Small Parts Make A Whole: Writing Advice from Demetrius

For more on Demetrius and our words for period, comma, and colon, see this post

Demetrius, On Style, 1-2

“Just as poetry is separated by meters—such as half-lines, hexameters, and the rest—so too will sections called clauses [kôla] separate and define prose composition. They allow rests to the speaker and what is spoken and they give the composition boundaries in many places, since it would be long and endless and would just exhaust anyone reading it otherwise.

These clauses are really meant to bring an end to a thought. Sometimes they convey a complete thought on their own, as when Hekataios says at the beginning of his History, “Hekataios speaks thus”. In this a case a whole thought coincides with a single clause and both end together. At another time, a clause doesn’t effect a complete thought, but merely part of one.

For, just as the hand is a whole thing but has individual parts of the whole, such as the fingers and the wrist—each of which has its own particular shape and recognizable parts—so too will the parts of a larger thought which is complete and whole be subsumed within it even though they too are recognizable and defined.”

(1) Ὥσπερ ἡ ποίησις διαιρεῖται τοῖς μέτροις, οἷον ἡμιμέτροις ἢ ἑξαμέτροις ἢ τοῖς ἄλλοις, οὕτω καὶ τὴν ἑρμηνείαν τὴν λογικὴν διαιρεῖ καὶ διακρίνει τὰ καλούμενα κῶλα, καθάπερ ἀναπαύοντα τὸν λέγοντά τε καὶ τὰ λεγόμενα αὐτά, καὶ ἐν πολλοῖς ὅροις ὁρίζοντα τὸν λόγον, ἐπεί τοι μακρὸς ἂν εἴη καὶ ἄπειρος καὶ ἀτεχνῶς πνίγων τὸν λέγοντα.

(2) βούλεται μέντοι διάνοιαν ἀπαρτίζειν τὰ κῶλα ταῦτα, ποτὲ μὲν ὅλην διάνοιαν, οἷον ὡς Ἑκαταῖός φησιν ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ τῆς ἱστορίας, “Ἑκαταῖος Μιλήσιος ὧδε μυθεῖται”· συνείληπται γὰρ διάνοια τῷ κώλῳ ὅλῳ ὅλη, καὶ ἄμφω συγκαταλήγουσιν. ἐνίοτε μέντοι τὸ κῶλον ὅλην μὲν οὐ συμπεραιοῖ διάνοιαν, μέρος δὲ ὅλης ὅλον. ὡς γὰρ τῆς χειρὸς οὔσης ὅλου τινὸς μέρη αὐτῆς ὅλα ὅλης ἐστίν, οἷον δάκτυλοι καὶ πῆχυς (ἰδίαν γὰρ περιγραφὴν ἔχει τούτων τῶν μερῶν ἕκαστον, καὶ ἴδια μέρη), οὕτω καὶ διανοίας τινὸς ὅλης οὔσης μεγάλης ἐμπεριλαμβάνοιτ᾿ ἂν μέρη τινὰ αὐτῆς ὁλόκληρα ὄντα καὶ αὐτά·

Image result for greek bronze hand
From Christie’s Auction Catalogue

Fronto’s Writing Advice to Aurelius: One Thought Should Follow Through to the Next

Fronto Laudes Fumi et Pulveris [Ambr 249 Caesari suo Fronto. [139 a.d.]]

“Many of my readers may perhaps hate my subject from the title because it is impossible for anything serious to be made of smoke and dust. But you, thanks to your outstanding intelligence, will judge whether these words are wasted or put well.

The subject does, however, seem to ask for a few things to be written about the logic of its composition, since nothing written of this kind of thing noble enough in the Roman tongue exists except for what poets touch in comedies or farces. Anyone who tests himself at writing of this kind will select a mass of ideas and put them together closely, joining them cleverly, but without including many useless and doubled words and then make sure to end each sentence with clarity and skill.

In legal speeches, however, it goes differently because we often pay special attention to sentences ending harshly and artlessly. In this matter, we must labor differently so that nothing is left rude and out of place, instead making sure that everything is interconnected as in a robe with clear borders and ornate edges. Finally, just as the final verses in epigrams should have some kind of shine to them, a sentence should be ended with some kind of a clasp or brooch.

Pleasing the audience, however, should pursued among the first goals. For this kind of address is not composed for defense in a capital trial nor to advocate for the passing of a law, nor to exhort an army, nor to enrage a mass of people, but for delights and pleasure. Nevertheless, we must speeches we do about serious and wonderful things—the small matters must be compared and equaled to great ones. And, finally, the greatest virtue in this kind of speech is the conceit of seriousness. Stories of the gods or heroes should be interwoven where they fit. At he same time, lines of poetry which pertain applicable proverbs, and even clever fictions, as long as the fiction is added by some kind of clever argument.

The chief challenge, then, is to order the materials so that their presentation has a logical connection. This is what Plato faults Lysias for in the Phaedrus, that he has combined his thoughts so carelessly that the first one could be exchanged with the last without any kind of loss. We can only escape this danger if we organize our thoughts in categories so that we do not mix them in an indiscriminate and disordered way like those mixed dishes, but instead arrange it so that the preceding idea reaches into the next one and then shares its boundary, where the second thought begins where the first one has ended, and a sequence emerges in this way, so that we seem to step rather than jump along our way.”

Plerique legentium forsan rem de titulo contemnant, nihil <enim> serium , potuisse fieri de fumo et pulvere: tu pro tuo excellenti ingenio profecto existimabis lusa sit opera4ista an locata. 2. Sed res poscere videtur de ratione scribendi pauca praefari, quod nullum huiuscemodi scriptum Romana lingua extat satis nobile, nisi quod poetae in comoediis vel atellanis adtigerunt. Qui se eiusmodi rebus scribendis exercebit, crebras sententias conquiret, easque dense conlocabit et subtiliter coniunget, Ambr. neque verba multa geminata supervacanea | in-ferciet; tum omnem sententiam breviter et scite concludet. Aliter in orationibus iudiciariis, ubi sedulo curamus ut pleraeque sententiae durius interdum et incautius1finiantur. Sed contra istic laborandum est, ne quid inconcinnum et hiulcum relinquatur, quin omnia ut in tenui veste oris detexta et revimentis sint cincta. Postremo, ut novissimos in epigrammatis versus habere oportet aliquid luminis, sententia clavo aliquo vel fibula terminanda est.

In primis autem sectanda est suavitas. Namque hoc genus orationis non capitis defendendi nec suadendae legis nec exercitus hortandi nec inflammandae contionis scribitur, sed facetiarum et voluptatis.Ubique vero ut de re ampla et magnifica loquendum, parvaeque res magnis adsimilandae comparandaeque. Summa denique in hoc genere orationis virtus est adseveratio. Fabulae deum vel heroum tempestive inserendae; item versus congruenteset proverbia accommodata et non inficete conficta mendacia, dum id mendacium argumento aliquo lepido iuvetur.

Ambr 247 4. Cum primis autem difficile est argumenta ita disponere ut sit ordo eorum rite connexus. Quod Ambr.ille | Plato Lysiam culpat in Phaedro, sententiarum ordinem ab eo ita temere permixtum, ut sine ullo detrimento prima in novissimum locum transferantur, et novissima in primum, eam culpam ita devitabimus, si divisa generatim argumenta nectemus, non sparsa nec sine discrimine aggerata, ut ea quae per saturam feruntur, sed ut praecedens sententia in sequentem laciniam aliquam porrigat et oram praetendat; ubi prior sit finita sententia, inde ut sequens ordiatur; ita enim transgredi potius videmur quam transilire.

From Roman de la Rose

Weekend Plans with Pliny

Pliny to his Friend Calpurnius Macer, (Letter 18)

“I’m doing well because you are! You have your wife, and you have your son. You enjoy the sea, the streams, the forest, the fields and your most charming home. I cannot doubt that it must be truly charming when it’s the place where a man stays who was already lucky before he became the luckiest!

I am hunting and studying in Tuscany, either taking turns between them or trying them at the same time. I am not able right now to tell you whether it is more difficult to catch something or write about it. Be well!”

C. Plinius Calpurnio Macro Suo S.
1Bene est mihi quia tibi bene est. Habes uxorem tecum, habes filium; frueris mari fontibus viridibus agro villa amoenissima. Neque enim dubito esse amoenissimam, in qua se composuerat homo felicior, 2ante quam felicissimus fieret. Ego in Tuscis et venor et studeo, quae interdum alternis, interdum simul facio; nec tamen adhuc possum pronuntiare, utrum sit difficilius capere aliquid an scribere. Vale.

Roman mosaic of men surrounding deer with nets
Hunting with Nets – Piazza Armerina, Sicily (ca. 300 AD)

A Rather Elite Writing Group: Pliny and Tacitus

Pliny to Cornelius Tacitus, 20

“I have read your book and I have noted the passages which should be changed or removed as carefully as I was able. For I am also in the habit of speaking the truth and you hear it freely. No people are criticized as patiently as those who especially deserve praise.

Now I am expecting my book from you with your notes—what a joy, what a fine exchange! How it makes me happy to think that if posterity cares about us at all, the story will be about how we lived with harmony, directness and trust. It will seem rare and notable that two men nearly equal in age and dignity and of some fame for writing—for I am compelled to speak sparingly of you when I am talking about myself too—to have encouraged each other’s efforts.

I was a young man when you were already growing in fame and glory and I was longing to be nearest to you but “by a long distance”. There were then many really famous geniuses—but you, perhaps because our nature was similar, seemed one I could imitate, someone I should imitate. I am for this reason happy if, when there is any conversation about scholarship, we are named together or at the fact that one some speak of you my name is mentioned.

There is no lack of authors who may be preferred to us. But, it makes no difference to me which place I have if we are joined together. For my first position is the one which is nearest to you.”

Librum tuum legi et, quam diligentissime potui, adnotavi quae commutanda, quae eximenda arbitrarer. Nam et ego verum dicere adsuevi, et tu libenter audire. Neque enim ulli patientius reprehenduntur, quam qui maxime laudari merentur. Nunc a te librum meum cum adnotationibus tuis exspecto. O iucundas, o pulchras vices! Quam me delectat quod, si qua posteris cura nostri, usquequaqua narrabitur, qua concordia simplicitate fide vixerimus! Erit rarum et insigne, duos homines aetate dignitate propemodum aequales, non nullius in litteris nominis (cogor enim de te quoque parcius dicere, quia de me simul dico), alterum alterius studia fovisse.

Equidem adulescentulus, cum iam tu fama gloriaque floreres, te sequi, tibi “longo sed proximus intervallo” et esse et haberi concupiscebam. Et erant multa clarissima ingenia; sed tu mihi (ita similitudo naturae ferebat) maxime imitabilis,  maxime imitandus videbaris. Quo magis gaudeo, quod si quis de studiis sermo, una nominamur, quod de te loquentibus statim occurro. Nec desunt qui utrique nostrum praeferantur. Sed nos, nihil interest mea quo loco, iungimur; nam mihi primus, qui a te proximus.

 

 

From Tertullian.org

Cicero On Using “Leftover Time” for Writing Projects

Cicero, Laws 1.8-10

M. I do understand that I have been promising this work for a long time now, Atticus. It is something I would not refuse if any bit of open and free time were allotted to me. A work as momentous as this cannot be taken up when one’s efforts are occupied and his mind is elsewhere. It is really necessary to be free from worry and business.

A. What about the other things you have written more of than any of our people? What free time did you have set aside then?

M. These ‘leftover moments’ occur and I will not suffer wasting them—as when there are some days set aside for going to the country, I write something equal to what the number of days allow. But a history cannot be begun unless there is dedicated time and it can’t be completed in a short time. I habitually weigh down my thought when, once I have started, I am distracted by something else. And once a project is interrupted, I do not finish what was started easily.”

M. Intellego equidem a me istum laborem iam diu postulari, Attice; quem non recusarem, si mihi ullum tribueretur vacuum tempus et liberum; neque enim occupata opera neque inpedito animo res tanta suscipi potest; utrumque opus est, et cura vacare et negotio.

A. Quid ad cetera. quae scripsisti plura quam quisquam e nostris? quod tibi tandem tempus vacuum fuit concessum?

M. Subsiciva quaedam tempora incurrunt, quae ego perire non patior, ut, si qui dies ad rusticandum dati sint, ad eorum numerum adcommodentur quae scribimus. historia vero nec institui potest nisi praeparato otio nec exiguo tempore absolvi, et ego animi pendere soleo, cum semel quid orsus sum,1 si traducor alio, neque tam facile interrupta contexo quam absolvo instituta.

I encourage everyone to copy “Intellego equidem a me istum laborem iam diu postulari” and paste it liberally into emails explaining why you have yet to complete that review, abstract, etc. etc. Take a break for a day or a nap for an hour. Let Cicero speak for you!

 

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Image taken from this blog

What Audience Are You Writing For? Cicero on the Middle-Ground

[Marcus Varro is the speaker in this excerpt]

Cicero, Academica 1.4

“Because I recognized that philosophy had been most expertly explored in the Greek language, I believed that anyone from Rome who was inclined toward the subject would prefer to read it in Greek, if they were educated in Greek doctrines. If they shuddered at Greek arts and learning, they would not be interested in those very matters which could not be understood without Greek. So, I did not want to write what the unlearned could not understand or what the learned would not care to.”

Nam cum philosophiam viderem diligentissime Graecis litteris explicatam, existimavi si qui de nostris eius studio tenerentur, si essent Graecis doctrinis eruditi, Graeca potius quam nostra lecturos; sin a Graecorum artibus et disciplinis abhorrerent, ne haec quidem curaturos quae sine eruditione Graeca intellegi non possunt; itaque ea nolui scribere quae nec indocti intellegere possent nec docti legere curarent.

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Missing Deadlines Because of Chronic Illness

Fronto to Praeciilius Pompeianus          (Ambr. 312, following 313)

“You will hear from my, Pompeianus, the truth of how the matter is and I would hope that you would believe that I am speaking the truth. Nearly last year I took that oration For the Bithynians into my hand and I started to correct it. I also promised you some things concerning that oration when I was at Rome then. And, if my memory serves me correctly, when we were having a conversation about certain sections of the speech, I said and was somewhat proud that I had carefully enough examined in that speech which hinged on the crime of contract killing.

But in the meantime a bout of neuritis overcame me pretty strongly and it has remained longer and more burdensome than is typical. When my limbs are coursing with pain, I am incapable of giving any attention to things that must be written or read. I have not dared up to now to ever ask this much of myself. When those wondrous beasts, philosophers, tell us that the wise man, even if he were locked in the bull of Phalaris, would be no less blessed, I could believe it more easily that we would be a little bit happier while cooking in the brass to contemplate some introduction or write some letters.”

Fronto Praecilio Pompeiano salutem.

Verum ex me, mi Pompeiane, uti res est,  audies; velimque te mihi verum | dicenti fidem habere. Orationem istam Pro Bithynisante annum fere in manus sumpseram et corrigere institueram. Tibi etiam Romae tunc agenti nonnihil de ista oratione promiseram. Et quidem, si recte memini, quom sermo inter nos de partitionibus orationum ortus esset, dixeram et prae me tuleram, satis me diligenter in ista oratione coniecturam, quae in crimine mandatae caedis verteretur, divisisse argumentis ac refutasse. Interea nervorum dolor solito vehementior me invasit, et diutius ac molestius solito remoratus est. Nec possum ego membris cruciantibus operam ullam litteris scribendis legendisque impendere; nec umquam istuc a me postulare ausus sum. Philosophis etiam mirificis hominibus dicentibus, sapientem virum etiam in Phalaridis tauro inclusum beatum nihilominus fore, facilius crediderim beatum eum fore quam posse tantisper amburenti in aheno prohoemium meditari aut epigrammata scribere.

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Some Roman Notes for Stressed out Writers

Here are two Roman authors talking about writing and publication.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 13-14

“Why do we need to compose work that will endure for generations? Why not stop driving to make sure posterity won’t be quiet about you? You have been born mortal—a silent funeral is less annoying! So, for the sake of passing time, write something for your use in a simple style not for publication. There is less need to work for those who study just for today.”

Quid opus est saeculis duratura componere? Vis tu non id agere, ne te posteri taceant? Morti natus es, minus molestiarum habet funus tacitum! Itaque occupandi temporis causa, in usum tuum, non in praeconium aliquid simplici stilo scribe; minore labore opus est studentibus in diem.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 10 To Octavius Rufus

“For the meantime, do as you wish regarding publication too. Recite it from time to time, then you may feel more eager to publish and then you may experience the joy I have long been predicting for you, and not without reason. I imagine what crowds, what admiration, what clamor then silence awaits you. (For myself, I like this as much as applause when I speak or read, as long as it shows a desire to hear me speaking). There is a great reward ready for you! Stop undermining your work with endless delay! When even this is excessive, we need to be wary of hearing the name of idleness, laziness, or even fear. Farewell!”

Et de editione quidem interim ut voles: recita saltem quo magis libeat emittere, utque tandem percipias gaudium, quod ego olim pro te non temere praesumo. Imaginor enim qui concursus quae admiratio te, qui clamor quod etiam silentium maneat; quo ego, cum dico vel recito, non minus quam clamore delector, sit modo silentium acre et intentum, et cupidum ulteriora audiendi. Hoc fructu tanto tam parato desine studia tua infinita ista cunctatione fraudare; quae cum modum excedit, verendum est ne inertiae et desidiae vel etiam timiditatis nomen accipiat. Vale.

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Addendum:

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum

Small Parts Make A Whole: Writing Advice from Demetrius

For more on Demetrius and our words for period, comma, and colon, see this post

Demetrius, On Style, 1-2

“Just as poetry is separated by meters—such as half-lines, hexameters, and the rest—so too will sections called clauses [kôla] separate and define prose composition. They allow rests to the speaker and what is spoken and they give the composition boundaries in many places, since it would be long and endless and would just exhaust anyone reading it otherwise.

These clauses are really meant to bring an end to a thought. Sometimes they convey a complete thought on their own, as when Hekataios says at the beginning of his History, “Hekataios speaks thus”. In this a case a whole thought coincides with a single clause and both end together. At another time, a clause doesn’t effect a complete thought, but merely part of one.

For, just as the hand is a whole thing but has individual parts of the whole, such as the fingers and the wrist—each of which has its own particular shape and recognizable parts—so too will the parts of a larger thought which is complete and whole be subsumed within it even though they too are recognizable and defined.”

(1) Ὥσπερ ἡ ποίησις διαιρεῖται τοῖς μέτροις, οἷον ἡμιμέτροις ἢ ἑξαμέτροις ἢ τοῖς ἄλλοις, οὕτω καὶ τὴν ἑρμηνείαν τὴν λογικὴν διαιρεῖ καὶ διακρίνει τὰ καλούμενα κῶλα, καθάπερ ἀναπαύοντα τὸν λέγοντά τε καὶ τὰ λεγόμενα αὐτά, καὶ ἐν πολλοῖς ὅροις ὁρίζοντα τὸν λόγον, ἐπεί τοι μακρὸς ἂν εἴη καὶ ἄπειρος καὶ ἀτεχνῶς πνίγων τὸν λέγοντα.

(2) βούλεται μέντοι διάνοιαν ἀπαρτίζειν τὰ κῶλα ταῦτα, ποτὲ μὲν ὅλην διάνοιαν, οἷον ὡς Ἑκαταῖός φησιν ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ τῆς ἱστορίας, “Ἑκαταῖος Μιλήσιος ὧδε μυθεῖται”· συνείληπται γὰρ διάνοια τῷ κώλῳ ὅλῳ ὅλη, καὶ ἄμφω συγκαταλήγουσιν. ἐνίοτε μέντοι τὸ κῶλον ὅλην μὲν οὐ συμπεραιοῖ διάνοιαν, μέρος δὲ ὅλης ὅλον. ὡς γὰρ τῆς χειρὸς οὔσης ὅλου τινὸς μέρη αὐτῆς ὅλα ὅλης ἐστίν, οἷον δάκτυλοι καὶ πῆχυς (ἰδίαν γὰρ περιγραφὴν ἔχει τούτων τῶν μερῶν ἕκαστον, καὶ ἴδια μέρη), οὕτω καὶ διανοίας τινὸς ὅλης οὔσης μεγάλης ἐμπεριλαμβάνοιτ᾿ ἂν μέρη τινὰ αὐτῆς ὁλόκληρα ὄντα καὶ αὐτά·

Image result for greek bronze hand
From Christie’s Auction Catalogue

On Using “Leftover Time” for Writing Projects

Cicero, Laws 1.8-10

M. I do understand that I have been promising this work for a long time now, Atticus. It is something I would not refuse if any bit of open and free time were allotted to me. A work as momentous as this cannot be taken up when one’s efforts are occupied and his mind is elsewhere. It is really necessary to be free from worry and business.

A. What about the other things you have written more of than any of our people? What free time did you have set aside then?

M. These ‘leftover moments’ occur and I will not suffer wasting them—as when there are some days set aside for going to the country, I write something equal to what the number of days allow. But a history cannot be begun unless there is dedicated time and it can’t be completed in a short time. I habitually weigh down my thought when, once I have started, I am distracted by something else. And once a project is interrupted, I do not finish what was started easily.”

M. Intellego equidem a me istum laborem iam diu postulari, Attice; quem non recusarem, si mihi ullum tribueretur vacuum tempus et liberum; neque enim occupata opera neque inpedito animo res tanta suscipi potest; utrumque opus est, et cura vacare et negotio.

A. Quid ad cetera. quae scripsisti plura quam quisquam e nostris? quod tibi tandem tempus vacuum fuit concessum?

M. Subsiciva quaedam tempora incurrunt, quae ego perire non patior, ut, si qui dies ad rusticandum dati sint, ad eorum numerum adcommodentur quae scribimus. historia vero nec institui potest nisi praeparato otio nec exiguo tempore absolvi, et ego animi pendere soleo, cum semel quid orsus sum,1 si traducor alio, neque tam facile interrupta contexo quam absolvo instituta.

I encourage everyone to copy “Intellego equidem a me istum laborem iam diu postulari” and paste it liberally into emails explaining why you have yet to complete that review, abstract, etc. etc. Take a break for a day or a nap for an hour. Let Cicero speak for you!