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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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

On His Birthday: Nero Sings and Renames Things

Ps-Lucian, Nero 6

Menekrates: “Musonius, that voice which made him music-mad and longing for Olympian and Pythian games, how was the tyrant’s voice? Some people who sailed to Lemnos were amazed by it, others mock it.”

Musonius: “Well, Menekrates, his voice really merits neither wonder nor mockery, since nature has made him moderately and unquestionably in tune. He speaks with a naturally open and deep voice, since his throat is deep, and when he sings he buzzes a little because of his throat shape. Nevertheless, the tones of his voice make him seem smoother if he does not try too hard, but relies instead on the melody, good accompaniment, and selecting the right time to walk, to stop, to move, and to nod his head along with the music. What is shameful is that a king appears to want success in these pursuits.”

ΜΕΝΕΚΡΑΤΗΣ
6. Ἡ φωνὴ δέ, Μουσώνιε, δι᾿ ἣν μουσομανεῖ καὶ τῶν Ὀλυμπιάδων τε καὶ Πυθιάδων ἐρᾷ, πῶς ἔχει τῷ τυράννῳ; τῶν γὰρ Λήμνῳ προσπλεόντων οἱ μὲν ἐθαύμαζον, οἱ δὲ κατεγέλων.
ΜΟΥΣΩΝΙΟΣ
Ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνός γε, ὦ Μενέκρατες, οὔτε θαυμασίως ἔχει τοῦ φθέγματος οὔτ᾿ αὖ γελοίως· ἡ γὰρ φύσις αὐτὸν ἀμέμπτως τε καὶ μέσως ἥρμοκε. φθέγγεται δὲ κοῖλον μὲν φύσει καὶ βαρύ, ἐγκειμένης αὐτῷ τῆς φάρυγγος· μέλη δ᾿ οὕτω κατεσκευασμένης βομβεῖ πως. οἱ δέ γε τόνοι τῶν φθόγγων ἐπιλεαίνουσι τοῦτον, ἐπεὶ μὴ θαρρεῖ αὑτῷ, χρωμάτων δὲ φιλανθρωπίᾳ καὶ μελοποιίᾳ εὐαγώγῳ μὲν δὴ καὶ κιθαρῳδίᾳ εὐσταλεῖ καὶ <τῷ> οὗ καιρὸς βαδίσαι καὶ στῆναι καὶ μεταστῆναι καὶ τὸ νεῦμα ἐξομοιῶσαι τοῖς μέλεσιν, αἰσχύνην ἔχοντος μόνου τοῦ βασιλέα δοκεῖν ἀκριβοῦν ταῦτα.

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Nero 53, 55

“He was mostly deranged by a desire for popularity and was an enemy to anyone who had any sway over the popular mob. Most believed that after all of his accomplishments on the stage he was going to compete among the Athletes at the next Olympian games. He was wrestling endlessly and he had watched the gymnastic contests all over Greece as a judge would, sitting on the ground of the stadium. If any competitors withdrew too far back, he would push them forth again with his own hand. Because he was alleged to have equaled Apollo in song and the Sun in chariot-driving, Nero planned to rival the deeds of Herakles too. People claim that a lion had been trained which he would be able to kill naked in the amphitheater in front of all the people with either a club or his arms’ embrace.”

Maxime autem popularitate efferebatur, omnium aemulus, qui quoquo modo animum vulgi moverent. Exiit opinio post scaenicas coronas proximo lustro descensurum eum ad Olympia inter athletas; nam et luctabatur assidue nec aliter certamina gymnica tota Graecia spectaverat quam brabeutarum more in stadio humi assidens ac, si qua paria longius recessissent, in medium manibus suis protrahens. Destinaverat etiam, quia Apollinem cantu, Solem aurigando aequiperare existimaretur, imitari et Herculis facta; praeparatumque leonem aiunt, quem vel clava vel brachiorum nexibus in amphitheatri harena spectante populo nudus elideret.

“He had a desire for eternal and endless fame, but it was ill-considered. Because of this he changed the names of many things and places from their ancient titles to something from his own name. So, he called the month of April Neroneus and planned to have Rome renamed Neropolis.”

Erat illi aeternitatis perpetuaeque famae cupido, sed inconsulta. Ideoque multis rebus ac locis vetere appellatione detracta novam indixit ex suo nomine, mensem quoque Aprilem Neroneum appellavit; destinaverat et Romam Neropolim nuncupare.

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Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum

What’s Your Writing Like Without Quotations?

Diogenes Laertius, Chrysippos  7.7.180

“Apollodorus the Athenian in his Summary of Beliefs, because he wants to demonstrate that the works of Epicurus were written with personal force and were prepared with far fewer quotations than the books of Chrysippos, says in this very wording: “if the books of [Chrysippos] were scrubbed of all the superfluous quotations, only empty paper would be left to him.”

So much for Apollodorus.  The old women who used to sit next to [Chrysippos], according to Diocles, used to claim that he wrote 500 lines each day. Hekatôn reports that he turned to philosophy because the property left to him by his father was confiscated to the royal treasury.”

Καὶ Ἀπολλόδωρος δ᾿ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος ἐν τῇ Συναγωγῇ τῶν δογμάτων, βουλόμενος παριστάνειν ὅτι τὰ Ἐπικούρου οἰκείᾳ δυνάμει γεγραμμένα καὶ ἀπαράθετα ὄντα μυρίῳ πλείω ἐστὶ τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων, φησὶν οὕτως αὐτῇ τῇ λέξει· “εἰ γάρ τις ἀφέλοι τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων ὅσ᾿ ἀλλότρια παρατέθειται, κενὸς αὐτῷ ὁ χάρτης καταλελείψεται.” καὶ ταῦτα μὲν Ἀπολλόδωρος. ἡ δὲ παρεδρεύουσα πρεσβῦτις αὐτῷ, ὥς φησι Διοκλῆς, ἔλεγεν ὡς πεντακοσίους γράφοι στίχους ἡμερησίους. Ἑκάτων δέ φησιν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν, τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ τῆς πατρῴας εἰς τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀναληφθείσης.

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Hedgehog number 2,  British Library, MS Egerton 1121, f. 44v.

Cato’s Radical Tax Plan

From Plutarch’s Life of Marcus Cato 18

“He also levied a tax of three on every thousand so that people, distressed by these charges, would note also that families of equal wealth whose lives were modest and simple paid less to the public treasury and repent from their behavior.

Both those who paid the taxes because of luxury and those who gave up their luxury because of the taxes were angry to him. For most people believe that hindering the display of their wealth deprives them of it and also that the display comes from their luxuries not their necessities.

This is what they say really surprised Ariston the philosopher, that those who possess superficial excess are thought to be luckier than those who are well-supplied with what is needed and useful.”

 καὶ προσετίμησε τρεῖς χαλκοῦς πρὸς τοῖς χιλίοις, ὅπως βαρυνόμενοι ταῖς ἐπιβολαῖς καὶ τοὺς εὐσταλεῖς καὶ λιτοὺς ὁρῶντες ἀπὸ τῶν ἴσων ἐλάττονα τελοῦντας εἰς τὸ δημόσιον ἀπαγορεύωσιν. ἦσαν οὖν αὐτῷ χαλεποὶ μὲν οἱ τὰς εἰσφορὰς διὰ τὴν τρυφὴν ὑπομένοντες, χαλεποὶ δ᾿ αὖ πάλιν οἱ τὴν τρυφὴν ἀποτιθέμενοι διὰ τὰς εἰσφοράς. πλούτου γὰρ ἀφαίρεσιν οἱ πολλοὶ νομίζουσι τὴν κώλυσιν αὐτοῦ τῆς ἐπιδείξεως, ἐπιδείκνυσθαι δὲ τοῖς περιττοῖς, οὐ τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις. ὃ δὴ καὶ μάλιστά φασι τὸν φιλόσοφον Ἀρίστωνα θαυμάζειν, ὅτι τοὺς τὰ περιττὰ κεκτημένους μᾶλλον ἡγοῦνται μακαρίους ἢ τοὺς τῶν ἀναγκαίων καὶ χρησίμων εὐποροῦντας.

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Pythagorean Self-Invention

Scholion to Sophocles Electra 62.2

“Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. After that, once he reappeared again later, he was telling fantastic tales of reincarnation and the people of Hades, explaining to the living about the matters of the dead. From these stories, he created that kind of repute for himself that, before the Trojan War, he was Aithalidês the son of Hermes and then Euphorbos, and then Hermotimos of Samos, then Delian Pythios and after all of them, Pythagoras.”

…Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα, ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ᾅδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο, διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων, οἷς ἐν ᾅδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν. ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν, ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωϊκῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ Ἑρμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα Ἑρμότιμος Σάμιος, εἶτα Πύθιος Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας.Monday

A Leader’s First Duty

Plutarch, Theseus and Romulus 2

“A ruler’s first duty is to save the state itself. This is saved no less in refraining from what is not fitting than from pursuing what is fitting. But the one who shirks or overreaches is no longer a king or a ruler, but in fact becomes a demagogue or a despot. He fills the subjects with hatred and contempt. While the first problem seems to come from being too lenient or a concern for humanity, the second comes from self-regard and harshness.”

δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἄρχοντα σώζειν πρῶτον αὐτὴν τὴν ἀρχήν· σώζεται δ᾿ οὐχ ἧττον ἀπεχομένη τοῦ μὴ προσήκοντος ἢ περιεχομένη τοῦ προσήκοντος. ὁ δ᾿ ἐνδιδοὺς ἢ ἐπιτείνων οὐ μένει βασιλεὺς οὐδὲ ἄρχων, ἀλλ᾿ ἢ δημαγωγὸς ἢ δεσπότης γιγνόμενος, ἐμποιεῖ τὸ μισεῖν ἢ καταφρονεῖν τοῖς ἀρχομένοις. οὐ μὴν ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνο μὲν ἐπιεικείας δοκεῖ καὶ φιλανθρωπίας εἶναι, τοῦτο δὲ φιλαυτίας ἁμάρτημα καὶ χαλεπότητος.

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Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC BM E84

Sweetness and the Joy of Life

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers: Epicurus 125-6

“Just as people choose not just the greater amount of food but the better quality, so too they enjoy the amount of time not for being the longest but for its sweetness. The person who orders the young to live happily and the old to make a good end of it is simple-minded not just because of the joy life brings but also because the same worry should teach one to live well and die well.

Even worse is someone [like Theognis] who says that it is good not to be born and “if born to cross Hades’ threshold as fast as possible” [425/427]. If he says what he believes, why doesn’t he stop living? There are methods at the ready for him, if he is so firm in his conviction. If he speaks in jest, he speaks pointlessly for those who do not trust him.”

ὥσπερ δὲ τὸ σιτίον οὐ τὸ πλεῖον πάντως ἀλλὰ τὸ ἥδιστον αἱρεῖται, οὕτω καὶ χρόνον οὐ τὸν μήκιστον ἀλλὰ τὸν ἥδιστον καρπίζεται. ὁ δὲ παραγγέλλων τὸν μὲν νέον καλῶς ζῆν, τὸν δὲ γέροντα καλῶς καταστρέφειν εὐήθης ἐστὶν οὐ μόνον διὰ τὸ τῆς ζωῆς ἀσπαστόν, ἀλλὰ καὶ διὰ τὸ τὴν αὐτὴν εἶναι μελέτην τοῦ καλῶς ζῆν καὶ τοῦ καλῶς ἀποθνήσκειν. πολὺ δὲ χεῖρον καὶ ὁ λέγων, καλὸν μὲν μὴ φῦναι, “φύντα δ᾿ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι”
εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως· εἰ δὲ μωκώμενος, μάταιος ἐν τοῖς οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένοις.

Our man with a plan

Plutarch’s Advice On What To Watch

Plutarch’s prepared guidelines for choosing what to watch on Netflix.

Plutarch, Pericles 1.1

“When Caesar saw that many wealthy foreigners in Rome were carrying around and caring for puppies and monkey babies, he asked whether or not their wives bore children—he was warning in a masterly way that they were wasting our innate love and affection on beasts when it is owed to human beings.

Therefore, when our soul naturally possesses a certain love of learning and love of observation, isn’t it logical to rebuke people who fail to use it for anything worthy of hearing or seeing, people who neglect what is noble or useful?

Perhaps it is necessary for our perception—which apprehends the things it meets through the experience of their force—to examine everything which appears for whether it is useful or not. But each person, if he wishes to use his mind, can naturally turn himself away and change most easily to gaze upon something which seems right—with the result that it is necessary to pursue what is best, not only to look at it, but to be enriched by doing so.”

 Ξένους τινὰς ἐν Ῥώμῃ πλουσίους κυνῶν τέκνα καὶ πιθήκων ἐν τοῖς κόλποις περιφέροντας καὶ ἀγαπῶντας ἰδὼν ὁ Καῖσαρ, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἠρώτησεν εἰ παιδία παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐ τίκτουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες, ἡγεμονικῶς σφόδρα νουθετήσας τοὺς τὸ φύσει φιλητικὸν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ φιλόστοργον εἰς θηρία καταναλίσκοντας ἀνθρώποις ὀφειλόμενον.  ἆρ᾿ οὖν, ἐπεὶ φιλομαθές τι κέκτηται καὶ φιλοθέαμον ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ φύσει, λόγον ἔχει ψέγειν τοὺς καταχρωμένους τούτῳ πρὸς τὰ μηδεμιᾶς ἄξια σπουδῆς ἀκούσματα καὶ θεάματα, τῶν δὲ καλῶν καὶ ὠφελίμων παραμελοῦντας; τῇ μὲν γὰρ αἰσθήσει κατὰ πάθος τῆς πληγῆς ἀντιλαμβανομένῃ τῶν προστυγχανόντων ἴσως ἀνάγκη πᾶν τὸ φαινόμενον, ἄν τε χρήσιμον ἄν τ᾿ ἄχρηστον ᾖ,  θεωρεῖν, τῷ νῷ δ᾿ ἕκαστος εἰ βούλοιτο χρῆσθαι, καὶ τρέπειν ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ καὶ μεταβάλλειν ῥᾷστα πρὸς τὸ δοκοῦν πέφυκεν, ὥστε χρὴ διώκειν τὸ βέλτιστον, ἵνα μὴ θεωρῇ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρέφηται τῷ θεωρεῖν.

 

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Plutarch’s Advice On What To Watch

Plutarch’s prepared guidelines for choosing what to watch on Netflix.

Plutarch, Pericles 1.1

“When Caesar saw that many wealthy foreigners in Rome were carrying around and caring for puppies and monkey babies, he asked whether or not their wives bore children—he was warning in a masterly way that they were wasting our innate love and affection on beasts when it is owed to human beings.

Therefore, when our soul naturally possesses a certain love of learning and love of observation, isn’t it logical to rebuke people who fail to use it for anything worthy of hearing or seeing, people who neglect what is noble or useful?

Perhaps it is necessary for our perception—which apprehends the things it meets through the experience of their force—to examine everything which appears for whether it is useful or not. But each person, if he wishes to use his mind, can naturally turn himself away and change most easily to gaze upon something which seems right—with the result that it is necessary to pursue what is best, not only to look at it, but to be enriched by doing so.”

 Ξένους τινὰς ἐν Ῥώμῃ πλουσίους κυνῶν τέκνα καὶ πιθήκων ἐν τοῖς κόλποις περιφέροντας καὶ ἀγαπῶντας ἰδὼν ὁ Καῖσαρ, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἠρώτησεν εἰ παιδία παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐ τίκτουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες, ἡγεμονικῶς σφόδρα νουθετήσας τοὺς τὸ φύσει φιλητικὸν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ φιλόστοργον εἰς θηρία καταναλίσκοντας ἀνθρώποις ὀφειλόμενον.  ἆρ᾿ οὖν, ἐπεὶ φιλομαθές τι κέκτηται καὶ φιλοθέαμον ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ φύσει, λόγον ἔχει ψέγειν τοὺς καταχρωμένους τούτῳ πρὸς τὰ μηδεμιᾶς ἄξια σπουδῆς ἀκούσματα καὶ θεάματα, τῶν δὲ καλῶν καὶ ὠφελίμων παραμελοῦντας; τῇ μὲν γὰρ αἰσθήσει κατὰ πάθος τῆς πληγῆς ἀντιλαμβανομένῃ τῶν προστυγχανόντων ἴσως ἀνάγκη πᾶν τὸ φαινόμενον, ἄν τε χρήσιμον ἄν τ᾿ ἄχρηστον ᾖ,  θεωρεῖν, τῷ νῷ δ᾿ ἕκαστος εἰ βούλοιτο χρῆσθαι, καὶ τρέπειν ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ καὶ μεταβάλλειν ῥᾷστα πρὸς τὸ δοκοῦν πέφυκεν, ὥστε χρὴ διώκειν τὸ βέλτιστον, ἵνα μὴ θεωρῇ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρέφηται τῷ θεωρεῖν.

 

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