Careless Eating With Family

Seneca, Thyestes, 1031-1042

Atreus:
You have what remains of your children.
What does not remain, you have that too.

Thyestes:
Which is it: are they sprawled-out food for screeching birds?
Are they being devoured by monsters?
Or are they feed for wild animals?

Atreus:
You’ve dined on your children yourself,
in a profane feast.

Thyestes:
. . . What words suffice for me?
I can make out their cut-off heads, torn-off hands,
feet ripped from shattered legs–
This is what their glutton of a father could not swallow!
Their entrails churn inside me; wrong now locked in me
struggles with no way out, yet seeks escape.

Atreus:
Quidquid e natis tuis
superest habes, quodcumque non superest habes.

Thyestes:
Utrumne saevis pabulum alitibus iacent,
an beluis vorantur, an pascunt feras?

Atreus:
Epulatus ipse es impia natos dape.

Thyestes:
. . . quae verba sufficient mihi?
abscisa cerno capita et avulsas manus
et rupta fractis cruribus vestigia:
hoc est quod avidus capere non potuit pater.
volvuntur intus viscera et clausum nefas
sine exitu luctatur et quaerit fugam.

Red line drawing of large man eating a lot, alone at a table
Fernando Botero.
Man Eating. 2001.
Private collection.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Lips to the Ciceronian Udder

Paolo Cortesi, Letter to Politian:

I would venture even now to assert what I have often said in the past: that no one after Cicero has ever earned praise in writing (excepting one or two people here and there) who was not raised and nourished as it were on Ciceronian milk. But there was then a certain mode of imitation which ran up against a rejection of similarity and so that shining mode of writing was seasoned with a sprinkling of cheer. But now that mode lies either neglected or ignored among people of our time. My dear Politian, I would like to be similar not as an ape to a human but as a son to his parent. That ridiculous imitator only fixes with similitude the deformities and depraved faults of the body. The son, however, represents the countenance, the walk, the stature, the movement, the form, the voice, and finally even the figure of the parent’s body, and yet has in this similarity something of his own, something different, such that when they are compared, they still seem to be not entirely the same as each other.

Ausim nunc etiam affirmare idem quod saepe: neminem post Marcum Tullium in scribendo laudem consecutum, praeter unum aut alterum, qui non sit ab eo eductus et tamquam lactis nutrimento educatus. Sed erat tum quaedam certa imitandi ratio, quae et fastidio similitudinis occurrebatur et nitidum illud genus hilaritate quadam aspersa condiebatur. Nunc autem illa ab hominibus nostris aut neglecta est aut ignorata. Similem volo, mi Politiane, non ut simiam hominis sed ut filium parentis. Illa enim ridicula imitatrix tantum deformitates et vitia corporis depravata similitudine effingit. Hic autem vultum, incessum, statum, motum, formam, vocem denique et figuram corporis representat, et tamen habet in hac similitudine aliquid suum, aliquid naturale, aliquid diversum, ita ut cum comparentur dissimiles inter se esse videantur.

#BuyNothingDay: Read Some More Lucretius

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“The human race, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.

Epicureanism doesn’t do it for you? Here’s something else;

Epictetus, Encheiridion 44 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“These statements are illogical: “I am richer than you and therefore better than you. I am more articulate than you and therefore better than you.” But these conclusions are more fitting: “I am wealthier than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours. I am more articulate than you, therefore my speech is better than yours.” You are neither your property nor your speech.”

c. 44. Οὗτοι οἱ λόγοι ἀσύνακτοι· “ἐγώ σου πλουσιώτερός εἰμι, ἐγώ σου ἄρα κρείσσων”· “ἐγώ σου λογιώτερος, ἐγώ σου ἄρα κρείσσων” ἐκεῖνοι δὲ μᾶλλον συνακτικοί· “ἐγώ σου πλουσιώτερός εἰμι, ἡ ἐμὴ ἄρα κτῆσις τῆς σῆς κρείσσων”· “ἐγώ σου λογιώτερος, ἡ ἐμὴ ἄρα λέξις τῆς σῆς κρείσσων.” σὺ δὲ γε οὔτε κτῆσις εἶ οὔτε λέξις.

Some Approving Words from Cicero,

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum 7-8 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“Can something good be bad for anyone, or is it possible for someone not to be good in the abundance of goods? But indeed, we see that all of those things we mentioned are of such a sort that the wicked have them, but the good do not. For that reason, anyone at all may laugh at me if they wish, but true reasoning will possess more power with me than the opinion of the common mob. Nor will I ever say that someone has lost their goods if they should lose their cattle or furniture. I will always praise the wise man Bias who, as I think, is numbered among the seven sages. When the enemy had seized his fatherland of Priene, and the other citizens were fleeing while carrying many of their possessions with them, Bias was advised by another to do them same himself. Bias responded, ‘I am doing just that – I carry everything I own with me.’”

Potestne bonum cuiquam malo esse, aut potest quisquam in abundantia bonorum ipse esse non bonus? Atqui ista omnia talia videmus, ut et inprobi habeant et absint probis. Quam ob rem licet inrideat, si qui vult, plus apud me tamen vera ratio valebit quam vulgi opinio; neque ego umquam bona perdidisse dicam, si quis pecus aut supellectilem amiserit, nec non saepe laudabo sapientem illum, Biantem, ut opinor, qui numeratur in septem; cuius quom patriam Prienam cepisset hostis ceterique ita fugerent, ut multa de suis rebus asportarent, cum esset admonitus a quodam, ut idem ipse faceret, ‘Ego vero’, inquit, ‘facio; nam omnia mecum porto mea.’

Market scene, 15th century, Manuscript, Bibliothèque Municipale, Rouen

Make A Seating Plan for Your Holiday Feast, Unless Simonides is Coming…

Ancient memory techniques go back to oratorical training in theory, but in practice probably much further back in human history. Philostratus records the reputation of Dionysius of Miletus and his “memory-men”. But one of the most easily abused and likely misunderstood method from the ancient world is the “memory palace” (or “method of loci“), made famous by Cicero, but credited to the lyric poet Simonides.

Cicero De Oratore 2.352–355

“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrate named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.

A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and sAW no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins and died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.

From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”

Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse.  Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.

thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!

 

Image result for ancient greek memory palace medieval giulio camillo
This stuff is still popular: The Memory Theater of Guilio Camillo

This World Was Not Made for Us

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 174-181

“When people pretend that gods made everything
For them, they appear to have wandered off
From true reason in every possible way.

For while I might be ignorant of the first beginnings,
I would still dare to assert from heaven’s basic traits
–And to show as well from many other things–
That the nature of the universe was not divinely made
For us, because its faults are just too great.”

…. quorum omnia causa
constituisse deos cum fingunt, omnibu’ rebus
magno opere a vera lapsi ratione videntur.
nam quamvis rerum ignorem primordia quae sint,
hoc tamen ex ipsis caeli rationibus ausim
confirmare aliisque ex rebus reddere multis,
nequaquam nobis divinitus esse creatam
naturam mundi: tanta stat praedita culpa

Map of the observable universe. From left to right the known celestial bodies are arranged according to their proximity to the Earth. In the right border we find the most distant objects observed that are GRBs, quasars, galaxies and the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Pablo Carlos Budassi, “Map of the Observable Universe”

The Dog and His Treasure: A Fable about Priorities

Phaedrus, 1.27

“This tale has something to say to the greedy
And those who want to be  rich, though born needy.

A dog was digging up human bones when he found
A treasure and, because he offended the gods in the ground,
He was struck by a love of riches he couldn’t forget
To pay sacred religion back this debt.

And so, the dog thought not of food as he guarded his gold
And he died from hunger, and as a vulture took hold
he reportedly said, “Dog, you deserve it—
To lie there when you wanted royal wealth
After you were born in a gutter and raised on shit!”

dog

I.27. Canis et Thesaurus

Haec res avaris esse conveniens potest,
et qui, humiles nati, dici locupletes student.
Humana effodiens ossa thesaurum canis
invenit, et, violarat quia Manes deos,
iniecta est illi divitiarum cupiditas,
poenas ut sanctae religioni penderet.
Itaque, aurum dum custodit oblitus cibi,
fame est consumptus. Quem stans vulturius super
fertur locutus “O canis, merito iaces,
qui concupisti subito regales opes,
trivio conceptus, educatus stercore”.

Nothing To Write about: Cicero Gives Up

Cicero to Atticus, 129 (VII.6) Formiae, ca. 18 December 50 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“There’s clearly nothing for me to write to you about. You know everything worth knowing and I have nothing to expect from you. Still, let me keep up our practice so that we don’t let anyone travel near you without a letter.

I am really afraid for our country. I have barely found anyone who doesn’t think we should give Caesar what he wants, rather than fighting with him.”

Plane deest quid ad te scribam. nota omnia tibi sunt, nec ipse habeo a te quod exspectem. tantum igitur nostrum illud sollemne servemus, ut ne quem istuc euntem sine litteris dimittamus.

De re publica valde timeo, nec adhuc fere inveni qui non concedendum putaret Caesari quod postularet potius quam depugnandum.

Leaving Life From an Inn, Not a Home

Cicero De Senectute, 84

“Even if some god should permit that I would return to the time of my birth from this age, I would sternly refuse–for, truly, I do not wish to restart as if to retrace a race run from the finish line to the starting post.

What attraction does life have? Or, rather, what labor does it lack? Let it have clear charm–even still, it must have either satiety or a conclusion. It is not my purpose to deplore life as many–even learned men–have often done. And I do not regret that I have lived, because I lived in a such a way that I do not believe I was pointlessly born.  And I am leaving life as if from an inn, not a home. For nature has given us a way-station for a brief delay, not to permanently reside.”

Et si quis deus mihi largiatur ut ex hac aetate repuerascam et in cunis vagiam, valde recusem, nec vero velim quasi decurso spatio ad carceres a calce revocari. Quid habet enim vita commodi? Quid non potius laboris? Sed habeat sane; habet certe tamen aut satietatem aut modum. Non libet enim mihi deplorare vitam, quod multi et ei docti saepe fecerunt, neque me vixisse paenitet, quoniam ita vixi, ut non frustra me natum existimem, et ex vita ita discedo tamquam ex hospitio, non tamquam e domo; commorandi enim natura divorsorium nobis, non habitandi dedit.

This last bit made me think of Lucretius:

De Rerum Natura, 3.970-971

“Thus one thing never ceases to arise from another,
and life is given to no one for ownership, but to all for rent.”

sic aliud ex alio numquam desistet oriri
vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu

Image result for medieval manuscript de senectute

Life Without a Nemesis

Seneca, de providentia 1.4.3

“I congratulate you not so much as a brave person but as if you had won the consulship or a praetorship: you have leveled up in honor! Similarly I would say to a good person if no misfortune had given them the chance to demonstrate their spirit’s strength, “I think you’re unlucky because you have never been unlucky. You have made it through life without a nemesis. No one will know what you’re capable of, not even you!”

For someone to really know themselves, they need to be tested. No one discovers what they can do without trying! This is why some people have intentionally given themselves to misfortune and have searched for some way to make their true value shine bright when it might instead pass into the unknown.

Great men, I say, often delight in facing trouble, as brave soldiers do when they face war. I once heard a gladiator named Triumphus in the reign of Tiberius Caesar complaining about how few competitions there were: “How beautiful an age has slipped away!”

Non gratulor tamquam viro forti, sed tanquam consulatum praeturamve adepto; honore auctus es. Item dicere et bono viro possum, si illi nullam occasionem difficilior casus dedit in qua una1 vim animi sui ostenderet: “Miserum te iudico, quod numquam fuisti miser. Transisti sine adversario vitam; nemo sciet quid potueris, ne tu quidem ipse.” Opus est enim ad notitiam sui experimento; quid quisque posset nisi temptando non didicit. Itaque quidam ipsi ultro se cessantibus malis obtulerunt et virtuti iturae in obscurum occasionem per quam 4enitesceret quaesierunt. Gaudent, inquam, magni viri aliquando rebus adversis, non aliter quam fortes milites bello. Triumphum ego murmillonem sub Tib. Caesare de raritate munerum audivi querentem: “Quam bella,” inquit, “aetas perit!”

Gnomologium Vaticanum, 518

“Sophokles the tragic poet, after he heard that Euripides died in Macedonia, said “The whetstone of my poetry is gone.”

Σοφοκλῆς, ὁ τῶν τραγῳδιῶν ποιητής, ἀκούσας Εὐριπίδην ἐν Μακεδονίᾳ τεθνηκέναι εἶπεν· „ἀπώλετο ἡ τῶν ἐμῶν ποιημάτων ἀκόνη.”

I Made Your Poems Worse: You’re Welcome!

Pliny, Letters, 4.18

“To Arrius Antonius, My friend:

Is there any way I can prove myself to you beyond the work I have put in to your Greek epigrams, which I have tried to match in Latin translation? It’s still a turn for the worse: the cause is the weakness of my own genius followed by the inadequacy of what Lucretius calls the “poverty of our country’s language.” But, if these Latin translations of mine seem to you to possess any bit of charm, then you know how much pleasure I have in the originals you made in Greek. Farewell.”

Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

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.

Greek Epigram by Sopater