Varro Will Advise You From The Grave

From Varro’s On Agriculture 1.1

“If I had the time, Fundania, I would write this with more polish than what I now jot down as I am able but I know I must hurry because, as the saying goes, if a person is a bubble, an old man is even more so. Now my eightieth year urges me to collect my bags before I depart from life. This is why, since you have bought land which you and to make profitable by cultivating it well, and you have asked me how I would manage it, I am advising you what is the right thing for you to do, and not only for when I am alive myself, but also after I die. I cannot permit that the Sibyl sang only when she was alive to help men, but she also continued after she died and even for people unknown to her. We are in the habit of returning to her books publicly even after so many years when we need to learn what should be down according to some sign—just so, I cannot abide, while I still live, not doing something which might help my friends and family.”


Otium si essem consecutus, Fundania, commodius tibi haec scriberem, quae nunc, ut potero, exponam cogitans esse properandum, quod, ut dicitur, si est homo bulla, eo magis senex. Annus enim octogesimus admonet me ut sarcinas conligam, antequam proficiscar e vita. Quare, quoniam emisti fundum, quem bene colendo fructuosum cum facere velis, meque ut id mihi habeam curare roges, experiar; et non solum, ut ipse quoad vivam, quid fieri oporteat ut te moneam, sed etiam post mortem. Neque patiar Sibyllam non solum cecinisse quae, dum viveret, prodessent hominibus, sed etiam quae cum perisset ipsa, et id etiam ignotissimis quoque hominibus; ad cuius libros tot annis post publice solemus redire, cum desideramus, quid faciendum sit nobis ex aliquo portento: me, ne dum vivo quidem, necessariis meis quod prosit facere.

Money-Lenders are Twice as Bad as Thieves (or, Cato the Elder loves Farming)

Palaiophron, well into his first month teaching Latin at a new high school, told me that he feels like Cato at times when considering “kids today”. Here’s the introduction to Marcus Porcius Cato’s De Agri Cultura (Praefatio). (He was a censor, by the way. This makes censorious make sense…)

“It is in fact true that one may make a living by trade, if it were less dangerous, or even by money-lending, if it were honorable. Our forefathers thought this way and enshrined it in the laws to indemnify a thief doubly and a usurer by a factor of four. How much they considered a money-lender worse than a thief can be seen from this fact. When they used to praise a man as good, they would praise him by calling him a good farmer, a good land-owner—it was thought that to be praised in this way was the most impressive compliment. I think that the trader is a vigorous man, serious about making money; but, as I said above, this is dangerous and calamitous. No, the bravest men and the strongest soldiers are born from farms—their way is the most dutiful, the most stable, the least susceptible to envy and those who pursue this way of life are also least likely to be depressed. Now, that I may return to the subject at hand, what I have said will serve as a basic introduction to my project.”

Est interdum praestare mercaturis rem quaerere, nisi tam periculosum sit, et item foenerari, si tam honestum. Maiores nostri sic habuerunt et ita in legibus posiverunt: furem dupli condemnari, foeneratorem quadrupli. Quanto peiorem civem existimarint foeneratorem quam furem, hinc licet existimare. Et virum bonum quom laudabant, ita laudabant: bonum agricolam bonumque colonum; amplissime laudari existimabatur qui ita laudabatur. Mercatorem autem strenuum studiosumque rei quaerendae existimo, verum, ut supra dixi, periculosum et calamitosum. At ex agricolis et viri fortissimi et milites strenuissimi gignuntur, maximeque pius quaestus stabilissimusque consequitur minimeque invidiosus, minimeque male cogitantes sunt qui in eo studio occupati sunt. Nunc, ut ad rem redeam, quod promisi institutum principium hoc erit.