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

Fronto’s Writing Advice to Aurelius: One Thought Should Follow Through to the Next

Fronto Laudes Fumi et Pulveris [Ambr 249 Caesari suo Fronto. [139 a.d.]]

“Many of my readers may perhaps hate my subject from the title because it is impossible for anything serious to be made of smoke and dust. But you, thanks to your outstanding intelligence, will judge whether these words are wasted or put well.

The subject does, however, seem to ask for a few things to be written about the logic of its composition, since nothing written of this kind of thing noble enough in the Roman tongue exists except for what poets touch in comedies or farces. Anyone who tests himself at writing of this kind will select a mass of ideas and put them together closely, joining them cleverly, but without including many useless and doubled words and then make sure to end each sentence with clarity and skill.

In legal speeches, however, it goes differently because we often pay special attention to sentences ending harshly and artlessly. In this matter, we must labor differently so that nothing is left rude and out of place, instead making sure that everything is interconnected as in a robe with clear borders and ornate edges. Finally, just as the final verses in epigrams should have some kind of shine to them, a sentence should be ended with some kind of a clasp or brooch.

Pleasing the audience, however, should pursued among the first goals. For this kind of address is not composed for defense in a capital trial nor to advocate for the passing of a law, nor to exhort an army, nor to enrage a mass of people, but for delights and pleasure. Nevertheless, we must speeches we do about serious and wonderful things—the small matters must be compared and equaled to great ones. And, finally, the greatest virtue in this kind of speech is the conceit of seriousness. Stories of the gods or heroes should be interwoven where they fit. At he same time, lines of poetry which pertain applicable proverbs, and even clever fictions, as long as the fiction is added by some kind of clever argument.

The chief challenge, then, is to order the materials so that their presentation has a logical connection. This is what Plato faults Lysias for in the Phaedrus, that he has combined his thoughts so carelessly that the first one could be exchanged with the last without any kind of loss. We can only escape this danger if we organize our thoughts in categories so that we do not mix them in an indiscriminate and disordered way like those mixed dishes, but instead arrange it so that the preceding idea reaches into the next one and then shares its boundary, where the second thought begins where the first one has ended, and a sequence emerges in this way, so that we seem to step rather than jump along our way.”

Plerique legentium forsan rem de titulo contemnant, nihil <enim> serium , potuisse fieri de fumo et pulvere: tu pro tuo excellenti ingenio profecto existimabis lusa sit opera4ista an locata. 2. Sed res poscere videtur de ratione scribendi pauca praefari, quod nullum huiuscemodi scriptum Romana lingua extat satis nobile, nisi quod poetae in comoediis vel atellanis adtigerunt. Qui se eiusmodi rebus scribendis exercebit, crebras sententias conquiret, easque dense conlocabit et subtiliter coniunget, Ambr. neque verba multa geminata supervacanea | in-ferciet; tum omnem sententiam breviter et scite concludet. Aliter in orationibus iudiciariis, ubi sedulo curamus ut pleraeque sententiae durius interdum et incautius1finiantur. Sed contra istic laborandum est, ne quid inconcinnum et hiulcum relinquatur, quin omnia ut in tenui veste oris detexta et revimentis sint cincta. Postremo, ut novissimos in epigrammatis versus habere oportet aliquid luminis, sententia clavo aliquo vel fibula terminanda est.

In primis autem sectanda est suavitas. Namque hoc genus orationis non capitis defendendi nec suadendae legis nec exercitus hortandi nec inflammandae contionis scribitur, sed facetiarum et voluptatis.Ubique vero ut de re ampla et magnifica loquendum, parvaeque res magnis adsimilandae comparandaeque. Summa denique in hoc genere orationis virtus est adseveratio. Fabulae deum vel heroum tempestive inserendae; item versus congruenteset proverbia accommodata et non inficete conficta mendacia, dum id mendacium argumento aliquo lepido iuvetur.

Ambr 247 4. Cum primis autem difficile est argumenta ita disponere ut sit ordo eorum rite connexus. Quod Ambr.ille | Plato Lysiam culpat in Phaedro, sententiarum ordinem ab eo ita temere permixtum, ut sine ullo detrimento prima in novissimum locum transferantur, et novissima in primum, eam culpam ita devitabimus, si divisa generatim argumenta nectemus, non sparsa nec sine discrimine aggerata, ut ea quae per saturam feruntur, sed ut praecedens sententia in sequentem laciniam aliquam porrigat et oram praetendat; ubi prior sit finita sententia, inde ut sequens ordiatur; ita enim transgredi potius videmur quam transilire.

From Roman de la Rose

A Model Response to an Engagement

Pliny, Letters 26

To Julius Servianus,

“I am happy and I congratulate because that your daughter is engaged to Fuscus Salinator. His house is patrician; his father most honorable and his mother his equal; the boy himself is educated, literate and even an orator—a boy in his directness, a youth for his charm, yet an older man when it comes to serious matters. I certainly am not deceived by my adoration—for I love as fully as he merits for his actions and his reverence for me—but I have my judgment still and it is as much sharper thanks to the depth of my affection.

I promise you as one who has known him that you will have a son-in-law who will be better than any prayer could anticipate. The only task left is that he will make a grandson like himself sooner rather than later. How happy a day it well be which delivers his children from your embrace—your grandchildren—as if they were my own children or grandchildren and my equal right to care for them. Farewell!

C. Plinius Serviano Suo S.
Gaudeo et gratulor, quod Fusco Salinatori filiam tuam destinasti. Domus patricia, pater honestissimus, mater pari laude; ipse studiosus litteratus etiam disertus, puer simplicitate comitate iuvenis senex gravitate. Neque enim amore decipior. Amo quidem effuse (ita officiis ita reverentia meruit), iudico tamen, et quidem tanto acrius quanto magis amo; tibique ut qui exploraverim spondeo, habiturum te generum quo melior fingi ne voto quidem potuit. Superest ut avum te quam maturissime similium sui faciat. Quam felix tempus illud, quo mihi liberos illius nepotes tuos, ut meos vel liberos vel nepotes, ex vestro sinu sumere et quasi pari cure tenere continget! Vale.

C13123-17 Royal 14 C vii, f. 124v
Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum, England (St Albans), 1235-1259, Royal 14 C. vii, f. 124v

“When Will This Year Be Over”? Seneca on Speeding Life Along

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“The man who has hoped for the fasces longs to put them down once he gets them and says constantly, “When will this year be over?” This man sponsors games which he once valued as a great opportunity for him, yet he says “When can I get away from them?” A lawyer is raised up by the whole forum and with full crowd beyond where he can be heard, but he complains “When will we have a break?” Everyone speeds their own life along and suffers for a desire for the future and boredom with the present.

But the person who portions out every moment to his own use, who schedules out every day like it is the last, neither hopes for nor fears tomorrows. For what kind of new pleasure is any hour alone capable of bringing? Everything is known and has been enjoyed fully. Fortune may by chance bring out something else, but life is already safe. Something can be added; nothing can be subtracted, and they will accept anything which is added like someone who is already satisfied and full will take some food they do not desire.

Therefore, it is not right to think that anyone has lived long because of grey hair or wrinkles. They have not lived a while, but they have existed for a time. Certainly, what if you thought that the person had traveled far whom a terrible storm grabbed in the harbor and dragged here and there in turns of winds raging from different directions  over the same space in a circle? They did not travel far, but were tossed around a lot.”

Adsecutus ille quos optaverat fasces cupit ponere et subinde dicit: “Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio.

At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet. Quid enim est, quod iam ulla hora novae voluptatis possit adferre? Omnia nota, omnia ad satietatem percepta sunt. De cetero fors fortuna, ut volet, ordinet; vita iam in tuto est. Huic adici potest, detrahi nihil, et adici sic, quemadmodum saturo iam ac pleno aliquid cibi, quod nec desiderat et capit.

Non est itaque quod quemquam propter canos aut rugas putes diu vixisse; non ille diu vixit, sed diu fuit. Quid enim si illum multum putes navigasse, quem saeva tempestas a portu exceptum huc et illuc tulit ac vicibus ventorum ex diverso furentium per eadem spatia in orbem egit? Non ille multum navigavit, sed multum iactatus est.

Image result for medieval manuscript calendar
Johannes von Gmunden: Calendar, [Nuremberg], 1496

Style as Substance in Ancient Philosophy

Fronto, to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 162 AD?

“When it comes to poets, who is ignorant that Lucilius has some grace, Albucius to rather dry, Lucretius is sublime, and Pacuvius just average, while Accius’ work is uneven and Ennius is protean? Sallust has also written history in a structured way while Pictor is random, Claudius writes charmingly, and Antias is unpleasant; Sisenna writes too long, Cato has many words in tandem and Caelius leaves them unconnected. When it comes to polemic, Cato rages, Cicero chortles, Gracchus attacks, Calbus picks fights.

Perhaps you don’t think much of these examples. Why? Don’t philosophers use different manners of speaking? Zeno is the most expansive in illustration; Socrates is the most contrary in his arguments; Diogenes is super fast at criticizing; Heraclitus was obscure to the point of clouding up everything; Pythagoras was amazing at making everything sacred with mysterious symbols; Clitomachus so agnostic as to doubt everything.

What would these wisest of wise guys do if they were forced away from their individual style and method? What if Socrates couldn’t argue, if Zeno wouldn’t expatiate, if Diogenes couldn’t carp, if Pythagoras couldn’t make anything sacred, if Heraclitus was forbidden to obfuscate and Clitomachus had to make up his mind?”

In poetis autem quis ignorat ut gracilis sit Lucilius, Albucius aridus, sublimis Lucretius, mediocris Pacuvius, inaequalis Accius, Ennius multiformis? Historiam quoque scripsere Sallustius structe Pictor incondite, Claudius lepide Antias invenuste, Sisenna longinque, verbis Cato multiiugis Caelius singulis. Contionatur autem Cato infeste, Gracchus turbulente, Tullius copiose. Iam in iudiciis saevit idem Cato, triumphat Cicero, tumultuatur Gracchus, Calvus rixatur.

Sed haec exempla fortasse contemnas. Quid? philosophi ipsi nonne diverso genere orationis usi sunt? Zeno ad docendum plenissimus, Socrates ad coarguendum captiosissimus, Diogenes ad | exprobrandum promptissimus, Heraclitus obscurus involvere omnia, Pythagoras mirificus clandestinis signis sancire omnia, Clitomachus anceps in dubium vocare omnia. Quidnam igitur agerent isti ipsi sapientissimi viri, si de suo quisque more atque instituto deducerentur? Socrates ne coargueret, Zeno ne disceptaret, Diogenes ne increparet, ne quid Pythagoras sanciret, ne quid Heraclitus absconderet, ne quid Clitomachus ambigeret?

Zucchi, Antonio; A Greek Philosopher and His Disciples; National Trust, Nostell Priory; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-greek-philosopher-and-his-disciples-170663

Seneca on Life’s Ups and Downs

Seneca, Thyestes, 607-621.

You whom the ruler of land and sea
Gave great power over life and death,
Put away your haughty, pompous airs.
What an inferior man fears from you
You in turn fear from a higher master.
All power is under more grave power.

The rising day sees a man at peak pride,
And the departing day sees him ruined.
No one should be too sure of good fortune,
And no one should despair better won’t come.
Clotho mixes the two, stops Fortune
Standing still, and turns every destiny.

No one has had such propitious gods
That he can promise himself tomorrow.
A god turns and turns our lives, wheeling
Them about in a whirring whirlwind.

Vos quibus rector maris atque terrae
ius dedit magnum necis atque vitae,
ponite inflatos tumidosque vultus.
quicquid a vobis minor expavescit,
maior hoc vobis dominus minatur;
omne sub regno graviore regnum est.
quem dies vidit veniens superbum,
hunc dies vidit fugiens iacentem.
Nemo confidat nimium secundis,
nemo desperet meliora lassis:
miscet haec illis prohibetque Clotho
stare Fortunam, rotat omne fatum,
nemo tam divos habuit faventes,
crastinum ut posset sibi polliceri.
res deus nostras celeri citatas
turbine versat.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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.

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

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

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