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

 

A Rather Elite Writing Group: Pliny and Tacitus

Pliny to Cornelius Tacitus, 20

“I have read your book and I have noted the passages which should be changed or removed as carefully as I was able. For I am also in the habit of speaking the truth and you hear it freely. No people are criticized as patiently as those who especially deserve praise.

Now I am expecting my book from you with your notes—what a joy, what a fine exchange! How it makes me happy to think that if posterity cares about us at all, the story will be about how we lived with harmony, directness and trust. It will seem rare and notable that two men nearly equal in age and dignity and of some fame for writing—for I am compelled to speak sparingly of you when I am talking about myself too—to have encouraged each other’s efforts.

I was a young man when you were already growing in fame and glory and I was longing to be nearest to you but “by a long distance”. There were then many really famous geniuses—but you, perhaps because our nature was similar, seemed one I could imitate, someone I should imitate. I am for this reason happy if, when there is any conversation about scholarship, we are named together or at the fact that one some speak of you my name is mentioned.

There is no lack of authors who may be preferred to us. But, it makes no difference to me which place I have if we are joined together. For my first position is the one which is nearest to you.”

Librum tuum legi et, quam diligentissime potui, adnotavi quae commutanda, quae eximenda arbitrarer. Nam et ego verum dicere adsuevi, et tu libenter audire. Neque enim ulli patientius reprehenduntur, quam qui maxime laudari merentur. Nunc a te librum meum cum adnotationibus tuis exspecto. O iucundas, o pulchras vices! Quam me delectat quod, si qua posteris cura nostri, usquequaqua narrabitur, qua concordia simplicitate fide vixerimus! Erit rarum et insigne, duos homines aetate dignitate propemodum aequales, non nullius in litteris nominis (cogor enim de te quoque parcius dicere, quia de me simul dico), alterum alterius studia fovisse.

Equidem adulescentulus, cum iam tu fama gloriaque floreres, te sequi, tibi “longo sed proximus intervallo” et esse et haberi concupiscebam. Et erant multa clarissima ingenia; sed tu mihi (ita similitudo naturae ferebat) maxime imitabilis,  maxime imitandus videbaris. Quo magis gaudeo, quod si quis de studiis sermo, una nominamur, quod de te loquentibus statim occurro. Nec desunt qui utrique nostrum praeferantur. Sed nos, nihil interest mea quo loco, iungimur; nam mihi primus, qui a te proximus.

 

 

From Tertullian.org

Send Me Something Good to Read

Marcus Antoninus to Fronto, 161 CE

“…I have read just a little bit from Coelius and from a speech of Cicero, but pretty much in secret and only in bits. One worry trips over another so much that meanwhile my sole respite is to take a book to hand. For our young daughters are staying in town with Matidia—therefore they cannot come to visit me in the evening because of the sharpness of the air….[ …]

Send me something which seems to you to be particularly well-written so I may read it, either your own or someone from Cato, Cicero, Salust, Gracchus, or from some other poet—for I need a rest—and especially that kind of reading which will raise my spirit and shake me from the worries which have fallen over me. Also, if you have any excerpts from Lucretius or Ennius—euphonious lines or those which give a good sense of character.”

…<legi ex Coe>|lio paululum et ex Ciceronis oratione, sed quasi furtim, certe quidem raptim: tantum instat aliud ex alio curarum, quom interim requies una librum in manus sumere. Nam parvolae nostrae nunc apud Matidiam in oppido hospitantur: igitur vespera ad me ventitare non possunt propter aurae rigorem…

Mitte mihi aliquid quod tibi disertissimum videatur, quod legam, vel tuum aut Catonis aut Ciceronis aut Sallustii aut Gracchi aut poetae alicuius, χρῄζω γὰρ ἀναπαύλης, et maxime hoc genus, quae me lectio extollat et diffundat ἐκ τῶν κατειληφυιῶν φροντίδων; etiam si qua Lucretii aut Ennii excerpta habes εὔφωνα <στίχι>α1et sicubi ἤθους ἐμϕάσεις.

Opening of the 1483 manuscript copy of De rerum natura by Girolamo di Matteo de Tauris

Fronto’s Regrets: Neck Pain Kept Me from Your Party

Fronto To Antonius Pius, 5 (Naber, p. 167).

“I would pay more than a part of my own life to embrace you on this happiest and most anticipated anniversary of your imperial accession—a day which I consider to be the birthday of my health, dignity, and security.

But serious shoulder pain and even worse neck pain afflict me so badly that I can barely bend, straighten up, or turn because I have to keep my neck so still. But I have returned to my Lares, Penates, and Family gods and have taken up my vows and I have prayed that next year I can embrace you twice on this day, twice to kiss your chest and hands, simultaneously completing the duty of this year and next.”

| Antonino Pio Augusto Fronto.

Carius <quam> vitae meae parte adpicisci cupio ut te complecterer felicissimo et optatissimo initi imperii die, quem ego diem natalem salutis dignitatis securitatis meae existimo. Sed dolor humeri gravis, cervicis vero multo gravissimus ita me adflixit, ut adhuc usque vix inclinare me vel erigere vel convertere possim: ita immobili cervice utor. Sed apud Lares Penates deosque familiares meos et reddidi et suscepi vota, et precatus sum, uti anno insequenti bis te complecterer isto die, bis pectus tuum et manus exoscularer praeteriti simul et praesentis anni vicem perficiens.

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Antonius Pius

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.

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Domitian, Ovid, Lucan and Friends: Quintilian With Some World-Class Shade

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1

“Atacinus Varro acquired his name as a translator of other’s work—he certainly shouldn’t be dismissed, but in truth he has little to commend for improving an ability in speaking. Ennius, we should adore as we would groves sacred with age whose ancient trees have less beauty than they have religious awe. Others are closer to this time and are more useful for our subject. Ovid is certainly indulgent in his epic verse and too in love with his own genius, but still should be praised for some things. Cornelius Severus, moreover, even if he was a better metrician than a poet, still would have claimed second place for himself if he had finished his Sicilian War to the standard of his first book.

An early death kept Serranus from reaching his potential, yet his youthful works demonstrate special ability and a desire for correct form that is especially admirable in one so young. We recently lost a lot in Valerius Flaccus. Saleius  Bassus had a forceful poetic ability—it did not improve with age. Rabirius and Pedo are worth a read, if you have extra time. Lucan is forceful, intense, and famous for his quotability, but, if I may say what I really think, a model more for orators than poets.

I am listing these authors because care for the lands of the earth has distracted Germanicus Augustus [Domitian] from the pursuits he began—it seemed insufficient to the gods that he be the greatest of poets. But, still, what could appear more sublime, more learned, and more outstanding by every account than the works of this young man who put the empire aside? Who could sing of wars better than the one who wages them in this way? Whom would the deities of these arts heed more closely? To whom would Minerva more easily unveil her own arts? Future generations will explain these things more fully, for now this praise is constrained by the glare of his other virtues.”

Atacinus Varro in iis per quae nomen est adsecutus interpres operis alieni, non spernendus quidem, verum ad augendam facultatem dicendi parum locuples. Ennium sicut sacros vetustate lucos adoremus, in quibus grandia et antiqua robora iam non tantam habent speciem quantam religionem. Propiores alii atque ad hoc de quo loquimur magis utiles. Lascivus quidem in herois quoque Ovidius et nimium amator ingenii sui, laudandus tamen partibus. Cornelius autem Severus, etiam si sit versificator quam poeta melior, si tamen (ut est dictum) ad exemplar primi libri bellum Siculum perscripsisset, vindicaret sibi iure secundum locum. Serranum consummari mors inmatura non passa est, puerilia tamen eius opera et maximam indolem ostendunt et admirabilem praecipue in aetate illa recti generis voluntatem. Multum in Valerio Flacco nuper amisimus. Vehemens et poeticum ingenium Salei Bassi fuit, nec ipsum senectute maturuit. Rabirius ac Pedo non indigni cognitione, si vacet. Lucanus ardens et concitatus et sententiis clarissimus et, ut dicam quod sentio, magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandus. Hos nominamus quia Germanicum Augustum ab institutis studiis deflexit cura terrarum, parumque dis visum est esse eum maximum poetarum. Quid tamen his ipsis eius operibus in quae donato imperio iuvenis secesserat sublimius, doctius, omnibus denique numeris praestantius? Quis enim caneret bella melius quam qui sic gerit? Quem praesidentes studiis deae propius audirent? Cui magis suas artis aperiret familiare numen Minerva?  Dicent haec plenius futura saecula, nunc enim ceterarum fulgore virtutum laus ista praestringitur. Nos tamen sacra litterarum colentis feres, Caesar, si non tacitum hoc praeterimus et Vergiliano certe versu testamur

 

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Pliny the Elder on The Greatest Happiness

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 35.9-12

“It would be wrong to ignore the new invention in which, if not from gold then surely from bronze, images of those immortal spirits are set up in libraries, or even more those who did not exist are given shape and they produce glances which are not traditional, as has happened with Homer. As it goes though, I believe that there is no greater kind of happiness than if everyone should forever desire to know what kind of person someone was.

In Rome this was the innovation of Asinius Pollio who first established a library by declaring works of genius a public good. Whether they kinds of Alexandria or Pergamum began this earlier—those men who built their libraries in a great contest—I couldn’t decide easily. But that friend of Cicero, Atticus, is a witness that a certain passion for images burned in earlier days in the volume he published on the topic…

Non est praetereundum et novicium inventum, siquidem non ex auro argentove, at  certe ex aere in bibliothecis dicantur illis, quorum immortales animae in locis iisdem loquuntur, quin immo etiam quae non sunt finguntur, pariuntque desideria non traditos vultus, sicut in Homero evenit. utique maius, ut equidem arbitror, nullum est felicitatis specimen quam semper omnes scire cupere, qualis fuerit aliquis. Asini Pollionis hoc Romae inventum, qui primus bibliothecam dicando ingenia hominum rem publicam fecit. an priores coeperint Alexandreae et Pergami reges, qui bibliothecas magno certamine instituere, non facile dixerim. imaginum amorem flagrasse quondam testes sunt Atticus ille Ciceronis edito de iis volumine…

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Pssst…Do you want to know what we were like?