Philosophers Need Life-Coaches

Cicero, Letter Fragments. Nepos to Cicero IIa

Nepos Cornelius also writes to the same Cicero thus: it is so far away from me thinking that philosophy is a teacher of life and the guardian of a happy life, that I do not believe that anyone needs teachers of living more than the many men who are dedicated to philosophical debate. I certainly see that a great number of those who rush into speeches about restraint and discipline in the classroom live amidst the desire for every kind of vice.”

Nepos quoque Cornelius ad eundem Ciceronem ita scribit: tantum abest ut ego magistram putem esse vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore <et> continentia praecipiant argutissime eosdem in omnium libidinum cupiditatibus vivere. (Lactant. Div. inst. 3.5.10)

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“The Cheapness of Our Tongue”: Three Latin Passages on Translation

Seneca the Elder, Contr. 9.14

“People who teach translation have never made a lot of money”

numquam magnas mercedes accepisse eos qui hermeneumata docerent.

Pliny, Letters C. Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

“How could I give you a greater sign of how much I want to copy you and admire you than the fact that I am trying to translate your Greek epigrams to Latin? Still, this is a decline. I bring to it the feebleness of my own ability, and add to this the poverty, or what Lucretius calls “the cheapness of our own language.” Nevertheless, if these Latin translations of mine seem at all charming to you, you will know how much pleasure your Greek originals brought me! Farewell.”

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Cicero, de optime genere oratorum 18

“Two kinds of objections are possible for this task. The first is: “It is better in Greek.” One can answer such people by asking if they can make anything better in Latin. Another is: “Why should I read this translation rather than the Greek?” Well, the same people often embrace a Latin Andria, Synephebi, and even an Andromache, Antiope and Epigonoi. Why is there so much intolerance for speeches translated from Greek when there is none for translated poems?

Huic labori nostro duo genera reprehensionum opponuntur. Unum hoc: “Verum melius Graeci.” A quo quaeratur ecquid possint ipsi melius Latine? Alterum: “Quid istas potius legam quam Graecas?” Idem Andriam et Synephebos nec minus Andromacham aut Antiopam aut Epigonos Latinos recipiunt. Quod igitur est eorum in orationibus e Graeco conversis fastidium, nullum cum sit in versibus?

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Greek, Latin and Arabic

Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

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Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

 

Oppressing the Oppressed: Two Early Christian Letters on Evil Men

Given presidential flirtations with biblical themes, it is only appropriate to share some words from some early Church leaders.

Letters of Ignatius, To the Smyrneans 8.6

“Learn the truth of those who render false the grace that has come to us from Jesus Christ, how they are truly opposite to the judgment of God. They don’t care about love, about the widow, about the orphan, the oppressed, the people in chains, those who have been set free, or the hungry, or the orphans.”

καταμάθετε δὲ τοὺς ἑτεροδοξοῦντας εἰς τὴν χάριν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τὴν εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐλθοῦσαν, πῶς ἐναντίοι εἰσὶν τῇ γνώμῃ τοῦ θεοῦ. περὶ ἀγάπης οὐ μέλει αὐτοῖς, οὐ περὶ χήρας, οὐ περὶ ὀρφανοῦ, οὐ περὶ θλιβομένου, οὐ περὶ δεδεμένου ἢ λελυμένου, οὐ περὶ πεινῶντος ἢ διψῶντος.

Barnabas, Epistle 20

“The path of the dark one is crooked and curse-filled. For it is the path of endless death with punishment—on it are those things which destroy the soul: idolatry, arrogance, glorification of power, duplicity, adultery, murder, theft, hubris, transgression, lying, wickedness, insolence, drugs, magic, and not fearing God.

This road is filled with those who persecute good people, who hate the truth, who delight in lying, who do not understand the reward of justice, who are not curbed by good or righteous judgment, who do not defend the widow and the orphan, who do not have a sense of reverence for God but instead for wickedness—meekness and kindness are very distant from these men.

They delight in what is empty and pursue profit—they do not pity the poor or work for the oppressed. They do not recognize who has formed them—they are murderers of children, destroyers of God’s creation. They turn their backs on the man in need, they further oppress the oppressed and are partisans of the wealthy. They sit as judges of the poor without law, these men of total sin.”

1.Ἡ δὲ τοῦ μέλανος ὁδός ἐστιν σκολιὰ καὶ κατάρας μεστή. ὁδὸς γάρ ἐστιν θανάτου αἰωνίου μετὰ τιμωρίας, ἐν ᾗ ἐστὶν τὰ ἀπολλύντα τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτῶν· εἰδωλολατρεία, θρασύτης, ὕψος δυνάμεως, ὑπόκρισις, διπλοκαρδία, μοιχεία, φόνος, ἁρπαγή, ὑπερηφανία, παράβασις, δόλος, κακία, αὐθάδεια, φαρμακεία, μαγεία, πλεονεξία, ἀφοβία θεοῦ·

διῶκται τῶν ἀγαθῶν, μισοῦντες ἀλήθειαν, ἀγαπῶντες ψεῦδος, οὐ γινώσκοντες μισθὸν δικαιοσύνης, οὐ κολλώμενοι ἀγαθῷ, οὐ κρίσει δικαίᾳ, χήρᾳ καὶ ὀρφανῷ οὐ προσέχοντες, ἀγρυπνοῦντες οὐκ εἰς φόβον θεοῦ, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸ πονηρόν, ὧν μακρὰν καὶ πόρρω πραΰτης καὶ ὑπομονή, ἀγαπῶντες μάταια, διώκοντες ἀνταπόδομα, οὐκ ἐλεοῦντες πτωχόν, οὐ πονοῦντες ἐπὶ καταπονουμένῳ, εὐχερεῖς ἐν καταλαλιᾷ, οὐ γινώσκοντες τὸν ποιήσαντα αὐτούς, φονεῖς τέκνων, φθορεῖς πλάσματος θεοῦ, ἀποστρεφόμενοι τὸν ἐνδεόμενον, καταπονοῦντες τὸν θλιβόμενον, πλουσίων παράκλητοι, πενήτων ἄνομοι κριταί, πανθαμάρτητοι.

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Some words:

μισοβάρβαρος: “foreigner-hating”
μισοδημία: “democracy-hating”
μισοδημότης: “commonwealth-hating”
μισόθριξ: “hair-hating”
μισόκοσμος: “universe-hating”
μισόνοθος: “bastard-hating”
μισοξενία: “guest-hating”
μισόπαις: “child-hating”
μισοπάτωρ: “father-hating”
μισόφιλος: “friend-hating”
μισότεκνος: “child-hating”

Research Advice: Exercise. Then Read and Write in Turns

Seneca, Moral Epistles 84

“I believe that these journeys which remove my languor are good for both my strength and my researches. How they profit my health is clear: my love of literature makes me lazy, neglectful of my body. On a journey, I may exercise incidentally.

I can show you how this helps my research too. But I in no way take a break from reading. My reading, I believe, is necessary: first, it ensures I will not be satisfied with myself as I am; second, once I have understood what others have learned, I may judge what has been discovered and what still must be thought out.

Reading feeds the mind and replenishes it when it is worn from studying—even though it is not without work itself. We should not restrict ourselves to writing or to reading:  endless writing saps our strength and then exhausts it. Too much reading can puff up or dilute our ability. Most commendable is to take them in their turn, to mix one with the other, so that the seeds of one’s reading may be grown anew with the pen.”

Itinera ista, quae segnitiam mihi excutiunt, et valitudini meae prodesse iudico et studiis. Quare valitudinem adiuvent, vides: cum pigrum me et neglegentem corporis litterarum amor faciat, aliena opera exerceor; studio quare prosint, indicabo: a lectionibus nihil recessi. Sunt autem, ut existimo, necessariae, primum ne sim me uno contentus; deinde ut, cum ab aliis quaesita cognovero, tum et de inventis iudicem et cogitem de inveniendis. Alit lectio ingenium et studio fatigatum, non sine studio tamen, reficit. Nec scribere tantum nec tantum legere debemus; altera res contristabit vires et exhauriet, de stilo dico, altera solvet ac diluet. Invicem hoc et illo commeandum est et alterum altero temperandum, ut quicquid lectione collectum est, stilus redigat in corpus.

I was reminded of this passage while contemplating Paul Holdengraber’s regular injunction not to read bad writing:

Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis.  As we have mentioned before, this resonates with Leonardo de Bruni’s warning about reading trash. Of course, the statement should probably be tempered by Pliny the Elder’s suggestion that “no book is so bad it doesn’t have something to offer”.

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The Eternal Autumn of Your Smile: A Love Note

Philostratus, Letters 51

To Kleonide*,

“Sappho adores the rose and always adorns the flower with praise, even comparing beautiful girls to it. And she also likens it to the arms of the Graces when they are bare up to the elbows.

The rose, even if it is the most beautiful of the flowers, has but a brief season—for it follows other flowers which blossom in the spring.

But your charm is always in bloom—this is how the autumn of your beauty still smiles like the spring in your eyes and on your cheeks.”

Κλεονίδῃ

Ἡ Σαπφὼ τοῦ ῥόδου ἐρᾷ καὶ στεφανοῖ αὐτὸ ἀεί τινι ἐγκωμίῳ τὰς καλὰς τῶν παρθένων ἐκείνῳ ὁμοιοῦσα, ὁμοιοῖ δὲ αὐτὸ καὶ τοῖς τῶν Χαρίτων πήχεσιν ἐπειδὰν ἀποδύσῃ σφῶν τὰς ὠλένας. ἐκεῖνο μὲν οὖν, εἰ καὶ κάλλιστον ἀνθέων, βραχὺ τὴν ὥραν, παρέπεται γὰρ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐννεάσαν τῷ ἦρι. τὸ δὲ σὸν εἶδος ἀεὶ τέθηλεν· ὅθεν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἐμμειδιᾷ καὶ παρειαῖς οἷόν τι ἔαρ τὸ μετόπωρον τοῦ κάλλους.

*One MS glosses the addressee as πόρνῃ (a prostitute) others merely as γυναικί (a woman)

 

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 Bruges, 1475, Add MS 20698, f. 73r

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero