A Deep Breath of Clean Air

Seneca, Oedipus 1042-60

“I reject you, speaker of fate, divine protector of truth.
I am in debt only to my father.
I am a double-parricide, more guilty, I fear, since
I killed my mother. She was done in by my crime.
Apollo, you liar, I have outdone my evil destiny.

I pursue lying paths with a trembling step.
Pulling myself away with each slowed print,
I guide my dark sight with a shaking right hand.
I move forward, unsure foot after slipping foot,
Go, flee, disappear. But, stop, don’t fall on mother.

Any who are tired at heart and overcome with sickness,
Lugging around a half-dead body, look at me: I am leaving.
Lift up your gaze to see, a lighter sky follows
My back. Whoever lies in isolation
And still breathes can now take a deep breath
Of clean air. Go, go and help those cast aside.

I take the deadly sicknesses away from this land with me.
Brutal Fate, terrible shaking of Disease,
Starvation and dark Death, maddening Sickness,
Leave with me, Come with me. These are the guides who please me.”

Fatidice te, te praesidem veri deum
compello: solum debui fatis patrem;
bis parricida plusque quam timui nocens
matrem peremi: scelere confecta est meo.
o Phoebe mendax, fata superavi impia.
Pavitante gressu sequere fallentes vias;
suspensa plantis efferens vestigia
caecam tremente dextera noctem rege.
—ingredere praeceps, lubricos ponens gradus,
i profuge vade—siste, ne in matrem incidas.
Quicumque fessi pectore et morbo graves
semianima trahitis corpora, en fugio, exeo:
relevate colla, mitior caeli status
post terga sequitur. quisquis exilem iacens
animam retentat, vividos haustus levis
concipiat. ite, ferte depositis opem:
mortifera mecum vitia terrarum extraho.
Violenta Fata et horridus Morbi tremor,
Maciesque et atra Pestis et rabidus Dolor,
mecum ite, mecum. ducibus his uti libet.

Oedipus at Colonus, by Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust.

Shocked at Electoral Outcomes

Seneca, De Vita Beata 1.5

“But now the people—in defense of their own wickedness—act against reason indeed. And so now, as unstable fancy flits turns full circle, that same thing happens as in elections in which those who selected people for office are also shocked that those very people are in office!

We approve the same things we criticize! This is the outcome of every judgment which gives preference to the majority.”

Nunc vero stat contra rationem defensor mali sui populus. Itaque id evenit quod in comitiis, in quibus eos factos esse praetores idem qui fecere mirantur, cum se mobilis favor circumegit. Eadem probamus, eadem reprehendimus; hic exitus est omnis iudicii, in quo secundum plures datur.

Cain, by Henri Vidal 1896

Seneca Goes Stir-crazy On the Weekend

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 2

“Regret for work only begun grips them and then fear of starting again and then the anxiety of a mind that can find no end—because they can neither control their desires nor serve them, the hesitation of a life which cannot make its own way and the stillness of a soul growing dull among failed schemes. These traits grow worse when people flee toward leisure because of hatred of unsuccessful work, or they flee to private studies which a mind set on more public achievement cannot tolerate because it desires accomplishment and is restless by nature since it certainly has too little comfort in itself. Therefore, once the distractions are removed which vocations themselves offer those who run to them, the mind cannot endure home, quiet, or the walls of a room as it recoils unwillingly at being left to itself.

From this arises that boredom and displeasure and the volatility of mind that can rest nowhere—the sad and sickly tolerance of one’s own leisure. This especially is true when it is a matter of shame to admit the causes and embarrassment suppresses the torments deeper. Desires compressed in a narrow space without escape choke on one another.

This is the origin of mourning and depression and the endless fluctuations of an uncertain mind which hopes for work begun keep in suspense and the failure makes sorrowful. This is where that feeling that makes people despise their own leisure comes from and why they complain they have nothing to do; this also prompts their hateful envy of other’s success. Their sad lack of motion feeds jealousy and they want everyone to fail because they could not succeed themselves. Then from this dismissal of the success of others and their own despair, their mind is enraged against fortune—it complains of the era, and they retreat and ruminates over its trouble until it bores and shames itself. For the human mind is naturally agile and prone to motion. It welcomes every cause of excitement and for being distracting from itself—even more welcome to those worse types who are worn out more freely in pursuing them.”

Tunc illos et paenitentia coepti tenet et incipiendi timor subrepitque illa animi iactatio non invenientis exitum, quia nec imperare cupiditatibus suis nec obsequi possunt, et cunctatio vitae parum se explicantis et inter destituta vota torpentis animi situs. Quae omnia graviora sunt, ubi odio infelicitatis operosae ad otium perfugerunt, ad secreta studia, quae pati non potest animus ad civilia erectus agendique cupidus et natura inquies, parum scilicet in se solaciorum habens; ideo detractis oblectationibus, quas ipsae occupationes discurrentibus praebent, domum, solitudinem, parietes non fert, invitus aspicit se sibi relictum.

Hinc illud est taedium et displicentia sui et nusquam residentis animi volutatio et otii sui tristis atque aegra patientia; utique ubi causas fateri pudet et tormenta introsus egit verecundia, in angusto inclusae cupiditates sine exitu se ipsae strangulant. Inde maeror marcorque et mille fluctus mentis incertae, quam spes inchoatae suspensam habent, deploratae tristem; inde ille adfectus otium suum detestantium querentiumque nihil ipsos habere, quod agant et alienis incrementis inimicissima invidia. Alit enim livorem infelix inertia et omnes destrui cupiunt, quia se non potuere provehere; ex hac deinde aversatione alienorum processuum et suorum desperatione obirascens fortunae animus et de saeculo querens et in angulos se retrahens et poenae incubans suae, dum illum taedet sui pigetque. Natura enim humanus animus agilis est et pronus ad motus. Grata omnis illi excitandi se abstrahendique materia est, gratior pessimis quibusque ingeniis, quae occupationibus libenter deteruntur.

Image result for Medieval manuscript hobby
MS from Bodleian Library. (Found on Pinterest)

Marcus Valerius Martial is Dead!

Pliny, Letters 3.21

To My Dear Friend Cornelius Priscus.

I am hearing that Valerius Martial is dead and I am taking it badly. He was a brilliant, subtle, and sharp man who had both wit and acuity in his writing without sacrificing sincerity. I sponsored his trip home when he left Rome—I gave him this because of our friendship and for the verses he composed about me.

It was the ancient custom to reward poets with honors or money when they had composed encomia for individuals or cities. This has become less common in our times along with other remarkable and exceptional gestures. For once we stop doing things worthy of praise, we also consider it inappropriate to be praised.

You wonder which were the verses which earned my thanks? I would send you the book if I had not memorized them. If you like these lines, you can look up others in his books. The poet is speaking to to muse, and he orders her to you’re your house on the Esquiline and approach with respect:

“Muse, don’t knock on his door at he wrong time, and drunk
He dedicates every day to bitter Minerva
Hard at work for the ears of the Hundred Men
On compositions which later generations
Will compare to Arpi’s pages too.
You will arrive more safely when the lights are on.
This is your time when Lyaeus goes wild
When the rose reigns and hair is wet.
Then may even the uptight Catos read me.”

Did I dismiss someone who wrote these things about me in a friendly manner rightly and do I now mourn the lost as one of my best friends.? He surely gave me as much as possible and would have given more if he could have. Still, is there anything greater to be given to a person than praise which is famous and eternal? But will what he wrote be eternal? Perhaps not, but he still wrote it as if it would be. Farewell.

C. Plinius Cornelio Prisco Suo S.

1Audio Valerium Martialem decessisse et moleste fero. Erat homo ingeniosus acutus acer, et qui plurimum in scribendo et salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus. Prosecutus eram viatico secedentem; dederam hoc amicitiae, dederam etiam versiculis quos de me composuit. Fuit moris antiqui, eos qui vel singulorum laudes vel urbium scripserant, aut honoribus aut pecunia ornare; nostris vero temporibus ut alia speciosa et egregia, ita hoc in primis exolevit. Nam postquam desîmus facere laudanda, laudari quoque ineptum putamus. Quaeris, qui sint versiculi quibus gratiam rettuli? Remitterem te ad ipsum volumen, nisi quosdam tenerem; tu, si placuerint hi, ceteros in libro requires. Adloquitur Musam, mandat ut domum meam Esquilis quaerat, adeat reverenter:

Sed ne tempore non tuo disertam
pulses ebria ianuam, videto.
Totos dat tetricae dies Minervae,
dum centum studet auribus virorum
hoc, quod saecula posterique possint
Arpinis quoque comparare chartis.
Seras tutior ibis ad lucernas:
haec hora est tua, cum furit Lyaeus,
cum regnat rosa, cum madent capilli.
Tunc me vel rigidi legant Catones.

Meritone eum qui haec de me scripsit et tunc dimisi amicissime et nunc ut amicissimum defunctum esse doleo? Dedit enim mihi quantum maximum potuit, daturus amplius si potuisset. Tametsi quid homini potest dari maius, quam gloria et laus et aeternitas? At non erunt aeterna quae scripsit: non erunt fortasse, ille tamen scripsit tamquam essent futura. Vale.

File:Martialis - Bust - by Melero01.jpg
Martialis by Juan Cruz Melero

Great Authors Err Too

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1.24-26

“Let the reader not be persuaded as a matter of course that everything the best authors said is perfect. For they slip at times, they give in to their burdens, and they delight in the pleasure of their own abilities. They do not always pay attention; and they often grow tired. Demosthenes seems to doze to Cicero; Homer naps for Horace. Truly, they are great, but they are still mortals and it happens that those who believe that whatever appears in these authors should be laws for speaking often imitate their lesser parts, since this is easier—and they believe they are enough like them if they emulate the faults of great authors.

Still, one must pass judgment on these men with modesty and care to avoid what often happens when people condemn what they do not understand. If it is necessary to err in either part, I would prefer readers to enjoy everything in these authors rather than dismiss much.”

Neque id statim legenti persuasum sit, omnia quae summi auctores dixerint utique esse perfecta. Nam et labuntur aliquando et oneri cedunt et indulgent ingeniorum suorum voluptati, nec semper intendunt animum, nonnumquam fatigantur, cum Ciceroni dormitare interim Demosthenes, Horatio vero etiam Homerus ipse videatur.  Summi enim sunt, homines tamen, acciditque iis qui quidquid apud illos reppererunt dicendi legem putant ut deteriora imitentur (id enim est facilius), ac se abunde similes putent si vitia magnorum consequantur. Modesto tamen et circumspecto iudicio de tantis viris pronuntiandum est, ne, quod plerisque accidit, damnent quae non intellegunt. Ac si necesse est in alteram errare partem, omnia eorum legentibus placere quam multa displicere maluerim.

Image result for Ancient Roman Literature

Love it When They Hate Me

Martial, 6.60

“My Rome praises, loves, and sings my little books—
Every pocket, every hand holds me.
Look: someone turns red, yellow, is dumbstruck, looks again, and hates!
This is what I long for: now my songs have pleased even me.”

Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
Hoc uolo: nunc nobis carmina nostra placent.

Perhaps shit-talking is a trope in Roman poetry

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Fear of Ghosts in Imperial Rome

Pliny, Natural History 27.98

“For treatment against night terrors and fear of ghosts it is suggested that a string of big teeth will help”

contra nocturnos pavores umbrarumque terrorem unus e magnis dentibus lino alligatus succurrere narratur.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 82.16

“Death should be hated more than it is customarily. For we believe many things about death. There has been a struggle among geniuses to increase its bad reputation. The world below is depicted as a prison and the region is oppressed by eternal night where:

“The huge guardian of death / laying upon half-eaten bones in his gory cave / horrifies the bloodless ghosts with eternal barking”*

Even if you can persuade someone that these are stories and that there is nothing there for the dead to fear, another fright comes over you. For they fear going to the underworld no less than they fear going nowhere.”

Mors contemni debet magis quam solet. Multa enim de illa credidimus. Multorum ingeniis certatum est ad augendam eius infamiam. Descriptus est carcer infernus et perpetua nocte oppressa regio, in qua

Ingens ianitor Orci

Ossa super recubans antro semesa cruento,

Aeternum latrans exsangues terreat umbras.

Etiam cum persuaseris istas fabulas esse nec quicquam defunctis superesse, quod timeant, subit alius metus. Aeque enim timent, ne apud inferos sint, quam ne nusquam.

*From Vergil’s Aeneid.

Image result for Ancient Roman Ghost