The Roman Comic Scene Parents Act Out with Their Children

Plautus, Curculio, 182-184

It is as if Plautus wrote for a parent and a young child. Phaedromus = Me; Palinurus = Either child.

Ph. Shhhhh.
Pal: Why? I am being quiet. Why don’t you go back to sleep?
Ph. I am sleeping. Don’t yell.
Pal. But you are awake.
Ph. No. I am sleeping the way I do. This is how I sleep!

Phae: tace.
Pal: quid, taceam? quin tu is dormitum?
Phae: dormio, ne occlamites.
Pal: tuquidem uigilas.
Phae: at meo more dormio: hic somnust mihi.

Image result for Ancient Roman Sleeping

How to Learn; With an Invective Against Pseudo-Intellectuals

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion 3.13:

“The beginning of study is humility. Though there are many examples of this, three principles in particular are pertinent to the reader:
First, that he consider no knowledge or writing as worthless;
Second, that he should never blush to learn from anyone;
Third, that once he has gained knowledge, he should not look down upon others.

This has escaped many people, who wished to appear wise before their time. They break out from this point into a certain swollen elation, and begin to pretend to be what they are not while feeling shame about what they are, and withdraw even farther from wisdom in as much as they desire not to be wise, but merely to seem so. I know many people of this sort who, though they do not even know basic principles, feel that it is below their dignity to engage in anything but the highest and most important things, and think that they become important in this way alone, if they read the writings or hear the words of the greatest and wisest writers. They say, ‘We have seen them, we have read from them. They often used to converse with us. Those important, famous writers – they know us!’ I would rather that no one knew me, and that I knew everything! You glory in the fact that you have seen Plato, but have not understood him. I think that it is unworthy of you to listen to me then. I am not Plato, and I have not deserved to see him. This is enough for you: you have drunk from the fountain of philosophy, but would that you were still thirsty! The king has drunk from an earthen cup after using a golden chalice. You have listened to Plato, perhaps you may listen to Chrysippus. As the proverb says, ‘What you don’t know, perhaps Ofellus* knows.’”

*[Perhaps the Stoic philosopher mentioned in Horace’s Satires? I am otherwise unfamiliar with the proverb.]

Principium autem disciplinae humilitas est, cuius cum multa sint documenta, haec tria praecipue ad lectorem pertinent: primum, ut nullam scientiam, nullam scripturam vilem teneat, secundum, ut a nemine discere erubescat, tertium, ut cum scientiam adeptus fuerit, ceteros non contemnat. multos hoc decipit, quod ante tempus, sapientes videri volunt. hinc namque in quendam elationis tumorem prorumpunt, [773D] ut iam et simulare incipiant quod non sunt et quod sunt erubescere, eoque longius a sapientia recedunt quo non esse sapientes, sed putari putant. eiusmodi multos novi, qui, cum primis adhuc elementis indigeant, non nisi summis interesse dignantur, et ex hoc solummodo se magnos fieri putant, si magnorum et sapientium vel scripta legerint vel audierint verba. ‘nos,’ inquiunt, ‘vidimus illos. nos ab illis legimus. saepe nobis loqui illi solebant. illi summi, illi famosi, cognoverunt nos.’ sed utinam me nemo agnoscat et ego cuncta noverim! Platonem vidisse, non intellexisse gioriamini. puto indignum vobis est deinceps ut me audiatis. non ego sum Plato, nec Platonem videre merui. sufficit vobis: ipsum philosophiae fontem potastis, sed utinam adhuc sitiretis! rex post aurea pocula de vase bibit testeo. quid erubescitis? [774A] Platonem audistis, audiatis et Chrysippum. in proverbio dicitur: Quod tu non nosti, fortassis novit Ofellus.

The Highest Good: Friendship

Two passages in Latin About Friendship

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi

“Still nothing lightens the spirit as much as sweet and faithful friendship. What a good it is when hearts have been made ready in which every secret may be safely deposited, whose understanding of yourself you worry about less than your own, whose conversation relieves your fear, whose opinion hastens your plans, whose happiness dispels your sadness, and whose very sight delights you!”

Nihil tamen aeque oblectaverit animum, quam amicitia fidelis et dulcis. Quantum bonum est, ubi praeparata sunt pectora, in quae tuto secretum omne descendat, quorum conscientiam minus quam tuam timeas, quorum sermo sollicitudinem leniat, sententia consilium expediat, hilaritas tristitiam dissipet, conspectus ipse delectet!

Image result for Ancient Roman Friendship

Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy 3.35

“The most sacred thing of all is friends, something not recorded as luck but as virtue, since the rest of the goods are embraced with a view toward power or pleasure.”

amicorum vero quod sanctissimum quidem genus est, non in fortuna sed in virtute numeratur, reliquum vero vel potentiae causa vel delectationis assumitur

The Devil Who Took a Wife

Jacques de Vitry, Exempla (XX)


“I heard that a certain demon, who had taken the form of a human and was serving a rich man, had pleased the man so much by his industry in servitude that the man gave him his daughter in marriage in addition to great riches. The wife, however, was constantly arguing with her husband day and night and would not allow him to sleep. At the end of the year, the demon said to his wife’s father, ‘I would like to withdraw and return to my homeland.’ The wife’s father said, ‘Have I not given you so much that you want for nothing?’ The demon responded, ‘I will tell you, and won’t hide the truth: my homeland is in Hell, where I never had to deal with as much strife and harassment as I have suffered in this one year from my argumentative wife. I would rather be in Hell than to linger any longer here with her.’ After this speech was finished, he vanished from their sight.”

Audivi quod quidam daemon in specie hominis cuidam diviti homini serviebat et, cum servitium eius et industria multum placerent homini, dedit ei filiam suam in uxorem et divitias multas. Illa autem omni die ac nocte litigabat cum marito suo nec eum quiescere permittebat. In fine autem anni dixit patri uxoris suae: “Volo recedere et in patriam meam redire.” Cui pater uxoris ait: “Nonne multa tibi dedi ita quod nihil desit tibi? Quare vis recedere?” Dixit ille: “Modis omnibus volo repatriare.” Cui socer ait: “Ubi est patria tua?” Ait ille: “Dicam tibi et veritatem non celabo; patria mea est infernus, ubi numquam tantam discordiam vel molestiam sustinui quantam hoc anno passus sum a litigiosa uxore mea. Malo esse in inferno quam amplius cum ipsa commorari.” Et hoc dicto ab oculis eorum evanuit.

Odyssey and Iliad: Compensation for the Beloved Dead

After the slaughter of the suitors, Odysseus warns his son that they should be wary of their families seeking recompense.

Odyssey 23.118–122:

“For whoever has killed only one man in his country,
one who does not leave many behind to avenge him, flees,
leaving his relatives and his paternal land.
And we have killed the bulwark of the city,
the best by far of the young men in Ithaca.
I order you to think about these things.”

καὶ γάρ τίς θ’ ἕνα φῶτα κατακτείνας ἐνὶ δήμῳ,
ᾧ μὴ πολλοὶ ἔωσιν ἀοσσητῆρες ὀπίσσω,
φεύγει πηούς τε προλιπὼν καὶ πατρίδα γαῖαν·
ἡμεῖς δ’ ἕρμα πόληος ἀπέκταμεν, οἳ μέγ’ ἄριστοι
κούρων εἰν ᾿Ιθάκῃ· τὰ δέ σε φράζεσθαι ἄνωγα.

This passage makes me think of Ajax’s words to Achilles in book 9 where he seems to imply that payment may be rendered in the situation of a murder.

Image result for Ajax Achilles' body

Il. 9.632-638:

“You are relentless: someone might even accept payment
for the murder of a brother or the death of his own child.
and after making great restitution, the killer remains in his country,
and though bereft, the other restrains his heart and mighty anger
once he has accepted the price. But the gods put an untouchable
and wicked rage in your heart over only a girl…”

νηλής· καὶ μέν τίς τε κασιγνήτοιο φονῆος
ποινὴν ἢ οὗ παιδὸς ἐδέξατο τεθνηῶτος·
καί ῥ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν δήμῳ μένει αὐτοῦ πόλλ’ ἀποτίσας,
τοῦ δέ τ’ ἐρητύεται κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
ποινὴν δεξαμένῳ· σοὶ δ’ ἄληκτόν τε κακόν τε
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι θεοὶ θέσαν εἵνεκα κούρης

The scholia to the Iliad contend that Ajax is referring to an actual practice.

Schol. bT ad Il. 9.632-33a

“For it was the custom to give [recompense] to the relatives in order to go into exile for not more than a year…

ἔθος γὰρ ἦν τοῖς συγγενέσι διδόναι πρὸς τὸ μὴ πλέον τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ φεύγειν

One might wonder why Odysseus does not think it fit to offer recompense to the suitors’ families…

Marcus Antonius Offered Cicero Life, If He Burned All His Books

The following piece from the elder Seneca (Yes, Seneca the Elder, not the Younger) is based upon the imaginary story that Marcus Antonius offered to preserve Cicero’s life in exchange for the destruction of all his books. 

Seneca the Elder, Suasoria 7

Cicero Deliberates whether to burn all his writings since Antony has promised his safety if he did so

Deliberat Cicero an scripta sua conburat, promittente Antonio incolumitatem si fecisset, 11

Here the conditions [of the agreement] were intolerable. For nothing is so intolerable as to burn up the proofs of your own genius. In addition, this was an insult to the Roman people, whose language Cicero had elevated so that their eloquence outstripped the knowledge of arrogant Greece as much as their fortune in war. This would be a crime against humanity! Cicero would regret breaths bought at so high a price, since he would have to grow old as a slave using his eloquence only for one thing: praising Antony. This was a wretched sentence: to be granted life, but surrender genius.

Pompeius Silo proceeded to argue that Antony was not negotiating but instead was mocking Cicero. This was a not a condition, it was an insult: For even after the books were burned he would still kill him. Antony was not so foolish that he believed that burning the books was a concern to Cicero, a man whose writings were already famous over the whole world. Antony did not seek this thing he could do himself, unless of course he did not have the power over Cicero’s books which he had over Cicero. He sought nothing other than to kill Cicero after reducing him to a state of shame because he had spoken bravely and often about his contempt for death. Hence, Antony was not giving him life on a condition, but he was seeking his death in dishonor. Thus, Cicero ought to suffer bravely now what he would certainly suffer later in shame.

Hic condiciones intolerabiles. <Nihil tam intolerabile> esse quam monumenta ingenii sui ipsum exurere. Iniuriam illum facturum populo Romano, cuius linguam huc ipse extulisset ut insolentis Graeciae studia tanto antecederet eloquentia quantofortuna; iniuriam facturum generi humano. Paenitentiam illum acturum tam care spiritus empti, cum in servitute senescendum fuisset <et> in hoc unum eloquentia utendum, ut laudaret Antonium. Male cum illo agi: dari vitam, eripi ingenium.

Silo Pompeius sic egit ut diceret Antonium non pacisci sed inludere: non esse illam condicionem sed contumeliam; combustis enim libris nihilominus occisurum; non esse tam stultum Antonium ut putaret ad rem pertinere libros a Cicerone conburi, cuius scripta per totum orbem terrarum celebrarentur, nec hoc petere eum, quod posset ipse facere, nisi forte non esset in scripta Ciceronis ei ius cui esset in Ciceronem; quaeri nihil aliud quam ut ille Cicero multa fortiter de mortis contemptu locutus ad turpes condiciones perductus occideretur. Antonium illi non vitam cum condicione promittere, sed mortem sub infamia quaerere. Itaque quod turpiter postea passurus esset, nunc illum debere fortiter pati.


Image result for Ancient Rome Cicero and Marcus Antonius

Not a fan of Cicero.

Well Enough to Read, Well Enough to Write?

A few more passages from Seneca on reading and writing, following up on yesterday’s injunction to alternate between the two.

Moral Epistle 45

“You complain that there’s a lack of books where you are. It is not how many books, but how many good ones you have that makes a difference. A short reading list has advantages; variety brings entertainment. One who reaches his desired place should follow one path and not go roam over many. This is not to travel, but to wander.”

Librorum istic inopiam esse quereris. Non refert, quam multos, sed quam bonos habeas; lectio certa prodest, varia delectat. Qui, quo destinavit, pervenire vult, unam sequatur viam, non per multas vagetur. Non ire istuc, sed errare est.

Moral Epistle 83

“Today has been whole: no one has stolen any part at all from me. The whole day was spent in reading and rest. There was a little bit given to exercise. For this nominal amount, I give thanks to old age. It is not a big deal for me: as soon as I have moved, I am tired.”

Hodiernus dies solidus est; nemo ex illo quicquam mihi eripuit. Totus inter stratum lectionemque divisus est. Minimum exercitationi corporis datum, et hoc nomine ago gratias senectuti: non magno mihi constat; cum me movi, lassus sum

Moral Epistle 65

“Yesterday I spent the day in poor health: it occupied me until noon. After noon, it gave in to me. So, first, I tested my mind with reading. Then, when I handled this, I dared to push myself, or perhaps indulge myself, more: I wrote something…”

Hesternum diem divisi cum mala valetudine; antemeridianum illa sibi vindicavit, postmeridiano mihi cessit. Itaque lectione primum temptavi animum. Deinde cum hanc recepisset, plus illi imperare ausus sum, immo permittere; aliquid scripsi

Image result for Ancient Roman library