The Mind Recoils When Left to Itself: What Do You Do 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, the mind is enraged against fortune—it complains of the era, and then retreats 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 reason for being distracted from itself—even more welcome to those worse types who are worn out more freely in pursuing such diversions.”

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.

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MS from Bodleian Library. (Found on Pinterest)

A Source of Fear and Hate

Suetonius, Domitian 13-14

“Once he accepted the cognomen Germanicus after two triumphs, he renamed the months of September and October from his own names, calling one Germanicus and the other Domitianus because he had assumed rule in one and was born in the other.

For these reasons he became a source of fear and hateful to everyone. He was finally overthrown by plots led together by his friends and freedman with his wife’s knowledge. He had a longstanding suspicion over the final year and day of his death. When he was young, astrologers had predicted all these things to him. His father also once mocked him at dinner because he was refusing mushrooms, claiming that he was ignorant of his fate because he did not fear the sword instead. For these reasons he was always fearful and anxious and was excessively upset even over the smallest suspicions.”

Post autem duos triumphos Germanici cognomine assumpto Septembrem mensem et Octobrem ex appellationibus suis Germanicum Domitianumque transnominavit, quod altero suscepisset imperium, altero natus esset.

XIV. Per haec terribilis cunctis et invisus, tandem oppressus est insidiis amicorum libertorumque intimorum simul et uxoris. Annum diemque ultimum vitae iam pridem suspectum habebat, horam etiam nec non et genus mortis. Adulescentulo Chaldaei cuncta praedixerant; pater quoque super cenam quondam fungis abstinentem palam irriserat ut ignarum sortis suae, quod non ferrum potius timeret. Quare pavidus semper atque anxius minimis etiam suspicionibus praeter modum commovebatur.

 

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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.

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.

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Professors of Learned Praise

Ammianus Marcellinus, Constantius et Julianus 17.11

“Once these facts were known in the court of Constantius—for it was required that Caesar should report about all of his deeds to Augustus like any inferior—everyone who previously had power in the palace and were already professors of learned praise, they were converting Julian’s correctly considered and successfully accomplished deeds into mockery, wisecracking without end like this: “This girl-goat, not a man, is getting hateful because of his victories”; they picked on Julian because he was hairy, calling him a “talking mole”, or “a purple-robed ape”, or “a Greek professor” and other similar insults.

Because they were echoing in the ears of an emperor who longed to hear these kinds of things, they were also trying to hide his virtues with shameful speeches, calling him lazy and fearful and one who dressed up his failures with polished words. This was not happening then for the first time.”

Haec cum in comitatu Constantii subinde noscerentur—erat enim necesse, tamquam apparitorem, Caesarem super omnibus gestis ad Augusti referre scientiam—omnes qui plus poterant in palatio, adulandi professores iam docti, recte consulta prospereque completa vertebant in deridiculum, talia sine modo strepentes insulse: “In odium venit cum victoriis suis capella, non homo,” ut hirsutum Iulianum carpentes, appellantesque “loquacem talpam” et “purpuratam simiam” et “litterionem Graecum,” et his congruentia plurima. Atque ut tintinnabulaprincipi resonantes, audire haec taliaque gestienti, virtutes eius obruere verbis impudentibus conabantur ut segnem incessentes et timidum et umbratilem, gestaque secus verbis comptioribus exornantem; quod non tunc primitus accidit.

Email to Class: Instructor is Sick; Aurelius: I’m Dying

Marcus Aurelius to Fronto, Lorium 145-7 CE

“My teacher,

You must be messing with me, but you have sent me extraordinary worry and egregious anguish, the most severe pain and the hottest fever with your letter, so that I cannot eat, sleep or even study.

While you might find some relief in your speech today, what can I do when I have lost the pleasure of hearing it and I fear that you may come a bit late to Lorium and I am in pain because you are in pain?

Farewell my teacher, whose health makes my health untroubled and secure.”

| Magistro meo.

Ludis tu quidem, at mihi peramplam anxietatem et summam aegritudinem, <acerbissimum> dolorem, et ignem flagrantissimum litteris his tuis misisti, ne cenare, ne dormire, ne denique studere libeat. Verum tu orationis hodiernae tuae habeas aliquod solacium; at | ego quid faciam? qui et auditionis iam voluptatem consumpsi, et metuo ne Lorium tardiuscule venias, et doleo quod interim doles. Vale, mi magister, cuius salus meam salutem inlibatam et incolumem facit.

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c. 1480, Yates Thompson 7, f. 174r

The Infantile Mind: Pliny on Where Amber Comes From

Pliny, NH 37 40-42

“[Sophocles] has described how [amber] is made on the other side of India from the tears of the birds called the “daughters of Meleager” as they weep for Meleager. Who doesn’t wonder at the fact that he believed this or expected to convince others to do so. What mind is so infantile or foolish that it could believe that there are birds who weep every year and shed such large tears or that they left Greece where Meleager perished and went to weep for him in India?

What, then? Don’t the poets offer us many tales equally fantastic? Indeed they do, but when it comes to this substance, which is imported daily and fills the market revealing the poet’s lie, this is a grave offense to human intelligence and and unendurable misuse of our ability to lie.

It is known that amber comes from islands in the Northern Oceans and that the Germans call it glaesum and, as a result of this, one of the islands which the natives called Austeravia was named Glaesariam by us when Caesar Germanicus was on campaign there with his fleet [16 CE]. Amber is created, moreover, as the pitch of a particular type of pine drips down in the same way as gum from cherry trees or resin in local pines bursts out because of an excess of liquid.”

hic ultra Indiam fieri dixit e lacrimis meleagridum avium Meleagrum deflentium. quod credidisse eum aut sperasse aliis persuaderi posse quis non miretur? quamve pueritiam tam inperitam posse reperiri, quae avium ploratus annuos credat lacrimasve tam grandes avesve, quae a Graecia, ubi Meleager periit, ploratum adierint Indos? quid ergo? non multa aeque fabulosa produnt poetae? sed hoc in ea re, quae cotidie invehatur atque abundet ac mendacium coarguat, serio quemquam dixisse summa hominum contemptio est et intoleranda mendaciorum inpunitas.

Certum est gigni in insulis septentrionalis oceani et ab Germanis appellari glaesum, itaque et ab nostris ob id unam insularum Glaesariam appellatam, Germanico Caesare res ibi gerente classibus, Austeraviam a barbaris dictam. nascitur autem defluente medulla pinei generis arboribus, ut cummis in cerasis, resina in pinis erumpit umoris abundantia.

British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 10v

Just in Time for Midterm Exams: Marcus Aurelius on Reading a Teacher’s Comments

From Marcus Aurelius to M. Cornelius Fronto

To my teacher,

“I received two letters from you at the same time. In one of them, you were criticizing me and you were showing that I wrote a sentence rashly; in the second, however, you were trying to approve my work with praise. Still, I swear by my mother and by my health that I got more joy from the first letter, to which I often yelled out while reading: “Lucky me!” And someone might ask whether I am happy because I have a teacher who teaches me to write a gnome with more care, precision, and concision?  No! This is not the reason I say I am lucky. Why then? Because I learn from you to speak the truth.

This lesson—speaking truly—is hard for both gods and men. There is no oracle so truthful that it is not also ambiguous or unclear or which does not have some obstacle which may catch the unwise who interprets whatever is said the way he wants to and understands this only after the moment when the affair is complete. But this is advantageous and clearly it is customary to excuse these things as sacred error or silliness.

But what you say—whether they are criticisms or rules—they show the path itself immediately and without deceit or riddling words. I ought to give you thanks since you teach me foremost to speak the truth and at the same time how to hear it too! Therefore, you should get a double reward, which you will endeavor that I will not pay. If you wish to accept nothing, how may I balance our accounts except through obedience? [some incomplete lines].

Farewell my good, my best teacher. I rejoice that we have become friends. My wife says hello.

Magistro meo.

Duas per id<em> tempus epistulas tuas excepi. Earum altera me increpabas et temere sententiam scripsisse arguebas, altera vero tueri studium meum laude nitebaris. Adiuro tamen tibi meam, meae matris, tuam salutem mihi plus gaudii in animo coortum esse illis tuis prioribus litteris; meque saepius exclamasse inter legendum O me felicem! Itane, dicet aliquis, feiicem te, si est qui te doceat quomodo γνώμην sollertius dilucidius brevius politius scribas? Non hoc est quod me felicem nuncupo. Quid est igitur?  Quod verum dicere ex te disco. Ea res—verum|dicere—prorsum deis hominibusque ardua: nullum denique tam veriloquum oraculum est, quin aliquid ancipitis in se vel obliqui vel impediti habeat, quo imprudentior inretiatur, et ad voluntatem suam dictum opinatus captionem post tempus ac negotium sentiat. Sed ista res lucrosa est, et plane mos talia tantum pio errore et vanitate ex<cus>are. At tuae seu accusationes seu lora confestim ipsam viam ostendunt sine fraude et inventis verbis. Itaque deberem etiam gratias agere tibi si verum me dicere satius simul et audire verum me doces. Duplex igitur pretium solvatur, pendere quod ne valeam <elabora>bis. Si resolvi vis nil, quomodo tibi par pari expendam nisi obsequio? Impius tamen mihi malui te nimia motum cura . . . . die<s isti quom essent> vacui, licuit me . . . . bene st<udere et multas sententias> excerpere . . . . Vale mi bone et optime <magister. Te>, optime orator, sic m<ihi in  amicitiam> venisse gaudeo. | Domina mea te salutat.

Pliny on the Utility of Gossip

Pliny, Epistle 18 to Fadius Rufinus 12

“You now have all the city’s rumors: for all our gossip is Tullus. His estate sale is hotly anticipated. For he had so much that on that day when he purchased the largest gardens he also filled them with the most and most ancient statues. These were works of finest beauty in which he had forgotten!

If you have any news you think is worthy of sharing, don’t keep it from me. For human ears are always pleased by news, and we use these examples to learn the art of living. Farewell.”

Habes omnes fabulas urbis; nam sunt omnes fabulae Tullus. Exspectatur auctio: fuit enim tam copiosus, ut amplissimos hortos eodem quo emerat die instruxerit plurimis et antiquissimis statuis; tantum illi pulcherrimorum operum in horreis quae neglegebat. Invicem tu, si quid istic epistula dignum, ne gravare. Nam cum aures hominum novitate laetantur, tum ad rationem vitae exemplis erudimur. Vale.

 

Legal Strategies When You Can’t Deny Or Defend

Quintilian, Orator’s Education, 5.13 7-9

“Hence, what cannot be denied or put off must eventually be defended, whatever kind of case it is, or else just surrendered. We have demonstrated that there are two types of denial: either to say “this was not done” or to claim “what was done was not this.” Issues that cannot be defended or avoided must ultimately be denied and not only if there is some “redefinition” which might come to our aid, but also if there is nothing else but simple denial.

If there are witnesses, it is permitted to say much against them. If there is written proof, we can discredit the authenticity of the letter. Whatever the matter, there is nothing worse than a confession. The final option, when there is no room for defending or denying, is attacking the legality of the proceeding.”

Ergo quae neque negari neque transferri possunt utique defendenda sunt, qualiacumque sunt, aut causa cedendum. Negandi duplicem ostendimus formam, aut non esse factum aut non hoc esse quod factum sit. Quae neque defendi neque transferri possunt, utique neganda, nec solum si finitio potest esse pro nobis, sed etiam si nuda infitiatio superest. Testes erunt: multa in eos dicere licet; chirographum: de similitudine litterarum disserendum. Utique nihil erit peius quam confessio. Ultima est actionis controversia, cum defendendi negandive non est locus

Emotions in the Courtroom

nitial N: King James I of Aragon Overseeing a Court of Law, unknown illuminator c. 1290 – 1310. Courtesy of Getty Images

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