More Human to Laugh than to Mourn?

Seneca, de Tranquilitate Animi 15

“But it does no good to escape the causes of private sadness—for sometimes the hatred of humankind overwhelms us. When you consider how uncommon simplicity is, how innocence is unknown and trust is scarcely there unless it brings some advantage; or when you recognize so thick a crowd of successful crimes and the profits and losses of lust—both equally despicable—and an ambition that does not restrain itself within its own limits but even gains glory because of its wickedness—when you do this, the soul is driven into darkness and, just as if the meaning of the virtues were flipped and they can’t be hoped for nor is it advantageous to possess them, then the shadows hang over us.

At this moment, we must begin to believe that all the vices of the mob do not seem hateful but instead absurd; let us imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter, indeed, whenever he braved the public, used to weep; but the former used to laugh. To the second, everything which we do seems miserable; to the first merely incompetent. We must, therefore, make everything lighter and carry it with an easy mind. It is more human to laugh at life than to mourn it.

Consider too that the one who laughs at humanity earns more from it than the one who laments it—for the first saves for himself some hope of good while the latter foolishly despairs that change is possible. When everything is considered, the person who does not restrain laughter seems to be of a greater spirit than the one who will not retain tears, and this is because laughter moves the slightest aspect of the mind and believes that nothing is great, nothing is severe, nor miserable either in the whole setup of life.

Let each person look directly at what the causes of happiness and sadness are personally and then let it be learned that what Bion said is true—all human business is similar to its beginning and human life is no more sacred or severe than its conception—that we return to nothing because from nothing we were born.”

Sed nihil prodest privatae tristitiae causas abiecisse; occupat enim nonnumquam odium generis humani. Cum cogitaveris, quam sit rara simplicitas et quam ignota innocentia et vix umquam, nisi cum expedit, fides, et occurrit tot scelerum felicium turbaet libidinis lucra damnaque pariter invisa et ambitio usque eo iam se suis non continens terminis, ut per turpitudinem splendeat: agitur animus in noctem et velut eversis virtutibus, quas nec sperare licet nec habere prodest, tenebrae oboriuntur. In hoc itaque flectendi sumus, ut omnia vulgi vitia non invisa nobis sed ridicula videantur et Democritum potius imitemur quam Heraclitum. Hic enim, quotiens in publicum processerat, flebat, ille ridebat; huic omnia quae agimus miseriae, illi ineptiae videbantur. Elevanda ergo omnia et facili animo ferenda; humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare.

Adice quod de humano quoque genere melius meretur qui ridet illud quam qui luget; ille ei spei bonae aliquid relinquit, hic autem stulte deflet quae corrigi posse desperat. Et universa contemplanti maioris animi est qui risum non tenet quam qui lacrimas, quando lenissimum adfectum animi movet et nihil magnum, nihil severum, ne miserum quidem ex tanto paratu putat. Singula propter quae laeti ac tristes sumus sibi quisque proponat et sciet verum esse quod Bion dixit: omnia hominum negotia simillima initiis esse nec vitam illorum magis sanctam aut severam esse quam conceptum, in nihilum recidere denihilo natos.

Democritus by Agostino Carracci.

Marcus Cato Was a Cheap, Cruel Man

Plutarch, Marcus Cato 339

“Some people blame these traits on Marcus Cato’s cheapness; but others believe he is a model for his rectitude and wisdom, since he counterbalanced the excess of everyone else. But I believe that how he used slaves up as if they were pack animals and then driving them away and selling them when they were old is the mark of a deeply cruel character—one that believes that human beings have nothing in common except for need.

But we know that kindness occupies more territory than justice. For we use law and justice only in reference to human beings, but it is kindness and charity that at times pour out from a gentle character even for the unthinking animals just as water from a full spring. Kind people take care of horses even when they are old and dogs too—not just when they are puppies, but when their old age requires care.”

Ταῦτα δ᾿ οἱ μὲν εἰς μικρολογίαν ἐτίθεντο τοῦ ἀνδρός, οἱ δ᾿ ὡς ἐπὶ διορθώσει καὶ σωφρονισμῷ τῶν ἄλλων ἐνδοτέρω συστέλλοντος ἑαυτὸν ἀπεδέχοντο. πλὴν τὸ τοῖς οἰκέταις ὡς ὑποζυγίοις ἀποχρησάμενον ἐπὶ γήρως ἐλαύνειν καὶ πιπράσκειν ἀτενοῦς ἄγαν ἤθους ἔγωγε τίθεμαι, καὶ μηδὲν ἀνθρώπῳ πρὸς ἄνθρωπον οἰομένου κοινώνημα τῆς χρείας πλέον ὑπάρχειν. καίτοι τὴν χρηστότητα τῆς δικαιοσύνης πλατύτερον τόπον ὁρῶμεν ἐπιλαμβάνουσαν· νόμῳ μὲν γὰρ καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ πρὸς ἀνθρώπους μόνον χρῆσθαι πεφύκαμεν, πρὸς εὐεργεσίας δὲ καὶ χάριτας ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ μέχρι τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων ὥσπερ ἐκ πηγῆς πλουσίας ἀπορρεῖ τῆς ἡμερότητος. καὶ γὰρ ἵππων ἀπειρηκότων ὑπὸ χρόνου τροφαὶ καὶ κυνῶν οὐ σκυλακεῖαι μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ γηροκομίαι τῷ χρηστῷ προσήκουσιν.

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I originally posted the picture above of Cato the Younger (Thanks to  for pointing it out). Here’s Cato the Elder

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Better to Laugh at Life Than Mourn

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi 15

“There is no advantage to have disposed of the causes of private sorrow, for the hatred of humankind is at times overwhelming. When you have considered how uncommon simplicity is, how unknown innocence is, and how trust is hardly anywhere unless it brings some benefit, or when the mass of successful crimes occurs to you along with the profit and losses of desire—each equally hateful—or of ambition so incapable of staying without its limits that it shines forth because of its foulness. The mind descends into night because of these thoughts as if the virtues had been reversed, those qualities it is neither possible to acquire nor profitable to practice, and shadows hang over us.

In this process, however, we should bend ourselves so that all the common faults seem not hateful to us but instead absurd and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter, whenever he stepped outside, used to weep; but the former used to laugh. To one, all human deeds seemed pitiful; to the other, they seemed signs of incompetence. Everything should be taken more lightly and endured with an easy spirit. It is more human to laugh at life than to hate it.

Consider too that that the person who laughs at humanity instead of mourning it deserves better from it. For the one reserves some space for good hope; while the other foolishly weeps affairs which he believes may not possibly be corrected.”

  1. Sed nihil prodest privatae tristitiae causas abiecisse; occupat enim nonnumquam odium generis humani. Cum cogitaveris, quam sit rara simplicitas et quam ignota innocentia et vix umquam, nisi cum expedit, fides, et occurrit tot scelerum felicium turba et libidinis lucra damnaque pariter invisa et ambitio usque eo iam se suis non continens terminis, ut per turpitudinem splendeat: agitur animus in noctem et velut eversis virtutibus, quas nec sperare licet nec habere prodest, tenebrae oboriuntur. In hoc itaque flectendi sumus, ut omnia vulgi vitia non invisa nobis sed ridicula videantur et Democritum potius imitemur quam Heraclitum. Hic enim, quotiens in publicum processerat, flebat, ille ridebat; huic omnia quae agimus miseriae, illi ineptiae videbantur. Elevanda ergo omnia et facili animo ferenda; humanius est 3deridere vitam quam deplorare. Adice quod de humano quoque genere melius meretur qui ridet illud quam qui luget; ille ei spei bonae aliquid relinquit, hic autem stulte deflet quae corrigi posse desperat.
Royal_ms_12_f_xiii_f042v_detail
Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 42v (found here)

Patience for the Human Task: One Swallow Makes Not a Spring

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1097b-1098a

“Doesn’t it seem that, just as the eye, hand, foot, and every part of the body has a purpose, so too there must be some task beyond all these together for a human being? What then could this be? For simply to live seems shared with plants too—we are looking for humanity’s particular purpose. The survival functions of nourishment and growth should just be set aside.

Following this, some might emphasize the function of sentience—but this seems common too with a horse, a cow and nearly every animal. What is left is the practice from human’s having reason. Of this, we have the part that heeds reason, and the part that possesses it and uses it. What this means can again be divided according to practice—for this seems to be the more proper way to say it.

If the task of the human soul is the practice according to reason rather than without reason, and we say that a task is the same in general for a group as it is for its serious members—just as it will be for a harp player in general the same as for a serious harpist once we accept that the excellence of the task is defined by its particular virtue: it is the task of a harpist to play the harp, the serious one plays it well—if this principle is true, and we propose that the task of a human being is some kind of life, and that life in this regard is the practice of the soul and actions performed with reason, and that the serious person does these things well and nobly, and each thing will be done well according to its intrinsic virtue—if all this is so, then the human good is the exercise of the soul through its own virtue—and if there are multiple kinds of virtues, then it is in accord with the best and most complete of them.

And, still, this happens over a full lifetime. For, one swallow does not make it spring, nor even one day; and thus, neither does one day or any brief amount of time make someone blessed and happy.”

ἢ καθάπερ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ χειρὸς καὶ ποδὸς καὶ ὅλως ἑκάστου τῶν μορίων φαίνεταί τι ἔργον, οὕτω καὶ ἀνθρώπου παρὰ πάντα ταῦτα θείη τις ἂν ἔργον τι; τί οὖν δὴ τοῦτ’ ἂν εἴη ποτέ; τὸ μὲν γὰρ ζῆν κοινὸν εἶναι φαίνεται καὶ τοῖς φυτοῖς, ζητεῖται δὲ τὸ ἴδιον. ἀφοριστέον ἄρα τήν τε θρεπτικὴν καὶ τὴν αὐξητικὴν ζωήν. ἑπομένη  δὲ αἰσθητική τις ἂν εἴη, φαίνεται δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ κοινὴ καὶ ἵππῳ καὶ βοῒ καὶ παντὶ ζῴῳ. λείπεται δὴ πρακτική τις τοῦ λόγον ἔχοντος· τούτου δὲ τὸ μὲν ὡς ἐπιπειθὲς λόγῳ, τὸ δ’ ὡς ἔχον καὶ διανοούμενον. διττῶς δὲ καὶ ταύτης λεγομένης τὴν κατ’ ἐνέργειαν θετέον· κυριώτερον γὰρ αὕτη δοκεῖ λέγεσθαι. εἰ δ’ ἐστὶν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια κατὰ λόγον ἢ μὴ ἄνευ λόγου, τὸ δ’ αὐτό φαμεν ἔργον εἶναι τῷ γένει τοῦδε καὶ τοῦδε σπουδαίου, ὥσπερ κιθαριστοῦ καὶ σπουδαίου κιθαριστοῦ, καὶ ἁπλῶς δὴ τοῦτ’ ἐπὶ πάντων, προστιθεμένης τῆς κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν ὑπεροχῆς πρὸς τὸ ἔργον· κιθαριστοῦ μὲν γὰρ κιθαρίζειν, σπουδαίου δὲ τὸ εὖ· εἰ δ’ οὕτως, [ἀνθρώπου δὲ τίθεμεν ἔργον ζωήν τινα, ταύτην δὲ ψυχῆς ἐνέργειαν καὶ πράξεις μετὰ λόγου, σπουδαίου δ’ ἀνδρὸς εὖ ταῦτα καὶ καλῶς, ἕκαστον δ’ εὖ κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν ἀρετὴν ἀποτελεῖται· εἰ δ’ οὕτω,] τὸ ἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθὸν ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια γίνεται κατ’ ἀρετήν, εἰ δὲ πλείους αἱ ἀρεταί, κατὰ τὴν ἀρίστην καὶ τελειοτάτην. ἔτι δ’ ἐν βίῳ τελείῳ. μία γὰρ χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, οὐδὲ μία ἡμέρα· οὕτω δὲ οὐδὲ μακάριον καὶ εὐδαίμονα μία ἡμέρα οὐδ’ ὀλίγος χρόνος.

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More Human to Laugh than to Mourn?

There is just too much wrong in the world. I am not sure that Seneca helps. But here he is.

Seneca, de Tranquilitate Animi 15

“But it does no good to escape the causes of private sadness—for sometimes the hatred of humankind overwhelms us. When you consider how uncommon simplicity is, how innocence is unknown and trust is scarcely there unless it brings some advantage; or when you recognize so thick a crowd of successful crimes and the profits and losses of lust—both equally despicable—and an ambition that does not restrain itself within its own limits but even gains glory because of its wickedness—when you do this, the soul is driven into darkness and, just as if the meaning of the virtues were flipped and they can’t be hoped for nor is it advantageous to possess them, then the shadows hang over us.

At this moment, we must begin to believe that all the vices of the mob do not seem hateful but instead absurd; let us imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter, indeed, whenever he braved the public, used to weep; but the former used to laugh. To the second, everything which we do seems miserable; to the first merely incompetent. We must, therefore, make everything lighter and carry it with an easy mind. It is more human to laugh at life than to mourn it.

Consider too that the one who laughs at humanity earns more from it than the one who laments it—for the first saves for himself some hope of good while the latter foolishly despairs that change is possible. When everything is considered, the person who does not restrain laughter seems to be of a greater spirit than the one who will not retain tears, and this is because laughter moves the slightest aspect of the mind and believes that nothing is great, nothing is severe, nor miserable either in the whole setup of life.

Let each person look directly at what the causes of happiness and sadness are personally and then let it be learned that what Bion said is true—all human business is similar to its beginning and human life is no more sacred or severe than its conception—that we return to nothing because from nothing we were born.”

Sed nihil prodest privatae tristitiae causas abiecisse; occupat enim nonnumquam odium generis humani. Cum cogitaveris, quam sit rara simplicitas et quam ignota innocentia et vix umquam, nisi cum expedit, fides, et occurrit tot scelerum felicium turbaet libidinis lucra damnaque pariter invisa et ambitio usque eo iam se suis non continens terminis, ut per turpitudinem splendeat: agitur animus in noctem et velut eversis virtutibus, quas nec sperare licet nec habere prodest, tenebrae oboriuntur. In hoc itaque flectendi sumus, ut omnia vulgi vitia non invisa nobis sed ridicula videantur et Democritum potius imitemur quam Heraclitum. Hic enim, quotiens in publicum processerat, flebat, ille ridebat; huic omnia quae agimus miseriae, illi ineptiae videbantur. Elevanda ergo omnia et facili animo ferenda; humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare.

Adice quod de humano quoque genere melius meretur qui ridet illud quam qui luget; ille ei spei bonae aliquid relinquit, hic autem stulte deflet quae corrigi posse desperat. Et universa contemplanti maioris animi est qui risum non tenet quam qui lacrimas, quando lenissimum adfectum animi movet et nihil magnum, nihil severum, ne miserum quidem ex tanto paratu putat. Singula propter quae laeti ac tristes sumus sibi quisque proponat et sciet verum esse quod Bion dixit: omnia hominum negotia simillima initiis esse nec vitam illorum magis sanctam aut severam esse quam conceptum, in nihilum recidere denihilo natos.

Democritus by Agostino Carracci.

Patience for the Human Task: An Evening with Aristotle Turns into a Morning

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1097b-1098a

“Doesn’t it seem that, just as the eye, hand, foot, and every part of the body has a purpose, so too there must be some task beyond all these together for a human being? What then could this be? For simply to live seems shared with plants too—we are looking for humanity’s particular purpose. The survival functions of nourishment and growth should just be set aside.

Following this, some might emphasize the function of sentience—but this seems common too with a horse, a cow and nearly every animal. What is left is the practice from human’s having reason. Of this, we have the part that heeds reason, and the part that possesses it and uses it. What this means can again be divided according to practice—for this seems to be the more proper way to say it.

If the task of the human soul is the practice according to reason rather than without reason, and we say that a task is the same in general for a group as it is for its serious members—just as it will be for a harp player in general the same as for a serious harpist once we accept that the excellence of the task is defined by its particular virtue: it is the task of a harpist to play the harp, the serious one plays it well—if this principle is true, and we propose that the task of a human being is some kind of life, and that life in this regard is the practice of the soul and actions performed with reason, and that the serious person does these things well and nobly, and each thing will be done well according to its intrinsic virtue—if all this is so, then the human good is the exercise of the soul through its own virtue—and if there are multiple kinds of virtues, then it is in accord with the best and most complete of them.

And, still, this happens over a full lifetime. For, one swallow does not make it spring, nor even one day; and thus, neither does one day or any brief amount of time make someone blessed and happy.”

ἢ καθάπερ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ χειρὸς καὶ ποδὸς καὶ ὅλως ἑκάστου τῶν μορίων φαίνεταί τι ἔργον, οὕτω καὶ ἀνθρώπου παρὰ πάντα ταῦτα θείη τις ἂν ἔργον τι; τί οὖν δὴ τοῦτ’ ἂν εἴη ποτέ; τὸ μὲν γὰρ ζῆν κοινὸν εἶναι φαίνεται καὶ τοῖς φυτοῖς, ζητεῖται δὲ τὸ ἴδιον. ἀφοριστέον ἄρα τήν τε θρεπτικὴν καὶ τὴν αὐξητικὴν ζωήν. ἑπομένη  δὲ αἰσθητική τις ἂν εἴη, φαίνεται δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ κοινὴ καὶ ἵππῳ καὶ βοῒ καὶ παντὶ ζῴῳ. λείπεται δὴ πρακτική τις τοῦ λόγον ἔχοντος· τούτου δὲ τὸ μὲν ὡς ἐπιπειθὲς λόγῳ, τὸ δ’ ὡς ἔχον καὶ διανοούμενον. διττῶς δὲ καὶ ταύτης λεγομένης τὴν κατ’ ἐνέργειαν θετέον· κυριώτερον γὰρ αὕτη δοκεῖ λέγεσθαι. εἰ δ’ ἐστὶν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια κατὰ λόγον ἢ μὴ ἄνευ λόγου, τὸ δ’ αὐτό φαμεν ἔργον εἶναι τῷ γένει τοῦδε καὶ τοῦδε σπουδαίου, ὥσπερ κιθαριστοῦ καὶ σπουδαίου κιθαριστοῦ, καὶ ἁπλῶς δὴ τοῦτ’ ἐπὶ πάντων, προστιθεμένης τῆς κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν ὑπεροχῆς πρὸς τὸ ἔργον· κιθαριστοῦ μὲν γὰρ κιθαρίζειν, σπουδαίου δὲ τὸ εὖ· εἰ δ’ οὕτως, [ἀνθρώπου δὲ τίθεμεν ἔργον ζωήν τινα, ταύτην δὲ ψυχῆς ἐνέργειαν καὶ πράξεις μετὰ λόγου, σπουδαίου δ’ ἀνδρὸς εὖ ταῦτα καὶ καλῶς, ἕκαστον δ’ εὖ κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν ἀρετὴν ἀποτελεῖται· εἰ δ’ οὕτω,] τὸ ἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθὸν ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια γίνεται κατ’ ἀρετήν, εἰ δὲ πλείους αἱ ἀρεταί, κατὰ τὴν ἀρίστην καὶ τελειοτάτην. ἔτι δ’ ἐν βίῳ τελείῳ. μία γὰρ χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, οὐδὲ μία ἡμέρα· οὕτω δὲ οὐδὲ μακάριον καὶ εὐδαίμονα μία ἡμέρα οὐδ’ ὀλίγος χρόνος.

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The Meaning and Etymology of the “Humanities”

 

From Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights Book 13

17. That humanitas does not mean that which the common people believe it does but those who speak more properly use this word with a different meaning.

“Those who have spoken Latin and have used it correctly do not give the word humanitas the meaning which it commonly acquires, one equivalent to Greek philanthropia, indicating a certain kindly disposition and well-wishing toward all men indiscriminately. No, in correct use, humanitas means what the Greeks call paideia, what we have called education and training in the noble arts—these are the arts through which, when men learn them, they become most humanized. For the pursuit of this knowledge and the discipline derived from it has been given alone to mankind of all the animals—this is what it is called humanitas.

This is the way in which older writers use the word and among them especially Marcus Varro and Marcus Tullius, as nearly all the books show. I therefore consider it enough to offer a single example. So,  I quote hear the words from Varro’s first book of Human Antiquities, whose beginning goes like this: “Praxiteles, who thanks to his unparalleled artwork, is famous to anyone who has a little bit of liberal learning [humaniori].” Varro, here, does not use humaniori in a colloquial sense, as “easy-going, kind, or friendly, without knowledge of letters”—this meaning does not at all match his statement. What he means with it is a “man of some learning and training” who would know who Praxiteles was from books and spoken accounts.”

XVII. “Humanitatem” non significare id, quod volgus putat, sed eo vocabulo, qui sinceriter locuti sunt, magis proprie esse usos.

Qui verba Latina fecerunt quique his probe usi sunt, “humanitatem” non id esse voluerunt, quod volgus existimat quodque a Graecis philanthropia dicitur et significat dexteritatem quandam benivolentiamque erga omnis homines promiscam, sed “humanitatem” appellaverunt id propemodum, quod Graeci paideian vocant, nos eruditionem institutionemque in bonas artis dicimus. Quas qui sinceriter cupiunt adpetuntque, hi sunt vel maxime humanissimi. Huius enim scientiae cura et disciplina ex universis animantibus uni homini datast idcircoque “humanitas” appellata est.

Sic igitur eo verbo veteres esse usos et cumprimis M. Varronem Marcumque Tullium omnes ferme libri declarant. Quamobrem satis habui unum interim exemplum promere. III. Itaque verba posui Varronis e libro rerum humanarum primo, cuius principium hoc est: “Praxiteles, qui propter artificium egregium nemini est paulum modo humaniori ignotus”. IV. “Humaniori” inquit non ita, ut vulgo dicitur, facili et tractabili et benivolo, tametsi rudis litterarum sit – hoc enim cum sententia nequaquam convenit -, sed eruditiori doctiorique, qui Praxitelem, quid fuerit, et ex libris et ex historia cognoverit.