“Septicia as well, the mother of Ariminum’s Trachali, because she was angry with her sons, married Publicius who was already old, even though she could no longer have children, as an insult against them. Then she took both of them out of her will. When they appealed to him, the divine Augustus criticized both the woman’s marriage and her final allotments. He ordered that the sons have their mother’s inheritance and the dowry since she had not begun the marriage for the purpose of having children.
If Fairness herself were to judge this affair, could she have come up with a more just or more substantial opinion? You spurn the children you bore, make a sterile marriage, make a mess of a final will because of your malicious spirit, and you don’t blush to hand all your wealth over to a man whose body you climb under even when it has already been laid out like a corpse? So, since you acted like this, you are struck by divine lightning even among the damned!”
Septicia quoque, mater Trachalorum Ariminensium, irata filiis, in contumeliam eorum, cum iam parere non posset, Publicio seni admodum nupsit, testamento etiam utrumque praeteriit. a quibus aditus divus Augustus et nuptias mulieris et suprema iudicia improbavit: nam hereditatem maternam filios habere iussit, dotem, quia non creandorum liberorum causa coniugium intercesserat, virum retinere vetuit. si ipsa Aequitas hac de re cognosceret, potuitne iustius aut gravius pronuntiare? spernis quos genuisti, nubis effeta, testamenti ordinem malevolo animo confundis, neque erubescis ei totum patrimonium addicere cuius pollincto iam corpori marcidam senectutem tuam substravisti. ergo dum sic te geris, ad inferos usque caelesti fulmine adflata es.
Here’s an anecdote that is chilling and a bit upsetting. CW: it contains misogyny as well as reference to suicide clusters. In general, this reminded me of the suicide clusters in Silicon Valley discussed widely a few years ago. But–and I think this is more important–it also points to groups of suicide as an attempt to wrest agency in response to desperation, a lack of agency, and marginalization.
Aulus Gellius, Varia Historia 15.10
“In his first of the books On the Soul, Plutarch included the following tale when he was commenting on maladies which afflict human minds. He said that there were maiden girls of Milesian families who at a certain time suddenly and without almost any clear reason made a plan to die and that many killed themselves by hanging.
When this became more common in following days and there was no treatment to be found for the spirits of those who were dedicated to dying, The Milesians decreed that all maidens who would die by hanging their bodies would be taken out to burial completely naked except for the rope by which they were hanged. After this was decreed, the maidens did not seek suicide only because they were frightened by the thought of so shameful a funeral.”
Plutarchus in librorum quos περὶ ψυχῆς inscripsit primo cum de morbis dissereret in animos hominum incidentibus, virgines dixit Milesii nominis, fere quot tum in ea civitate erant, repente sine ulla evidenti causa voluntatem cepisse obeundae mortis ac deinde plurimas vitam suspendio amississe. id cum accideret in dies crebrius neque animis earum mori perseverantium medicina adhiberi quiret, decrevisse Milesios ut virgines, quae corporibus suspensis demortuae forent, ut hae omnes nudae cum eodem laqueo quo essent praevinctae efferrentur. post id decretum virgines voluntariam mortem non petisse pudore solo deterritas tam inhonesti funeris.
“But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.”
In thinking about the impact of agency and belonging on our sense of well-being and relationship to death, I have been significantly influence by this book:
Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. London: Allen Lane, 2015.
If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.
“These facts are as accurate details about Plato as we are able to gather in our laborious research of the things said about him. Speusippus, an an Athenian son of Eurymedon, took over for him. He was from the deme of Myrrhinos and was the son of Plato’s sister, Pôtônê.
Speusippos was the leader of the school for eight years, and he began after the 108th Olympiad. He had statues of the Graces dedicated in the Museion which Plato built in the Academy. Although he remained an adherent to Plato’s theories, he was not like him at all in his character. For he was quick to anger and easily induced by pleasures. People say that he threw a little dog into a well in a rage and he went to Macedonia to the marriage of Kassander thanks to pleasure.
Two women, Lastheneia of Mantinea and Aksiothea of Phlios, were students of Plato who are said to have heard Speusippus speak. Writing at the time, Dionysus says mockingly: “It is possible to evaluate your wisdom from your Arcadian girl of a student.” And, while Plato made everyone who came to him exempt from tuition, you “send everyone a bill and take money from the willing and unwilling alike!”
“For [Hermippos] says that when Pythagoras was in Italy he built a little home in the ground and told his mother to write down on a tablet what happened and the time and then to send it down to him until he came up again. His mother did that.
Later, when Pythagoras finally came up again he was shriveled and almost a skeleton. After he came to the assembly, he was saying that he came from Hades. Then he read aloud to them what had happened. And they were overwhelmed by what he said, crying and weeping and believing that Pythagoras was divine. They believed it so much that they gave him their wives so that they might learn some of his philosophy from him. They were called Pythagorean Women. Well, that’s what Hermippos says…”
There is another version of this in the Scholia to Sophocles’ Elektra 62-64
“Pythagoras confined himself in an underground hole and told his mother to tell people that he had died. When he reappeared, he told a lot of marvelous tales about resurrection and the things which happen in the underworld, and, to the living he related a full account of all the companions he happened to meet in the underworld; from this arose the belief that he was Aithalides son of Hermes before the Trojan War, then Euphorbus, then Hermotimus, then Pyrrhus the Delian, and then finally Pythagoras. Sophocles seems to be hinting at this story. Some assert, though unpersuasively, that the lines are aimed at Odysseus. But this is unconvincing, because Odysseus never did anything of the sort.”
“The most famous women Pythagoreans were: Timukha, the wife of Mullias of Kroton, Philtus, the daughter of Theophoris of Kroton amd sister of Bundakos, Okellô and Ekkelô, the sisters of Okkelos and Okkilos of Leukania, Kheilonis, the daughter of the Spartan Kheilôn, Kratêsikleia, a Spartan and wife of Kkleanôr the Spartan, Theano, the wife of Brotinus of Metapontos, Muia, the wife of Milo of Kroton, Lastheneia from Arcadia, Habroteleia the daughter of Habrotelos the Tarentinian, Ekhekrateia from Phlius, Tyrsênis of Sybaris, Pesirrodê of Tarantum, Theadousa the Spartan, Boiô the Argive, Babeluka the Argive, and Kleaikhma the sister of Autokharidas of Laconia. There are seventeen in total.”
During the siege of Helicarnassus, Alexander took his midday rest. A swallow, however, flew about his head twittering loudly. Here and there it alighted on his bed, singing more intently than usual.
The irritant woke Alexander, yet he couldn’t quite keep from sleeping. Annoyed by the chirping, he shooed the swallow away (not harshly) with his hand. He did hit it. And since it had to move off a little, it settled on Alexander’s head, and would not budge until Alexander was fully awake.
Alexander did not treat the incident as insignificant: he told Aristander, the Telmissian seer, about the swallow. Aristander responded that it was a sign that one of Alexander’s friends was plotting against him, but it was also a sign that the plot would be revealed. That is because the swallow is a companionable bird, friendly to humans, and also more talkative than any other bird.
“Satyrus writes in his Life of Philip: “When Philip lost his eye, Cleisophos followed him with the same eyed bandaged. And later, when Philip’s leg was wounded, Cleisophos accompanied the king, limping. And if Philip should ever find any food bitter, Cleisophos would squeeze his face together as if he were eating too!” In the land of Arabia, they used to do this sort of thing not for sake of flattery but according to polite custom: if one of the king’s limbs were wounded, they would act as if they suffered the same malady, although they also thought it was ridiculous to be eager to be buried with him when he died, they did not hold the same belief for emulating his suffering when he was wounded.”
“Once, when [Caligula] was playing dice and had learned that he didn’t have any money, he demanded the tax roles of the Gauls and then ordered the wealthiest of them to be killed. He returned to his said that “while you have been competing over a few mere handfuls, I have come into one hundred and fifty million.” And those men died without any plan it all.
A certain one of them, Julius Sacerdos, who was well-to-do but certainly not one of the super-rich to the each that he should have been attached for it, was killed because he had a similar name. Everything happened with as little concern as this.
I don’t need to mention any of the many others who died by name, but I will talk about those for whom history demands some memory. First, he had Lentulus Gaetulicus killed—he was well-reputed in every way and had been an overseer of Germany for ten years all because he was dear to his soldiers. He also killed Lepidus, his lover and beloved, Drusilla’s husband, a man who had joined Gaius himself in having sex with those other sisters, Argippina and Julia. He had even stood for office five years soon than the law allowed and he had kept announcing that he would leave him as the successor of the empire. He sent the soldiers money for that man, as if he had overcome some enemy, and also sent three daggers to Mars the Avenger in Rome.”
“However much my work, thought, and toil has added to learning and as much as the progressive consensus in those matters has sketched out and uncovered while men of repute and philosophers compete with each other in these fields, I have now articulated as much as I was able. I did not leave out anything which I knew because I was lazy, as if I looked down on or dishonored some wild beast without reason or speech.
No, here too that lust for knowledge which lives deep within me and is native there has set me afire. I am not ignorant of the fact that some of those who look keenly for money and are bewitched by honors, and power, and everything which gains a reputation may attack me if I spent my free time on these projects when I could have been primping myself and frequenting courtyards and courting wealth.
Instead, I have concerned myself with foxes and lizards and bugs and snakes and lions, with what a leopard does, how affectionate storks are to their young, how the nightingale singles sweetly, how wise an elephant is, the shapes of fishes, the migrations of cranes, the natures of serpents and the rest of the things which this carefully written composition contains and preserves.
It is not at all dear to me to be numbered among these wealthy men and to be compared to them. But if, instead, I would try and desire to join that crowd among whom wise poets and men clever at seeking out and examining the secrets of nature and the writers who approach the most extensive experience think it right to join, it is clear that I am a far better judge of the difference than these other people are. Or I would prefer to excel in a single school of knowledge than to gain the praised riches and possessions of your most wealthy people. Well, that’s enough about these things for now.”
A sweet force overcomes
The heart in the dances of the cups.
And hope for Aphrodite courses through the thoughts
All mixed up with the gifts of Dionysus.
It raises people’s thoughts to the highest points:
And suddenly: a man seems to sack city walls
And to rule over all men as king.
His homes shine with gold and ivory,
And grain-bearing ships lead home the greatest wealth
From Egypt over the shining sea—
That’s how the mind of a drinker leaps…”
Sophokles says that “drinking is a pain-reliever” and other poems add “pleasant wine, fruit of the earth’ (Il. 3.246). And the king of the poets even has his Odysseus say “whoever fills himself with wine and food may fight all day long with a full heart…” etc.
This is why Simonides says that the origin of wine and music is the same. From drinking, as well, came the discovery of comedy and tragedy in Ikarion in Attica in the season of the grape-harvest [trugês], which is why comedy was first called trug-oidia.
“He gave mortals the pain-relieving vine.
But when there is no more wine, there is no Aphrodite
Nor any other pleasure left for human beings.”
That’s what Euripides says in the Bacchae (771). Astyadamas also says
“He also showed to mortals
The vine, wine-mother, and cure for pain.
If someone fills with wine endlessly, he becomes careless.
If he drinks only a bit, he becomes deeply reflective”.
And then Antiphanes says:
“I am not too drunk to think, but just enough that
I can’t pronounce letters clearly with my mouth.”