Menekrates: “Musonius, that voice which made him music-mad and longing for Olympian and Pythian games, how was the tyrant’s voice? Some people who sailed to Lemnos were amazed by it, others mock it.”
Musonius: “Well, Menekrates, his voice really merits neither wonder nor mockery, since nature has made him moderately and unquestionably in tune. He speaks with a naturally open and deep voice, since his throat is deep, and when he sings he buzzes a little because of his throat shape. Nevertheless, the tones of his voice make him seem smoother if he does not try too hard, but relies instead on the melody, good accompaniment, and selecting the right time to walk, to stop, to move, and to nod his head along with the music. What is shameful is that a king appears to want success in these pursuits.”
“He was mostly deranged by a desire for popularity and was an enemy to anyone who had any sway over the popular mob. Most believed that after all of his accomplishments on the stage he was going to compete among the Athletes at the next Olympian games. He was wrestling endlessly and he had watched the gymnastic contests all over Greece as a judge would, sitting on the ground of the stadium. If any competitors withdrew too far back, he would push them forth again with his own hand. Because he was alleged to have equaled Apollo in song and the Sun in chariot-driving, Nero planned to rival the deeds of Herakles too. People claim that a lion had been trained which he would be able to kill naked in the amphitheater in front of all the people with either a club or his arms’ embrace.”
Maxime autem popularitate efferebatur, omnium aemulus, qui quoquo modo animum vulgi moverent. Exiit opinio post scaenicas coronas proximo lustro descensurum eum ad Olympia inter athletas; nam et luctabatur assidue nec aliter certamina gymnica tota Graecia spectaverat quam brabeutarum more in stadio humi assidens ac, si qua paria longius recessissent, in medium manibus suis protrahens. Destinaverat etiam, quia Apollinem cantu, Solem aurigando aequiperare existimaretur, imitari et Herculis facta; praeparatumque leonem aiunt, quem vel clava vel brachiorum nexibus in amphitheatri harena spectante populo nudus elideret.
“He had a desire for eternal and endless fame, but it was ill-considered. Because of this he changed the names of many things and places from their ancient titles to something from his own name. So, he called the month of April Neroneus and planned to have Rome renamed Neropolis.”
Erat illi aeternitatis perpetuaeque famae cupido, sed inconsulta. Ideoque multis rebus ac locis vetere appellatione detracta novam indixit ex suo nomine, mensem quoque Aprilem Neroneum appellavit; destinaverat et Romam Neropolim nuncupare.
“‘Greetings, Achilles – you will not be lacking an equal meal.’ (Iliad 9.225)
From these words, Zenodotus was persuaded that by an ‘equal meal’ (daita eisen) Homer meant a ‘good’ (agathen) one. He says that because nourishment was a necessary good (agathon) to humans, Homer stretched the word ‘eisen’ to his purposes. The earliest humans possessed no easy abundance of food, so as soon as it appeared they rushed upon it, stealing it by force and taking it away from those who had it, becoming murderers in the process of this frenzy. From this, it is likely that the word ‘impudent folly’ (atasthalia) is derived, because people first committed crimes against each other at festivals (thaliai). But, once they received a bountiful measure of Demeter’s gift, they apportioned out an equal (isen) portion to each person, and thus there came to be a certain sense of order to human meals. This is the source of the notion that bread and cakes should be apportioned equally (eis ison), and for drinking from goblets. These things occurred as people gradually moved toward equality (to ison). Thus, food is called a ‘meal’ (dais) from ‘divide into equal portions’ (daiesthai). Similarly so, the man who roasts the mean is called a daitros, because he would give an equal portion of meat to each person. The poet uses the word ‘meal’ (dais) only for human beings, and never for animals. Zenodotus, in his ignorance regarding the sense of this word, writes in his own edition of the Iliad,
‘…he made them a spoil for the dogs,
and a meal (daita) for the birds…’
thus signaling that they were food for vultures and other birds, even though it is humanity alone which has progressed toward equality from its primitive state of violence, on which account it is human food alone which can be called a ‘meal’ (dais).”
How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos?
Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69
“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. These examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs.
This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”
Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.
Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health.
Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d
“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].
And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”
Watching Marriage Story, I could not help but be reminded of that other, similarly-titled film with a narrow focus on the evolution of a relationship, Love Story. While the ending of Marriage Story is, in the strictest sense of the term, more tragic, I found myself far more devastated by the ending of Love Story, if for no reason than the fact that the inexorable workings of fate can still produce outcomes which are far more heartbreaking than the ways in which humans casually but steadily ruin their own lives.
A part of the dramatic backdrop for the relationship between Charlie and Nicole is their joint development of a modern adaptation of Electra, which is slated to move to Broadway as the couple begin their separation, with Nicole moving out to L.A. to resume her pursuit of a screen acting career. Electra serves as a potent precursor to the dramatic fallout between Charlie and Nicole, given that Electra (along with her brother Orestes) avenge their father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of their mother, Clytemnestra. There, too, a once (apparently?) happy couple had been driven apart by distance and bad decisions on the part of a husband. While Nicole claims throughout the movie that Charlie had neglected her emotionally because he was too absorbed in his own work to take note of anyone else’s needs, so too one might see Agamemnon’s violent sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia as the summit of professional self-absorption.
For a movie entirely separate from the horror genre, Marriage Story features two separate Halloweens – one near the middle of the film, and the other in the last scene. When we first see Nicole on the set of her new TV pilot, she is trying on different masks. The film is pressing us hard to see our individual characters as just that – masks or personae, mutable projections of who we are to an external audience whose love and adoration we seek. When, in the middle of the film, Henry opts to go as a ninja for Halloween rather than the Frankenstein costume which was custom made for him back in New York, he is not only asserting his nascent sense of autonomy in a new setting, but he is rejecting the persona which his father (a respected director) is offering him, one which would have him represented as the intentional creation of a mad genius.
We are inclined to think that love is a deeply genuine and authentic experience of penetrating behind the veil of fabricated social personae. America’s leading philosopher of relationships, Chris Rock, once said that marriage involved learning to love “the crust of that person.” One night stands and casual dating are dismissed as superficial lust or mere attraction, while the noun love is freighted with hefty emotional and spiritual baggage.
“Now I know what love is.”
nunc scio quid sit Amor
Vergil, Eclogues 8.43
It is, perhaps, for this reason that a contemporary reader of Roman love elegy finds it so perplexing. As a genre, elegy was built around a set of conventional tropes and expressions, many of which involved the most passionate effusions of romantic sentiment and devotion. And yet, the mistress of the Roman love elegist was either a fiction, or (if a real person), a persona or stylized version of that person placed in genre-appropriate situations and scenes. While the love poems of Catullus can on occasion appear to be sincere enough, he is not really an elegist. By the time that Ovid and Propertius are on the scene, we get the sense that they are keen enough on love, but perhaps even more keen on writing about it in novel ways. This requires not only that they fashion mistresses and fictional backdrops for their poems, but also that they contrive expressions of their own personae as lovers. Consider Propertius 1.8B as a parallel to a situation in Marriage Story. After she leaves for L.A., Charlie is eager for Nicole to return to New York, and a central point of their potential redemption as a couple in his mind is her return to this geographical center:
“Here she will be! Here she remains! Fuck the haters! We have won – she did not withstand our constant prayers.”
Hic erit! hic iurata manet! rumpantur iniqui!
vicimus: assiduas non tulit illa preces.
Despite Charlie’s initial hope that their romance can be renewed, and later his hope that he can at least give his son Henry a New York life, the geographical decentering of his life in New York into a far-flung and sprawling L.A. existence serves as a metaphor for the gradual dissolution of his family’s bonds.
While much of the love talk from poetic personae among the Roman poets may seem to us somewhat disingenuous (playing upon such grave emotion for artistic effect), Marriage Story presents us with a romance shot through the filter of hyperrealism. The film’s most believable and affecting scene begins as an attempt at reconciliation between Charlie and Nicole, who have realized that the lawyers involved in the process of divorce have complicated matters substantially. A series of small misunderstandings and frustrations lead this conversation into their most heated argument in the whole movie:
Nicole: You’re so merged with your own selfishness, you don’t even identify it as selfishness anymore! You’re such a dick!
Charlie: Every day I wake up and I hope you’re dead! Dead, like if I could guarantee Henry would be okay, I’d hope you’d get an illness, and then get hit by a car and die! Oh, God! I’m sorry.
Nicole: Me too.
One of the hardest parts of watching Marriage Story is trying to convince yourself that Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver were ever a happy couple. But if you can suspend this initial disbelief, the movie is so captivating because it is so real, and this particular argument was one of the most believable lovers’ quarrels on film, because it ended not with violence or with one party storming away, but with an utterly pathetic Charlie on his knees, apologizing for the winged words which just escaped the bulwark of his teeth. Love, like death, wounds us so deeply because we cannot really understand it.
Old Sinatra sings,
Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage
This I’ll tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other
We know, of course, that this is the kind of facile codswollop that people love in popular music, but it is manifestly untrue to experience, unless one takes the metaphor to suggest that love (the horse) is yoked to the institution of marriage (the carriage) until it has been so thoroughly worn out by dragging it that it collapses and dies. To be sure, I know some people whose marriages still seem imbued with a spirit of love and romance, but I know just as many who have settled into a kind of loveless cohabitation with the other parent of their child. (A friend of mine once said bluntly, “We definitely don’t love each other anymore – he’s kind of a jerk – but we’re like roommates with kids, and divorce is expensive.” Indeed, though the internet has managed to distort the narrative into some kind of Charlie vs. Nicole prize fight, it seems clear that the only villain in the story is the teeming mass of swamp monsters that make up the legal profession.)
Love is something which simply happens to you, but marriage is a project which must be made to work. English novels in the 19th century were wholly absorbed with the theme of marriage, yet somehow managed never to get around the central paradox of the marriage plot: all of the older married couples were insufferably meddling and obviously miserable, yet the highest happiness is held out to the young prospective couple if only they can get married. Why do we never see the central young couple of the 19th century grow to hate each other? Because the novel always ends when they get married! George Eliot reversed this trope in Middlemarch, with a conscious intention to write a story which begins, rather than ends, with the heroine’s marriage. This marriage, which begins as a wholly loveless but idealistic (for Dorothea) and practical (for Casaubon) business produces nothing but misery for the young Dorothea. But, as Aeschylus says, learning from suffering and all that, eh? Dorothea comes into her own as an unhappy bride, and then later as a widow. Only at the end of the book does she manage to fuse the concepts of love and marriage when she is betrothed to Will Ladislaw. (Of course, we never know how that goes in the end.) Moreover, despite its ostensible simplicity, Marriage Story is a rather complicated title, because the movie is not about marriage so much as divorce, i.e. the end of a marriage. Whereas most marriage-driven narratives work us toward the point of marriage as a goal of life, Marriage Story explores lives which have moved beyond marriage as something left behind.
Love is one of the oldest and most well-trodden paths in our literature, but no amount of analysis will ever resolve its mysteries. Marriage Story takes up in medias res, and presents us with a muddling mess of a life shared between two people who still love each other in some way. So much of our narrative focuses on the inception of love that Marriage Story can hold our attention almost by default, as something of a novelty – how often do you see such a genuine and honest movie about divorce? There is no real resolution in the end – just a final shot of a former couple who have begun to adjust to a different kind of relationship. Charlie and Nicole may not be Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, but they join the ranks of countless couples before them, whose lives outstripped their loves.
“Was never true love loved in vain,
For truest love is highest gain.
No art can make it: it must spring
Where elements are fostering.
So in heaven’s spot and hour
Springs the little native flower,
Downward root and upward eye,
Shapen by the earth and sky.”
Literature is, for many people, the instrument of madness, and for all it is an instrument of arrogance unless (a thing exceptionally rare) it happens to fall upon a good and well educated mind. This last mentioned author has written much about beasts and birds and fish. How many hairs a lion’s mane has, how many feathers are in the hawk’s tail, how many spirals the octopus wraps the shipwreck in; how the elephants have sex from behind and how they remain pregnant for two years, and how they are a teachable and vivacious animal approaching human intelligence and living almost two or even three centuries; how the phoenix is consumed in aromatic fire and is reborn after being burned; how the sea urchin reins in a prow driven by any force but can do nothing when taken out of the waves; how the hunter deceives the tiger with a mirror, how the Arimaspean spears a griffin, how whales deceive the sailor with their tails; how ugly is the child of a bear, how rare the child of a mule, and how the viper gives birth but once and unluckily at that; how moles are blind, how bees are deaf, and finally how the crocodile alone of all animals moves only its upper mandible.
Most of these things are false, which was clear enough when similar kinds of animals were brought to our part of the world. Or, if they were not false, at least unknown to the authors themselves, and either believed more readily or more readily invented on account of their author’s absence. Yet, for all of this, even if they were true, they have nothing to do with living a good life. For, I ask, what good will it do to know the natures of beasts, birds, fish, and serpents when we are either ignorant or contemptuous of human nature – for what purpose we are born, from where we come and where we are headed?
Sunt enim litere multis instrumenta dementie, cuntis fere superbie, nisi, quod rarum, in aliquam bonam et bene institutam animam inciderint. Multa ille igitur de beluis deque avibus ac piscibus: quot leo pilos in vertice, quot plumas accipiter in cauda, quot polipus spiris naufragum liget, ut aversi cocunt elephantes biennioque uterum tument, ut docile vivaxque animal et humano proximum ingenio et ad secundi tertiique finem seculi vivendo perveniens; ut phenix aromatico igne consumitur ustusque renascitur; ut echinus quovis actam impetu proram frenat, cum fluctibus erutus nil possit; ut venator speculo tigrem ludit, Arimaspus griphen ferro impetit, cete tergo nautam fallunt; ut informis urse partus, mule rarus, vipere unicus isque infelix, ut ceci talpe, surde apes, ut postremo superiorem mandibulam omnium solus animantium cocodrillus movet. Que quidem vel magna ex parte falsa sunt — quod in multis horum similibus, ubi in nostrum orbem delata sunt, patuit — vel certe ipsis auctoribus incomperta, sed propter absentiam vel credita promptius vel ficta licentius; que denique, quamvis vera essent, nichil penitus ad beatam vitam. Nam quid, oro, naturas beluarum et volucrum et piscium et serpentum nosse profuerit, et naturam hominum, ad quod nati sumus, unde et quo pergimus, vel nescire vel spernere?
“Moreover, this seems to be the strongest point to offer on why we believe that there are gods—the fact there are no people so savage, no one in the world so bestial, that no thought of the gods touches his mind. While it is true that many people believe silly things about the gods—which customarily happens because of corrupted customs—still all people believe in divine power and divine nature. Furthermore, human conferences and consensus do not create this, nor is the idea affirmed by practices or laws, but in every matter the shared belief of all peoples must be considered a natural law.
Is there anyone who does not mourn the death of their loved ones because he believes that they have been deprived of life’s pleasures? Remove this belief and you will remove mourning. No one mourns for their own discomfort. People do feel pain, but the mourning and tears of sorrow come from that fact that we believe that a person whom we love has lost access to life’s pleasures and are aware of this. We are led by nature to believe this, not by any teaching or act of reason.”
Ut porro firmissimum hoc adferri videtur, cur deos esse credamus, quod nulla gens tam fera, nemo omnium tam est immanis, cuius mentem non imbuerit deorum opinio—multi de dis prava sentiunt, id enim vitioso more effici solet, omnes tamen esse vim et naturam divinam arbitrantur, nec vero id collocutio hominum aut consensus effecit, non institutis opinio est confirmata, non legibus, omni autem in re consensio omnium gentium lex naturae putanda est—quis est igitur qui suorum mortem primum non eo lugeat, quod eos orbatos vitae commodis arbitretur? Tolle hanc opinionem, luctum sustuleris. Nemo enim maeret suo incommodo: dolent fortasse et anguntur: sed illa lugubris lamentatio fletusque maerens ex eo est, quod eum, quem dileximus, vitae commodis privatum arbitramur idque sentire. Atque haec ita sentimus natura duce, nulla ratione nullaque doctrina.
Unfortunately, Lawrence’s stylistic preference for dramatic repetitions of the Latin phrases which he employs here simply remove any doubt that it was a mere slip of the pen:
D.H. Lawrence, Pornography and Obscenity:
The same with the word obscene: nobody knows what it means. Suppose it were derived from obscena: that which might not be represented on the stage,—how much further are you? None! What is obscene to Tom is not obscene to Lucy or Joe, and really, the meaning of a word has to wait for majorities to decide it. If a play shocks ten people in an audience, and doesn’t shock the remaining five hundred, then it is obscene to ten and innocuous to five hundred: hence,the play is not obscene, by majority. But Hamlet shocked all the Cromwellian Puritans, and shocks nobody today, and some Aristophanes shocks everybody today, and didn’t galvanise the later Greeks at all, apparently. Man is a changeable beast, and words change their meanings with him, and things are not what they seemed, and what’s what becomes what isn’t,and if we think we know where we are it’s only because we are so rapidly being translated to somewhere else. We have to leave everything to the majority,everything to the majority, everything to the mob, the mob, the mob. They know what is obscene and what isn’t, they do. If the lower ten million doesn’t know better than the upper ten men, then there’s something wrong with mathematics. Take a vote on it! Show hands, and prove it by count! Vox populi, vox Dei. Odi profanum vulgum. Profanum vulgum! profanum vulgum. [sic – Read ‘vulgus’.]
So it comes down to this: if you are talking to the mob, the meaning of your words is the mob-meaning, decided by majority. As somebody wrote to me: the American law on obscenity is very plain, and America is going to enforce the law.—Quite, my dear, quite, quite, quite! The mob knows all about obscenity. Mild little words that rhyme with spit or farce are the height of obscenity. Supposing a printer put “h” in the place of “p”, by mistake, in that mere word spit? Then the great American public knows that this man has committed an obscenity, an indecency,that his act was lewd, and as a compositor he was pornographical. You can’t tamper with the great public, British or American. Vox populi, vox Dei, don’t you know. If you don’t we’ll let you know it.—At the same time,this vox Dei shouts with praise over movie-pictures and books and newspaper accounts that seem, to a sinful nature like mine, completely disgusting and obscene. Like a real prude and Puritan, I have to look the other way. When obscenity becomes mawkish, which is its palatable form for the public, and when the Vox populi, vox Dei is hoarse with sentimental indecency, then I have to steer away,like a Pharisee, afraid of being contaminated. There is a certain kind of sticky universal pitch that I refuse to touch.