The Age of Achilles

Politian, Miscellanies 1.45:

There is an opinion long disseminated and accepted among everyone that Patroclus was younger than Achilles and was, as it were, loved by him as Hylas was by Hercules. Martial seems to make a nod to this when he says

The young friend was closer to Aeacides.

Therefore a dirty little verse from the Hermaphrodite was commonly applauded. Statius however claims in his Achilleid that they were both of equal age, writing,

There follows, joined then by a great love, Partoclus, and works as a rival to Achilles’ great deeds, equal in his pursuits and age, but much inferior in physical strength, and nevertheless set to see Troy with an equal fate.

Plato, however, argues something far different in the Symposium. For he declares that Achilles was much younger and that he was loved by Patroclus, being still beardless and not only more beautiful than Patroclus, but also than all the other heroes. Indeed, for that cause, he says, the gods loaded him with exceptional honors to send him off to the Blessed Isles, because he made such a big deal of his lover that he not only opted to die for him, but even chose to die for him rather than to grow old in his homeland.

Indeed, Plato criticizes Aeschylus for being a clown because he put forth the claim that Achilles was Patroclus’ lover and cited Homer as the authority for the ages of the two. If anyone would like the words of Homer to be shown to them, they may read them in the eleventh book of the Iliad in the character of Nestor with the orders which Menoetius used to send his son Patroclus to the war.

Analinguistic Reflections

Politian, Miscellanies 1.2:

Valerius Catullus says in a certain epigram:

With that very tongue of yours, if you ever needed to, you could lick assholes and leather shoes.

Many have asked but no one yet has explained what carpatinae or carbatinae or crepidae are. Each of these are right, but even carbasinae is sometimes found. Certain literary hacks and charlatans remove this word and substitute who knows what: either cercopythas or coprotinas, words which they got from the pigpen and not from school; mere words, hollow names, the sounds of nothing. I will whip out from my Greek tool box (as if drawing from the pantry) authorities not to be despised or distrusted, by which the reading can be laid out unharmed and shaken free of interpretive fog.

First of all, Julius Pollux himself in his ninth book for Commodus says that carbatinas are a kind of rustic shoes whose name was derived from the Carians. Aristotle, in Book II of On the History of Animals, says that camels wear leather shoes so that they aren’t tired out by long military marches. There are four incredibly elegant little books in Greek called the Poemenicon, in the second of which a certain old man is introduced wearing a pouch and leather shoes. Lucian, in his dialogue called Alexander or The False Prophet says that some orators from Paphlagonia wore leather shoes. Xenophon, the follower of Socrates, says in the third book of his Anabasis, “When there old shoes were no longer any good, they had leather shoes (carbatinas) made from fresh hides.” Suidas cites this passage (while ignoring the author). Indeed, some commentator or other on Xenophon says that carbatinae are barbarian shoes.

Lips to the Ciceronian Udder

Paolo Cortesi, Letter to Politian:

I would venture even now to assert what I have often said in the past: that no one after Cicero has ever earned praise in writing (excepting one or two people here and there) who was not raised and nourished as it were on Ciceronian milk. But there was then a certain mode of imitation which ran up against a rejection of similarity and so that shining mode of writing was seasoned with a sprinkling of cheer. But now that mode lies either neglected or ignored among people of our time. My dear Politian, I would like to be similar not as an ape to a human but as a son to his parent. That ridiculous imitator only fixes with similitude the deformities and depraved faults of the body. The son, however, represents the countenance, the walk, the stature, the movement, the form, the voice, and finally even the figure of the parent’s body, and yet has in this similarity something of his own, something different, such that when they are compared, they still seem to be not entirely the same as each other.

Ausim nunc etiam affirmare idem quod saepe: neminem post Marcum Tullium in scribendo laudem consecutum, praeter unum aut alterum, qui non sit ab eo eductus et tamquam lactis nutrimento educatus. Sed erat tum quaedam certa imitandi ratio, quae et fastidio similitudinis occurrebatur et nitidum illud genus hilaritate quadam aspersa condiebatur. Nunc autem illa ab hominibus nostris aut neglecta est aut ignorata. Similem volo, mi Politiane, non ut simiam hominis sed ut filium parentis. Illa enim ridicula imitatrix tantum deformitates et vitia corporis depravata similitudine effingit. Hic autem vultum, incessum, statum, motum, formam, vocem denique et figuram corporis representat, et tamen habet in hac similitudine aliquid suum, aliquid naturale, aliquid diversum, ita ut cum comparentur dissimiles inter se esse videantur.

Aristotle Knew Everything

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 4.15:

“It is difficult to say how much re-reading your letter two or three times soothed my ears, which were so worn down by the noise of the rabble. Even if this letter seemed verbose to you (as I learned from its ending), I find nothing to accuse you of but terseness. And so, I looked on the final threat, in which you claimed that you would write more briefly in the future, with unwilling eyes. I would have you be more prolix. As you will – you’re the father. It is right for me to accommodate my ways to you, and not the other way around. But will the whole business not be in your hands? Or do you not know that quite often the actual event differs from the plan? Perhaps you will hear what forces even one who is eager for silence to talk. You want me to fulfill the threats which I seem to be making now?

I stand as a witness, in the first place, that I have the same opinion of you which Macrobius had of Aristotle (whether it be love or the truth which gave rise to it). That is, I hardly think that you could not know something. If something has slipped your lips which seems to be contrary to the truth, I suspect that you either have not thought it out far enough, or just as Macrobius says of Aristotle, I suspect that you are playing around.”

Dictu difficile est quantum aures meas, vulgari fessas strepitu, epystola tua bis terque relecta permulserit; que quanquam tibi verbosa videretur, ut ex fine cognovi, ego tamen in ea nil preter breviloquium accusavi. Itaque comminationem illam ultimam, quod deinceps compendiosior sis futurus, invitus aspexi; mallem prolixior. Ut libet tamen; tu pater; non te michi, sed me tibi morem gerere dignum est. Sed ita ne totum in tua manu positum erit? an ignoras quod sepe consilio dissimilis est eventus? Audies forte quod vel silentii avidum loqui cogat. Vis quod minitari videor, iam nunc rebus impleam?

Testor in primis eandem me de te opinionem gerere, quam de Aristotile Macrobius, seu illam amor, seu veritas genuerit: vix te aliquid “ignorare posse” arbitror; siquid autem vero adversum tibi excidit, aut minus providisse aut, quod de eodem ait idem, lusisse te suspicor.

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Drink Your Vergil!

Pietro Bembo, Letter to Pico della Mirandola (1530)

We cannot say the same thing about Vergil, namely, that he is fit to be emulated by everyone who takes pleasure in his poems. For those who write elegies or lyric poems, or those who are held by an enthusiasm for writing comedies or tragedies, will find very little help from the Vergilian structure, meter, or poetic program. Rather, they should imitate those whom they consider to be the chief poets in each individual genre of writing, and should give themselves wholly to the project of following them and even overcoming them. To be sure, I myself have done this. In writing my elegies, I imitated the poet who seemed to me to be the best in that genre. But for the poet who commits himself to heroic verse, then surely Vergil is to be learned, drunk in, and expressed as much as possible, as I had once personally told you was my opinion on the matter.

Pietro Bembo - Wikipedia

De Virgilio vero non idem possumus dicere, ut idoneus sit, quem, qui carminibus delectantur, imitari omnes queant. Neque enim qui aut elegos aut lyricos conficiunt versus, quique vel comoediarum vel tragoediarum scribendarum studio detinentur, horum ullos Virgiliana carminum structura, numerus, ratio ipsa multum iuvabit. Sed imitentur ii quidem eos quos habent principes singulis in scriptorum generibus singulos atque illis assequendis superandisque dedant. Quod profecto nos aliquando fecimus, ut in elegis pangendis, qui optimus eo in genere poematis nobis visus est, eum imitaremur. Heroicis autem conscribendis carminibus qui se dederit, huic certe erit Virgilius ediscendus, ebibendus et quam maxime fieri poterit exprimendus, quemadmodum coram tibi dixeram mihi videri.

We Deserve More Praise For Our Latin

Gianfrancesco Pico, Letter to Pietro Bembo:

To be sure, both Greek and Latin were effectively innate to the ancients, but we must seek these languages from their books, and thus we should receive a greater accession of legitimate praise for learning them. For they, even if they were unwilling, spoke Greek in Greece and Latin in Italy; but we Italians who speak Latin (not to mention Greek) have earned and acquired that skill through our industry. Thus it will happen that, should our age happen to get a fair judge of these matters, those who now speak even in a fairly middling way will be justly preferred to those outstanding champions of old, since the men of today, having had commerce with the Goths, Vandals, and the Huns, yet retain that ancient mode of speech worn down by so many centuries, or at any rate they attempt to retain it through continual imitation, in which pursuit there is perchance a marvelous – nay, even excessive mental subtlety.

Detail from one of the graffiti images

Lingua certe veteribus illis cum Graeca tum Latina quasi nativa adfuit, quam ab eorum libris petere nos oportet, quibus maior ea de re legitimae laudis accesio. Illi enim vel nolentes et in Hellade Graece et in Italia Latine loquebantur; nobis Italis qui Latine loquamur, nedum Graece, id nostra est partum et elaboratum industria. Inde fiet aequum rerum aestimatorem si sortiatur nostra aetas, posse eos qui nunc mediocriter loquuntur praecipuis illis et antesignanis iure praeferri, qui scilicet inter Gothos, Vandalos, Hunnosque versati priscam illam et tot saeculis abolitam dicendi rationem aut teneant aut tenere conentur imitatione continua, qua etiam in re mira subtilitas et forte nimia.

Reading Your Way to Ignorance

Joseph Scaliger, Letter to Isaac Casaubon:

“When I want to relax my mind, I take into my hands the writings of that man, who recently published Martial’s Amphitheatrum and Persius. I never laugh more sweetly than when I see something published by that Tuscan. I often marvel that he read so many books that he no longer knew anything. How often he raves! Yet, he has his admirers. Let them have them, but let them be Parisians.”

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Quum animum remittere volo, assumo in manus scripta illius, qui Amphitheatrum Martialis et Persium nuper κατακέχοδεν. Nam nunquam suavius rideo, quam cum aliquid ejus lucumonis video. Saepe mirari soleo illum tantum scriptorum legisse, ideo ut nihil sciret. Quam saepe delirat! Et tamen habet admiratores. Habeat igitur, sed Parisienses.

Books All Day and Night

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon (Sect. X)

“It is well that we should be alive to the price at which knowledge must be purchased. Day by day, night by night, from the age of twenty upwards, Casaubon is at his books. He realised Boeckh’s ideal, who has told us that in classical learning ‘dies diem docet, ut perdideris quam sine linea transmiseris.’ When he is not at his books, his mind is in them. Reading is not an amusement filling the languid pauses between the hours of action ; it is the one pursuit engrossing all the hours and the whole mind. ‘ The day, with part of the night added, is not long enough.

His life, regarded from the exterior, seems adapted to deter, rather than to invite imitation. A life of hardship, in circumstances humble, almost sordid, short of want, but pinched by poverty; Casaubon renounced action, pleasure, ease, society, health, life itself— killing himself at fifty-six. Shall we say that he did this for the sake of fame ? Fame there was, but it reached him in but faint echoes. Even what there was, was all dashed by the loud slander of the dominant ecclesiastical party, and the whispered suspicion of the vanquished. At best, the limits of such fame must always be circumscribed. To the great, the fashionable, the gay, and the busy, the grammarian is a poor pedant, and no famous man. The approbation of our fellows may be a powerful motive of conduct. It is powerful to generate devotion to their service. It is not powerful enough to sustain a life of research. No other extrinsic motive is so. The one only motive which can support the daily energy called for in the solitary student’s life, is the desire to know. Every intelligence, as such, contains a germ of curiosity. In some few this appetence is developed into a yearning, an eagerness, a passion, an exigency, an ‘inquietude poussante,’ to use an expression of Leibnitz, which dominates all others, and becomes the rule of life.”

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F**k the Haters – I Believe in the Liberal Arts!

Aldus Manutius, Preface to Joannes Crastonus’ Greek Dictionary

“I had originally designed not to publish the Greek lexica (which we can call dictionaries in Latin) from our press before I had them sufficiently abundant and correct. But I changed my mind about this when I recognized that it was difficult in the extreme, not just for me – a man burdened by family obligations and my printing business – but even for an unencumbered person thoroughly knowledgeable of both languages, as well as the liberal arts, medicine, and all of the sciences. Indeed it is proper to know all, and to interpret all of the words according to their most proper sense, but I doubt whether anyone of our own time other than a stray person here and there has achieved excellence in this matter, when Greek and Latin literature – though they are thriving more than in many previous years – nevertheless languish in some obscurity.

For, who really knows the liberal arts? Who is thoroughly learned in the most simple things which are necessary in medicine? Alas – it is a shame to say, we hardly recognize lettuce, cabbage, and the herb which shows itself even to the blind. When I think about this, even though I cannot grieve about it too vehemently, I not only refrain from giving way to my pain, but I gird myself night and day to remedy the situation while avoiding no labor, so that I may hope that it will soon come to pass that the people of our age will know all the good arts and even have some fine skill in medicine, and that each scholar will have the strength to contend with antiquity as long as they not fail themselves. If there are any haters, imbeciles, or barbarians, then let them grieve, let them criticize, let them stand in the way as much and as long as they want. But this will turn out beautifully – it will.”



The Revival of Greek in Italy

Paolo Giovio, 

Elogia Doctorum Virorum: Chrysoloras

“Emanuel Chrysoloras, who first brought Greek literature back to Italy seven hundred years after it had been driven out by various barbarian invasions, was endowed with such humanity of liberal intellect in his teaching, that his famous image seems worthy of being placed first among the images of Greeks of exceptional merit, although no monuments of his weighty learning remain except some rules on the art of grammar. He was an indefatigable teacher, but he is open to the charge of having been lazy in writing, since the other part of the glory which we have chosen was sought by his useful profession.

He was sent from Byzantium by the emperor John to seek aid for Greece, which was on the verge of collapse, by pleading with all of the kings of Europe. He completed this task with such diligent traveling that he finally stopped in Italy when Greece was liberated from fear, since Tamerlane – the terror of the East – had captured alive near Mount Stella the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I (who had received the epithet of “Lightning” from the incredible swiftness of his movements). And so Chrysoloras, delighted that Greece had been freed from such an awful enemy, first in Venice, then in Florence, Rome, and finally in Pavia, which was under the rule of Giangaleazzo Visconti, managed to excite such a zeal for Greek literature that there sprang from his school minds worthy of the highest honor which on that account will never perish. Among these were Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Barbaro, Francesco Filelfo, Guarino Veronese, and Poggio Bracciolini. Later, when the synod which was called for resolving the controversy surrounding the pseudo-pontificate roused with desire to see such a spectacle, when Baldassare Cossa was deposed. Chrysoloras died in Constance. Poggio Bracciolini decorated his tomb with these lines:

‘Here lies Manuel Chrysoloras, the ornament of the Attic tongue, who came here to seek help for his afflicted country. Italy, this was a fortunate event for you, for he restored to you the grace of the Greek language, so long hidden. This was a fortunate event for you, Emanuel, for you found on Italian soil the honor which Greece never gave you – Greece, ruined in war.'”