“When Will This Year Be Over”? Seneca on Speeding Life Along

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“The man who has hoped for the fasces longs to put them down once he gets them and says constantly, “When will this year be over?” This man sponsors games which he once valued as a great opportunity for him, yet he says “When can I get away from them?” A lawyer is raised up by the whole forum and with full crowd beyond where he can be heard, but he complains “When will we have a break?” Everyone speeds their own life along and suffers for a desire for the future and boredom with the present.

But the person who portions out every moment to his own use, who schedules out every day like it is the last, neither hopes for nor fears tomorrows. For what kind of new pleasure is any hour alone capable of bringing? Everything is known and has been enjoyed fully. Fortune may by chance bring out something else, but life is already safe. Something can be added; nothing can be subtracted, and they will accept anything which is added like someone who is already satisfied and full will take some food they do not desire.

Therefore, it is not right to think that anyone has lived long because of grey hair or wrinkles. They have not lived a while, but they have existed for a time. Certainly, what if you thought that the person had traveled far whom a terrible storm grabbed in the harbor and dragged here and there in turns of winds raging from different directions  over the same space in a circle? They did not travel far, but were tossed around a lot.”

Adsecutus ille quos optaverat fasces cupit ponere et subinde dicit: “Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio.

At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet. Quid enim est, quod iam ulla hora novae voluptatis possit adferre? Omnia nota, omnia ad satietatem percepta sunt. De cetero fors fortuna, ut volet, ordinet; vita iam in tuto est. Huic adici potest, detrahi nihil, et adici sic, quemadmodum saturo iam ac pleno aliquid cibi, quod nec desiderat et capit.

Non est itaque quod quemquam propter canos aut rugas putes diu vixisse; non ille diu vixit, sed diu fuit. Quid enim si illum multum putes navigasse, quem saeva tempestas a portu exceptum huc et illuc tulit ac vicibus ventorum ex diverso furentium per eadem spatia in orbem egit? Non ille multum navigavit, sed multum iactatus est.

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Johannes von Gmunden: Calendar, [Nuremberg], 1496

Cicero Needs Nothing So Much as a Friend

Cicero can seem an insufferable windbag in some of his speeches–but some of his letters humanize him.

Cicero to Atticus 1.18 20 Jan 60

“Know that I need nothing so much as a person to whom I can explain the things I worry about, someone who cares about me, who is wise, to whom I may speak and fabricate nothing, lie about nothing, and hold nothing back.

My brother is away, the most honest and beloved man. Metellus is not a man but instead is “shore and air” and “only solitude”. You, moreover, who most wisely lightens by concern and anxiety of spirit with conversation and counsel, you are my companion in public affairs and my confidant in private matters, and who are usually a companion of all my speeches and plans, where are you? I am so completely isolated that I only have as much relaxation as those moments spend with my wife, my little girl and my sweetest Marcus.

For my ambitious and convenient friendships have a certain shine in public affairs, but they bear no domestic fruit. My home is so full with a crowd in the morning but when I go to the forum with flocks of friends, I can’t find a single person in the great crowd to share a joke with or to whisper familiarly.

This is why I am looking for you, why I miss you, and I am also now calling you home. Many things really trouble me and make me anxious—but these are things which I think I can get off my chest once I have your ears for a talk during a single walk.”

Nihil mihi nunc scito tam deesse quam hominem eum quocum omnia quae me cura aliqua adficiunt una communicem, qui me amet, qui sapiat, quicum ego cum loquar nihil fingam, nihil dissimulem, nihil obtegam. abest enim frater ἀϕελέστατος et amantissimus. †Metellus† non homo sed ‘litus atque aër’ et ‘solitudo me<r>a.’ tu autem qui saepissime curam et angorem animi mei sermone et consilio levasti tuo, qui mihi et in publica re socius et in privatis omnibus conscius et omnium meorum sermonum et consiliorum particeps esse soles, ubinam es? ita sum ab omnibus destitutus ut tantum requietis habeam quantum cum uxore et filiola et mellito Cicerone consumitur. nam illae ambitiosae nostrae fucosaeque amicitiae sunt in quodam splendore forensi, fructum domesticum non habent. itaque cum bene completa domus est tempore matutino, cum ad forum stipati gregibus amicorum descendimus, reperire ex magna turba neminem possumus quocum aut iocari libere aut suspirare familiariter possimus. qua re te exspectamus, te desideramus, te iam etiam arcessimus. multa sunt enim quae me sollicitant anguntque, quae mihi videor auris nactus tuas unius ambulationis sermone exhaurire posse.

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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 couldn’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?

Zucchi, Antonio; A Greek Philosopher and His Disciples; National Trust, Nostell Priory; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-greek-philosopher-and-his-disciples-170663

Despair Upon Checking on the News

Cicero, Letters 4.6 

“The single solace I still had has been stolen from me. My thoughts were occupied with neither the business of my friends nor the the country’s bureaucracy. Nothing was drawing me to the courts; I couldn’t even look at the Senate. I was imagining–the truth–that I had lost every benefit of my luck and hard work. Yet when I realized that I had this in common with you and some others, I settled myself down and resolved to endure it well. Even while I did this, I had a place where I could retreat and rest, where I could escape all my worries and defeats in conversation and kindness.

But now those injuries I thought were healed are torturing me again thanks to this heavy hit. When I retreated from public life in the past, I found safety and comfort in my home. But I cannot flee from pain at home in public service, as if it offers any relief at all. So I make myself scarce from home and the Forum the same. Neither public nor private life can offer any relief to the pain and anxiety that plague me.”

unum manebat illud solacium quod ereptum est. non amicorum negotiis, non rei publicae procuratione impediebantur cogitationes meae, nihil in foro agere libebat, aspicere curiam non poteram, existimabam, id quod erat, omnis me et industriae meae fructus et fortunae perdidisse. sed cum cogitarem haec mihi tecum et cum quibusdam esse communia et cum frangerem iam ipse me cogeremque illa ferre toleranter, habebam quo confugerem, ubi conquiescerem, cuius in sermone et suavitate omnis curas doloresque deponerem.

Nunc autem hoc tam gravi vulnere etiam illa quae consanuisse videbantur recrudescunt. non enim, ut tum me a re publica maestum domus excipiebat quae levaret, sic nunc domo maerens ad rem publicam confugere possum ut in eius bonis acquiescam. itaque et domo absum et foro, quod nec eum dolorem quem e re publica capio domus iam consolari potest nec domesticum res publica.


Le Forum Romain à Rome. Vue panoramique HDR sur 9 photos (3 expositions sous 3 angles différents). Photo prise des musées du Capitole.

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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The False Mask of Happiness

Seneca, Moral Epistle 80.6-8

“The joy of the people who are called “happy” is fake but their sadness is deep and profound and that much heavier because it is not allowed for them to openly be unhappy. Instead they need to act happy even while grief consumes their hearts.

I must often use the following example and nothing else so effectively expresses the drama of human life where we are assigned roles that we play so badly. Over there is someone who takes up a lot of space on the stage and bellows with his head to the sky: “Look, I rule Argos: Pelops left the realm to me / from the Hellespont and the Ionian sea / pressing on the Isthmus…” He is a slave and he earns five measures of grain and as many denarii.

Over there is an arrogant but powerless man swollen with belief in his strengths, saying: “If you don’t quiet down, Menelaus, you’ll die by this hand.” He earns pennies a day and sleeps on trash.

You can speak the same way about all these fools riding around above the heads of other men and the whole crowd. The happiness of all these people is just a mask. Strip them of it and hold them in contempt.”

eorum, qui felices vocantur, hilaritas ficta est at gravis et subpurata tristitia, eo quidem gravior, quia interdum non licet palam esse miseros, sed inter aerumnas cor ipsum exedentes necesse est agere felicem. Saepius hoc exemplo mihi utendum est, nec enim ullo efficacius exprimitur hic humanae vitae mimus, qui nobis partes, quas male agamus, adsignat. Ille, qui in scaena latus incedit et haec resupinus dicit

En impero Argis; regna mihi liquit Pelops,
Qua ponto ab Helles atque ab Ionio mari
Urgetur Isthmos,

servus est, quinque modios accipit et quinque denarios;

ille qui superbus atque inpotens et fiducia virium tumidus ait:
Quod nisi quieris, Menelae, hac dextra occides,

diurnum accipit, in centunculo dormit. Idem de istis licet omnibus dicas, quos supra capita hominum supraque turbam delicatos lectica suspendit; omnium istorum personata felicitas est. Contemnes illos, si despoliaveris.

Wall Painting from Herculaneum. Actor with mask and Muses. Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 9019

Living Like Cicero–Reading Things, Writing Things

Cicero, Letters 197 (IX.26) to Papirius Paetus

“And so, life passes. Each day, something is read or is written. Then, since I owe something to my friends, I eat with them–not beyond the law, as if anything is these days, but just a little short of it and clearly so. You don’t need to fear my visit at all. You’ll find a guest who eats little, but has many jokes.”

Sic igitur vivitur. cottidie aliquid legitur aut scribitur. dein, ne amicis nihil tribuamus, epulamur una non modo non contra legem, si ulla nunc lex est, sed etiam intra legem, et quidem aliquanto. qua re nihil est quod adventum nostrum extimescas. non multi cibi hospitem accipies, multi ioci.

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 281 (XII.40)

“Well, you write that you fear that my reputation and my respect is depleted because of my mourning and I don’t understand what people are criticizing or what they expect. That I not feel grief? How’s that possible? Should I not be laid out because of it? Who was ever less paralyzed than me? When your home was lifting me up, who did I refuse? Who came and was offended?

I left from you for Astura. These pleasant folks who criticize me can’t even read the number of pages I have written. How well they would do it is another matter, but it is the kind of writing that no one with a truly depressed spirit could accomplish. So, I spend thirty days at “the garden”. Did anyone go lacking seeing me or enjoying my easy conversation?

Right now I am reading things, I am writing things even as those who are with me are managing leisure worse than I handle work. If anyone asks why I’m not at Rome it’s because it’s vacation.”

Quod scribis te vereri ne et gratia et auctoritas nostra hoc meo maerore minuatur, ego quid homines aut reprehendant aut postulent nescio. ne doleam? qui potest? ne iaceam? quis umquam minus? dum tua me domus levabat, quis a me exclusus? quis venit qui offenderet? Asturam sum a te profectus. legere isti laeti qui me reprehendunt tam multa non possunt quam ego scripsi. quam bene, nihil ad rem; sed genus scribendi id fuit quod nemo abiecto animo facere posset. triginta dies in horto fui. quis aut congressum meum aut facilitatem sermonis desideravit? nunc ipsum ea lego, ea scribo ut hi qui mecum sunt difficilius otium ferant quam ego laborem. si quis requirit cur Romae non sim: quia discessus est

VIcenzo Foppa, The Young Cicero Reading, 15th century

Skipping the Passive for the Straight-Up Aggressive

Pliny, Letters 2.1

“I am super mad and whether or not it is right I’m not sure but I’m super mad. You know how unfair love is frequently, often powerless always quick to be offended. But my reason is still serious whether I believe it’s right and I am as mad as I would be if it were right since I have had no letter from you for such a long time.

The only solution to this is if you write me many really long letters right now. This is the only way I will forgive you. Other things seem fake. I won’t even hear “I was in Rome” or “I was busy”. But Gods forbid you say, “I’ve been sick.”

I’ve been in my country-house enjoying my two delights that come from leisure: reading and resting. Bye!”

Plinius Paulino Suo S.

1Irascor, nec liquet mihi an debeam, sed irascor. Scis, quam sit amor iniquus interdum, impotens saepe μικραίτιος semper. Haec tamen causa magna est, nescio an iusta; sed ego, tamquam non minus iusta quam magna sit, graviter irascor, quod a te tam diu litterae nullae. Exorare me potes uno modo, si nunc saltem plurimas et longissimas miseris. Haec mihi sola excusatio vera, ceterae falsae videbuntur. Non sum auditurus “non eram Romae” uel “occupatior eram”; illud enim nec di sinant, ut “infirmior”. Ipse ad villam partim studiis partim desidia fruor, quorum utrumque ex otio nascitur. Vale.

File:Ancient Roman villa of Salar 012 (30512518878).jpg ...
This is a Villa. It is not Pliny’s. 

Cicero, Always Chirping about the Ides of March

Previously we have posted about Cicero’s comments about the Ides of March to Brutus. Here is a letter from Brutus complaining about Cicero.

Letters: Brutus to Atticus, I.17

“You write to me that Cicero is amazed that I say nothing about his deeds. Since you are hassling me, I will write you what I think thanks to your coaxing.

I know that Cicero has done everything with the best intention. What could be more proved to me than his love for the republic? But certain things seem to me, what can I say, that the most prudent man has acted as if inexperienced or ambitiously, this man who was not reluctant to take on Antony as an enemy when he was strongest?

I don’t know what to write to you except a single thing: the boy’s desire and weakness have been increased rather than repressed by Cicero and that he grinds on so far in his indulgence that he does not refrain from invectives that rebound in two ways. For he too has killed many and he must admit that he is an assassin before what he objects to Casca—in which case he acts the part of Bestia to Casca—

Or because we are not tossing about every hour the Ides of March the way he always has the Nones of December in his mouth, will Cicero find fault in the most noble deed from a better vantage point than Bestia and Clodius were accustomed to insult his consulship?

Our toga-clad friend Cicero brags that he has stood up to Antony’s war. How does it profit me if the cost of Antony defeated is the resumption of Antony’s place?  Or if our avenger of this evil has turned out to be the author of another—an evil which has a foundation and deeper roots, even if we concede <whether it is true or not> those things which he does come from the fact that he either fears tyranny or Antony as a tyrant?

 But I don’t have gratitude for anyone who does not protest the situation itself provided only that he serves one who is not raging at him. Triumphs, stipends, encouragement with every kind of degree so that it does not shame him to desire the fortune of the man whose name he has taken—is that a mark of a Consular man, of a Cicero?

1Scribis mihi mirari Ciceronem quod nihil significem umquam de suis actis; quoniam me flagitas, coactu tuo scribam quae sentio.

Omnia fecisse Ciceronem optimo animo scio. quid enim mihi exploratius esse potest quam illius animus in rem publicam? sed quaedam mihi videtur—quid dicam? imperite vir omnium prudentissimus an ambitiose fecisse, qui valentissimum Antonium suscipere pro re publica non dubitarit inimicum? nescio quid scribam tibi nisi unum: pueri et cupiditatem et licentiam potius esse irritatam quam repressam a Cicerone, tantumque eum tribuere huic indulgentiae ut se maledictis non abstineat iis quidem quae in ipsum dupliciter recidunt, quod et pluris occidit uno seque prius oportet fateatur sicarium quam obiciat Cascae quod obicit et imitetur in Casca Bestiam. an quia non omnibus horis iactamus Idus Martias similiter atque ille Nonas Decembris suas in ore habet, eo meliore condicione Cicero pulcherrimum factum vituperabit quam Bestia et Clodius reprehendere illius consulatum soliti sunt?

Sustinuisse mihi gloriatur bellum Antoni togatus Cicero noster. quid hoc mihi prodest, si merces Antoni oppressi poscitur in Antoni locum successio et si vindex illius mali auctor exstitit alterius fundamentum et radices habituri altiores, si patiamur, ut iam <dubium sit utrum>ista quae facit dominationem an dominum [an] Antonium timentis sint? ego autem gratiam non habeo si quis, dum ne irato serviat, rem ipsam non deprecatur. immo triumphus et stipendium et omnibus decretis hortatio ne eius pudeat concupiscere fortunam cuius nomen susceperit, consularis aut Ciceronis est?

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Cicero on the “Unforgettable Ides of March”

Cicero, Letters to Atticus (14.4) 10 April 44

“But should all these things befall us, the Ides of March may console. Our heroes too accomplished most gloriously and magnificently everything it was in their power to do. For the rest, we need money and troops, neither of which we have.”

Sed omnia licet concurrant, Idus Martiae consolantur. nostri autem ἥρωες quod per ipsos confici potuit gloriosissime et magnificentissime confecerunt; reliquae res opes et copias desiderant, quas nullas habemus

 

Cicero, Letters to Brutus  I.15 (23) 14 July 43

“Therefore, come here, by the gods, as fast as possible; Convince yourself that it would do your country no greater good if you come quickly than you did on the Ides of March when you freed your fellow citizens from slavery.”

subveni igitur, per deos, idque quam primum, tibique persuade non te Idibus Martiis, quibus servitutem a tuis civibus depulisti, plus profuisse patriae quam, si mature veneris, profuturum.

 

Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 1.15 (23) July 43

“After the death of Caesar and your unforgettable Ides of March, Brutus, you will not have lost sight of the the fact that I said that one thing was overlooked by you—how much a storm loomed over the Republic. The greatest disease was warded off thanks to you—a great blight was cleansed from the Roman people—and you won immortal fame for your part. But the mechanism of monarchy fell then to Lepidus and Antonius—one of whom is more erratic, while the other is rather unclean—both fearing peace and ill-fit to idle time.”

Post interitum Caesaris et vestras memorabilis Idus Martias, Brute, quid ego praetermissum a vobis quantamque impendere rei publicae tempestatem dixerim non es oblitus. magna pestis erat depulsa per vos, magna populi Romani macula deleta, vobis vero parta divina gloria, sed instrumentum regni delatum ad Lepidum et Antonium, quorum alter inconstantior, alter impurior, uterque pacem metuens, inimicus otio.

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The death of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate by Vincenzo Camuccini