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

Breaks and Games in Education

Quintilian  1.3

“Everyone still needs some kind of break, not only because there is no material which can endure endless labor—and even those things which lack perception or life must be guarded in turns of rest in order to protect their strength—but also because studying requires a desire to learn which cannot be compelled.

Once renewed and made fresh, students who often bristle at what is compulsory bring a greater intensity and a sharper mind to learning. Games do not bother me in young students—for this is also a sign of an excited mind—and I do not hope that a sad and always downcast child will come to studies with a sharp mind when the natural energy customary to that age is missing.

But, still, there should be a reasonable balance to breaks so students might not hate their studies when breaks are denied nor get too accustomed to leisure. There are even some games which are helpful for sharpening the wits of students—such as when they compete by asking each other little questions of any kind. Characters also unveil themselves more simply during games. But, no age seems to be so infirm that it cannot learn immediately what is right and wrong and the age especially good for shaping a character is before children know how to dissimulate and still yield to their teachers most easily. For it is faster to break things that have hardened into evil than it is to correct them.”

Danda est tamen omnibus aliqua remissio, non solum quia nulla res est quae perferre possit continuum laborem, atque ea quoque quae sensu et anima carent ut servare vim suam possint velut quiete alterna retenduntur, sed quod studium discendi voluntate, quae cogi non potest, constat. Itaque et virium plus adferunt ad discendum renovati ac recentes et acriorem animum, qui fere necessitatibus repugnat. Nec me offenderit lusus in pueris (est et hoc signum alacritatis), neque illum tristem semperque demissum sperare possim erectae circa studia mentis fore, cum in hoc quoque maxime naturali aetatibus illis impetu iaceat. Modus tamen sit remissionibus, ne aut odium studiorum faciant negatae aut otii consuetudinem nimiae. Sunt etiam nonnulli acuendis puerorum ingeniis non inutiles lusus, cum positis invicem cuiusque generis quaestiunculis aemulantur. Mores quoque se inter ludendum simplicius detegunt: modo nulla videatur aetas tam infirma quae non protinus quid rectum pravumque sit discat, tum vel maxime formanda cum simulandi nescia est et praecipientibus facillime cedit; frangas enim citius quam corrigas quae in pravum induruerunt.

Image result for medieval manuscript student and teachers
From the British Library

Suffering for a Lack of the Latin Language

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 7.72

“I used to tell you that Cestius, because he was Greek, suffered because of a lack of Latin words though he had an abundance of ideas. Thus, whenever he dared to describe something more broadly, he often stalled especially when he attempted to imitate some great genius.

This is the issue in this controversy. For, in his story, when he was telling about how his brother was given to him, he was pleased by this lonely and sad description: “night was laid out, and everything, judges, was singing under silent stars.” Julius Montanus, who was a companion of Tiberius and an exceptional poet, was claiming that he wanted to imitate Vergil’s line: ‘it was night and all the tired animals over the earth, the races of birds and beasts, were held by a deep sleep.’ “

Soleo dicere vobis Cestium Latinorum verborum inopia hominem Graecum laborasse, sensibus abundasse; itaque, quotiens latius aliquid describere ausus est, totiens substitit, utique cum se ad imitationem magni alicuius ingeni derexerat, sicut in hac controversia fecit. Nam in narratione, cum fratrem traditum sibi describeret, placuit sibi in hac explicatione una et infelici: nox erat concubia, et omnia, iudices, canentia sideribus muta erant. Montanus Iulius, qui comes fuit , egregius poeta, aiebat illum imitari voluisse Vergili descriptionem:

nox erat et terras animalia fessa per omnis,alituum pecudumque genus, sopor altus habebat

Cats doing cat things: sleep, play with mice, and take an unhealthy interest in caged birds from a medieval bestiary
Oxford University: Bodleian Library

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.

Gossip
BL MS Royal 6 E VII