The Infantile Mind: Pliny on Where Amber Comes From

Pliny, NH 37 40-42

“[Sophocles] has described how [amber] is made on the other side of India from the tears of the birds called the “daughters of Meleager” as they weep for Meleager. Who doesn’t wonder at the fact that he believed this or expected to convince others to do so. What mind is so infantile or foolish that it could believe that there are birds who weep every year and shed such large tears or that they left Greece where Meleager perished and went to weep for him in India?

What, then? Don’t the poets offer us many tales equally fantastic? Indeed they do, but when it comes to this substance, which is imported daily and fills the market revealing the poet’s lie, this is a grave offense to human intelligence and and unendurable misuse of our ability to lie.

It is known that amber comes from islands in the Northern Oceans and that the Germans call it glaesum and, as a result of this, one of the islands which the natives called Austeravia was named Glaesariam by us when Caesar Germanicus was on campaign there with his fleet [16 CE]. Amber is created, moreover, as the pitch of a particular type of pine drips down in the same way as gum from cherry trees or resin in local pines bursts out because of an excess of liquid.”

hic ultra Indiam fieri dixit e lacrimis meleagridum avium Meleagrum deflentium. quod credidisse eum aut sperasse aliis persuaderi posse quis non miretur? quamve pueritiam tam inperitam posse reperiri, quae avium ploratus annuos credat lacrimasve tam grandes avesve, quae a Graecia, ubi Meleager periit, ploratum adierint Indos? quid ergo? non multa aeque fabulosa produnt poetae? sed hoc in ea re, quae cotidie invehatur atque abundet ac mendacium coarguat, serio quemquam dixisse summa hominum contemptio est et intoleranda mendaciorum inpunitas.

Certum est gigni in insulis septentrionalis oceani et ab Germanis appellari glaesum, itaque et ab nostris ob id unam insularum Glaesariam appellatam, Germanico Caesare res ibi gerente classibus, Austeraviam a barbaris dictam. nascitur autem defluente medulla pinei generis arboribus, ut cummis in cerasis, resina in pinis erumpit umoris abundantia.

British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 10v

I Am Dedicating My Life to Philosophy. Please Send Me Some Gossip From Rome

Cicero, Letters to Atticus (25; II.5)

“I am waiting for your letters on those events [in Rome]: what is Arrius saying and what is is opinion about being overthrown. Which consuls are being prepared—is it Pompey and Crassus as people claim or, as was just written to me, is it Servius Sulpicius with Gabinius. Are there new laws? Is there anything worthy of news at all? Or, who, since Nepos has left, is going to be nominated as Augur? (and this is the one thing I might be captured with by those people—look at how easy I am!)

Why do I ask these things when I want to put them aside and pursue philosophy with all my focus? This, I say, is what is in my mind. I wish I had pursued this from the start. But now when I have learned that everything which I thought was precious is empty, I am planning to dedicate myself to all the Muses.

Nevertheless, please do tell me in your reply about ?Tutius? and whether they have readied someone for his place and also what has become of Publius Clodius. Write me about everything, as you promised, at leisure. And also tell me on what day you think you will leave Rome so that I may tell you more certainly where I will be then? Please send me a letter right away on the things I have written you about. I am deeply awaiting your letter.”

De istis rebus exspecto tuas litteras, quid Arrius narret, quo animo se destitutum ferat, et qui consules parentur, utrum, ut populi sermo, Pompeius et Crassus, an, ut mihi scribitur, cum Gabinio Ser. Sulpicius, et num quae novae leges et num quid novi omnino, et, quoniam Nepos proficiscitur, cuinam auguratus deferatur, quo quidem uno ego ab istis capi possum—vide levitatem meam! sed quid ego haec, quae cupio deponere et toto animo atque omni cura ϕιλοσοϕεῖν? sic, inquam, in animo est; vellem ab initio, nunc vero, quoniam quae putavi esse praeclara expertus sum quam essent inania, cum omnibus Musis rationem habere cogito.

3Tu tamen de †Tutio†1 ad me rescribe certius et num quis in eius locum paretur, et quid de P. Clodio fiat, et omnia, quem ad modum polliceris, ἐπὶ σχολῆς scribe. et quo die Roma te exiturum putes velim ad me scribas, ut certiorem te faciam quibus in locis futurus sim, epistulamque statim des de iis rebus de quibus ad te scripsi. valde enim exspecto tuas litteras.

Письменные принадлежности и аксессуары – 308 photos
Chroniques de Hainaut (vers 1470)

A Comic Scene for Parents and Small Children

Plautus, Curculio, 182-184

Ph. Shhhhh.
Pal: Why? I am being quiet. Why don’t you go back to sleep?
Ph. I am sleeping. Don’t yell.
Pal. But you are awake.
Ph. No. I am sleeping the way I do. This is how I sleep!

Phae: tace.
Pal: quid, taceam? quin tu is dormitum?
Phae: dormio, ne occlamites.
Pal: tuquidem uigilas.
Phae: at meo more dormio: hic somnust mihi.

Image result for Ancient Roman Sleeping

Cicero Says Something Nice to His Son

From the Fragments of Cicero’s Letters (=Augustin. c. Iul. op. imperf. 6.22)

9. “What? Didn’t Cicero send the words from the guts of every father with this line to his son, writing to him: I wish you alone of all people in the world would do better than me in all things’

9. Quid? illam vocem nonne de visceribus cunctorum patrum Cicero emisit ad filium, ad quem scribens ait: solus es omnium a quo me in omnibus vinci velim?

Of course, since this is Cicero, this is partly about himself, but it is still rather sweet, especially when compared to fathers like Odysseus

Image result for Ancient Roman father and son
Roman Sarcophagus with father and child

 

Dividing Life into Two Parts

Seneca, de Otio 29

“I am going to say this thing in two parts: first, that from the earliest age a person cannot fully surrender to the contemplation of the truth, to seek out the way to live, and also to practice it when retired and then, in turn, that when someone has finished their work and is near the end of life, it is possible to do this with the best justice and to focus on different activities in the way of the Vestal Virgins who learn the second rites during their years devoted to their duties and then teach them.”

 Hoc quod dico in duas dividam partes: primum, ut possit aliquis vel a prima aetate contemplationi veritatis totum se tradere, rationem vivendi quaerere atque exercere secreto; deinde, ut possit hoc aliquis emeritis iam stipendiis, profligatae aetatis, iure optimo facere et ad alios actus animum1 referre virginum Vestalium more, quae annis inter officia divisis discunt facere sacra et cum didicerunt docent.

Dedication of a New Vestal Virgin, Alessandro Marchesini

Tawdry Tuesday’s for the Birds

Not one, but two poems by Martial playing with Catullus’ bird!

Martial, Epigrams 1.7

“The Dove, my Stella’s pet, I can say–
even though Verona is listening
Beats Catullus’ Sparrow, Maximus.
My Stella is as much better than your Catullus
As a dove is better than a sparrow.”

Stellae delicium mei Columba,
Verona licet audiente dicam,
vicit, Maxime, Passerem Catulli.
tanto Stella meus tuo Catullo
quanto passere maior est columba.

Martial, Epigrams 14.7

“Aulus, an unmentionable crime has happened to by girl.
She has lost her toy and her pet–
Tender Catullus’ girlfriend, Lesbia
Didn’t cry as much when she lost her sparrow’s kiss
As when my Stella sang in sorrow when her dark dove
Took flight in Elysium.
My light isn’t taken with games and those minor loves
And such losses never move my lover’s heart.
She’s lost a lad who counted up six years times two
With a little cock not quite 18 inches long”

Accidit infandum nostrae scelus, Aule, puellae;
amisit lusus deliciasque suas:
non quales teneri ploravit amica Catulli,
Lesbia, nequitiis passeris orba sui,
vel Stellae cantata meo quas flevit Ianthis,
cuius in Elysio nigra columba volat:
lux mea non capitur nugis nec amoribus istis,
nec dominae pectus talia damna movent:
bis senos puerum numerantem perdidit annos,
mentula cui nondum sesquipedalis erat.

“Lessbia and Her Sparrow,” Poynter, 1907

Profiteers Tearing Apart the Republic

Ps. Sallust Against Cicero

“Where should I protest, whom should I implore, Senators, because the republic is being torn apart for any kind of audacious profiteer? Should I complain to the Roman people? They are so corrupted by bribes that they offer themselves and their fortunes for sale.

Should I appeal to you, Senators? You whose authority is a joke to any kind of criminal miscreant in this place where Marcus Tullius defends the laws, the courts and the state and acts like he is in charge here as if he were the only man left from a family of the most famous man, Scipio Africanus, and not some orphan found on the street, summoned here, and only just recently rooted in this city?”

Ubi querar, quos implorem, patres conscripti, diripi rem publicam atque audacissimo cuique esse praedae? apud populum Romanum? qui ita largitionibus corruptus est, ut se ipse ac fortunas suas venales habeat. an apud vos, patres conscripti? quorum auctoritas turpissimo cuique et sceleratissimo ludibrio est; ubi M. Tullius leges, iudicia, rem publicam defendit atque in hoc ordine ita moderatur quasi unus reliquus e familia viri clarissimi, Scipionis Africani, ac non reperticius, accitus, ac paulo ante insitus huic urbi civis.

Morgan Library, MS M.81, Folio 79r

Politics Getting You Down? Here’s a Pep-talk from Cicero

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum: paradox 2: That having virtue is enough for being happy

“No one can be really happy if they rely wholly on themselves and value everything with themselves alone. But those whose reasoning and hope depend entirely on fortune cannot have anything certain—nothing possessed can be expected to last for more than a solitary day.

Threaten that kind of person, should you find one, with these threats of death and exile. In truth, whatever will happen in so thankless a state will happen whether I am protesting or resisting or not. What have I labored over or what have I done or what of my worries and thoughts passing throughout the night, If I have actually accomplished or pursued nothing to put me in a state that rashness of fate or injuries to my friends cannot weaken? Do you threaten death so that I will completely withdraw from humankind or exile so I may abandon the wicked? Death is terrible to those who lose everything along with life but not for those whose praise can never die. Exile is dreadful to those whose home is a mere boundary line but not to those who think that the whole world is one city.”

Nemo potest non beatissimus esse qui est totus aptus ex sese quique in se uno sua ponit omnia; cui spes omnis et ratio et cogitatio pendet ex fortuna, huic nihil potest esse certi, nihil quod exploratum habeat permansurum sibi unum diem. Eum tu hominem terreto, si quem eris nactus, istis mortis aut exilii minis; mihi vero quidquid acciderit in tam ingrata civitate ne recusanti quidem evenerit, non modo non repugnanti, Quid enim ego laboravi aut quid egi aut in quo evigilaverunt curae et cogitationes meae, si quidem nihil peperi tale nihil consecutus sum ut in eo statu essem quem neque fortunae temeritas neque inimicorum labefactaret iniuria? Mortemne mihi minitaris ut omnino ab hominibus, an exilium ut ab improbis demigrandum sit? Mors terribilis est eis quorum cum vita omnia exstinguuntur, non eis quorum laus emori non potest, exilium autem illis quibus quasi circumscriptus est habitandi locus, non eis qui omnem orbem terrarum unam urbem esse ducunt.

Cicero, copy by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1799-1800 of Roman bust

Are YOU Like Tiberius?

Suetonius, Life of Tiberius 70

“He pursued the liberal arts of both languages most seriously. He was a follower of Messala Corvinus when it came to Latin oratory, a man whom he had observed while an adolescent. But he used to confuse his style with such excessive affectation and officiousness that he was considered more effective as an extemporaneous speaker than a prepared one.

He also wrote a lyric poem which had the title “A Lament on the Death of Lucius Caesar.” When he composed Greek poems, he imitated Euphorion, Rhianus, and Parthenius, those poets whose writing he liked most of all, and he placed their portraits in the public libraries among the older, famous authors. For this reason, many of the learned men of the time were in a competition dedicating many books about these men to Tiberius.

Still, he took the greatest care in knowledge of the stories of myth, to the point of absurdity and silliness. For he even used to quiz the grammarians, a class of men whom, as I said, he was really preoccupied with, posing questions like: “Who was the mother of Hecuba?” “What name did Achilles have among the girls?” “What were the Sirens accustomed to singing?”

LXX. Artes liberales utriusque generis studiosissime coluit. In oratione Latina secutus est Corvinum Messalam, quem senem adulescens observarat. Sed adfectatione et morositate nimia obscurabat stilum, ut aliquanto ex tempore quam a cura praestantior haberetur. Composuit et carmen lyricum, cuius est titulus “Conquestio de morte L. Caesaris.” Fecit et Graeca poemata imitatus Euphorionem et Rhianum et Parthenium, quibus poetis admodum delectatus scripta omnium et imagines publicis bibliothecis inter veteres et praecipuos auctores dedicavit; et ob hoc plerique eruditorum certatim ad eum multa de his ediderunt.3Maxime tamen curavit notitiam historiae fabularis usque ad ineptias atque derisum; nam et grammaticos, quod genus hominum praecipue, ut diximus, appetebat, eius modi fere quaestionibus experiebatur: “Quae mater Hecubae, quod Achilli nomen inter virgines fuisset, quid Sirenes cantare sint solitae.”

 

 Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 3466 8º, Folio 37r

Infants, Trees, and Knowledge of the Good

Seneca, EM 125 7-9

“We say that being happy is what follows nature. And, moreover, what is according to nature is clear and obvious just as something that is complete is. That which is according to nature, what we touch at birth, I say is not the good but the beginning of the good. 

You attribute the highest good–pleasure–to infants so that at the moment of birth a baby starts where the perfected adult should end. You place the branch in the root’s position! If anyone should claim that that child, hidden in the maternal womb, with unclear gender, tender, incomplete, and unshaped, that this child is already in some true good, then they  would clearly seem to be lost in their ideas.

And yet how small is the difference between one who has just entered life and one who is still a hidden burden to their mother’s womb! They are equally knowing of the good and equally mature; An infant is no more conscious of the Good than a tree or any other speechless creature.”

Dicimus beata esse, quae secundum naturam sint, Quid autem secundum naturam sit, palam et protinus apparet, sicut quid sit integrum. Quod secundum naturam est, quod contigit protinus nato, non dico bonum, sed initium boni. Tu summum bonum, voluptatem, infantiae donas, ut inde incipiat nascens, quo consummatus homo pervenit. 

Cacumen radicis loco ponis. Si quis diceret illum in materno utero latentem, sexus quoque incerti,tenerum et inperfectum et informem iam in aliquo bono esse, aperte videretur errare. Atqui quantulum interest inter eum, qui cum1 maxime vitam accipit, et illum, qui maternorum viscerum latens onus est? Uterque, quantum ad intellectum boni ac mali, aeque maturus est, et non magis infans adhuc boni capax est quam arbor aut mutum aliquod animal.

Infant and Skull, Medieval, Louvre