Vacation Advice from Pliny: Translate Greek into Latin, Maybe Write Some Poems

Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.1–3; 8-11

“You ask me what I think you should study while you enjoy your current vacation? It is really useful—as many propose—to translate Greek into Latin or Latin into Greek. By this kind of exercise you gain the proper and decorative use of words, an abundance of rhetorical devices, a forceful manner of explication, and, importantly, an ability to compose similar works due to the imitation of the best models. The things which escape a reader, moreover, do not evade a translator. From this practice one acquires intelligence and critical judgment.

[…]

From time to time, I want you to pick some passage from a history or perhaps write a letter more carefully. For sometimes even in speech the situation requires not only a bit of historical but even poetic description—a pure and compact style can be found in letters. It is also right to take a break for poetry—I am not talking about a long, continuous poem, since that cannot be completed without a lot of time—but in that sharp and brief style which aptly breaks up your cares and duties however important they are. This is called playing with verse, but these games often attract no less glory than serious pursuits.”

Quaerisquemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. Utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. Quo genere exerci­tationis, proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. Intellegentia ex hoc et indicium adquiritur.

[…]

Volo interdum aliquem ex historia locum adprendas, volo epistulam diligentius scribas. Nam saepe in oratione quoque non historica modo sed prope poetica descriptionum necessitas incidit, et pressus sermo purusque ex epistulis petitur. Fas est et carmine remitti, non dico continuo et longo (id enim perfici nisi in otio non potest), sed hoc arguto et brevi, quod apte quantas libet occupationes curasque distinguit. Lusus vocantur; sed hi lusus non minorem interdum gloriam quam seria consequuntur.

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This is from a manuscript of Pliny the Elder (the Douce Pliny)

Philagros: Angry Philosopher, Bad Father

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 581

“Philagros was shorter than average, his brow was harsh, and his eye watchful. He was quick to get fall into a rage, but he wasn’t ignorant of his own character. When one of his friends asked him why he didn’t enjoy raising children, he said “Because I don’t even enjoy myself.” Some say he died on the sea; others report that he reached the first part of old age in Italy.”

Μέγεθος μὲν οὖν ὁ Φίλαγρος μετρίου μείων, τὴν δὲ ὀφρὺν πικρὸς καὶ τὸ ὄμμα ἕτοιμος καὶ ἐς ὀργὴν ἐκκληθῆναι πρόθυμος, καὶ τὸ ἐν αὐτῷ δύστροπον οὐδ’ αὐτὸς ἠγνόει· ἐρομένου γοῦν αὐτὸν ἑνὸς τῶν ἑταίρων, τί μαθὼν παιδοτροφίᾳ οὐ χαίροι, „ὅτι” ἔφη „οὐδ’ ἐμαυτῷ χαίρω.” ἀποθανεῖν δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ μὲν ἐν τῇ θαλάττῃ, οἱ δὲ ἐν ᾿Ιταλίᾳ περὶ πρῶτον γῆρας.

This Vita seems a bit strange in its characterization. Here’s the introductory segment (578):

“Philagros of Cilicia, a student of Lollianos, was the most volatile and irascible of the sophists.  There’s a story that when a member of his audience dozed off, he struck him with an open hand. He made a start on fame when he was young and did not let off even as he grew old—he achieved enough that he was considered a model of a teacher. After living among many different nations and becoming famous for his management of arguments, he could not control his own anger well in Athens where he fell into a fight with Herodes as if he had come there for that reason.”

η′. Φίλαγρος δὲ ὁ Κίλιξ Λολλιανοῦ μὲν ἀκροατὴς ἐγένετο, σοφιστῶν δὲ θερμότατος καὶ ἐπιχολώτατος, λέγεται γὰρ δὴ νυστάζοντά ποτε ἀκροατὴν καὶ ἐπὶ κόρρης πλῆξαι, καὶ ὁρμῇ δὲ λαμπρᾷ ἐκ μειρακίου χρησάμενος οὐκ ἀπελείφθη αὐτῆς οὐδ’ ὁπότε ἐγήρασκεν, ἀλλ’ οὕτω τι ἐπέδωκεν, ὡς καὶ σχῆμα τοῦ διδασκάλου νομισθῆναι. πλείστοις δὲ ἐπιμίξας ἔθνεσι καὶ δοκῶν ἄριστα μεταχειρίζεσθαι τὰς ὑποθέσεις οὐ μετεχειρίσατο ᾿Αθήνησιν εὖ τὴν αὑτοῦ  χολήν, ἀλλ’ ἐς ἀπέχθειαν ῾Ηρώδῃ κατέστησεν ἑαυτόν, καθάπερ τούτου ἀφιγμένος ἕνεκα.

He should have listened to Plutarch On Controlling Anger 455c

“It is best, as one might gather, to be in control and either to depart and conceal ourselves, anchoring oneself into some quiet place, just as if we perceive that a seizure is beginning, that we might not fall—or rather, that we might not fall on someone else. We most often turn on our friends; for we neither love everyone, nor envy everyone, nor fear everyone to the extent that there is anything that is untouched or untried by anger. We grow angry with enemies, children, parents the gods, by Zeus, with wild animals and even with lifeless tools…”

ἀτρεμεῖν οὖν κράτιστον ἢ φεύγειν καὶ ἀποκρύπτειν καὶ καθορμίζειν ἑαυτὸν εἰς ἡσυχίαν, ὥσπερ ἐπιληψίας ἀρχομένης συναισθανομένους, ἵνα μὴ πέσωμεν μᾶλλον δ’ ἐπιπέσωμεν· ἐπιπίπτομεν δὲ τοῖς φίλοις μάλιστά γε καὶ πλειστάκις, οὐ γὰρ πάντων ἐρῶμεν οὐδὲ πᾶσι φθονοῦμεν οὐδὲ πάντας φοβούμεθα, θυμῷ δ’ ἄθικτον οὐδὲν οὐδ’ ἀνεπιχείρητον, ἀλλ’ ὀργιζόμεθα καὶ πολεμίοις καὶ τέκνοις καὶ γονεῦσι καὶ θεοῖς νὴ Δία καὶ θηρίοις καὶ ἀψύχοις σκεύεσιν…

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Pliny’s Guidelines for A Retirement Well-Spent

Pliny, Letters 3.1 to Calvisius Rufus

“I am incapable of recalling a time I spent as pleasantly as I just did when I went to see Spurinna—and, in fact, I cannot imagine anyone I would rather imitate more in my old age, should I be allowed to grow old. For no way of living is better designed than his. A well-planned life pleases me as much as the circuit of the stars. This is especially true when it comes to the old—for while a limited amount of chaos and excitement is not inappropriate for the young, a completely calm and ordered life is better for the elderly. Their public service is over and any aims for advancement is perverse at this point.

Spurinna insistently follows this rule and even in small things—minor if they did not happen daily—he follows a plan as if an orbiting body. He lies abed a bit every morning but then asks for his shoes in the second hour and takes a three-mile walk to exercise his mind no less than his body. If his friends are present, they have the most earnest conversations. If they are not there, he has a book read—something he also does at times when his friends are there if it will not annoy them too much. Then, once he sits down, the book is read again or, even better, the conversation continues. Then he climbs into his carriage and takes his wife—a model of her gender—or some friend—recently, me!—along with him.

How fine it is, how sweet a secret! How much of the past one finds there—what deeds and what heroes you hear of! What principles you absorb! He bows to his own modesty, however, and does not seem to give orders. After he has been driven seven miles or so, he walks another mile, and then returns to sit again or he goes back to his writing. For then he writes the most learned lyric lines in both Latin and Greek—they are amazingly sweet and impressive as well for their charm, humor, and grace which the taste of the one who writes them only increases.”

Nescio an ullum iucundius tempus exegerim, quam quo nuper apud Spurinnam fui, adeo quidem ut neminem magis in senectute, si modo senescere datum est, aemulari velim; nihil est enim illo vitae genere distinctius. Me autem ut certus siderum cursus ita vita hominum disposita delectat. Senum praesertim: nam iuvenes confusa adhuc quaedam et quasi turbata non indecent, senibus placida omnia et ordinata conveniunt, quibus industria sera turpis ambitio est.

Hanc regulam Spurinna constantissime servat; quin etiam parva haec—parva si non cotidie fiant—ordine quodam et velut orbe circumagit. Mane lectulo continetur, hora secunda calceos poscit, ambulat milia passuum tria nec minus animum quam corpus exercet. Si adsunt amici, honestissimi sermones explicantur; si non, liber legitur, interdum etiam praesentibus amicis, si tamen illi non gravantur. Deinde considit, et liber rursus aut sermo libro potior; mox vehiculum ascendit, adsumit uxorem singularis exempli vel aliquem amicorum, ut me  proxime. Quam pulchrum illud, quam dulce secretum! quantum ibi antiquitatis! quae facta, quos viros audias! quibus praeceptis imbuare! quamvis ille hoc temperamentum modestiae suae indixerit, ne  praecipere videatur. Peractis septem milibus passuum iterum ambulat mille, iterum residit vel se cubiculo ac stilo reddit. Scribit enim et quidem utraque lingua lyrica doctissima; mira illis dulcedo. mira suavitas, mira hilaritas, cuius gratiam cumulat sanctitas scribentis.

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The Fruitless Toil of Worry: Two Passages on Happiness

Horace, Odes 2.16 25-32

“The spirit which is happy for a single day
Has learned not to worry about what remains
And tempers bitter tastes with a gentle smile—
Nothing is blessed through and through.

A swift death stole famed Achilles away;
Drawn-out old age wore Tithonos down.
Perhaps some hour will hand to me
Whatever it has refused to you.”

laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
oderit curare et amara lento
temperet risu; nihil est ab omni
parte beatum.

abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tithonum minuit senectus,
et mihi forsan, tibi quod negarit,
porriget hora.

Bacchylides, Processionals fr. 11-12

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”

εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυρία
μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ᾿ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον.

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BLMedieval Sloane MS 278, 1280-1300

Gift-Giving is Like Getting Drunk: Fronto with Seasonal Advice

Cornelius Fronto, To Appian from Fronto 7

“The person who sends rather weighty gifts causes no less grief than the one who throws the ball too hard to his teammate or offers a big cup to his fellow drinker in toast. For the latter seems to toast not for pleasure but for getting drunk. Just as in wise drinking parties we see that the wine is mixed with a little pure alcohol and a lot of water, so too are gifts mixed best with a lot of thought and a little expenditure.

For who should we say gets the benefit from expensive gifts? Is it the poor? They are not capable of giving them. The rich? They don’t need to get them. In addition, it is not possible to constantly give expensive gifts—there will be a failure of resources if someone should often send out immense gifts. It is possible, however, to give small gifts endlessly and without regret—since someone owes only small thanks to the one who gave a small gift.”

  1. Ὁ δὲ τὰ βαρύτερα δῶρα πέμπων οὐχ ἧττον λυπεῖ τοῦ βαρεῖαν πέμποντος ἐπὶ τὸν συσφαιρίζοντα ἢ μεγάλην κύλην προπίνοντος τῷ συμπότῃ・ εἰς γὰρ μέθην οὐκ εἰς ἡδονὴν προπίνειν ἔοικεν. ὥσπερ δὲ τὸν οἶνον ἐν τοῖς σώφροσιν συμποσίοις ὁρῶμεν κιρνάμενον ἀκράτῳ μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγῳ, πλείστῳ δὲ τῷ ὕδατι, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ δῶρα κιρνάναι προσῆκεν πολλῇ μὲν φιλοφροσύνῃ, ἐλαχίστῳ δὲ ἀναλώματι. τίσιν γὰp ἂν Φαίημεν ἁρμόττειν τὰ πολυτελῆ δῶρα; ἆρά γε τοῖς πένησιν; ἀλλὰ πέμπειν οὐ δύνανται・ ἢ τοῖς πλουσίοις; ἀλλά λαμβάνειν οὐ δέονται. τοῖς μὲν οὖν μεγάλοις δώροις τὸ συνεχὲς οὐ πρόσεστιν, ἢ ἐκπεσεῖν ἀναγκὴ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, εἴ τις μεγάλα τε πέμποι καὶ πολλάκις. τοῖς δὲ μικροῖς δώροις τό τε συνεχὲς πρόσεστιν καί τὸ ἀμεταγνωστόν, εἰ <καὶ μικρὰ δεῖ τε>λέσαι μικρὰ πέμψαντι.†

 

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Hermit at work on a manuscript, from the Estoire del Saint Graal, France

Advice on Buying Gifts from Seneca

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.11-12

“Let’s imagine what might be worth the greatest pleasure after it has been given—what would greet the recipient’s eye frequently and make him think of us whenever he sees it. Each time let us be wary not to send useless gifts, such as hunting implements to a woman or an old man, books to a simpleton or fishing nets to someone dedicated to literature. However, we should be equally mindful that, although we want to send welcome gifts, we do not send things which will reprove someone for a failing, such as sending wine to a drunk or medicine to a healthy man. For something which uncovers a fault in the recipient turns out to be an insult not a gift.

If the choice of the gift is our choice, we should think especially of things which will endure, that the gift may last as long as possible. For there are truly few people so grateful that they will think about what they have received when they do not see it. But memory revives for the ungrateful with the gift itself when it is in front of them and it will not allow them to be forgetful. And we should seek gifts which endure even more for the fact that we ought not to ever remind people: let the things themselves prompt a fading memory.

I will give silver which is sculpted rather than money and I give statues more freely than clothing or things which will deteriorate after brief use. Gratitude lasts among few longer than the objects themselves. Greater is the number among whom gifts remain in mind no longer than they are in use. So I, if it is possible, do not want my gift to be used up. Let it last, let it stick fast to my friend. Let it live alongside him.”

Videamus, quid oblatum maxime voluptati futurum sit, quid frequenter occursurum habenti, ut totiens nobiscum quotiens cum illo sit. Utique cavebimus, ne munera supervacua mittamus, ut feminae aut seni arma venatoria, ut rustico libros, ut studiis ac litteris dedito retia. Aeque ex contrario circumspiciemus,ne, dum grata mittere volumus, suum cuique morbum exprobratura mittamus, sicut ebrioso vina et valetudinario medicamenta. Maledictum enim incipit esse, non munus, in quo vitium accipientis adgnoscitur.

Si arbitrium dandi penes nos est, praecipue mansura quaeremus, ut quam minime mortale munus sit. Pauci enim sunt tam grati, ut, quid acceperint, etiam si non vident, cogitent. Ingratos quoque memoria cum ipso munere incurrit, ubi ante oculos est et oblivisci sui non sinit, sed auctorem suum ingerit et inculcat. Eo quidem magis duratura quaeramus, quia numquam admonere debemus; ipsa res evanescentem memoriam excitet. Libentius donabo argentum factum quam signatum; libentius statuas quam vestem et quod usus brevis deterat. Apud paucos post rem manet gratia; plures sunt, apud quos non diutius in animo sunt donata, quam in usu. Ego, si fieri potest, consumi munus meum nolo; extet, haereat amico meo, convivat.

 

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A Double Mind With a Single Tongue: Elegiac Advice on Vetting People

Theognis, Elegies

77-78

“A man you can trust, Kurnos, is equal to his weight in silver and gold
Kurnos, during a time of of painful civil strife.”

πιστὸς ἀνὴρ χρυσοῦ τε καὶ ἀργύρου ἀντερύσασθαι
ἄξιος ἐν χαλεπῇ, Κύρνε, διχοστασίῃ.

91-92

“Kurnos, whoever has a double mind with a single tongue is a
Terrible companion: a better enemy than a friend.”

ὃς δὲ μιῇ γλώσσῃ δίχ᾿ ἔχει νόον, οὗτος ἑταῖρος
δεινός, Κύρν᾿· ἐχθρὸς βέλτερος ἢ φίλος ὤν.

113-114

“Never make an evil man into a dear friend:
Avoid him always, like a bad harbor.”

μήποτε τὸν κακὸν ἄνδρα φίλον ποιεῖσθαι ἑταῖρον,
ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ φεύγειν ὥστε κακὸν λιμένα

117-118

“Nothing is harder than recognizing a counterfeit.
But, Kurnos, there is nothing more urgent than guarding against one.”

κιβδήλου δ᾿ ἀνδρὸς γνῶναι χαλεπώτερον οὐδέν,
Κύρν᾿, οὐδ᾿ εὐλαβίης ἐστὶ περὶ πλέονος.

161-164

“Many people have worthless minds but enjoy good luck
And what seems like misfortune ends up good.
And there are others with good plans who have wretched luck
and success never accompanies their deeds.”

Πολλοί τοι χρῶνται δειλαῖς φρεσί, δαίμονι δ’ ἐσθλῶι,
οἷς τὸ κακὸν δοκέον γίνεται εἰς ἀγαθόν.
εἰσὶν δ’ οἳ βουλῆι τ’ ἀγαθῆι καὶ δαίμονι δειλῶι
μοχθίζουσι, τέλος δ’ ἔργμασιν οὐχ ἕπεται.

 

Gemini. From the Hunterian Psalter, produced in England ca. 1170. Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 229, folio 3r.
University Library MS Hunter 229, folio 3r.