The Proverb Behind Silenus’ Wisdom

According to Plutarch, this conversation is taken from a lost dialogue ascribed to Aristotle, entitled, On the Soul. This passage also shows up in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy chapter 3.

Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius [Moralia, 115a-c]

“There is also the saying you know has been passed around the mouth of many humans over the years.” “what is that?” he asked. The other one, interrupted, “that it is best of all not to exist and then second it is better to die than to live. This has been demonstrated by many examples from the divine.

For certainly they say this concerning Midas after the hunt when he caught Silenus and was asking him and finding out from him what is best for mortals and what should be most preferred. But Silenus was willing to say nothing, but remained stubbornly silent.

After he tried nearly every kind of approach, he persuaded him to provide some answer—so compelled, he said, “brief-lived offspring of a laboring god and harsh fate, why do you force me to tell you what it is better not to know? A life lived in ignorance of your most intimate griefs is the least painful.

But for humans it is not at all possible to have the best thing of all or to have any share of the best nature—since the best thing for all men and women is not to be born. But the second best thing after this and the first available to mortals, is to die as soon as possible after being born.” It is clear that he said this because the way that exists in death is better than the one in life.”

τὸ διὰ στόματος ὂν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ὁρᾷς ὡς ἐκ πολλῶν ἐτῶν περιφέρεται θρυλούμενον.” “τί τοῦτ᾿;” ἔφη. κἀκεῖνος ὑπολαβών “ὡς ἄρα μὴ γενέσθαι μέν,” ἔφη, “ἄριστον πάντων, τὸ δὲ τεθνάναι τοῦ ζῆν ἐστι κρεῖττον. καὶ πολλοῖς οὕτω παρὰ τοῦ δαιμονίου μεμαρτύρηται. τοῦτο μὲν ἐκείνῳ τῷ Μίδᾳ λέγουσι δήπου μετὰ τὴν θήραν ὡς ἔλαβε τὸν Σειληνὸν διερωτῶντι καὶ πυνθανομένῳ τί ποτ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ βέλτιστοντοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ τί τὸ πάντων αἱρετώτατον, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον οὐδὲν ἐθέλειν εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ σιωπᾶν ἀρρήτως· ἐπειδὴ δέ ποτε μόγις πᾶσαν μηχανὴν μηχανώμενος προσηγάγετο φθέγξασθαί τι πρὸς αὐτόν, οὕτως ἀναγκαζόμενον εἰπεῖν, ‘δαίμονος ἐπιπόνου καὶ τύχης χαλεπῆς ἐφήμερον σπέρμα, τί με βιάζεσθε λέγειν ἃ ὑμῖν ἄρειον μὴ γνῶναι; μετ᾿ ἀγνοίας γὰρ τῶν οἰκείων κακῶν ἀλυπότατος ὁ βίος. ἀνθρώποις δὲ πάμπαν οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι τὸ πάντων ἄριστον οὐδὲ μετασχεῖν τῆς τοῦ βελτίστου φύσεως (ἄριστον γὰρ πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι)· τὸ μέντοι μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ πρῶτον τῶν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀνυστῶν, δεύτερον δέ, τὸ γενομένους ἀποθανεῖν ὡς τάχιστα.’ δῆλον οὖν ὡς οὔσης κρείττονος τῆς ἐν τῷ τεθνάναι διαγωγῆς ἢ τῆς ἐν τῷ ζῆν, οὕτως ἀπεφήνατο.”

This comment seems proverbial–split in similar attributions in hexameter and elegiac poetry.

In the Contest of Homer and Hesiod

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”
Homer answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

ἀρ υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
῞Ομηρος·
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.

The passage floats around some. Stobaeus (4.52.22) attributes it to Alcidamas’ Mousaion but the most widely cited source is Theognis. It is listed without attribution by the paroemiographer Michael Apostolos, with the explanation that this is a proverb “[attributed] to people living in misfortune”  (ἐπὶ τῶν δυστυχῶς βιούντων, 3.85.3)

Theognis, 425-428

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
Not to see the rays of the piercing sun
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.
And to lie with a great pile of earth heaped above you.

πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
μηδ᾿ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου,
φύντα δ᾿ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι
καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον.

The Loeb note to this passage suggest that Theognis is merely adding to the hexameter lines, since the pentameter lines add nothing. But I think this is problematic. Consider the similar doublet to the first 2 lines above in Bacchylides.

Bacchylides 5.159–161

“And answering him, he said:
“It is best for mortals not to be born
Nor to see the sun.”

καί νιν ἀμειβόμενος
τᾶδ᾿ ἔφα· ‘θνατοῖσι μὴ φῦναι φέριστον
μηδ᾿ ἀελίου προσιδεῖν

Note how Bacchylides acknowledges the proverbial–or at least ‘other’–status of these lines by putting it into the mouths of one of his characters. Notice the stability of the infinitive construction μὴ φῦναι with the mobility of the dative θνατοῖσι and the lexical variations of θνατοῖσι instead of ἐπιχθονίοισιν and φέριστον instead of ἄριστον.

Sophocles, Oedipus Colonos 1225–1227

“Not being born conquers
every argument. But, then, if someone does emerge,
to return where you came from as fast as possible
is second best by far.”

Μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νι-
κᾷ λόγον· τὸ δ’, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,
βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥ-
κει, πολὺ δεύτερον, ὡς τάχιστα.

Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism 3.230–231) compares the Theognis passage to this fragment from Euripides (fr. 449)

“We should have a gathering to mourn
Someone when they are born, when they come to so many evils
And when someone has died and found a break from evils,
We should be happy and bless them as we carry them from their homes.”

ἐχρῆν γὰρ ἡμᾶς σύλλογον ποιουμένους
τὸν φύντα θρηνεῖν, εἰς ὅσ᾿ ἔρχεται κακά,
τὸν δ᾿ αὖ θανόντα καὶ κακῶν πεπαυμένον
χαίροντας εὐφημοῦντας ἐκπέμπειν δόμων.

Valerius Maximus claimed that Thracians actually did mourn births and celebrate funerals.

A clearer reflection on the proverb is Euripides fr. 235 (from Bellerophon):

“I agree with the thing reported everywhere,
That it is best for a mortal not to be born.”

ἐγὼ τὸ μὲν δὴ πανταχοῦ θρυλούμενον
κράτιστον εἶναι φημὶ μὴ φῦναι βροτῷ·

Note the different superlative at the beginning of the phrase and the singular βροτῷ. Based on the flexibility of the expression and the riffing on it, I would suggest that this is a broadly dispersed cultural idea that has proverbial status at a very early period. Note how Euripides, in another fragment, toys with the more broadly used phrase:

Euripides, fr. 908

“Not existing is better for mortals than being born.”

Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.

Epicurus (Diogenes Laertius, 10.127) thinks that anyone who believes this and says it is a fool since “if he says it because he believes it, how is it he does not just stop living? For this is ready for him to do, if it is completely believed by him.” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως).

And there is, of course, the Ancient Near Eastern context to consider!

Sebastiano Ricci, “Sacrifice to Silenus” c. 1723

Dulce et Decorum Est To Live to Drink Another Day

Herodotus, Histories 5.95

“When they were waging war and many different kinds of things were happening in the battles, then indeed among them when the Athenians were winning, the poet Alcaeus went running and fled, but the Athenians captured his armor and dedicated it in the temple of Athena at Sigeion. Alcaeus wrote a poem about this and sent it to Mytilene where he explained his suffering to his best friend Melanippos. Peirander, Kypselos’ son, made peace between the Athenians and Mytileneans after they entrusted the affair to his judgment. He resolved it so that each side would keep what they previously possessed.”

Πολεμεόντων δὲ σφέων παντοῖα καὶ ἄλλα ἐγένετο ἐν τῇσι μάχῃσι, ἐν δὲ δὴ καὶ Ἀλκαῖος ὁ ποιητὴς συμβολῆς γενομένης καὶ νικώντων Ἀθηναίων αὐτὸς μὲν φεύγων ἐκφεύγει, τὰ δέ οἱ ὅπλα ἴσχουσι Ἀθηναῖοι, καί σφεα ἀνεκρέμασαν πρὸς τὸ Ἀθήναιον τὸ ἐν Σιγείῳ. ταῦτα δὲ Ἀλκαῖος ἐν μέλεϊ ποιήσας ἐπιτιθεῖ ἐς Μυτιλήνην, ἐξαγγελλόμενος τὸ ἑωυτοῦ πάθος Μελανίππῳ ἀνδρὶ ἑταίρῳ. Μυτιληναίους δὲ καὶ Ἀθηναίους κατήλλαξε Περίανδρος ὁ Κυψέλου· τούτῳ γὰρ διαιτητῇ ἐπετράποντο· κατήλλαξε δὲ ὧδε, νέμεσθαι ἑκατέρους τὴν ἔχουσι.

Plutarch, On the Malice of Herodotus 858ab

“What does Herodotus say about what happened at [the battle between the Athenians and Mytileneans]? Instead of mentioning the excellence of Pittakos, he narrates the flight of the poet Alkaios from battle, how he dropped his weapons. By not describing great deeds and by not passing over the shameful ones, he has taken the side of those who claim that envy and joy at someone else’s misfortune comes from the same weakness.”

 τί οὖν ὁ Ἡρόδοτος, κατὰ τὸν τόπον γενόμενος τοῦτον; ἀντὶ τῆς Πιττακοῦ ἀριστείας τὴν Ἀλκαίου διηγήσατο τοῦ ποιητοῦ φυγὴν ἐκ τῆς μάχης, τὰ ὅπλα ῥίψαντος, τῷ τὰ μὲν χρηστὰ μὴ γράψαι τὰ δ᾿ αἰσχρὰ μὴ παραλιπεῖν μαρτυρήσας τοῖς ἀπὸ μιᾶς κακίας καὶ τὸν φθόνον φύεσθαι καὶ τὴν ἐπιχαιρεκακίαν λέγουσαι.

Alcaeus, Fr. 38A (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 1 ii 8–20 + 2166(b)1)

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.

For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.

As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”

πῶνε [καὶ μέθυ᾿ ὦ] Μελάνιππ᾿ ἄμ᾿ ἔμοι· τί [φαῖς †
ὄταμε[. . . .]διννάεντ᾿ † Ἀχέροντα μέγ[αν πόρον
ζάβαι[ς ἀ]ελίω κόθαρον φάος [ἄψερον
ὄψεσθ᾿; ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ μεγάλων ἐπ[ιβάλλεο·
καὶ γὰρ Σίσυφος Αἰολίδαις βασίλευς [ἔφα
ἄνδρων πλεῖστα νοησάμενος [θανάτω κρέτην·
ἀλλὰ καὶ πολύιδρις ἔων ὐπὰ κᾶρι [δὶς
δ̣ιννάεντ᾿ Ἀχέροντ᾿ ἐπέραισε, μ[έμηδε δ᾿ ὦν
αὔτῳ μόχθον ἔχην Κρονίδαις βα [σίλευς κάτω
ελαίνας χθόνος· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ τά[δ᾿ ἐπέλπεο·
θᾶς] τ᾿ ἀβάσομεν αἴ ποτα κἄλλοτα ν [ῦν χρέων
φέρ]ην ὄττινα τῶνδε πάθην τά[χα δῷ θέος.

Image result for medieval manuscript acheron
Dante Being rowed across Acheron, 5th c, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 6r. B.L.

Some of us can’t say this any more…

Drunk on Foolishness: An Epitaph

IMT Kyz Kapu Dağ 1731 [=Greek Anthology, 3.14; From Mysia, 4th Century CE?]

“Wrecked and drunk with foolishness, why did you
Violently attack the bed of Zeus’ bride?
He doused you in blood as a consequence and then
Set you rightfully on the ground as as food to the beasts and birds.”

μάργε καὶ ἀφροσύνῃ μεμεθυσμένε, τίπτε βιαίως
εἰς εὐνὰς ἐτράπης τᾶς Διὸς εὐνέτιδος;
ὅς σε δὴ αἵματι φῦρσε κατάξια, θηρσὶ δὲ βορρὰν
καὶ πτανοῖς ἐπὶ γᾷ εἴασε νῦν ὁσίως.

Hierapolis colonnade.jpg
Ruins from Hierapolis

The Short Dream and the Sudden Darkness

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 14.620c

“Chameleon claims in his book On Stesichorus that it wasn’t only Homer’s poetry that was accompanied by music but also Archilochus’ and Hesiod’s too He adds the work of Mimnermus and Phocylides.”

Χαμαιλέων δὲ ἐν τῷ περὶ Στησιχόρου (fr. 28 Wehrli) καὶ μελῳδηθῆναί φησιν οὐ μόνον τὰ Ὁμήρου ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ Ἡσιόδου καὶ Ἀρχιλόχου, ἔτι δὲ Μιμνέρμου καὶ Φωκυλίδου.

Athenaeus, fr. 13.5.567f= Hermesian fr. 7.35-40

“Then Mimnermos, who discovered the sweet sound
And breath of gentle pentameter, after he suffered terribly,
Was burning for Nanno. With his lips often on the grey lotus
Pipe, he partied with Examyes.
But he was hateful to serious Hermobios and Pherekles.”

Μίμνερμος δέ, τὸν ἡδὺν ὃς εὕρετο πολλὸν ἀνατλὰς
ἦχον καὶ μαλακοῦ πνεῦμ᾿ ἀπὸ πενταμέτρου,
καίετο μὲν Ναννοῦς, πολιῷ δ᾿ ἐπὶ πολλάκι λωτῷ
κνημωθεὶς κώμους εἶχε σὺν Ἐξαμύῃ·
†ἠδ᾿ ἠχθεε† δ᾿ Ἑρμόβιον τὸν ἀεὶ βαρὺν ἠδὲ Φερεκλῆν

Suda, Mu 1077 (iii.397.20 Adler)

“Mimnermos, the son of Ligurtuades, from Kolophon or Smurnos or Astupalaios. An elegiac poet. He lived during the 37th Olympiad [ c. 632-629 BCE) and so lived before the Seven Sages. Some people say that he lived at the same time they did. He used to be called Liguastades because of his harmony and clarity. He wrote…those many books.”

Μίμνερμος Λιγυρτυάδου, Κολοφώνιος ἢ Σμυρναῖος ἢ Ἀστυπαλαιεύς, ἐλεγειοποιός. γέγονε δ᾿ ἐπὶ τῆς λζ΄ ὀλυμπιάδος, ὡς προτερεύειν τῶν ζ΄ σοφῶν· τινὲς δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ συγχρονεῖν λέγουσιν. ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ καὶ Λιγυᾳστάδης διὰ τὸ ἐμμελὲς καὶ λιγύ. ἔγραψε βιβλία †ταῦτα πολλά.

Mimnermus, fr. 5 = Stobaeus 4.50.69

[missing line of dactylic hexameter]

“….but dear youth is like a short dream
Then suddenly hard and ugly old age
Drapes down over your head.
It makes a man hateful and unloved, even unknown
As it weakens his eyes and clouds his mind.”

ἀλλ᾿ ὀλιγοχρόνιον γίνεται ὥσπερ ὄναρ
ἥβη τιμήεσσα· τὸ δ᾿ ἀργαλέον καί ἄμορφον
γῆρας ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς αὐτίχ᾿ ὑπερκρέμεται,
ἐχθρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ ἄτιμον, ὅ τ᾿ ἄγνωστον τιθεῖ ἄνδρα,
βλάπτει δ᾿ ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ νόον ἀμφιχυθέν.

Nick Drake, “Black Eyed Dog”

Black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more

A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog
A black eyed dog

I’m growing old and I wanna go home, I’m growing old and I dont wanna know
I’m growing old and I wanna go home

Black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more

Ditlev Blunck, Old Age. From the series: The Four Ages of Man (1840-1845) Statens Museum fur Kunst

Psssst…We Are All Going to Die: An Epitaph

SEG 42:212 Att. — Rhamnous — 4th c. BC — Forteresse, 69

“Death is life’s shared end for everyone. But you leave
Behind you pity for your age and a longing for your wisdom.
Your parents lost you when you were only twenty years old
And when you died they arranged a funeral for you instead of a marriage.”

1 τέ[ρμα βίο]υ [κοινὸν τὸ] θανεῖν πᾶσιν, σὺ δὲ λε[ίπεις]
ἡλικίας ἔλεον, σωφροσύνης δὲ πόθον.
ἐν δεκάσιν δισσαῖσιν ἐτ[ῶν στέρξαν σε γονῆες]
οἳ τάφον ἀντὶ γάμου τ[εῦξαν ἀποφθιμένωι].

A different epitaph

Image result for ancient greek epitaph seg
This is from the british museum

The Original Virgin Suicides

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.

Suicides of public figures cause disbelief because of our cultural misconceptions about depression and about the importance of material wealth and fame to our well-being. While some clusters of suicide can be understood as a reflex of the “threshold problem”, we fail to see the whole picture if we do not also see that human well-being is connected to a sense of agency and belonging. Galen, in writing about depression, notes that melancholy can make us desire that which we fear.

Galen, De Locis Affectis 8.190-191

“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.”

ἄλλα τε μυρία τοιαῦτα φαντασιοῦνται. διαφέρονται δὲ ἀλλήλων οἱ μελαγχολικοὶ, τὸ μὲν φοβεῖσθαι καὶ δυσθυμεῖν καὶ μέμφεσθαι τῇ ζωῇ καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντες ἔχοντες, ἀποθανεῖν δ’ ἐπιθυμοῦντες οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ’ ἔστιν ἐνίοις αὐτῶν αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο κεφάλαιον τῆς μελαγχολίας, τὸ περὶ τοῦ θανάτου δέος· ἔνιοι δὲ ἀλλόκοτοί σοι δόξουσιν, ἅμα τε καὶ δεδιέναι τὸν θάνατον καὶ θανατᾷν.

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.

Related image
Picture found here

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.

Obligatory Ides of March Post: Caesar Wanted to Go Out With A Bang, Not A Whimper

Suetonius, Divus Julius Caesar 86-7

“Caesar left certain of his friends the impression that he did not want or desire to live longer because  of his worsening health. This is why he ignored what the omens warned and what his friends revealed. Others believe that he dismissed the Spanish guards who accompanied him with swords because he was confident in the Senate’s recent decree and their sworn oath. Others report that he preferred to face the plots that threatened him at once rather than cower before them. There are those who assert that he used to say that his safety should be of more importance to the state than to himself: he had acquired an abundance of power and glory already, but the state, should anything happen to him, would have no rest and would suffer civil war in a worse condition than before.

The following is generally held to be the case, however: his manner of death was scarcely against his desire. For, when he read Xenophon’s account of how in the final days of illness Cyrus gave the plans for his own funeral, Caesar expressed disdain for so slow a death and wished that his own would be sudden and fast. And on the day before he died during dinner conversation at the home of Marcus Lepidus on the topic of the most agreeable end to life, Caesar said he preferred one that was sudden and unexpected.”

 

Suspicionem Caesar quibusdam suorum reliquit neque uoluisse se diutius uiuere neque curasse quod ualitudine minus prospera uteretur, ideoque et quae religiones monerent et quae renuntiarent amici neglexisse. sunt qui putent, confisum eum nouissimo illo senatus consulto ac iure iurando etiam custodias Hispanorum cum gladiis †adinspectantium se remouisse. [2] alii e diuerso opinantur insidias undique imminentis subire semel quam cauere … solitum ferunt: non tam sua quam rei publicae interesse, uti saluus esset: se iam pridem potentiae gloriaeque abunde adeptum; rem publicam, si quid sibi eueniret, neque quietam fore et aliquanto deteriore condicione ciuilia bella subituram.

illud plane inter omnes fere constitit, talem ei mortem paene ex sententia obtigisse. nam et quondam, cum apud Xenophontem legisset Cyrum ultima ualitudine mandasse quaedam de funere suo, aspernatus tam lentum mortis genus subitam sibi celeremque optauerat; et pridie quam occideretur, in sermone nato super cenam apud Marcum Lepidum, quisnam esset finis uitae commodissimus, repentinum inopinatumque praetulerat.

By Vincenzo Camuccini – Own work, user:Rlbberlin, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77355355

Rejoicing at the Death of a Tyrant

Suetonius, Divus Tiberius 75

“The people were so happy about his death that some people went around shouting after its announcement, “Tiberius into the Tiber!” while others prayed to the Earth and the divine Shades to give him no place in death except with the damned.

Others still were threatened his body with a hook and the Mourning Stairs, angered over the memory of recent cruelty: for the senate had decreed a stay of ten days for all condemned to execution. But that day came about for some when the news of Tiberius’ death surfaced. Although they were pleading for public help since no one could be approached and appealed to oppose their punishments now that Gaius was gone, the jailors strangled them and threw them out on the Mourning Stairs anyway, afraid of acting against the law. So hatred for the tyrant only increased since his brutality remained even after his death.”

LXXV. Morte eius ita laetatus est populus, ut ad primum nuntium discurrentes pars: “Tiberium in Tiberim!” clamitarent, pars Terram matrem deosque Manes orarent, ne mortuo sedem ullam nisi inter impios darent, alii uncum et Gemonias cadaveri minarentur, exacerbati super memoriam pristinae crudelitatis etiam recenti atrocitate. Nam cum senatus consulto cautum esset, ut poena damnatorum in decimum semper diem differretur, forte accidit ut quorundam supplicii dies is esset, quo nuntiatum de Tiberio erat. Hos implorantis hominum fidem, quia absente adhuc Gaio nemo exstabat qui adiri interpellarique posset, custodes, ne quid adversus constitutum facerent, strangulaverunt abieceruntque in Gemonias. Crevit igitur invidia, quasi etiam post mortem tyranni saevitia permanente

Silly Mortals, Lifetimes Are Plenty Long!

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae I

“A great number of mortals, Paul, grumble about nature’s cruelty–that we are born to a short life and that this time rushes by so quickly and surprisingly through its granted span that, with the exception of only a few, life’s end comes just when we’re ready to truly live. And it isn’t just a complaint of the public and the uninformed masses: this feeling brings the same quarrel from famous people too–this prompted the shout from the most famous doctors, that “life is short, art is everlasting.”

This also caused Aristotle to express a charge ill fit to a wise person when he was hypothesizing about Nature that when it comes to lifespan she has granted so much to animals that they live five or ten lives when so little has been given to human beings who achieve so much more! We don’t have too little time, but we do waste much of it.

Life is long enough and it has been granted sufficiently for finishing great things as long as the whole time is dedicated to them. Yet when life is wasted in luxury and recklessness or when it is devoted to nothing good, we are forced by the last moment to understand that life has left us before we understood it was going. So it goes–we don’t get a short life, but make it so; and it isn’t limited, we just waste it.”

Maior pars mortalium, Pauline, de naturae malignitate conqueritur, quod in exiguum aevi gignamur, quod haec tam velociter, tam rapide dati nobis temporis spatia decurrant, adeo ut exceptis admodum paucis ceteros in ipso vitae apparatu vita destituat. Nec huic publico, ut opinantur, malo turba tantum et imprudens1 volgus ingemuit; clarorum quoque virorum hic affectus querellas evocavit. Inde illa maximi medicorum exclamatio est: ‘vitam brevem  esse, longam artem’; inde Aristotelis cum rerum natura exigentis minime conveniens sapienti viro lis: ‘aetatis illam animalibus tantum indulsisse, ut quina aut dena saecula educerent, homini in tam multa ac magna genito tanto citeriorem terminum  stare.’ 

Non exiguum temporis habemus, sed multum perdimus. Satis longa vita et in maximarum rerum consummationem large data est, si tota bene collocaretur; sed ubi per luxum ac neglegentiam diffluit, ubi nulli bonae rei impenditur, ultima demum necessitate cogente quam ire non intelleximus  transisse sentimus. Ita est: non accipimus brevem vitam, sed facimus, nec inopes eius sed prodigi sumus.

Tower clock at the south side of the Schwabentor with the painting “Kosmos” by Carl Roesch, Vorstadt 69, Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Really Important, Hard to Understand

CW: Suicide

Plato, Phaedo 62a-b

“ ‘But you need to show some eagerness,’ he said, ‘since you may hear something soon. Perhaps it will seem shocking to you that this thing alone of all others is simple—when nothing else typically is—that it is sometimes and for some people better to die than to live. In addition, for some of the for whom it is better to be dead, it might seem equally shocking that it is not holy for them to do this good for themselves but they need to wait for some other benefactor to do it.’

Kebês laughed quietly and added in his own dialect, ‘As Zeus is my witness…’

Socrates said, “Well, it certainly would seem to be illogical, in this phrasing, but it nevertheless retains some kind of logic. The story which is told in the mystery narratives about these things—that we humans are in some kind of a cage and it is not right for us to free ourselves from it and run away—this story seems super important yet not easy to understand. Yet, this does seem to me to be well put: there are gods who care about us and human beings are one of their possessions. Doesn’t that seem to you to be the case?’ “

Ἀλλὰ προθυμεῖσθαι χρή, ἔφη· τάχα γὰρ ἂν καὶ ἀκούσαις. ἴσως μέντοι θαυμαστόν σοι φανεῖται εἰ τοῦτο μόνον τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων ἁπλοῦν ἐστιν, καὶ οὐδέποτε τυγχάνει τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ, ὥσπερ καὶ τἆλλα, ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ οἷς βέλτιον τεθνάναι ἢ ζῆν, | οἷς δὲ βέλτιον τεθνάναι, θαυμαστὸν ἴσως σοι φαίνεται εἰ τούτοις τοῖς ἀνθρώποις μὴ ὅσιον αὐτοὺς ἑαυτοὺς εὖ ποιεῖν, ἀλλὰ ἄλλον δεῖ περιμένειν εὐεργέτην.

Καὶ ὁ Κέβης ἠρέμα ἐπιγελάσας, Ἴττω Ζεύς, ἔφη, τῇ αὑτοῦ φωνῇ εἰπών.

Καὶ γὰρ ἂν δόξειεν, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, οὕτω γ’ εἶναι ἄλογον· οὐ μέντοι ἀλλ’ ἴσως γ’ ἔχει τινὰ λόγον. ὁ μὲν οὖν ἐν ἀπορρήτοις λεγόμενος περὶ αὐτῶν λόγος, ὡς ἔν τινι φρουρᾷ ἐσμεν οἱ ἄνθρωποι καὶ οὐ δεῖ δὴ ἑαυτὸν ἐκ ταύτης | λύειν οὐδ’ ἀποδιδράσκειν, μέγας τέ τίς μοι φαίνεται καὶ οὐ ῥᾴδιος διιδεῖν· οὐ μέντοι ἀλλὰ τόδε γέ μοι δοκεῖ, ὦ Κέβης, εὖ λέγεσθαι, τὸ θεοὺς εἶναι ἡμῶν τοὺς ἐπιμελουμένους καὶ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἓν τῶν κτημάτων τοῖς θεοῖς εἶναι. ἢ σοὶ οὐ δοκεῖ οὕτως;

N.B. The extreme philosophical position about the philosopher and suicide was taken by the Cyrenaic school

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.

File:David - The Death of Socrates.jpg
Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates