A Recipe For Your, Um, Growing Problem

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists Book 7, 326f

“If you immerse a red mullet in wine while it is still alive and a man drinks this, he will be impotent, as Terpsikles records in his work On Sexual Matters. If a woman drinks the same mixture, she will not get pregnant. The same thing does not happen with a chicken.”

ἐὰν δ᾿ ἐναποπνιγῇ τρίγλη ζῶσα ἐν οἴνῳ καὶ τοῦτο ἀνὴρ πίῃ, ἀφροδισιάζειν οὐ δυνήσεται, ὡς Τερψικλῆς ἱστορεῖ ἐν τῷ Περὶ Ἀφροδισίων· κἂν γυνὴ δὲ πίῃ τοῦ αὐτοῦ οἴνου, οὐ κυΐσκεται. ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ ὄρνις.

Image result for ancient mosaic red mullet
Spot the (extra)potence cure.

America. January 20, 2021. Evening.

“The night pervades them and infolds them”—Walt Whitman, “The Sleepers”

Alcman fr. 89

mountain peaks and valleys are asleep,
jutting places and mountain streams too—
the tribes of crawling things
and as many creatures as black earth bears—
beasts which lay in wait in mountains
and the race of bees alike—
monsters at the dark sea’s bottom,
and also tribes of long-winged preying birds,
they are asleep.

εὕδοντι δ’ ὀρέων κορυφαί τε καὶ φάραγγες
πρώονές τε καὶ χαράδραι
φῦλά τ’ ἑρπέτ’ ὅσα τρέφει μέλαινα γαῖα
θῆρές τ’ ὀρεσκώιοι καὶ γένος μελισσᾶν
καὶ κνώδαλ’ ἐν βένθεσσι πορφυρέας ἁλός·
εὕδοντι δ’ οἰωνῶν φῦλα τανυπτερύγων.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

These Dead Are Dead

Louis MacNeice, Autumn Journal, IX:

Now we are back to normal, now the mind is

Back to the even tenor of the usual day

Skidding no longer across the uneasy camber

Of the nightmare way.

We are safe though others have crashed the railings

Over the river ravine; their wheel-tracks carve the bank

But after the event all we can do is argue

And count the widening ripples where they sank.

October comes with rain whipping around the ankles

In waves of white at night

And filling the raw clay trenches (the parks of London

Are a nasty sight).

In a week I return to work, lecturing, coaching,

As impresario of the Ancient Greeks

Who wore the chiton and lived on fish and olives

And talked philosophy or smut in cliques;

Who believed in youth and did not gloze the unpleasant

Consequences of age;

What is life, one said, or what is pleasant

Once you have turned the page

Of love? The days grow worse, the dice are loaded

Against the living man who pays in tears for breath;

Never to be born was the best, call no man happy

This side death.

Conscious — long before Engels — of necessity

And therein free

They plotted out their life with truism and humour

Between the jealous heaven and the callous sea.

And Pindar sang the garland of wild olive

And Alcibiades lived from hand to mouth

Double-crossing Athens, Persia, Sparta,

And many died in the city of plague, and many of drouth

In Sicilian quarries, and many by the spear and arrow

And many more who told their lies too late

Caught in the eternal factions and reactions

Of the city-state.

And free speech shivered on the pikes of Macedonia

And later on the swords of Rome

And Athens became a mere university city

And the goddess born of the foam

Became the kept hetaera, heroine of Menander,

And the philosopher narrowed his focus, confined

His efforts to putting his own soul in order

And keeping a quiet mind.

And for a thousand years they went on talking,

Making such apt remarks,

A race no longer of heroes but of professors

And crooked business men and secretaries and clerks;

Who turned out dapper little elegiac verses

On the ironies of fate, the transience of all

Affections, carefully shunning an over-statement

But working the dying fall.

The Glory that was Greece: put it in a syllabus, grade it

Page by page

To train the mind or even to point a moral

For the present age:

Models of logic and lucidity, dignity, sanity,

The golden mean between opposing ills

Though there were exceptions of course but only exceptions —

The bloody Bacchanals on the Thracian hills.

So the humanist in his room with Jacobean panels

Chewing his pipe and looking on a lazy quad

Chops the Ancient World to turn a sermon

To the greater glory of God.

But I can do nothing so useful or so simple

These dead are dead

And when I should remember the paragons of Hellas

I think instead

Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,

The careless athletes and the fancy boys,

The hair-splitters, the pedants, the hard-boiled sceptics

And the Agora and the noise

Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring

Libations over graves

And the trimmers at Delphi and the dummies at Sparta and lastly

I think of the slaves.

And how one can imagine oneself among them

I do not know

It was all so unimaginably different

And all so long ago.

If Only Everyone Were Like Me

Menander, Dyskolos 742-746

“I would like to tell you a few things about me and my character.
If everyone were like me, there wouldn’t be any courts at all,
They wouldn’t take each other to prison.
There would be no war and everyone would be happy because they had enough.
Ah, maybe the way things are is more pleasing. Act as you will.
This old cranky grump will be out of your way.”

πὲρ ἐ]μοῦ γὰρ βούλομ᾿ εἰπεῖν ὀλίγα σοι καὶ τοῦ τρόπου.
εἰ τοιοῦτ]οι πάντες ἦσαν, οὔτε τὰ δικαστήρια
ἦν ἄν, ο]ὔθ᾿ αὑτοὺς ἀπῆγον εἰς τὰ δεσμωτήρια,
οὔτε π]όλεμος ἦν, ἔχων δ᾿ ἂν μέτρι᾿ ἕκαστος ἠγάπα.
ἀ[λ]λ᾿ ἴσως ταῦτ᾿ ἔστ᾿ ἀρεστὰ μᾶλλον· οὕτω πράττετε.
ἐκποδὼν ὑμῖν ὁ χαλεπὸς δύσκολός τ᾿ ἔσται γέρων.

Image result for medieval old fool
“The Fool and His Double”, José Frappa

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

The Greatness of Freedom

Epictetus, Discourses 4.54-55

“Tell me this then—does freedom seem to be something great, noble, and valuable to you?

How wouldn’t it be?

Is it possible for someone who receives something so great, noble, and valuable to be miserable?

It is not.

So, when you see someone begging someone else or flattering them against what they really believe, be brave enough to say that this person is not free. And it is not just if someone does this for a meal but if they do it for a cabinet position or another office too…”

Ἔτι οὖν ἀπόκριναί μοι κἀκεῖνο· δοκεῖ σοι μέγα τι εἶναι καὶ γενναῖον ἡ ἐλευθερία καὶ ἀξιόλογον; —

Πῶς γὰρ οὔ;—

Ἔστιν οὖν τυγχάνοντά τινος οὕτως μεγάλου καὶ ἀξιολόγου καὶ γενναίου ταπεινὸν εἶναι;

Οὐκ ἔστιν.

Ὅταν οὖν ἴδῃς τινὰ ὑποπεπτωκότα ἑτέρῳ ἢ κολακεύοντα παρὰ τὸ φαινόμενον αὐτῷ, λέγε καὶ τοῦτον θαρρῶν μὴ εἶναι ἐλεύθερον· καὶ μὴ μόνον, ἂν δειπναρίου ἕνεκα αὐτὸ ποιῇ, ἀλλὰ κἂν ἐπαρχίας ἕνεκα κἂν ὑπατείας

Sophocles, fr. 873 [= Mich. Apostol 13.8]

“Whoever does business with a tyrant is
That man’s slave, even if he starts out free.”

ὅστις γὰρ ὡς τύραννον ἐμπορεύεται
κείνου ‘στι δοῦλος, κἂν ἐλεύθερος μόλῃ.

 

Traitors and Crowns

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 1068-1070

“I have learned to hate traitors
For there is no sickness
I reject greater than that”

τοὺς προδότας γὰρ μισεῖν ἔμαθον,
κοὐκ ἔστι νόσος
τῆσδ᾿ ἥντιν᾿ ἀπέπτυσα μᾶλλον.

Galen, Method of Medicine 1, 1 19k

“But what is this? For purse-snatchers envy purse-snatches and traitors envy traitors. It’s simple: there’s no person who does have some crowd ready to crown them.”

ἀλλὰ τί τοῦτο; καὶ γὰρ οἱ βαλαντιοτόμοι τὰ τῶν βαλαντιοτόμων ζηλοῦσι καὶ οἱ προδόται τὰ τῶν προδοτῶν καὶ οὐδείς ἐστιν ἁπλῶς ἄνθρωπος ὃς οὐκ ἂν σχοίη χορὸν οἰκεῖον ἐν ᾧ στεφθήσεται.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) gestures toward a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory Jan. 6, 2021 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Some demonstrators later breached security and stormed the Capitol. (Francis Chung/E&E News and Politico via AP Images)

No Greener Grass: Life is Painful Everywhere

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of Mind, 466

“Menander addresses those who believe that some kind of life is singularly free of pain, as some people think about the life of farmers, or of bachelors, or of kings. He reminds rightly (Men. Fr. 281):

‘I once thought, Phanias, that rich men,
who are not pressed to borrow money, do not groan
During the night, don’t turn over and over mumbling
“Alas”, and are able to sleep a sweet and
calm sleep.’

He then proceeds to describe how he has noted that the wealthy suffer the same things as the poor:

‘Is there some relation between life and pain?
Pain abides in a rich life; it’s in a famous one,
It grows old alongside a poor life too.’

But just as, while sailing, cowards and the sick believe that they would fare more easily if they moved from a skiff to a larger boat, or again if they went from there to a trireme, they achieve nothing since they carry their sickness and their cowardice with them. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t separate pains and troubles from the soul. These things come from inexperience in affairs, lack of reason, and an inability or ignorance concerning approaching the present circumstances correctly.

These things storm around the rich and poor; they annoy the married and unmarried too. Men avoid appearing in public because of these things but then cannot endure their peaceful life; because of these things, men pursue advancement in the seats of power but when they get there, they are immediately bored.”

Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἀφωρισμένως ἕνα βίον ἄλυπον νομίζοντας, ὡς ἔνιοι τὸν τῶν γεωργῶν ἢ τὸν τῶν ἠιθέων ἢ τὸν τῶν βασιλέων, ἱκανῶς ὁ Μένανδρος ὑπομιμνήσκει λέγων (fr. 281)

‘ᾤμην ἐγὼ τοὺς πλουσίους, ὦ Φανία,
οἷς μὴ τὸ δανείζεσθαι πρόσεστιν, οὐ στένειν
τὰς νύκτας οὐδὲ στρεφομένους ἄνω κάτω
‘οἴμοι’ λέγειν, ἡδὺν δὲ καὶ πρᾶόν τινα
ὕπνον καθεύδειν•’

εἶτα προσδιελθὼν ὡς καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ὁρᾷ ταὐτὰ πάσχοντας τοῖς πένησιν

‘ἆρ’ ἐστί’ φησί ‘συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος;
τρυφερῷ βίῳ σύνεστιν, ἐνδόξῳ βίῳ
πάρεστιν, ἀπόρῳ συγκαταγηράσκει βίῳ.’

ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ οἱ δειλοὶ καὶ ναυτιῶντες ἐν τῷ πλεῖν, εἶτα ῥᾷον οἰόμενοι διάξειν, ἐὰν εἰς γαῦλον ἐξ ἀκάτου καὶ πάλιν ἐὰν εἰς τριήρη μεταβῶσιν, οὐδὲν περαίνουσι τὴν χολὴν καὶ τὴν δειλίαν συμμεταφέροντες αὑτοῖς, οὕτως αἱ τῶν βίων ἀντιμεταλήψεις οὐκ ἐξαιροῦσι τῆς ψυχῆς τὰ λυποῦντα καὶ ταράττοντα• ταῦτα δ’ ἐστὶν ἀπειρία πραγμάτων, ἀλογιστία, τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι μηδ’ ἐπίστασθαι χρῆσθαι τοῖς παροῦσιν ὀρθῶς. ταῦτα καὶ πλουσίους χειμάζει καὶ πένητας, ταῦτα καὶ γεγαμηκότας ἀνιᾷ καὶ ἀγάμους• διὰ ταῦτα φεύγουσι τὴν ἀγορὰν εἶτα τὴν ἡσυχίαν οὐ φέρουσι, διὰ ταῦτα προαγωγὰς ἐν αὐλαῖς διώκουσι καὶ παρελθόντες εὐθὺς βαρύνονται.

Homer’s Big Brain Energy

 Deane Swift,

An essay upon the life, writings, and character of Dr. Jonathan Swift (pp. 235-7):

Among the admirers of Dr. Swift, many have compared him to Horace, making proper allowances for the respective ages in which they severally flourished. The resemblance however between them is not so exceedingly strong, as that a similitude and manner of writing could have excited the least degree of emulation between them, further than to be equally renowned for their peculiar excellencies. Each of them had, independent of what is generally called a fine taste, a thorough knowledge of the world, superadded to an abundance of learning. Both the one and the other of these great men held the numerous tribe of poets, as well as that motley generation of men called criticks, in the utmost contempt; and at the same time have manifested themselves to be incomparable judges of all that is truly excellent, whether in books or men. Neither of them had the least regard for the Stoicks and whatever may be said of their being of the Epicurean taste, which, if rightly understood, is far from being inconsistent with the highest virtue; neither of them was attached to any particular system of philosophy.

Homer was the darling author of both Horace and swift. Horace declares in his epistle to Lollius, that Homer had abundantly more good sense and wisdom than all the philosophers; and Swift’s opinion was, that Homer had more genius than all the rest of the world put together. Yet neither the one nor the other of them have attempted to imitate his manner; but, like heroes of a bold and true spirit, have industriously followed the bent of nature, and struck out originals of their own.

Saving the State With A Single Body

Cicero, De Domo Sua 63-64

“Leaders, this violence, this crime, this rage was what I defended from the necks of all good people with my body—I met with my skin the full force of civil strife, the explosive savagery of criminals which was just now bursting out because it had found such daring leaders after it had grown for so long as hatred suppressed.

Against me alone the consular firebrands fell, thrown by the tribunes’ hands; all the criminal points of conspiracy which I had broken before struck me. But if I had done what many of the bravest men found pleasing and had decided to face this force in open arms, I would have been victorious with the death of so many criminals who were still citizens or I would have fallen with the Republic following the death of so many good people, something those criminals wished for most.”

Hanc ego vim, pontifices, hoc scelus, hunc furorem meo corpore opposito ab omnium bonorum cervicibus depuli omnemque impetum discordiarum, omnem diu collectam vim improborum, quae inveterata compresso odio atque tacito iam erumpebat nancta tam audaces duces, excepi meo corpore. In me uno consulares faces, iactae manibus tribuniciis, in me omnia, quae ego quondam rettuderam, coniurationis nefaria tela adhaeserunt. Quod si, ut multis fortissimis viris placuit, vi et armis contra vim decertare voluissem, aut vicissem cum magna internicione improborum, sed tamen civium, aut interfectis bonis omnibus, quod illis optatissimum erat, una cum re publica concidissem

Officer Eugene Goodman at the Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021. Image taken from The Hill https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/533657-capitol-police-officer-hailed-as-hero-for-drawing-rioters-away-from-senate