A Banquet of Learning; A Dinner No-Show

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.

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Fresco from Pompeii

Patience, a Great Part of Justice

Pliny, Letters 6.2 to Maturus Arrianus

“Surely, when ever I am judging a case—a thing which I do more frequently than I speak in one—I grant however much time anyone requests. For I think it rather intemperate to prophesy how much space an unheard case requires and to declare an end to business of an unknown kind especially when a judge owes patience first to his his sacred duty.  This is a great part of justice.

Ok, that’s enough and these things which have been said are not necessary to say. Nevertheless, you aren’t able to figure out what is superfluous unless you hear it.”

Equidem quotiens iudico, quod vel saepius facio quam dico, quantum quis plurimum postulat aquae do. Etenim temerarium existimo divinare quam spatiosa sit causa inaudita, tempusque negotio finire cuius modum ignores, praesertim cum primam religioni suae iudex patientiam debeat, quae pars magna iustitiae est. At quaedam supervacua dicuntur. Etiam: sed satius est et haec dici quam non dici necessaria. Praeterea, an sint supervacua, nisi cum audieris scire non possis.

Just in Time for Midterm Exams: Marcus Aurelius on Reading a Teacher’s Comments

From Marcus Aurelius to M. Cornelius Fronto

To my teacher,

“I received two letters from you at the same time. In one of them, you were criticizing me and you were showing that I wrote a sentence rashly; in the second, however, you were trying to approve my work with praise. Still, I swear by my mother and by my health that I got more joy from the first letter, to which I often yelled out while reading: “Lucky me!” And someone might ask whether I am happy because I have a teacher who teaches me to write a gnome with more care, precision, and concision?  No! This is not the reason I say I am lucky. Why then? Because I learn from you to speak the truth.

This lesson—speaking truly—is hard for both gods and men. There is no oracle so truthful that it is not also ambiguous or unclear or which does not have some obstacle which may catch the unwise who interprets whatever is said the way he wants to and understands this only after the moment when the affair is complete. But this is advantageous and clearly it is customary to excuse these things as sacred error or silliness.

But what you say—whether they are criticisms or rules—they show the path itself immediately and without deceit or riddling words. I ought to give you thanks since you teach me foremost to speak the truth and at the same time how to hear it too! Therefore, you should get a double reward, which you will endeavor that I will not pay. If you wish to accept nothing, how may I balance our accounts except through obedience? [some incomplete lines].

Farewell my good, my best teacher. I rejoice that we have become friends. My wife says hello.

Magistro meo.

Duas per id<em> tempus epistulas tuas excepi. Earum altera me increpabas et temere sententiam scripsisse arguebas, altera vero tueri studium meum laude nitebaris. Adiuro tamen tibi meam, meae matris, tuam salutem mihi plus gaudii in animo coortum esse illis tuis prioribus litteris; meque saepius exclamasse inter legendum O me felicem! Itane, dicet aliquis, feiicem te, si est qui te doceat quomodo γνώμην sollertius dilucidius brevius politius scribas? Non hoc est quod me felicem nuncupo. Quid est igitur?  Quod verum dicere ex te disco. Ea res—verum|dicere—prorsum deis hominibusque ardua: nullum denique tam veriloquum oraculum est, quin aliquid ancipitis in se vel obliqui vel impediti habeat, quo imprudentior inretiatur, et ad voluntatem suam dictum opinatus captionem post tempus ac negotium sentiat. Sed ista res lucrosa est, et plane mos talia tantum pio errore et vanitate ex<cus>are. At tuae seu accusationes seu lora confestim ipsam viam ostendunt sine fraude et inventis verbis. Itaque deberem etiam gratias agere tibi si verum me dicere satius simul et audire verum me doces. Duplex igitur pretium solvatur, pendere quod ne valeam <elabora>bis. Si resolvi vis nil, quomodo tibi par pari expendam nisi obsequio? Impius tamen mihi malui te nimia motum cura . . . . die<s isti quom essent> vacui, licuit me . . . . bene st<udere et multas sententias> excerpere . . . . Vale mi bone et optime <magister. Te>, optime orator, sic m<ihi in  amicitiam> venisse gaudeo. | Domina mea te salutat.

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.


I Am Dedicating My Life to Philosophy. Please Send Me Some Gossip From Rome

Cicero, Letters to Atticus (25; II.5)

“I am waiting for your letters on those events [in Rome]: what is Arrius saying and what is is opinion about being overthrown. Which consuls are being prepared—is it Pompey and Crassus as people claim or, as was just written to me, is it Servius Sulpicius with Gabinius. Are there new laws? Is there anything worthy of news at all? Or, who, since Nepos has left, is going to be nominated as Augur? (and this is the one thing I might be captured with by those people—look at how easy I am!)

Why do I ask these things when I want to put them aside and pursue philosophy with all my focus? This, I say, is what is in my mind. I wish I had pursued this from the start. But now when I have learned that everything which I thought was precious is empty, I am planning to dedicate myself to all the Muses.

Nevertheless, please do tell me in your reply about ?Tutius? and whether they have readied someone for his place and also what has become of Publius Clodius. Write me about everything, as you promised, at leisure. And also tell me on what day you think you will leave Rome so that I may tell you more certainly where I will be then? Please send me a letter right away on the things I have written you about. I am deeply awaiting your letter.”

De istis rebus exspecto tuas litteras, quid Arrius narret, quo animo se destitutum ferat, et qui consules parentur, utrum, ut populi sermo, Pompeius et Crassus, an, ut mihi scribitur, cum Gabinio Ser. Sulpicius, et num quae novae leges et num quid novi omnino, et, quoniam Nepos proficiscitur, cuinam auguratus deferatur, quo quidem uno ego ab istis capi possum—vide levitatem meam! sed quid ego haec, quae cupio deponere et toto animo atque omni cura ϕιλοσοϕεῖν? sic, inquam, in animo est; vellem ab initio, nunc vero, quoniam quae putavi esse praeclara expertus sum quam essent inania, cum omnibus Musis rationem habere cogito.

3Tu tamen de †Tutio†1 ad me rescribe certius et num quis in eius locum paretur, et quid de P. Clodio fiat, et omnia, quem ad modum polliceris, ἐπὶ σχολῆς scribe. et quo die Roma te exiturum putes velim ad me scribas, ut certiorem te faciam quibus in locis futurus sim, epistulamque statim des de iis rebus de quibus ad te scripsi. valde enim exspecto tuas litteras.

Письменные принадлежности и аксессуары – 308 photos

Chroniques de Hainaut (vers 1470)

For Recommendation Season, A Letter of Reference from Fronto

Fronto, Letters to Friends 1.4 (Ambr. 308):

“Greetings to Aegrilius,

If you trust me at all, I comment to you Julius Aquilinus, a man most learned, most articulate, fantastically trained by the disciplines of philosophy for the best arts, and shaped by the study of eloquence to a peerless ability to speak. It is right that so very serious and wise a man should receive from you, a man as learned and serious, not only protection but promotion and respect.

Aquilinus is also—if you trust my opinion—a man of the kind of character that he must be considered an ornament to you no less than he has been to me. You will not doubt that what I say is true once you take the time to hear him speak about Platonic doctrine.

Thanks to your wisdom and intelligence, you will see that he is not inequal to his impressive fame, thanks to his immense wealth in the finest words and the great flood of his thoughts. Once you have understood that this is true, be warned that there is more to this man’s character still since his honesty and his modesty are so great. The greatest crowds of people came together to hear him at Rome on many occasions.”

Aegrilio Plariano salutem.

Iulium Aquilinum virum, si quid mihi credis doctis|simum facundissimum, philosophiae disciplinis ad optimas artes, eloquentiae studiis ad egregiam facundiam eximie eruditum, commendo tibi quam possum studiosissime. Decet a te gravissimo et sapientissimo viro tam doctum tamque elegantem virum non modo protegi sed etiam provehi et illustrari. Est etiam, si quid mihi credis, Aquilinus eiusmodi vir ut in tui ornamentis aeque ac nostri merito numerandus sit. Non dubitabis ita esse ut dico, si eum audire disputantem de Platonicis disciplinis dignatus fueris. Perspicies pro tua prudentia intellegentiaque summa <non> minorem fama, lucu lentissimum verborum adparatu, maxima frequentia sententiarum. Quom haec ita esse deprehenderis, scito amplius esse in hominis moribus, tanta probitate est et verecundia: maximi concursus ad audiendum eum Romae saepe facti sunt.

Cicero Says Something Nice to His Son

From the Fragments of Cicero’s Letters (=Augustin. c. Iul. op. imperf. 6.22)

9. “What? Didn’t Cicero send the words from the guts of every father with this line to his son, writing to him: I wish you alone of all people in the world would do better than me in all things’

9. Quid? illam vocem nonne de visceribus cunctorum patrum Cicero emisit ad filium, ad quem scribens ait: solus es omnium a quo me in omnibus vinci velim?

Of course, since this is Cicero, this is partly about himself, but it is still rather sweet, especially when compared to fathers like Odysseus

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Roman Sarcophagus with father and child


Cicero Delayed Publishing a Book of Poetry Because the Acknowledgements Would Be Too Long

Cicero, Letters to Friends  30 Lentulus Spinther 1.9. 29

“I have also composed a three book poem On My Times which I ought to have send you previously if I thought it right to publish it. For these books are truly an eternal testament of your efforts for me and my duty to you. But I was reluctant not because of those who might judge themselves wounded by it—I have done this rarely and gently—but because of those who had helped me, if I had named them at all I would have gone on for ever.

But you will still see these books if I can find anyone I can rightly trust to bring them to you. I will entrust this for your preservation. I pass to you for judgment this part of my life and my practice, however much I am able to accomplish in literature, in research and in our old pleasures, I send to you who have always loved these things.”

scripsi etiam versibus tris libros De temporibus meis, quos iam pridem ad te misissem si esse edendos putassem; sunt enim testes et erunt sempiterni meritorum erga me tuorum meaeque pietatis. sed quia verebar, non eos qui se laesos arbitrarentur (etenim id feci parce et molliter), sed eos quos erat infinitum bene de <me> meritos omnis nominare ∗ ∗ ∗quos tamen ipsos libros, si quem cui recte committam invenero, curabo ad te perferendos. atque istam quidem partem vitae consuetudinisque nostrae totam ad te defero; quantum litteris, quantum studiis, veteribus nostris delectationibus, consequi poterimus, id omne <ad> arbitrium tuum, qui haec semper amasti, libentissime conferemus.


Infrastructure Struggles in Imperial Rome

Pliny To the Emperor Trajan, Letter 37

Lord, the people of Nicomedia have spent 3,318,000 sesterces on an aqueduct which was left unfinished and then it was taken down. Then they allotted two hundred thousand sesterces to a second one. Because this one was also abandoned, they need to spend more to have water when they have wasted so much money badly.

I have gone to the cleanest spring myself, the one from which it seems likely that water could be conducted by an aqueduct as was tried from the beginning, if we want the water to make it beyond the lower levels of the city. There remain only a few arches standing there still but there are others which could be made from stones which remain from previous attempts. Another part, I think, should be built from brick, which is easier and cheaper.

But foremost, we need you to send out a water-works engineer or an architect so what happened before does not happen again. I will encourage only this, that the work should have a function and beauty worthy of your era.”

C. Plinius Traiano Imperatori
1In aquae ductum, domine, Nicomedenses impenderunt HS |X̅X̅X̅| C̅C̅C̅X̅V̅I̅I̅I̅, qui imperfectus adhuc omissus, destructus etiam est; rursus in alium ductum erogata sunt C̅C̅. Hoc quoque relicto novo impendio est opus, ut aquam habeant, qui tantam pecuniam male perdiderunt. Ipse perveni ad fontem purissimum, ex quo videtur aqua debere perduci, sicut initio temptatum erat, arcuato opere, ne tantum ad plana civitatis et humilia perveniat. Manent adhuc paucissimi arcus: possunt et erigi quidam lapide quadrato, qui ex superiore opere detractus est; aliqua pars, ut mihi videtur, testaceo opere agenda erit, id enim et facilius et vilius. Sed in primis necessarium est mitti a te vel aquilegem vel architectum, ne rursus eveniat quod accidit. Ego illud unum adfirmo, et utilitatem operis et pulchritudinem saeculo tuo esse dignissimam.


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Remains of Aqueduct constructed in Nicomedia

Basil Goes Into Deep Guilt Over Late Correspondence

Basil, Letter 20


“For me, the intensity of the business I am now engaged in might give me some reason for a lack of correspondence. In addition, the smell I have contracted from excessive association with the idiotic mob makes me less at ease in addressing you sophisticates who will grow irritable and intolerant if you don’t hear anything worthy of your own wisdom.


But you, I guess, since you are readier to speak than all the Greeks I know, are accustomed to making your voice public on any pretext. And I think I know the most famous people in your ranks. There is no reason for your silence. And that is enough about that.”


Ἡμῖν μὲν γὰρ τὸ πυκνὸν τῆς ἀσχολίας τοῦτο ἐν ᾧ νῦν ἐσμὲν κἂν παραίτησιν ἐνέγκοι τυχὸν πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειαν τῶν γραμμάτων· καὶ τὸ οἱονεὶ ἐῤῥυπῶσθαι λοιπὸν τῇ κατακορεῖ συνηθείᾳ πρὸς ἰδιωτισμὸν ὄκνον εἰκότως ἐμποιεῖ προσφθέγγεσθαι ὑμᾶς τοὺς σοφιστάς, οἵ, εἰ μή τι ἄξιον τῆς ὑμετέρας αὐτῶν σοφίας ἀκούσεσθε, δυσχερανεῖτε καὶ οὐκ ἀνέξεσθε. σὲ δέ που τὸ ἐναντίον εἰκὸς ἐπὶ πάσης προφάσεως δημοσιεύειν σαυτοῦ τὴν φωνήν, ἐπιτήδειον ὄντα εἰπεῖν ὧν αὐτὸς οἶδα Ἑλλήνων. οἶδα γάρ, ὡς οἶμαι, τοὺς ὀνομαστοτάτους τῶν ἐν ὑμῖν. ὥστε οὐδεμία παραίτησις σιωπῶντι. καὶ ταῦτα μὲν εἰς τοσοῦτον.


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