A Petronian Commencement Valediction

Petronius, fr. 31 [Anth. Lat. 468 R. = 466 SB = fr. 34 B.=]

“Youth, depart your home for foreign strands–
You are meant for greater things.
Endure misfortunes! Then distant springs
The North wind, Egypt’s eternal lands
And those who see the sun rise and fall
will come to recognize you for who you are.
Be a greater Ithakan on unknown sands.”

linque tuas sedes alienaque litora quaere,
iuvenis; maior rerum tibi nascitur ordo.
ne succumbe malis; te noverit ultimus Hister,
te Boreas gelidus securaque regna Canopi
quique renascentem Phoebum cernuntque cadentem.
maior in externas Ithacus descendat harenas.

Trying to Deter the Criminals Among Us

Cicero, Letters to Brutus 23.10-11

“That’s plenty said about honors. Now we need to talk a bit about punishments. I have truly understood from your letters that you want to be praised for the clemency you have shown to those you have conquered. Well, I think that everything you do is done wisely! But, speaking for myself, I consider forgiving the punishment of crimes–which is what pardoning really is–is tolerable in other matters, but insidious in this war. There has been no civil war in our state to my knowledge that did not present some kind of future constitution regardless of which side won.

But in this conflict, I can’t be sure about what order the state will have if we win, but there surely won’t be any at all if we lose. This is why I advocated for harsh punishments for Antony and Lepidus too, not in as much for the sake of vengeance as to deter the other criminals among us from attacking the state right now and to offer a clear example for the future so that no one will be inspired to imitate such madness.”

Satis multa de honoribus. nunc de poena pauca dicenda sunt. intellexi enim ex tuis saepe litteris te in iis quos bello devicisti clementiam tuam velle laudari. existimo equidem nihil a te nisi sapienter. sed sceleris poenam praetermittere (id enim est quod vocatur ignoscere), etiam si in ceteris rebus tolerabile est, in hoc bello perniciosum puto. nullum enim bellum civile fuit in nostra re publica omnium quae memoria mea fuerunt, in quo bello non, utracumque pars vicisset, tamen aliqua forma esset futura rei publicae: hoc bello victores quam rem publicam simus habituri non facile adfirmarim, victis certe nulla umquam erit. dixi igitur sententias in Antonium, dixi in Lepidum severas, neque tam ulciscendi causa quam ut et in praesens sceleratos civis timore ab impugnanda patria deterrerem et in posterum documentum statuerem ne quis talem amentiam vellet imitari. 

Relief with the punishment of Ixion (2nd century) in the Side Archaeological Museum (Side, Turkey).

Changing Your Mind is the Point of Research

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 3.6.

“I admit that I now have a bit of a different opinion from what I believed before. Perhaps it would be safest for my reputation to change nothing which I not only believed but also approved for many years. But I cannot endure knowing that I misrepresent myself, especially in this work which I compose as some help for our good students. For even Hippocrates, famous still for his skill in medicine, seems to have conducted himself very honorably when he admitted his own errors so his followers would not make a mistake. Marcus Tullius did not hesitate to condemn some of his own books in subsequent publications, the Catulus and Lucullus, for example.

Prolonged effort in research would certainly be useless if we were not allowed to improve upon previous opinions. Nevertheless, nothing of what I taught then was useless. These things I offer now, in fact, return us to basic principles. Thus it will cause no one grief to have learned from me. I am trying only to collect and lay out the same ideas in a slightly more sensible fashion. I want it made known to all, moreover, that I am showing this to others no later than I have convinced myself.”

Ipse me paulum in alia quam prius habuerim opinione nunc esse confiteor. Et fortasse tutissimum erat famae modo studenti nihil ex eo mutare quod multis annis non sensissem modo verum etiam adprobassem. Sed non sustineo esse conscius mihi dissimulati, in eo praesertim opere quod ad bonorum iuvenum aliquam utilitatem componimus, in ulla parte iudicii mei. Nam et Hippocrates clarus arte medicinae videtur honestissime fecisse quod quosdam errores suos, ne posteri errarent, confessus est, et M. Tullius non dubitavit aliquos iam editos libros aliis postea scriptis ipse damnare, sicut Catulum atque Lucullum et… Etenim supervacuus foret in studiis longior labor si nihil liceret melius invenire praeteritis. Neque tamen quicquam ex iis quae tum praecepi supervacuum fuit; ad easdem enim particulas haec quoque quae nunc praecipiam revertentur. Ita neminem didicisse paeniteat: colligere tantum eadem ac disponere paulo significantius conor. Omnibus autem satis factum volo non me hoc serius demonstrare aliis quam mihi ipse persuaserim.

Mind Change real

Have You Tried Stabbing the Coronavirus?

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 34.151

“There are other medicinal applications of iron beyond surgery. For when a circle is drawn around both adults and infants—or of they carry a sharp iron weapon with them—it is useful against poisonous drugs. Iron nails which have been taken out of tombs are useful protections against nightmares if they are hammered down before a threshold.

A small penetration with an iron weapon which has wounded a man is effective against sudden side and chest pains. Some afflictions are treated by cauterization, especially true for the bite of a rabid dog, since even when the disease has advanced and those afflicted are starting to exhibit fear of water, they experience relief at cauterization. The drinking of water which has been heated with burning iron is good for many symptoms, but especially for dysentery.”

XLIV. Medicina e ferro est et alia quam secandi. namque et circumscribi circulo terve circumlato mucrone et adultis et infantibus prodest contra noxia medicamenta, et praefixisse in limine evulsos sepulchris clavos adversus nocturnas lymphationes, pungique leviter mucrone, quo percussus homo sit, contra dolores laterum pectorumque subitos, qui punctionem adferant. quaedam ustione sanantur, privatim vero canis rabidi morsus, quippe etiam praevalente morbo expaventesque potum usta plaga ilico liberantur. calfit etiam ferro candente potus in multis vitiis, privatim vero dysentericis.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1462, Folio 16r

Have We Tried Using Bay Leaves on Coronavirus?

Pliny, Natural History 23. 157

“Some people have suggested using ten berries in a drink against scorpion stings. You can use the same to relieve a relaxed uvula: gargle quarter pound of berries or leaves reduced in three measure of water when it is still warm. To treat a headache, use an uneven number of berries crushed and warmed in oil. The leaves of the delphic bay, once pounded, may stop the spread of the plague if you smell them: this works even better when they are burned.”

quidam adversus scorpionum ictus decem bacas dari iubent potu, item et in remedio uvae iacentis quadrantem pondo bacarum foliorumve decoqui in aquae sextariis tribus ad tertias, eam calidam gargarizare et in capitis dolore inpari numero bacas cum oleo conterere et calfacere.  laurus Delphicae folia trita olfactaque subinde pestilentiae contagia prohibent, tanto magis si et urantur.

There’s a new version of Perseus using the Scaife viewer: check out the passages here.

Some Exercise Advice for the Ancient Beach Body

Celsus, 1.2.5-7

“Whether domestic or civic duties occupy you, keep some time of the day for caring for the body. The chief way of caring for the body is exercise and it should always be done before eating. The work should be greater for one who has labored less and digested well and less for one who is tired and has not digested.

Good exercises include reading aloud, drilling, playing ball, running, walking. The last is not the most useful on a level road, since going up or down moves the body with a variety, unless the body is completely weak. It is better to walk out in the open than under a roof. And it is also better, should your head endure it, to walk in the sun instead of the shade. But better still in the shade than under a roof and better a straight than an indirect walk.

The end of exercise, moreover, should come with sweat or some bit of tiring which should still be on this side of fatigue. Sometimes more and sometimes less needs to be done. But one should not follow the model of athletes with their fixed rule and excessive workout.”

Quem interdiu vel domestica vel civilia officia tenuerunt, huic tempus aliquod servandum curationi corporis sui est. Prima autem eius curatio exercitatio est, quae semper antecedere cibum debet, in eo, qui minus laboravit et bene concoxit, amplior; in eo, qui fatigatus est et minus concoxit, remissior.

Commode vero exercent clara lectio, arma, pila, cursus, ambulatio, atque haec non utique plana commodior est, siquidem melius ascensus quoque et descensus cum quadam varietate corpus moveat, nisi tamen id perquam inbecillum est: melior autem est sub divo quam in porticu; melior, si caput patitur, in sole quam in umbra, melior in umbra quam paries aut viridia efficiunt, quam quae tecto subest; melior recta quam flexuosa. Exercitationis autem plerumque finis esse debet sudor aut certe lassitudo, quae citra fatigationem sit, idque ipsum modo minus, modo magis faciendum est. Ac ne his quidem athletarum exemplo vel certa esse lex vel inmodicus labor debet.

Hippocrates, Regimen 2 61

“I will now explore what kind of impact exercises have. For some are natural and some are pretty violent. Natural exercise deals with sight, hearing, voice, and thinking. The power of sight is like this. The soul, when it attends to what can be seen, moves and warms. As it warms it dries because the moisture is extracted. In hearing, when sound strikes, the soul shakes and works and as it exercises, it turns warm and dries.

A person’s soul is moved by however many thoughts it has and it also warms and is dried and it spends its moisture as it works—it can empty the flesh and make a person thin. Whenever people exercise their voice either in speaking, reading or singing, all these things move the soul. When it is moved, it warms and dries and uses up the moisture.”

Περὶ δὲ τῶν πόνων ἥντινα ἔχουσι δύναμιν διηγήσομαι. εἰσὶ γὰρ οἱ μὲν κατὰ φύσιν, οἱ δὲ διὰ βίης· οἱ μὲν οὖν κατὰ φύσιν αὐτῶν εἰσιν ὄψιος πόνος, ἀκοῆς, φωνῆς, μερίμνης. ὄψιος μὲν οὖν δύναμις τοιήδε· προσέχουσα ἡ ψυχὴ τῷ ὁρατῷ κινεῖται καὶ θερμαίνεται· θερμαινομένη δὲ ξηραίνεται, κεκενωμένου τοῦ ὑγροῦ. διὰ δὲ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἐσπίπτοντος τοῦ ψόφου σείεται ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ πονεῖ, πονέουσα δὲ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται. ὅσα μεριμνᾷ ἄνθρωπος, κινεῖται ἡ ψυχὴ ὑπὸ τούτων καὶ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται, καὶ τὸ ὑγρὸν καταναλίσκουσα πονεῖ, καὶ κενοῖ τὰς σάρκας, καὶ λεπτύνει τὸν ἄνθρωπον. ὁκόσοι δὲ πόνοι φωνῆς, ἢ λέξιες ἢ ἀναγνώσιες ἢ ᾠδαί, πάντες οὗτοι κινέουσι τὴν ψυχήν· κινεομένη δὲ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται, καὶ τὸ ὑγρὸν καταναλίσκει

Bikini Mosaic
Villa Romana del Casale

Seneca on Globalization

At a moment of anxiety about the consequences and sustainability of globalization, consider that Seneca himself (1st century AD) reflected on how a more modest, earlier globalization affected the world. 

The first passage is an idealization of the local. And the second passage is his reflection on a world where distant places are drawn together: 

Seneca, Medea 329-334

Our fathers knew simple times
Far removed from corruption.
Each was a provincial–held to his own shore
And grew old in his ancestral field.
Rich in little,
Save only for what his native land provided,
He did not know abundance.

Seneca, Medea 364-374.

Now, in our day, the sea gives way
And suffers all laws. No celebrated Argo
Fitted together by Pallas’s hands,
Royal rowers aboard, is called for.

Any old skiff wanders the deep.
Every border has been breached.
Cities have planted walls in new lands.
In a world open for business
Nothing is where it used to be:
The Indian drinks the cold Araxes river,
And the Persians drink the Alba and the Rhine.


Candida nostri saecula patres
videre, procul fraude remota.
sua quisque piger litora tangens
patrioque senex factus in arvo,
parvo dives,
nisi quas tulerat natale solum,
non norat opes.


Nunc iam cessit pontus et omnes
patitur leges: non Palladia
compacta manu regum referens
inclita remos quaeritur Argo—
quaelibet altum cumba pererrat;
terminus omnis motus et urbes
muros terra posuere nova,
nil qua fuerat sede reliquit
pervius orbis:
Indus gelidum potat Araxen,
Albin Persae Rhenumque bibunt.

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.

Obsessed with Literature: Humanizing and Enlightening the Mind

Cicero, Pro Archia 13

“I confess indeed that I am obsessed with studying literature. Let this fact shame others who do not know how to make use of their books so that they can’t provide anything from their reading to common profit or to make their benefit clear in sight.

Why, moreover, should I be ashamed when I have lived so many years in such a way that my hobby never prevented me from being useful to anyone at any time and its pleasure or sleepiness never distracted me or slowed me down? In what way, then, can anyone criticize me or censure me if if I am discovered to have spent that very same amount of time in pursuing these studies as others do without blame in pursuing profit, or in celebrating festivals or games, in seeking the pleasure and rest of the body and mind, or dragging out hours in dining, gambling or ballgames?”

Ego vero fateor me his studiis esse deditum: ceteros pudeat, si qui se ita litteris abdiderunt, ut nihil possint ex his neque ad communem adferre fructum neque in aspectum lucemque proferre: me autem quid pudeat, qui tot annos ita vivo, iudices, ut a nullius umquam me tempore aut commodo aut otium meum abstraxerit aut voluptas avocarit aut denique somnus retardarit? Qua re quis tandem me reprehendat aut quis mihi iure suscenseat, si, quantum ceteris ad suas res obeundas, quantum ad festos dies ludorum celebrandos, quantum ad alias voluptates et ad ipsam requiem animi et corporis conceditur temporum, quantum alii tribuunt tempestivis conviviis, quantum denique alveolo, quantum pilae, tantum mihi egomet ad haec studia recolenda sumpsero?

Cicero, Pro Archia 16

“But if this clear profit [of studying literature] is not clear and if entertainment alone should be sought from these pursuits, I still believe that you would judge them the most humanizing and enlightening exercise of the mind.

For other activities do not partake in all times, all ages, and all places—reading literature sharpens us in youth and comforts us in old age. It brings adornment to our successes and solace to our failures. It delights when we are at home and creates no obstacle for us out in the world. It is our companion through long nights, long journeys, and months in rural retreats.”

Quod si non hic tantus fructus ostenderetur et si ex his studiis delectatio sola peteretur, tamen, ut opinor, hanc animi adversionem humanissimam ac liberalissimam iudicaretis. Nam ceterae neque temporum sunt neque aetatum omnium neque locorum: haec studia adolescentiam acuunt,1 senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.

Image result for medieval manuscripts animals reading
BDLSS, MS 264, 14th c.

Taking the Cure in Isolation

Apuleius, Metamorphoses 4.1

“Around noon, when the sun’s flame was already hot, we turned off in some village to the home of some old men known well to the thieves. This was easy to understand for even a donkey thanks to the prolonged conversation and shared kisses. They also gave some gifts to them which I had carried on my back and seemed to relate that they were obtained through theft with secret whispers. Once we were unburdened of every bag, they left us to amble and eat in a field next to the home.

But I was not really drawn to a pastoral communion with either the ass or my old horse and I was also not quite used to eating grass. I could see a garden on the other side of the stable, so I broke into it, already wracked by hunger. I filled my stomach immediately with those vegetables, even though they were raw, and I was saying a little prayer to all the gods as I looked around the place, hoping I might find the light of rose bushes in the nearby gardens.

This isolation was providing me confidence I did not have before, if once I was away from the road and hidden by bushes, I could eat the medicine and rise from the curved-hoof of four-footed pack animal to stand straight like a man, while no one was looking.”

Diem ferme circa medium, cum iam flagrantia solis caleretur, in pago quodam apud notos ac familiares latronibus senes devertimus. Sic enim primus aditus et sermo prolixus et oscula mutua quamvis asino sentire praestabant. Nam et rebus eos quibusdam dorso meo depromptis munerabantur, et secretis gannitibus quod essent latrocinio partae videbantur indicare. Iamque nos omni sarcina levatos in pratum proximum passim libero pastui tradidere. Nec me cum asino vel equo meo compascuus coetus attinere potuit, adhuc insolitum alioquin prandere faenum; sed plane pone stabulum prospectum hortulum iam fame perditus fidenter invado, et quamvis crudis holeribus affatim tamen ventrem sagino, deosque comprecatus omnes cuncta prospectabam loca, sicubi forte conterminis in hortulis candens reperirem rosarium. Nam et ipsa solitudo iam mihi bonam fiduciam tribuebat, si devius et frutectis absconditus, sumpto remedio, de iumenti quadripedis incurvo gradu rursum erectus in hominem inspectante nullo resurgerem.

Nicolai Abildgaard – Fotis sees her Lover Lucius Transformed into an Ass. Motif from Apeleius’ The Golden Ass

Fronto on How to Wear a Mask

Marcus Cornelius Fronto to Antoninus Augustus Ambr. 390 17

“Aesopus the tragedian reportedly never put a mask on his face until he had looked at it for awhile from the other side so that he might change his gestures and alter his voice in line with the appearance of the mask.”

Tragicus Aesopus fertur non prius ullam suo induisse capiti personam, antequam diu ex adverso contemplaret, ut pro personae voltu gestum sibi capessere ac vocem <adsimulare posset>

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