The Brevity and Quickness of Life

Pliny, Letters 3.7 To Caninius Rufus

“I have just learned that Silius Italicus ended his life by starvation in Naples. Sickness was the cause of death, really: he had an untreatable tumor whose pain made him escape by death. He made it to his final day happy and fortunate, except that he lost his two younger songs. He left the older and better son successful and already of consular rank.

Silius harmed his reputation under Nero—for he was believed to have accused people willingly—but he conducted himself in his friendship with Vitellius wisely and with kindness. He earned some fame for his proconsulate in Asia and cleansed the stain of his earlier activity with a praiseworthy retirement.

He was among our top citizens without holding power or incurring envy. He was visited and much sought out, nearly always reclining on his couch in a room crowded not by accident. He filled his days with the most educated conversation whenever he took a break from writing. He used to write his poems more with effort than inspiration, and did not spare himself from critical judgment thanks to his recitations.

In recent years, he left Rome in a concession to old age. Once he made his home in Campania, he did not leave, not even for the coming of a new Emperor. This is reason for great praise for Caesar since he allowed this freedom and for Silius himself since he dared to take it.

He was a lover of things to the extent that he was mocked for excessive purchases. He owned multiple homes in the same neighborhood and overlooked the older ones in his excitement for the new ones. In each he had plenty books, statues, paintings and busts, each of which meant much to him, especially the one of Vergil, whose birthday he celebrated more religiously than his own, especially at Naples where he used to visit his grave as if it were a temple.

He completed his seventy-fifth year in this peaceful place. His body was solicitously tended even though he was not disabled. He was the final consul Nero appointed and the last of Nero’s consuls to die. It is remarkable that not only did Nero’s final consul die with him but that Nero died when he was consul!

Pity for human fragility fills me as I tell you this. Nothing is as brief and quick as the longest human life. Doesn’t it seem to you that Nero just died? But not one of the men who were consuls in his time remain alive today. I should not be so surprised! Only recently did Lucius Piso, the father of the Piso who was killed so evilly by Valerius Festus in Italy, used to say that none of those men he used to ask to speak when he was consul were still in the Senate!

The boundaries of life are so narrow that even in a community of great size I think we could forgive the Persian king for his famous tears—or maybe even admire him for them. For it is reported that after Xerxes reviewed his immense army, he wept when he thought that so many would die in so short a time.

This is why we should draw out our passing minutes with reading and writing, since we don’t have any control over them and action seems futile. Since we cannot live a long life, let us leave something to declare we have lived.

I know that you don’t need to be encouraged. But my concern for you still drives me to encourage you, like a horse eager to run, as you urge me in turn. Competition is good when friends push each other on with shared exhortations on the love of immortal memory.”

Plinius Caninio Rufo Suo S.

Modo nuntiatus est Silius Italicus in Neapolitano suo inedia finisse vitam. Causa mortis valetudo. Erat illi natus insanabilis clavus, cuius taedio ad mortem inrevocabili constantia decucurrit usque ad supremum diem beatus et felix, nisi quod minorem ex liberis duobus amisit, sed maiorem melioremque florentem atque etiam consularem reliquit. Laeserat famam suam sub Nerone (credebatur sponte accusasse), sed in Vitelli amicitia sapienter se et comiter gesserat, ex proconsulatu Asiae gloriam reportaverat, maculam veteris industriae laudabili otio abluerat.

Fuit inter principes civitatis sine potentia, sine invidia: salutabatur colebatur, multumque in lectulo iacens cubiculo semper, non ex fortuna frequenti, doctissimis sermonibus dies transigebat, cum a scribendo vacaret. Scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio, non numquam iudicia hominum recitationibus 6experiebatur. Novissime ita suadentibus annis ab urbe secessit, seque in Campania tenuit, ac ne adventu quidem novi principis inde commotus est: magna Caesaris laus sub quo hoc liberum fuit, magna illius 8qui hac libertate ausus est uti.

Erat ϕιλόκαλος usque ad emacitatis reprehensionem. Plures isdem in locis villas possidebat, adamatisque novis priores neglegebat. Multum ubique librorum, multum statuarum, multum imaginum, quas non habebat modo, verum etiam venerabatur, Vergili ante omnes, cuius natalem religiosius quam suum celebrabat, Neapoli maxime, ubi monimentum eius adire ut templum solebat. In hac tranquillitate annum quintum et septuagensimum excessit, delicato magis corpore quam infirmo; utque novissimus a Nerone factus est consul, ita postremus ex omnibus, quos Nero consules fecerat, decessit. Illud etiam notabile: ultimus ex Neronianis consularibus obiit, quo consule Nero periit. Quod me recordantem fragilitatis humanae miseratio subit.

Quid enim tam circumcisum tam breve quam homini vita longissima? An non videtur tibi Nero modo modo fuisse? cum interim ex iis, qui sub illo gesserant consulatum, nemo iam superest. Quamquam quid hoc miror? Nuper L. Piso, pater Pisonis illius, qui a Valerio Festo per summum facinus in Africa occisus est, dicere solebat neminem se videre in senatu, quem consul ipse sententiam rogavisset.

Tam angustis terminis tantae multitudinis vivacitas ipsa concluditur, ut mihi non venia solum dignae, verum etiam laude videantur illae regiae lacrimae; nam ferunt Xersen, cum immensum exercitum oculis obisset, inlacrimasse, quod tot milibus tam brevis immineret occasus. Sed tanto magis hoc, quidquid est temporis futilis et caduci, si non datur factis (nam horum materia in aliena manu), certe studiis proferamus, et quatenus nobis denegatur diu vivere, relinquamus aliquid, quo nos vixisse testemur. Scio te stimulis non egere: me tamen tui caritas evocat, ut currentem quoque instigem, sicut tu soles me. ’Αγαθὴ δ’ ἔρις cum invicem se mutuis exhortationibus amici ad amorem immortalitatis exacuunt. Vale.

Vergil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright

Write Me, Let Me Know You’re Ok

P.Oxy.14.1666, From Pausanias to Heraclides, 3rd Century CE

“Brother, please write me about your family’s safety, since I heard that there was a plague in your part of Antinoopolis. So don’t forget to write me so that I can be happier about you. Say hello to my mother, the master of the house, my sister and our children, who will be kept safe. Pausanias greets you. I pray that the whole household stays well.”

παρακαλῶ οὖ[ν], ἄδελφε, γράψαι μοι περὶ τῆς ὑμῶν σω[τ]ηρίας, ἐπεὶ ἤκουσα ἐν τῇ Ἀντινόου ὅτι παρ᾿ ὑμεῖν λοιμὸς [ἐγ]ένετο. μὴ οὖν ἀμελήσῃς, ἵνα κἀγὼ περὶ ὑμῶν εὐθυμότερον διάξω. ἀσπάζου πολλὰ τὴν κυρίαν μου μητέρα καὶ [τὴν ἀδελ-]φήν μου καὶ τὰ ἀβάσκαντα ἡμῶν παιδ[ία. ἀσπά]ζεται ὑμᾶς Παυσανίας. ἐρρῶσθαί [σ]ε [εὔχ(ομαι)] πανο[ικ]εί.

Here’s a link to the papyrus

Bust of Antinoüs-Osiris from Hadrian’s Villa at TivoliLouvre collection.

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?

Image result for Ancient Roman Cicero

 

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.

Image result for Ancient Roman death of caesar
The death of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate by Vincenzo Camuccini

 

“If it is a girl…”: A Letter about Child Exposure

This letter contains a reference to disposing of a female infant. 

P. Oxy. 120 (1st Century BCE) From Hilarion to Alis

“Hilarion sends sends many, many greetings to his sister along with my lady Berous and Apollonarion. Listen, we are still in Alexandria. Don’t worry about this—if they go home completely, I will stay in Alexandria. I am asking you and begging you to take care of the little child and when we are paid, I will send it to you right away. If you happen to be pregnant again, if it is a boy, leave it; if it is a girl, throw it out.

You have told Aphrodisias “don’t forget me.” How could I possibly forget you? Please, do not be worried….”

Ἱλαρίων{α} Ἄλιτι τῆι ἀδελφῇ πλεῖστα χαίρειν καὶ Βεροῦτι τῇ κυρίᾳ μου καὶ Ἀπολλωνάριν. γίνωσκε ὡς ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ ᾿σμεν. μὴ ἀγωνιᾷς· ἐὰν ὅλως εἰσπορεύονται, ἐγὼ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ μενῶ. ἐρωτῶ σε καὶ παρακαλῶ σε, ἐπιμελήθ<ητ>ι τῷ παιδίῳ καὶ ἐὰν εὐθὺς ὀψώνιον λάβωμεν ἀποστελῶ σε ἄνω. ἐὰν πολλὰ πολλῶν τέκῃς, ἐὰν ᾖ{ν} ἄρσενον, ἄφες, ἐὰν ᾖ{ν} θήλεα, ἔκβαλε. εἴρηκας δὲ Ἀφροδισιᾶτι ὅτι μή με ἐπιλάθῃς. πῶς δύναμαί σε ἐπιλαθεῖν; ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν ἵνα μὴ ἀγωνιάσῃς.

Image result for medieval manuscript childbirth
Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts · Osée et Gomer. Birth of Yizréel Cote : Français 10 , Fol. 444 Guiard

“Greetings to My Sister”: A Letter Home

This is from the Loeb collection of private papyri. Thanks to .@graham_claytor, here’s a link to the text on line

B.G.U. 7.1680 (CE 2nd Century?=Trismegistos 30955)

“Isis sends her mother the most greetings. I make a prayer for you each day before lord Sarapis and the gods who are with him.

I want to tell you that I made it safely and well to Alexandria in four days. I send greetings to my sister and her children, and Elouath and his wife, as well as Diokorous and her husband and son and Tamalis and her husband and son, and Hêron and Ammonarion and her children and her husband and Sanpat and her children. If Aiôn wants to join the army, have him come. For everyone is joining the army.

I pray for you and everyone in the house to be well.

Your daughter, Isis

Ἶσεις Θερμουθίῳ τῇ μητρὶ πλεῖστα χαίρειν. τὸ προσκύνημά σου ποιῶ καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν παρὰ τῷ κυρίῳ [Σ]αράπιδι καὶ τοῖς συννάοις θεοῖς. γεινώσκειν σε θέλω ὅτι εὖ καὶ καλῶς γέγονα εἰς Ἀλεξάνδρειαν ἐν τέσσαρσι ἡμέραις. ἀσπάζομαι τὴν ἀδε[λ]φήν μο[υ] καὶ τὰ παιδία καὶ Ἐλουᾶθ καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ Διοσκοροῦν καὶ τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς καὶ τὰ παιδία καὶ Τ[ά]μαλιν καὶ τὸν 7ἄνδρα αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν υἱὸν καὶ Ἥρωνα καὶ Ἀμμωνάριον καὶ τὰ παιδία αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν ἄνδρα καὶ Σανπὰτ καὶ τὰ παιδία αὐτῆς. καὶ ἐὰν θελήσῃ Ἀΐων στρατεύσασθαι, ἐρχέσθω· στρατεύονται γὰρ πάντες. ἐρρῶσθαι ⟦σε⟧ ὑμᾶς εὔχομαι πανοικί.
Verso: – – – π](αρὰ) Ἴσειτος θυγατρός.

Here’s a picture of the letter (again, thanks to @graham_claytor)

papyrus page with legible writing; tattered bottom edge
This is a different letter.

Rescuing a Man of Defensive Humor

Seneca, EM 29.4-8

“I am not yet in despair about our companion Marcellinus. He can be saved even now, but only if a hand be given to him quickly. There certainly is a risk that he will drag his rescuer down with him—there is a great force of intelligence in the man, even though it is already leaning towards depravity. Nevertheless, I will face this danger and dare to show him his mistakes.

He will do what he usually does—he will call up his wittiness which can elicit laughter even from mourners and joke first about himself and then about me. He will oppose everything I plan to say. He will scrutinize our philosophical beliefs and complain that philosophers took handouts, had girlfriends, and were gluttons. He will tell me about some philosopher who is caught in adultery, another who hangs out at bars, another found in court. He will tell me about Aristo, Marcus Lepidus’ philosopher who used to have conversations while he was riding around in his carriage (since that was the time he had set aside for editing his work) so that Scaurus gossiped about him, “Well, he’s not one of the Walking Doctors, at least.” Julius Graecinus, when asked about the same person, said “I can’t tell you, for I don’t know what he can do on foot!” as if he were asked about a charioteer.

He will mock these types of cavalrymen, men I think would have been better to have ignored philosophy than sell it. But I am resolved to tolerate the insults. Let him try to move my laughter and I, perhaps, will move him to tears. Or, if he persists telling jokes, I will still take some joy in these sufferings, since he’s touched by a humorous kind of madness. This type of humor is not long-lived. Look carefully and you will see that people like this laugh intemperately and then rage intemperately in a short span of time.”

Marcellinum nostrum ego nondum despero. Etiamnunc servari potest, sed si cito illi manus porrigitur. Est quidem periculum, ne porrigentem trahat; magna in illo ingenii vis est, sed iam tendentis in pravum. Nihilominus adibo hoc periculum et audebo illi mala sua ostendere. Faciet quod solet; advocabit illas facetias, quae risum evocare lugentibus possunt, et in se primum, deinde in nos iocabitur. Omnia, quae dicturus sum, occupabit. Scrutabitur scholas nostras et obiciet philosophis congiaria, amicas, gulam. Ostendet mihi alium in adulterio, alium in popina, alium in aula. Ostendet mihi M. Lepidi philosophum Aristonem, qui in gestatione disserebat. Hoc enim ad edendas operas tempus acceperat. De cuius secta cum quaereretur, Scaurus ait: “Utique Peripateticus non est.” De eodem cum consuleretur Iulius Graecinus, vir egregius, quid sentiret, “Non possum,” inquit, “tibi dicere; nescio enim, quid de gradu faciat,” tamquam de essedario interrogaretur. Hos mihi circulatores, qui philosophiam honestius neglexissent quam vendunt, in faciem ingeret. Constitui tamen contumelias perpeti; moveat ille mihi risum, ego fortasse illi lacrimas movebo, aut si ridere perseverabit, gaudebo tamquam in malis, quod illi genus insaniae hilare contigerit. Sed non est ista hilaritas longa. Observa; videbis eosdem intra exiguum 8tempus acerrime ridere et acerrime rabere.

Image result for medieval manuscript laughing man
BL Add_ms_49622_f193v