The Revival of Greek in Italy

Paolo Giovio, 

Elogia Doctorum Virorum: Chrysoloras

“Emanuel Chrysoloras, who first brought Greek literature back to Italy seven hundred years after it had been driven out by various barbarian invasions, was endowed with such humanity of liberal intellect in his teaching, that his famous image seems worthy of being placed first among the images of Greeks of exceptional merit, although no monuments of his weighty learning remain except some rules on the art of grammar. He was an indefatigable teacher, but he is open to the charge of having been lazy in writing, since the other part of the glory which we have chosen was sought by his useful profession.

He was sent from Byzantium by the emperor John to seek aid for Greece, which was on the verge of collapse, by pleading with all of the kings of Europe. He completed this task with such diligent traveling that he finally stopped in Italy when Greece was liberated from fear, since Tamerlane – the terror of the East – had captured alive near Mount Stella the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I (who had received the epithet of “Lightning” from the incredible swiftness of his movements). And so Chrysoloras, delighted that Greece had been freed from such an awful enemy, first in Venice, then in Florence, Rome, and finally in Pavia, which was under the rule of Giangaleazzo Visconti, managed to excite such a zeal for Greek literature that there sprang from his school minds worthy of the highest honor which on that account will never perish. Among these were Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Barbaro, Francesco Filelfo, Guarino Veronese, and Poggio Bracciolini. Later, when the synod which was called for resolving the controversy surrounding the pseudo-pontificate roused with desire to see such a spectacle, when Baldassare Cossa was deposed. Chrysoloras died in Constance. Poggio Bracciolini decorated his tomb with these lines:

‘Here lies Manuel Chrysoloras, the ornament of the Attic tongue, who came here to seek help for his afflicted country. Italy, this was a fortunate event for you, for he restored to you the grace of the Greek language, so long hidden. This was a fortunate event for you, Emanuel, for you found on Italian soil the honor which Greece never gave you – Greece, ruined in war.'”


F**k Sleep, I’m Going to the Library! [FTS Week]

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 19.16:

“You know how I eat, and even how I sleep – no fortune could ever persuade me to add anything to these. Rather, I subtract a little every day, and it has reached the point now that only a little bit can be subtracted. Even if some royal fortune befell me, it could not drive frugality from my table or drive me to look for more sleep at night. My bed never holds me if I am healthy and awake, and I never toss in the sheets unless I am sick or sleeping. As soon as sleep departs from me, I depart from the bed, and I will lie enough or even more than enough on a bed of earth or rock.

Thinking about it, I hate my bed and I never return to it but at the urging of necessity, but soon I sense that I am freed from it as from the chains of nature, and without delay I rip myself out of it and flee to the closest library as though it were a citadel. This divorce occurs between me and my bed in the middle of the night: if by chance a shorter night or some late hours drag on, yet certainly dawn never sees us together. Finally, I strive with all my heart to prevent anything from coming between me and my more pleasant concerns, except that which the necessity of nature extracts from me in an imperious way – I mean things like sleep, food, and the short and honorable solace which is just enough for relaxing the body and replenishing the spirit.”

Image result for petrarch library

Victum meum nosti, somnum quoque; his ut addam, nulla michi unquam fortuna suaserit; demo potius aliquid in dies, iamque eo perventum est ut modicum demi possit; denique non si regie opes advenerint, aut e mensa frugalitatem pellere poterunt aut in cubiculum longos somnos arcessere. Nunquam me sanum ac vigilem lectus habet, nunquam nisi eger aut dormiens stratis versor; simul et me somnus et ego lectum desero, et somnum morti et lectulum busto simillimum duco. Cum supremus sopor obrepserit, satis superque satis in cubiculo terreo seu saxeo iacebimus; id meditans lectulum meum odi et ad illum nisi urgente necessitate non redeo, sed ab illo mox ut me nature vinclis explicitum sentio, incuntanter avellor inque bibliothecam illi proximam velut in arcem fugio. Fit hoc inter nos media nocte divortium, quod siquando forte vel nox brevior vel vigilie longiores traxerint, at profecto nunquam simul aurora nos invenit; postremo modis omnibus nitor nequid melioribus curis interveniat, preter id solum quod imperiose necessitas nature exigit, somnum dico et cibum et breve honestumque solatium vegetando corpori refovendoque animo duntaxat ydoneum.  Id enimvero quia pro varietate temporum ac locorum variari oportet, et quale michi nunc sit nisi audias nosse non potes, dicam. Amo solitudinem ut soleo sectorque silentium nisi inter amicos, inter quos nemo me loquacior, hanc reor ob causam quod amicorum presentia solito rarior nunc est; raritas autem desiderium accendit. Sepe igitur annuum silentium diurna loquacitate compenso rursumque amicis abeuntibus mutus fio; importunum negotium cum vulgo loqui aut omnino cum homine quem non amor tibi seu doctrina conciliet.

The Tantalus of the Library

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.”

Casaubon543 (1).png


Disagreements and Words

Cicero, de Amicitia 23-24

“The fact is that if you remove the ties of goodwill from our world, no house or city can stand tall nor can even agriculture persist! If this is less intelligible, one can perceive how powerful friendship and harmony are from the impact of disagreements and disharmony. What house is so stable or what state is so strong that it cannot be upended by hatred and division?”

Quod si exemeris ex rerum natura benevolentiae coniunctionem, nec domus ulla nec urbs stare poterit, ne agri quidem cultus permanebit. Id si minus intellegitur, quanta vis amicitiae concordiaeque sit, ex dissensionibus atque discordiis percipi potest. Quae enim domus tam stabilis, quae tam firma civitas est, quae non odiis et discidiis funditus possit everti?


Plato, Euthyphro 7c

“So if we were disagreeing about whether something was bigger or smaller, we’d turn to actual measurement to resolve our disagreement?”

 Οὐκοῦν καὶ περὶ τοῦ μείζονος καὶ ἐλάττονος εἰ διαφεροίμεθα, ἐπὶ τὸ μετρεῖν ἐλθόντες ταχὺ παυσαίμεθ’ ἂν τῆς | διαφορᾶς;

Cicero, de Finibus 4. 22

“If we dispute about a fact, Cato, you and I can have no disagreement! There’s no difference between what you believe and I do when we compare the facts themselves once the words have been changed.”

Si de re disceptari oportet, nulla mihi tecum, Cato, potest esse dissensio; nihil est enim de quo aliter tu sentias atque ego, modo commutatis verbis ipsas res conferamus

Pheasants with a disagreement

Rectal Closure Recommended

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (IV.8899)

Dear guest, the bones of this tomb ask that you don’t piss here.

If you would like to do one better, take a shit.

You see the monuments of the nettle – get out of here, shitter!

It’s not safe to open your asshole here.

I Defecated Because of Fear” – SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

Hospes adhuc tumuli ni meias ossa prec[antur]

Nam si vis (h)uic gratior esse caca

Urticae monumenta vides discede cacator

non est hic tutum culu(m) aperire tibi

An Essay About How Your Words Don’t Hurt Me

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 26.4-6

“Some Socrates—or any other person who has similar authority or talent for these human matters—says “I am persuaded by nothing less than your opinion that I should change my life. Pour the typical abuse on me from every angle. I won’t even notice that you’re attacking me because you’re wailing just like poor little babies.”

This is what someone says who has come to wisdom, whose soul has escaped vices and calls on him to correct others not out of hatred but in order to treat them. Someone like this might say to others, “Your opinion about me affects me on your account, not mine because despising and attacking virtue is foreswearing any hope of the good. You don’t hurt me just as mortals don’t harm the gods when they destroy the altars.

Yet an evil proposition and an evil plan is obvious even when it lacks the power to harm someone. I tolerate your prattle even as Jupiter the Highest and Greatest tolerates the absurd claims of poets: one gives him wings, one gives him horns, another even depicts him as a supreme adulterer, up all night, while others show him to be mean to the other gods, unjust to men, a rapist of freeborn boys or his own relatives, and a parricide and usurper of his father’s throne.

The poets have accomplished nothing more than relieving people of their shame at doing wrong if they have truly believed the gods are like this. So, even though your words don’t harm me, I’m still warning you for your own benefit.”

“Nihil magis,” inquit ille Socrates, aut aliquis alius, ius cui idem adversus humana atque eadem potestas est, “persuasi mihi, quam ne ad opiniones vestras actum vitae meae flecterem. Solita conferte undique verba; non conviciari vos putabo sed vagire velut infantes miserrimos.” Haec dicet ille, cui sapientia contigit, quem animus vitiorum immunis increpare alios, non quia odit, sed in remedium iubet. Adiciet his illa: “Existimatio me vestra non meo nomine sed vestro movet, quia clamitantis odisse et lacessere virtutem bonae spei eiuratio est. Nullam mihi iniuriam facitis, sed ne dis quidem hi qui aras evertunt.

Office Space Michael Bolton GIF - Office Space Michael Bolton Why Should I Change GIFs

Sed malum propositum apparet malumque consilium etiam ibi, ubi nocere non potuit. Sic vestras halucinationes fero quemadmodum Iuppiter optimus maximus ineptias poetarum, quorum alius illi alas imposuit, alius cornua, alius adulterum illum induxit et abnoctantem, alius saevum in deos, alius iniquum in homines, alius raptorem ingenuorum et cognatorum quidem, alius. parricidam et regni alieni paternique expugnatorem. Quibus nihil aliud actum est, quam ut pudor hominibus peccandi demeretur,  si tales deos credidissent. Sed quamquam ista me nihil laedant, vestra tamen vos moneo causa.

Does the examined life need a socrates bib?

“The Cheapness of Our Tongue”: Three Latin Passages on Translation

Seneca the Elder, Contr. 9.14

“People who teach translation have never made a lot of money”

numquam magnas mercedes accepisse eos qui hermeneumata docerent.

Pliny, Letters C. Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

“How could I give you a greater sign of how much I want to copy you and admire you than the fact that I am trying to translate your Greek epigrams to Latin? Still, this is a decline. I bring to it the feebleness of my own ability, and add to this the poverty, or what Lucretius calls “the cheapness of our own language.” Nevertheless, if these Latin translations of mine seem at all charming to you, you will know how much pleasure your Greek originals brought me! Farewell.”

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Cicero, de optime genere oratorum 18

“Two kinds of objections are possible for this task. The first is: “It is better in Greek.” One can answer such people by asking if they can make anything better in Latin. Another is: “Why should I read this translation rather than the Greek?” Well, the same people often embrace a Latin Andria, Synephebi, and even an Andromache, Antiope and Epigonoi. Why is there so much intolerance for speeches translated from Greek when there is none for translated poems?

Huic labori nostro duo genera reprehensionum opponuntur. Unum hoc: “Verum melius Graeci.” A quo quaeratur ecquid possint ipsi melius Latine? Alterum: “Quid istas potius legam quam Graecas?” Idem Andriam et Synephebos nec minus Andromacham aut Antiopam aut Epigonos Latinos recipiunt. Quod igitur est eorum in orationibus e Graeco conversis fastidium, nullum cum sit in versibus?

Painting of a mouth with a tongue and an alien figure pointing to it
Life & Death at the Tip of the Tongue (painting) by Omer Toledano, 2001

“Covered in Flames and Sorrowful Ash”: Martial on Vesuvius

Image result for Ancient Roman Pompeii

Today is, according to many, the anniversary of the eruption of Vesuvius in the Bay of Naples in 79 CE. Pliny’s account is the most famous, but Martial had his say too (Epigrams, 4.4):

“Here is Vesuvius, recently verdant with shading vines–
here the noble grape weighed made filled deep pools:
these were the hills Bacchus loved more than Nysae–
On this mountain the Satyrs not so long ago led their dance.
Here was the home Venus considered more pleasing than Sparta.
This place was famous because of its Herculean name.
All of this lies covered in flames and sorrowful ash.
Not even the gods wished for this to be their right.”

Hic est pampineis uiridis modo Vesbius umbris,
presserat hic madidos nobilis uua lacus:
haec iuga quam Nysae colles plus Bacchus amauit;
hoc nuper Satyri monte dedere choros;
haec Veneris sedes, Lacedaemone gratior illi;              5
hic locus Herculeo nomine clarus erat.
Cuncta iacent flammis et tristi mersa fauilla:
nec superi uellent hoc licuisse sibi.


It’s Tuesday: An Eternal Death Awaits, No Matter What

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1076-1094

“Finally, what great and vile desire for life compels us
To quake so much amidst doubts and dangers?
Mortals have an absolute end to our lives:
Death cannot be evaded—we must leave.

Nevertheless, we move again and still persist—
No new pleasure is procured by living;
But while what we desire is absent, that seems to overcome
All other things; but later, when we have gained it, we want something else—

An endless thirst for life grips us as we gasp for it.
It remains unclear what fortune life will offer,
What chance may bring us and what end awaits.
But by extending life we do not subtract a moment
Of time from death nor can we shorten it
So that we may somehow have less time after our ends.

Therefore, you may continue as living as many generations as you want,
But that everlasting death will wait for you still,
And he will be there for no less a long time, the man who
Has found the end of life with today’s light, than the man who died
Many months and many years before.”

Denique tanto opere in dubiis trepidare periclis
quae mala nos subigit vitai tanta cupido?
certe equidem finis vitae mortalibus adstat
nec devitari letum pote, quin obeamus.
praeterea versamur ibidem atque insumus usque
nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas;
sed dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
cetera; post aliud, cum contigit illud, avemus
et sitis aequa tenet vitai semper hiantis.
posteraque in dubiost fortunam quam vehat aetas,
quidve ferat nobis casus quive exitus instet.
nec prorsum vitam ducendo demimus hilum
tempore de mortis nec delibare valemus,
quo minus esse diu possimus forte perempti.
proinde licet quod vis vivendo condere saecla,
mors aeterna tamen nihilo minus illa manebit,
nec minus ille diu iam non erit, ex hodierno
lumine qui finem vitai fecit, et ille,
mensibus atque annis qui multis occidit ante.

Color photo of a plaster Roman death mask, mostly brown and orange with eyes visible and striking

Think You’re Done with that Pee? Wait, There’s More!

Marcus Cato, On Agriculture 157.10-11

“Wait, there’s more: save the urine of someone who eats cabbage all the time, warm it, bathe your patient in it, you will heal them! This has been tested. As a bonus, if you wash a babies in this urine, they will never be unhealthy. If someone’s eyes are a little weak, work that potion into them and they will see more! Head pain or neck pain will also lessen when treated with re-heated urine.

If a woman heats her private parts with this urine, they will suffer no disease. Here’s what you do: warm the urine in a pain and place it on a chair with a cut-out cushion. Have the woman sit on it; cover her; and put clothes over her.”

Et hoc amplius lotium conservato eius qui brassicam essitarit, id calfacito, eo hominem demittito, cito sanum facies hac cura; expertum hoc est. Item pueros pusillos si laves eo lotio, numquam debiles fient. Et quibus oculi parum clari sunt, eo lotio inunguito, plus videbunt.

Si caput aut cervices dolent, eo lotio caldo lavito, desinent dolere. Et si mulier eo lotio locos fovebit, numquam miseri fient, et fovere sic oportet: ubi in scutra fervefeceris, sub sellam supponito pertusam. Eo mulier adsidat, operito, circum vestimenta eam dato.