The Great Contest and a Reason For Weddings

Antiphon, Stob. 4.22.66

“Marriage is a great contest for a person”

μέγας γὰρ ἀγὼν γάμος ἀνθρώπῳ

Epictetus, Discourses According to Arrian 1.11: On Family Affection

“When someone came to him, asking him about some other matters, Epictetus asked if had had children and a spouse. When he learned from him that he did, Epictetus asked, “How is marriage going for you?” the man answered, “Terribly.” And Epictetus replied, “In what way? For people don’t marry and have children to be miserable, but to be happy instead!”

Ἀφικομένου δέ τινος πρὸς αὐτὸν τῶν ἐν τέλει πυθόμενος παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ τὰ ἐπὶ μέρους ἠρώτησεν, εἰ καὶ τέκνα εἴη αὐτῷ καὶ γυνή. τοῦ δ᾿ ὁμολογήσαντος προσεπύθετο· Πῶς τι οὖν χρῇ τῷ πράγματι;—Ἀθλίως, ἔφη.—Καὶ ὅς· Τίνα τρόπον; οὐ γὰρ δὴ τούτου γ᾿ ἕνεκα γαμοῦσιν ἄνθρωποι καὶ παιδοποιοῦνται, ὅπως ἄθλιοι ὦσιν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον ὅπως εὐδαίμονες.—

Crono e Rea assistita da Iride, affresco, quarto stile, c. 65 d. C., da modello di età classica. Da Pompei, Casa del Poeta tragico. Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Luciano Pedicini, Napoli)

Writing Advice from Odysseus and David Byrne

Homer, Odyssey 12.447-453

“From there I was carried for nine days and on the tenth
The gods drove me at night to the island where Kalypso,
That nymph with the good hair, the dread goddess lives.
She was loving me and taking care of me. But why should I tell that story again?
I already told the tale of these things yesterday in this house
To you and your wife. It is super annoying for me
To say something again once it was already said clearly.”

ἔνθεν δ’ ἐννῆμαρ φερόμην, δεκάτῃ δέ με νυκτὶ
νῆσον ἐς ᾿Ωγυγίην πέλασαν θεοί, ἔνθα Καλυψὼ
ναίει ἐϋπλόκαμος, δεινὴ θεὸς αὐδήεσσα,
ἥ μ’ ἐφίλει τ’ ἐκόμει τε. τί τοι τάδε μυθολογεύω;
ἤδη γάρ τοι χθιζὸς ἐμυθεόμην ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
σοί τε καὶ ἰφθίμῃ ἀλόχῳ· ἐχθρὸν δέ μοί ἐστιν
αὖτις ἀριζήλως εἰρημένα μυθολογεύειν.”

Odysseus Yearns for Ithaca by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

The Talking Heads, Psycho Killer 14-17

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?

David Byrne

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 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

How 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.

Leave Your Homework to Sunday Night? Philo has Some Words for You

Philo, The Preliminary studies 29.166–7

There are those who, when they encounter the frights and horrors of the wilderness with complete endurance and strength complete the contest of life, after preserving it unsullied and unconquered, holding fast against the compulsions of nature like poverty, so that they subdue hunger, thirst, cold, and heat and everything which enslaves other people through the great abundance of their strength.

The cause of this is not simple toil but toil with a certain sweetening. For he says “the water is sweetened” and the work that is sweet and attractive is also called “love of labor” (philoponia). For in work the desire and longing and and love of finer things is sweet. Let no one turn away from this kind of suffering, nor let anyone believe that when the table of the feast and happiness is called “bread of suffering” it is for its harm rather than profit. For the soul which is chastened is fed by the instructions of education.”

οἱ δὲ τὰ φοβερὰ καὶ δεινὰ τῆς ἐρήμης πάνυ τλητικῶς καὶ ἐρρωμένως ἀναδεχόμενοι τὸν ἀγῶνα τοῦ βίου διήθλησαν ἀδιάφθορον καὶ ἀήττητον φυλάξαντες καὶ τῶν τῆς φύσεως ἀναγκαίων κατεξαναστάντες, ὡς πεῖναν, δίψος, [ῥῖγος,] κρύος, θάλπος, ὅσα τοὺς ἄλλους εἴωθε δουλοῦσθαι, κατὰ πολλὴν ἰσχύος περιουσίαν ὑπάγεσθαι. αἴτιον δὲ ἐγένετο οὐ ψιλὸς ὁ πόνος, ἀλλὰ σὺν τῷ γλυκανθῆναι· λέγει γάρ· “ἐγλυκάνθη τὸ ὕδωρ,” γλυκὺς δὲ καὶ ἡδὺς πόνος ἑτέρῳ ὀνόματι φιλοπονία καλεῖται. τὸ γὰρ ἐν πόνῳ γλυκὺ ἔρως ἐστὶ καὶ πόθος καὶ ζῆλος καὶ φιλία τοῦ καλοῦ. μηδεὶς οὖν τὴν τοιαύτην κάκωσιν ἀποστρεφέσθω, μηδ᾿ “ ἄρτον κακώσεως” νομισάτω ποτὲ λέγεσθαι τὴν ἑορτῆς καὶ εὐφροσύνης τράπεζαν ἐπὶ βλάβῃ μᾶλλον ἢ ὠφελείᾳ· τρέφεται γὰρ τοῖς παιδείας δόγμασιν ἡ νουθετουμένη ψυχή.

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Souls Burning for Censure: Sallust Advises Caesar

Sallust, First Letter to Caesar 8-10

I have offered you as briefly as possible what things I think are necessary for our nation and your glory. It does not seem any worse to say a few things now about what I have accomplished here.

Most mortals possess—or pretend to possess—enough intelligence to make judgments. But, in truth, everyone’s soul burns to criticize the words and deeds of others, even though their mouth and tongue are not large and quick enough to produces the words contemplated in their hearts.

It causes me no grief to be subject to these men—no, it would hurt more to stay quiet. For whether you persist on this path or another one, I have spoken and offered help in a manly way. All that is left is to hope that the immortal gods smile on what you do and allow it to turn out well.

Quae rei publicae necessaria tibique gloriosa ratus sum, quam paucissimis apsolvi. Non peius videtur pauca nunc de facto meo disserere. Plerique mortales ad iudicandum satis ingenii habent aut simulant; verum enim ad reprehendunda aliena facta aut dicta ardet omnibus animus, vix satis apertum os aut lingua prompta videtur quae meditata pectore evolvat. Quibus me subiectum haud paenitet, magis reticuisse pigeret. Nam sive hac seu meliore alia via perges, a me quidem pro virili parte dictum et adiutum fuerit. Relicuum est optare uti quae tibi placuerint ea di immortales adprobent beneque evenire sinant.

From Wikipedia

Pliny Plans a Staycation

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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A Commencement Address

Theognis 1007-1012

I give the same advice to everyone
so that someone young,
someone still possessing the splendid bloom,
thinks over in his mind what is good
but all the while enjoys his wealth.
for there is no growing young again
—twice is for the gods—
and there is no release from death for people.
rather, devastating old age shames the beautiful man–
it takes him by the crown of his head.

†ξυνὸν δ᾽ ἀνθρώποις ὑποθήσομαι, ὄφρα τις ἡβᾷ
ἀγλαὸν ἄνθος ἔχων καὶ φρεσὶν ἐσθλὰ νοῇ,
τῶν αὐτοῦ κτεάνων εὖ πάσχεμεν: οὐ γὰρ ἀνηβᾶν
δὶς πέλεται πρὸς θεῶν οὐδὲ λύσις θανάτου
θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποισι: καλὸν δ᾽ ἐπὶ γῆρας ἐλέγχει
οὐλόμενον, κεφαλῆς δ᾽ ἅπτεται ἀκροτάτης.

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.