A Little Calamity, Please!

Bartolomeo Scala, Dialogue of Consolation (§13):

I too, (if I may finally speak about myself), have long made an effort to know myself, and when I say that I was overflowing with such goods and enjoying such felicity, I could not find any cause in myself why I should enjoy fortunes of this sort. I was anxious in the midst of my great fortune, and that well expressed and humane sentiment of Philip of Macedon came into my mind. For, when on one and the sane day it was announced to him that his son Alexander was born, and that his chariots had been victorious in Olympia, and that the Dardanian army had been overcome by his general Parmenio, he was not elated by such happy news because he was a man accustomed to the game of Fortune, but rather he raised his eyes to the sky, and begged for a minor calamity to befall him for such great happiness.

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Ego quoque, ut aliquando tandem ad me veniam, iampridem id dabam operam ut me cognoscerem, cumque tantis affluentem me bonis, tantaque utentem felicitate intellgerem, nullamque in me cur huiusmodi me fortunis dignarer causam reperirem, eram in magna quidem felicitate vehementer anxius, illaque Philippi Macedonis bene humana sententia veniebat in mentem. Cum enim uno eodemque die esset nuntiatum et Alexandrum sibi filium natum esse et se Olympia quadrigis vicisse et Dardanos hostes a Parmenione praefecto suo fuisse superatos, non est, vir fortunae assuetus ludo, tam laetis nuntiis aliquid elatus, sed oculos ad caelum tollens, mediocrem pro tantis bonis calamitatem deprecatus est.

Give Me Some F**king Books!!!

Petrarch, Epistles 3.18

“There are those who accumulate books not from eagerness to use them, but from the desire to have them, and they possess them not as a bulwark to their minds, but as an ornament for their bedrooms. And so, passing over the others, Julius Caesar and Augustus both concerned themselves with a Roman library. For such an important task, one of them put Marcus Varro in charge of the library, and this is with all respect to Demetrius of Phalerum, who had the greatest name among the Egyptians for his librarianship; but Varro is in no way inferior to Demetrius – in fact, he is far superior. Pompeius Macer, himself an eminently learned man, was put in charge of the library by the other. Asinius Pollio, the most illustrious orator, burned with enthusiasm for a library of Greek and Latin literature, and is said to have opened the first one for the public in Rome.

But those are private things. Cato’s appetite for books was insatiable, a fact of which Cicero is a witness, and even Cicero was possessed of an ardor for purchasing books, which is attested by many of his letters to Atticus, on whom he imposed the task of purchasing them, driving him on with the greatest insistence and all the power of entreaty, as I now do to you. Indeed, if a rich reader is permitted to beg for patronage in the way of books, what do you think is permitted to the poor reader?”

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Sunt enim qui libros, ut cetera, non utendi studio cumulent, sed habendi libidine, neque tam ut ingenii presidium, quam ut thalami ornamentum. Atque, ut reliquos sileam, fuit romane bibliothece cura divis imperatoribus Iulio Cesari et Cesari Augusto; tanteque rei prefectus ab altero — pace Demetrii Phalerii dixerim, qui in hac re clarum apud Egiptios nomen habet — nichil inferior, ne dicam longe superior, Marcus Varro; ab altero Pompeius Macer, vir et ipse doctissimus. Summo quoque grece latineque bibliothece studio flagravit Asinius Pollio orator clarissimus, qui primus hanc Rome publicasse traditur.

Illa enim privata sunt: Catonis insatiabilis librorum fames, cuius Cicero testis est, ipsiusque Ciceronis ardor ad inquirendos libros, quem multe testantur epystole ad Athicum, cui eam curam non segnius imponit, agens summa instantia multaque precum vi, quam ego nunc tibi. Quodsi opulentissimo ingenio permittitur librorum patrocinia mendicare, quid putas licere inopi?

Academics and Peripatetics – All the Same

Bartolomeo Scala, On the Philosophical Sects (§6):

They go wildly astray, who think that the old Academics (who get that designation because of the new Academics, of whom I will speak a little later) differ from the Peripatetics because the Academics maintained the old method of Socrates in holding off one’s assent in all things, and in thinking that the truth could not be discovered by people; on the other hand, the Peripatetics, thinking otherwise, assented to many things and affirmed for certain what they said. But as Cicero says, even if Plato appears in his books to imitate that Socratic doubt about all things and his habit of speaking with no affirmation, just so that he can give a more lively portrait of Socrates, whom he often brings into the scene of dispute, the successors of Plato abandoned these principles.

Thus (and Socrates would have disapproved) there sprung up in philosophy a certain art of speaking, an order of things, and a description of the discipline, which was initially just one thing with two names. For there was no difference between the Peripatetics and that old Academy. Aristotle seemed to stand forth with his abundance of mental acuity, but each school had a fount of matter, and there was the same division in both schools of things to be sought and things to be avoided. They differed in name alone, which for Aristotle came from his strolling while teaching, and for Plato came from the place where he taught.


Aberrant enim qui putant veteres Academicos (sic enim dicti sunt propter novos, de quibus paulo dicetur post) ideo differre a Peripateticis quod illi antiquum Socratis morem omnibus in rebus continendi assensionem tenuissent, quod inveniri ab hominibus verum posse non putarent; contra vero hi, aliter iudicantes, et assentirentur aliis et ipsi quod dicerent pro certo confirmarent. Illam enim Socraticam dubitationem de omnibus rebus et nulla affirmatione adhbita consuetudinem disserendi, ut ait Cicero, etsi imitari videtur Plato in suis libris ut Socratem verius exprimat, quem frequentissime inducit disputantem, qui a Platone postea manarunt, reliquerunt. Ita facta est disserendi, quod minime Socrates probabat, ars quaedam philosophiae et rerum ordo et descriptio disciplinae, quae quidem primo erat duobus nominibus una. Nihil enim inter Peripateticos et illam veterem Academiam differebat. Abundantia quadam ingenii praestabat, ut mihi videtur, Aristoteles, sed idem fons rerum erat utrisque et eadem rerum expetendarum fugiendarumque partitio. Solo igitur nomine differebant, quod hinc disputando deambulatio, illinc in quo Plato docuerat locus fecerat.

A Life of Active Leisure

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, XXXIV:

“Scipio used to say of himself that he was never less alone or at rest than when he appeared to be at rest or alone. This is not the case with everyone; it only happens to those great minds, endowed with excellent virtue. I think that man is in no way inferior to Scipio, who is able to maintain his solitude even amidst the mob, and a sense of peaceful tranquility even in the midst of business. It is written of Cato that he was in the habit of reading books in the senate house, even when the assembly was in session. It is no wonder that he was always ready to give the most salutary counsel to his country on any occasion!”

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Nam quod Scipio dicere de se solebat, numquam minus solum aut otiosum esse quam cum otiosus aut solus videretur, non facile cuivis potest contingere, sed solis magnis ingeniis atque excellenti virtute praeditis. Tametsi nihilo mihi videtur minor qui contra et in turba solitudinem servare potest et in negotio quietem, quod de Catone quidem scriptum est, qui interea dum senatus cogeretur, lectitare in curia libros frequens solebat. Unde nimirum et in rem praesentem et in omne tempus saluberrima patriae consilia dabat.

More Greek than Greece

Pico della Mirandola, Letter to Angelo Poliziano:

Meanwhile, my dear Angelo, I will imitate you when you excuse yourselves to the Greeks for being Latin and excuse yourself to the Latins for your Greek. I will employ a similar mode of escape when I make my excuses to poets and orators for being said to philosophize, and to the philosophers when I engage in rhetoric and cultivate the Muses. Although our cases are widely different, especially as I wish to sit on twin seats (as they say), I am excluded from both, and at last it happens, if I may put it briefly, that I am neither an orator nor a philosopher. But you have achieved so much in both that it is unclear which you have done better; you who have enfolded both the Greek and the Latin Minerva so beautifully, like a cocktail of each language, that it is impossible to say which elements are native and which are foreign. For (if I may pass over the Latins in silence – for to which of these would you yield first place?) who would believe (as they said of the emperor Hadrian) that a Roman could speak such good Greek? Our dear friend Emmanuel swore, when he read your writings, that they were more Attic than Athens itself.

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Interea imitabor te, Angele, qui te Graecis excusas quod sis Latinus, Latinis quod Graecisses. Simili et ego utar perfugio ut poetis rhetoribusque me approbem propterea quod philosophari dicar, philosophis quod rhetorissem et musas colam. Quanquam mihi longe aliter accidit atque tibi, quippe ego dum geminis sellis (ut aiunt) sedere volo, utraque excludor, fitque demum, ut dicam paucis, ut nec poeta nec rhetor sim, neque philosophus. Tu ita utrunque imples ut utrunque magis haut satis constet, qui et Graecam et nostram Minervam ita pulchre amplectaris, quasi cinnus utriusque linguae, ut quae insiticia sit, quae genuina, non facile discerni possit. Nam ut de Latinis taceam (de his enim cui e primo loco cesseris?), quis credat, ut de Hadriano illo, Romanum hominem tam Graece loqui? Iurabat Emmanuel noster, dum tuas legeret, non esse tam Atticas Athenas ipsas.

Valla Derides Ancient Authors

Giovanni Pontano, de Sermone 1.18:

Lorenzo Valla, in his grammatical, rhetorical, and dialectical works, wrote thus, and was accustomed to debate in such a way that he scarcely seemed interested in teaching, nor did it appear that he wanted to wrestle for and teach about truth and propriety so much as to curse and object to and talk shit about the ancient authors. So he rails against Cicero, snipes at Aristotle, and mocks Vergil. Indeed, he even dared openly to assert that, whether a certain Pindar was the author using his own name or another (for there is some doubt about it) who translated all of the books of Homer’s Iliad, which he condensed into a few lines of Latin verse – I say, he openly dared to assert that this Pindar was to be preferred to Vergil.

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Laurentius Vallensis in grammaticis, rhetoricis dialecticisque ita et scripsit et disputare est solitus, ut minime videretur velle praecipere, nec appareret tam contendere illum de veritate proprietateque aut docere velle quam maledicere obiectareque vetustis scriptoribus atque obloqui; itaque Ciceronem vellicabat, Aristotelem carpebat, Virgilio subsannabat, quippe qui propalam sit asseverare ausus, sive Pindarus quispiam auctor is nomine suo fuerit sive alio (de hoc enim ambigitur) qui Homericae libros omnis Iliados non multos admodum in versus contractos Latine convertit, qui propalam sit, inquam, asseverare ausus Pindarum eum Virgilio anteferendum.

Silence and (Apparent) Wisdom

Petrarch, Against a Certain Physician 2.43:

You could have hidden by being silent, but by speaking you cannot. The tongue is the door bolt of the mind, and I don’t know why you moved it when no one was knocking at the door, opening the shadowy and foul home of your heart to all, which would much better have remained closed, unless it was because it was difficult to hide your madness any longer. I think that you have never read where it is written, ‘The fool too, if he remains silent, will be thought wise; and if he but compress his lips, intelligent. Socrates was right when he had seen a certain decorous youth maintaining his silence and said, “Speak so that I can see you,” for he thought that a person was glimpsed not so much in their appearance as in their words.

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Solid Petrarchan advice!

Tacendo enim latere poteras, loquendo non potes. Lingua animi sera est; hanc tu, nullo ad ostium pulsante, nescio cur movisti, tenebricosam fedamque pectoris tui domum omnibus aperiens, que melius semper clausa mansisset, nisi quia dementiam diutius occultare difficile est. Credo non legeras quod scriptum est: “Stultus quoque si tacuerit, sapiens reputabitur; et si compresserit labia sua, intelligens”. Bene Socrates, cum decorum adolescentem tacitum vidisset, “Loquere” inquit “ut te videam”: non tam in vultu putabat videri hominem, quam in verbis.