How We Occupy Our Sorry Days…

Cicero, De Inventione 1.41

“For, in all things, familiarity is the mother of boredom”

nam omnibus in rebus similitudo mater est satietatis.

Sidonius, Letters 2.2.7 to Ecdicus

 “What more? Nothing will be discovered in these places which might be more sacred to examine. Still, only a few little verses will delay a reader a little bit—and these are only slightly inappropriate. Although they leave no desire to read them again, they can be read completely without boredom.”

quid plura? nihil illis paginis impressum reperietur quod non vidisse sit sanctius. pauci tamen versiculi lectorem adventicium remorabuntur minime improbo temperamento, quia eos nec relegisse desiderio est nec perlegisse fastidio.

Jerome, Letters 43.2

“Why do we, animals of the stomach, ever act this way? If a second hour reading falls on us, we yawn and distract our hunger by rubbing our face with our hands and then, as if after hard work, we distract ourselves with worldly duties again. I won’t even mention the meals by which our burdened minds are oppressed.

It is shameful to mention all the visits to say ‘hello’, how we go daily to someone else’s home or we wait for others to come to ours. When they come, we fall to conversation and our absent friends are attacked; others’ lives are detailed, and as we sink our teeth into others we are chewed on in turn. This is the kind of meal that entertains and then dismisses us. Then, when our friends have left, we add up our accounts. Now our anger dons the face of a lion and now silly concerns work out schemes for many years ahead.”

Quid nos, ventris animalia, tale umquam fecimus? Quos si secunda hora legentes invenerit, oscitamus, manu faciem defricantes continemus stomachum et quasi post multum laborem mundialibus rursum negotiis occupamur. Praetermitto prandia, quibus onerata mens premitur. Pudet dicere de frequentia salutandi, qua aut ipsi cotidie ad alios pergimus aut ad nos venientes ceteros expectamus. Deinceps itur in verba, sermo teritur, lacerantur absentes, vita aliena describitur et mordentes invicem consumimur ab invicem. Talis nos cibus et occupat et dimittit. Cum vero amici recesserint, ratiocinia subputamus. Nunc ira personam nobis leonis inponit, nunc cura superflua in annos multos duratura praecogitat

Some Roman Collusion for a Year of Confusion

Plautus, Rudens 1248

“I have no interest in profit made from collusion”

ego mi collusim nil moror ullum lucrum.


Tacitus Annals 11.5

“After that point, Suillius was persistent and brutal in pursuing his affairs and in his boldness for finding a mass of rivals. For the union of laws and wealth of offices gathered in one person furnished abundant opportunities for theft. And there was nothing in public so much for sale as the corruption of the advocates. It was so bad that Samius, a rather distinguished Roman knight, after he paid four hundred thousand sesterces to Suillius and once the collusion was revealed, laid down on his sword in his own house.

Therefore, when Gaius Silius was taking the lead of the elected consul—a man whose power and fall I will discuss in the appropriate time, the senators came together and asked for the Cincian law which carried the ancient warning that no one should receive money or a gift for pleading a case.”

 Continuus inde et saevus accusandis reis Suillius multique audaciae eius aemuli; nam cuncta legum et magistratuum munia in se trahens princeps materiam praedandi patefecerat. Nec quicquam publicae mercis tam venale fuit quam advocatorum perfidia, adeo ut Samius, insignis eques Romanus, quadringentis nummorum milibus Suillio datis et cognita praevaricatione ferro in domo eius incubuerit. Igitur incipiente C. Silio consule designato, cuius de potentia et exitio in tempore memorabo, consurgunt patres legemque Cinciam flagitant, qua cavetur antiquitus, ne quis ob causam orandam pecuniam donumve accipiat.


CICERO TO ATTICUS 92 (IV.18 Rome, between 24 October and 2 November 54)

“By what means was he acquitted? The beginning and the end of it was the incredible ineptitude of the prosecutors, specifically that of Lucius Lentulus the younger whom everyone yelled was colluding. Add to this the wondrous work of Pompeii and a crooked jury. Even with this there were 32 guilt votes and 38 for acquittal.  Remaining cases are waiting for him. He is not yet clearly unimpeded.”

quo modo ergo absolutus? omnino πρῷρα πρύμνα accusatorum incredibilis infantia, id est L. Lentuli L. f., quem fremunt omnes praevaricatum, deinde Pompei mira contentio, iudicum sordes. Ac tamen xxxii  condemnarunt, xxxviii absolverunt. iudicia reliqua impendent. nondum est plane expeditus.

Related image

How Gift-Giving is Like Getting Drunk: Fronto with Seasonal Advice

Cornelius Fronto, To Appian from Fronto 7

“The person who sends rather weighty gifts causes no less grief than the one who throws the ball too hard to his teammate or offers a big cup to his fellow drinker in toast. For the latter seems to toast not for pleasure but for getting drunk. Just as in wise drinking parties we see that the wine is mixed with a little pure alcohol and a lot of water, so too are gifts mixed best with a lot of thought and a little expenditure.

For who should we say gets the benefit from expensive gifts? Is it the poor? They are not capable of giving them. The rich? They don’t need to get them. In addition, it is not possible to constantly give expensive gifts—there will be a failure of resources if someone should often send out immense gifts. It is possible, however, to give small gifts endlessly and without regret—since someone owes only small thanks to the one who gave a small gift.”

  1. Ὁ δὲ τὰ βαρύτερα δῶρα πέμπων οὐχ ἧττον λυπεῖ τοῦ βαρεῖαν πέμποντος ἐπὶ τὸν συσφαιρίζοντα ἢ μεγάλην κύλην προπίνοντος τῷ συμπότῃ・ εἰς γὰρ μέθην οὐκ εἰς ἡδονὴν προπίνειν ἔοικεν. ὥσπερ δὲ τὸν οἶνον ἐν τοῖς σώφροσιν συμποσίοις ὁρῶμεν κιρνάμενον ἀκράτῳ μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγῳ, πλείστῳ δὲ τῷ ὕδατι, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ δῶρα κιρνάναι προσῆκεν πολλῇ μὲν φιλοφροσύνῃ, ἐλαχίστῳ δὲ ἀναλώματι. τίσιν γὰp ἂν Φαίημεν ἁρμόττειν τὰ πολυτελῆ δῶρα; ἆρά γε τοῖς πένησιν; ἀλλὰ πέμπειν οὐ δύνανται・ ἢ τοῖς πλουσίοις; ἀλλά λαμβάνειν οὐ δέονται. τοῖς μὲν οὖν μεγάλοις δώροις τὸ συνεχὲς οὐ πρόσεστιν, ἢ ἐκπεσεῖν ἀναγκὴ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, εἴ τις μεγάλα τε πέμποι καὶ πολλάκις. τοῖς δὲ μικροῖς δώροις τό τε συνεχὲς πρόσεστιν καί τὸ ἀμεταγνωστόν, εἰ <καὶ μικρὰ δεῖ τε>λέσαι μικρὰ πέμψαντι.†


Image result for Fronto medieval manuscript

Hermit at work on a manuscript, from the Estoire del Saint Graal, France 

The Transformation of Philosophy into Philology

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“Attalus used to praise a pillow which resisted the weight of the body. I use one like this too, now that I am old, in which it is impossible to leave a trace of my presence. I tell you these things so I might indicate how fiery new students are toward their first attractions to the best matters, if anyone should encourage them or kindle them that way.

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Laudare solebat Attalus culcitam, quae resisteret corpori; tali utor etiam senex, in qua vestigium apparere non possit. Haec rettuli ut probarem tibi, quam vehementes haberent tirunculi impetus primos ad optima quaeque, si quis exhortaretur illos, si quis incenderet. Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

Related image

Roman Sarcophagus with Children, Vienna, Museum of Art History (c. 2nd Century CE)

“What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles?!”

Seneca, Moral Epistle 98

“Therefore I do not suggest that you be indifferent. Rather, you should avoid whatever makes you fear. Whatever can be anticipated through planning, anticipate. Whatever would do you harm, spot it and avoid it long before it happens. In this, confidence and a mind hardened enough to tolerate everything will bring you the greatest aid. Whoever can endure fortune, can also beware of it. Certainly, there are no rolling waves on tranquil waters. Nothing is more pitiful or foolish than fearing things ahead of time! What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles!

Finally, to summarize briefly what I believe and to outline for you those troublemakers and self-abusers—for they are as intemperate in their misfortunes as they were before them. The person suffers more than is needed who suffers before it is needed. This kind of a person does not put his sorrow in perspective for the same reason he does not expect it—because of the same intemperance he imagines that his own happiness will last forever and that whatever he encounters will continue to improve as long as they last. Forgetful of the balance upon which all human affairs are chanced, one safeguards for himself only the consistency of chance.”

Nec ideo praecipio tibi neglegentiam. Tu vero metuenda declina. Quidquid consilio prospici potest, prospice. Quodcumque laesurum est, multo ante quam accidat, speculare et averte. In hoc ipsum tibi plurimum conferet fiducia et ad tolerandum omne obfirmata mens. Potest fortunam cavere, qui potest ferre. Certe in tranquillo non tumultuatur. Nihil est nec miserius nec stultius quam praetimere. Quae ista dementia est malum suum antecedere? Denique ut breviter includam quod sentio, et istos satagios ac sibi molestos describam tibi, tam intemperantes in ipsis miseriis quam sunt ante illas. Plus dolet quam necesse est, qui ante dolet quam necesse est; eadem enim infirmitate dolorem non aestimat, qua non exspectat; eadem intemperantia fingit sibi perpetuam felicitatem suam, fingit crescere debere quaecumque contigerunt, non tantum durare; et oblitus huius petauri, quo humana iactantur, sibi uni fortuitorum constantiam spondet.

Image result for Ancient Roman Shipwreck frieze

Marble Relief on the Copenhagen Sarcophagus, 3rd Century CE

The Madness of Advising Madmen

A timely reminder that societies can be ill…

Seneca, EM 94 [Quoting Aristo]

“Between this general public insanity and that which is subject to medicine, there is no difference except that the latter is caused by a disease and the former by false beliefs. In the case of a disease, the symptoms of madness come from sickness; the other is a terrible sickness of the mind. If anyone offers arguments to a crazy person—how he should talk, walk, act in public or private—he would be crazier than the very man he intends to advise! The dark bile must be treated and the causes of the madness should be removed. This must be done for the insanity of the mind too—the malady needs to be dispelled. In any other vase, words of warning will disappear into the void.”

“Inter insaniam publicamet hanc, quae medicis traditur, nihil interest nisi quod haec morbo laborat, illa opinionibus falsis. Altera causas furoris traxit ex valitudine, altera animi mala valitudo est. Si quis furioso praecepta det, quomodo loqui debeat, quomodo procedere, quomodo in publico se gerere, quomodo in privato, erit ipso, quem monebit, insanior. Ei bilis nigra curanda est et ipsa furoris causa removenda. Idem in hoc alio animi furore faciendum est. Ipse discuti debet; alioqui abibunt in vanum monentium verba.”

Image result for medieval manuscript seneca madness

Seneca in between Plato and Aristotle

Thuc. 1.20.3

“For most people the examination of the truth is so careless that they accept whatever is prepared for them.”

οὕτως ἀταλαίπωρος τοῖς πολλοῖς ἡ ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἑτοῖμα μᾶλλον τρέπονται.

Pausanias, 1.3.3

“The majority of people repeat many things which are not true, since they know nothing of history and they believe whatever they have heard since childhood in choruses and tragedy. “

λέγεται μὲν δὴ καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ἀληθῆ παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς οἷα ἱστορίας ἀνηκόοις οὖσι καὶ ὁπόσα ἤκουον εὐθὺς ἐκ παίδων ἔν τε χοροῖς καὶ τραγῳδίαις πιστὰ ἡγουμένοις

There is some Tertullian on this too.

A Banquet of Learning; A Dinner No-Show

One note to think about what you might serve at dinner in addition to food; another to inspire you for those last minute cancellations…

Cicero Topica V

“But because I have welcomed someone eager for a feast of learning, I shall prepare it so well that there will be some leftovers rather than allow you to leave still hungry for more….”

Sed quoniam avidum hominem ad has discendi epulas recepi, sic accipiam, ut reliquiarum sit potius aliquid quam te hinc patiar non satiatum discedere.


Pliny the Younger to Septimius Clarus (Letter 15)

“Who do you think you are?! You agree to come do dinner…but you don’t come? The judgment is passed: You must pay my cost to a penny, and this is not moderate. All was set out: a lettuce for each, three snails, two eggs, wine with honey chilled with snow—for you should include this too among the highest expense since it dissolves on the plate—and there were olives, beets, pickles, onions and countless other things no less neat. You would have heard a comedy or a reader or a singer of all of them, given my generosity. But you went where I don’t know, preferring oysters, a sow’s belly, sea-urchins, and Spanish dancers. You will suffer for this, somehow, believe me. You did something bad to one of us, certainly to me, but perhaps to yourself too. How much we played, laughed, and studied! You might eat better food at many homes, but nowhere will you eat so enjoyably, simply, and freely. In sum: try me: and if later you don’t excuse yourself from another’s meal, you can always lie to me again. Goodbye!”

Plinius Septicio Claro Suo S.

Heus tu! promittis ad cenam, nec venis? Dicitur ius: ad assem impendium reddes, nec id modicum. Paratae erant lactucae singulae, cochleae ternae, ova bina, halica cum mulso et nive (nam hanc quoque computabis, immo hanc in primis quae perit in ferculo), olivae betacei cucurbitae bulbi, alia mille non minus lauta. Audisses comoedos vel lectorem vel lyristen vel (quae mea liberalitas) omnes. At tu apud nescio quem ostrea vulvas echinos Gaditanas maluisti. Dabis poenas, non dico quas. Dure fecisti: invidisti, nescio an tibi, certe mihi, sed tamen et tibi. Quantum nos lusissemus risissemus studuissemus! Potes adparatius cenare apud multos, nusquam hilarius simplicius incautius. In summa experire, et nisi postea te aliis potius excusaveris, mihi semper excusa. Vale.

Image result for Ancient Roman library food

Fresco from Pompeii

%d bloggers like this: