Pliny Plans a Staycation

Pliny, Letters 3.1 to Calvisius Rufus

“I am incapable of recalling a time I spent as pleasantly as I just did when I went to see Spurinna—and, in fact, I cannot imagine anyone I would rather imitate more in my old age, should I be allowed to grow old. For no way of living is better designed than his. A well-planned life pleases me as much as the circuit of the stars. This is especially true when it comes to the old—for while a limited amount of chaos and excitement is not inappropriate for the young, a completely calm and ordered life is better for the elderly. Their public service is over and any aims for advancement is perverse at this point.

Spurinna insistently follows this rule and even in small things—minor if they did not happen daily—he follows a plan as if an orbiting body. He lies abed a bit every morning but then asks for his shoes in the second hour and takes a three-mile walk to exercise his mind no less than his body. If his friends are present, they have the most earnest conversations. If they are not there, he has a book read—something he also does at times when his friends are there if it will not annoy them too much. Then, once he sits down, the book is read again or, even better, the conversation continues. Then he climbs into his carriage and takes his wife—a model of her gender—or some friend—recently, me!—along with him.

How fine it is, how sweet a secret! How much of the past one finds there—what deeds and what heroes you hear of! What principles you absorb! He bows to his own modesty, however, and does not seem to give orders. After he has been driven seven miles or so, he walks another mile, and then returns to sit again or he goes back to his writing. For then he writes the most learned lyric lines in both Latin and Greek—they are amazingly sweet and impressive as well for their charm, humor, and grace which the taste of the one who writes them only increases.”

Nescio an ullum iucundius tempus exegerim, quam quo nuper apud Spurinnam fui, adeo quidem ut neminem magis in senectute, si modo senescere datum est, aemulari velim; nihil est enim illo vitae genere distinctius. Me autem ut certus siderum cursus ita vita hominum disposita delectat. Senum praesertim: nam iuvenes confusa adhuc quaedam et quasi turbata non indecent, senibus placida omnia et ordinata conveniunt, quibus industria sera turpis ambitio est.

Hanc regulam Spurinna constantissime servat; quin etiam parva haec—parva si non cotidie fiant—ordine quodam et velut orbe circumagit. Mane lectulo continetur, hora secunda calceos poscit, ambulat milia passuum tria nec minus animum quam corpus exercet. Si adsunt amici, honestissimi sermones explicantur; si non, liber legitur, interdum etiam praesentibus amicis, si tamen illi non gravantur. Deinde considit, et liber rursus aut sermo libro potior; mox vehiculum ascendit, adsumit uxorem singularis exempli vel aliquem amicorum, ut me  proxime. Quam pulchrum illud, quam dulce secretum! quantum ibi antiquitatis! quae facta, quos viros audias! quibus praeceptis imbuare! quamvis ille hoc temperamentum modestiae suae indixerit, ne  praecipere videatur. Peractis septem milibus passuum iterum ambulat mille, iterum residit vel se cubiculo ac stilo reddit. Scribit enim et quidem utraque lingua lyrica doctissima; mira illis dulcedo. mira suavitas, mira hilaritas, cuius gratiam cumulat sanctitas scribentis.

Image result for pliny the younger

No One Who Is Serious Writes Their Best Ideas Down

Plato, Epistle 7 344c-e

“For this reason it is necessary that every serious person does not write about serious subjects so that they might not end up an object of envy or confusion among regular people. Simply, when you look at someone’s written work, whether it is a law by a legislator or anything by anyone else, you need to understand that this is not the person’s most serious work even if the author is very serious. Instead, his best works remain in the most noble part of his own realm. But if it turns out that the most serious works are those they have been written down, it is surely not the gods, but mortals themselves “who have totally ruined their senses.”

Anyone who has been following this story and my digression will clearly know that whether Dionysus has written anything about the ultimate and primary truths of nature or some lesser or greater mind has done the same, according to my argument nothing of what he has written is sound thanks to what he has learned or what he has heard. For, he would have the same respect for these things as I do and would not dare to make them available for inappropriate or unacceptable reception.

Dionysius did not write those things for the sake of reminding himself. For there is no danger of anyone forgetting a thing once he has obtained it with his soul, where it is settled among the smallest of all places. But it was for shameful pride, if truly he did write, either as a way of establishing the ideas as his own or to demonstrate that he was an initiate in great learning for which he proved himself unworthy by delighting in the reputation he might gain from it. If this happened to Dionysius because of our single interaction, it could be the case. But how, Only Zeus knows, as the Theban says. For, as I said before, I went through my ideas with him only once and never again afterwards.”

Διὸ δὴ πᾶς ἀνὴρ σπουδαῖος τῶν ὄντως σπουδαίων πέρι πολλοῦ δεῖ μὴ γράψας ποτὲ ἐν ἀνθρώποις εἰς φθόνον καὶ ἀπορίαν καταβάλῃ· ἑνὶ δὴ ἐκ τούτων δεῖ γιγνώσκειν λόγῳ, ὅταν ἴδῃ τίς του συγγράμματα γεγραμμένα εἴτε ἐν νόμοις νομοθέτου εἴτε ἐν ἄλλοις τισὶν ἅττ᾿ οὖν, ὡς οὐκ ἦν τούτῳ ταῦτα σπουδαιότατα, εἴπερ ἔστ᾿ αὐτὸς σπουδαῖος, κεῖται δέ που ἐν χώρᾳ τῇ καλλίστῃ τῶν τούτου· εἰ δὲ ὄντως αὐτῷ ταῦτ᾿ ἐσπουδασμένα ἐν γράμμασιν ἐτέθη, Ἐξ ἄρα δή οἱ ἔπειτα, θεοὶ μὲν οὔ, βροτοὶ δὲ φρένας ὤλεσαν αὐτοί.

Τούτῳ δὴ τῷ μύθῳ τε καὶ πλάνῳ ὁ ξυνεπισπόμενος εὖ εἴσεται, εἴτ᾿ οὖν Διονύσιος ἔγραψέ τι τῶν περὶ φύσεως ἄκρων καὶ πρώτων εἴτε τις ἐλάττων εἴτε μείζων, ὡς οὐδὲν ἀκηκοὼς οὐδὲ μεμαθηκὼς ἦν ὑγιὲς ὧν ἔγραψε κατὰ τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον· ὁμοίως γὰρ ἂν αὐτὰ ἐσέβετο ἐμοί, καὶ οὐκ ἂν αὐτὰ ἐτόλμησεν εἰς ἀναρμοστίαν καὶ ἀπρέπειαν ἐκβάλλειν. οὔτε γὰρ ὑπομνημάτων χάριν αὐτὰ ἔγραψεν· οὐδὲν γὰρ δεινὸν μή τις αὐτὸ ἐπιλάθηται, ἐὰν ἅπαξ τῇ ψυχῇ περιλάβῃ, πάντων γὰρ ἐν βραχυτάτοις κεῖται· φιλοτιμίας δὲ αἰσχρᾶς, εἴπερ, ἕνεκα, εἴθ᾿ ὡς αὑτοῦ τιθέμενος εἴθ᾿ ὡς παιδείας δὴ μέτοχος ὤν, ἧς οὐκ ἄξιος ἦν ἀγαπῶν δόξαν τὴν τῆς μετοχῆς γενομένην. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐκ τῆς μιᾶς συνουσίας Διονυσίῳ τοῦτο γέγονε, τάχ᾿ ἂν εἴη· γέγονε δ᾿ οὖν ὅπως, ἴττω Ζεύς, φησὶν ὁ Θηβαῖος· διεξῆλθον μὲν γὰρ ὡς εἶπόν τότε ἐγὼ καὶ ἅπαξ μόνον, ὕστερον δὲ οὐ πώποτε ἔτι.

enough about plato

Cicero Says August Is the Start of a Whole New Year!

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 5.15 [=LCL 108]

“I made it to Laodicea on July 31st: you will start the reckoning of the year from this day. Nothing was lacking or unexpected in my arrival, but it is amazing how much this work wears me out. It provides me far too little space for my intellectual curiosity and the work for which I have earned my position.”

Laodiceam veni prid. Kal. Sext.; ex hoc die clavum anni movebis. nihil exoptatius adventu meo, nihil c<>arius; sed est incredibile quam me negoti taedeat, non habeat satis magnum campum ille tibi non ignotus cursus animi et industriae meae, praeclara opera cesset.

Cicero writing his letters, woodcut 1547

The Aging Body, A Failing Ship

Seneca, Moral Epistle 30.1-3

“I have seen that best man, Aufidius Bassus, worn out, ravaged by old age. Now they have already pressed him down enough that he cannot be raised up. Old age has fallen down upon him with all of its great weight. Well, you know that his body was always weak and drawn. Yet for a long time he managed it–or perhaps I should say contained it–until it suddenly failed him.

Just as a ship that springs a leak can be stopped up with one fix or another, yet when many places begin to open up at the same time and yield to the water, it is impossible to save the floundering vessel–it is the same way for an aging body.  You can cover up or make up for the weakness to a certain extent, but once it is like a condemned building, and every joint is loose, and one part falls apart while others are repaired, well then we need to take a look around to see how we can leave.

Yet, Bassus’ mind is sharp. Philosophy grants this: to laugh at the sight of death, to be brave despite the body’s condition, to be happy and unfailing even as the body fails. A great captain knows how to sail even with torn sails; even as the ship fails, they can still direct what remains of their body on its course. Our Bassus is doing this. He looks to his own end bravely  and with a detachment you would think too severe even for watching someone else’s death.

Bassum Aufidium, virum optimum, vidi quassum, aetati obluctantem. Sed iam plus illum degravat quam quod possit attolli; magno senectus et universo pondere incubuit. Scis illum semper infirmi corporis et exsucti fuisse. Diu illud continuit et, ut verius dicam, continuavit; subito defecit. Quemadmodum in nave, quae sentinam trahit, uni rimae aut alteri obsistitur, ubi plurimis locis laxari coepit et cedere, succurri non potest navigio dehiscenti; ita in senili corpore aliquatenus inbecillitas sustineri et fulciri potest. Ubi tamquam in putri aedificio omnis unctura diducitur, et dum alia excipitur, alia discinditur, circumspiciendum est, quomodo exeas.

Bassus tamen noster alacer animo est. Hoc philosophia praestat, in conspectu mortis hilarem et in quocumque corporis habitu fortem laetumque nec deficientem, quamvis deficiatur. Magnus gubernator et scisso navigat velo, et, si exarmavit, tamen reliquias navigii aptat ad cursum. Hoc facit Bassus noster et eo animo vultuque finem suum spectat, quo alienum spectare nimis securi putares.

A color photograph of an oil painting. A man leans into a tilting sailing ship with a broken mast on choppy seas. There are sharks in the water before him
The Gulf Stream (1899). Oil on canvas, 71.4 x 124.8 cm (28.1 x 49.1 in). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Make Your “Away Message” Simple….

Pliny Letters 13, to Julius Ferox

“The same letter implies that you are not working and are working. Am I uttering riddles? So it goes, until I clarify what I am thinking. For the letter denies that you are working but it is so polished that it could not be written unless by someone in deep study. Or, you are blessed beyond all others  if you can complete such works at rest and in leisure.”


C. Plinius Feroci Suo S.

Eadem epistula et non studere te et studere significat. Aenigmata loquor? Ita plane, donec distinctius quod sentio enuntiem. Negat enim te studere, sed est tam polita quam nisi a studente non potest scribi; aut es tu super omnes beatus, si talia per desidiam et otium perficis. Vale.

Pliny the Younger
I don’t believe that you’re not working.

“Enough About Plato”: Dionysius on Prose Style

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Letter to Gnaeus Pompeius 2

“And you yourself, bestie Geminus, were clear in holding the same opinion about the man in your letter in which you write verbatim: “in other types of composition it is easy to fall somewhere between praise and blame—but in ornament, what does not succeed, fails completely. For this reason, it seems right to me not to interrogate these men for their few failures but for the greater number of their successes.”

And later after this you say these things an addition: “Even though I am able to mount a defense for all of these passages or most of them, I do not dare to speak against you. But I do take this one point hard—that  it is not possible to succeed impressively in every way unless you take these kind of risks and enter those situations in which it is necessary to stumble”.

We don’t diverge from one another—for you agree that it is necessary that one who has great aims sometimes stumbles while I say that Plato in reaching for sublime, magnificent, and surprising phrases did not succeed all the time, but that his mistakes occupy only a small portion of his total attempts. I also add that this is one way in which Plato is less than Demosthenes—for his heightened style at times slips into emptiness and unpleasantry; for Demosthenes this happens never or rarely at all. That’s enough about Plato.”

καὶ σύ γε αὐτός, ὦ βέλτιστε Γεμῖνε, ὁμοίαν ἐμοὶ γνώμην περὶ τἀνδρὸς ἔχων φαίνῃ δι᾿ αὐτῆς γέ τοι τῆς ἐπιστολῆς, ἐν οἷς κατὰ λέξιν οὕτω γράφεις· ῾ἐν μὲν γὰρ τοῖς ἑτέροις σχήμασι ῥᾴδιον πεσεῖν μέσον τι ἐπαίνου καὶ μέμψεως· ἐν δὲ τῇ κατασκευῇ τὸ μὴ ἐπιτευχθὲν πάντῃ ἀποτυγχάνεται. διό μοι δοκεῖ τούτους τοὺς ἄνδρας οὐκ ἐκ τῶν ἐπικινδυνοτέρων οὐδὲ ἐλασσόνων, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκ τῶν πλείστων καὶ εὐτυχηθέντων ἐξετάζειν᾿. καὶ μετ᾿ ὀλίγα πάλιν ἐπιλέγεις ταυτί· ῾ἐγὼ δὲ καίπερ ἔχων ἀπολογήσασθαι ὑπὲρ ἁπάντων ἢ τῶν γε πλείστων οὐ τολμῶ σοι ἐναντία λέγειν· ἓν δὲ τοῦτο διισχυρίζομαι, ὅτι οὐκ ἔστι μεγάλως ἐπιτυχεῖν ἐν οὐδενὶ τρόπῳ μὴ τοιαῦτα τολμῶντα καὶ παραβαλλόμενον, ἐν οἷς καὶ σφάλλεσθαι ἐστὶν ἀναγκαῖον.᾿ οὐδὲν διαφερόμεθα πρὸς ἀλλήλους· σύ τε γὰρ ὁμολογεῖς ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι τὸν ἐπιβαλλόμενον μεγάλοις καὶ σφάλλεσθαί ποτε, ἐγώ τέ φημι τῆς ὑψηλῆς καὶ μεγαλοπρεποῦς καὶ παρακεκινδυνευμένης φράσεως ἐφιέμενον Πλάτωνα μὴ περὶ πάντα τὰ μέρη κατορθοῦν, πολλοστὴν μέντοι μοῖραν ἔχειν τῶν κατορθουμένων τὰ διαμαρτανόμενα ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ. καὶ καθ᾿ ἓν τοῦτο Πλάτωνά φημι λείπεσθαι Δημοσθένους, ὅτι παρ᾿ ᾧ μὲν ἐκπίπτει ποτὲ τὸ ὕψος τῆς λέξεως [τῶν λόγων] εἰς τὸ κενὸν καὶ ἀηδές, παρ᾿ ᾧ δὲ οὐδέποτε ἢ σπανίως γε κομιδῇ. καὶ περὶ μὲν Πλάτωνος τοσαῦτα.

color photograph of a bust of Plato with the english and the greek saying "that's enough about plato"

Perfection and the Unhappiest Minds

Seneca, Moral Epistles 124.23-24

“What is this state? A refined and pure mind, a god’s rival, elevating itself beyond human matters and putting nothing of itself beyond itself. You are a rational animal. What, then, is the good in you? Complete reason. Can you  call this to its very limit, to make it grow as far as possible?

Judge yourself to be happy when every part of your joy arises from this and when you discover nothing you want–I did not say prefer–after examining all the things that men grab for, pray for, and guard. I give you a short phrase by which you may text yourself, by which you may see that you are finished: you will possess your own when you understand that happy people are the most unhappy of all. BYE”

Quod est hoc? Animus scilicet emendatus ac purus, aemulator dei, super humana se extollens, nihil extra se sui ponens. Rationale animal es. Quod ergo in te bonum est? Perfecta ratio. An tu ad suum finem hanc evocas, in quantum potest plurimum crescere? Tunc beatum esse te iudica, cum tibi ex ea gaudium omne nascetur, cum visis, quae homines eripiunt, optant, custodiunt, nihil inveneris, non dico quod malis, sed quod velis. Brevem tibi formulam dabo, qua te metiaris, qua perfectum esse iam sentias: tunc habebis tuum, cum intelleges infelicissimos esse felices. Vale.

picture of a monkey about to hit a sleeping lion with a stick. There is a latin title "Rationale animal es" which means "you are a rational animal"

Living Badly, The Way our Neighbors Do

Seneca, Moral Epistles 123.6

“We don’t realize how many things are silly unless they start to seem lacking. We have been using them because we possessed them, not because we needed them. How much do we possess just because others have them, or because most people do! The fact that we live by precedents and don’t figure out our lives by reason and are strung along by habits is the cause of many of our problems.

Some things that we’d refuse to copy if only a few people did them, we do once many pick them up, as if something is more honorable because it is more frequent. And worse: mistakes take the place of right action in our eyes once they become common.”

Multa quam supervacua essent, non intelleximus, nisi deesse coeperunt; utebamur enim illis, non quia debebamus, sed quia habebamus. Quam multa autem paramus, quia alii paraverunt, quia apud plerosque sunt! Inter causas malorum nostrorum est, quod vivimus ad exempla, nec ratione conponimur sed consuetudine abducimur.

Quod, si pauci facerent, nollemus imitari, cum plures facere coeperunt, quasi honestius sit, quia frequentius, sequimur. Et recti apud nos locum tenet error, ubi publicus factus est.

A cartoon rabbit from the old Trix cereal "silly rabbit, trix are for kids" advertisement in a meme format with the Latin "Multa quam supervacua essent, non intelleximus, nisi deesse coeperunt" which means we don't understand how many things are silly until they start to seem lacking"

Philosophers Love the Rise and Grind

Seneca, Moral Epistles 122.1-3

“The day has already felt shortening. It has lost a good deal but there may still be enough space left if one gets up, as they say, with the day itself. Anyone who anticipates the day and precedes the dawn itself is more effective and better. But someone who is still dozing when the sun is high or who begins their day at noon is gross. And, yet, to many of these, noon seems like it is before the dawn.

There are those who have exchanged the duties of night and day–they don’t open eyes damp with yesterday’s hangover until night begins to take the sky. This is like the condition of those people whom nature, as Vergil claims, has set opposite to us: “When Dawn turns his gasping horses towards us / then red Evening kindles her late burning fires for them”

It’s not so much the region of these men as their life that’s opposed to ours. There are those “antipodean” folks in this city who, as Marcus Cato used to say, never see the run rising or setting. Can you believe that these people who don’t know when to live can know how they must live? Do you think these people who have covered themselves while still alive fear death?

They are as odd as nocturnal birds. While they spend their life in shadows amid wine and perfume and all their perverse hours at banquets cooked in countless courses, they don’t dine as much as they attend their own funeral feasts! At least the dead are celebrated in the daytime.

By god, the day is not long for anyone who stays active! Let us extend our life–the duty and test of living is in what we do. Let’s draw a line around the night and move some of it to day.”

Detrimentum iam dies sensit. Resiluit aliquantum, ita tamen ut liberale adhuc spatium sit, si quis cum ipso, ut ita dicam, die surgat. Officiosior meliorque, si quis illum exspectat et lucem primam excipit; turpis, qui alto sole semisomnus iacet, cuius vigilia medio die incipit; et adhuc multis hoc antelucanum est. Sunt qui officia lucis noctisque perverterint nec ante diducant oculos hesterna graves crapula quam adpetere nox coepit. Qualis illorum condicio dicitur, quos natura, ut ait Vergilius, sedibus nostris subditos e contrario posuit,

​Nosque ubi primus equis Oriens adflavit anhelis,
Illis sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper

talis horum contraria omnibus non regio, sed vita est. Sunt quidam in eadem urbe antipodes, qui, ut M. Cato ait, nec orientem umquam solem viderunt nec occidentem. Hos tu existimas scire quemadmodum vivendum sit, qui nesciunt quando? Et hi mortem timent, in quam se vivi condiderunt? Tam infausti quam nocturnae aves sunt. Licet in vino unguentoque tenebras suas exigant, licet epulis et quidem in multa fericula discoctis totum perversae vigiliae tempus educant, non convivantur, sed iusta sibi faciunt. Mortuis certe interdiu parentatur.

At mehercules nullus agenti dies longus est. Extendamus vitam; huius et officium et argumentum actus est. Circumscribatur nox, et aliquid ex illa in diem transferatur.

picture of an ocean beach at dawn with the Latin "circumscribitur nox et aliquid ex illa in diem transferatur" which means "let's circumscribe the night and transfer part of it to the day"

Seneca never got to listen to Morphine “Early to bed and early to rise / Makes a man or woman miss out on the night life”

Go Ahead, Sue Me (and Posidonius too!)

Seneca, Moral Epistles 121.1-2

“I think you’re going to sue me when I share today’s little question with you, one we’ve been clinging to for long enough. You will cry out again, “what’s this got to do with character traits?” Shout all you want, but let me set you against others you can sue too like Posidonius and Archidemus–those guys will take a trial.

But then I will tell you that whatever pertains to character does not actually make characters good. People need one thing for nourishment, one thing for exercising, another for dressing, another for learning, and another for pleasure. Everything matters to people, but everything doesn’t make us better. Different things change your character in different ways. Some things correct us and straighten us out; others examine their nature and origin.

When I search for why nature created humans and put us above the other animals, do you imagine that I have left the question of character behind? That’s wrong.  How would you truly know how we should act if you don’t know what’s best for humans, if you don’t examine our nature?”

Litigabis, ego video, cum tibi hodiernam quaestiunculam, in qua satis diu haesimus, exposuero. Iterum enim exclamabis: “hoc quid ad mores?” Sed exclama, dum tibi primum alios opponam, cum quibus litiges, Posidonium et Archidemum; hi iudicium accipient. Deinde dicam: non quicquid morale est, mores bonos facit. Aliud ad hominem alendum pertinet, aliud ad exercendum, aliud ad vestiendum, aliud ad docendum, aliud ad delectandum. Omnia tamen ad hominem pertinent, etiam si non omnia meliorem eum faciunt. Mores alia aliter attingunt: quaedam illos corrigunt et ordinant, quaedam naturam eorum et originem scrutantur. Cum quaero, quare hominem natura produxerit, quare praetulerit animalibus ceteris, longe me iudicas mores reliquisse? Falsum est. Quomodo enim scies, qui habendi sint, nisi quid homini sit optimum, inveneris, nisi naturam eius inspexeris?

Is this a butterfly meme labeled with speaker as seneca, the butterfly as literally anything and the quote as "is this a vice?"