Improving on Antiquity

Coluccio Salutati, de Laboribus Herculis 1.7.11

“The investigations of any science would quickly dry up if posterity had accepted each field’s principles with such simplicity that it thought nothing therein worth inquiring after but what the original thinkers either could or would make known. Indeed, our sciences have grown mature by successive and continual gradations; and, by the force of new and daily considerations, many things have been discovered which not only could escape, but in fact did escape the notice of the first thinkers.”

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Nimis etenim arida foret cuiuslibet artis speculatio si que ex arte dicta sunt adeo simpliciter posteritas recepisset quod nichil in eis duceret speculandum nisi quod inventores ipsi potuerint vel voluerint declarare. Adoleverunt equidem artes successivis et continuis incrementis, et novis in dies considerationibus multa sunt deprehensa que priscos illos nedum latere potuerunt sed sine dubio latuerunt.

A Tyranny of Luck and a Stranger

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 2.3

“While the courts just as in previous eras have been run by the three orders, those political factions still rule them: they give and take what they may, giving the innocent the runaround and heaping honors on their own. Neither crime nor shame nor public disgrace disqualifies them from office. They rob, despoil whomever they please. And finally, as if the city has been sacked, they rely on their own lust and excess instead of the laws.

And for me this would only be a source of limited grief if, in their typical fashion, they were pursuing a victory born from excellence. But the laziest of people whose total strength and excellence come from their tongue are arrogantly administering a tyranny gained through luck and from another person! For what treason or civil discord has obliterated so many families? Who whose spirit was ever so hasty and extreme in victory?”

Iudicia tametsi, sicut antea, tribus ordinibus tradita sunt, tamen idem illi factiosi regunt, dant, adimunt quae lubet, innocentis circumveniunt, suos ad honorem extollunt. Non facinus, non probrum aut flagitium obstat, quo minus magistratus capiant. Quos commodum est trahunt, rapiunt; postremo tamquam urbe capta libidine ac licentia sua pro legibus utuntur.

Ac me quidem mediocris dolor angeret, si virtute partam victoriam more suo per servitium exercerent. Sed homines inertissimi, quorum omnis vis virtusque in lingua sita est, forte atque alterius socordia dominationem oblatam insolentes agitant. Nam quae seditio aut dissensio civilis tot tam illustris familias ab stirpe evertit? Aut quorum umquam in victoria animus tam praeceps tamque inmoderatus fuit?

 

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Longing for Something Known

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.349–356

“Offspring are able to recognize their mother by no other way
And neither may a mother know her children—a thing which we can see
No less than people may clearly be known among themselves.

For often before the sacred shrines of the gods a calf falls
Slaughtered alongside the incense-fuming altars,
Breathing out a warm river of blood from her chest.
The mother wanders in grief through the green thickets
And recognizes the prints pressed into the ground by cloven feet
As she examines every place open to her eyes if she can see
Anywhere her lost child, only stopping in the thick woods
To fill the world with her mourning. How often she returns
To the stable, broken with longing for her child.
Tender shoots of willow and new-grown grass soft with due
Are not able to relieve her spirit or lighten anxiety’s burden.
And the sight of other calves amid the happy fields
Can neither distract her spirit nor touch her worries—
This is how much she longs for something her own and known.”

nec ratione alia proles cognoscere matrem
nec mater posset prolem; quod posse videmus
nec minus atque homines inter se nota cluere.
nam saepe ante deum vitulus delubra decora
turicremas propter mactatus concidit aras
sanguinis expirans calidum de pectore flumen;
at mater viridis saltus orbata peragrans
novit humi pedibus vestigia pressa bisulcis,
omnia convisens oculis loca, si queat usquam
conspicere amissum fetum, completque querellis
frondiferum nemus adsistens et crebra revisit
ad stabulum desiderio perfixa iuvenci,
nec tenerae salices atque herbae rore vigentes
fluminaque ulla queunt summis labentia ripis
oblectare animum subitamque avertere curam,
nec vitulorum aliae species per pabula laeta
derivare queunt animum curaque levare
usque adeo quiddam proprium notumque requirit.

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Horace: A Break From Serious Labor

R.C. Jebb, Richard Bentley (Chp. VIII):

As early as 1702 Bentley had been meditating an edition of Horace. I translate from his Latin preface his own account of the motive.

‘When, a few years ago [i. e. in 1700] I was promoted to a station in which official duties and harassing cares, daily surging about me, had distracted me from all deeper studies, I resolved — in order that I might not wholly forget the Muses and my old loves — to set about editing some writer of the pleasanter sort, comparatively light in style and matter, such as would make in me, rather than claim from me, a calm and untroubled mind ; a work that could be done bit by bit at odd hours, and would brook a thousand interruptions without serious loss. My choice was Horace; not because I deemed that I could restore and correct more things in him than in almost any other Latin or Greek author; but because he, above all the ancients — thanks to his merit, or to a peculiar genius and gift for pleasing — was familiar to men’s hands and hearts. The form and scope of my work I defined and limited thus; — that I should touch only those things which concern the soundness and purity of the text; but should wholly pass by the mass of those things which relate to history and ancient manners, — that vast domain and laboratory of comment.’

Bentley began printing his Horace, with his own emendations embodied in the text and the common readings given at the foot of the page, before he had written the critical notes which were to justify these changes. In August, 1706, he says: — ‘I have printed three new sheets in it this last fortnight, and I hope shall go on to finish by next spring.’ Sinister auguries were already heard in certain quarters. ‘I do not wonder,’ he writes to a friend, ‘that some… do talk so wildly about my Horace… I am assured none of them will write against my notes. They have had enough of me, and will here- after let me alone.’ The rumour of Bentley’s new labours inspired his old enemy, Dr King, with a satire called ‘Horace in Trinity College.’ Horace is supposed to have fulfilled his dream of visiting our remote island (visam Britannos), but to have lost the airy form in which he proposed to make that excursion, — under the influence of solid cheer supplied to him from the butteries of Trinity College.

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The ‘Wives’ of Telemachus

Tell me of Telemachus, Muse, and the tawdry tales
of his trio of tender-ankled temptresses

Hesiod, Fr. 221 (Eustathius in Hom. (π 117—20) p. 1796. 38)

“Well-belted Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor Neleus’ son, gave birth to Persepolis after having sex with Telemachus Thanks to golden Aphrodite.”

Τηλεμάχωι δ’ ἄρ’ ἔτικτεν ἐύζωνος Πολυκάστη
Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη κούρη Νηληϊάδαο
Περσέπολιν μιχθεῖσα διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην

This resonates with one moment in the Odyssey (3.464-5):

“Then pretty Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor
the son of Neleus, bathed Telemachus”

τόφρα δὲ Τηλέμαχον λοῦσεν καλὴ Πολυκάστη
Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη θυγάτηρ Νηληϊάδαο.

Dictys, BNJ 49 F10

“And Telemachus took the daughter of Alkinoos as bride, her name was Nausikaa.”

λαμβάνει δὲ Τηλέμαχος γαμετὴν θυγατέρα Ἀλκινόου Ναυσικάαν ὀνόματι.

Proclus (?), Chrestomathia 324-330

“And then Telegonos went sailing in search of his father; once he stopped in Ithaca he was trashing the island. Odysseus shouted out and was killed by his child because of ignorance.

Once Telegonos understood his mistake he returned the body of his father along with Penelope and Telemachus to his own mother. She made them immortal. Then he lived with Penelope and Telemachus lived with Kirke.

     κἀν τούτῳ Τηλέγονος ἐπὶ ζήτησιν τοῦ πατρὸς πλέων ἀποβὰς εἰς τὴν ᾿Ιθάκην τέμνει τὴν νῆσον· ἐκβοηθήσας δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ τοῦ παιδὸς ἀναιρεῖται κατ’ ἄγνοιαν.

     Τηλέγονος δ’ ἐπιγνοὺς τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τό τε τοῦ πατρὸς σῶμα καὶ τὸν Τηλέμαχον καὶ τὴν Πηνελόπην πρὸς τὴν μητέρα μεθίστησιν· ἡ δὲ αὐτοὺς ἀθανάτους ποιεῖ, καὶ συνοικεῖ τῇ μὲν Πηνελόπῃ Τηλέγονος, Κίρκῃ δὲ Τηλέμαχος.

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What About Essayschylus?

Virginia Woolf, The Decay of Essay Writing:

We are not—there is, alas! no need to prove it—more subject to ideas than our ancestors; we are not, I hope, in the main more egoistical; but there is one thing in which we are more highly skilled than they are; and that is in manual dexterity with a pen. There can be no doubt that it is to the art of penmanship that we owe our present literature of essays. The very great of old—Homer and Aeschylus—could dispense with a pen; they were not inspired by sheets of paper and gallons of ink; no fear that their harmonies, passed from lip to lip, should lose their cadence and die. But our essayists write because the gift of writing has been bestowed on them. Had they lacked writing-masters we should have lacked essayists. There are, of course, certain distinguished people who use this medium from genuine inspiration because it best embodies the soul of their thought. But, on the other hand, there is a very large number who make the fatal pause, and the mechanical act of writing is allowed to set the brain in motion which should only be accessible to a higher inspiration.

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Philosophers, Brush Your Teeth!

Apuleius, Apologia 7

“I have just noticed certain people here barely containing their laughter, probably because that last speaker was viciously attacking oral health and using the word “dentifrice” with as much anger as no one has ever used for “poison”. Why not? A Philosopher must dismiss no crime, allow nothing corrupt associated with himself, suffer no part of his body to ever be messy or smelly, especially his mouth, something people use openly and obviously all the time whether they try to kiss someone, or attempt to have a conversation, address a large group, or offer prayers in a temple.

Speech leads nearly every human deed and, as the foremost poet says, it begins “at the barrier of the teeth”. Consider someone of fairly elevated speech: he would likely say in his own way that someone who cares about speaking must attend to his mouth beyond the rest of his body because it is the entryway of the mind, the door of speech, the assembly-hall of thoughts.

For my part, I can say that nothing is less fitting to a free person who is educated well than a filthy mouth. The mouth is in that elevated part of the human body, easy to see, needed for speech. In animals, whether wild or domesticated, the mouth is lower and pointed toward feet, near food and footprints. An animal’s mouth is rarely seen except when they are dead or annoyed into biting. For a human, there is nothing you see consider more clearly either when silent or speaking.”

Vidi ego dudum vix risum quosdam tenentis, cum munditias oris videlicet orator ille aspere accusaret et dentifricium tanta indignatione pronuntiaret, quanta nemo quisquam venenum. Quidni? Crimen haud contemnendum philosopho, nihil in se sordidum sinere, nihil uspiam corporis apertum immundum pati ac foetulentum, praesertim os, cuius in propatulo et conspicuo usus homini creberrimus, sive ille cuipiam osculum ferat, seu cum quiquam sermocinetur, sive in auditorio dissertet, sive in templo preces alleget. Omnem quippe hominis actum sermo praeit, qui, ut ait poeta praecipuus, dentium muro proficiscitur. Dares nunc aliquem similiter grandiloquum: diceret suo more cum primis cui ulla fandi cura sit impensius cetero corpore os colendum, quod esset animi vestibulum et orationis ianua et cogitationum comitium. Ego certe pro meo captu dixerim nihil minus quam oris illuviem libero et liberali viro competere, est enim ea pars hominis loco celsa, visu prompta, usu facunda. Nam quidem feris et pecudibus os humile est et deorsum ad pedes deiectum, uestigio et pabulo proximum; nunquam ferme nisi mortuis aut ad morsum exasperatis conspicitur: hominis vero nihil prius tacentis, nihil saepius loquentis contemplere.

By Dupons Brüssel – “Das Album”, page 62-63, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=334108