Washington DC, Home of the Octopus

Theognis 213-218

my heart, show to all of our friends a changeable character,
and mix into it the disposition that each of them has.
make it your way, the ways of the infinitely changing octopus
which looks just like whatever rock it clings to.
for the moment go along with this one,
but the next moment, take on a different skin.
craftiness is better for you than rigidity.

θυμέ, φίλους κατὰ πάντας ἐπίστρεφε ποικίλον ἦθος,
ὀργὴν συμμίσγων ἥντιν᾽ ἕκαστος ἔχει.
πουλύπου ὀργὴν ἴσχε πολυπλόκου, ὃς ποτὶ πέτρῃ
τῇ προσομιλήσῃ τοῖος ἰδεῖν ἐφάνη:
νῦν μὲν τῇδ᾽ ἐφέπου, τότε δ᾽ ἀλλοῖος χρόα γίνου.
κρέσσων τοι σοφίη γίνεται ἀτροπίης.

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.

“Marine Style” flask with octopus, c. 1500-1450 BC

“Do Not Acquit this Man”

Publilius Syrus, 296

“Acquitting the guilty convicts the judge.”

Iudex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur.

Dinarchus, Against Aristogiton 107; 105

“Will you really acquit this damned man who never did you anything good from his first public act but instead has done every evil he could?”

τὸν δὲ κατάρατον τοῦτον, ὃς ἀγαθὸν μὲν ὑμᾶς οὐδεπώποτε πεποίηκεν ἐξ οὗ πρὸς τὴν πόλιν προσελήλυθε, κακὸν δ᾿ ὅ τι δυνατός ἐστιν, ἀφήσετε;

“You have to believe, by god, that he will be no better in the future after getting this judgment from you and will never stop taking bribes against you if you acquit him.”

οὐ γὰρ δὴ μὰ τὸν Ἡρακλέα βελτίω γενήσεσθαι αὐτὸν προσδοκᾶτε συγγνώμης νυνὶ τυγχάνοντα παρ᾿ ὑμῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ λοιπὸν ἀφέξεσθαι τοῦ λαμβάνειν χρήματα καθ᾿ ὑμῶν, ἐὰν νῦν ἀφῆτε αὐτόν.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 97.3

“The crime was less offensive than the acquittal.”

Minus crimine quam absolutione peccatum est

Demosthenes, On the False Legation

“For your reputation, for your religion, for your safety, for every advantage you have, do not acquit this man—no, exact vengeance upon him to make him an example to everyone, to our citizens and to the rest of the world.”

οὔτε γὰρ πρὸς δόξαν οὔτε πρὸς εὐσέβειαν οὔτε πρὸς ἀσφάλειαν οὔτε πρὸς ἄλλ᾿ οὐδὲν ὑμῖν συμφέρει τοῦτον ἀφεῖναι, ἀλλὰ τιμωρησαμένους παράδειγμα ποιῆσαι πᾶσι, καὶ τοῖς πολίταις καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις Ἕλλησιν.

Quintilian, 7.4

“This is a domestic problem, in which sometimes it is enough to claim that there was only one crime, or it was just a mistake, or less severe than is claim for an acquittal”

Est enim domestica disceptatio, in qua et semel peccasse et per errorem et levius quam obiciatur absolutioni nonnumquam sufficit.

Dinarchus, Against Demosthenes 29

“Do not acquit this man, citizens, do not acquit and leave unpunished someone who has signed off on the misfortunes of this state and the world, a man who has been caught in corruption against the state….”

μὴ ἀφῆτε, ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, μὴ ἀφῆτε τὸν ἐπὶ τοῖς τῆς πόλεως καὶ τῶν ἄλλων Ἑλλήνων ἀτυχήμασιν ἐπιγεγραμμένον ἀτιμώρητον, εἰλημμένον ἐπ᾿ αὐτοφώρῳ δῶρα ἔχοντα κατὰ τῆς πόλεως

Lysias, Against Nicomachus 30

“Today you need to change your minds about what you have done. You need to refuse to keep being abused by these people. Don’t reproach those who have done wrong in private! Do not acquit the guilty when it is in your power to punish them.”

νῦν τοίνυν ὑμῖν μεταμελησάτω τῶν πεπραγμένων, καὶ μὴ ὑπὸ τούτων ἀεὶ κακῶς πάσχοντες ἀνέχεσθε, μηδὲ ἰδίᾳ μὲν ὀνειδίζετε τοῖς ἀδικοῦσιν, ἐπειδὰν δ᾿ ἐξῇ δίκην παρ᾿ αὐτῶν λαμβάνειν, ἀποψηφίζεσθε.

Andocides, Against Alcibiades 25

“I will show from the very facts he uses that he is more fit for death than acquittal. I will explain it to you.”

ἐξ αὐτῶν δὲ τούτων ἐπιδείξω αὐτὸν ἐπιτηδειότερον τεθνάναι μᾶλλον ἢ σῴζεσθαι. διηγήσομαι δ᾿ ὑμῖν.

Lysias, Against the Corn-Dealers 17

“You need to understand that it is impossible for you to acquit. If you ignore the charge when they admit that they are conspiring against the traders, then you will seem to make a judgment against the importers. If they were making up any other kind of defense, no one would criticize a vote to acquit since you can choose to believe whatever side you want. But, as things are now, you can’t imagine you are doing something amazing if you acquit unpunished those who admit that they broke the law!”

Ἐνθυμεῖσθαι δὲ χρὴ ὅτι ἀδύνατον ὑμῖν ἐστιν ἀποψηφίσασθαι. εἰ γὰρ ἀπογνώσεσθε ὁμολογούντων αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τοὺς ἐμπόρους συνίστασθαι, δόξεθ᾿ ὑμεῖς ἐπιβουλεύειν τοῖς εἰσπλέουσιν. εἰ μὲν γὰρ ἄλλην τινὰ ἀπολογίαν ἐποιοῦντο, οὐδεὶς ἂν εἶχε τοῖς ἀποψηφισαμένοις ἐπιτιμᾶν· ἐφ᾿ ὑμῖν γὰρ ὁποτέροις βούλεσθε πιστεύειν· νῦν δὲ πῶς οὐ δεινὰ ἂν δόξαιτε ποιεῖν, εἰ τοὺς ὁμολογοῦντας παρανομεῖν ἀζημίους ἀφήσετε;

acquit

An Ancient Perspective on New Travel Bans

“The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home.”–Emerson, “Self Reliance”

Theognis, 783-788

true, I went as far as the land of Sicily once,
and I went to the vine-covered plain of Euboea,
and Sparta, that splendid city on the reed-sprouting Eurotas,
and they welcomed me graciously, every place I visited—
yet not one pleasure came to my heart from them.
and so, this truth: nothing is more dear than one’s own country.

†ἦλθον μὲν γὰρ ἔγωγε καὶ εἰς Σικελήν ποτε γαῖαν,
ἦλθον δ᾽ Εὐβοίης ἀμπελόεν πεδίον,
Σπάρτην τ᾽ Εὐρώτα δονακοτρόφου ἀγλαὸν ἄστυ,
καί μ᾽ ἐφίλευν προφρόνως πάντες ἐπερχόμενον.
ἀλλ᾽ οὔτις μοι τέρψις ἐπὶ φρένας ἦλθεν ἐκείνων:
οὕτως οὐδὲν ἄρ᾽ ἦν φίλτερον ἄλλο πάτρης.

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.

An Address to a Senator Upon His Return to the Government

Cicero, In Catilinam 1.16-17

“But what is this life of yours like now? I shall speak to you in this way so that I do not seem to be moved by hatred but by the pity which you have earned from no one.

A little while ago you entered the senate. Who from that great crowd of your many friends and companions hailed you? If this treatment has affected no other person in human memory, are you waiting for verbal abuse even though you have been rejected by the weightiest judgement of their silence?

What do you make of the fact that the seats emptied at your arrival, that all the former consuls who were signaled for death by you left their seats naked and abandoned when you sat down? With what feelings do you think you should accept this?”

Nunc vero quae tua est ista vita? Sic enim iam tecum loquar, non ut odio permotus esse videar, quo debeo, sed ut misericordia, quae tibi nulla debetur. Venisti paulo ante in senatum. Quis te ex hac tanta frequentia, tot ex tuis amicis ac necessariis salutavit? Si hoc post hominum memoriam contigit nemini, vocis exspectas contumeliam, cum sis gravissimo iudicio taciturnitatis oppressus? Quid, quod adventu tuo ista subsellia vacuefacta sunt, quod omnes consulares qui tibi persaepe ad caedem constituti fuerunt, simul atque adsedisti, partem istam subselliorum nudam atque inanem reliquerunt, quo tandem animo tibi ferendum putas?

Justice and Hurting People

Homer, Od. 6.181-185

“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν, ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν· οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ’ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή· πόλλ’ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ’ εὐμενέτῃσι· μάλιστα δέ τ’ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.

Plato, Republic, 1. 333d

“So, [Simonides] means that justice is helping your friends and hurting your enemies?”

Τὸ τοὺς φίλους ἄρα εὖ ποιεῖν καὶ τοὺς ἐχθροὺς κακῶς δικαιοσύνην λέγει;

Plato, Republic, 4. 433b

“And, really, justice is each person taking care of his own business and not meddling in too many things. We have heard this from many others and said it ourselves many times”

“Yes, we have said this.”

Then, I said, “so, then, justice runs the risk in some way of just being taking care of your own business?”

Καὶ μὴν ὅτι γε τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν καὶ μὴ πολυπραγμονεῖν δικαιοσύνη ἐστί, καὶ τοῦτο ἄλλων τε πολλῶν ἀκηκόαμεν καὶ αὐτοὶ πολλάκις εἰρήκαμεν. Εἰρήκαμεν γάρ. Τοῦτο τοίνυν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὦ φίλε, κινδυνεύει τρόπον τινὰ γιγνόμενον ἡ δικαιοσύνη εἶναι, τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν.

Plato, Gorgias 473a5

“Committing harm is worse than suffering it”

τὸ ἀδικεῖν τοῦ ἀδικεῖσθαι κάκιον εἶναι

Thucydides, 3.82.7-8

“To exact vengeance from someone was thought to be more important than not suffering at all. If oaths were ever taken in turn, were strong because each person was at a loss and had no power at all. But as soon as one of them had the advantage, he attached if he saw anyone unguarded: it was sweeter to take vengeance despite a pledge than to do so openly. It was thought generally to be safe and to have won a prize for intelligence, prevailing by deceit. Many wicked people become famous for being clever than good people do for being ingenuous. Men are ashamed by the latter but delight in the former.

To blame for all of these things the love of power and a love of honor. From both, they fell into a voluntary love of conflict. For those who were in charge of the state each claimed identities for themselves, some the equal rights of the masses, the others the wisdom of the aristocrats; while guarding the common goods in word, they were making them the contest’s prize, competing with one another to be pre-eminent, they dared the most terrible things—and they surpassed them with greater acts of vengeance too. They did not regard either justice or advantage for the city…”

ἀντιτιμωρήσασθαί τέ τινα περὶ πλείονος ἦν ἢ αὐτὸν μὴ προπαθεῖν. καὶ ὅρκοι εἴ που ἄρα γένοιντο ξυναλλαγῆς, ἐν τῷ αὐτίκα πρὸς τὸ ἄπορον ἑκατέρῳ διδόμενοι ἴσχυον οὐκ ἐχόντων ἄλλοθεν δύναμιν· ἐν δὲ τῷ παρατυχόντι ὁ φθάσας θαρσῆσαι, εἰ ἴδοι ἄφαρκτον, ἥδιον διὰ τὴν πίστιν ἐτιμωρεῖτο ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ προφανοῦς, καὶ τό τε ἀσφαλὲς ἐλογίζετο καὶ ὅτι ἀπάτῃ περιγενόμενος ξυνέσεως ἀγώνισμα προσελάμβανεν. ῥᾷον δ’ οἱ πολλοὶ κακοῦργοι ὄντες δεξιοὶ κέκληνται ἢ ἀμαθεῖς ἀγαθοί, καὶ τῷ μὲν αἰσχύνονται, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ἀγάλλονται. πάντων δ’ αὐτῶν αἴτιον ἀρχὴ ἡ διὰ πλεονεξίαν καὶ φιλοτιμίαν· ἐκ δ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐς τὸ φιλονικεῖν καθισταμένων τὸ πρόθυμον. οἱ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι προστάντες μετὰ ὀνόματος ἑκάτεροι εὐπρεποῦς, πλήθους τε ἰσονομίας πολιτικῆς καὶ ἀριστοκρατίας σώφρονος προτιμήσει, τὰ μὲν κοινὰ λόγῳ θεραπεύοντες ἆθλα ἐποιοῦντο, παντὶ δὲ τρόπῳ ἀγωνιζόμενοι ἀλλήλων περιγίγνεσθαι ἐτόλμησάν τε τὰ δεινότατα ἐπεξῇσάν τε τὰς τιμωρίας ἔτι μείζους…

justice

Oaths, Relief, and Restoration

Homer, Iliad 3.230

“You are all witnesses: ensure the oaths are kept”

ὑμεῖς μάρτυροι ἔστε, φυλάσσετε δ’ ὅρκια πιστά ῾

Michael Apostolios, Proverbs 15.17

“An oath of Rhadamanthys: [a proverb] applied to those bearing witness to justice”

῾Ραδαμάνθυος ὅρκος: ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μαρτυρουμένων.

 

Plato, Republic 9

“So we should not believe that pleasure is a release from grief nor that grief is a relief from pleasure.”

Μὴ ἄρα πειθώμεθα καθαρὰν ἡδονὴν εἶναι τὴν λύπης ἀπαλλαγήν, μηδὲ λύπην τὴν ἡδονῆς.

 

Valerius Maximus, 2.2

“What then has our returned restraint, our renewed labor accomplished? Well, it brought forth many victories over the enemy whose back was impossible for a Roman soldier to see under such a narcissistic leader.”

quid ergo restituta continentia, quid repetita industria profecit? crebras scilicet victorias et multa tropaea peperit ex eo hoste cuius tergum sub ambitioso imperatore Romano militi videre non contigerat.

 

Cicero, Letters 12.3

“We rejoice at both the safety of the Republic and its victory and the restoration of your honors…”

Cum rei publicae vel salute vel victoria gaudemus tum instauratione tuarum laudum…

he altar dedicated to Hermes, late 2nd century BC. Agora of the Competaliasts (or Hermaists) on Delos.

America. January 20, 2021. Evening.

“The night pervades them and infolds them”—Walt Whitman, “The Sleepers”

Alcman fr. 89

mountain peaks and valleys are asleep,
jutting places and mountain streams too—
the tribes of crawling things
and as many creatures as black earth bears—
beasts which lay in wait in mountains
and the race of bees alike—
monsters at the dark sea’s bottom,
and also tribes of long-winged preying birds,
they are asleep.

εὕδοντι δ’ ὀρέων κορυφαί τε καὶ φάραγγες
πρώονές τε καὶ χαράδραι
φῦλά τ’ ἑρπέτ’ ὅσα τρέφει μέλαινα γαῖα
θῆρές τ’ ὀρεσκώιοι καὶ γένος μελισσᾶν
καὶ κνώδαλ’ ἐν βένθεσσι πορφυρέας ἁλός·
εὕδοντι δ’ οἰωνῶν φῦλα τανυπτερύγων.

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.

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

Traitors and Crowns

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 1068-1070

“I have learned to hate traitors
For there is no sickness
I reject greater than that”

τοὺς προδότας γὰρ μισεῖν ἔμαθον,
κοὐκ ἔστι νόσος
τῆσδ᾿ ἥντιν᾿ ἀπέπτυσα μᾶλλον.

Galen, Method of Medicine 1, 1 19k

“But what is this? For purse-snatchers envy purse-snatches and traitors envy traitors. It’s simple: there’s no person who does have some crowd ready to crown them.”

ἀλλὰ τί τοῦτο; καὶ γὰρ οἱ βαλαντιοτόμοι τὰ τῶν βαλαντιοτόμων ζηλοῦσι καὶ οἱ προδόται τὰ τῶν προδοτῶν καὶ οὐδείς ἐστιν ἁπλῶς ἄνθρωπος ὃς οὐκ ἂν σχοίη χορὸν οἰκεῖον ἐν ᾧ στεφθήσεται.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) gestures toward a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory Jan. 6, 2021 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Some demonstrators later breached security and stormed the Capitol. (Francis Chung/E&E News and Politico via AP Images)

Saving the State With A Single Body

Cicero, De Domo Sua 63-64

“Leaders, this violence, this crime, this rage was what I defended from the necks of all good people with my body—I met with my skin the full force of civil strife, the explosive savagery of criminals which was just now bursting out because it had found such daring leaders after it had grown for so long as hatred suppressed.

Against me alone the consular firebrands fell, thrown by the tribunes’ hands; all the criminal points of conspiracy which I had broken before struck me. But if I had done what many of the bravest men found pleasing and had decided to face this force in open arms, I would have been victorious with the death of so many criminals who were still citizens or I would have fallen with the Republic following the death of so many good people, something those criminals wished for most.”

Hanc ego vim, pontifices, hoc scelus, hunc furorem meo corpore opposito ab omnium bonorum cervicibus depuli omnemque impetum discordiarum, omnem diu collectam vim improborum, quae inveterata compresso odio atque tacito iam erumpebat nancta tam audaces duces, excepi meo corpore. In me uno consulares faces, iactae manibus tribuniciis, in me omnia, quae ego quondam rettuderam, coniurationis nefaria tela adhaeserunt. Quod si, ut multis fortissimis viris placuit, vi et armis contra vim decertare voluissem, aut vicissem cum magna internicione improborum, sed tamen civium, aut interfectis bonis omnibus, quod illis optatissimum erat, una cum re publica concidissem

Officer Eugene Goodman at the Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021. Image taken from The Hill https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/533657-capitol-police-officer-hailed-as-hero-for-drawing-rioters-away-from-senate