A Phaethon for the World

Suetonius, Caligula 11:

Even then, he was unable to restrain his savage and corrupted nature. Instead, he regularly took part rather eagerly in the investigations and the punishments of those who had been sentenced; disguised in a wig and a long cloak, he would spend long nights in cook shops and brothels; and he sought out the stage arts of dancing and singing with an immoderate zeal. All of this happened rather easily with Tiberius’ permission, the latter hoping that his fierce temper could be somewhat mollified by these arts. That sagacious old emperor had foreseen the problem with sufficient clarity to predict that Caligula would live to be the death of him (Tiberius) and everyone else, and he used to claim that he was nursing a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon to burn the whole world.

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Naturam tamen saevam atque probrosam ne tunc quidem inhibere poterat, quin et animadversionibus poenisque ad supplicium datorum cupidissime interesset et ganeas atque adulteria capillamento celatus et veste longa noctibus obiret ac scaenicas saltandi canendique artes studiosissime appeteret, facile id sane Tiberio patiente, si per has mansuefieri posset ferum eius ingenium. Quod sagacissimus senex ita prorsus perspexerat, ut aliquotiens praedicaret exitio suo omniumque Gaium vivere et se natricem populo Romano, Phaethontem orbi terrarum educare.

Little Sparks of Virtue

Cicero, De Finibus 5. 43

“There is certainly seems to be natural power for humans for attaining every kind of virtue and for these reasons small children are motivated by the attraction of virtues whose seeds they possess without teaching. These are surely the fundamental aspects of human nature which increase and grow as if planted. This is because we are made in such a way at birth that we already possess the basic impulses of doing something, of loving some people, and with qualities of liberality, and giving things. We also receive spirits which reach toward knowledge, wisdom, and bravery, already disinclined toward the opposites.

It is not without reason that we see those things I have mentioned in children like little sparks of virtue from which the philosopher’s reason must be kindled—the child must find their way to nature’s end by following their divine guide. As I have often said in the early period when our minds are still weak, we see nature’s power as if through fog. But once the mind progresses and gets stronger, it recognizes the power of its nature, that it may still proceed further and has become only half-finished on its own.”

 Est enim natura sic generata vis hominis ut ad omnem virtutem percipiendam facta videatur, ob eamque causam parvi virtutum simulacris quarum in se habent semina sine doctrina moventur; sunt enim prima elementa naturae, quibus auctis virtutis quasi germen efficitur. Nam cum ita nati factique simus ut et agendi aliquid et diligendi aliquos et liberalitatis et referendae gratiae principia in nobis contineremus atque ad scientiam, prudentiam, fortitudinem aptos animos haberemus a contrariisque rebus alienos, non sine causa eas quas dixi in pueris virtutum quasi scintillas videmus, e quibus accendi philosophi ratio debet, ut eam quasi deum ducem subsequens ad naturae perveniat extremum. Nam ut saepe iam dixi in infirma aetate imbecillaque mente vis naturae quasi per caliginem cernitur; cum autem progrediens confirmatur animus, agnoscit ille quidem naturae vim, sed ita ut progredi possit longius, per se sit tantum inchoata.

 

Sarcophagus, Roma, Musei Vaticani, Museo Chiaramont

The Brevity and Quickness of Life

Pliny, Letters 3.7 To Caninius Rufus

“I have just learned that Silius Italicus ended his life by starvation in Naples. Sickness was the cause of death, really: he had an untreatable tumor whose pain made him escape by death. He made it to his final day happy and fortunate, except that he lost his two younger songs. He left the older and better son successful and already of consular rank.

Silius harmed his reputation under Nero—for he was believed to have accused people willingly—but he conducted himself in his friendship with Vitellius wisely and with kindness. He earned some fame for his proconsulate in Asia and cleansed the stain of his earlier activity with a praiseworthy retirement.

He was among our top citizens without holding power or incurring envy. He was visited and much sought out, nearly always reclining on his couch in a room crowded not by accident. He filled his days with the most educated conversation whenever he took a break from writing. He used to write his poems more with effort than inspiration, and did not spare himself from critical judgment thanks to his recitations.

In recent years, he left Rome in a concession to old age. Once he made his home in Campania, he did not leave, not even for the coming of a new Emperor. This is reason for great praise for Caesar since he allowed this freedom and for Silius himself since he dared to take it.

He was a lover of things to the extent that he was mocked for excessive purchases. He owned multiple homes in the same neighborhood and overlooked the older ones in his excitement for the new ones. In each he had plenty books, statues, paintings and busts, each of which meant much to him, especially the one of Vergil, whose birthday he celebrated more religiously than his own, especially at Naples where he used to visit his grave as if it were a temple.

He completed his seventy-fifth year in this peaceful place. His body was solicitously tended even though he was not disabled. He was the final consul Nero appointed and the last of Nero’s consuls to die. It is remarkable that not only did Nero’s final consul die with him but that Nero died when he was consul!

Pity for human fragility fills me as I tell you this. Nothing is as brief and quick as the longest human life. Doesn’t it seem to you that Nero just died? But not one of the men who were consuls in his time remain alive today. I should not be so surprised! Only recently did Lucius Piso, the father of the Piso who was killed so evilly by Valerius Festus in Italy, used to say that none of those men he used to ask to speak when he was consul were still in the Senate!

The boundaries of life are so narrow that even in a community of great size I think we could forgive the Persian king for his famous tears—or maybe even admire him for them. For it is reported that after Xerxes reviewed his immense army, he wept when he thought that so many would die in so short a time.

This is why we should draw out our passing minutes with reading and writing, since we don’t have any control over them and action seems futile. Since we cannot live a long life, let us leave something to declare we have lived.

I know that you don’t need to be encouraged. But my concern for you still drives me to encourage you, like a horse eager to run, as you urge me in turn. Competition is good when friends push each other on with shared exhortations on the love of immortal memory.”

Plinius Caninio Rufo Suo S.

Modo nuntiatus est Silius Italicus in Neapolitano suo inedia finisse vitam. Causa mortis valetudo. Erat illi natus insanabilis clavus, cuius taedio ad mortem inrevocabili constantia decucurrit usque ad supremum diem beatus et felix, nisi quod minorem ex liberis duobus amisit, sed maiorem melioremque florentem atque etiam consularem reliquit. Laeserat famam suam sub Nerone (credebatur sponte accusasse), sed in Vitelli amicitia sapienter se et comiter gesserat, ex proconsulatu Asiae gloriam reportaverat, maculam veteris industriae laudabili otio abluerat.

Fuit inter principes civitatis sine potentia, sine invidia: salutabatur colebatur, multumque in lectulo iacens cubiculo semper, non ex fortuna frequenti, doctissimis sermonibus dies transigebat, cum a scribendo vacaret. Scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio, non numquam iudicia hominum recitationibus 6experiebatur. Novissime ita suadentibus annis ab urbe secessit, seque in Campania tenuit, ac ne adventu quidem novi principis inde commotus est: magna Caesaris laus sub quo hoc liberum fuit, magna illius 8qui hac libertate ausus est uti.

Erat ϕιλόκαλος usque ad emacitatis reprehensionem. Plures isdem in locis villas possidebat, adamatisque novis priores neglegebat. Multum ubique librorum, multum statuarum, multum imaginum, quas non habebat modo, verum etiam venerabatur, Vergili ante omnes, cuius natalem religiosius quam suum celebrabat, Neapoli maxime, ubi monimentum eius adire ut templum solebat. In hac tranquillitate annum quintum et septuagensimum excessit, delicato magis corpore quam infirmo; utque novissimus a Nerone factus est consul, ita postremus ex omnibus, quos Nero consules fecerat, decessit. Illud etiam notabile: ultimus ex Neronianis consularibus obiit, quo consule Nero periit. Quod me recordantem fragilitatis humanae miseratio subit.

Quid enim tam circumcisum tam breve quam homini vita longissima? An non videtur tibi Nero modo modo fuisse? cum interim ex iis, qui sub illo gesserant consulatum, nemo iam superest. Quamquam quid hoc miror? Nuper L. Piso, pater Pisonis illius, qui a Valerio Festo per summum facinus in Africa occisus est, dicere solebat neminem se videre in senatu, quem consul ipse sententiam rogavisset.

Tam angustis terminis tantae multitudinis vivacitas ipsa concluditur, ut mihi non venia solum dignae, verum etiam laude videantur illae regiae lacrimae; nam ferunt Xersen, cum immensum exercitum oculis obisset, inlacrimasse, quod tot milibus tam brevis immineret occasus. Sed tanto magis hoc, quidquid est temporis futilis et caduci, si non datur factis (nam horum materia in aliena manu), certe studiis proferamus, et quatenus nobis denegatur diu vivere, relinquamus aliquid, quo nos vixisse testemur. Scio te stimulis non egere: me tamen tui caritas evocat, ut currentem quoque instigem, sicut tu soles me. ’Αγαθὴ δ’ ἔρις cum invicem se mutuis exhortationibus amici ad amorem immortalitatis exacuunt. Vale.

Vergil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright

Statius’ Medieval Celebrity

C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image:

“Statius, whose Thebaid appeared in the ‘nineties of the first century, ranked in the Middle Ages (as we have already seen) with Virgil, Homer, and Lucan. Like Lucan, he strained after the stunning phrase, less successfully, but also less continuously. He had a larger mind than Lucan, more true seriousness, more pity, a more versatile imagination; the Thebaid is a less tiring and a more spacious poem than the Pharsalia. The Middle Ages were quite right to accept it as a noble ‘historial’ romance. It was in many ways especially congenial to them. Its Jupiter was more like the God of monotheism than anyother being in the Pagan poetry they knew. Its fiends (and some of its gods) were more like the devils of their own religion than any other Pagan spirits. Its deep respect for virginity-with even the curious suggestion that the sexual act, however sanctioned by marriage, is a culpa which needs excuse (u, 233, 256)-appealed to the vein of asceticism in their theology. Finally, the vividness and importance of its personifications (Virtus, Clementia, Pietas, and Natura) brought it in places very close to the fully allegorical poetry in which they delighted. But I have shot my bolt about these matters elsewhere1 and at present Natura is my only concern.”

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Prostitutes and Pelts

Varro, de Lingua Latina 7.84:

“In Terence we read:

He whores (scortatur), he drinks, he smells like perfume at my cost!

The verb to whore (scortari) means quite often to take a prostitute, which is so called from a pelt. For the ancients not only called a pelt a scortum, but even today we call those things which are made of hide and pelt scortea. In some sacred rites and sacrificial places we have it written:

Let not a prostitute (scortum) be admitted

meaning by this that nothing dead should be present. In Atellan farces one may observe that they brought home a little skin (pellicula) instead of a scortum.

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Apud Terentium:

Scortatur, potat, olet unguenta de meo.

Scortari est saepius meretriculam ducere, quae dicta a pelle: id enim non solum antiqui dicebant scortum, sed etiam nunc dicimus scortea ea quae e corio ac pellibus sunt facta; in aliquot sacris ac sacellis scriptum habemus:

Ne quod scorteum adhibeatur,

ideo ne morticinum quid adsit. In Atellanis licet animadvertere rusticos dicere se adduxisse pro scorto pelliculam.

Val Max on Indian and Phoenician Women

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Words and Deeds 2.6.14-15

“But why must I praise the bravest men in this category? Take, for example, the women of the Indians, who by national custom are typically married to the same man. When that man has died they submit to a contest and judgment about who of them he loved the most. The winner, as she celebrates with joy and is led by her friends who have happy faces, casts herself upon the flames of her husband and is cremated with him as if the happiest women.

Those who lost persist in a saddened life of grief. Compare Cimbrian daring, add to it the Celtiberian loyalty, insert the Tracian spirit, and even weave in the cleverly developed Lycian method of rejecting grief, you will still find nothing superior to the Indian pyre, which the wifely devotion climbs onto as if it were merely a marriage bed.

To this glory, let’s compare the dishonor of the Punic women, so it may be more clearly foul. At Sicca there is a temple of Venus into which married women used to meet. They used to leave there for business, earning ‘dowries’ by bringing insult to their bodies, trying to arrange a clean marriage with so unclean a chain.”

Verum quid ego fortissimos hoc in genere prudentiae viros laudem? respiciantur Indorum feminae, quae, cum more patrio complures eidem nuptae esse soleant, mortuo marito in certamen iudiciumque veniunt quam ex iis maxime dilexerit. victrix gaudio exsultans, deductaque a necessariis laetum praeferentibus vultum, coniugis se flammis superiacit et cum eo tamquam felicissima crematur; superatae cum tristitia et maerore in vita remanent. protrahe in medium Cimbricam audaciam, adice Celtibericam fidem, iunge animosam Thraciae [potentiam]46 sapientiam, adnecte Lyciorum in luctibus abiciendis callide quaesitam rationem, Indico tamen rogo nihil eorum praeferes, quem uxor<ia>47 pietas in modum genialis tori propinquae mortis secura conscendit.

Cuius gloriae Punicarum feminarum, ut ex comparatione turpius appareat, dedecus subnectam: Siccae enim fanum est Veneris, in quod se matronae conferebant atque inde procedentes ad quaestum dotes corporis iniuria contrahebant, honesta nimirum tam inhonesto vinculo coniugia iuncturae.

willigula:“ A Hindu girl throws herself on the funeral pyre of her betrothed, from the poem Sūz va gudāz (Burning and Melting) by Nawʿī Khabūshānī, illuminated by Muḥammad ʿAlī Mashhadī, Iran, 1657 ”
 Sūz va gudāz (Burning and Melting) by Nawʿī Khabūshānī, illuminated by Muḥammad ʿAlī Mashhadī, Iran, 1657

Educating Daughters and Reading Plato

Diogenes Laertius Cleobulus, 1.6 91

“He used to say that daughters should be settled down when they are maidens in age but women in thought: by this he meant that it was right that girls be educated too.”

ἔφη δὲ δεῖν συνοικίζειν τὰς θυγατέρας, παρθένους μὲν τὴν ἡλικίαν, τὸ δὲ φρονεῖν γυναῖκας· ὑποδεικνὺς ὅτι δεῖ παιδεύεσθαι καὶ τὰς παρθένους.

 

From Stobaeus  III. 6, 58 (from the Memorabilia of Epictetus, fr. 15)

“In Rome, the women keep Plato’s Republic in their hands because he believes that women are worthy of sharing the state. In this, they pay attention to the words but not the man’s meaning: for he actually tells people not to marry or live together as one man and one woman and then plan for women in a community. No, he eliminates that kind of marriage and introduces some different kind in its place. As a general rule, people take pleasure providing excuses for their own faults. Truly, philosophy tells us that it is not right to stretch out even a finger at random!”

Ἐκ τῶν Ἐπικτήτου ἀπομνημονευμάτων.

Ἐν Ῥώμῃ αἱ γυναῖκες μετὰ χεῖρας ἔχουσι τὴν Πλάτωνος Πολιτείαν, ὅτι κοινὰς ἀξιοῖ εἶναι τὰς γυναῖκας. τοῖς γὰρ ῥήμασι προσέχουσι τὸν νοῦν, οὐ τῇ διανοίᾳ τἀνδρός, ὅτι οὐ γαμεῖν κελεύων καὶ συνοικεῖν ἕνα μιᾷ εἶτα κοινὰς εἶναι βούλεται τὰς γυναῖκας, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξαιρῶν τὸν τοιοῦτον γάμον καὶ ἄλλο τι εἶδος γάμου εἰσφέρων. καὶ τὸ ὅλον οἱ ἄνθρωποι χαίρουσιν ἀπολογίας τοῖς ἑαυτῶν ἁμαρτήμασι πορίζοντες· ἐπεί τοι φιλοσοφία φησίν, ὅτι οὐδὲ τὸν δάκτυλον ἐκτείνειν εἰκῆ προσήκει.

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Black Figure Hydria from the MET