Fronto’s Regrets: Neck Pain Kept Me from Your Party

Fronto To Antonius Pius, 5 (Naber, p. 167).

“I would pay more than a part of my own life to embrace you on this happiest and most anticipated anniversary of your imperial accession—a day which I consider to be the birthday of my health, dignity, and security.

But serious shoulder pain and even worse neck pain afflict me so badly that I can barely bend, straighten up, or turn because I have to keep my neck so still. But I have returned to my Lares, Penates, and Family gods and have taken up my vows and I have prayed that next year I can embrace you twice on this day, twice to kiss your chest and hands, simultaneously completing the duty of this year and next.”

| Antonino Pio Augusto Fronto.

Carius <quam> vitae meae parte adpicisci cupio ut te complecterer felicissimo et optatissimo initi imperii die, quem ego diem natalem salutis dignitatis securitatis meae existimo. Sed dolor humeri gravis, cervicis vero multo gravissimus ita me adflixit, ut adhuc usque vix inclinare me vel erigere vel convertere possim: ita immobili cervice utor. Sed apud Lares Penates deosque familiares meos et reddidi et suscepi vota, et precatus sum, uti anno insequenti bis te complecterer isto die, bis pectus tuum et manus exoscularer praeteriti simul et praesentis anni vicem perficiens.

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Antonius Pius

A Marriage of Pity then Pride

Pliny, Letters 18.7-10

“This final testament is more praiseworthy because duty, trust, and shame have dictated it and because in it [Tullus] articulates his gratitude to all his relatives for their duty to him and especially to his wife. His most enduring wife has received the most charming homes, a great deal of money and probably deserved as much if not more from a husband she was criticized for even marrying.

For a woman of a famous family with pristine character—no longer young and long widowed with two children—seemed too indecorous in seeking marriage to a rich old man so deformed by sickness that he would even seemed disgusting even to a woman he had married when he was healthy and young. Since he was twisted and broken in every limb, he used to enjoy his great wealth with only his eyes and could move in bed without others. And this is foul and pitiable to add, his teeth had to be cleaned and washed for him. It was often heard from him—when he was complaining about the insults of his condition—that he licked the fingers of his own slaves each day.

Still, he was alive and he wanted to live with his wife’s help mostly, someone whose perseverance turned the ‘mistake’ of her criticized marriage into an object of renown.”

Quo laudabilius testamentum est, quod pietas fides pudor scripsit, in quo denique omnibus adfinitatibus pro cuiusque officio gratia relata est, relata et uxori. Accepit amoenissimas villas, accepit magnam pecuniam uxor optima et patientissima ac tanto melius de viro merita, quanto magis est reprehensa quod nupsit.

Nam mulier natalibus clara, moribus proba, aetate declivis, diu vidua mater olim, parum decore secuta matrimonium videbatur divitis senis ita perditi morbo, ut esse taedio posset uxori, quam iuvenis sanusque duxisset. Quippe omnibus membris extortus et fractus, tantas opes solis oculis obibat, ac ne in lectulo quidem nisi ab aliis movebatur; quin etiam (foedum miserandumque dictu) dentes lavandos fricandosque praebebat. Auditum frequenter ex ipso, cum quereretur de contumeliis debilitatis suae, digitos se servorum suorum cotidie lingere. Vivebat tamen et vivere volebat, sustentante maxime uxore, quae culpam incohati mat/rimonii in gloriam perseverantia verterat.

 Codices vindobonenses 2759-2764 in the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, in Vienna, Austria

Vacation Advice from Pliny: Translate Greek into Latin, Maybe Write Some Poems

Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.1–3; 8-11

“You ask me what I think you should study while you enjoy your current vacation? It is really useful—as many propose—to translate Greek into Latin or Latin into Greek. By this kind of exercise you gain the proper and decorative use of words, an abundance of rhetorical devices, a forceful manner of explication, and, importantly, an ability to compose similar works due to the imitation of the best models. The things which escape a reader, moreover, do not evade a translator. From this practice one acquires intelligence and critical judgment.


From time to time, I want you to pick some passage from a history or perhaps write a letter more carefully. For sometimes even in speech the situation requires not only a bit of historical but even poetic description—a pure and compact style can be found in letters. It is also right to take a break for poetry—I am not talking about a long, continuous poem, since that cannot be completed without a lot of time—but in that sharp and brief style which aptly breaks up your cares and duties however important they are. This is called playing with verse, but these games often attract no less glory than serious pursuits.”

Quaerisquemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. Utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. Quo genere exerci­tationis, proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. Intellegentia ex hoc et indicium adquiritur.


Volo interdum aliquem ex historia locum adprendas, volo epistulam diligentius scribas. Nam saepe in oratione quoque non historica modo sed prope poetica descriptionum necessitas incidit, et pressus sermo purusque ex epistulis petitur. Fas est et carmine remitti, non dico continuo et longo (id enim perfici nisi in otio non potest), sed hoc arguto et brevi, quod apte quantas libet occupationes curasque distinguit. Lusus vocantur; sed hi lusus non minorem interdum gloriam quam seria consequuntur.

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This is from a manuscript of Pliny the Elder (the Douce Pliny)

Civil Conflict and the Punishment of Children

Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 23 (I.15), 43 BCE

“There has been no civil war in our state which I can remember in which, regardless of which side was victorious, there was not some hope for a government in the future. In this conflict, however, I could not easily confirm what government we would have if we are victorious, but there will surely never be another if we lose.

This is why I put forth harsh legislation against Antony and Lepidus too, not so much for the sake of vengeance as to frighten the lawless citizens among us from besieging their own country and to prepare for posterity a reason why no one should desire to emulate such insanity.

Although this idea certainly was not more mine than everyone’s, in one way it seems cruel: the fact that children, who have earned none of this, suffer the same punishment as their parents. But this is an ancient practice which has existed in every kind of state. Even the children of Themistocles lived in deprivation! If the same penalty attends citizens condemned in court, how could we possibly be easier against our enemies? And what can anyone complain about me when he would have to admit that if he had defeated me he would have treated me worse?”

nullum enim bellum civile fuit in nostra re publica omnium quae memoria mea fuerunt, in quo bello non, utracumque pars vicisset, tamen aliqua forma esset futura rei publicae: hoc bello victores quam rem publicam simus habituri non facile adfirmarim, victis certe nulla umquam erit. dixi igitur sententias in Antonium, dixi in Lepidum severas, neque tam ulciscendi causa quam ut et in praesens sceleratos civis timore ab impugnanda patria deterrerem et in posterum documentum statuerem ne quis talem amentiam vellet imitari. quamquam haec quidem sententia non magis mea fuit quam omnium. in qua videtur illud esse crudele, quod ad liberos, qui nihil meruerunt, poena pervenit. sed id et antiquum est et omnium civitatum, si quidem etiam Themistocli liberi eguerunt. et si iudicio damnatos eadem poena sequitur civis, qui potuimus leniores esse in hostis? quid autem queri quisquam potest de me qui si vicisset acerbiorem se in me futurum fuisse confiteatur necesse est?

Siege of Montargis. Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis (from 1422 to 1460) France, N. (Calais?); 1487. ff. 1-299v. British Library, Royal 20 E VI f. 22
Siege of Montargis. Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis (from 1422 to 1460) France, N. (Calais?); 1487. ff. 1-299v. British Library, Royal 20 E VI f. 22

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.

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BL Add_ms_49622_f193v

Sidelined from Writing by Pain

Fronto to Praecilius Pompeianus [Ad Amicos, i. 15 (Naber, p. 184).]

“In the intervening period, the neuritis overtook me even more powerful than usual, and it has lasted longer and been harder to bear than is typical. I am not able to pay any attention to letters that need to be written and read when my limbs hurt so much. And I have not as yet dared to expect so much from myself.

When those magnificent specimens of philosophers make the claim that the wise man would still be happy even if he were trapped in the Bull of Phalaris, it is easier for me to believe that he could be happy than he would be able to think carefully about some introduction or turn a pithy phrase all while roasting within the brass.”

Interea nervorum dolor solito vehementior me invasit, et diutius ac molestius solito remoratus est. Nec possum ego membris cruciantibus operam ullam litteris scribendis legendisque impendere; nec umquam istuc a me postulare ausus sum. Philosophis etiam mirificis hominibus dicentibus, sapientem virum etiam in Phalaridis tauro inclusum beatum nihilominus fore, facilius crediderim beatum eum fore quam posse tantisper amburenti in aheno prohoemium meditari aut epigrammata scribere.

What’s up with the bull? Check out the story here.

Image from here

“When Will This Year Be Over”? Seneca on Speeding Life Along

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“The man who has hoped for the fasces longs to put them down once he gets them and says constantly, “When will this year be over?” This man sponsors games which he once valued as a great opportunity for him, yet he says “When can I get away from them?” A lawyer is raised up by the whole forum and with full crowd beyond where he can be heard, but he complains “When will we have a break?” Everyone speeds their own life along and suffers for a desire for the future and boredom with the present.

But the person who portions out every moment to his own use, who schedules out every day like it is the last, neither hopes for nor fears tomorrows. For what kind of new pleasure is any hour alone capable of bringing? Everything is known and has been enjoyed fully. Fortune may by chance bring out something else, but life is already safe. Something can be added; nothing can be subtracted, and he will accept anything which is added like someone who is already satisfied and full will take some food he does not desire.

Therefore, it is not right to think that anyone has lived long because of grey hair or wrinkles. He has not lived a while, but he has existed a while. Certainly, what if you thought that he had traveled far whom a terrible storm grabbed in the harbor and dragged here and there in turns of winds raging from different directions and drove him over the same space in a circle? He did not travel far, but he was tossed around a lot.”

Adsecutus ille quos optaverat fasces cupit ponere et subinde dicit: “Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio. At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet. Quid enim est, quod iam ulla hora novae voluptatis possit adferre? Omnia nota, omnia ad satietatem percepta sunt. De cetero fors fortuna, ut volet, ordinet; vita iam in tuto est. Huic adici potest, detrahi nihil, et adici sic, quemadmodum saturo iam ac pleno aliquid cibi, quod nec desiderat et capit. Non est itaque quod quemquam propter canos aut rugas putes diu vixisse; non ille diu vixit, sed diu fuit. Quid enim si illum multum putes navigasse, quem saeva tempestas a portu exceptum huc et illuc tulit ac vicibus ventorum ex diverso furentium per eadem spatia in orbem egit? Non ille multum navigavit, sed multum iactatus est.

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Johannes von Gmunden: Calendar, [Nuremberg], 1496