Oedipus Tyrannosaurus Rex For Tuesday

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“The best kind of recognition of all comes from the plot events themselves when the surprise comes out of probable events. This is the case in Sophokles’ Oedipus or in Iphigenia. For only these kinds of recognitions can happen without manufactured signs and necklaces. The second best kinds are from logical reasoning.”

πασῶν δὲ βελτίστη ἀναγνώρισις ἡ ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν πραγμάτων, τῆς ἐκπλήξεως γιγνομένης δι᾿ εἰκότων, οἷον ἐν τῷ Σοφοκλέους Οἰδίποδι καὶ τῇ Ἰφιγενείᾳ· εἰκὸς γὰρ βούλεσθαι ἐπιθεῖναι γράμματα. αἱ γὰρ τοιαῦται μόναι ἄνευ τῶν πεποιημένων σημείων καὶ περιδεραίων. δεύτεραι δὲ αἱ ἐκ συλλογισμοῦ.

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos 4-8

“The city is simultaneously full of burning incense
Songs of prayer and lamentations.
Children: rather than unjustly hear this from someone else
I have come here to learn it my self,
The man named Oedipus, known to everyone.”

πόλις δ᾿ ὁμοῦ μὲν θυμιαμάτων γέμει,
ὁμοῦ δὲ παιάνων τε καὶ στεναγμάτων·
ἁγὼ δικαιῶν μὴ παρ᾿ ἀγγέλων, τέκνα,
ἄλλων ἀκούειν αὐτὸς ὧδ᾿ ἐλήλυθα,
ὁ πᾶσι κλεινὸς Οἰδίπους καλούμενος.

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, 59-61

“…I know this well
That you all are sick, and even though you’re sick
Not a one of you is as sick as I am.
For each of you must face up to a single share of pain
As it comes to you and not another.
But my soul groans for the city, for me, and you, at once.”

εὖ γὰρ οἶδ᾿ ὅτι
νοσεῖτε πάντες· καὶ νοσοῦντες, ὡς ἐγὼ
οὐκ ἔστιν ὑμῶν ὅστις ἐξ ἴσου νοσεῖ.
τὸ μὲν γὰρ ὑμῶν ἄλγος εἰς ἕν᾿ ἔρχεται
μόνον καθ᾿ αὑτόν, κοὐδέν᾿ ἄλλον, ἡ δ᾿ ἐμὴ
ψυχὴ πόλιν τε κἀμὲ καὶ σ᾿ ὁμοῦ στένει.

Oedipus Tyrannos, 634-638

“Blockheads, why are you stirring up this civil war
of tongue-wagging? Aren’t you ashamed to be kicking up
personal beefs when the land is diseased?”

τί τὴν ἄβουλον, ὦ ταλαίπωροι, στάσιν
γλώσσης ἐπήρασθ᾿; οὐδ᾿ ἐπαισχύνεσθε γῆς
οὕτω νοσούσης ἴδια κινοῦντες κακά;

One of the most iconic images of Oedipus in the 5th century BCE depicts the moment of his interview with the Sphinx. Here is a representative example (Beazley Archive 205372; Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican City, Vat. 16541):

oedipussphinxv

This is the moment when the Sphinx asks Oedipus her famous question. The iconic nature of this also makes it ripe for parody.

oedipus-parody-3

This is the best picture I could manage of the scene (if you are interested, see J. Boardman’s article in JHS 90 (1970) 194-195. This vase features the beast masturbating and ejaculating while the hero looks on and holds his sword. It is dated to the mid-fifth century BCE. (I found it in the LIMC, number 69).

There is a much more tame version of the later, which maintains the phallus, but skimps on the erections and ejaculations. This vase is in the Boston MFA, 01.8036.

oedipus-parody-2

Countless Mixtures Incomplete: Introducing Pasts Imperfect

“When virtue is cast off into leisure without action it is a shapeless and imperfect good.”
sic imperfectum ac languidum bonum est in otium sine actu proiecta virtus
Seneca, De Otio 6.3
Today is the release of the first column in a series called Pasts Imperfecta partnership with the LA Review of Books, edited by Sarah E. Bond, Nandini Pandey, and Joel Christensen (and more to come, but see this thread). It is part of a network of publications  that hat explore the literature, material culture, reception, art, and pop culture within a global antiquity. Sign up here for the newsletter and more information. Sarah, Nandini, and Joel collaborated on this post.

Appion in Ps.-Clement, Homilies, 6.3.4

Elena, ekkolapsis (ἐκκόλαψις) la schiusa dell’uovo, Museo archeologico nazionale di Metaponto. In calcare, V sec. a.C.

“…the egg that Orpheus claims was created, projected from the boundless matter, was born like this: the quadruple matter is alive and all of the endless deep flows eternally but it moves in an unclear war, pouring forth here and there endless incomplete mixtures from one time to another. For this reason, it pulls them back too and then opens wide as if for the birth of a creature that cannot be bound.”

ὅπερ Ὀρφεὺς ᾠὸν λέγει γενητόν, ἐξ ἀπείρου τῆς ὕλης προβεβλημένον, γεγονὸς δὲ οὕτω· τῆς τετραγενοῦς ὕλης ἐμψύχου οὔσης, καὶ ὅλου ἀπείρου τινὸς βυθοῦ ἀεὶ ῥέοντος, καὶ ἀκρίτως φερομένου, καὶ μυρίας ἀτελεῖς κράσεις ἄλλοτε ἄλλως ἐπαναχέοντος, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αὐτὰς ἀναλύοντος τῇ ἀταξίᾳ, καὶ κεχηνότος ὡς εἰς γένεσιν ζῴου δεθῆναι μὴ δυναμένου…

The poet and classicist Anne Carson has an essay that sticks like maple syrup to your subconscious, called “Essay on What I Think About Most.” She begins the poem by addressing the idea of the error and what we can learn from it by dissecting a bit of poetry from Alcman of Sparta, a Greek lyric poet from the 7th century BCE.

ὥρας δ᾿ ἔσηκε τρεῖς, θέρος
καὶ χεῖμα κὠπώραν τρίταν
καὶ τέτρατον τὸ ϝῆρ, ὅκα
σάλλει μέν, ἐσθίην δ᾿ ἄδαν
οὐκ ἔστι. Athenaeus 416d

[made?] three seasons, summer
and winter and autumn third
and fourth spring when
there is blooming but to eat enough
is not (trans. Carson)

Carson notes that the verb in Alcman’s laconic rumination on hunger seems to have no subject. She addresses whether this was a grammatical mistake caused by transmission and fragmentation; a way modern philologists can scrub away “errors” of the past. “But as you know, the chief aim of philology,” she says, “is to reduce all textual delight / to an accident of history. And I am uneasy with any claim to know exactly / what a poet means to say. So let’s leave the question mark there “

The lack of any punctuation is the kicker there. The absence does more work than any ellipsis or period ever could. Carson demonstrates how, for her, Alcman “sidesteps fear, anxiety, shame, remorse” connected to mistakes in order to engage with a truth:

“The fact of the matter for humans is imperfection.”

And that is in part what the first column of Pasts Imperfect argues for in addressing the construction, impact, and harm of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth: the need to embrace the mess and variants of the past. To do this, we must also situate the “classical” Mediterranean within a global antiquity.

What is Pasts Imperfect? It is a column and a space for commentary, reviews, essays, reflections, statements, and any other words needed to help us negotiate between the past and our present world. We talk about pasts because antiquity isn’t just one land, timeline, or narrative; it is multiple and multiplied by the perspectives we bring to bear on it. Our Pasts are not just Greek, Roman, and Mediterranean; they are not just elite, white, and male. The past includes these people and perspectives, but also those who were silenced or left behind: the people, the languages, and the histories in or beyond the margins.

Imperfect is about value and aspect. We acknowledge that the past is far from perfect and we study antiquity to help us understand ourselves and the causes of things, not to render fictive, to emulate, or to praise simply because something has been praised before. To be human is to be imperfect; to love as a human is to love imperfectly. Our studies of the past and ourselves must honor and inhabit such complexities.

Imperfect is also about incompletion. We see the study of the past as a process that is ongoing and never truly done: each generation, each embodied person, each new perspective contributes to challenging what we think we know about what has come before.

Pasts Imperfect seeks to bring critical and transparently progressive reflections and scholarship on antiquity to a wider audience. It is a column, a space, and a developing network for those who want to engage in challenging discussions about antiquity, its construction and reception in scholarship, and its impact on the modern world. As our editorial college and paid writer-network begins to expand and to take pitches, we hope to venture into a more global understanding of the past while also making space for imperfection.

Plutarch, On the Affection Offspring (Moralia 496b)

“There is nothing so imperfect, helpless, naked, formless, and unclean as a human being glimpsed at the moment of birth, someone to whom nature has not even given a clear path to the light.”

οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστιν οὕτως ἀτελὲς οὐδ᾿ ἄπορον οὐδὲ γυμνὸν οὐδ᾿ ἄμορφον οὐδὲ μιαρὸν ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἐν γοναῖς ὁρώμενος· ᾧ μόνῳ σχεδὸν οὐδὲ καθαρὰν ἔδωκεν εἰς φῶς ὁδὸν ἡ φύσις…

Please reach out to anyone of the editors if you want to collaborate or pitch a story idea. We are working to help place essays in several different venues. See also the Public Books Antiquities Section, edited by Stephanie Wong and Sarah E. Bond and sign up for the newsletter to learn more.

File:Fragment de mosaique Ino (Dotô), découverte dans une villa romaine de Saint-Rustice en 1833, IVè ou Vè siècle, MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond (7221368224).jpg
Fragment de mosaique : Ino (Dotô), découverte dans une villa romaine de Saint-Rustice en 1833, IVè ou Vè siècle, MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond

Ambition Reduces Me to Nullity

Arthur Stanley, The Life of Thomas Arnold:

Whatever may have been the exact notions of his future course which presented themselves to him, it is evident that he was not insensible to the attraction of visions of extensive influence, and almost to his latest hour he seems to have been conscious of the existence of the temptation within him, and of the necessity of contending against it. “I believe,” he said many years afterwards, in speaking of these early struggles to a Rugby pupil who was consulting him on the choice of a profession, — “I believe that, naturally, I am one of the most ambitious men alive,” and “the three great objects of human ambition,” he added, to which alone he could look as deserving the name, were ” to be the Prime-Minister of a great kingdom, the governor of a great empire, or the writer of works which should live in every age and in every country.” But in some respects the loftiness of his aims made it a matter of less difficulty to confine himself at once to a sphere in which, whilst he felt himself well and usefully employed, he felt also that the practical business of his daily duties acted as a check upon his own inclinations and speculations. Accordingly, when he entered upon his work at Laleham he seems to have regarded it as his work for life. “I have always thought,” he writes in 1823, “with regard to ambition, that I should like to be aut Caesar aut nullus [“either Caesar or a nobody”], and as it is pretty well settled for me that I shall not be Caesar, I am quite content to live in peace as nullus.”

Thomas Arnold by Thomas Phillips.jpg

From Numa to Nu Morals

Montesquieu, Dissertation on Roman Politics in Religion (Part 2):

The successors of Numa didn’t dare to do things which that prince himself hadn’t done. The people, who had lost much of its ferocity and its rudeness, became capable of a greater discipline. It was easy to add to the ceremonies of the religion the principles and moral rules which it was lacking. But the legislators of the Romans were too clearsighted not to see how dangerous such a reformation was: it was to concede that the religion was defective; it was to give ages to it, and to weaken its authority in wishing to establish it. The wisdom of those Romans was to take a better part in establishing new laws. Human institutions could well change, but the divine ought to remain immutable like the gods themselves.

And so, the senate of Rome, having charged the praetor Petilius to examine the writings of king Numa, which they had found in a stone chest four hundred years after his death, resolved to burn them upon hearing the report which the praetor made showing that the ceremonies which were ordained in Numa’s writings differed substantially from those which they practiced at that time. That fact could put scruples into the spirit of the simple, and could cause them to see that prescribed cult practice was not the same as that which was instituted by the first legislators and inspired by the nymph Egeria.

Claude Lorrain, Egeria Mourns Numa

Les successeurs de Numa n’osèrent point faire ce que ce prince n’avait point fait : le peuple, qui avait beaucoup perdu de sa férocité et de sa rudesse, était devenu capable d’une plus grande discipline. Il eût été facile d’ajouter aux cérémonies de la religion des principes et des règles de morale dont elle manquait ; mais les législateurs des Romains étaient trop clairvoyants pour ne point connaître combien une pareille réformation eût été dangereuse: c’eût été convenir que la religion était défectueuse ; c’était lui donner des âges, et affaiblir son autorité en voulant l’établir. La sagesse des Romains leur fit prendre un meilleur parti en établissant de nouvelles lois. Les institutions humaines peuvent bien changer, mais les divines doivent être immuables comme les dieux mêmes.

Ainsi le sénat de Rome, ayant chargé le préteur Pétilius d’examiner les écrits du roi Numa, qui avaient été trouvés dans un coffre de pierre, quatre cents ans après la mort de ce roi, résolut de les faire brûler, sur le rapport que lui fit ce préteur que les cérémonies qui étaient ordonnées dans ces écrits différaient beaucoup de celles qui se pratiquaient alors ; ce qui pouvait jeter des scrupules dans l’esprit des simples, et leur faire voir que le culte prescrit n’était pas le même que celui qui avait été institué par les premiers législateurs, et inspiré par la nymphe Égérie.

 

Fear and Loathing in Roman Statecraft

Montesquieu, A Dissertation on Roman Politics (Part 1):

It was neither fear nor piety which established religion among the Romans. Rather, it was the necessity by which all societies must have one. The first kings were no less attentive to managing cult and ceremonies than they were to giving laws and building walls.

I find this difference between Roman lawgivers and those of other people, namely that the Romans made their religion for the state, while others made the state for religion. Romulus, Tatius, and Numa subjugated the gods to law: the cult and the ceremonies which they established were found so wise that, when the kings were chased away, the yoke of religion was the one thing which this people, in their madness for liberty, did not dare to let go of.

When the Roman lawgivers established religion, they didn’t think at all about the reformation of custom, except to give some moral principles: they didn’t want to impose an obstacle on the people who still didn’t know them. So they didn’t at first have anything but a general view, which was to inspire in the people, who didn’t fear anything, a terror of the gods, and for this fear to be used to drive their imagination.

Poussin, Numa Pompilius and the Nymph Egeria

Ce ne fut ni la crainte ni la piété qui établit la religion chez les Romains ; mais la nécessité où sont toutes les sociétés d’en avoir une. Les premiers rois ne furent pas moins attentifs à régler le culte et les cérémonies qu’à donner des lois et bâtir des murailles.

Je trouve cette différence entre les législateurs romains et ceux des autres peuples, que les premiers firent la religion pour l’État, et les autres l’État pour la religion. Romulus, Tatius et Numa asservirent les dieux à la politique: le culte et les cérémonies qu’ils instituèrent furent trouvés si sages, que, lorsque les rois furent chassés, le joug de la religion fut le seul dont ce peuple, dans sa fureur pour la liberté, n’osa s’affranchir.

Quand les législateurs romains établirent la religion, ils ne pensèrent point à la réformation des mœurs, ni à donner des principes de morale; ils ne voulurent point gêner des gens qu’ils ne connaissaient pas encore. Ils n’eurent donc d’abord qu’une vue générale, qui était d’inspirer à un peuple, qui ne craignait rien, la crainte des dieux, et de se servir de cette crainte pour le conduire à leur fantaisie.

Adieu Tristesse

Montaigne, On Sadness:

I am one of the people most exempt from this feeling, and I neither like it nor respect it, although the world has taken up with honoring it with particular favor, as if at a set price. They dress it up in sagacity, virtue, conscience – a stupid and ugly ornament.

The Italians in a more reasonable way have baptized it with the name of malignity. For it is a quality which is always harmful, always mad, always cowardly and base. The Stoics forbid this feeling to their wise people.

But the old story has it that Psammeticus, the king of Egypt, having been defeated and taken by Cambyses, the king of the Persians, and seeing his prisoner daughter pass before him clothed as a servant and sent to get water, kept himself quiet and said not a word while all of his friends were crying and lamenting around him, and fixed his eyes on the ground. Again, seeing his son led to his death, he held himself in the same manner. But having caught sight of one of his domestic servants led among the captives, he began to beat his head and display great suffering.

This could be compared with what we have recently seen of one of our princes, who, having heard at Trent, where he was, the recent report of the death of his brother, the one in whom the support and the honor of all his house consisted, and soon after that hearing about the death of his younger brother, the second hope, and held up against these two reversals with an exemplary constancy. When, a few days later, one of his people died, he let himself entirely loose at this last accident, and dismissing his resolution, he abandoned himself to grief and regrets in such a manner that some advanced the argument that he was not yet touched to the quick until this last disaster. But in truth, having been otherwise packed full with sadness, the slight overflow broke the barriers of his patience. I say that we could make a similar judgment about our story if it had not been added that Cambyses, enquiring of Psammticus why, having not been moved by the misfortune of his son and his daughter, nevertheless bore the bad luck of one of his friends so badly. He responded, ‘It is because only this last grief could be marked by tears, the first two having far surpassed what could be expressed.’

Perhaps related to this is the conceit of the ancient painter who represented, at the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the grief of the assistants according the the degrees of interest which each one bore to the death of this beautiful, innocent girl. Having expressed the final efforts of his art, when it came to the maiden’s daughter, he portrayed him with a covered face, as though no expression could convey this degree of suffering. There you have the same reason why the poets portray the miserable mother Niobe, overflowing with sadness for having first lost seven sons and then seven daughters, finally transformed into a rock

….stiffened by her misfortunes… [Ovid]

to express the dismal, silent, and unhearing stupidity which comes over us when the accidents of the world overwhelm us and surpass our ability to bear them. In truth, the effect of grief, if it is to be extreme, should shock the entire soul and prevent all of its actions, as when at some hot alarm of a new disaster it comes upon us to feel ourselves seized, numb, and precluded from all movement, in such a way that the soul, relaxing after the tears and the wailing, seems to let go of itself, to untangle itself, and to set itself out in greater space and at its ease.

And the voice’s path was scarcely then cleared by grief… [Vergil]

In the war which King Ferdinand conducted against the widow of King John of Hungary, around Buda, Raisciac, a German captain, took particular notice of a knight for having done exceedingly well in the melee, and lamented him with the common lament; but, curious to know who he was, the body was disarmed and Raisciac saw that it was his own son. In the middle of the public weeping, he alone let out neither cry nor tear, fixed on his feet, his eyes immobile, looking at him fixedly until the impact of the sadness froze his vital spirits and rendered him stone cold dead on the earth.

One who can say how much they burn is not burning much… [Petrarch]

say the lovers who wish to represent an unsustainable passion.

…which takes away all of my senses. For as soon as I saw you, Lesbia, there is nothing left for me to say in my madness. But my tongue goes slack, the slight flame under my limbs fades away, my ears ring with their own sound, and both eyes are covered in night. [Catullus]

Nor is it in the live and more burning heat of feeling that we are set to deploy our plaints and pleadings; the soul is then weighed down with deep thoughts, and the body worn out and languishing with love.

Sometimes this engenders the fortuitous fall which comes over lovers so out of season, and that coldness which seizes them by force from extreme ardor, in the very bosom of joy. All passions which let themselves be tasted and lingered over are just mediocre.

Light cares speak, but huge ones stand stupefied. [Seneca]

The surprise of an unexpected pleasure astonishes us in the same way.

As she saw me coming, and saw, madly, Trojan arms around, she froze in the middle of the sight, terrified by these great portents, the heat left her bones, she collapsed, and finally speaks after a long time with some difficulty. [Vergil]

Other than the Roman woman who died of surprise to see her son come back from the rout at Cannae, Sophocles and Dionysius the tyrant, who passed away from ease, and Talva who died in Corsica reading the news of the honors which the Senate of Rome had decreed for him, we understand in our own time that Pope Leo X, having been informed of the capture of Milan, which he had desperately wished for, was taken with such an excess of joy that he was taken by a fever and died.

And, for a more remarkable testimony of human stupidity, it has been remarked by the ancients that Diodorus the dialectitian died on the spot after being taken by an extreme feeling of shame, in his school and in public not being able to expand upon an argument which someone had made to him. I am not much in the grip of these violent passions. I have naturally hard apprehension; and I encrust and thicken it every day with reasoning.

Adrien Guignet, ‘Meeting Between Cambyses II and Psammetichus III’

Je suis des plus exempts de cette passion, et ne l’ayme ny l’estime, quoy que le monde ayt prins, comme à prix faict, de l’honorer de faveur particuliere. ils en habillent la sagesse, la vertu, la conscience : sot et monstrueux ornement.

Les Italiens ont plus sortablement baptisé de son nom la malignité. Car c’est une qualité tousjours nuisible, tousjours folle, et, comme tousjours couarde et basse, les Stoïciens en défendent le sentiment à leurs sages.

Mais le conte dit, que Psammenitus, Roy d’Égypte, ayant esté deffait et pris par Cambisez, Roy de Perse, voyant passer devant luy sa fille prisonniere habillée en servante, qu’on envoyoit puiser de l’eau, tous ses amis pleurans et lamentans autour de luy, se tint coy sans mot dire, les yeux fichez en terre : et voyant encore tantost qu’on menoit son fils à la mort, se maintint en ceste mesme contenance ; mais qu’ayant apperçeu un de ses domestiques conduit entre les captifs, il se mit à battre sa teste, et mener un dueil extreme.

Cecy se pourroit apparier à ce qu’on vid dernierement d’un Prince des nostres, qui, ayant ouy à Trante, où il estoit, nouvelles de la mort de son frere aisné, mais un frere en qui consistoit l’appuy et l’honneur de toute sa maison, et bien tost apres d’un puisné, sa seconde esperance, et ayant soustenu ces deux charges d’une constance exemplaire, comme quelques jours apres un de ses gens vint à mourir, il se laissa emporter à ce dernier accident, et, quittant sa resolution, s’abandonna au dueil et aux regrets, en maniere qu’aucuns en prindrent argument, qu’il n’avoit esté touché au vif que de cette derniere secousse. Mais à la vérité ce fut, qu’estant d’ailleurs plein et comblé de tristesse, la moindre sur-charge brisa les barrieres de la patience. Il s’en pourroit (di-je) autant juger de nostre histoire, n’estoit qu’elle adjouste que Cambises s’enquerant à Psammenitus, pourquoy ne s’estant esmeu au malheur de son fils et de sa fille, il portoit si impatiemment celuy d’un de ses amis : C’est, respondit-il, que ce seul dernier desplaisir se peut signifier par larmes, les deux premiers surpassans de bien loin tout moyen de se pouvoir exprimer. A l’aventure reviendroit à ce propos l’invention de cet ancien peintre, lequel, ayant à representer au sacrifice de Iphigenia le dueil des assistans, selon les degrez de l’interest que chacun apportoit à la mort de cette belle fille innocente, ayant espuisé les derniers efforts de son art, quand se vint au pere de la fille, il le peignit le visage couvert, comme si nulle contenance ne pouvoit representer ce degré de dueil. Voyla pourquoy les poetes feignent cette misérable mere Niobé, ayant perdu premierement sept fils, et puis de suite autant de filles, sur-chargée de pertes, avoir esté en fin transmuée en rochier,

Diriguisse malis,

pour exprimer cette morne, muette et sourde stupidité qui nous transit, lors que les accidens nous accablent surpassans nostre portée. De vray, l’effort d’un desplaisir, pour estre extreme, doit estonner toute l’ame, et lui empescher la liberté de ses actions : comme il nous advient à la chaude alarme d’une bien mauvaise nouvelle, de nous sentir saisis, transis, et comme perclus de tous mouvemens, de façon que l’ame se relaschant apres aux larmes et aux plaintes, semble se desprendre, se demesler et se mettre plus au large, et à son aise,

Et via vix tandem voci laxata dolore est.

En la guerre que le Roy Ferdinand fit contre la veufve de Jean, Roy de Hongrie, autour de Bude, Raïsciac, capitaine Allemand, voïant raporter le corps d’un homme de cheval, à qui chacun avoit veu excessivement bien faire en la meslée, le plaignoit d’une plainte commune ; mais curieux avec les autres de reconnoistre qui il estoit, apres qu’on l’eut desarmé, trouva que c’estoit son fils. Et, parmi les larmes publicques, luy seul se tint sans espandre ny vois ny pleurs, debout sur ses pieds, ses yeux immobiles, le regardant fixement, jusques à ce que l’effort de la tristesse venant à glacer ses esprits vitaux, le porta en cet estat roide mort par terre.

Chi puo dir com’ egli arde é in picciol fuoco,

disent les amoureux, qui veulent representer une passion insupportable

misero quod omnes

Eripit sensus mihi. Nam simul te,

Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi

Quod loquar amens.

Lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus

Flamma demanat, sonitu suopte

Tinniunt aures, gemina teguntur

Lumina nocte.

Aussi n’est ce pas en la vive et plus cuysante chaleur de l’accés que nous sommes propres à desployer nos plaintes et nos persuasions : l’ame est lors aggravée de profondes pensées, et le corps abbatu et languissant d’amour.

Et de là s’engendre par fois la défaillance fortuite, qui surprent les amoureux si hors de saison, et cette glace qui les saisit par la force d’une ardeur extreme, au giron mesme de la jouyssance. Toutes passions qui se laissent gouster et digerer, ne sont que mediocres.

Curae leves loquuntur, ingentes stupent.

La surprise d’un plaisir inespéré nous estonne de mesme,

Ut me conspexit venientem, et Troïa circum

Arma amens vidit, magnis exterrita monstris,

Diriguit visu in medio, calor ossa reliquit,

Labitur, et longo vix tandem tempore fatur.

Outre la femme Romaine, qui mourut surprise d’aise de voir son fils revenu de la route de Cannes, Sophocles et Denis le Tyran, qui trespasserent d’aise, et Talva qui mourut en Corsegue, lisant les nouvelles des honneurs que le Senat de Rome luy avoit decernez, nous tenons en nostre siècle que le Pape Leon dixiesme, ayant esté adverty de la prinse de Milan, qu’il avoit extremement souhaitée, entra en tel excez de joye, que la fievre l’en print et en mourut. Et pour un plus notable tesmoignage de l’imbécilité humaine, il a esté remarqué par les anciens que Diodorus le Dialecticien mourut sur le champ espris d’une extreme passion de honte, pour en son eschose et en public ne se pouvoir desvelopper d’un argument qu’on luy avoit faict. Je suis peu en prise de ces violentes passions. J’ay l’apprehension naturellement dure ; et l’encrouste et espessis tous les jours par discours.

Yes to Vergil, No to Lucan

J.E. Sandys, Harvard Lectures on the Revival of Learning:

“Cicero and Virgil became the principal text-books of the Revival of Learning. Petrarch describes them in one of his poems as the ‘two eyes’ of his discourse. In his very boyhood he had been smitten with the charm of Virgil, and, even in his old age, he was still haunted by the mediaeval tradition of the allegorical significance of the Aeneid. But, unlike the mediaeval admirers of Virgil, he does not regard the Latin poet as a mysteriously distant and supernatural being; he finds in him a friend, and he is even candid enough to criticise him. Under his influence the Aeneid was accepted as the sole model that was worthy of imitation by the epic poets of the succeeding age. A German critic regards this result with regret, a regret that few, if any, will share; nor is it easy to believe that any scholar would really have preferred seeing Petrarch throw the weight of his example on to the side of any other Latin epic poet, such as Lucan.”

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Rhetoric is for Losers

Montaigne, Essays The Vanity of Words (1.51)

The republics which maintained themselves in a well-ordered and civilized state, like the Cretans or the Spartans, did not make great account of orators. Ariston sagely defined rhetoric as ‘the science of persuading the people.’ Socrates and Plato described it as ‘the art of tricking and flattering.’ Those who deny it in genera description nevertheless confirm it in all of their precepts. Muslims prohibit its teaching to children on account of its uselessness. And the Athenians, perceiving how dangerous its use, which held total sway in their city, actually was, ordered that its principal part, which is to stir the emotions, be taken away, along with exordia and perorations. It is a tool invented for handling and agitating a crowd and an unruly community; and, as with medicine, this tool isn’t used except when people are in bad states.

In those states where the mob, or the ignorant, or indeed everyone possesses all the power, as in Athens, or Rhodes, or Rome, and where affairs are in a perpetual storm – there it is where orators have flooded in. In truth, there are few people in these republics who are driven to great credit without recourse to eloquence. Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, Lucullus, Lentulus, Metellus, took from eloquence their great support on which they launched themselves to the great authority at which they finally arrived, and they were aided by it more than by arms, contrary to the opinion of better times. For Lucius Volumnius, speaking publicly in favor of the election to the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Publius Decius, said, ‘They are of a type born for war, great men in their actions; they are uneducated in the combat of idle babbling; their minds are truly consular; the subtle, the eloquent, the brilliant – they are good for the city, praetors for administering justice. Eloquence flourished in Rome more when their affairs were in a sadder state, when the storm of civil wars was stirring.

Des républiques qui se sont maintenues en un état réglé et bien policé, comme la crètoise ou lacédémonienne, elles n’ont pas fait grand compte d’orateurs. Ariston définit sagement la rhétorique, « Science à persuader le peuple : » Socrate, Platon, « art de tromper et de flatter. » Et ceux qui le nient en la générale description le vérifient par tout en leurs préceptes. Les mahométans en défendent l’instruction à leurs enfants, pour son inutilité ; et les Athéniens, s’apercevant combien son usage, qui avait tout crédit en leur ville, était pernicieux, ordonnèrent que sa principale partie, qui est émouvoir les affections, fût ôtée, ensemble les exordes et péroraisons. C’est un outil inventé pour manier et agiter une tourbe et une commune déréglée ; et cet outil ne s’emploie qu’aux états malades, comme la médecine. En ceux où le vulgaire, où les ignorants, où tous ont tout pu, comme celui d’Athènes, de Rhodes et de Rome, et où les choses ont été en perpétuelle tempête, là ont afflué les orateurs. Et, à la vérité, il se voit peu de personnages en ces républiques là qui se soient poussés en grand crédit sans le secours de l’éloquence. Pompée, César, Crassus, Luciillus, Lentulus, Metellus, ont pris de là leur grand appui à se monter à cette grandeur d’autorité où ils sont enfin arrivés, et s’en sont aidés plus que des armes, contre l’opinion des meilleurs temps ; car L. Volumnius, parlant en public en faveur de l’élection au consulat faite des personnes de Q. Fabius et P. Decius : « Ce sont gens nés à la guerre, grands aux effets ; au combat du babil, rudes ; esprits vraiment consulaires : les subtils, éloquents et savants sont bons pour la ville, prêteurs à faire justice, » dit il. L’éloquence à fleuri le plus à Rome lorsque les affaires ont été en plus mauvais état et que l’orage des guerres civiles les agitait…

Cicero’s Cool – Aristotle Sucks

Montesquieu, Diverse Thoughts:

Cicero, in my opinion, is one of the greatest minds who have ever lived: his soul was always beautiful when it wasn’t weak.

Two masterpieces: the death of Caesar in Plutarch, and that of Nero in Suetonius. In one, we begin to feel for the conspirators whom we see in danger, and then for Caesar, whom we see killed. In the death of Nero, one is astonished to see him obliged by degrees to kill himself, without any cause to restrict him, and yet in a way that he cannot avoid.

Vergil, inferior to Homer in variety and grandeur of his characters, is equally admirable for his invention, and for the beauty of his poetry.

A nice phrase of Seneca: Enjoy present pleasures in a way that doesn’t ruin future ones.

The same error of the Greeks saturates all of their philosophy: bad physics, bad morals, bad metaphysics. They don’t perceive the difference which exists between positive and relatives qualities. Aristotle fooled himself with his dry, his humid, his warm, his cold. Plato and Socrates fooled themselves with their beautiful, their good, their wise. It was a grand discovery that there was no positive quality.

The terms the beautiful, the good, the noble, the grand, the perfect, these are all attributes of objects, and are relative to the beings who consider them. One must set this principle firmly in one’s head. It is the sponge of nearly every prejudice. It is the scourge of ancient philosophy, of Aristotle’s physics, of Plato’s metaphysics. And if you read the dialogues of that philosopher, you would find that they are nothing but a tissue of sophisms made from ignorance of this principle. Malebranche was done in with a thousand sophisms for his ignorance of it.

Cicéron, selon moi, est un des plus grands esprits qui aient jamais été : l’âme toujours belle lorsqu’elle n’était pas faible.

Deux chefs-d’œuvre : la mort de César dans Plutarque, et celle de Néron dans Suétone. Dans l’une, on commence par avoir pitié des conjurés qu’on voit en péril, et ensuite de César qu’on voit assassiné. Dans celle de Néron, on est étonné de le voir obligé par degrés de se tuer, sans aucune cause qui l’y contraigne, et cependant de façon à ne pouvoir l’éviter.

Virgile, inférieur à Homère par la grandeur et la variété des caractères, par l’invention admirable, l’égale par la beauté de la poésie.

Belle parole de Sénèque : Sic prœsentibus utaris voluptatibus, ut futuris non noceas.

La même erreur des Grecs inondait toute leur philosophie : mauvaise physique, mauvaise morale, mauvaise métaphysique. C’est qu’ils ne sentaient pas la différence qu’il y a entre les qualités positives et les qualités relatives. Comme Aristote s’est trompé avec son sec, son humide, son chaud, son froid, Platon et Socrate se sont trompés avec leur beau, leur bon, leur sage : grande découverte qu’il n’y avait pas de qualité positive.

Les termes de beau, de bon, de noble, de grand, de parfait, sont des attributs des objets, lesquels sont relatifs aux êtres qui les considèrent. Il faut bien se mettre ce principe dans la tête ; il est l’éponge de presque tous les préjugés ; c’est le fléau de la philosophie ancienne, de la physique d’Aristote, de la métaphysique de Platon ; et si on lit les dialogues de ce philosophe, on trouvera qu’ils ne sont qu’un tissu de sophismes faits par l’ignorance de ce principe. Malebranche est tombé dans mille sophismes pour l’avoir ignoré

A+ for the Ancients

Montesquieu, Diverse Thoughts:

Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus first brought the genre of invention to the point that we have not since changed the rules which they have left us, something which they could not have done without perfect knowledge of nature and its passions.

I have had through my whole life a fixed taste for the works of the ancients. I have admired a number of critiques made against them, but I have always admired ancients authors. I have studied my taste, I have examined whether this was not one of those bad tastes on which one ought not to place any foundation. But the more I examined it, the more I perceived that I was right to feel as I felt.

The books of the ancients are for authors; modern books are for readers.

Plutarch always charms me: there are some circumstances attached to his characters, which produce great pleasure.

The fact that Aristotle was Alexander’s teacher, or that Plato was in the heart of Syracuse, this has nothing to do with their glory: the reputation of their philosophy has absorbed everything.

Sophocle, Euripide, Eschyle, ont d’abord porté le genre d’invention au point que nous n’avons rien changé depuis aux règles qu’ils nous ont laissées, ce qu’ils n’ont pu faire sans une connaissance parfaite de la nature et des passions.

J’ai eu toute ma vie un goût décidé pour les ouvrages des anciens : j’ai admiré plusieurs critiques faites contre eux, mais j’ai toujours admiré les anciens. J’ai étudié mon goût, et j’ai examiné si ce n’était point un de ces goûts malades sur lesquels on ne doit faire aucun fond ; mais plus j’ai examiné, plus j’ai senti que j’avais raison d’avoir senti comme j’ai senti.

Les livres anciens sont pour les auteurs, les nouveaux pour les lecteurs.

Plutarque me charme toujours : il y a des circonstances attachées aux personnes, qui font grand plaisir.

Qu’Aristote ait été précepteur d’Alexandre, ou que Platon ait été à la cour de Syracuse, cela n’est rien pour leur gloire : la réputation de leur philosophie a absorbé tout.