Circe’s Island Is Really about Reincarnation: An Allegorical Reading of Odyssey 10

Here is another allegorical interpretation of the Odyssey attributed to Porphyry.

from Stobaeus, i. 44. 60 

Τοῦ αὐτοῦ (sc. Πορφυρίου)·

“The things that Homer says about Kirkê contain a wonderful theory about the soul. The interpretation runs as follows:

Some have the heads, voice, head and skin of swine, but the mind remains constant as it was before. This myth is similar to the riddle about the soul presented by Pythagoras and Plato, that it is indestructible in nature and unseen but that it is not safe from harm or unchangeable. In what is called its destruction or death, it undergoes a change and then a transference into different kinds of bodies pursuing an appearance and fit according to pleasure, by similarity and practice to how it lived life. In this, each person draws a great advantage from education and philosophy, since the soul has a memory of noble things, judges the shameful harshly, and is able to overcome the unnatural pleasures. This soul can pay attention to itself, and guard that it might not accidentally become a beast because it has grown attracted to an hideously shaped, unclean body regarding virtue, a body that excites and nourishes uncultured and unreasoning nature rather than increasing and nourishing thought.

Τὰ δὲ παρ᾿ Ὁμήρῳ περὶ τῆς Κίρκης λεγόμενα θαυμαστὴν ἔχει τὴν περὶ ψυχὴν θεωρίαν. λέγεται γὰρ οὕτως,

οἱ δὲ συῶν μὲν ἔχον κεφαλὰς φωνήν τε τρίχας τε καὶ δέμας· αὐτὰρ νοῦς ἦν ἔμπεδος ὡς τὸ πάρος περ. ἔστι τοίνυν ὁ μῦθος αἴνιγμα τῶν περὶ ψυχῆς ὑπό τε Πυθαγόρου λεγομένων καὶ Πλάτωνος, ὡς ἄφθαρτος οὖσα τὴν φύσιν καὶ ἀίδιος, οὔ τι μὴν ἀπαθὴς οὐδ᾿ ἀμετάβλητος, ἐν ταῖς λεγομέναις φθοραῖς καὶ τελευταῖς μεταβολὴν ἴσχει καὶ μετακόσμησιν εἰς ἕτερα σωμάτων εἴδη, καθ᾿ ἡδονὴν διώκουσα τὸ πρόσφορον καὶ οἰκεῖον ὁμοιότητι καὶ συνηθείᾳ βίου διαίτης· ἔνθα δὴ τὸ μέγα παιδείας ἑκάστῳ καὶ φιλοσοφίας ὄφελος, ἂν μνημονεύουσα τῶν καλῶν ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ δυσχεραίνουσα τὰς αἰσχρὰς καὶ παρανόμους ἡδονὰς δύνηται κρατεῖν καὶ προσέχειν αὑτῇ καὶ φυλάττειν μὴ λάθῃ θηρίον γενομένη καὶ στέρξασα σώματος οὐκ εὐφυοῦς οὐδὲ καθαροῦ πρὸς ἀρετὴν φύσιν ἄμουσον καὶ ἄλογον καὶ τὸ ἐπιθυμοῦν καὶ θυμούμενον μᾶλλον ἢ τὸ φρόνιμον αὐξάνοντος καὶ τρέφοντος.

“Once the soul is translated, that which is fated and nature, which Empedocles named the divine force that “wraps us in a foreign robe of flesh”, also re-fits the soul.  Homer has named this circular journey and return of rebirth Kirkê, the child of the sun because the sun binds every destruction to birth and every birth in turn to destruction, always weaving them together. The Island Aiaia is also that place allotted to receive one who dies—where the souls first arrive as they wander, and suffer alienation as they mourn and they do not know which way is west nor “where the sun which brings mortals light comes upon the earth”.

As they long for their habits of pleasure—their shared life in the flesh and their way of life with the flesh—they provide the draught with its character again: it is the drink where birth is mixed and stirs together what is truly immortal and mortal, the thoughts and sufferings, the ethereal and the earthbound. The souls are enchanted and weakened by the pleasures that will lead them back to birth again. At this time, souls require great luck and great wisdom in order to avoid pursuing their worst aspects or passions and dedicate themselves to a cursed and beastly life”.

Αὐτῆς γὰρ τῆς μετακοσμήσεως εἱμαρμένη καὶ φύσις ὑπὸ Ἐμπεδοκλέους δαίμων ἀνηγόρευται “σαρκῶν ἀλλογνῶτι περιστέλλουσα χιτῶνι”καὶ μεταμπίσχουσα τὰς ψυχάς, Ὅμηρος δὲ τὴν ἐν κύκλῳ περίοδον καὶ περιφορὰν παλιγγενεσίας Κίρκην προσηγόρευκεν, Ἡλίου παῖδα τοῦ πᾶσαν φθορὰν γενέσει καὶ γένεσιν αὖ πάλιν φθορᾷ συνάπτοντος ἀεὶ καὶ συνείροντος. Αἰαίη δὲ νῆσος ἡ δεχομένη τὸν ἀποθνήσκοντα μοῖρα καὶ χώρα τοῦ περιέχοντος, εἰς ἣν ἐμπεσοῦσαι πρῶτον αἱ ψυχαὶ πλανῶνται καὶ ξενοπαθοῦσι καὶ ὀλοφύρονται καὶ οὐκ ἴσασιν ὅπῃ ζόφος “οὐδ᾿ ὅπῃ ἠέλιος φαεσίμβροτος εἶσ᾿ ὑπὸ γαῖαν” ποθοῦσαι δὲ καθ᾿ ἡδονὰς τὴν συνήθη καὶ σύντροφον ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ μετὰ σαρκὸς δίαιταν ἐμπίπτουσιν αὖθις εἰς τὸν κυκεῶνα, τῆς γενέσεως μιγνύσης εἰς ταὐτὸ καὶ κυκώσης ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀίδια καὶ θνητὰ καὶ φρόνιμα καὶ παθητὰ καὶ ὀλύμπια καὶ γηγενῆ, θελγόμεναι καὶ μαλασσόμεναι ταῖς ἀγούσαις αὖθις ἐπὶ τὴν γένεσιν ἡδοναῖς, ἐν ᾧ δὴ μάλιστα πολλῆς μὲν εὐτυχίας αἱ ψυχαὶ δέονται πολλῆς δὲ σωφροσύνης, ὅπως μὴ τοῖς κακίστοις ἐπισπόμεναι καὶ συνενδοῦσαι μέρεσιν ἢ πάθεσιν αὑτῶν κακοδαίμονα καὶ θηριώδη βίον ἀμείψωσιν.

For it is right that it is called and considered a crossroad in the underworld around which the parts of the soul split: the rational, the emotional, and the desirous. Each of these produces a force or an inducement to the life appropriate to itself. This is no longer myth or poetry but truth and a story of nature. In this transformation and rebirth, when the aspect of desire overpowers and takes control, [Homer] is claiming that because of the dominance of pleasure and gluttony, they transform into the bodies of donkeys and pigs and receive unclean lives on the ground. The interpretation runs as follows.

Whenever a soul has an emotional component that has grown completely savage because of harsh rivalries or murderous savagery developing from some disagreement or vendetta, that soul finds a second birth which is full of bitterness and angry thoughts and falls into the shape of a wolf or a lion, embracing this body as if it were a tool of vengeance for his controlling passion. For this reason, one must keep clean when near death as if for a religious rite and restrain from every kind of base pleasure, put every harsh emotion to bed, and to withdraw from the body by suppressing envies, enmities, and rages down deep. This “Hermes of the golden-staff” happens to be that very reasoning which indicates clearly the good and either wholly restrains or saves it from the deadly draught should it drink—it preserves the soul in a human life and character for as long a time as is possible.”

ἡ γὰρ λεγομένη καὶ νομιζομένη τῶν ἐν Ἅιδου τρίοδος ἐνταῦθά που τέτακται περὶ τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς σχιζομένη μέρη, τὸ λογιστικὸν καὶ θυμοειδὲς καὶ ἐπιθυμητικόν, ὧν ἕκαστον ἀρχὴν ἐξ αὑτοῦ καὶ ῥοπὴν ἐπὶ τὸν οἰκεῖον βίον ἐνδίδωσι. καὶ οὐκέτι ταῦτα μῦθος οὐδὲ ποίησις ἀλλ᾿ ἀλήθεια καὶ φυσικὸς λόγος. ὧν μὲν γὰρ ἐν τῇ μεταβολῇ καὶ γενέσει τὸ ἐπιθυμητικὸν ἐξανθοῦν ἐπικρατεῖ καὶ δυναστεύει, τούτοις εἰς ὀνώδη καὶ ὑώδη σώματα καὶ βίους θολεροὺς καὶ ἀκαθάρτους ὑπὸ φιληδονίας καὶ γαστριμαργίας φησὶ γίνεσθαι τὴν μεταβολήν. ὅταν δὲ φιλονεικίαις σκληραῖς καὶ φονικαῖς ὠμότησιν ἔκ τινος διαφορᾶς ἢ δυσμενείας ἐξηγριωμένον ἔχουσα παντάπασιν ἡ ψυχὴ τὸ θυμοειδὲς εἰς δευτέραν γένεσιν ἀφίκηται, πλήρης οὖσα προσφάτου πικρίας καὶ βαρυφροσύνης ἔρριψεν ἑαυτὴν εἰς λύκου φύσιν ἢ λέοντος, ὥσπερ ὄργανον ἀμυντικὸν τὸ σῶμα τῷ κρατοῦντι προσιεμένη πάθει καὶ περιαρμόσασα. διὸ δεῖ μάλιστα περὶ τὸν θάνατον ὥσπερ ἐν τελετῇ καθαρεύοντα παντὸς ἀπέχειν πάθους φαύλου τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν χαλεπὴν κοιμήσαντα καὶ φθόνους καὶ δυσμενείας καὶ ὀργὰς ἀπωτάτω τιθέμενον τοῦ φρονοῦντος ἐκβαίνειν τοῦ σώματος. οὗτος ὁ χρυσόρραπις Ἑρμῆς ἀληθῶς ὁ λόγος ἐντυγχάνων καὶ δεικνύων ἐναργῶς τὸ καλὸν ἢ παντάπασιν εἴργει καὶ ἀπέχει τοῦ κυκεῶνος, ἢ πιοῦσαν2 ἐν ἀνθρωπίνῳ βίῳ καὶ ἤθει διαφυλάσσει πλεῖστον χρόνον, ὡς ἀνυστόν ἐστι.

 

 

Circe
*oil on canvas
*148 x 92 cm
*1891

 

Leave Your Homework to Sunday Night? Philo has Some Words for You

Philo, The Preliminary studies 29.166–7

There are those who, when they encounter the frights and horrors of the wilderness with complete endurance and strength complete the contest of life, after preserving it unsullied and unconquered, holding fast against the compulsions of nature like poverty, so that they subdue hunger, thirst, cold, and heat and everything which enslaves other people through the great abundance of their strength.

The cause of this is not simple toil but toil with a certain sweetening. For he says “the water is sweetened” and the work that is sweet and attractive is also called “love of labor” (philoponia). For in work the desire and longing and and love of finer things is sweet. Let no one turn away from this kind of suffering, nor let anyone believe that when the table of the feast and happiness is called “bread of suffering” it is for its harm rather than profit. For the soul which is chastened is fed by the instructions of education.”

οἱ δὲ τὰ φοβερὰ καὶ δεινὰ τῆς ἐρήμης πάνυ τλητικῶς καὶ ἐρρωμένως ἀναδεχόμενοι τὸν ἀγῶνα τοῦ βίου διήθλησαν ἀδιάφθορον καὶ ἀήττητον φυλάξαντες καὶ τῶν τῆς φύσεως ἀναγκαίων κατεξαναστάντες, ὡς πεῖναν, δίψος, [ῥῖγος,] κρύος, θάλπος, ὅσα τοὺς ἄλλους εἴωθε δουλοῦσθαι, κατὰ πολλὴν ἰσχύος περιουσίαν ὑπάγεσθαι. αἴτιον δὲ ἐγένετο οὐ ψιλὸς ὁ πόνος, ἀλλὰ σὺν τῷ γλυκανθῆναι· λέγει γάρ· “ἐγλυκάνθη τὸ ὕδωρ,” γλυκὺς δὲ καὶ ἡδὺς πόνος ἑτέρῳ ὀνόματι φιλοπονία καλεῖται. τὸ γὰρ ἐν πόνῳ γλυκὺ ἔρως ἐστὶ καὶ πόθος καὶ ζῆλος καὶ φιλία τοῦ καλοῦ. μηδεὶς οὖν τὴν τοιαύτην κάκωσιν ἀποστρεφέσθω, μηδ᾿ “ ἄρτον κακώσεως” νομισάτω ποτὲ λέγεσθαι τὴν ἑορτῆς καὶ εὐφροσύνης τράπεζαν ἐπὶ βλάβῃ μᾶλλον ἢ ὠφελείᾳ· τρέφεται γὰρ τοῖς παιδείας δόγμασιν ἡ νουθετουμένη ψυχή.

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Seneca on What Parents Do For Children

Seneca, De Beneficiis 6.24

“Don’t you see how parents compel the tender age of their children toward a healthy endurance of matters? They lavish care on their bodies even as they weep and struggle against them and, so that early freedom does not destroy their limbs, they even swaddle them to help them stay straight. And soon they shape them with a liberal education, adding threats when the children are unwilling. And they treat the final boldness of youth with frugality, shame, good habits, and, compulsion, if necessary.

Force and severity are added to to these youths who are already in control of themselves if they reject these remedies because of fear or intemperance. These are the greatest benefits which we receive from our parents, while we are either ignorant or unwilling.”

Non vides, quemadmodum teneram liberorum infantiam parentes ad salubrium rerum patientiam cogant? Flentium corpora ac repugnantium diligenti cura fovent et, ne membra libertas immatura detorqueat, in rectum exitura constringunt et mox liberalia studia inculcant adhibito timore nolentibus; ad ultimum audacem iuventam frugalitati, pudori, moribus bonis, si parum sequitur, coactam applicant.

Adulescentibus quoque ac iam potentibus sui, si remedia metu aut intemperantia reiciunt, vis adhibetur ac severitas. Itaque beneficiorum maxima sunt, quae a parentibus accepimus, dum aut nescimus aut nolumus.

Livre des Vices et des Vertus , XVe siècle. Paris, BnF, département des Manuscrits, Français 20320, fol. 177v
Livre des Vices et des Vertus , XVe siècle. Paris, BnF, département des Manuscrits, Français 20320, fol. 177v

Make Up Words and Authorities Who Said Them!

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking, 17

“There are times when you yourself make up new and different words and decide to call one interpreter “fine-spoken”, another smart man “wise-brained”, or some dancer “hands-wise”.

Let shamelessness be the one medicine you use if you offer a solecism or barbarism: immediately offer up the name of someone who doesn’t exist and never did—some poet or scholar—a wise man who was expertly precise in his language and condoned speaking in this way.

But don’t read the classics at all, especially not the silly Isocrates, or the Demosthenes blessed with little skill, or the boring Plato. No! read only those speeches from those a little bit before our time and those things they call ‘practice-pieces” so you may have a supply of phrases you can use at the right time as if you were pulling something from a pantry.”

ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ποίει καινὰ καὶ ἀλλόκοτα ὀνόματα καὶ νομοθέτει τὸν μὲν ἑρμηνεῦσαι δεινὸν “εὔλεξιν” καλεῖν, τὸν συνετὸν “σοφόνουν,” τὸν ὀρχηστὴν δὲ “χειρίσοφον.” ἂν σολοικίσῃς δὲ ἢ βαρβαρίσῃς, ἓν ἔστω φάρμακον ἡ ἀναισχυντία, καὶ πρόχειρον εὐθὺς ὄνομα οὔτε ὄντος τινὸς οὔτε γενομένου ποτέ, ἢ ποιητοῦ ἢ συγγραφέως, ὃς οὕτω λέγειν ἐδοκίμαζε σοφὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ τὴν φωνὴν εἰς τὸ ἀκρότατον ἀπηκριβωμένος. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀναγίγνωσκε τὰ παλαιὰ μὲν μὴ σύ γε, μηδὲ εἴ τι ὁ λῆρος Ἰσοκράτης ἢ ὁ χαρίτων ἄμοιρος Δημοσθένης ἢ ὁ ψυχρὸς Πλάτων, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῶν ὀλίγον πρὸ ἡμῶν λόγους καὶ ἅς φασι ταύτας μελέτας, ὡς ἔχῃς ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνων ἐπισιτισάμενος ἐν καιρῷ καταχρῆσθαι καθάπερ ἐκ ταμιείου προαιρῶν.

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Arrighi, Royal 12 C VIII f. 3v. Pandolfo Collenuccio of Pesaro (d. 1504), Lucian, Collenuccio’s Apologues

Attracting the Greatest Numbers of Students with the Least Truth

Isocrates, Against the Sophists 9-10

“We must rebuke not only those sophists but also those who promise to teach political oratory—for these guys don’t care at all about the truth but instead think that it is an art because they get the greatest number of students thanks to the small size of their fee and the greatness of their pronouncements and then they get something from them.

They are so imperceptive and imagine everyone else to be that even though they write speeches worse than some of the untrained masses compose, they still guarantee that they will make their students the kinds of politicians who never leave out any of the possibilities in a matter.

Even worse, they don’t derive any of that power from their experiences or the talent of a student, but they say that they can train the knowledge of speaking as they would basic literacy—in reality, each of them believe that because of the insanity of their promises they will be objects of wonder and that people will think that training in their discipline is worth more than it is. In this, they have not even considered that the people who make arts great are not those who dare to boast about them, but those who have the ability to discover what the power of each art is on its own.”

Οὐ μόνον δὲ τούτοις ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς τοὺς πολιτικοὺς λόγους ὑπισχνουμένοις ἄξιον ἐπιτιμῆσαι καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι τῆς μὲν ἀληθείας οὐδὲν φροντίζουσιν, ἡγοῦνται δὲ τοῦτ᾿ εἶναι τὴν τέχνην, ἢν ὡς πλείστους τῇ μικρότητι τῶν μισθῶν καὶ τῷ μεγέθει τῶν ἐπαγγελμάτων προσαγάγωνται καὶ λαβεῖν τι παρ᾿ αὐτῶν δυνηθῶσιν· οὕτω δ᾿ ἀναισθήτως αὐτοί τε διάκεινται καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἔχειν ὑπειλήφασιν, ὥστε χεῖρον γράφοντες τοὺς λόγους ἢ τῶν ἰδιωτῶν τινες αὐτοσχεδιάζουσιν, ὅμως ὑπισχνοῦνται τοιούτους ῥήτορας τοὺς συνόντας ποιήσειν ὥστε μηδὲν τῶν ἐνόντων ἐν τοῖς πράγμασι παραλιπεῖν. καὶ ταύτης τῆς δυνάμεως οὐδὲν [293]οὔτε ταῖς ἐμπειρίαις οὔτε τῇ φύσει τῇ τοῦ μαθητοῦ μεταδιδόασιν, ἀλλά φασιν ὁμοίως τὴν τῶν λόγων ἐπιστήμην ὥσπερ τὴν τῶν γραμμάτων παραδώσειν, ὡς μὲν ἔχει τούτων ἑκάτερον, οὐκ ἐξετάσαντες, οἰόμενοι δὲ διὰ τὰς ὑπερβολὰς τῶν ἐπαγγελμάτων αὐτοί τε θαυμασθήσεσθαι καὶ τὴν παίδευσιν τὴν τῶν λόγων πλέονος ἀξίαν δόξειν εἶναι, κακῶς εἰδότες ὅτι μεγάλας ποιοῦσι τὰς τέχνας οὐχ οἱ τολμῶντες ἀλαζονεύεσθαι περὶ αὐτῶν, ἀλλ᾿ οἵτινες ἄν, ὅσον ἔνεστιν ἐν ἑκάστῃ, τοῦτ᾿ ἐξευρεῖν δυνηθῶσιν.

Vaticanus Graecus, 65. 121v Public Domain

 

Politicians and Philosophers! On the Education of Perikles

Plutarch on Perikles

“Perikles was a student of Zeno the Eleatic too, the one who concerned himself with nature in the manner of Parmenides. and who practiced a type of refutational logic which would trap his interlocutor.  He was, as Timon of Phlias quipped, “a man whose tongue worked both ways, with irresistible fury, Zeno, a universal prosecutor”.

But the one who spent the most time with Pericles and who chiefly endowed him with a stature and outlook more impressive than any demagogue’s and who totally raised up and praised the worth of his character was Anaxagoras of Klazomene. He was a man people of that time called the Mind because either they were amazed by his understanding which appeared so great and nuanced regarding nature or because he was the first who didn’t make chance or necessity the ruling force of the universe but instead Mind in its pure and simple form…”

διήκουσε δὲ Περικλῆς καὶ Ζήνωνος τοῦ Ἐλεάτου πραγματευομένου περὶ φύσιν, ὡς Παρμενίδης, ἐλεγκτικὴν δέ τινα καὶ δι᾿ ἀντιλογίας κατακλείουσαν εἰς ἀπορίαν ἐξασκήσαντος ἕξιν, ὥσπερ καὶ Τίμων ὁ Φλιάσιος εἴρηκε διὰ τούτων·

Ἀμφοτερογλώσσου τε μέγα σθένος οὐκ ἀλαπαδνὸν /Ζήνωνος, πάντων ἐπιλήπτορος.

Ὁ δὲ πλεῖστα Περικλεῖ συγγενόμενος καὶ μάλιστα περιθεὶς ὄγκον αὐτῷ καὶ φρόνημα δημαγωγίας ἐμβριθέστερον, ὅλως τε μετεωρίσας καὶ συνεξάρας τὸ ἀξίωμα τοῦ ἤθους, Ἀναξαγόρας ἦν ὁ Κλαζομένιος, ὃν οἱ τότ᾿ ἄνθρωποι Νοῦν προσηγόρευον, εἴτε τὴν σύνεσιν αὐτοῦ μεγάλην εἰς φυσιολογίαν καὶ περιττὴν διαφανεῖσαν θαυμάσαντες, εἴθ᾿ ὅτι τοῖς ὅλοις πρῶτος οὐ τύχην οὐδ᾿ ἀνάγκην διακοσμήσεως ἀρχήν, ἀλλὰ νοῦν ἐπέστησε καθαρὸν καὶ ἄκρατον…

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“Learn As Long As You Are Ignorant”: Seneca on What He Has to Teach

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher? You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.

But the human race still shames me every time I enter the school. Near to that theater of the Neapolitans, I have to pass that house of Metronax. There, the place is packed too as with a burning desire they judge who is the best flute player. The Greek horn and a herald bring a crowd. But in the place where we seek what a good man is, where how to be a good man may be learned, the smallest audience sits and they seem to most people to be up to no good in their pursuit. They are called useless and lazy. May such derision touch me. For the insults of the ignorant should be heard with a gentle mind. Contempt itself must be held in contempt as we journey toward better things.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum. Pudet autem me generis humani, quotiens scholam intravi. Praeter ipsum theatrum Neapolitanorum, ut scis, transeundum est Metronactis petenti domum. Illud quidem fartum est et ingenti studio, quis sit pythaules bonus, iudicatur; habet tubicen quoque Graecus et praeco concursum. At in illo loco, in quo vir bonus quaeritur, in quo vir bonus discitur, paucissimi sedent, et hi plerisque videntur nihil boni negotii habere quod agant; inepti et inertes vocantur. Mihi contingat iste derisus; aequo animo audienda sunt inperitorum convicia et ad honesta vadenti contemnendus est ipse contemptus.

 

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Hey Poindexter, You Don’t Know Sh*t!

Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance (32):

“I don’t say these things in an effort to avoid their judgment, but so that they who are ignorant may feel some shame (if they are capable of it) in making their judgment. For, on this subject, I do not just embrace the opinion of friendly jealousy, but even the judgment of hostile hatred, and in sum, if someone pronounces that I am ignorant, I agree with him! When I myself think over how many things are lacking to me, toward which my mind, eager for knowledge, exerts itself, I sadly and silently recognize my own ignorance. But in the meantime, while the end of my present exile is near, at which point this imperfection (from whence our knowledge derives) will be terminated, I am consoled by the thought of our shared nature. I think that it happens to all good and modest minds, that they learn about themselves and derive consolation therefrom. For those who get hold of great knowledge (I am speaking according to the standards of human learning), it is always small when considered in itself, but it becomes great in light of the narrow circumstances from which it is derived, and certainly looks great when compared to others. Otherwise, I ask you, how small and insignificant is the knowledge granted to one mind? Nay, how much like nothing is the knowledge of any one person, whoever they be, when it is compared not just to the knowledge of God, but to one’s own fund of ignorance?”

Petrarch-engraving

Non hec dico, ut declinem forum, sed ut pudeat, siquis est pudor, iudicasse qui nesciunt. Ego etenim de hac re non modo sententiam amicabilis amplector invidie, sed hostilis odii, et ad summam, quisquis ignarum me pronuntiat, mecum sentit. Nam et ego ipse recogitans quam multa michi desint ad id quo sciendi avida mens suspirat, ignorantiam meam dolens ac tacitus recognosco. Sed me interim, dum presentis exilii finis adest, quo nostra hec imperfectio terminetur, qua ex parte nunc scimus, nature communis extimatione consolor. Idque omnibus bonis ac modestis ingeniis evenire arbitror, ut agnoscant se pariter ac solentur; his etiam quibus ingens obtigit scientia — secundum humane scientie morem loquor — que in se semper exigua, pro angustiis quibus excipitur, et collata aliis ingens fit. Alioquin quantulum, queso, est, quantumcunque est, quod nosse uni ingenio datum est? Imo quam nichil est scire hominis, quisquis sit, si non dicam scientie Dei, sed sui ipsius ignorantie comparetur?

Forgetting the Classics

Thomas Arnold, Rugby School – Use of the Classics

Now when it is said, that men in manhood so often throw their Greek and Latin aside, and that this very fact shows the uselessness of their early studies, it is much more true to say that it shows how completely the literature of Greece and Rome would be forgotten, if our system of education did not keep up the knowledge of it. But it by no means shows that system to be useless, unless it followed that when a man laid aside his Greek and Latin books, he forgot also all that he had ever gained from them. This, however, is so far from being the case, that even where the results of a classical education are least tangible, and least appreciated even by the individual himself, still the mind often retains much of the effect of its early studies in the general liberality of its tastes and comparative comprehensiveness of its views and
notions.

All this supposes, indeed, that classical instruction should be sensibly conducted; it requires that a classical teacher should be fully acquainted with modern history and modern literature, no less than with those of Greece and Rome. What is, or perhaps what used to be, called a mere scholar, cannot possibly communicate to his pupils the main advantages of a classical education. The knowledge of the past is valuable, because without it our knowledge of the present and of the future must be scanty; but if the knowledge of the past be confined wholly to itself, if, instead of being made to bear upon things around us, it be totally isolated from them, and so disguised by vagueness and misapprehension as to appear incapable of illustrating them, then indeed it becomes little better than laborious trifling, and they who declaim against it may be fully forgiven.

A Testament to the Swollen and the Cut

Sophocles, Fragments 620 (from Troilus)

“The queen lopped off my testicles with a knife…”

σκάλμῃ γὰρ ὄρχεις βασιλὶς ἐκτέμνουσ᾿ ἐμούς

Naevius, Testicularia (A Play About Testicles)

“No! The ones we’ve cut off, I’ll chop up and throw away”

Immo quos scicidimus conscindam atque abiciam.

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 7.5.62

“There is evidence from other animals too: out of control horses stop biting and bucking when they are neutered but they are no less useful in combat. When bulls are castrated they stop being so haughty and difficult but they aren’t deprived of their strength and ability to work. Similarly, when dogs are neutered they stop running away from their owners, but they are no worse at shepherding and hunting.”

ἐτεκμαίρετο δὲ καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἄλλων ζῴων ὅτι οἵ τε ὑβρισταὶ ἵπποι ἐκτεμνόμενοι τοῦ μὲν δάκνειν καὶ ὑβρίζειν ἀποπαύονται, πολεμικοὶ δὲ οὐδὲν ἧττον γίγνονται, οἵ τε ταῦροι ἐκτεμνόμενοι τοῦ μὲν μέγα φρονεῖν καὶ ἀπειθεῖν ὑφίενται, τοῦ δ᾽ ἰσχύειν καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι οὐ στερίσκονται, καὶ οἱ κύνες δὲ ὡσαύτως τοῦ μὲν ἀπολείπειν τοὺς δεσπότας ἀποπαύονται ἐκτεμνόμενοι, φυλάττειν δὲ καὶ εἰς θήραν οὐδὲν κακίους γίγνονται.

Castration of animals has been practiced for around 8.000 years!

Diog. Laert. 8.34–35.

“Aristotle claims in his work On the Pythagoreans that [Pythagoras] told people to refrain from beans either because they look like testicles or the gates of Hell.”

φησὶ δ’ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐν τῷ Περὶ τῶν Πυθαγορείων παραγγέλλειν αὐτὸν ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν κυάμων ἤτοι ὅτι αἰδοίοις εἰσὶν ὅμοιοι, ἢ ὅτι Ἅιδου πύλαις

Martial, Epigram 9.27

“You’re walking around with shaved balls, Chrestus”

Cum depilatos, Chreste, coleos portes

Celsus, On Medicine 4.7

“If a swelling develops in the testicles when they haven’t been struck, blood should be let from the ankle; the patient should fast; and the swelling should be treated with bean meal cooked in honeyed-wine or rubbed with cumin with boiled honey; or ground cumin with rose oil, or wheat flour with honey wine and cypress roots; or the root of a lily, pounded.

In testiculis vero si qua inflammatio sine ictu orta est, sanguis a talo mittendus est; a cibo abstinendum; inponenda ex faba farina eo ex mulso cocta cum cumino contrito et ex melle cocto; aut contritum cuminum cum cerato ex rosa facto; aut lini semen frictum, contritum et in mulso coctum; aut tritici farina ex mulso cocta cum cupresso; aut lilii radix contrita.

Aristotle, Historia Animalium 7.50.20

“All animals who have testicles can be castrated.”

 ἐκτέμνεται δὲ τῶν ζῴων ὅσα ἔχει ὄρχεις.

Check out Sarah Bond’s short bibliography on eunuchs, marginality, and gender in the pre-modern world

Martial, Epigram 3.24.3-5

“By chance he told some country bumpkin
To chop off the goat’s testicles quickly with a sharp scythe
And get rid of that annoying stink of unclean meat.”

dixerat agresti forte rudique viro
ut cito testiculos †et acuta† falce secaret,
taeter ut immundae carnis abiret odor.

Hippocrates, Epidemics 2.12

“Swollen testicles”

…ὀρχίων οἴδησις…

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 26.81

“Ebulum, when ground up with its tender leaves and drunk with wine, takes care of stones; when applied as a salve, it helps testicles. Erigeron, as well, when mixed with frankincense and sweet wine, relieves swollen testicles.”

ebulum teneris cum foliis tritum ex vino potum calculos pellit, inpositum testes sanat. erigeron quoque cum farina turis et vino dulci testium inflammationes sanat.

Sumerians did it!

Hippocrates, Internal Affections 282

“…and his testicles were ulcerated…”

καὶ οἱ ὄρχιες ἑλκοῦνται

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 28.215

“They say that a goat’s dung is good for you with honey or vinegar, or just butter by itself. Testicular swelling can be treated  with veal suet mixed with soda, or by the calf’s dung reduced in vinegar.”

fimum etiam prodesse cum melle dicunt aut cum aceto et per se butyrum. testium tumor sebo vituli addito nitro cohibetur vel fimo eiusdem ex aceto decocto.

Bronze ritual Roman era castration clamps found in the river Thames and now at the Museum of London.
Bronze ritual Roman era castration clamps found in the river Thames and now at the Museum of London. SARAH E. BOND

image from Bond’s article on eunuchs, castration, and Game of thrones

Aristotle, Historia Animaliam 1.15

“Below the penis there are two testicles. There is skin around them called a scrotum. The testicles are not the same as flesh nor are they far from it. Later, will will speak more precisely about what their nature is and generally about all these kinds of parts.”

τοῦ δ᾿ αἰδοίου ὑποκάτω ὄρχεις δύο. τὸ δὲ πέριξ δέρμα, ὃ καλεῖται ὄσχεος. οἱ δ᾿ ὄρχεις οὔτε ταὐτὸ σαρκὶ οὔτε πόρρω σαρκός· ὃν τρόπον δ᾿ ἔχουσιν, ὕστερον δι᾿ ἀκριβείας λεχθήσεται καθόλου περὶ πάντων τῶν τοιούτων μορίων.

Varro, On Agriculture 2.15

“They become calmer once their testicles are removed because they no longer have seed.”

 Demptis enim testiculis fiunt quietiores, ideo quod semine carent

Plutarch, Natural Phenomena 917D

“Or is Aristotle’s claim true too, that Homer calls khlounês the boar who only has one testicle? For he claims that the testicles of most of the boars get crushed when they scratch themselves on trees.”

Ἢ καὶ τὸ λεγόμενον ὑπ᾿ Ἀριστοτέλους ἀληθές ἐστιν, ὅτι “χλούνην” Ὅμηρος ὠνόμασε σῦν τὸν μόνορχιν; τῶν γὰρ πλείστων φησὶ προσκνωμένων τοῖς στελέχεσι θρύπτεσθαι τοὺς ὄρχεις.

Phaedrus, Fabulae 30.1–2

“When a beaver can no longer evade the dogs
….
It is said he snips off his own testicles with a bite
Because he knows that’s why they’re chasing him.”

Canes effugere cum iam non possit fiber
….
abripere morsu fertur testiculos sibi,
quia propter illos sentiat sese peti.

173 Etym. Gen. lambda 34

“Long-balls”: this means having big testicles. Aristokrates was mocked thus.”

λαπιδόρχας· ὁ μεγάλους ὄρχεις ἔχων. Ἀριστοκράτης δὲ οὕτω διεβάλλετο.

Plautus, Curculio 623

“I hope Jupiter destroys you, soldier! Live without your testicles!”

Iuppiter te, miles, perdat, intestatus uiuito

Aristotle, Problems 879a-b

4.23 “Why does rigidity and increase happen to the penis? Is it for two reasons? First, is it because that weight develops on the bottom of the testicles, raising it—for the testicles are like a fulcrum? And is it because the veins become full of breath [pneuma]? Or does the mass become bigger because of an increase in moisture or some change in position or from the development of moisture itself? Extremely large things are raised less when the weight of the fulcrum is far away.”

Διὰ τί ἡ σύντασις γίνεται τοῦ αἰδοίου καὶ ἡ αὔξησις; ἢ διὰ δύο, διά τε τὸ βάρος ἐπιγίνεσθαι ἐν τῷ ὄπισθεν τῶν ὄρχεων αἴρεσθαι (ὑπομόχλιον γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις γίνονται) καὶ διὰ τὸ πνεύματος πληροῦσθαι τοὺς πόρους; ἢ τοῦ ὑγροῦ αὐξανομένου καὶ μεθισταμένου ἢ ἐξ ὑγροῦ γινομένου ὁ ὄγκος | μείζων γίνεται; τὰ λίαν δὲ μεγάλα ἧττον αἴρεται διὰ τὸ πορρωτέρω τὸ βάρος τοῦ ὑπομοχλίου γίνεσθαι.

Catullus, Carmen 63. 1-5

“Attis traveled over the deep seas and reached Phrygian forest
To touch the grove with a swift foot and then
Enter the goddess’ unknown places.
Then, driven mad in a fierce rage, lost in himself
he cut off his groin’s weights with a flint’s edge.”

Super alta vectus Attis celeri rate maria
Phrygium ut nemus citato cupide pede tetigit
adiitque opaca silvis redimita loca deae,
stimulatus ibi furenti rabie, vagus animi,
devolsit ili acuto sibi pondera silice

Castration of Saturn, MS Douce 195 Guillaume de Lorris & Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose. France, 15th century (end). Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 195, fol. 76v