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

Collective Madness and False Beliefs

Seneca, Moral Epistles 94.17

“This part of precepts should be tossed away because it can’t give to everyone what it guarantees to a small few. Wisdom, however, welcomes all. There’s no difference, really, between the popular madness in general and the kind that requires medical treatment except that the individual suffers from a disease and the masses are afflicted by false opinions. For one, the symptoms of insanity develop from poor health, the other arises from sick minds.

If one offers maxims to a madman about how to speak, or walk, or how to act in public and private, they’d prove to be crazier than the one they’re advising. Someone really needs to treat their black bile and remove the initial cause of the affliction. This is what is required for a diseased mind too. The madness needs to be shed first, otherwise all your words of warning are useless.”

“Ergo ista praeceptiva pars summovenda est, quia quod paucis promittit, praestare omnibus non potest; sapientia autem omnes tenet. 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 bilis1 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.”


Detail from The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488–1516).

Nothing To Write about: Cicero Gives Up

Cicero to Atticus, 129 (VII.6) Formiae, ca. 18 December 50 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“There’s clearly nothing for me to write to you about. You know everything worth knowing and I have nothing to expect from you. Still, let me keep up our practice so that we don’t let anyone travel near you without a letter.

I am really afraid for our country. I have barely found anyone who doesn’t think we should give Caesar what he wants, rather than fighting with him.”

Plane deest quid ad te scribam. nota omnia tibi sunt, nec ipse habeo a te quod exspectem. tantum igitur nostrum illud sollemne servemus, ut ne quem istuc euntem sine litteris dimittamus.

De re publica valde timeo, nec adhuc fere inveni qui non concedendum putaret Caesari quod postularet potius quam depugnandum.

Pliny, With an Epistolary Guilt-Trip

Pliny, Letters 3.17

 “Is the reason your letters have not come for so long because everything is going well? Or, is everything good but you are really busy? Or are you not that busy but just have barely any time for writing?

Please take this worry away from me, I can’t handle it! Do it even if you have to send a courier. I will pay the cost and top him too as long as he tells me what I want.

I am well, if to be well is to live in suspense and worry, expecting all day long and fearing that anything which can hurt a person as happened to my dearest friend.”

Plinius Iulio Serviano Suo S.

1Rectene omnia, quod iam pridem epistulae tuae cessant? an omnia recte, sed occupatus es tu? an tu non occupatus, sed occasio scribendi vel rara vel nulla? Exime hunc mihi scrupulum, cui par esse non possum, exime autem vel data opera tabellario misso. Ego viaticum, ego etiam praemium dabo, nuntiet modo quod opto. Ipse valeo, si valere est suspensum et anxium vivere, exspectantem in horas timentemque pro capite amicissimo, quidquid accidere homini potest. Vale.

Tuscum des Plinius Schninkel AA2.jpg
Pliny’s Villa at Tuscum

I Made Your Poems Worse: You’re Welcome!

Pliny, Letters, 4.18

“To Arrius Antonius, My friend:

Is there any way I can prove myself to you beyond the work I have put in to your Greek epigrams, which I have tried to match in Latin translation? It’s still a turn for the worse: the cause is the weakness of my own genius followed by the inadequacy of what Lucretius calls the “poverty of our country’s language.” But, if these Latin translations of mine seem to you to possess any bit of charm, then you know how much pleasure I have in the originals you made in Greek. Farewell.”

Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

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.

Greek Epigram by Sopater

I Hope this Finds You With Nothing to Write About

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 128 (VII.5)

 “Right now I simply have nothing to write to you about. Certainly not politics, since we know the same things and we also know each other’s domestic matters. Jokes are all that remain, if that guy will allow it.

I am one who thinks that it is better to give in to his demands than start a war. It is too late for us to resist someone we’ve been raising against us for ten years!

What’s my strategy? Nothing unless by your judgment and nothing before I’ve completed my own affairs or given them up. Take care of yourself!”

Iam plane mihi deest quid ad te scribam; nec enim de re publica, quod uterque nostrum scit eadem, et domestica nota sunt ambobus. reliquum est iocari, si hic sinat; nam ego is sum qui illi concedi putem utilius esse quod postulat quam signa conferri; sero enim resistimus ei quem per annos decem aluimus contra nos. ‘quid senti<e>s4 igitur?’ inquis. nihil scilicet nisi de sententia tua, nec prius quidem quam nostrum negotium aut confecerimus aut deposuerimus. cura igitur ut valeas…

Top third of a surviving 4th-century Roman letter, from Vitalis to his dominus Achillio, from Franz Steffens’ Lateinische Paläographie (1903), table 13. The letter is reported to be Latin papyrus “Argent 1”, at Strassbourg.

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)

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

Image result for Ancient Roman father and son
Roman Sarcophagus with father and child

 

Comfort in Literature in the Face of Disease and Death

Pliny, Letters 8.19

“I have so much joy and comfort in literature that there’s nothing that can’t be made happier because of it and there’s nothing sad enough to detract from its effect. I am so troubled by the sickness of my wife and the danger to my household, even the threat of death, that I have fled to my study as the only distraction from pain. I may sense my troubles more in this way but I yet bear them more easily. 

It is my custom, however, to test on my friends’ judgment–especially yours– anything I intend to circulate publicly. So, if you have ever before done so, please examine the book which you are receiving with this letter, since I fear that have focused too poorly because of my sorrow. I was able to overcome my grief enough to write, but I could not do it with a light and happy spirit. For happiness to come from study, study must arise from joy.  Goodbye”

Et gaudium mihi et solacium in litteris, nihilque tam laetum quod his laetius, tam triste quod non per has minus triste. Itaque et infirmitate uxoris et meorum periculo, quorundam vero etiam morte turbatus, ad unicum doloris levamentum studia confugi, quae praestant ut adversa magis intellegam sed patientius feram. Est autem mihi moris, quod sum daturus in manus hominum, ante amicorum iudicio examinare, in primis tuo. Proinde si quando, nunc intende libro quem cum hac epistula accipies, quia vereor ne ipse ut tristis parum intenderim. Imperare enim dolori ut scriberem potui; ut vacuo animo laetoque, non potui. Porro ut ex studiis gaudium sic studia hilaritate proveniunt. Vale.

Rattenberg (Tyrol). Augustine museum – Memento-mori-painting ( 1694 ) from Kitzbühl – detail with inscription: “All skulls are signed but one; write your name on it, it is yours.”

The Best People Sickness Can Make

Pliny The Younger, Letters, 7.26

“A friend’s sickness has lately reminded me that we are the best people when we are sick. Does greed or lust ever bother a sick person? They are not controlled by their desires or their love of honors. They don’t care about wealth and think whatever little bit they have is enough, because they will leave it behind! The sick remember the gods and realize they are mortal. They don’t feel envy or awe or contempt for other people. Slander doesn’t attract or encourage the sick and all they dream of are baths and fountains.

These are the end of their concerns, the object of their prayers. And they promise that will be enough if they are lucky to survive. I can now say briefly and clearly what the philosophers try to convey in so many endless words: When we’re healthy we should strive to be the kind of people we promised to be when we were sick. Goodbye!”

Nuper me cuiusdam amici languor admonuit, optimos esse nos dum infirmi sumus. Quem enim infirmum aut avaritia aut libido sollicitat? Non amoribus servit, non adpetit honores, opes neglegit et quantulumcumque, ut relicturus, satis habet. Tunc deos tunc hominem esse se meminit, invidet nemini, neminem miratur neminem despicit, ac ne sermonibus quidem malignis aut attendit aut alitur: balinea imaginatur et fontes.

Haec summa curarum, summa votorum mollemque in posterum et pingue destinat vitam. Possum ergo quod plurimis verbis plurimis etiam voluminibus philosophi docere conantur, ipse breviter tibi mihique praecipere, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi. Vale.

Euricius Cordus (1486-1535); Fur die newe, hievor vnerhorte und erschrocklich todtliche Kranckheyt und schnellen todt, die English schweyee-sucht geant, Strassbourg: 1529.Early books on medicine..Published: 1928..Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/