Ignoring the Yoke on Our Necks

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.11

“You see how much care comes from a slave to the highest of the gods. From whence comes such a great and vain loathing for slaves, as though they did not stem from and receive their nourishment from the same elements as you, and as though they did not draw the same breath from the same source? Would you think about those whom you call slaves – that they, born from the same seed, enjoy the same sky, and live and die just as you? They are slaves, you say? No, they are people! They are slaves, you say? No, they are fellow slaves, if you would but consider that Fortune may employ the same license against you as it does against them. You can see him free just as soon as he might see you a slave. Do you not know at what age Hecuba, Croesus, the mother of Darius, Diogenes, and even Plato himself all began to be slaves? Finally, why do we fear the name of slavery?

Sure, he’s a slave – but by compulsion, and perhaps he is a slave with a free soul. This will harm him, if you can show who is not a slave. One person may serve desire, another avarice, another ambition – all of us are slaves to hope, all of us are slaves to fear. And to be sure, there is no slavery more abject than slavery which we have chosen for ourselves. But here we trample underfoot a man lying under the yoke which Fortune has thrown upon him as though he were wretched and worthless, yet we do not allow the yoke which we have accepted for ourselves to be criticized.”

Servitus Carnis (1610/20 - Engraving) - Egbert van Panderen

Vides, quanta de servo ad deorum summum cura pervenerit. Tibi autem unde in servos tantum et tam inane fastidium, quasi non ex isdem tibi et constent et alantur elementis eundemque spiritum ab eodem principio carpant? Vis tu cogitare eos quos ius tuum vocas isdem seminibus ortos eodem frui caelo, aeque vivere aeque mori? Servi sunt? immo homines. Servi sunt? immo conservi, si cogitaveris tantundem in utrosque licere fortunae. Tam tu illum videre liberum potes, quam ille te servum. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Diogenes, qua Plato ipse?  Postremo quid ita nomen servitutis horremus? Servus est quidem: sed necessitate, sed fortasse libero animo servus est. Hoc illi nocebit, si ostenderis quis non sit. Alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori. Et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria. At nos iugo a fortuna inposito subiacentem tamquam miserum vilemque calcamus: quod vero nos nostris cervicibus inserimus non patimur reprehendi.

Cicero Lays It All Out: Better Not to Live Than See These Things!

This is a real passage from Cicero, unlike some others.

Cicero to Titus, 46 BCE Letters to Friends 5.16

“If your own sorrow moves you or if you are weeping at the thought of your own affairs, then I believe that you cannot easily use up all your pain. If, however, the greater spirit of love tortures who and you grieve over the loss of those who have died, I will not repeat those things which I have most frequently read and heard—that there is nothing bad in death since if any sense of it exists then it should not be considered death but some immortality, while if there is no sense of it at all than what cannot be felt should not be considered pitiable.

But I can still assert this without a second thought: whoever has departed from the current events which have been whipped up and prepared and are hanging over our country has been robbed of nothing. What room is there left any more for shame, honor, virtue, honest pursuits, the noble arts, any kind of liberty or even place of safety?”

Quod si tuum te desiderium movet aut si tuarum rerum cogitatione maeres, non facile exhauriri tibi istum dolorem posse universum puto; sin illa te res cruciat quae magis amoris est, ut eorum qui occiderunt miserias lugeas, ut ea non dicam quae saepissime et legi et audivi, nihil mali esse in morte, ex qua si resideat sensus immortalitas illa potius quam mors ducenda sit, sin sit amissus nulla videri miseria debeat quae non sentiatur, hoc tamen non dubitans confirmare possum, ea misceri, parari, impendere rei publicae quae qui reliquerit nullo modo mihi quidem deceptus esse videatur. quid est enim iam non modo pudori, probitati, virtuti, rectis studiis, bonis artibus sed omnino libertati ac saluti loci?

A Fine Poem on Friendship

Martial 12.40

“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”

Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.

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.'”

chrysoloras3

Screaming and Intemperance of Words: A Cruel Reign

Seneca, De Clementia, 7

“A cruel reign is churning and dark with shadows; meanwhile, people shudder and grow pale at the surprising sound, even as the one who causes the confusion trembles too. Someone is forgiven more easily in private affairs for seeking vengeance for themselves. For they can be wounded and the sorrow comes from the injury and they fear being scorned. It seems that it is weakness for the wounded not to return the favor rather than mercy.

But the one for whom vengeance is easy earns certain praise for clemency once vengeance is dismissed. It is for people in a humble place to use force, to feud, to rush into a battle and to give a free rein to wrath. When blows fall among equals, they are light; but for a king, screaming and intemperance of words are ill-fit to his majesty.”

Crudele regnum turbidum tenebrisque obscurum est, inter trementes et ad repentinum sonitum expavescentes ne eo quidem, qui omnia perturbat, inconcusso. Facilius privatis ignoscitur pertinaciter se vindicantibus; possunt enim laedi, dolorque eorum ab iniuria venit; timent praeterea contemptum, et non rettulisse laedentibus gratiam infirmitas videtur, non clementia; at cui ultio in facili est, is omissa ea certam laudem mansuetudinis consequitur. Humili loco positis exercere manum, litigare, in rixam procurrere ac morem irae suae gerere liberius est; leves inter paria ictus sunt; regi vociferatio quoque verborumque intemperantia non ex maiestate est.

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Liber Floridus

Fake Cicero Quotation Alert!

The following post is making the rounds in favor of impeachment (thanks to my friend and former roommate Timothy Gerolami, the south shore’s biggest P. Clodius Pulcher fan and librarian extraordinaire for bringing this to my attention):

Image may contain: 1 person, text

I don’t want to disagree with the contents of the quote or the sentiments of using it (our current president is certainly impeachable and likely the worst and arguably the most corrupt president in our nation’s history). But this is a demonstrably false quotation on two counts.

First, Cicero died on the 7th of December in 43 BCE. So, the date of attribution is wrong, but that is not a big deal (for me). The bigger deal is that this passage is not a translation of anything in Cicero. It is from a modern novel by Taylor Caldwell called A Pillar of Iron (1965, 661) as documented by wikiquote. Another site documents how this quotation made the leap from historical novel to political discourse via a conservative judge. (For his speech, look here. And thanks again to Timmy G. for both links.)

When we quote the past, we appropriate it for modern purposes–which is fine. But when we use false quotations we attempt to assert a modern purchase with counterfeit currency. This is not about the aptness of the quotation or the rightness of the movement. Indeed, I don’t think it matters so deeply–but it is lazy and likely harmful to use a quotation in this way .

We seem to want the appearance of antiquity and propriety without wanting to do the work it requires. This laziness is not exactly the same as spreading false information (e.g. ‘fake news’) but emerges from the same meme-crazy, superficial information culture that makes fake news inevitable. It undermines our attempts to use history to understand our present events and attenuates the credibility of the very practice.

The Romans and Greeks have lots of great stuff to say about treason, why not just quote them? If Cicero’s quotation there is not good enough, why not some Cicero on hate or the glory of killing a tyrant on the Ides of March (which he loves to talk about, even though he did not help)?

If that’s not enough, here are some others.

Cicero, Philippic 13.21

“At this point, what crime, what betrayal has this traitor not committed? He attacks our colonists, an army of the Roman people, and a general, a consul elect! He despoils the lands of the best citizens. He is the most hostile enemy who threatens good people with crosses and torture.

What peace can there be with this man, this Marcus Lepidus? No punishment would be enough for him to satisfy the state!”

Postea quod scelus, quod facinus parricida non edidit? Circumsedet colonos nostros, exercitum populi Romani, imperatorem, consulem designatum: agros divexat civium optimorum; hostis taeterrimus omnibus bonis cruces ac tormenta minitatur.

Cum hoc, M. Lepide, pax esse quae potest? Cuius ne supplicio quidem ullo satiari videtur posse res publica.

Cicero, De Haruspicium Responsis 17

“Yesterday I noticed someone muttering, and people were saying that he denied I could be endured because, when I was asked by this most unholy traitor what state I belonged to, I responded to the applause of you and the Roman knights “to the state which is impossible without me”.

I believe that he groaned at this. How should have I responded? I ask this from the very man who thinks I am intolerable. Should I have declared myself a Roman citizen?”

Vidi enim hesterno die quemdam murmurantem: quem aiebant negare ferri me posse, quia cum ab hoc eodem impurissimo parricida rogarer cuius essem civitatis, respondi me, probantibus et vobis et equitibus Romanis, eius esse, quae carere me non potuisset. Ille, ut opinor, ingemuit. Quid igitur responderem? quaero ex eo ipso, qui ferre me non potest. Me civem esse Romanum?

Once Again, Latin and Greek Passages on Treason, For No Particular Reason

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 10.1

“Look, I have letters here which are obvious proof of treason and have the plans of the enemy.”

teneo ecce epistulas, in quibus manifesta proditionis argumenta sunt, in quibus hostium consilia

Polybius, Histories 5.59.2

“…because of the style of his life and his treason against his country I believe he is worthy of the greatest punishment.”

….κατά γε τὴν τοῦ βίου προαίρεσιν καὶ τὴν εἰς πατρίδα παρανομίαν τῆς μεγίστης ἄξιον κρίνω τιμωρίας

Cicero, De Senectute 12.39–40

“He used to say that no plague is more fatal than the bodily pleasure which has been given to human beings by nature. Zealous lusts for this kind of pleasure compel people toward pursuing them insanely and without any control. From this source springs treason against our country, coups against the legitimate government, and from here secret meetings with enemies are born.”

Nullam capitaliorem pestem quam voluptatem corporis hominibus dicebat a natura datam, cuius voluptatis avidae libidines temere et ecfrenate ad potiendum incitarentur. Hinc patriae proditiones, hinc rerum publicarum eversiones, hinc cum hostibus clandestina colloquia nasci

Wait, there’s more! But First….

US Constitution, Article 3, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

From the Twelve Tables

“The Law of the Twelve Tables commands that anyone who has conspired with an enemy against the state or handed a citizen to a public enemy, should suffer capital punishment.”

Marcianus, ap. Dig., XLVIII, 4, 3: Lex XII Tabularum iubet eum qui hostem concitaverit quive civem hosti tradiderit capite puniri.

Tacitus Histories 3. 57

“How much power the audacity of single individuals can have during civil discord! Claudius Flaventinus, a centurion dismissed by Galba in shame, made the fleet at Misenum revolt with forged letters from Vespasian promising a reward for treason. Claudius Apollinaris, a man neither exceptional for his loyalty nor dedicated in his betrayal, was in charge of the fleet; and Apinius Tiro, an ex-praetor who was by chance at Minturnae then, put himself forth as the leader of the defectors.”

Sed classem Misenensem (tantum civilibus discordiis etiam singulorum audacia valet) Claudius Faventinus centurio per ignominiam a Galba dimissus ad defectionem traxit, fictis Vespasiani epistulis pretium proditionis ostentans. Praeerat classi Claudius Apollinaris, neque fidei constans neque strenuus in perfidia; et Apinius Tiro praetura functus ac tum forte Minturnis agens ducem se defectoribus obtulit.

Lucan 4.218-221

“Must we beg Caesar to handle us no worse than
His other slaves? Have your generals’ lives been begged?
Our safety will never be the price and bribe for foul treason.”

Utque habeat famulos nullo discrimine Caesar,
Exorandus erit? ducibus quoque vita petita est?
Numquam nostra salus pretium mercesque nefandae
Proditionis erit…

Some Greek Words for Treason

ἀπιστία, “treachery”
προδοσία, “high treason”, “betrayal”
προδοτής, “traitor”
ἐπιβουλή, “plot”

From the Suda

“Dêmadês: He was king in Thebes after Antipater. A son of Dêmeas the sailor, he was also a sailor, a shipbuilder, and a ferry-operator. He gave up these occupations to enter politics and turned out to be a traitor—he grew very wealthy from this and obtained, as a bribe from Philip, property in Boiotia.”

Δημάδης, μετ’ ᾿Αντίπατρον βασιλεύσας Θήβας ἀνέστησε, Δημέου ναύτου, ναύτης καὶ αὐτός, ναυπηγὸς καὶ πορθμεύς. ἀποστὰς δὲ τούτων ἐπολιτεύσατο καὶ ἦν προδότης καὶ ἐκ τούτου εὔπορος παντὸς καὶ κτήματα ἐν Βοιωτίᾳ παρὰ Φιλίππου δωρεὰν ἔλαβεν.

Dinarchus, Against Philocles, 8-9

“Don’t you understand that while, in other cases, it is necessary to impose a penalty on those who have committed crimes after examining the matter precisely and uncovering the truth over time, but for instances of clear and agreed-upon treason, we must yield first to anger and what comes from it? Don’t you think that this man would betray any of the things most crucial to the state, once you made him in charge of it?”

ἆρ᾿ ἴσθ᾿ ὅτι ἐπὶ μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἀδικημάτων σκεψαμένους ἀκριβῶς δεῖ μεθ᾿ ἡσυχίας καὶ τἀληθὲς ἐξετάσαντας, οὕτως ἐπιτιθέναι τοῖς ἠδικηκόσι τὴν τιμωρίαν, ἐπὶ δὲ ταῖς φανεραῖς καὶ παρὰ πάντων ὡμολογημέναις προδοσίαις πρώτην τετάχθαι τὴν ὀργὴν καὶ τὴν μετ᾿ αὐτῆς γιγνομένην τιμωρίαν; τί γὰρ τοῦτον οὐκ ἂν οἴεσθε ἀποδόσθαι τῶν ἐν τῇ πόλει σπουδαιοτάτων, ὅταν ὑμεῖς ὡς πιστὸν αὐτὸν καὶ δίκαιον φύλακα καταστήσητε;

Lycurgus, Against Leocrates, 126-7

“It is right that punishments for other crimes come after them, but punishment for treason should precede the dissolution of the state. If you miss that opportune moment when those men are about to do something treacherous against their state, it is not possible for you to obtain justice from the men who did wrong: for they become stronger than the punishment possible from those who have been wronged.”

τῶν μὲν γὰρ ἄλλων ἀδικημάτων ὑστέρας δεῖ τετάχθαι τὰς τιμωρίας, προδοσίας δὲ καὶ δήμου καταλύσεως προτέρας. εἰ γὰρ προήσεσθε τοῦτον τὸν καιρὸν, ἐν ᾧ μέλλουσιν ἐκεῖνοι κατὰ τῆς πατρίδος φαῦλόν τι πράττειν, οὐκ ἔστιν ὑμῖν μετὰ ταῦτα δίκην παρ’ αὐτῶν ἀδικούντων λαβεῖν· κρείττους γὰρ ἤδη γίγνονται τῆς παρὰ τῶν ἀδικουμένων τιμωρίας.

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Jacob van Maerlant, (The traitor Ganelon drawn and quartered)., Spieghel Historiael, West Flanders, c. 1325-1335.

In Defense of Obscenity

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo

“I will fuck you guys in the ass and make you suck my cock…”

So Catullus begins his infamous sixteenth poem, which may stand scrutiny to this day as the most terse and elegant defense of aesthetic obscenity ever penned. The general purport of the poem is this: Two censorious critics, Furius and Aurelius, have upbraided Catullus for the lascivious nature of his verses. Catullus responds by playfully bandying about obscene threats, and notes that “it is fitting that a poet be chaste, but his verses need not be so,” adding further that they are rendered all the more charming by their very obscenity. Catullus urges us not to be blockheads or amateur readers – he urges us to separate the author from his work.

Surely, this is a sentiment which even modern readers can readily appreciate. Stern Catos, begone! The Culture Wars may still rage on in this country, but the warm embrace offered by Evangelicals and other cultural conservatives in America to a man who resembles a rotten apricot, oozing the putrescent slime of every 1980’s porn fantasy, suggests that they never cared about culture (or at any rate, certainly not about prurience or obscenity) in the first place. As so often happens, a prudish and censorious attitude has served as little more than a pose taken to lend a veneer of moral respectability to the overarching project of gaining power over the human body. Thus, ostensibly conservative critics may in fact feel very little cognitive dissonance between their stated views on the morality of explicitly sexual content in art and their support of a man so eager to commit sexual violence.

One might think that, of all subjects, ancient literature would surely have little to do with this moral and intellectual conflict. Many people whom I meet are surprised that anyone still reads ancient texts at all, and seem wholly unaware of the fact that many of the texts which are deemed ‘canonical’ contain substantial amounts of material ranging from the moderately raunchy to the most blatant smut. Young students of the Classics are often wholly taken aback when they are first exposed to the more prurient side of ancient literature. I recall entertaining a vague notion in those benighted days of my youth that Greek and Latin poetry were lofty and elevated, sublime and beautiful. And so they can be. Yet, there is also a certain artistry in the perfectly executed bawdy joke or sexual epigram. You may consider tossing out Aristotle and Longinus, because Martial – an actual poet – has given us the final word on poetics:

“Cornelius, you complain that I write poems which are not serious enough, and which a teacher would not read in school: but my poems, just like a husband with his wife, cannot please without a penis.”

Versus scribere me parum seueros
nec quos praelegat in schola magister,
Corneli, quereris: sed hi libelli,
tamquam coniugibus suis mariti,
non possunt sine mentula placere.

[Martial, 1.35]

Poems which a teacher would not read in school? If this was true in Martial’s time, how much more perilous is it in an age still influenced by the dark vestiges of our Puritan past? I would not dare to let my students read Catullus 16 or indeed any of my favorite ribald and raunchy writings of antiquity because I would, if at all possible, like to remain employed. And yet, I know that exposure to such poems was one of my most thrilling intellectual experiences as an undergraduate. And yet, I know that these students already hear far worse in their various entertainments. And yet, it is absurd to pretend that there is something fundamentally wrong or immoral about obscenity, whether it simply be puerile bathroom humor, or prurient sexual jokes. Indeed, I conjecture that obscenity ought to be introduced to the young as alcohol should – under guidance and supervision, to ensure the development of respectful and responsible use. We have all known the friend in college who, upon first letting the sweet gift of Bacchus touch their lips, was then wholly unable to enjoy alcohol temperately. Yet, we also know those who learned a sense of discretion and moderation by being taught how to drink. Similarly, if our cultural critics have noticed a descent into base, crass, immoderate obscenity, it may be because the subject is never discussed with our children in any reasonable or intellectualized light; it is, rather, entirely forbidden to them, until they expose themselves to the cheap and pre-fabricated obscenity available everywhere. Martial understood that a form of refined and polite obscenity was characteristic of the urbane and educated reader:

“You who are too stern a reader can go away now; I have written this for the sophisticated Roman.”

Qui gravis es nimium, potes hinc jam, lector, abire
quo libet: urbanae scripsimus ista togae [11.16]

Classics, like many Humanist disciplines, is steeped in the old Arnoldian tradition of citing the appeal of “sweetness and light” as a potential reward for countless laborious hours of nasal-codical union. Gentle reader, I invite you to recall your own mindset as a teenager, and consider whether loftiness and sublimity would have been appealing enough to goad you on to writing out declension charts; surely, conjugation would have proved far more interesting. I would not have students exposed to a constant barrage of obscenity, but given how much of the surviving corpus of ancient literature contains at least some prurient material, I would submit that we should avoid the opposite extreme exemplified by Fordyce’s “school friendly” edition of Catullus, which omitted 32 poems from the already exiguous collection of surviving work.

My students regularly ask whether I will teach them some “Latin swear words,” but I am forced to fall back upon the old expedient of telling them that they will simply have to comb through the dictionary if they want them. Perhaps there is some pedagogical merit in this – I remember scouring Webster’s Dictionary in third grade for the word boobs, which, as I reflect upon it, seems to have become a piece of wholly outmoded slang. Yet such, such were the joys! Though my nascent curiosity regarding sexual matters was hardly gratified by this memorable ramble through the groves of lexicography, I do recall adding to my store of knowledge an avian species and a variant word for ‘fool.’ This could hardly compensate for my disappointment at the time, hoping as I did that a definition bearing more upon mammaries would be attended by an illuminating illustration, but I suppose in retrospect that the experience was, on the whole, educational. Prurient interest here functions much like the honey which Lucretius likens to his verse – a sweetener to make the medicine less bitter. Nurses

“First encircle the rim of the cup with the sweet and tawny nectar of honey…”

prius oras pocula circum
contingunt mellis dulci flavoque liquore

[de Rerum Natura, 1.937-8]

Primarily on the basis of its infamous Nausikaa episode, James Joyce’s Ulysses was for some time banned in this country on the basis of its “obscenity.” To be sure, people were then, just as now, still masturbating, shitting, and fucking, but it all seemed somehow indecent to read about those things. The standard applied here was the Hicklin Test, which defined obscenity as anything which tended “to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.” Though it would no doubt appear otherwise to cultural conservatives, I am highly suspicious of the notion that art and literature more generally are capable of exerting a corrupting influence on the mind or morals, and would fall back upon a variant of the Catullan defense: just as one ought not confuse authors with their works, so too one ought not to suppose that “you are what you read.”

Granting the premise that exposure to obscenity might alter our characters, I would submit that it does so for the better. How many literary and artistic geniuses have dallied with filth? How many prurient censors have contributed anything meaninful to human civilization? Conjectural etymology suggests that Latin obscenus is derived from caenum, “filth.” Is filth not just as much a part of our human experience as the loftiness and sublimity of duty, honor, love, etc.? Cicero once wrote of Cato that he “gives his opinion as though he lives in Plato’s Republic, not in the shit-heap of Romulus.” [dicit enim tamquam in Platonis πολιτείᾳ , non tamquam in Romuli faece sententiam, ad Atticum 2.1.8]. I would side with Joyce over John Sumner, with Catullus over Cato, and with all of those who readily embrace the full range of human experience over those who would willfully ignore such an important and entertaining part of human life.

“Lucretia blushed and set aside my book in front of Brutus. But Brutus, go away – she will read it again!”

Erubuit posuitque meum Lucretia librum,
sed coram Bruto; Brute,recede: leget.

[Martial, 11.16]

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If You’re Sad and Have the Urge, Eat Hellebore and Take a Purge!

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy:

“Black hellebore, that most renowned plant, and famous purger of melancholy, which all antiquity so much used and admired, was first found out by Melanpodius a shepherd, as Pliny records, lib. 25. cap. 5 who, seeing it to purge his goats when they raved, practised it upon Elige and Calene, King Praetus’ daughters, that ruled in Arcadia, near the fountain Clitorius, and restored them to their former health. In Hippocrates’s time it was in only request, insomuch that he writ a book of it, a fragment of which remains yet.

[…]

Cornelius Celsus only remaining of the old Latins, lib. 3. cap. 23, extol and admire this excellent plant; and it was generally so much esteemed of the ancients for this disease amongst the rest, that they sent all such as were crazed, or that doted, to the Anticyrae, or to Phocis in Achaia, to be purged, where this plant was in abundance to be had. In Strabo’s time it was an ordinary voyage, Naviget Anticyras [let him sail to Anticyra]; a common proverb among the Greeks and Latins, to bid a dizzard or a mad man go take hellebore; as in Lucian, Menippus to Tantalus, Tantale desipis, helleboro epoto tibi opus est, eoque sane meraco, thou art out of thy little wit, O Tantalus, and must needs drink hellebore, and that without mixture. Aristophanes in Vespis, drink hellebore, &c. and Harpax in the Comoedian, told Simo and Ballio, two doting fellows, that they had need to be purged with this plant. When that proud Menacrates ὀ ζεὺς, had writ an arrogant letter to Philip of Macedon, he sent back no other answer but this, Consulo tibi ut ad Anticyram te conferas [I advise you to go to Anticyra], noting thereby that he was crazed, atque ellebore indigere, had much need of a good purge.”

hellebore

Well Enough to Read, Well Enough to Write?

A few more passages from Seneca on reading and writing, following up on Seneca’s injunction to alternate between the two.

Moral Epistle 45

“You complain that there’s a lack of books where you are. It is not how many books, but how many good ones you have that makes a difference. A short reading list has advantages; variety brings entertainment. One who reaches his desired place should follow one path and not go roam over many. This is not to travel, but to wander.”

Librorum istic inopiam esse quereris. Non refert, quam multos, sed quam bonos habeas; lectio certa prodest, varia delectat. Qui, quo destinavit, pervenire vult, unam sequatur viam, non per multas vagetur. Non ire istuc, sed errare est.

Moral Epistle 83

“Today has been whole: no one has stolen any part at all from me. The whole day was spent in reading and rest. There was a little bit given to exercise. For this nominal amount, I give thanks to old age. It is not a big deal for me: as soon as I have moved, I am tired.”

Hodiernus dies solidus est; nemo ex illo quicquam mihi eripuit. Totus inter stratum lectionemque divisus est. Minimum exercitationi corporis datum, et hoc nomine ago gratias senectuti: non magno mihi constat; cum me movi, lassus sum

Moral Epistle 65

“Yesterday I spent the day in poor health: it occupied me until noon. After noon, it gave in to me. So, first, I tested my mind with reading. Then, when I handled this, I dared to push myself, or perhaps indulge myself, more: I wrote something…”

Hesternum diem divisi cum mala valetudine; antemeridianum illa sibi vindicavit, postmeridiano mihi cessit. Itaque lectione primum temptavi animum. Deinde cum hanc recepisset, plus illi imperare ausus sum, immo permittere; aliquid scripsi

Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum

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