Pliny on the Utility of Gossip

Pliny, Epistle 18 to Fadius Rufinus 12

“You now have all the city’s rumors: for all our gossip is Tullus. His estate sale is hotly anticipated. For he had so much that on that day when he purchased the largest gardens he also filled them with the most and most ancient statues. These were works of finest beauty in which he had forgotten!

If you have any news you think is worthy of sharing, don’t keep it from me. For human ears are always pleased by news, and we use these examples to learn the art of living. Farewell.”

Habes omnes fabulas urbis; nam sunt omnes fabulae Tullus. Exspectatur auctio: fuit enim tam copiosus, ut amplissimos hortos eodem quo emerat die instruxerit plurimis et antiquissimis statuis; tantum illi pulcherrimorum operum in horreis quae neglegebat. Invicem tu, si quid istic epistula dignum, ne gravare. Nam cum aures hominum novitate laetantur, tum ad rationem vitae exemplis erudimur. Vale.

Gossip
BL MS Royal 6 E VII

 

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)

After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

seneca strength

Telling Teacher about Groin Pain

Marcus Aurelius to Fronto, 148–149 a.d. 

“I have learned that you have pain in your groin, my teacher. Because I remember how much trouble this pain usually gives you, I myself am suffering the worst worry. But my hope that in the time it took for this news to come to me that pain has potentially given in to applications and treatments lessons my worry. We are at this point enduring the summer heat, but our little girls—may it be permitted to say—are growing well. We suspect we are enduring healthy weather and spring temperatures. Goodbye, best of teachers.”

Magistro meo salutem.

Doluisse te inguina cognosco, mi magister, et quom recordor quantam vexationem tibi iste dolor adferre soleat, gravissimam sollicitudinem patior. Sed me levat quod spero illo spatio, quo perferebatur huc1 nuntius, potuisse cedere fomentis et remediis illam vim doloris. Nos aestivos calores adhuc experimur, sed quom parvolae nostrae, dixisse liceat, commode valeant, mera salubritate et verna temperie frui existimamus. Vale mi optime magister.

 

For the second part we have the better translation from Marius Ivașcu  “We are still experiencing the scorching heat of summer, but as long as our little ones – if we may say so – are feeling comfortable – we reckon we are enjoying pure health and springly mildness.” 

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Give Me The Books! Legacy Hunter, Bibliophile Edition

Cicero to Atticus, 1.20 12 May 60

“Now, so I might return to my own affair, Lucius Papirius Paetus, a good man and my fan, has set aside as a gift for me the books which Servius Claudius left. Because your friend Cincius informed me that it is permitted thanks to the Lex Cincias for me to take them, I told him happily that I would accept the books if he brought them to me. Now, if you care for me and you know that I care for you too, please endeavor through your friends, clients, guests even your freedmen and slaves if necessary, to ensure that not even a page is lost.

For I seriously need both the Greek books—which I have an idea about—and the Latin ones—which I know that he left. Day-by-day I find rest for myself in these books in whatever time is left for me from my political work. I will be really, really thankful if you would be as diligent in this as you are usually in the affairs which you understand concern me deeply. I also entrust to you Paetus’ personal business, concerning which he owes you the greatest thanks. And I not only ask but I even implore you to visit us soon.”

7 Nunc ut ad rem meam redeam, L. Papirius Paetus, vir bonus amatorque noster, mihi libros eos quos Ser. Claudius reliquit donavit. cum mihi per legem Cinciam licere capere Cincius amicus tuus diceret, libenter dixi me accepturum si attulisset. nunc si me amas, si te a me amari scis, enitere per amicos, clientis, hospites, libertos denique ac servos tuos, ut scida ne qua depereat. nam et Graecis iis libris quos suspicor et Latinis quos scio illum reliquisse mihi vehementer opus est. ego autem cottidie magis quod mihi de forensi labore temporis datur in iis studiis conquiesco. per mihi, per, inquam, gratum feceris si in hoc tam diligens fueris quam soles in iis rebus quas me valde velle arbitraris, ipsiusque Paeti tibi negotia commendo, de quibus tibi ille agit maximas gratias, et ut iam invisas nos non solum rogo sed etiam suadeo.

15th century Bologna, University Library. Cod. Bonon. 963, f. 4

 

Cicero might be a bit of a bibliomaniac. We have posted earlier about his letter to his brother, asking for books. He describes returning home as a reunion with his books. (Vergerio riffs on this) Petrarch seems to have contracted a similar disease. (Really, he was incurable.)

Antiquity had an apocryphal moral argument about Cicero earning his life in exchange for burning his books.

And although Mark Tully is all about giving books, he’s not much into lending them:

Letters to Atticus, 8

“Beware of lending your books to anyone; save them for me, as you write that you will. The greatest excitement for them has gripped me, along with a contempt for everything else.”

libros vero tuos cave cuiquam tradas; nobis eos, quem ad modum scribis, conserva. summum me eorum studium tenet, sicut odium iam ceterarum rerum.

A Rather Elite Writing Group: Pliny and Tacitus

Pliny to Cornelius Tacitus, 20

“I have read your book and I have noted the passages which should be changed or removed as carefully as I was able. For I am also in the habit of speaking the truth and you hear it freely. No people are criticized as patiently as those who especially deserve praise.

Now I am expecting my book from you with your notes—what a joy, what a fine exchange! How it makes me happy to think that if posterity cares about us at all, the story will be about how we lived with harmony, directness and trust. It will seem rare and notable that two men nearly equal in age and dignity and of some fame for writing—for I am compelled to speak sparingly of you when I am talking about myself too—to have encouraged each other’s efforts.

I was a young man when you were already growing in fame and glory and I was longing to be nearest to you but “by a long distance”. There were then many really famous geniuses—but you, perhaps because our nature was similar, seemed one I could imitate, someone I should imitate. I am for this reason happy if, when there is any conversation about scholarship, we are named together or at the fact that one some speak of you my name is mentioned.

There is no lack of authors who may be preferred to us. But, it makes no difference to me which place I have if we are joined together. For my first position is the one which is nearest to you.”

Librum tuum legi et, quam diligentissime potui, adnotavi quae commutanda, quae eximenda arbitrarer. Nam et ego verum dicere adsuevi, et tu libenter audire. Neque enim ulli patientius reprehenduntur, quam qui maxime laudari merentur. Nunc a te librum meum cum adnotationibus tuis exspecto. O iucundas, o pulchras vices! Quam me delectat quod, si qua posteris cura nostri, usquequaqua narrabitur, qua concordia simplicitate fide vixerimus! Erit rarum et insigne, duos homines aetate dignitate propemodum aequales, non nullius in litteris nominis (cogor enim de te quoque parcius dicere, quia de me simul dico), alterum alterius studia fovisse.

Equidem adulescentulus, cum iam tu fama gloriaque floreres, te sequi, tibi “longo sed proximus intervallo” et esse et haberi concupiscebam. Et erant multa clarissima ingenia; sed tu mihi (ita similitudo naturae ferebat) maxime imitabilis,  maxime imitandus videbaris. Quo magis gaudeo, quod si quis de studiis sermo, una nominamur, quod de te loquentibus statim occurro. Nec desunt qui utrique nostrum praeferantur. Sed nos, nihil interest mea quo loco, iungimur; nam mihi primus, qui a te proximus.

 

 

From Tertullian.org

Send Me Something Good to Read

Marcus Antoninus to Fronto, 161 CE

“…I have read just a little bit from Coelius and from a speech of Cicero, but pretty much in secret and only in bits. One worry trips over another so much that meanwhile my sole respite is to take a book to hand. For our young daughters are staying in town with Matidia—therefore they cannot come to visit me in the evening because of the sharpness of the air….[ …]

Send me something which seems to you to be particularly well-written so I may read it, either your own or someone from Cato, Cicero, Salust, Gracchus, or from some other poet—for I need a rest—and especially that kind of reading which will raise my spirit and shake me from the worries which have fallen over me. Also, if you have any excerpts from Lucretius or Ennius—euphonious lines or those which give a good sense of character.”

…<legi ex Coe>|lio paululum et ex Ciceronis oratione, sed quasi furtim, certe quidem raptim: tantum instat aliud ex alio curarum, quom interim requies una librum in manus sumere. Nam parvolae nostrae nunc apud Matidiam in oppido hospitantur: igitur vespera ad me ventitare non possunt propter aurae rigorem…

Mitte mihi aliquid quod tibi disertissimum videatur, quod legam, vel tuum aut Catonis aut Ciceronis aut Sallustii aut Gracchi aut poetae alicuius, χρῄζω γὰρ ἀναπαύλης, et maxime hoc genus, quae me lectio extollat et diffundat ἐκ τῶν κατειληφυιῶν φροντίδων; etiam si qua Lucretii aut Ennii excerpta habes εὔφωνα <στίχι>α1et sicubi ἤθους ἐμϕάσεις.

Opening of the 1483 manuscript copy of De rerum natura by Girolamo di Matteo de Tauris