Learning by the Example of Ulysses: Some Romans on Odysseus

Cicero, Academica II 28 (fragment from an unknown Latin tragedy)

“I see you, I see you. Live, Ulysses, while you can”

video, video te. vive, Ulixes, dum licet

 

Cicero, Letters to Friends 10.13 (To Plancus, 11 May 43)

“You must weave an end fit to the beginning. Whoever defeats Marcus Antonius will win the war. That’s why Homer called Ulysses the “city-sacker” instead of Ajax or Achilles”

tu contexes extrema cum primis. qui enim M. Antonium oppresserit, is bellum confecerit. itaque Homerus non Aiacem nec Achillem sed Ulixem appellavit πτολιπόρρθιον.

 

Tacitus, Germania 3

“But, I digress. Some people believe that Ulysses was taken by that long and fantastic journey and arrived in the German lands. Asciburgium, which is still inhabited on the banks of the Rhine, was founded by Ulysses and named by him. They add too that an altar was built and given the name of his father Laertes, which was found in the same place once. There were also monuments and certain mounds inscribed with Greek letters—these can be found still on the boundary between Germany and Raetia. I do not intend to confirm or refute these things with evidence—let everyone diminish or increase belief from his own inclination.”

ceterum et Ulixen quidam opinantur longo illo et fabuloso errore in hunc Oceanum delatum adisse Germaniae terras, Asciburgiumque, quod in ripa Rheni situm hodieque incolitur, ab illo constitutum nominatumque; aram quin etiam Ulixi consecratam, adiecto Laërtae patris nomine, eodem loco olim repertam, monumentaque et tumulos quosdam Graecis litteris inscriptos in confinio Germaniae Raetiaeque adhuc extare. quae neque confirmare argumentis neque refellere in animo est: ex ingenio suo quisque demat vel addat fidem.

 

Seneca, Epistulae Morales 88

“You ask, ‘where did Ulysses wander?’ rather than trying to ensure that we are not always wandering? We don’t have the time to listen to whether he was tossed between Italy and Sicily or beyond the world we know—indeed, so long a journey could not happen in such constraint—storms of the spirit toss us daily even as our madness compels us towards Ulysses’ sufferings. We never lack beauty to distract our eyes, nor an enemy; from this side wild monsters delight in human flesh too and from that side evil charms our ears. From another quarter still expect shipwrecks and every kind of evil. Teach me this instead: how I might love my country, my wife, my father, and how I may find my way to these true ports even when shipwrecked?”

Quaeris, Vlixes ubi erraverit, potius quam efficias, ne nos semper erremus? Non vacat audire, utrum inter Italiam et Siciliam iactatus sit an extra notum nobis orbem, neque enim potuit in tam angusto error esse tam longus; tempestates nos animi cotidie iactant et nequitia in omnia Vlixis mala inpellit. Non deest forma, quae sollicitet oculos, non hostis; hinc monstra effera et humano cruore gaudentia, hinc insidiosa blandimenta aurium, hinc naufragia et tot varietates malorum. Hoc me doce, quomodo patriam amem, quomodo uxorem, quomodo patrem, quomodo ad haec tam honesta vel naufragus navigem.

 

Image result for Roman Odysseus

Taming the Elephant’s Heart

Aelian, N. A. 12.44 (= Megasthenes fr. 37)

“In India, if an adult elephant is caught it is difficult to tame—it gets murderous from longing for freedom. If you bind it in chains too, it gets even more agitated and will not tolerate its master. But Indians try to pacify it with food and to soften it with a variety of pleasing items, making an effort to fill its stomach and delight its heart. But it remains angry with them and ignores them. What then do they devise and do? They encourage it with their native music and sing to a certain instrument they use. It is called a skindapsos. The instrument strikes the ears and enchants the animal—his anger softens and his spirit yields and bit by bit it pays attention to its food. At this point it is released from its chains and it waits, enthralled by the music, and it eats eagerly, like a guest in love with a banquet. The elephant will no longer leave because of his love of music.”

elephant_dish

Aelianus N. A. XII, 44: ᾿Εν ᾿Ινδοῖς ἂν ἁλῷ τέλειος ἐλέφας, ἡμερωθῆναι χαλεπός ἐστι, καὶ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν ποθῶν φονᾷ· ἐὰν δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ δεσμοῖς διαλάβῃς, ἔτι καὶ μᾶλλον ἐς τὸν θυμὸν ἐξάπτεται, καὶ δεσπότην οὐχ ὑπονέμει. ᾿Αλλ’ οἱ ᾿Ινδοὶ καὶ ταῖς τροφαῖς κολακεύουσιν αὐτὸν, καὶ ποικίλοις καὶ ἐφολκοῖς δελέασι πραΰνειν πειρῶνται, παρατιθέντες, ὡς πληροῦν τὴν γαστέρα καὶ θέλγειν τὸν θυμόν· ὁ δὲ ἄχθεται αὐτοῖς, καὶ ὑπερορᾷ· Τί οὖν ἐκεῖνοι κατασοφίζονται καὶ δρῶσι; Μοῦσαν αὐτοῖς προσάγουσιν ἐπιχώριον, καὶ κατᾴδουσιν αὐτοὺς ὀργάνῳ τινὶ καὶ τούτῳ συνήθει· καλεῖται δὲ σκινδαψὸς τὸ ὄργανον· ὁ δὲ ὑπέχει τὰ ὦτα καὶ θέλγεται, καὶ ἡ μὲν ὀργὴ πραΰνεται, ὁ δὲ θυμὸς ὑποστέλλεταί τε καὶ θόρνυται, κατὰ μικρὰ δὲ καὶ ἐς τὴν τροφὴν ὁρᾷ· εἶτα ἀφεῖται μὲν τῶν δεσμῶν, μένει δὲ τῇ μούσῃ δεδεμένος, καὶ δειπνεῖ προθύμως ἁβρὸς δαιτυμὼν καταδεδεμένος· πόθῳ γὰρ τοῦ μέλους οὐκ ἂν ἔτι ἀποσταίη.

May You Count Yourself Lucky, Today

Sophocles, Trachinae 1-3

“People have an ancient famous proverb:
That you should not judge any mortal lives
You can’t see them as good or bad before someone dies

Λόγος μὲν ἔστ᾿ ἀρχαῖος ἀνθρώπων φανεὶς
ὡς οὐκ ἂν αἰῶν᾿ ἐκμάθοις βροτῶν, πρὶν ἂν
θάνῃ τις, οὔτ᾿ εἰ χρηστὸς οὔτ᾿ εἴ τῳ κακός·

Soph. Trach. 132-135

“For neither starry night
Nor the death spirits
Nor wealth remain for mortals,
But delight and loss disappear
And then each returns again.”

μένει γὰρ οὔτ᾿ αἰόλα
νὺξ βροτοῖσιν οὔτε κῆ-
ρες οὔτε πλοῦτος, ἀλλ᾿ ἄφαρ
βέβακε, τῷ δ᾿ ἐπέρχεται
χαίρειν τε καὶ στέρεσθαι.

Trachiniae 943-947

“whoever counts more than
Two days ahead in their life,
Is foolish. When it comes to living well
There’s no tomorrow before the present day is done.”

…ὥστ᾿ εἴ τις δύο
ἢ κἀπὶ πλείους ἡμέρας λογίζεται,
μάταιός ἐστιν· οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ᾿ ἥ γ᾿ αὔριον
πρὶν εὖ πάθῃ τις τὴν παροῦσαν ἡμέραν.

1270-1274

“No one can see what the future will be,
And our present is our pity
But their shame,
And hardest of all people
On the one who endures this ruin.”

τὰ μὲν οὖν μέλλοντ᾿ οὐδεὶς ἐφορᾷ,
τὰ δὲ νῦν ἑστῶτ᾿ οἰκτρὰ μὲν ἡμῖν,
αἰσχρὰ δ᾿ ἐκείνοις,
χαλεπώτατα δ᾿ οὖν ἀνδρῶν πάντων
τῷ τήνδ᾿ ἄτην ὑπέχοντι.

 

Herodotus, Histories 1.32

“I cannot answer what you ask me until I hear that you have ended your life well. Someone who is really rich is no more blessed than someone who has enough for just a day unless chance finds them keeping all the fine things and dying well. For many super wealthy people turnout unlucky and many of modest means fare well. The person who is really wealthy but unlucky is ahead of the merely lucky person in two ways but the lucky person has many advantages over the unlucky.

A wealthy person has the resources to do what they want and to hold out when disaster strikes. But a lucky person does not get disabled, sick, avoids suffering, has good children, and keeps looking good. If that person dies well in addition to these other things, well that’s the kind of person you’re looking for. Then someone is worthy of being called blessed.

But don’t call anyone blessed before they’re dead. Just lucky.”

ἐκεῖνο δὲ τὸ εἴρεό με, οὔκω σε ἐγὼ λέγω, πρὶν τελευτήσαντα καλῶς τὸν αἰῶνα πύθωμαι. οὐ γάρ τι ὁ μέγα πλούσιος μᾶλλον τοῦ ἐπ᾿ ἡμέρην ἔχοντος ὀλβιώτερος ἐστί, εἰ μή οἱ τύχη ἐπίσποιτο πάντα καλὰ ἔχοντα εὖ τελευτῆσαι τὸν βίον. πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ζάπλουτοι ἀνθρώπων ἀνόλβιοι εἰσί, πολλοὶ δὲ μετρίως ἔχοντες βίου εὐτυχέες. ὁ μὲν δὴ μέγα πλούσιος ἀνόλβιος δὲ δυοῖσι προέχει τοῦ εὐτυχέος μοῦνον, οὗτος δὲ τοῦ πλουσίου καὶ ἀνόλβου πολλοῖσι· ὃ μὲν ἐπιθυμίην ἐκτελέσαι καὶ ἄτην μεγάλην προσπεσοῦσαν ἐνεῖκαι δυνατώτερος, ὃ δὲ τοῖσιδε προέχει ἐκείνου· ἄτην μὲν καὶ ἐπιθυμίην οὐκ ὁμοίως δυνατὸς ἐκείνῳ ἐνεῖκαι, ταῦτα δὲ ἡ εὐτυχίη οἱ ἀπερύκει, ἄπηρος δὲ ἐστί, ἄνουσος, ἀπαθὴς κακῶν, εὔπαις, εὐειδής. εἰ δὲ πρὸς τούτοισι ἔτι τελευτήσει τὸν βίον εὖ, οὗτος ἐκεῖνος τὸν σὺ ζητέεις, ὁ ὄλβιος κεκλῆσθαι ἄξιος ἐστί· πρὶν δ᾿ ἂν τελευτήσῃ, ἐπισχεῖν, μηδὲ καλέειν κω ὄλβιον ἀλλ᾿ εὐτυχέα.

File:Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer, Getty Center.JPG
Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer

Knowledge, Cooperation, and the Common Good

Manilius, Astronomica 67-84

“Humanity waited, thunderstruck by the new light in the sky,
First grieving as it disappeared, then overjoyed at its return.
The human race was incapable of understanding the reasons
Why the sun rose so frequently once it sent the stars
In flight, why the length of days and nights was uncertain
And why the shadows changed too as the sun moved farther away.

Stubborn obsession had not yet taught humankind knowledge and skill
And the land was resting open at the hands of untrained farmers.
At that time gold was resting in untouched mountains
And the untroubled sea hid strange worlds—
For the human race did not dare to risk life
In the waves or wind—people believed that they did not know enough.

But the passage of long days sharpened mortal thought
And hard work produced invention for the miserable
Just as each person’s luck compelled him to turn to himself to make life better.
Then, they competed with each other once their interests were divided
And whatever wisdom practice found through testing,
They happily shared for the common good.”

et stupefacta novo pendebat lumine mundi,
tum velut amisso maerens, tum laeta renato,
surgentem neque enim totiens Titana fugatis
sideribus, variosque dies incertaque noctis
tempora nec similis umbras, iam sole regresso
iam propiore, suis poterat discernere causis.
necdum etiam doctas sollertia fecerat artes,
terraque sub rudibus cessabat vasta colonis;
tumque in desertis habitabat montibus aurum,
immotusque novos pontus subduxerat orbes,
nec vitam pelago nec ventis credere vota
audebant; se quisque satis novisse putabant.
sed cum longa dies acuit mortalia corda
et labor ingenium miseris dedit et sua quemque
advigilare sibi iussit fortuna premendo,
seducta in varias certarunt pectora curas
et, quodcumque sagax temptando repperit usus,
in commune bonum commentum laeta dederunt.

17th-century chart of the universe, with zodiac signs and the earth at the center
From Wikipedia. 17th-century depiction in Andreas Cellarius‘s Harmonia Macrocosmica.

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.

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Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts · Osée et Gomer. Birth of Yizréel Cote : Français 10 , Fol. 444 Guiard

Tacitus on Germanic Standards for Women and Child-Rearing

Some of the rhetoric here seems a bit familiar…

Tacitus, Germania 19-20

In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.

There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”

nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.

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Rejoicing at the Death of a Tyrant

Suetonius, Divus Tiberius 75

“The people were so happy about his death that some people went around shouting after its announcement, “Tiberius into the Tiber!” while others prayed to the Earth and the divine Shades to give him no place in death except with the damned.

Others still were threatened his body with a hook and the Mourning Stairs, angered over the memory of recent cruelty: for the senate had decreed a stay of ten days for all condemned to execution. But that day came about for some when the news of Tiberius’ death surfaced. Although they were pleading for public help since no one could be approached and appealed to oppose their punishments now that Gaius was gone, the jailors strangled them and threw them out on the Mourning Stairs anyway, afraid of acting against the law. So hatred for the tyrant only increased since his brutality remained even after his death.”

LXXV. Morte eius ita laetatus est populus, ut ad primum nuntium discurrentes pars: “Tiberium in Tiberim!” clamitarent, pars Terram matrem deosque Manes orarent, ne mortuo sedem ullam nisi inter impios darent, alii uncum et Gemonias cadaveri minarentur, exacerbati super memoriam pristinae crudelitatis etiam recenti atrocitate. Nam cum senatus consulto cautum esset, ut poena damnatorum in decimum semper diem differretur, forte accidit ut quorundam supplicii dies is esset, quo nuntiatum de Tiberio erat. Hos implorantis hominum fidem, quia absente adhuc Gaio nemo exstabat qui adiri interpellarique posset, custodes, ne quid adversus constitutum facerent, strangulaverunt abieceruntque in Gemonias. Crevit igitur invidia, quasi etiam post mortem tyranni saevitia permanente

How To Be a Real Toady: Cleisophos and Philip

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 6.248f-249A

“Satyrus writes in his Life of Philip: “When Philip lost his eye, Cleisophos followed him with the same eyed bandaged. And later, when Philip’s leg was wounded, Cleisophos accompanied the king, limping. And if Philip should ever find any food bitter, Cleisophos would squeeze his face together as if he were eating too!” In the land of Arabia, they used to do this sort of thing not for sake of flattery but according to polite custom: if one of the king’s limbs were wounded, they would act as if they suffered the same malady, although they also thought it was ridiculous to be eager to be buried with him when he died, they did not hold the same belief for emulating his suffering when he was wounded.”

Philip_II_of_Macedon

Σάτυρος δ’ ἐν τῷ Φιλίππου βίῳ (FHG III 161) ‘ὅτε, φησί, Φίλιππος τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν ἐξεκόπη συμπροῆλθεν αὐτῷ καὶ ὁ Κλείσοφος τελαμωνισθεὶς τὸν αὐτὸν ὀφθαλμόν. καὶ πάλιν ὅτε τὸ σκέλος ἐπηρώθη, σκάζων συνεξώδευε τῷ βασιλεῖ. καὶ εἴ ποτε δριμὺ προσφέροιτο τῶν ἐδεσμάτων ὁ Φίλιππος, αὐτὸς συνέστρεφε τὴν ὄψιν ὡς συνδαινύμενος’. ἐν δὲ τῇ ᾿Αράβων χώρᾳ οὐχ ὡς ἐν κολακείᾳ τοῦτ’ ἐποίουν, ἀλλὰ κατά τι νόμιμον, βασιλέως πηρωθέντος τι τῶν μελῶν συνυποκρίνεσθαι τὸ ὅμοιον πάθος, ἐπεὶ καὶ γέλοιον νομίζουσιν ἀποθανόντι μὲν αὐτῷ σπουδάζειν συγκατορύττεσθαι, πηρωθέντι δὲ μὴ χαρίζεσθαι τὴν ἴσην δόξαν τοῦ πάθους. Νικόλαος δ’ ὁ Δαμασκηνὸς

 

An Address to a Senator Upon His Return to the Government

Cicero, In Catilinam 1.16-17

“But what is this life of yours like now? I shall speak to you in this way so that I do not seem to be moved by hatred but by the pity which you have earned from no one.

A little while ago you entered the senate. Who from that great crowd of your many friends and companions hailed you? If this treatment has affected no other person in human memory, are you waiting for verbal abuse even though you have been rejected by the weightiest judgement of their silence?

What do you make of the fact that the seats emptied at your arrival, that all the former consuls who were signaled for death by you left their seats naked and abandoned when you sat down? With what feelings do you think you should accept this?”

Nunc vero quae tua est ista vita? Sic enim iam tecum loquar, non ut odio permotus esse videar, quo debeo, sed ut misericordia, quae tibi nulla debetur. Venisti paulo ante in senatum. Quis te ex hac tanta frequentia, tot ex tuis amicis ac necessariis salutavit? Si hoc post hominum memoriam contigit nemini, vocis exspectas contumeliam, cum sis gravissimo iudicio taciturnitatis oppressus? Quid, quod adventu tuo ista subsellia vacuefacta sunt, quod omnes consulares qui tibi persaepe ad caedem constituti fuerunt, simul atque adsedisti, partem istam subselliorum nudam atque inanem reliquerunt, quo tandem animo tibi ferendum putas?