Seneca’s Research Advice: Exercise. Then Read and Write in Turns

Seneca, Moral Epistles 84

“I believe that these journeys which remove my languor are good for both my strength and my researches. How they profit my health is clear: my love of literature makes me lazy, neglectful of my body. On a journey, I may exercise incidentally.

I can show you how this helps my research too. But I in no way take a break from reading. My reading, I believe, is necessary: first, it ensures I will not be satisfied with myself as I am; second, once I have understood what others have learned, I may judge what has been discovered and what still must be thought out.

Reading feeds the mind and replenishes it when it is worn from studying—even though it is not without work itself. We should not restrict ourselves to writing or to reading:  endless writing saps our strength and then exhausts it. Too much reading can puff up or dilute our ability. Most commendable is to take them in their turn, to mix one with the other, so that the seeds of one’s reading may be grown anew with the pen.”

Itinera ista, quae segnitiam mihi excutiunt, et valitudini meae prodesse iudico et studiis. Quare valitudinem adiuvent, vides: cum pigrum me et neglegentem corporis litterarum amor faciat, aliena opera exerceor; studio quare prosint, indicabo: a lectionibus nihil recessi. Sunt autem, ut existimo, necessariae, primum ne sim me uno contentus; deinde ut, cum ab aliis quaesita cognovero, tum et de inventis iudicem et cogitem de inveniendis. Alit lectio ingenium et studio fatigatum, non sine studio tamen, reficit. Nec scribere tantum nec tantum legere debemus; altera res contristabit vires et exhauriet, de stilo dico, altera solvet ac diluet. Invicem hoc et illo commeandum est et alterum altero temperandum, ut quicquid lectione collectum est, stilus redigat in corpus.

I was reminded of this passage while contemplating Paul Holdengraber’s regular injunction not to read bad writing:

Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis.  As we have mentioned before, this resonates with Leonardo de Bruni’s warning about reading trash. Of course, the statement should probably be tempered by Pliny the Elder’s suggestion that “no book is so bad it doesn’t have something to offer”.

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Make Your “Away Message” Simple….

Pliny Letters 13, to Julius Ferox

“The same letter implies that you are not working and are working. Am I uttering riddles? So it goes, until I clarify what I am thinking. For the letter denies that you are working but it is so polished that it could not be written unless by someone in deep study. Or, you are blessed beyond all others  if you can complete such works at rest and in leisure.

Farewell.

C. Plinius Feroci Suo S.

Eadem epistula et non studere te et studere significat. Aenigmata loquor? Ita plane, donec distinctius quod sentio enuntiem. Negat enim te studere, sed est tam polita quam nisi a studente non potest scribi; aut es tu super omnes beatus, si talia per desidiam et otium perficis. Vale.

Pliny the Younger
I don’t believe that you’re not working.

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

Seasoned Words: Pliny on the Importance of Salt

Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories 31.88-89

“By Hercules, then, life can not be lived humanely without salt—it is such an essential substance that its name is transferred to powerful mental pleasures too. All the charm and the greatest humor of life along with rest from work are called salts (sales)—it rests on this more than any other.

It is also present in political offices and military service in the word salaries—which attests to its great authority among ancient speakers, just as is clear from the name of the Salarian Way by which it was agreed that salt would be carried to the Sabines. The king Ancus Marius granted a gift to the people of 6000 measures of salt and was the first to have salt pools constructed. Varro is also our expert here, indicating that the ancients used it as a condiment; and the fact that they ate sale with bread is clear from the proverb.

But a special proof still comes in sacrifices, since they can not be completed without salted meal.

ergo, Hercules, vita humanior sine sale non quit degere, adeoque necessarium elementum est uti transierit intellectus ad voluptates animi quoque nimias. sales appellantur, omnisque vitae lepos et summa hilaritas laborumque requies non alio magis vocabulo constat.

honoribus etiam militiaeque interponitur salariis inde dictis magna apud antiquos auctoritate, sicut apparet ex nomine Salariae viae, quoniam illa salem in Sabinos portari convenerat. Ancus Marcius rex salis modios v͞i͞ in congiario dedit populis et salinas primus instituit. Varro etiam pulmentarii vice usos veteres auctor est, et salem cum pane esitasse eos proverbio apparet. maxime tamen in sacris intellegitur auctoritas, quando nulla conficiuntur sine mola salsa.

Cod. Ser. n. 2644, fol. 93v: Tacuinum sanitatis: Moscus

How to Turn a Virtue into a Vice

Valerius Maximus 9. 2

“Not so vile is the deed and saying of Caius Fimbria, but on their own they are both extremely bold. He planned that Scaevola would be slaughtered at the funeral of Gaius Marius. Once he learned that [Scaevola] had healed from his wound, he turned to accuse him in court.

There, when he was asked what he had to say against someone whose character couldn’t possibly be sufficiently praised, he said that he would claim the man had let the weapon wound him too easily. What an excess of insanity that accompanied the groan of a sick country!”

Non tam atrox C. Fimbriae est factum et dictum, sed si per se aestimetur, utrumque audacissimum. id egerat ut Scaevola in funere C. Marii iugularetur. quem postquam ex vulnere recreatum comperit, accusare apud populum instituit. interrogatus deinde quid de eo secus dicturus esset cui pro sanctitate morum satis digna laudatio reddi non posset, respondit obiecturum se illi quod parcius corpore telum recepisset. licentiam furoris aegrae rei publicae gemitu prosequendam!

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Gaius Marius

Lenaeus: Teacher, Chief Minister of Shade

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men, On Grammarians 15

“Lenaeus who was a freedman of Pompey the Great and his comrade in nearly every expedition made a living with a school following the death of Pompey and his sons. He taught in Carinae near Tellus where the home of Pompey’s family had been. He remained so committed to the love of his patron that, in response to the fact that Sallust wrote that Pompey had “an honest man’s face but a rogue’s heart” he attacked Sallust with the harshest satires, as a “victim of vice, a foodie, a cheap bastard, and a glutton, a beast for his life and writings, an uneducated thief of Cato’s ancient words.”

It is also reported that when he was still a boy, he returned to his home-country after breaking his chains, but once he received a liberal education, he returned this as a payment to his master, but was fully freed thanks to his innate ability and his education.”

Lenaeus, Magni Pompei libertus et paene omnium expeditionum comes, defuncto eo filiisque eius schola se sustentavit; docuitque in Carinis ad Telluris, in qua regione Pompeiorum domus fuerat, ac tanto amore erga patroni memoriam exstitit, ut Sallustium historicum, quod eum oris probi, animo inverecundo scripsisset, acerbissima satura laceraverit, lastaurum et lurconem et nebulonem popinonemque appellans, et vita scriptisque monstrosum, praeterea priscorum Catonis verborum ineruditissimum furem. Traditur autem puer adhuc catenis subreptis, refugisse in patriam, perceptisque liberalibus disciplinis, pretium suum domino rettulisse, verum ob ingenium atque doctrinam gratis manumissus.

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Pompey the Great

Every Academic’s Dream: A Wealthy Patron Puts You on the Map

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men: Rhetoricians 29

Sextus Clodius, from Sicily, was a teacher of both Latin and Greek oratory. He had bad eyesight and a mean tongue and used to claim that he wore out his eyes in friendship with Marcus Antonius the Triumvir. He also said that Antony’s wife Fulvia, who had one cheek rather swollen, “directs the point of his pen”. For this he was more not less pleasing to Antony!

After Antony became consul, Clodius got a great gift from him, as Cicero objects in his Philippics: “You hire on a school teacher for the sake of his jokes, raised up an orator with you and your drinking-buddies’ jokes, and you have let him say whatever he wants about you, this thoroughly witty man.

Ah, but it is pretty easy to say things against you and yours. Look at how much this orator was paid. Listen to this senators; observe the wound to your nation. You gave to this orator Sextus Clodius two thousand Leontine acres which are untaxable—such a great price to learn nothing!”

V (29). Sextus Clodius, e Sicilia, Latinae simul Graecaeque eloquentiae professor, male oculatus et dicax, par oculorum in amicitia M. Antonii triumviri extrisse se aiebat; eiusdem uxorem Fulviam, cui altera bucca inflatior erat, acumen stili tentare dixit, nec eo minus, immo vel magis ob hoc Antonio gratus. A quo mox consule ingens etiam congiarium accepit, ut ei in “Philippicis” Cicero obicit: “Adhibes18 ioci causa magistrum, suffragio tuo et compotorum tuorum rhetorem, cui concessisti ut in te quae vellet diceret, salsum omnino hominem, sed materia facilis in te1 et in tuos dicta dicere. At quanta merces rhetori est data! Audite, audite, P. C., et cognoscite rei p. vulnera. Duo milia iugerum campi Leontini Sex. Clodio rhetori assignasti et quidem immunia, ut tanta mercede nihil sapere disceres.”

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“I buy my teachers right….”