Suffering for a Lack of the Latin Language

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 7.72

I used to tell you that Cestius, because he was Greek, suffered because of a lack of Latin words though he had an abundance of ideas. Thus, whenever he dared to describe something more broadly, he often stalled especially when he attempted to imitate some great genius.

This is the issue in this controversy. For, in his story, when he was telling about how his brother was given to him, he was pleased by this lonely and sad description: “night was laid out, and everything, judges, was singing under silent stars.” Julius Montanus, who was a companion of Tiberius and an exceptional poet, was claiming that he wanted to imitate Vergil’s line: “it was night and all the tired animals over the earth, the races of birds and beasts, were held by a deep sleep.”

Soleo dicere vobis Cestium Latinorum verborum inopia hominem Graecum laborasse, sensibus abundasse; itaque, quotiens latius aliquid describere ausus est, totiens substitit, utique cum se ad imitationem magni alicuius ingeni derexerat, sicut in hac controversia fecit. Nam in narratione, cum fratrem traditum sibi describeret, placuit sibi in hac explicatione una et infelici: nox erat concubia, et omnia, iudices, canentia sideribus muta erant. Montanus Iulius, qui comes fuit , egregius poeta, aiebat illum imitari voluisse Vergili descriptionem:

nox erat et terras animalia fessa per omnis,alituum pecudumque genus, sopor altus habebat

Cats doing cat things: sleep, play with mice, and take an unhealthy interest in caged birds from a medieval bestiary

Oxford University: Bodleian Library

A Model Opening for a Toast at Any Occasion

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (5.211 e-f)

“Posidonios of Apamea records the story of [Athenion] which I am going to lay out even though it is rather long, so that we may examine carefully all men who claim to be philosophers, and not merely trust in their shabby robes and unkempt beards. For, as Agathon says (fr. 12):

If I tell the truth, I won’t make you happy.
But if I am to make you happy, I will say nothing true.

Since the truth, they say, is dear to us, I will tell the whole story about this man.”

περὶ οὗ καθ’ ἕκαστα ἱστορεῖ Ποσειδώνιος ὁ ᾿Απαμεύς, ἅπερ εἰ καὶ μακρότερά ἐστιν ἐκθήσομαι, ἵν’ ἐπιμελῶς πάντας ἐξετάζωμεν τοὺς φάσκοντας εἶναι φιλοσόφους καὶ μὴ τοῖς τριβωνίοις καὶ τοῖς ἀκάρτοις πώγωσι πιστεύωμεν. κατὰ γὰρ τὸν ᾿Αγάθωνα
(fr. 12 N)
εἰς μὲν φράσω τἀληθές, οὐχί σ’ εὐφρανῶ·
εἰ δ’ εὐφρανῶ τί σ’, οὐχὶ τἀληθὲς φράσω.
ἀλλὰ φίλη <γάρ>, φασίν, ἡ ἀλήθεια, ἐκθήσομαι τὰ περὶ τὸν ἄνδρα ὡς ἐγένετο (FHG III 266).


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The Sophist Aelian: Bachelor, Homebody, and Cowardly Wit

We’ve quoted a lot on this site from the Varia Historia of Claudius Aelianus. Here’s the mixed praise delivered in his honor.

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 31

“Aelian was a Roman, but he used Attic just as well as the Athenians in the middle of the region. This man seems to me to be worthy of praise, first because he toiled to achieve a pure version of Greek even though he lived in a city that spoke a different language; and, second, because, although he was called sophist by those who flatter in this way, he did not believe them and he neither kept the same opinion of himself nor was inflated by the title—even though it is impressive—but once he examined himself well as unsuited for public speeches, he set himself to writing and earned wide respect from this. Simplicity is the overwhelming nature of the style, at times nearing the attractions of Nikostratos, at others he favors Dio and his tone.

Once Philostratos of Lemnos* met him when he had a book in hand and was reading it aloud with anger and a striking voice—he asked Aelian what he was pursuing and he answered “I have written a condemnation of Gynnis*, for that’s what I call the tyrant who has just been killed, since he shamed the Roman Empire with every type of disgusting behavior.” And Philostratus answered, “I would be more impressed if you had condemned him when he was alive!” For it takes a brave man to stand up to a living tyrant, while anyone can attack him when he’s dead.

Aelian used to say  that he had never traveled abroad anywhere outside of the Italian peninsula, and that he had never stepped on a ship or got to know the sea—for this reason he was praised in Rome on the grounds that he valued their lifestyle. He was a student of Pausanias but he respected Herodes the most varied of sophists. He lived until he was sixty years old and without children, for he avoided child-rearing by never marrying. Whether this is a blessing or a curse it is not the right time to consider.”

*Likely a relative of the Philostratus writing this Vita.

*”Womanly-Man”, for the Emperor Heliogabulus who was assassinated in 222 (and ascended to power at age 14!).


Yo, Aelian…

λα′. Αἰλιανὸς δὲ ῾Ρωμαῖος μὲν ἦν, ἠττίκιζε δέ, ὥσπερ οἱ ἐν τῇ μεσογείᾳ ᾿Αθηναῖοι. ἐπαίνου μοι δοκεῖ ἄξιος ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος, πρῶτον μέν, ἐπειδὴ καθαρὰν φωνὴν ἐξεπόνησε πόλιν οἰκῶν ἑτέρᾳ φωνῇ χρωμένην, ἔπειθ’, ὅτι προσρηθεὶς σοφιστὴς ὑπὸ τῶν χαριζομένων τὰ τοιαῦτα οὐκ ἐπίστευσεν, οὐδὲ ἐκολάκευσε τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γνώμην, οὐδὲ ἐπήρθη ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀνόματος οὕτω μεγάλου ὄντος, ἀλλ’ ἑαυτὸν εὖ διασκεψάμενος ὡς μελέτῃ οὐκ ἐπιτήδειον τῷ ξυγγράφειν ἐπέθετο καὶ ἐθαυμάσθη ἐκ τούτου. ἡ μὲν ἐπίπαν ἰδέα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀφέλεια προσβάλλουσά τι τῆς Νικοστράτου ὥρας, ἡ δὲ ἐνίοτε, πρὸς Δίωνα ὁρᾷ καὶ τὸν ἐκείνου τόνον.

᾿Εντυχὼν δέ ποτε αὐτῷ Φιλόστρατος ὁ Λήμνιος  βιβλίον ἔτι πρόχειρον ἔχοντι καὶ ἀναγιγνώσκοντιαὐτὸ σὺν ὀργῇ καὶ ἐπιτάσει τοῦ φθέγματος ἤρετο αὐτόν, ὅ τι σπουδάζοι, καὶ ὃς „ἐκπεπόνηταί μοι” ἔφη „κατηγορία τοῦ Γύννιδος, καλῶ γὰρ οὕτω τὸν ἄρτι καθῃρημένον τύραννον, ἐπειδὴ ἀσελγείᾳ πάσῃ τὰ ῾Ρωμαίων ᾔσχυνε.” καὶ ὁ Φιλόστρατος „ἐγώ σε” εἶπεν „ἐθαύμαζον ἄν, εἰ ζῶντος κατηγόρησας”. εἶναι γὰρ δὴ τὸ μὲν ζῶντα τύραννον ἐπικόπτειν ἀνδρός, τὸ δὲ ἐπεμβαίνειν κειμένῳ παντός.

῎Εφασκε δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος μηδ’ ἀποδεδημηκέναι ποι τῆς γῆς ὑπὲρ τὴν ᾿Ιταλῶν χώραν, μηδὲ ἐμβῆναι ναῦν, μηδὲ γνῶναι θάλατταν, ὅθεν καὶ λόγου πλείνος κατὰ τὴν ῾Ρώμην ἠξιοῦτο ὡς τιμῶν τὰ ἤθη. Παυσανίου μὲν οὖν ἀκροατὴς ἐγένετο, ἐθαύμαζε δὲ τὸν ῾Ηρώδην ὡς ποικιλώτατον ῥητόρων. ἐβίω δὲ ὑπὲρ τὰ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη καὶ ἐτελεύτα οὐκ ἐπὶ παισίν,  παιδοποιίαν γὰρ παρῃτήσατο τῷ μὴ γῆμαί ποτε. τοῦτο δὲ εἴτε εὔδαιμον εἴτε ἄθλιον οὐ τοῦ παρόντος καιροῦ φιλοσοφῆσαι.

Inanes esse mutosque: To Speak With(Out) Vergil’s Voice

Fr. 3 Seneca the Elder ( Donat. Vita Vergilii, 29.)

“Seneca reports that Julius Montanus was in the habit of saying that he would have stolen certain things from Vergil if he could have his voice, and comportment, and dramatic ability. [He added] that the same verses sounded beautifuly when Vergil was reciting but without him they were meaningless and mute.”

3. Et Seneca tradidit Iulium Montanum poetam solitum dicere involaturum se Vergilio quaedam, si et vocem posset et os et hypocrisin; eosdem enim versus ipso pronuntiante bene sonare, sine illo inanes esse mutosque.

Philagros, Angry Philosopher and 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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Harmless, Useless Sophistry

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers  [Chrysippus] 7.7

“If someone is in Megara he is not in Athens. If a body is in Megara there is nobody in Athens. If you say something, then something moves through your mouth. So, you say “wagon”. And then a wagon moves through your mouth. Also, if you did not lose anything, then you have it. You never lost horns, so you have horns.” Some say Euboulides said this.”

“εἴ τίς ἐστιν ἐν Μεγάροις, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν Ἀθήναις· ἄνθρωπος δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἐν Μεγάροις· οὐκ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν Ἀθήναις.” καὶ πάλιν· “εἴ τι λαλεῖς, τοῦτο διὰ τοῦ στόματός σου διέρχεται· ἅμαξαν δὲ λαλεῖς· ἅμαξα ἄρα διὰ τοῦ στόματός σου διέρχεται.” καί· “εἴ τι οὐκ ἀπέβαλες, τοῦτ᾿ ἔχεις· κέρατα δ᾿ οὐκ ἀπέβαλες· κέρατ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔχεις.” οἱ δ᾿ Εὐβουλίδου τοῦτό φασι.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 45.8

“Again, the one who is asked whether he has horns is not so foolish as to search his own brow nor also so incompetent or limited that you may persuade him that he doesn’t know this with that most sophisticated logic. These kinds of things deceive without harm in the same way as the dice and cup of a juggler in which the deception itself entertains me. But explain how the trick works, and I lose my interest. I say that same thing about these word tricks, for by what name might I better call sophistries? They are harmless if you don’t understand them, and useless if you do.”

Ceterum qui interrogatur, an cornua habeat, non est tam stultus, ut frontem suam temptet, nec rursus tam ineptus aut hebes, ut ne sciat tu illi subtilissima collectione persuaseris. Sic ista sine noxa decipiunt, quomodo praestigiatorum acetabula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia ipsa delectat. Effice, ut quomodo fiat intellegam; perdidi usum. Idem de istis captionibus dico; quo enim nomine potius sophismata appellem? Nec ignoranti nocent nec scientem iuvant.

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Bronze head of a Philosopher from a shipwreck near Antikythera

Writing Biography is Like Being In Love

Eunapius, Live of the Philosophers 2.2.4

“Even though I have recorded these things faithfully, I do recognize that some things have probably escaped me. And if, although I have applied great thought and effort trying to compose a continuous and clear history of the lives of the best philosophers and rhetoricians, I did not obtain my goal, I have suffered much the same kind of thing as those who love madly and obsessively. For they, when they see the one they love and witness her overwhelming beauty in real life, they look down, too weak and dazed to gaze upon the one they desire.”

Καὶ ταῦτά γε εἰς μνήμην ἐγὼ τίθεμαι, τοῦτο συνορῶν, ὅτι τὰ μὲν ἔλαθεν ἴσως ἡμᾶς, τὰ δὲ οὐκ ἔλαθεν. ἐκείνου δὲ καίπερ πολλὴν ποιούμενος φροντίδα καὶ σπουδήν, τοῦ συνεχῆ καὶ περιγεγραμμένην εἰς ἀκρίβειαν ἱστορίαν τινὰ λαβεῖν τοῦ φιλοσόφου καὶ ῥητορικοῦ βίου τῶν ἀρίστων ἀνδρῶν, εἶτα οὐ τυγχάνων τῆς ἐπιθυμίας, ταὐτόν τι τοῖς ἐρῶσιν ἐμμανῶς καὶ περιφλέκτως ἔπαθον. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι, τὴν μὲν ἐρωμένην αὐτὴν ὁρῶντες καὶ τὸ περίψυκτον ἐν τῷ φαινομένῳ κάλλος, κάτω νεύουσιν, ὃ ζητοῦσιν ἰδεῖν ἐξασθενοῦντες, καὶ περιλαμπόμενοι•

Eunapius? A 5th century (CE) intellectual who wrote about sophists, picking up from Philostratus.

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