires in this way serve any useful purpose in later life? The lawyer hardly needs this instruction to pick up the Latin phrases of the law; the student in most scientific fields can learn the terminology of his subject without worrying about Cicero and Caesar.
Pietro Bembo, Letter to Pico della Mirandola (1530)
We cannot say the same thing about Vergil, namely, that he is fit to be emulated by everyone who takes pleasure in his poems. For those who write elegies or lyric poems, or those who are held by an enthusiasm for writing comedies or tragedies, will find very little help from the Vergilian structure, meter, or poetic program. Rather, they should imitate those whom they consider to be the chief poets in each individual genre of writing, and should give themselves wholly to the project of following them and even overcoming them. To be sure, I myself have done this. In writing my elegies, I imitated the poet who seemed to me to be the best in that genre. But for the poet who commits himself to heroic verse, then surely Vergil is to be learned, drunk in, and expressed as much as possible, as I had once personally told you was my opinion on the matter.
De Virgilio vero non idem possumus dicere, ut idoneus sit, quem, qui carminibus delectantur, imitari omnes queant. Neque enim qui aut elegos aut lyricos conficiunt versus, quique vel comoediarum vel tragoediarum scribendarum studio detinentur, horum ullos Virgiliana carminum structura, numerus, ratio ipsa multum iuvabit. Sed imitentur ii quidem eos quos habent principes singulis in scriptorum generibus singulos atque illis assequendis superandisque dedant. Quod profecto nos aliquando fecimus, ut in elegis pangendis, qui optimus eo in genere poematis nobis visus est, eum imitaremur. Heroicis autem conscribendis carminibus qui se dederit, huic certe erit Virgilius ediscendus, ebibendus et quam maxime fieri poterit exprimendus, quemadmodum coram tibi dixeram mihi videri.
To be sure, both Greek and Latin were effectively innate to the ancients, but we must seek these languages from their books, and thus we should receive a greater accession of legitimate praise for learning them. For they, even if they were unwilling, spoke Greek in Greece and Latin in Italy; but we Italians who speak Latin (not to mention Greek) have earned and acquired that skill through our industry. Thus it will happen that, should our age happen to get a fair judge of these matters, those who now speak even in a fairly middling way will be justly preferred to those outstanding champions of old, since the men of today, having had commerce with the Goths, Vandals, and the Huns, yet retain that ancient mode of speech worn down by so many centuries, or at any rate they attempt to retain it through continual imitation, in which pursuit there is perchance a marvelous – nay, even excessive mental subtlety.
Lingua certe veteribus illis cum Graeca tum Latina quasi nativa adfuit, quam ab eorum libris petere nos oportet, quibus maior ea de re legitimae laudis accesio. Illi enim vel nolentes et in Hellade Graece et in Italia Latine loquebantur; nobis Italis qui Latine loquamur, nedum Graece, id nostra est partum et elaboratum industria. Inde fiet aequum rerum aestimatorem si sortiatur nostra aetas, posse eos qui nunc mediocriter loquuntur praecipuis illis et antesignanis iure praeferri, qui scilicet inter Gothos, Vandalos, Hunnosque versati priscam illam et tot saeculis abolitam dicendi rationem aut teneant aut tenere conentur imitatione continua, qua etiam in re mira subtilitas et forte nimia.
Lionel Trilling, On the Teaching of Modern Literature:
In one of his poems, Yeats mocks the literary scholars, the “bald heads forgetful of their sins,” the “old, learned, respectable bald heads,” who edit the poems of the fierce and passionate young men.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk this way?
Yeats, of course, is thinking of his own future fate, and no doubt there is all the radical and comical discrepancy that he sees between the poet’s passions and the scholars’ close-eyed concentration on the text. Yet for my own part, when I think of Catullus, I am moved to praise the tact of all those old heads, from Heinsius and Bentley to Munro and Postgate, who worked on Codex G and Codex O and drew conclusions about the lost Codex V – for doing only this and for not trying to realize and demonstrate the true intensity and the true quality and the true cultural meaning of Catullus’s passion and managing to bring it somehow into eventual accord with their respectability and baldness. Nowadays we who deal with books in universities live in fear that the World, which we imagine to be a vital, palpitating, reality-loving World, will think of us as old, respectable, and bald, and we see to it that in our dealings with Yeats (to take him as the example) his wild cry of rage and sexuality is heard by our students and quite thoroughly understood by them as – what is it that we usually call it? – a significant expression of our culture. The exasperation of Lawrence and the subversiveness of Gide, by the time we have dealt with them boldly, and straightforwardly, are notable instances of the alienation of modern man as exemplified by the artist.
Eratosthenes says that the poet aims entirely at persuasion, not at education. On the other hand, the ancients said that poetry was originally a kind of philosophy, leading us to life from childhood and teaching us character, emotion, and deeds through the pleasure it gave us. But people of our time say that the poet is the only wise person. For this reason, the cities of the Greeks educated their children through poetry first, not for the sake of the pleasant amusement to be gained from it, but for the sake of moral instruction. Even the musicians teaching them to play the harp or lyre or flute pretend to be involved in this virtue: for they say that they are educational and instructive of character.
Isaac Casaubon, Letter to Claude Saumaise (DXLIII)
“I received your letters, and the ancient epigrams which you added. How can I show my gratitude for these? To be sure, you can guess how grateful I am from my almost shameless petition for them. So, I’m ashamed of myself for giving you so much vexation. I do not understand the method and aim of your studies. And so, believe me, I am concerned about you and your health – I think of you as a brother. I exceed you in age, but you have outstripped me with the miraculous gifts which instilled in me long ago a marvelous expectation for you. Just spare your intellect, have some concern for your health, enjoy the joy of your age and preserve yourself in this, your youth, so that you can when you are older complete those studies which cannot be completed except by you.
I seem to see you like Tantalus in the middle of the water, for you cannot enjoy all of the riches of the Palatine Library. I can sense your avidity from your letters, and I also know with what violent force you are driven on to your studies. This makes me fear for your little body. Otherwise, I will write at another time about the poems which you sent – now I am extremely busy. If you see the [???] of Bongars, you will know from it what my cares are. For I have set aside my Polybius for the meantime. Farewell, my dearest friend.”
Socrates is telling a story of the invention of writing in Egypt
“When it came to the written letters, Theuth said, ‘This training, King, will make Egyptians wiser and will give them stronger memories: for it is a drug for memory and wisdom!’ But the king replied, “Most inventive Theuth, one man is able to create technology, but another judges how much harm and benefit it brings to those who use it. Just so now you, who are father of letters, declare the opposite of what they are capable because of your enthusiasm.
This craft will engender forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it from the disuse of the memory since they will trust external writing struck by others, no longer recalling their own thoughts within them. You have discovered a drug for reminding, not one for memory; you will offer students the reputation of wisdom but not the true thing. For many who become students without instruction will seem to know a lot when they are mostly ignorant and difficult to be around, since they have become wise for appearance instead of wise in truth.’
Ph. Socrates, you can easily make up any story about Egypt that you want to…”