Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

Image result for Head of Mercury Pompeii wall painting
Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

Pliny, With an Epistolary Guilt-Trip

Pliny, Letters 3.17

 “Is the reason your letters have not come for so long because everything is going well? Or, is everything good but you are really busy? Or are you not that busy but just have barely any time for writing?

Please take this worry away from me, I can’t handle it! Do it even if you have to send a courier. I will pay the cost and top him too as long as he tells me what I want.

I am well, if to be well is to live in suspense and worry, expecting all day long and fearing that anything which can hurt a person as happened to my dearest friend.”

Plinius Iulio Serviano Suo S.

1Rectene omnia, quod iam pridem epistulae tuae cessant? an omnia recte, sed occupatus es tu? an tu non occupatus, sed occasio scribendi vel rara vel nulla? Exime hunc mihi scrupulum, cui par esse non possum, exime autem vel data opera tabellario misso. Ego viaticum, ego etiam praemium dabo, nuntiet modo quod opto. Ipse valeo, si valere est suspensum et anxium vivere, exspectantem in horas timentemque pro capite amicissimo, quidquid accidere homini potest. Vale.

Tuscum des Plinius Schninkel AA2.jpg
Pliny’s Villa at Tuscum

Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

Image result for Head of Mercury Pompeii wall painting
Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

 

Fronto’s Regrets: Neck Pain Kept Me from Your Party

Fronto To Antonius Pius, 5 (Naber, p. 167).

“I would pay more than a part of my own life to embrace you on this happiest and most anticipated anniversary of your imperial accession—a day which I consider to be the birthday of my health, dignity, and security.

But serious shoulder pain and even worse neck pain afflict me so badly that I can barely bend, straighten up, or turn because I have to keep my neck so still. But I have returned to my Lares, Penates, and Family gods and have taken up my vows and I have prayed that next year I can embrace you twice on this day, twice to kiss your chest and hands, simultaneously completing the duty of this year and next.”

| Antonino Pio Augusto Fronto.

Carius <quam> vitae meae parte adpicisci cupio ut te complecterer felicissimo et optatissimo initi imperii die, quem ego diem natalem salutis dignitatis securitatis meae existimo. Sed dolor humeri gravis, cervicis vero multo gravissimus ita me adflixit, ut adhuc usque vix inclinare me vel erigere vel convertere possim: ita immobili cervice utor. Sed apud Lares Penates deosque familiares meos et reddidi et suscepi vota, et precatus sum, uti anno insequenti bis te complecterer isto die, bis pectus tuum et manus exoscularer praeteriti simul et praesentis anni vicem perficiens.

Image result for Antoninus Pius
Antonius Pius

For Recommendation Season, A Letter of Reference from Fronto

Fronto, Letters to Friends 1.4 (Ambr. 308):

“Greetings to Aegrilius,

If you trust me at all, I comment to you Julius Aquilinus, a man most learned, most articulate, fantastically trained by the disciplines of philosophy for the best arts, and shaped by the study of eloquence to a peerless ability to speak. It is right that so very serious and wise a man should receive from you, a man as learned and serious, not only protection but promotion and respect.

Aquilinus is also—if you trust my opinion—a man of the kind of character that he must be considered an ornament to you no less than he has been to me. You will not doubt that what I say is true once you take the time to hear him speak about Platonic doctrine.

Thanks to your wisdom and intelligence, you will see that he is not inequal to his impressive fame, thanks to his immense wealth in the finest words and the great flood of his thoughts. Once you have understood that this is true, be warned that there is more to this man’s character still since his honesty and his modesty are so great. The greatest crowds of people came together to hear him at Rome on many occasions.”

Aegrilio Plariano salutem.

Iulium Aquilinum virum, si quid mihi credis doctis|simum facundissimum, philosophiae disciplinis ad optimas artes, eloquentiae studiis ad egregiam facundiam eximie eruditum, commendo tibi quam possum studiosissime. Decet a te gravissimo et sapientissimo viro tam doctum tamque elegantem virum non modo protegi sed etiam provehi et illustrari. Est etiam, si quid mihi credis, Aquilinus eiusmodi vir ut in tui ornamentis aeque ac nostri merito numerandus sit. Non dubitabis ita esse ut dico, si eum audire disputantem de Platonicis disciplinis dignatus fueris. Perspicies pro tua prudentia intellegentiaque summa <non> minorem fama, lucu lentissimum verborum adparatu, maxima frequentia sententiarum. Quom haec ita esse deprehenderis, scito amplius esse in hominis moribus, tanta probitate est et verecundia: maximi concursus ad audiendum eum Romae saepe facti sunt.

Royal Library. Ms. 4, 2o f. 183v

Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

Image result for Head of Mercury Pompeii wall painting
Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)