When You Can, Live as You Should

Seneca, Moral Epistles 7.8-9

“Both habits, moreover, should be avoided. Don’t imitate bad people, because there are many of them, nor hate the many, because you aren’t like them. Take shelter in yourself, whenever you can. Spend time with people who will make you a better person. Embrace those whom you can make better. Such improvement is a partnership, for people learn while they teach.”

Utrumque autem devitandum est; neve similis malis fias, quia multi sunt, neve inimicus multis, quia dissimiles sunt. Recede in te ipsum, quantum potes. Cum his versare, qui te meliorem facturi sunt. Illos admitte, quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines, dum docent, discunt.

Seneca, De Beata Vita 17-18

“ ‘This is enough for me: to each day lose one of my vices and recognize my mistakes. I have not perfected my health, nor certainly will I. I hope to relieve my gout rather than cure it, happy if it comes less frequently and cause less pain. But when I compare myself to your feet, I am a sprinter even though crippled.’

I do not say these things for myself—since I am deep in every kind of vice—but for the person who has done something.

You say, “You talk one way but you live another.” This insult, most shameful and hateful friend, was thrown at Plato, tossed at Epicurus, and dropped on Zeno. For all these people were talking not about how they were living themselves but about how they should live. When it comes to virtue, I do not talk about myself, and my fight is with vices, but chiefly my own. When I can, I will live as I should.”

Hoc mihi satis est, cotidie aliquid ex vitiis meis demere et errores meos obiurgare. Non perveni ad sanitatem, ne perveniam quidem; delenimenta magis quam remedia podagrae meae compono, contentus, si rarius accedit et si minus verminatur; vestris quidem pedibus comparatus, debilis1 cursor sum.” Haec non pro me loquor—ego enim in alto vitiorum omnium sum—, sed pro illo, cui aliquid acti est.

 “Aliter,” inquis, “loqueris, aliter vivis.” Hoc, malignissima capita et optimo cuique inimicissima, Platoni obiectum est, obiectum Epicuro, obiectum Zenoni; omnes enim isti dicebant non quemadmodum ipsi viverent, sed quemadmodum esset ipsis vivendum. De virtute, non de me loquor, et cum vitiis convicium facio, in primis meis facio. 2Cum potuero, vivam quomodo oportet.

Image result for medieval manuscripts meditating
Verdun, Bibl. mun., ms. 0070, f. 42v.

Utilitatis Aliquid: A Literary Syllabus for Eloquence and Erudition

Quintilian 1.8

“For comedy—which can provide a great deal to eloquence since it works through every character and feeling—I will explain soon what purpose I think it serves for students in its own place. For, once characters are safely formed, comedy is among the most important things to read. I am speaking of Menander, but I will not bar the others, for the Latin authors also provide some utility.

Students must first read texts which especially nourish the intelligence and strengthen the character. A long life will give them time for the rest of the works which are good mainly for intellectual reasons. The older Latin poets, moreover, who are mostly effective for their innate ability rather than their skill, can offer a lot—especially for building a great vocabulary. One can find a seriousness in their tragedies and in their comedies an elegance and a certain Attic nature. Their compositions are more considered, too, than modern authors who think that the only virtue of writing is its “quotability”. A high register and, if I may say, a kind of power must be found in these authors since we have now stumbled into the vices of pleasure in our manner of speaking too. And, finally, we should lean on the best orators who take from the poems of the ancients to strengthen their claims or decorate their speaking”

Comoediae, quae plurimum conferre ad eloquentiam potest, cum per omnis et personas et adfectus eat, quem usum in pueris putem paulo post suo loco dicam: nam cum mores in tuto fuerint, inter praecipua legenda erit. De Menandro loquor, nec tamen excluserim alios, nam Latini quoque auctores adferent utilitatis aliquid; sed pueris quae maxime ingenium alant atque animum augeant praelegenda: ceteris, quae ad eruditionem modo pertinent, longa aetas spatium dabit. Multum autem veteres etiam Latini conferunt, quamquam plerique plus ingenio quam arte valuerunt, in primis copiam verborum: quorum in tragoediis gravitas, in comoediis elegantia et quidam velut atticismos inveniri potest. Oeconomia quoque in iis diligentior quam in plerisque novorum erit, qui omnium operum solam virtutem sententias putaverunt. Sanctitas certe et, ut sic dicam, virilitas ab iis petenda est, quando nos in omnia deliciarum vitia dicendi quoque ratione defluximus. Denique credamus summis oratoribus, qui veterum poemata vel ad fidem causarum vel ad ornamentum eloquentiae adsumunt.

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Portrait of Matthaeus Platearius d.c.1161 writing “The Book of Simple Medicines”, c.1470 (Wikimedia Commons)

Pliny Goes on A Campus Tour

Pliny, Letters to Friends 18, to Junius Mauricius

“What could you ask me to do which would be more pleasant than to find a teacher for your nephews? Because of this favor, I am going back to school and it’s like I am returning to the sweetest time of my life. I sit among the young as I used to and I am even learning how much authority I have among them from my own writings.

Just recently  they were joking among themselves in a full classroom when several senators were present. But when I came in, they were silent. I am telling you this only because it confers more praise on them than on me and I want you never to fear that your brother’s sons won’t learn properly. All that’s left is for me to write you what I think of each of the teachers once I have heard them lecture and to make it same like you have heard them all yourself, as much as I can do that with a letter!”

Plinius Maurico Suo S.

Quid a te mihi iucundius potuit iniungi, quam ut praeceptorem fratris tui liberis quaererem? Nam beneficio tuo in scholam redeo, et illam dulcissimam aetatem quasi resumo: sedeo inter iuvenes ut solebam, atque etiam experior quantum apud illos auctoritatis ex studiis habeam. Nam proxime frequenti auditorio inter se coram multis ordinis nostri clare iocabantur; intravi, conticuerunt; quod non referrem, nisi ad illorum magis laudem quam ad meam pertineret, ac nisi sperare te vellem posse fratris tui filios probe discere. Quod superest, cum omnes qui profitentur audiero, quid de quoque sentiam scribam, efficiamque quantum tamen epistula consequi potero, ut ipse omnes audisse videaris.

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Pliny the Younger and his Mother at Misenum, 79 CE (Angelica Kaufman, 1785)

“Well, Actually, None IS”: Seneca the Elder on Grammatical Pedantry

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 2.13, 540 M

“The grammarian Procellus used to claim that [Severus’] line was a solecism because, although he indicated many were speaking, he used to say “this is my day” instead of “this is our day”. And in this he was carping at the best part of a great poem. For, it is feeble if you make it “our” instead of my—all of the verse’s elegance will disappear.

For its greatest decorum is in this line and it comes from the vernacular (for, “this is my day” is something like a proverb). If, in addition, you reconsider the sense, then the grammarian’s pedantry—which should be kept away from all of the better minds—has no place at all. For, they did not all speak together as a chorus might with a leader guiding them, but each one spoke individually, “this is my day.”

Illud Porcellus grammaticus arguebat in hoc versu quasi soloecismum quod, cum plures induxisset, diceret: “hic meus est dies,” non: “hic noster est,” et in sententia optima id accusabat quod erat optimum. Muta enim ut “noster” sit: peribit omnis versus elegantia, in quo hoc est decentissimum, quod ex communi sermone trahitur; nam quasi proverbii loco est: “hic dies meus est”; et, cum ad sensum rettuleris, ne grammaticorum quidem calumnia ab omnibus magnis ingeniis summovenda habebit locum; dixerunt enim non omnes simul tamquam in choro manum ducente grammatico, sed singuli ex iis: “hic meus est dies.”

this is my day, punk.

The Rise of Foreign Education in Rome

Cicero, Republic 2.19

“It was then that our state first seemed to have become more learned with a certain foreign type of education. For it was no little stream which flowed from Greece into this city, but the most powerful river of those disciplines and arts. Some people tell the tale that Demaratus—a Corinthian exceptional in his own city for his respect, wealth, and authority—who was not able to endure the tyrant Cypselos at Corinth, fled with his money and took up residence in Tarquinii, the most elegant city of Etruria at the time.

Once he heard that Cypselos’ power was complete, the man of freedom and bravery officially became an exile and re-established his home and roots here. When he had two sons with the Tarquinian mother of his family, he had them educated in every art of the Greek system…”

XIX. Sed hoc loco primum videtur insitiva quadam disciplina doctior facta esse civitas. influxit enim non tenuis quidam e Graecia rivulus in hanc urbem, sed abundantissimus amnis illarum disciplinarum et artium. fuisse enim quendam ferunt Demaratum Corinthium et honore et auctoritate et fortunis facile civitatis suae principem; qui cum Corinthiorum tyrannum Cypselum ferre non potuisset, fugisse cum magna pecunia dicitur ac se contulisse Tarquinios, in urbem Etruriae florentissimam. cumque audiret dominationem Cypseli confirmari, defugit patriam vir liber ac fortis et adscitus est civis a Tarquiniensibus atque in ea civitate domicilium et sedes collocavit. ubi cum de matre familias Tarquiniensi duo filios procreavisset, omnibus eos artibus ad Graecorum disciplinam erudiit. . .

*Cypselos was allegedly a tyrant in the 7th century BCE.

Image result for Cypselus of corinth

Listeners and Readers Have Different Needs

Quintilian Institutio Oratoria, 10.1

“Indeed, some things are useful for listeners and others are good for readers. A speaking narrator causes excitement with his energy and feeds our attention not only with vivid images but with the material itself. Everything comes alive and is moved and we feed on new ideas as if they are just born in charm and worry. We are hand not just on the fate of the plot but on the danger faced by those who narrate it. In addition, the voice itself, proper movement, and performance shaped as each segment will demand are the most powerful aspects of recitation and, as I may say, teacheverything equally.

When it comes to reading, the audience’s judgment can be more certain since a listener’s prejudice often turns either by their own taste or by the shouting of those who are responding to the performance. Disagreement makes us feel shame and our unacknowledged humility keeps us from trusting our own responses even though pretty terrible stuff is pleasing to the majority of people. A summoned audience, moreover, will even applaud for things they don’t like. The opposite occurs too: poor taste often can’t tell when something has been finely put.

Reading is private—it does not move through us with the force of live performance and you’re allowed to re-read often just in case you are uncertain or want to memorize it. We may return to the text and work it again the way we let our food be chewed and worked because we swallow it for easier digestion. In this way, our reading is not raw but it is ready for memory through repeated softening and preparation.”

Alia vero audientis, alia legentis magis adiuvant. Excitat qui dicit spiritu ipso, nec imagine tantum rerum sed rebus incendit. Vivunt omnia enim et moventur, excipimusque nova illa velut nascentia cum favore ac sollicitudine: nec fortuna modo iudicii sed etiam ipsorum qui orant periculo adficimur. Praeter haec vox, actio decora, accommodata ut quisque locus postulabit pronuntiandi vel potentissima in dicendo ratio, et, ut semel dicam, pariter omnia docent. In lectione certius iudicium, quod audienti frequenter aut suus cuique favor aut ille laudantium clamor extorquet. Pudet enim dissentire, et velut tacita quadam verecundia inhibemur plus nobis credere, cum interim et vitiosa pluribus placent, et a conrogatis laudantur etiam quae non placent. Sed e contrario quoque accidit ut optime dictis gratiam prava iudicia non referant.

Lectio libera est nec ut actionis impetu transcurrit, sed repetere saepius licet, sive dubites sive memoriae penitus adfigere velis. Repetamus autem et tractemus et, ut cibos mansos ac prope liquefactos demittimus quo facilius digerantur, ita lectio non cruda sed multa iteratione mollita et velut confecta memoriae imitationique tradatur.

MS Additional 11639, f. 116r, France, 1277-1286 — From Here

I hate Education: Let Me Compose a Poem About It

Petronius, Satyricon 4

“The fact is this: if they would tolerate the work advancing by stages, so that the studious youth were were steeped in strict reading, they shaped their minds with the sayings the wise, they were digging out words with a tireless pen, they were listening at length to words they want to imitate, and they believed that what was pleasing to children was never truly exceptional, then that old style of oratory would have the weight of its majesty.

As it is now, children play at school and our youths are mocked in public. And what is more disgusting than this, no one is willing to admit in old age whatever nonsense they learned before. But, please don’t think that I am attacking a tenet of Lucilian humility. I will put what I believe in a poem.”

Quod si paterentur laborum gradus fieri, ut studiosi iuvenes lectione severa irrigarentur, ut sapientiae praeceptis animos componerent, ut verba atroci stilo effoderent, ut quod vellent imitari diu audirent, <ut persuaderent>2 sibi nihil esse magnificum, quod pueris placeret: iam illa grandis oratio haberet maiestatis suae pondus. Nunc pueri in scholis ludunt, iuvenes ridentur in foro, et quod utroque turpius est, quod quisque perperam didicit, in senectute confiteri non vult. Sed ne me putes improbasse schedium Lucilianae humilitatis, quod sentio, et ipse carmine effingam:

Petronius Arbiter by Bodart 1707.jpg