December Debates on Gifts: Some Classical Warnings

Epigonoi Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.275

“Poems are certainly praised, but great gifts are what is sought.”

carmina laudantur sed munera magna petuntur.

Sophocles, Ajax, 664-5

“But the old saying is true: the gifts of enemies are no gifts, and sure to yield no profit.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἀληθὴς ἡ βροτῶν παροιμία,
ἐχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα

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Aeschylus, fr. 279a2

“Alone of the gods, Death doesn’t long for gifts.”

μόνος θεῶν γὰρ Θάνατος οὐ δώρων ἐρᾶι·

 

Solon, 13.64

“The gifts of the gods must not be rejected”

δῶρα δ᾿ ἄφυκτα θεῶν γίγνεται ἀθανάτων

 

Nostoi, fr. 8.1

“Gifts debase the minds and actions of men”

δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα

 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, 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.

Madness, Philosophy, and the Natural Realm

Menander, Aspis 305-310

[Khairestratos]:
“Daos, boy, I am not well
I am depressed because of these events. By the gods
I am not under my own control. I am almost completely crazy.
That fine brother of mine is forcing me
To such insanity with his vile behavior.
He is about to get married!”

ΧΑΙΡΕΣΤΡΑΤΟΣ
Δᾶε παῖ, κακῶς ἔχω.
μελαγχολῶ τοῖς πράγμασιν· μὰ τοὺς θεούς,
οὐκ εἴμ᾿ ἐν ἐμαυτοῦ, μαίνομαι δ᾿ ἀκαρὴς πάνυ·
ὁ καλὸς ἀδελφὸς εἰς τοσαύτην ἔκστασιν
ἤδη καθίστησίν με τῇ πονηρίᾳ.
μέλλει γαμεῖν γὰρ αὐτός.

Cicero, De Finibus 1.64

“In this way strength is drawn from natural philosophy against death; so too is determination against the fears of religion and a calmness of mind once the ignorance of all natural mysteries has been removed. So too comes moderation, once the nature and number of desires have been explained. And, finally, as I was just arguing, we can learn how to divine a lie from the truth, since this philosophy provides the Rule or Judgment of knowledge.”

Sic e physicis et fortitudo sumitur contra mortis timorem et constantia contra metum religionis et sedatio animi, omnium rerum occultarum ignoratione sublata, et moderatio, natura cupiditatum generibusque earum explicatis, et, ut modo docui, cognitionis regula et iudicio ab eodem illo constituto veri a falso distinctio traditur.

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Generosity and Charity: Some Seasonal Reminders from Greece and Rome

Cicero, De Legibus 1.18

What about generosity? Is it for free or with a view towards some benefit? If someone is kind without payment, then it is freely done. If it is for payment, it is contractual. There is no doubt that a person who is called generous or kind responds to duty not to benefit. Therefore, equity seeks no reward or purchase price but it is pursued for its own worth. This is the same cause and claim for every virtue.”

quid? liberalitas gratuitane est an mercennaria? si sine praemio benignus est, gratuita, si cum mercede, conducta; nec est dubium, quin is, qui liberalis benignusve dicitur, officium, non fructum sequatur; ergo item iustitia nihil expetit praemii, nihil pretii; per se igitur expetitur. eademque omnium virtutum causa atque sententia est.

Clement, Letter 16.4

“Giving to charity is therefore noble as repentance from sin. Fasting is stronger than prayer, but charity surpasses both. Love overcomes a mass of sins, and prayer from a noble conscience provides rescue from death. Everyone who is discovered to abound in these things is blessed. For charity lightens the weight of sin.”

καλὸν οὖν ἐλεημοσύνη ὡς μετάνοια ἁμαρτίας· κρείσσων νηστεία προσευχῆς, ἐλεημοσύνη δὲ ἀμφοτέρων· ἀγάπη δὲ καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν, προσευχὴ δὲ ἐκ καλῆς συνειδήσεως ἐκ θανάτου ῥύεται. μακάριος πᾶς ὁ εὑρεθεὶς ἐν τούτοις πλήρης· ἐλεημοσύνη γὰρ κούφισμα ἁμαρτίας γίνεται.

Lycurgus’ Legs

Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid 3.14:

“This Lycurgus was the son of Dryas, the king of the race of the Thracian Bistones. As the story has it, he cut his own legs while contemptuously attempting to cut Dionysus’ vines. In truth, he abstained from drink, which is agreed to be a characteristic of a harsh nature, and is even said about Demosthenes. But as other people say, Lycurgus, being vexed that Dionysus was cultivated by other races and learning that he had entered Thrace with his band of followers, lashed some of the Bacchants whom he captured with rods, and began to pursue Dionysus himself with the aim of killing him. But after Dionysus hurled himself into the sea to escape Lycurgus and was taken in and set free by the nymph Thetis, Lycurgus began to cut his vines; in so doing, through the madness visited upon him by the gods, he actually cut his own legs.”

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Lycurgus autem hic filius Dryantis, rex gentis Bistonum Thraciae fuit: qui ut habet fabula, dum contempnens Liberum eius amputat vites, crura sua incidit. re vera autem abstemius fuit: quos constat acrioris esse naturae, quod etiam de Demosthene dictum est. Lycurgus vero, ut alii dicunt, cum indignaretur Liberum ab omnibus gentibus coli, ut primum eum Thraciae fines cum suo comitatu introisse cognovit, comprehensas Bacchas eius flagellis verberavit, ipsum vero insequi, ut occideret, coepit. sed postquam se Liber fugiens ut evaderet praecipitavit in mare et a Thetide nympha exceptus liberatusque est, Lycurgus vites eius amputare coepit: quapropter per furorem a diis inmissum ipse sibi crura succidit.

For Term Paper Season, Some Random Thoughts on Quotation

Plutarch, Table-Talk 9, (736e)

“Then he included an argument about the apt quotation of poetry, that the one which was most potent was not only charming but also useful.”

ἔπειτα περὶ στίχων εὐκαιρίας ἐνέβαλεν λόγον, ὡς μὴ μόνον χάριν ἀλλὰ καὶ χρείαν ἔστιν ὅτε μεγάλην ἐχούσης. #Plutarch

Athenaeus, 3.107a

“since the whole excerpt is useful for many reasons, but you don’t control it in your memory right now, I will go through the whole thing.”

πᾶσα δ᾿ ἡ ἐκλογὴ χρησίμη οὖσα εἰς πολλά, ἐπεὶ τὰ | νῦν διὰ μνήμης οὐ κρατεῖς, αὐτὸς ἐγὼ διεξελεύσομαι.

Libanius, Letters 3, to Entrechius

“You and I and each man of good intention will quote many passages from tragedy now that this kind of a person has left us.”

ἀλλ᾿ ἐκ τραγῳδίας μὲν πολλὰ μὲν ἐγώ, πολλὰ δὲ σύ, πολλὰ δὲ τῶν εὖ φρονούντων ἕκαστος φθεγξόμεθα τοιαύτης οἰχομένης κεφαλῆς·

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi  8

“Quoting the good words of a bad author will never shame me.”

Numquam me in voce bona mali pudebit auctoris

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Ah, the wheel of fortune. British Library Harley MS 4431, f. 129.

December Debates: Should We Accept Gifts from Bad People?

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.14

“Indeed, I think that we should not look for an advantage from any person whose public esteem is low. Why? Shouldn’t what Claudius offered have been accepted? It should have been, but just as something given by chance which you know might immediately turn bad.

Why do we distinguish between these two instances just combined? A gift is not beneficial when its best part is missing—when it is given because of high esteem. A lot of money, if it is not given rightly or freely, is no more beneficial than a warehouse. There are many gifts which should be accepted but create no obligations.”

Ego vero nullius puto expetendum esse beneficium, cuius vile iudicium est. Quid ergo? Non erat accipiendum a Claudio, quod dabatur? Erat, sed sicut a fortuna, quam scires posse statim malam fieri. Quid ista inter se mixta dividimus? Non est beneficium, cui deest pars optima, datum esse iudicio: alioqui pecunia ingens, si non ratione nec recta voluntate donata est, non magis beneficium est quam thesaurus. Multa sunt autem, quae oportet accipere nec debere.

 

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Bishop Engilmar Celebrating Mass, benedictional, Regensburg, about 1030-40

An Epicurean Path to Happiness

Cicero, De Finibus 1.64

“A subject remains which is especially important to this debate, that is friendship which, as you believe, will completely disappear if pleasure is the greatest good. Concerning friendship, Epicurus himself says that of all the paths to happiness wisdom has prepared, there is none greater, more productive, or more enchanting than this one. And he did not advocate for friendship in speech alone but much more through his life, his deeds and his customs.

Myths of the ancients illustrate how great friendship is—in those tales however varied and numerous you seek from the deepest part of antiquity and you will find scarcely three pairs of friends, starting with Theseus and up to Orestes. But, Epicurus in one single and quite small home kept so great a crowd of friends united by the depth of their love. And this is still the practice among Epicureans.”

XX Restat locus huic disputationi vel maxime necessarius, de amicitia, quam si voluptas summum sit bonum affirmatis nullam omnino fore; de qua Epicurus quidem ita dicit, omnium rerum quas ad beate vivendum sapientia comparaverit nihil esse maius amicitia, nihil uberius, nihil iucundius. Nec vero hoc oratione solum sed multo magis vita et factis et moribus comprobavit. Quod quam magnum sit fictae veterum fabulae declarant, in quibus tam multis tamque variis, ab ultima antiquitate repetitis, tria vix amicorum paria reperiuntur, ut ad Orestem pervenias profectus a Theseo. At vero Epicurus una in domo, et ea quidem angusta, quam magnos quantaque amoris conspiratione consentientes tenuit amicorum greges! quod fit etiam nunc ab Epicureis.

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Royal 19 C II  f. 59v

Advice on Buying Gifts from Seneca

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.11-12

“Let’s imagine what might be worth the greatest pleasure after it has been given—what would greet the recipient’s eye frequently and make him think of us whenever he sees it. Each time let us be wary not to send useless gifts, such as hunting implements to a woman or an old man, books to a simpleton or fishing nets to someone dedicated to literature. However, we should be equally mindful that, although we want to send welcome gifts, we do not send things which will reprove someone for a failing, such as sending wine to a drunk or medicine to a healthy man. For something which uncovers a fault in the recipient turns out to be an insult not a gift.

If the choice of the gift is our choice, we should think especially of things which will endure, that the gift may last as long as possible. For there are truly few people so grateful that they will think about what they have received when they do not see it. But memory revives for the ungrateful with the gift itself when it is in front of them and it will not allow them to be forgetful. And we should seek gifts which endure even more for the fact that we ought not to ever remind people: let the things themselves prompt a fading memory.

I will give silver which is sculpted rather than money and I give statues more freely than clothing or things which will deteriorate after brief use. Gratitude lasts among few longer than the objects themselves. Greater is the number among whom gifts remain in mind no longer than they are in use. So I, if it is possible, do not want my gift to be used up. Let it last, let it stick fast to my friend. Let it live alongside him.”

Videamus, quid oblatum maxime voluptati futurum sit, quid frequenter occursurum habenti, ut totiens nobiscum quotiens cum illo sit. Utique cavebimus, ne munera supervacua mittamus, ut feminae aut seni arma venatoria, ut rustico libros, ut studiis ac litteris dedito retia. Aeque ex contrario circumspiciemus,ne, dum grata mittere volumus, suum cuique morbum exprobratura mittamus, sicut ebrioso vina et valetudinario medicamenta. Maledictum enim incipit esse, non munus, in quo vitium accipientis adgnoscitur.

Si arbitrium dandi penes nos est, praecipue mansura quaeremus, ut quam minime mortale munus sit. Pauci enim sunt tam grati, ut, quid acceperint, etiam si non vident, cogitent. Ingratos quoque memoria cum ipso munere incurrit, ubi ante oculos est et oblivisci sui non sinit, sed auctorem suum ingerit et inculcat. Eo quidem magis duratura quaeramus, quia numquam admonere debemus; ipsa res evanescentem memoriam excitet. Libentius donabo argentum factum quam signatum; libentius statuas quam vestem et quod usus brevis deterat. Apud paucos post rem manet gratia; plures sunt, apud quos non diutius in animo sunt donata, quam in usu. Ego, si fieri potest, consumi munus meum nolo; extet, haereat amico meo, convivat.

 

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Holiday Shopping Advice from Claudius Terentianus

As we are right in the fray of holiday shopping season, it’s a great time to consider a few gifts for the people in your life. Why not look to the Roman Empire—a place of great practicality—for inspiration this year?

Claudius Terentianus, an Egyptian who lived in the 1st-2nd century CE and who served in the Roman military in Egypt and Syria, was quite fond of purchasing gifts of the utmost usefulness. As we add things to our shopping carts (either in-person or online) this year, let’s keep in mind some of the gifts Claudius was happy to give. From warm winter clothing to dinnerware, and, yes, even housing for your chickens, there is something here for everyone.

(Be warned—the Latin is very much non-standard)

P. Mich. 8, 467

[m]isi tibi vac. amphoras II olivarum co[lym]bade [un]a et uṇ[a] ṇigrạ…

“I sent you two amphorae of olives, one jar of brined and the other jar of black.”

P. Mich. 8, 468

mịṣị [ti]bi pater…imboluclum concosu[tu]m in quo habes amicla par unu amictoriạ [pa]r unu sabana par unu saccos par unu…sṭṛ[a]glum lini[u]… et [h]abes in imboluclum amictorium sịnglare hunc tibi mater mea misit…

“Father, I sent you a sealed bag in which you have two cloaks, two capes, two towels, two bags, and a linen cover. You also have in the bag a special cloak which my mother sent to you.”

P. Mich. 8, 468

[e]t acc̣ịpiạs caveam gallinaria in qua ha[bes] sunṭhes[  ̣  ̣] vitriae et phialas quinarias p[ar u]nu et calices paria sex et chartas sc[holare]ṣ d[u]ạṣ et in charta atramentum et c̣ạḷamos q̣[u]ị[nq]ụẹ et panes Alexandrinos viginṭi…

“And, you will get a chicken coop in which you have glasses, two quinarius-sized bowls, twelve cups, two writing scrolls, ink (inside the scrolls), five reed pens, and twenty loaves of Alexandrian bread.”

P. Mich. 8, 468

καὶ διὰ…ἄλλο σοι ἀπέσ[τα]λκα.

“And I have sent another (basket).”

(Unfortunately he didn’t mention the contents of the baskets he sent to his sister.)

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Happy Monday! How Much Of Life Is Really Lived?

Seneca, Moral Epistles 99.10-12

“Consider the vastness of time’s expanse; include the universe too; and then compare what we call human life with this endlessness. You will see how small what we desire to lengthen is. How most of this time weeping and anxiety occupy! How much we pray for death, strength, fear before death comes! How much of life is spent ignorant or inexperienced! Half of it is spent in sleep. Add to this our work, grief, dangers and then you will know that even in the longest life the part that is truly lived is the least. But who would concede for himself that a man does not do better who is permitted to return quickly, who completes his journey before he is tired? Life is neither good nor bad, but it is where good and evil happen”

Propone temporis profundi vastitatem et universum complectere, deinde hoc, quod aetatem vocamus humanam, conpara immenso; videbis, quam exiguum sit, quod optamus, quod extendimus. Ex hoc quantum lacrimae, quantum sollicitudines occupant! Quantum mors, antequam veniat, optata, quantum valitudo, quantum timor! Quantum tenent aut rudes aut inutiles anni! Dimidium ex hoc edormitur. Adice labores, luctus, pericula, et intelleges etiam in longissima vita minimum esse, quod vivitur. Sed quis tibi concedet non melius se habere eum, cui cito reverti licet, cui ante lassitudinem peractum est iter? Vita nec bonum nec malum est; boni ac mali locus est.

 

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