We Need An Art of Forgetting

Cicero De Finibus 2 104-5

“What kind of sense, then, is there to the idea that a wise person should not let go of good memories but forget bad ones? First, is what we remember under our control? Themistocles, it is said, when Simonides promised to teach him the art of memory, responded, “I’d prefer learning to forget. For I remember things I wish I didn’t and I can’t forget the things I want to.” [Epicurus] was a man of great insight, but the fact us that a philosopher who prohibits remembering asks too much of us.”

Iam illud quale tandem est, bona praeterita non effluere sapienti, mala meminisse non oportere? Primum in nostrane est potestate quid meminerimus? Themistocles quidem, cum ei Simonides an quis alius artem memoriae polliceretur, ‘Oblivionis,’ inquit, ‘mallem; nam memini etiam quae nolo, oblivisci non possum quae volo.’ Magno hic ingenio; sed res se tamen sic habet ut nimis imperiosi philosophi sit vetare meminisse.

The Sorrow of Times Like These

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 6.1230-1251

“This thing alone had to be mourned the most,
This lamented: how when anyone would give up
when they realized they had contracted the disease
As condemned to die, they would stretch out with a sad heart,
Surrendering their spirit while considering the rites of the dead.

For the spread of that greedy sickness did not stop
Even for a single moment from one to another,
Thick together as woolly flocks and horned heads—
That’s the reason why grave was piling on grave.
Whoever was reluctant to see their own sick,
For this very excessive love of life and fear of death
They were punished eventually with a foul and evil end,
As deserters without help, paid back for their neglect.

But those who stayed to help faced contagion too,
And the suffering which shame compelled them to meet.
The pleading voice of the weary mixed with cries of complaint.
Well, the best kinds of souls met death like this.

…Then some falling upon others, fighting to bury their masses
Of dead, worn out by tears and grief as they returned.
They surrendered to their beds for the better part.

No one could be found anywhere who was untouched by the disease
By the death, by the sorrow of times like these.”

Illud in his rebus miserandum magnopere unum
aerumnabile erat, quod ubi se quisque videbat
implicitum morbo, morti damnatus ut esset,
deficiens animo maesto cum corde iacebat,
funera respectans animam amittebat ibidem.

quippe etenim nullo cessabant tempore apisci
ex aliis alios avidi contagia morbi,
lanigeras tamquam pecudes et bucera saecla;
idque vel in primis cumulabat funere funus.
nam quicumque suos fugitabant visere ad aegros,
vitai nimium cupidos mortisque timentis
poenibat paulo post turpi morte malaque,
desertos, opis expertis, incuria mactans.

qui fuerant autem praesto, contagibus ibant
atque labore, pudor quem tum cogebat obire
blandaque lassorum vox mixta voce querellae.
optimus hoc leti genus ergo quisque subibat.
. . . . . . .
inque aliis alium, populum sepelire suorum
certantes; lacrimis lassi luctuque redibant;
inde bonam partem in lectum maerore dabantur.
nec poterat quisquam reperiri, quem neque morbus
nec mors nec luctus temptaret tempore tali.

 

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Triumph of Death Fresco, Palermo

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“The Harrowing of Hell” Hieronymus Bosch

Tommy A, the Polonius of Medieval Churchmen

Thomas Aquinas, Letter on a Method of Study

Because you have asked me, Ioannes, my dearest companion in Christ, in what manner it is proper for you to study in acquiring a treasury of knowledge, such a plan is handed on from me to you: that you should choose to enter through little streams, and not suddenly into the sea, because it is proper that one come gradually through the easier things to the more difficult ones.

This is, therefore, my advice and your instruction. I order you to be slow in speech and slow in acceding to the mouthpiece. Embrace purity of conscience. Do not allow yourself to be free for speech. You should frequently esteem the wine cellar if you wish to be brought into it. Present yourself as lovable to everyone. Don’t look at all deeply into the deeds of others. Don’t show yourself as very familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and offers material for subtraction from study. Don’t in any way get yourself embroiled in secular words or deeds. Don’t forget to follow the footsteps of the holy and the good. Don’t consider from whom you are hearing something, but commend to memory whatever good is spoken.

Make sure that you understand what you read and hear. Make yourself certain about doubtful things. Try to store up whatever you can in the wardrobe of your mind as if you wanted to fill up a jar. Don’t seek things higher than your station. Following these steps, you will profer and lead forth the useful blooms and fruits on the vine of the God of Heavenly Hosts as long as you live. If you will have followed all of this eagerly, you will be able to attain what you affect.

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Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas

It’s Not Fate, It’s My Fault

Cicero, Letter to Terentia 14.1

“Many letters—every letter—come to me with news about your incredible character and bravery, that you are overhwelmed by neither mental nor physical exertions. I am filled with sorrow to think that you, my noble, faithful, honest, kind wife would experience so much grief because of me. Or that our Tulliola would also take as much grief from her father as he ever gave her pleasure! When it comes to Marcus, our son, what can I say? From the moment he first began to understand the world, he has experienced the most bitter griefs and pains.

If, as you write, I could believe that this all happened because of fate, I could endure it more easily. But everything is my fault. I used to believe that I was loved by people who envied me and I did not follow people who were reaching out to help me. The fact is that if I had listened to my own mind instead of heeding our friends’ chatter—both the fools and the criminals—we might have ended up really happy.

But now, since our friends command us to hope, I will try not to let my health add to your burdens. I do understand how momentous this matter is, how much easier it would have been to remain at home than come back. But, still, if we have all the tribunes with us, if Lentulus is as eager as he appears, and if we still have Caesar and Pompey, we should not lose hope.”

Et litteris multorum et sermone omnium perfertur ad me incredibilem tuam virtutem et fortitudinem esse teque nec animi neque corporis laboribus defatigari. me miserum! te ista virtute, fide, probitate, humanitate in tantas aerumnas propter me incidisse, Tulliolamque nostram, ex quo patre tantas voluptates capiebat, ex eo tantos percipere luctus! nam quid ego de Cicerone dicam? qui cum primum sapere coepit, acerbissimos dolores miseriasque percepit. quae si, tu ut scribis, fato facta putarem, ferrem paulo facilius; sed omnia sunt mea culpa commissa, qui ab iis me amari putabam qui invidebant, eos non sequebar qui petebant. quod si nostris consiliis usi essemus neque apud nos tantum valuisset sermo aut stultorum amicorum aut improborum, beatissimi viveremus. nunc, quoniam sperare nos amici iubent, dabo operam ne mea valetudo tuo labori desit. res quanta sit intellego quantoque fuerit facilius manere domi quam redire. sed tamen, si omnis tribunos pl. habemus, si Lentulum tam studiosum quam videtur, si vero etiam Pompeium et Caesarem, non est desperandum.

Studiolo di Federico da Montefeltro

Starting Fights with Doctors

Horace, Epistles 1.8

“Celsus Albinovanus: Hello! I hope this finds you well.

Muse, take this message to Nero’s friend and secretary,
Should he ask how I’m doing, tell him that even though I threatened
Many fine things, I don’t live rightly or pleasantly.

And this isn’t because hail ruined my vines or heat shrank my olives
Or because my flock is getting sick in a far-away field.
No, it’s that my mind is less well than any part of my body.

I don’t want to listen or learn about anything that relieves the disease.
I start fights with doctors; I fly into a rage with friends
Over why they want to get me out of this deadly funk.
I keep stalking what hurt me, I avoid anything I suspect will help.
I flit back and forth, wanting the Tibur in Rome and in Rome the Tibur.

After that, ask him if he’s well, how he and his stuff are,
How his standing is with the young man and his crew.
If he says “well”, first, rejoice! But then
Leave this reminder in his little ears:
“As you bear fortune, Celsus, we’ll bear you.”

Celso gaudere et bene rem gerere Albinovano
Musa rogata refer, comiti scribaeque Neronis.
si quaeret quid agam, dic multa et pulchra minantem
vivere nec recte nec suaviter; haud quia grando
contuderit vitis oleamque momorderit aestus,
nec quia longinquis armentum aegrotet in agris;
sed quia mente minus validus quam corpore toto
nil audire velim, nil discere, quod levet aegrum;
fidis offendar medicis, irascar amicis,
cur me funesto properent arcere veterno;
quae nocuere sequar, fugiam quae profore credam;
Romae Tibur amem ventosus, Tibure Romam.
Post haec, ut valeat, quo pacto rem gerat et se,
ut placeat iuveni percontare utque cohorti.
si dicet, “recte,” primum gaudere, subinde
praeceptum auriculis hoc instillare memento:
“ut tu fortunam, sic nos te, Celse, feremus.”

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Fresco from “House of Sirico” Pompeii (Aeneas with Dr, Iapyx)

Mekonion: Prepared Poppy Seeds. Or Newborn Poop

Pliny, Natural History 22 

“A poppy is boiled and consumed for insomnia. The same water is used for the face. Poppies grow best in dry conditions where it does not often rain. When the heads themselves are boiled with the leaves, the juice is called meconium and is a lot less potent than opium.”

decoquitur et bibitur contra vigilias, eademque aqua fovent ora. optimum in siccis et ubi raro pluat. cum capita ipsa et folia decocuntur, sucus meconium vocatur multum opio ignavior.

 

Aristotle, Historia Animalium 587a 31

“[Newborns] also discharge excrement right away, pretty soon, or at least within the same day. This material is greater than one might expect from the size of the infant and the women call it “poppy-juice” [mêkonion]. Its color is similar to blood but very dark and like pitch. Later on, it is milk-like once the baby immediately eats from the breast. Before it comes out, the newborn does not cry, even if the birth is difficult and the head sticks out while the whole body is inside.”

ἀφίησι δὲ καὶ περιττώματα τὰ μὲν εὐθὺς τὰ δὲ διὰ ταχέων, πάντα δ᾿ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ· καὶ τοῦτο τὸ περίττωμα πλέον ἢ τοῦ παιδὸς κατὰ μέγεθος· ὃ καλοῦσιν αἱ γυναῖκες μηκώνιον. χρῶμα δὲ τούτου αἱματῶδες καὶ σφόδρα μέλαν καὶ πιττῶδες, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἤδη γαλακτῶδες· σπᾷ γὰρ εὐθὺς καὶ τὸν μαστόν. πρὶν δ᾿ ἐξελθεῖν οὐ φθέγγεται τὸ παιδίον, κἂν δυστοκούσης τὴν κεφαλὴν μὲν ὑπερέχῃ 35τὸ δ᾿ ὅλον σῶμα ἔχῃ ἐντός.

If you want more words for excrement in ancient Greek, we have you covered.

After oxidation, the juice of a poppy turns from white to, well, this:

Etymology of Mêkôn from Beekes (2010):

meconium

Here’s a Plan: Evict the Rich, Feed Everyone

Cicero, Pro Sestio 103

“The people were certain that their freedom was at risk. Their leaders did not agree. As far as a matter concerned the safety of the aristocrats, they were afraid of the rashness of the masses and the liberty in the vote. Tiberius Gracchus was introducing his agrarian law. It was welcomed by the people since it appeared to firm up the fortunes of the lower classes.

The aristocrats were against it because they believed it created unrest and imagined that the State would be disarmed of its greatest protectors once the rich were evicted from their long-term holdings. Gaius Gracchus was introducing a grain law. It was also welcome to the people for it provided plentiful food without labor. The Nobles were aghast because they believed that such a law disincentivized work in favor of laziness and that it would drain the treasury.”

Populus libertatem agi putabat suam. Dissentiebant principes et in salute optimatium temeritatem multitudinis et tabellae licentiam pertimescebant. Agrariam Ti. Gracchus legem ferebat. Grata erat populo; fortunae constitui tenuiorum videbantur. Nitebantur contra optimates, quod et discordiam excitari videbant et, cum locupletes possessionibus diuturnis moverentur, spoliari rem publicam propugnatoribus arbitrabantur. Frumentariam legem C. Gracchus ferebat. Iucunda res plebei; victus enim suppeditabatur large sine labore. Repugnabant boni, quod et ab industria plebem ad desidiam avocari putabant et aerarium exhauriri videbant.

Agrarian Law: Tiberius Gracchus  introduced a law in 133 BCE that no holder of public land (ager publicus populi Romani) should have more than 500 iugera and that land should be re-distributed to the poor.

Not to ruin it, but things did not turn out well for the Gracchi

Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi

I Came, I Drank, I Died

Aurelius Victor, de Caesaribus 2:

Claudius Tiberius, son of Livia, stepson of Octavian, ruled for twenty three years. Because he was called Claudius Tiberius Nero, the more jocular citizens wittily called him Caldius Biberius Mero (Warmius Drinkius Wino) because of his tippling tendencies. He was smart enough in battle, and fortunate enough before power was taken up under Augustus, so that the dominion over the republic was not undeservedly committed to him.

There was in him ample literary knowledge. He was fairly renowned for his speech, but had the worst mind – truculent, greedy, treacherous – pretending that he wanted things that he didn’t. He appeared to be opposed to those from whom he wanted counsel, and seemed totally benevolent to those whom he hated. He was better in his immediate responses and plans than in those which had been thought out.

When the principate was offered to him by the senators (which he had brought about with some cunning), he pretended to decline it, savagely asking each one individually what they had to say or what they thought about it. This ruined some good men. For they supposed that it was from his own mind that he declined the magnitude of imperial bother with a long speech, and when they offered opinions on this wish, they happened ultimately upon destruction.

He returned Cappadocia to the condition of a province by removing their king, Archelaus. He repressed the robberies of the Gaetuli. He cunningly circumvented Marobodus, the king of the Suebi. While he punished alike with savage fury both innocent and guilty, his own people and others, the strength of the military was sapped and Armenia was taken by the Parthians, Moesia by the Dacians, Pannonia by the Sarmatians, and Gaul by neighboring tribes. He himself was snuffed out by the treachery of Caligula in the fourth month of his eighty eighth year.

Claudius Tiberius, Liviae filius, Caesaris Octaviani privignus, imperavit annos viginti tres. Iste, quia Claudius Tiberius Nero dicebatur, eleganter a iocularibus Caldius Biberius Mero ob vinolentiam nominatus est. Satis prudens in armis satisque fortunatus ante sumptum imperium sub Augusto fuit, ut non immerito reipublicae dominatus ei committeretur. Inerat ei scientia litterarum multa. Eloquio clarior, sed ingenio pessimo truci avaro insidioso, simulans ea se velle quae nollet; his quasi infensus, quibus consultum cupiebat, his vero, quos oderat, quasi benivolus apparens. Repentinis responsionibus aut consiliis melior quam meditatis. Denique delatum a patribus principatum (quod quidem astu fecerat) ficte abnuere, quid singuli dicerent vel sentirent, atrociter explorans: quae res bonos quosque pessumdedit. Aestimantes enim ex animo eum longa oratione imperialis molestiae magnitudinem declinare, cum sententias ad eius voluntatem promunt, incidere exitia postrema. Iste Cappadocas in provinciam remoto Archelao rege eorum redegit. Gaetulorum latrocinia repressit. Marobodum, Suevorum regem, callide circumvenit. Cum immani furore insontes noxios, suos pariter externosque puniret, resolutis militiae artibus Armenia per Parthos, Moesia a Dacis, Pannonia a Sarmatis, Gallia a finitimis gentibus direptae suntIpse post octogesimum octavum annum et mensem quartum insidiis Caligulae exstinctus est.

Like Something Written By a Child: Self-Publishing Rich Guys

Pliny, Letters 4.7

To My Friend Catius Lepidus,

I have often told you about the force of Regulus. It is a wonder how he completes whatever he dreams up. It was to his taste to mourn his son, so he mourns as no one does. It was to his taste to have as many statues and images of him made as possible. He assigned this to all the shops: he makes boy in colors, the boy in wax, the boy in bronze, the boy in silver, the boy in gold, ivory, marble.

He also recently recited a book on the life of his son to a huge audience he had summoned. It was about he life of a boy, but he read it still. And then he sent that same story copied out countless times through all of Italy and the provinces. He wrote openly to the members of the town leaderships so that the most eloquent of their number would read the book in public: it is done!

If he had used this force—or by whatever other name the desire to get what we want should be called—if he had focused on better things, how much good he could have accomplished! A good person is just less forceful than a bad one, as the saying goes, “ignorance makes you bold, thought makes you hesitate. A sense of propriety weakens right thinking people; depravity encourages rash daring.”

Regulus is a good example of this. His lungs are weak, his mouth is muddled, his tongue isn’t fluent, he is really slow at composing with a worthless memory and has nothing apart from a crazy wit. But his lack of shame has won him so much passion that he is considered an orator. For this reason, Herennius Senecio has marvelously altered that Catonian comment on an oratory for him: “This orator is a bad man, untrained at speaking.” My god, Cato himself did not define an orator as well as Senecio described Regulus!

Are you at all able of making a letter equal to this one in thanks? You are if you will write about whether any of my friends in your town—even you—has been forced to read out Regulus’ mournful book like a carnival barker in the forum or, putting it the way Demosthenes does, “crying out and harmonizing his voice”. For it is so ridiculous that it is as likely to elicit laughter as sorrow. You would think it was written by a boy not about one! Goodbye!

C. Plinius Catio Lepido Suo S.

Saepe tibi dico inesse vim Regulo. Mirum est quam efficiat in quod incubuit. Placuit ei lugere filium: luget ut nemo. Placuit statuas eius et imagines quam plurimas facere: hoc omnibus officinis agit, illum coloribus illum cera illum aere illum argento illum auro ebore marmore effingit. Ipse vero nuper adhibito ingenti auditorio librum de vita eius recitavit; de vita pueri, recitavit tamen. Eundem in exemplaria mille transcriptum per totam Italiam provinciasque dimisit. Scripsit publice, ut a decurionibus eligeretur vocalissimus aliquis ex ipsis, qui legeret eum populo: factum est. Hanc ille vim, seu quo alio nomine vocanda est intentio quidquid velis optinendi, si ad potiora vertisset, quantum boni efficere potuisset! Quamquam minor vis bonis quam malis inest, ac sicut ἀμαθíα μὲν θράσoς, λoγισμòς δὲ ὄκνoν φέρει, ita recta ingenia debilitat verecundia, perversa confirmat audacia. Exemplo est Regulus. Imbecillum latus, os confusum, haesitans lingua, tardissima inventio, memoria nulla, nihil denique praeter ingenium insanum, et tamen eo impudentia ipsoque illo furore pervenit, ut orator habeatur. Itaque Herennius Senecio mirifice Catonis illud de oratore in hunc e contrario vertit: “Orator est vir malus dicendi imperitus.” Non mehercule Cato ipse tam bene verum oratorem quam hic Regulum expressit. Habesne quo tali epistulae parem gratiam referas? Habes, si scripseris num aliquis in municipio vestro ex sodalibus meis, num etiam ipse tu hunc luctuosum Reguli librum ut circulator in foro legeris, ἐπάρας scilicet, ut ait Demosthenes, τὴν φωνὴν καì γεγηθὼς καì λαρυγγíζων. Est enim tam ineptus ut risum magis possit exprimere quam gemitum: credas non de puero scriptum sed a puero. Vale.

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Pliny’s Slightly Less Stupid Treatments for Sickness

 

Pliny the Elder Natural History, 28.33

“The treatment is for their hands to be washed in water first and then for that water to be sprinkled on patients. However, those who are struck at some point by a scorpion are never attacked again by wasps and bees. Someone who knows that clothes worn at a funeral are never touched by moths or that snakes are only with great labor pulled out out of their holes except by the left hand will not be shocked by this.

Of the discoveries of Pythagoras, this will not prove false: an unequal number of vowels foretells lameness, blindness, or some similar disability on the right side; an even number predicts this on the left. People claim that a difficult birth labor will result in an immediate delivery if a stone or a missile which has killed three animals with a single strike (a human, a boar and a bear) is thrown over the home containing the pregnant woman. This is done with more success with a spear that has been pulled from a human body and has not touched the ground. This works the same if the spear is carried inside.”

remedio est ablui prius manus eorum aquaque illa eos quibus medearis inspergi. rursus a scorpione aliquando percussi numquam postea a crabronibus, vespis apibusve feriuntur. minus miretur hoc qui sciat vestem a tineis non attingi quae fuerit in funere, serpentes aegre praeterquam laeva manu extrahi. e Pythagorae inventis non temere fallere, inpositivorum nominum inparem vocalium numerum clauditates oculive orbitatem ac similes casus dextris adsignare partibus, parem laevis. ferunt difficiles partus statim solvi, cum quis tectum in quo sit gravida transmiserit lapide vel missili ex his qui tria animalia singulis ictibus interfecerint, hominem, aprum,  ursum. probabilius id facit hasta velitaris evulsa corpori hominis, si terram non attigerit. eosdem enim inlata effectus habet.

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From Arundel_ms_98_f085v