Style as Substance in Ancient Philosophy

Fronto, to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 162 AD?

“When it comes to poets, who is ignorant that Lucilius has some grace, Albucius to rather dry, Lucretius is sublime, and Pacuvius just average, while Accius’ work is uneven and Ennius is protean? Sallust has also written history in a structured way while Pictor is random, Claudius writes charmingly, and Antias is unpleasant; Sisenna writes too long, Cato has many words in tandem and Caelius leaves them unconnected. When it comes to polemic, Cato rages, Cicero chortles, Gracchus attacks, Calbus picks fights.

Perhaps you don’t think much of these examples. Why? Don’t philosophers use different manners of speaking? Zeno is the most expansive in illustration; Socrates is the most contrary in his arguments; Diogenes is super fast at criticizing; Heraclitus was obscure to the point of clouding up everything; Pythagoras was amazing at making everything sacred with mysterious symbols; Clitomachus so agnostic as to doubt everything. What would these wisest of wise guys do if they were forced away from their individual style and method? What if Socrates could’t argue, if Zeno wouldn’t expatiate, if Diogenes couldn’t carp, if Pythagoras couldn’t make anything sacred, if Heraclitus was forbidden to obfuscate and Clitomachus had to make up his mind?”

In poetis autem quis ignorat ut gracilis sit Lucilius, Albucius aridus, sublimis Lucretius, mediocris Pacuvius, inaequalis Accius, Ennius multiformis? Historiam quoque scripsere Sallustius structe Pictor incondite, Claudius lepide Antias invenuste, Sisenna longinque, verbis Cato multiiugis Caelius singulis. Contionatur autem Cato infeste, Gracchus turbulente, Tullius copiose. Iam in iudiciis saevit idem Cato, triumphat Cicero, tumultuatur Gracchus, Calvus rixatur.

Sed haec exempla fortasse contemnas. Quid? philosophi ipsi nonne diverso genere orationis usi sunt? Zeno ad docendum plenissimus, Socrates ad coarguendum captiosissimus, Diogenes ad | exprobrandum promptissimus, Heraclitus obscurus involvere omnia, Pythagoras mirificus clandestinis signis sancire omnia, Clitomachus anceps in dubium vocare omnia. Quidnam igitur agerent isti ipsi sapientissimi viri, si de suo quisque more atque instituto deducerentur? Socrates ne coargueret, Zeno ne disceptaret, Diogenes ne increparet, ne quid Pythagoras sanciret, ne quid Heraclitus absconderet, ne quid Clitomachus ambigeret?

“This means something”.  from Raphael’s “School of Athens”

Tricks with His Lips! Fronto on Why Seneca is Trash

Fronto to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (“On Speeches”, Ambr. 382)

“…I am going to add in some potentially inapt and unfair comments, for I plan to remind you of the experience of having me as a teacher…

Still, it would be better for you to neglect these things than to nurture them poorly. For when it comes to that confused in the combined type, grafted in part on Cato’s pine-nuts and Seneca’s soft and febrile plums, well I think it should be pulled up by the roots—no, to use a Plautine line, uprooted below the roots!

I am not ignorant that Seneca is a person fully stuffed and overflowing with ideas, but to be honest I see his sentences as trotting around, announcing their course with a full gallop, but stopping to fight nowhere and never striking the sublime. Like Laberius, he plays at wit-darts, or really just assembling sounds, rather than composing words worth repeating.

Do you believe that you would uncover graver sentiments on the same ideas in your Annaeus than in Sergius*? Ah, Sergius’ words don’t have the same rhythm or the same speed as Seneca’s, I admit. The sounds don’t sing the same, I won’t deny it.

But what if the same meal is offered to two people and the first picks up the olives on the table with his fingers, brings them to his mouth, puts them between his teeth to chew them in the right and proper way, while the other throws them up high and catches them with his mouth open and then shows them off once caught with his lips like a juggler? Really, children at school would applaud at what was done and the guest would be entertained, but one will have eaten lunch properly while the other did tricks with his lips.

So you say that some things are expressed cleverly and some with weight. But sometimes little silver coins are found in the sewer. Should we take over the job of cleaning the sewers too?”

…pauca subnectam fortasse inepta iniqua, nam rursus faxo magistrum me experiare….

Neglegas tamen vero potius censeo quam prave excolas. Confusam eam ego eloquentiam, catachannae ritu partim pineis nucibus Catonis partim Senecae mollibus et febriculosis prunulis insitam, subvertendam censeo radicitus, immo vero, Plautino ut utar verbo, exradicitus. Neque ignoro copiosum sententiis et redundantem hominem esse: verum sententias eius tolutares video nusquam quadripedo concitas cursu ten<d>ere, nusquam pugnare, nusquam maiestatem studere; ut Laberius dictabolaria, immo dicteria, potius eum quam dicta confingere.

Itane existimas graviores sententias et eadem de re apud Annaeum istum reperturum te quam apud Sergium? Sed non modulatas aeque: fateor;  neque ita| cordaces: ita est; neque ita tinnulas: non nego. Quid vero, si prandium utrique adponatur, adpositas oleas alter digitis prendat, ad os adferat, ut manducandi ius fasque est ita dentibus subiciat, alter autem oleas suas in altum iaciat, ore aperto excipiat, ut calculos praestigiator, primoribus labris ostentet? Ea re profecto pueri laudent, convivae delectentur; sed alter pudice pranderit, alter labellis gesticulatus erit.

At enim sunt quaedam in libris eius scite dicta, graviter quoque nonnulla. Etiam laminae interdum argentiolae cloacis inveniuntur; eane re cloacas purgandas redimemus?

*either Sergius Flavius or Plautus, an author reputed to have used harsh language

Marcus as a young boy

Fronto on How to Wear a Mask

Marcus Cornelius Fronto to Antoninus Augustus Ambr. 390 17

“Aesopus the tragedian reportedly never put a mask on his face until he had looked at it for awhile from the other side so that he might change his gestures and alter his voice in line with the appearance of the mask.”

Tragicus Aesopus fertur non prius ullam suo induisse capiti personam, antequam diu ex adverso contemplaret, ut pro personae voltu gestum sibi capessere ac vocem <adsimulare posset>

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Weak fact checking like this from USA Today misses out on the complex factors attending mask wearing. Math and logic can fix this. WashPo aggregates some studies which support it.

You can support the Sportula and get a cool mask from redbubble designed by Amy Pistone

Owl Hoplite color - Amy Pistone

 

A Tyranny Gained Through Luck

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 2.3

“While the courts just as in previous eras have been run by the three orders, those political factions still rule them: they give and take what they may, giving the innocent the runaround and heaping honors on their own. Neither crime nor shame nor public disgrace disqualifies them from office. They rob, despoil whomever they please. And finally, as if the city has been sacked, they rely on their own lust and excess instead of the laws.

And for me this would only be a source of limited grief if, in their typical fashion, they were pursuing a victory born from excellence. But the laziest of people whose total strength and excellence come from their tongue are arrogantly administering a tyranny gained through luck and from another person! For what treason or civil discord has obliterated so many families? Whose spirit was ever so hasty and extreme in victory?”

Iudicia tametsi, sicut antea, tribus ordinibus tradita sunt, tamen idem illi factiosi regunt, dant, adimunt quae lubet, innocentis circumveniunt, suos ad honorem extollunt. Non facinus, non probrum aut flagitium obstat, quo minus magistratus capiant. Quos commodum est trahunt, rapiunt; postremo tamquam urbe capta libidine ac licentia sua pro legibus utuntur.

Ac me quidem mediocris dolor angeret, si virtute partam victoriam more suo per servitium exercerent. Sed homines inertissimi, quorum omnis vis virtusque in lingua sita est, forte atque alterius socordia dominationem oblatam insolentes agitant. Nam quae seditio aut dissensio civilis tot tam illustris familias ab stirpe evertit? Aut quorum umquam in victoria animus tam praeceps tamque inmoderatus fuit?

 

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Chief Minister of Bullsh*t

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 92 (4.18) October or November 54

You may ask me “how are you handling these things?” By god, pretty damn well and I love myself for doing so. My friend, we have not only lost the marrow and blood of a just state, but we’ve lost its decoration and facade too.

There is no Republic where I might find happiness or comfort. You may ask, “Can you really take this well?” Yes. That’s it. I recall how well the state thrived when I was governing it and the gratitude it gave me. No grief touches me at all at seeing one person capable of everything. Those who were upset that I had any power are wrecked by it.

No, I have many things to bring me solace. But I do not move from where I am, instead I return to that way of life which is most natural, to my books and my research.”

Dices ‘tu ergo haec quo modo fers?’ belle mehercule et in eo me valde amo. amisimus, mi Pomponi, omnem non modo sucum ac sanguinem sed etiam colorem et speciem pristinae civitatis. nulla est res publica quae delectet, in qua acquiescam. ‘idne igitur’ inquies ‘facile fers?’ id ipsum. recordor enim quam bella paulisper nobis gubernantibus civitas fuerit, quae mihi gratia relata sit. nullus dolor me angit unum omnia posse; dirumpuntur ii qui me aliquid posse doluerunt. multa mihi dant solacia, nec tamen ego de meo statu demigro, quaeque vita maxime est ad naturam, ad eam me refero, ad litteras et studia nostra.

Carved bust of Cicero 

Sidelined from Writing by Pain

Fronto to Praecilius Pompeianus [Ad Amicos, i. 15 (Naber, p. 184).]

“In the intervening period, the neuritis overtook me even more powerful than usual, and it has lasted longer and been harder to bear than is typical. I am not able to pay any attention to letters that need to be written and read when my limbs hurt so much. And I have not as yet dared to expect so much from myself.

When those magnificent specimens of philosophers make the claim that the wise man would still be happy even if he were trapped in the Bull of Phalaris, it is easier for me to believe that he could be happy than he would be able to think carefully about some introduction or turn a pithy phrase all while roasting within the brass.”

Interea nervorum dolor solito vehementior me invasit, et diutius ac molestius solito remoratus est. Nec possum ego membris cruciantibus operam ullam litteris scribendis legendisque impendere; nec umquam istuc a me postulare ausus sum. Philosophis etiam mirificis hominibus dicentibus, sapientem virum etiam in Phalaridis tauro inclusum beatum nihilominus fore, facilius crediderim beatum eum fore quam posse tantisper amburenti in aheno prohoemium meditari aut epigrammata scribere.

What’s up with the bull? Check out the story here.

Image from here

Starting Fights with Doctors

Horace, Epistles 1.8

“Celsus Albinovanus: Hello! I hope this finds you well.

Muse, take this message to Nero’s friend and secretary,
Should he ask how I’m doing, tell him that even though I threatened
Many fine things, I don’t live rightly or pleasantly.

And this isn’t because hail ruined my vines or heat shrank my olives
Or because my flock is getting sick in a far-away field.
No, it’s that my mind is less well than any part of my body.

I don’t want to listen or learn about anything that relieves the disease.
I start fights with doctors; I fly into a rage with friends
Over why they want to get me out of this deadly funk.
I keep stalking what hurt me, I avoid anything I suspect will help.
I flit back and forth, wanting the Tibur in Rome and in Rome the Tibur.

After that, ask him if he’s well, how he and his stuff are,
How his standing is with the young man and his crew.
If he says “well”, first, rejoice! But then
Leave this reminder in his little ears:
“As you bear fortune, Celsus, we’ll bear you.”

Celso gaudere et bene rem gerere Albinovano
Musa rogata refer, comiti scribaeque Neronis.
si quaeret quid agam, dic multa et pulchra minantem
vivere nec recte nec suaviter; haud quia grando
contuderit vitis oleamque momorderit aestus,
nec quia longinquis armentum aegrotet in agris;
sed quia mente minus validus quam corpore toto
nil audire velim, nil discere, quod levet aegrum;
fidis offendar medicis, irascar amicis,
cur me funesto properent arcere veterno;
quae nocuere sequar, fugiam quae profore credam;
Romae Tibur amem ventosus, Tibure Romam.
Post haec, ut valeat, quo pacto rem gerat et se,
ut placeat iuveni percontare utque cohorti.
si dicet, “recte,” primum gaudere, subinde
praeceptum auriculis hoc instillare memento:
“ut tu fortunam, sic nos te, Celse, feremus.”

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Fresco from “House of Sirico” Pompeii (Aeneas with Dr, Iapyx)

Two Romans Speak of Mothers

Sidonius, Letters 4.21

“The first place in explaining someone’s heritage is usually given to the father’s line, but we still owe much to our mothers. So it is not right that we give some smaller honor to the fact that we were our mothers’ burdens than that we were our father’s seeds.”

Est quidem princeps in genere monstrando partis paternae praerogativa, sed tamen multum est,quod debemus et matribus. non enim a nobis aliquid exilius fas honorari quod pondera illarum quam quod istorum semina sumus.

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Vergil, Aeneid 2.796-798

“And here, I was shocked to find an overwhelming
Flood of new companions, mothers and men,
A band assembled for exile, a pitiable crowd.”

“Atque hic ingentem comitum adfluxisse novorum
invenio admirans numerum, matresque virosque,
collectam exsilio pubem, miserabile vulgus.

The Ideal Statesman and Pompey’s True Aims

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, Ep.  8.11 (27 Feb 49)

“I believe it is in his fifth book that Scipio says ‘Just as a favorable trip is a captain’s task, health is the doctor’s, victory is the generals, the duty of the leader of a state is the happy life of its citizens: strength for their safety, abundance for their goods, fame for their self-worth, and truth for their virtue. I wish for the accomplishment of the best men among us to be this.’

‘Our’ Gnaeus has never before thought about this, nor now in the present affair at all. Domination has been sought by both of them—nothing has been done for the happiness and honesty of the state. [Pompey] did not leave the city because he could not defend it nor Italy because he was driven away, but from the beginning he planned to attack every land and sea, to annoy foreign kings, and to bring alien peoples to Italy in arms—to raise the largest armies. He has been salivating for a long time for that type of Sullan rule—and many who follow him long for it to. Do you believe that there was no way for them to come to an agreement, that no pact was possible? It is possible today, but neither man cares whether we are happy. Both want to rule.”

nam sic quinto, ut opinor, in libro loquitur Scipio: ‘ut enim gubernatori cursus secundus, medico salus, imperatori victoria, sic huic moderatori rei publicae beata civium vita proposita est, ut opibus firma, copiis locuples, gloria ampla, virtute honesta sit; huius enim operis maximi inter homines atque optimi illum esse perfectorem volo.’ hoc Gnaeus noster cum antea numquam tum in hac causa minime cogitavit. dominatio quaesita ab utroque est, non id actum, beata et honesta civitas ut esset. nec vero ille urbem reliquit quod eam tueri non posset nec Italiam quod ea pelleretur, sed hoc a primo cogitavit, omnis terras, omnia maria movere, reges barbaros incitare, gentis feras in Italiam armatas adducere, exercitus conficere maximos. genus illud Sullani regni iam pridem appetitur, multis qui una sunt cupientibus. an censes nihil inter eos convenire, nullam pactionem fieri potuisse? hodie potest. sed neutri σκοπὸς est ille, ut nos beati simus; uterque regnare vult.

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Being Human With Cicero

Cicero to his Wife, Ep. 14.4 (29 April 58 BCE)

“You encourage me to be brave and have hope of recuperating my safety—and I wish that the situation were so that we might rightly hope. For now, when may miserable me expect your letters? Who will carry them to me? I would have awaited them at Brundisium if the sailors had allowed it, though they did not wish to await a storm.

Whatever remains, endure with all of your great dignity, my Terentia. We have lived and flourished. It was not vice but virtue which has afflicted us! Nothing has been done wrong, other than not losing life with its accessories. But if this was better for our children, that we live, we will endure what remains even if they should not be endured. And, yet, as I urge you to stand firm, I cannot convince myself.”

Tu quod me hortaris ut animo sim magno et spem habeam reciperandae salutis, id velim sit eius modi ut recte sperare possimus. nunc miser quando tuas iam litteras accipiam? quis ad me perferet? quas ego exspectassem Brundisi si esset licitum per nautas, qui tempestatem praetermittere noluerunt.

Quod reliquum est, sustenta te, mea Terentia, ut potes honestissime. viximus, floruimus; non vitium nostrum sed virtus nostra nos adflixit. peccatum est nullum, nisi quod non una animam cum ornamentis amisimus. sed si hoc fuit liberis nostris gratius, nos vivere, cetera, quamquam ferenda non sunt, feramus. atqui ego, qui te confirmo, ipse me non possum.

 

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