“Once a dog has learned to chew leather it can’t stop. Another way is easier: not buying any more books. You are sufficiently educated, you have enough wisdom. You have all of antiquity nearly at the top of your lips.
You know all of history, every art of argumentation including their strengths and weaknesses and how to use Attic words. Your abundance of books has given you a special kind of wisdom and placed you at the peak of learning. Nothing stops me from messing with you since you enjoy being thoroughly deceived.”
Julia Balbilla, Epigram 991 [from Kaibel 1878 with supplements from Rosenmeyer 2008]
In Memnonis crure sinistro. C. I. 4730 coll. Add. III p. 1202 sq.
“When I was near Memnon with August Sabina:
Child of Dawn and noble Tithonos,
Seated before Zeus’s city of Thebes
Or, Amenoth, Egyptian King, as the priests name you
The ones who know the ancient stories
Greet us and speak out to show your welcome, Memnon,
To the revered wife of Lord Hadrian.
A barbarian man lopped off your tongue and ears
That atheist Kambyses, but he paid the price
With a painful death under the same pitiful blade
He used to kill divine Apis.
But I do not believe that this statue of yours could ever be destroyed
And I cherish in my thoughts a soul immortal for all time.
This is because my parents and grandparents were reverent,
Wise Balbillus and the king Antiochus.
Balbillus was my Queen mother’s father
And King Antiochus was my father’s father.
I too have been allotted noble blood from their people—
And these are the words from reverent me, Balbilla.”
Julia Balbilla is a Roman poet from the time of Hadrian. She composed Greek verse. For more of her poems see Rosenmeyer 2008 below and Brennan 1998 for additional historical context
Julia Balbilla, Two Poems
In Memnonis pede sinistro. C. I. 4727 coll. Add. III p. 1202.
“I, Balbilla, heard from the stone when it spoke
Either the divine voice of Memnon or Phamenoth.
I came here alongside my beautiful queen Sabina,
as the sun kept its course in the first hour.
In the fifteenth year of Hadrian’s reign
When Hathyr had made its twenty-fourth day,
It was on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Hathyr.
In Memnonis crure sinistro. C. I. 4725 coll. Add. III p. 1201 sq.
“Julia Balbilla [wrote this]
When August Hadrian heard Memnon
I’ve learned that the Egyptian Memnon, bronzed by
The bright sun, sounds out from a Theban stone.
When he gazed upon Hadrian, the kingliest king
He addressed him as much as he could before the light of the sun.
But as Titan was driving through the sky on white horses
Holding the second part of the day in shadow,
Memnon’s voice rang out again like struck bronze,
High-pitched: and he let loose a third sound greeting.
And then Lord Hadrian hailed Memnon in return
And left on this column for future generations to see
Inscribed verses telling of everything he saw and heard.
And it was clear to everyone how much the gods love him.
Plutarch’s Moralia, “Advice about Keeping Well”, 10
“But, just as flowers’ scents are on their own weak but when mixed with oil they gain strength and tone, so too does an initial mass of food provide substance and body, so to speak, to the causes and origins of afflictions from outside the body. Deprived of this, none of these can be severe, but instead they wither away and decrease on their own, when simple blood and clean breath meet their entry. But in a mass and excess of food, it is just like some kind of churning mud which makes everything unclear, and dirty and hard to pass when it is stirred up.
We should not, then, be just like those praised ship captains who allow a massive cargo because of greed and are for this reason always occupied baling and pouring the sea out of their ship—no, we must not stuff our body and then apply medicine to make us purge it all, but instead we should keep our bodies slim so that if ever we are depressed, our body will rise up again because of its lightness, like a cork.”
While Lucian is surely messing with us here, I think there are many tomes of Homeric scholarship set aright through this one paragraph.
Lucian, True History 2.20
“Two or three days had not yet passed when I approached the poet Homer at a moment when we both had free time and I was investigated the rest of the matters about him, especially where he was from. For this is still examined by us to this day. He said that he was not ignorant that some people say he his from Khios and others say Smyrna while a majority claims he is Kolophonian. But he was saying that he is in fact Babylonian and was not called Homer among his people but Tigranes. Later on, after he was a hostage [homêreusas] among the Greeks he changed his nickname.
When I asked him about the lines which were considered spurious and whether they had been written by him, he was claiming they were all his. For this reason I started to believe that the grammarians Zenodotus and Aristarchus were guilty of the most close-minded logic. Since he had responded sufficiently on these matters, I was asking him next why he made his poem start with the “rage of Achilles”. He said that it just leapt into his head that way without any prior thought. Then I was eager to know that thing, whether he wrote the Odyssey before the Iliad as many claim. He denied this.”
“Lollianos the Ephesian was the first Chair of Rhetoric at Athens and he also stood as governor of the Athenian people as the general of the hoplites. This office in early years was meant for the gathering of supplies and preparations for war; but in those days it was concerned with provisions and the food in the market. When there was a serious protest in the bread-sellers district, and the Athenians were on the verge of stoning Lollianos, Pankrates the Cynic, who in later years studied Philosophy at the Isthmus, stepped forward and said: “Lollianos isn’t a bread-seller, he’s a purveyor of words!” He distracted the Athenians enough that they put down the rocks that were in their hands.
Another time when the grain shipment came from Thessaly and there were no public funds, Lollianos assigned the payment to his students and a heap of money was collected. This seems to be the mark of a clever man and one wise at politics, but his next move shows him just and wise: for he refunded all those who contributed money the amount he charged for his lectures.”
“This is the daily routine Severus used when there was peace. He was always doing something before dawn and after that he used to take a walk while talking and listening about the matters of the empire. Then he would have a judicial court, except when there was some festival or another. And he used to do this best of all—for he provided ample time for those who were arguing the case and he provided those of us who were advising him lots of time too.
He used to make judgments until midday and then he would ride his horse as much as he was able. Then he would take a bath after engaging in some kind of exercise. Following this, he would have no meager lunch either on his own or with his children.
After lunch, he usually napped for a bit. When he rose, he turned to the rest of his affairs and then used to spend time engaged in both Greek and Latin debates while walking again. Near dusk, he would bathe again and then dine with those who were attending him—for he did not frequently have a guest for dinner and he would only sponsor expensive banquets on days when it was necessary. He lived for sixty-five years, plus eight months and twenty-five days. Even at the end, he demonstrated his eagerness for activity: as he was dying he said: “come here, give me whatever there is to do.”
“Hey Philosophy, this was especially striking to me: if people saw someone doing something wicked or improper, or just gross, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t blame Philosophy herself and then Chrysippos or Plato or Pythagoras or whatever name you gave to that person who started all the mistakes and whose arguments were being imitated.
People make terribly unfair judgments about you who have been dead for so long thanks to this guy living his life so badly! He can’t be compared to you because you’re not alive. But you were not there and they all saw him clearly pursuing terrible and unholy habits with the result that you were caught in the open with him and got wrapped up in the same slander!”
“Since we have come to this point in the argument: what is more profitable to life than art? Fire exposed every art and preserves them. This is the reason poets have made Hephaistos the first craftsman. Since humans have been given only a little bit of life and—as Ariston puts it—sleep claims half of life like a tax-collector, I would say that darkness is important: even if it were possible to stay awake through the night, this vigil would be useless if fire did not provide the advantages of day to us and strip away the difference between day and night.
If there is nothing more important to people than life and fire increases life considerably, how could fire not be the most beneficial thing of all?”
“There was one oracle, also an autophone, which he had sent to all peoples during the plague. It was a single line of verse, “Phoebus, with uncut hair, keeps off the cloud of plague.”
This line was to be seen everywhere, written on doorposts as a spell against the plague. In most cases it produced the opposite result. For, through some fortune, those homes on which the line was written were those which were especially impacted. Don’t imagine that I am saying that they were destroyed because of the line, but that it happened this way in some fashion. Perhaps the people who were encouraged by the words acted negligently or took everything too easily and did nothing to help the oracle against the disease because they believed they had these syllables to fight for them and “long-haired” Apollo to shoot down the plague with his bow.”