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.

English Seneca By Candlelight

Thomas Nashe, To the Gentlemen Students of Both Universities

But least I might seeme with these night crowes “Nimis curiosus in aliena republica,” I’le turne backe to my first text, of studies of delight, and talke a little in friendship with a few of our triviall translators. It is a common practise now a daies amongst a sort of shifting companions, that runne through every arte and thrive by none, to leave the trade of “Noverint,” whereto they were borne, and busie themselves with the indevors of Art, that could scarcelie latinize their necke-verse if they should have neede; yet English Seneca read by candle light yeeldes manie good sentences, as “Bloud is a begger,” and so foorth: and, if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfulls of tragical speaches.

But O griefe! “tempus edax rerum,” what’s that will last alwaies? The sea exhaled by droppes will in continuance be drie, and Seneca let bloud line by line and page by page, at length must needes die to our stage: which makes his famisht followers to imitate the Kidde in Aesop, who, enamored with the Foxes newfangles, forsooke all hopes of life to leape into a new occupation; and these men renowncing all possibilities of credit or estimation, to intermeddle with Italian translations: wherein how poorelie they have plodded (as those that are neither provenzall men nor are able to distinguish of Articles,) let all indifferent Gentlemen that have travailed in that tongue discerne by their twopenie pamphlets: and no mervaile though their home-born mediocritie be such in this matter; for what can be hoped of those, that thrust Elisium into hell, and have not learned so long as they have hued in the spheares, the just measure of the Horizon without an hexameter.

Hexameter Fury and Hissed Barbarism

Thomas Nashe, To the Gentlemen Students of Both Universities

Who ever my private opinion condemneth as faultie, Master Gascoigne is not to bee abridged of his deserved esteeme, who first beate the path to that perfection which our best Poets have aspired too since his departure; whereto he did ascend by comparing the Italian with the English, as Tullie did “Graeca cum Latinis.” Neither was Master Turbervile the worst of his time, although in translating he attributed too much to the necessitie of rime. And in this page of praise, I cannot omit aged Arthur Golding, for his industrious toile in Englishing Ovids Metamorphosis, besides manie other exquisite editions of Divinitie, turned by him out of the French tongue into our own.

Master Phaer likewise is not to be forgot in regard of his famous Virgil, whose heavenly verse had it not bin blemisht by his hautie thoghts England might have long insulted in his wit, and “corrigat qui potest” have been subscribed to his workes. But fortune the Mistres of change with a pitying compassion respecting Master Stanihursts praise, would that Phaer shoulde fall that hee might rise, whose heroicall Poetrie infired, I should say inspired, with an hexameter furie, recalled to life whatever hissed barbarisme hath bin buried this hundred yeare; and revived by his ragged quill such carterlie varietie, as no hodge plowman in a countrie but would have held as the extremitie of clownerie; a patterne whereof, I will propounde to your judgements, as neere as I can, being parte of one of his descriptions of a tempest, which is thus:

Then did he make heavens vault to rebounde, with rounce robble hobble

Of ruffle raffe roaring, with thwick thwack thurlery bouncing.

Which strange language of the firmament never subject before to our common phrase, makes us that are not used to terminate heavens moveings, in the accents of any voice, esteeme of their triobulare interpreter, as of some Thrasonical huffe snuffe, for so terrible was his stile, to all milde eares, as would have affrighted our peaceable Poets, from intermedling hereafter with that quarrelling kinde of verse; had not sweete Master France, by his excellent translation of Master Thomas Watsons sugred Amintas, animated their dulled spirits to such high witted endevors.

But I knowe not how, their over timerous cowardise, hath stoode in awe of envie, that no man since him durst imitate any of the worste, of those Romane wonders in english, which makes me thinke that either the lovers of medocritie are verie many, or that the number of good Poets, are very small: and in trueth, (Master Watson except, whom I mentioned before) I knowe not almost any of late dayes that hath shewed himselfe singular in any speciall Latin Poem, whose Amintas, and translated Antigone may march in equipage of honour with any of our ancient Poets.

A crudely printed, full-length picture of a standing man. He is in Elizabethan-style clothing and chains are around his ankles

F**k My Critics

Jerome, Commentarius in Michaeam Prophetam

“We are always responding to the haters, because jealousy never leaves off, and the introductions of our books confute the shit-talk of our detractors, who commonly toss it about that I write certain trifles of sterile and empty speech, and claim that while I know not how to speak I am unable to be silent. So I pray you, Paula and Eustochius, shut your ears to barkings like this, and assisting my inability to speak with your payers, try to bring about an opening of my mouth from the apostle, so that it can be adapted to one speaking of the scriptures.

The lord will grant the word to those who evangelize with much virtue. I, however, warn the fat bulls, who have surrounded me, to be silent and to cease their maledictions, lest they come to learn their own wicked deeds. For when they say that I have plucked from the volumes of Origen and that it is improper for the writings of our predecessors to be contaminated, they think that it is an insult to me, but I count it as a great compliment, since I wish to imitate him, who, I have no doubt, pleases you and all wise people.

For if it is a crime to translate the things which Greeks have said well, then Ennius and Vergil, Plautus, Caecilius and Terence, Cicero, and other eloquent men should be brought to trial, since they not only translated some verses, but many chapters and even the longest books and complete plays.”

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Semper invidis respondemus, quia non cessat invidia, et librorum nostrorum exordia aemulorum maledicta confutant, qui vulgo iactant, me sterilis ieiunique sermonis quasdam ineptias scribere, et cum loqui nesciam, tacere non posse. Itaque obsecro vos, o Paula et Eustochium, ut ad huiuscemodi latratus claudatis aures, et infantiam, ut dicunt, meam orationibus adiuvantes, impetretis mihi iuxta apostolum adapertionem oris mei, ut de scripturis loquenti adaptari possit: Dominus dabit verbum evangelizantibus virtute multa. Moneo autem tauros pingues, qui circumdederunt me, ut quiescant et desinant maledicere, malefacta ne noscant sua, quae proferentur post, si pergent laedere. Nam quod dicunt, Origenis me volumina compilare, et contaminari non decere veterum scripta, quod illi maledictum vehemens esse existimant, eandem laudem ego maximam duco, cum illum imitari volo, quem cunctis prudentibus, et vobis placere non dubito. Si enim criminis est Graecorum bene dicta transferre, accusentur Ennius et Maro, Plautus, Caecilius et Terentius, Tullius quoque et ceteri eloquentes viri, qui non solum versus, sed multa capita et longissimos libros ac fabulas integras transtulerunt.

Knowing When to Stop

[The following passage is cited in John Barsby’s Commentary on Ovid’s Amores I as evidence of the claim, “According to Seneca the poets reckoned him among the rhetoricians, though the rhetoricians reckoned him among the poets.” It is difficult to see how one could read this passage from Seneca in that way unless one simply took the phrase “inter oratores Ovidium” entirely out of context.]

Seneca, Controversiae 9.5.17:

“Montanus has this fault: he ruins his sentences by repetition. Not being content to say one thing well once, he brings it about that he does not say it well. And on this account and for other reasons by which an orator may seem similar to a poet, Scaurus used to call Montanus ‘an Ovid among orators.’ For Ovid too did not know to leave off something which had ended well. Not to bring up too many examples, I will be content with this one instance of what Scaurus called Montaniana: when Polyxena had been abducted so that she could be sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles, Hecuba said,

The buried man’s ashes themselves fight against our race.

Montanus could have been content with this, but he added,

We feel the enemy even in the grave.

Not content with this, he added,

I was fertile for Achilles.

Scaurus had it right: it is no less an important virtue to know how to speak than to know when to stop.”

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habet hoc Montanus vitium: sententias suas repetendo corrumpit. dum non est contentus unam rem semel bene dicere, efficit, ne bene dixerit. et propter hoc et propter alia, quibus orator potest poetae similis videri, solebat Scaurus Montanum ‘inter oratores Ovidium’ vocare; nam et Ovidius nescit quod bene cessit relinquere. ne multa referam, quae ‘Montaniana’ Scaurus vocabat, uno hoc contentus ero: cum Polyxene esset abducta, ut ad tumulum Achillis immolaretur, Hecuba dicit:

cinis ipse sepulti in genus hoc pugnat.

poterat hoc contentus esse; adiecit:

tumulo quoque sensimus hostem.

nec hoc contentus esse; adiecit:

Aeacidae fecunda fui.

aiebat autem Scaurus rem veram: non minus magnam virtutem esse scire dicere quam scire desinere.

The Tragedy of the Aeneid’s Dido As Told Through Buffy GIFs

Vergil, Aeneid 1.748–749

“Nor did unhappy Dido fail to drag out the night
With all kinds of talk as she was drinking deep of love.”

nec non et vario noctem sermone trahebat
infelix Dido longumque bibebat amorem,

Last year, Christian Lehmann (@buffyantiqua) told the story of Aeneas and Dido from Vergil’s Aeneid through GIFs from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here it is again, because, well, this is what we need.

This is not only genius which the world needs to witness for its own sake, but it also combines a few things I love: Homeric reception/myth and Buffy. (I tried to write about this once and partially failed.)

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I loved this so much that I wanted to share it with those who don’t use Twitter and Christian was kind enough to give his consent (see his work on “The 100 and Classical (Under)Worlds” too). This is a lively and fascinating retelling–it forces reconsiderations, I think, of both the Aeneid and BVTS. Also, Buffy and Spike > Buffy and Riley.

[below is my contribution: I learned this passage in high school where it was obligatory to understand that Dido was not dutiful enough and gave into passion, whereas Aeneas was oh so very pius.]

Vergil, Aeneid 4. 165-172

To the same cave came Dido and the Trojan captain
Earth first then nuptial Dido gave their sign
The lightning bolts were shining out and the Sky was a witness
to their bridal rites as the Nymphs sounded out on the mount’s highest peak
That day was the first cause of death; the first cause of evils.
For no longer was Dido cautioned by appearances or rumor
And no more was she harboring a secret love.
She calls it a marriage: with this name she cloaks her fault.

speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem
deveniunt. prima et Tellus et pronuba Iuno
dant signum; fulsere ignes et conscius Aether
conubiis, summoque ulularunt vertice Nymphae.
ille dies primus leti primusque malorum
causa fuit. neque enim specie famave movetur
nec iam furtivum Dido meditatur amorem;
coniugium vocat; hoc praetexit nomine culpam.

Amoral Romans

Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater:

There is not (I believe) in human society, under whatever form of civilisation, any trust or delegated duty which has more often been negligently or even perfidiously administered. In the days of classical Greece and Rome, my own private impression, founded on the collation of many incidental notices, is – that this, beyond all other forms of domestic authority, furnished to wholesale rapine and peculation the very amplest arena. The relation of father and son, as was that of patron and client, was generally, in the practice of life, cherished with religious fidelity: whereas the solemn duties of the tutor (i.e. the guardian) to his ward, which had their very root and origin in the tenderest adjurations of a dying friend, though subsequently refreshed by the hourly spectacle of helpless orphanage playing round the margins of pitfalls hidden by flowers, spoke but seldom to the sensibilities of a Roman through any language of oracular power. Few indeed, if any, were the obligations, in a proper sense moral, which pressed upon the Roman.