Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. These examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs.

This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”

Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.

Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health. 

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d

“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].

And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

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Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

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Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

 

“Beware the many, if you do not fear the one”

From the Historia Augusta, on the two Maximini, IX

“In order to hide his low birth, he had everyone who knew about it killed—not a few of them were friends who had often given him much because of his pitiable poverty. And there was never a crueler animal on the earth, placing all in his strength as if he could not be killed. Finally, when he believed that he was nearly immortal because of the magnitude of his body and bravery, there was a certain actor whom they report recited some Greek lines when he was present in the theater which had this Latin translation:

Even he who cannot be killed by one is killed by many
The elephant is large and he is killed.
The lion is brave and he is killed
The tiger is brave and he is killed.
Beware the many if you do not fear the one.

And these words were recited while the emperor was there. But when he asked his friends what the little clown had said, they claimed he was singing some old lines written against mean men. And, since he was Thracian and barbarian, he believed this.”

IX. nam ignobilitatis tegendae causa omnes conscios generis sui interemit, nonnullos etiam amicos, qui ei saepe misericordiae paupertatis causa pleraque donaverant. neque enim fuit crudelius animal in terris, omnia sic in viribus suis ponens quasi non posset occidi. denique cum immortalem se prope crederet ob magnitudinem corporis virtutisque, mimus quidam in theatro praesente illo dicitur versus Graecos dixisse, quorum haec erat Latina sententia:

“Et qui ab uno non potest occidi, a multis occiditur.

elephans grandis est et occiditur,
leo fortis est et occiditur,
tigris fortis est et occiditur;
cave multos, si singulos non times.”

et haec imperatore ipso praesente iam dicta sunt. sed cum interrogaret amicos, quid mimicus scurra dixisset, dictum est ei quod antiquos versus cantaret contra homines asperos scriptos; et ille, ut erat Thrax et barbarus, credidit.

 

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I am big. Really big. Everyone is saying that, not me. I mean, look how big I am.

Some Ancient Manners: When In Another’s House….

Historia Augusta, Antonius Pius XII

“When he was seeking honors for himself and his sons he conducted everything as if he were a private citizen. He often even attended the dinners of his own friends himself. Among other stories, this is a special indication of his urbanity.

Once when he was visiting the home of Homullus and was admiring some columns decorated with porphyry, he asked where they were from. When Homullus said to him, “when you are in another’s house, you should be deaf and dumb,” he took this in good humor. He always took the many jokes of Homullus with good humor.”

cum sibi et filiishonores peteret, omnia quasi privatus fecit. Frequentavit et ipse amicοrum suorum convivia. interalia etiam hoc civilitatis eius praecipuum argumentum est quod, cum domum Homulli visens miransque columnas porphyreticas requisisset, unde eas haberet, atque Homullus ei dixisset, “cum in domum alienam veneris, et mutus et surdus esto,” patienter tulit. cuius Homulli multa ioca semper patienter accepit.

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So Pius, so very, very Pius

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

Athens: Sometimes You Want to Go Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Valerius Maximus, 8 ext 5: Democritus Unknown in Athens

“Democritus could have been esteemed for his wealth which was so immense that his father was able to provide a feast to all of Xerxes’ army with ease. In order that he might focus a free mind on the study of literature, he donated his wealth to his country keeping only a very small part for himself.

Even though he stayed in Athens for many years and dedicated himself to gathering and using knowledge, he lived unknown in the city, which he attests too in a certain book. My mind is awestruck with admiration of such a work ethic. And now it moves to something else.”

Democritus, cum divitiis censeri posset, quae tantae fuerunt ut pater eius Xerxis exercitui epulum dare ex facili potuerit, quo magis vacuo animo studiis litterarum esset operatus, parva admodum summa retenta patrimonium suum patriae donavit. Athenis autem compluribus annis moratus, omnia temporum momenta ad percipiendam et exercendam doctrinam conferens, ignotus illi urbi vixit, quod ipse quodam volumine testatur. stupet mens admiratione tantae industriae et iam transit alio.

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Roman Britain: Maybe Not Worth the Trouble?

In honor of the World Cup Semi-final Match today between the former Roman Provinces of Britannia and Dalmatia, we wrote a slightly farcical post for the SCS blog. Here are some passages that did not make it into the post.

Appian Roman History Preface, 5

“When you cross the Northern ocean you come to the island of Britain which is bigger than a continent [The Romans] possess the greatest half of it and aren’t really missing the rest. For even the part they do hold doesn’t bring them a good profit.”

καὶ τὸν βόρειον ὠκεανὸν ἐς τὴν Βρεττανίδα νῆσον περάσαντες, ἠπείρου μεγάλης μείζονα, τὸ κράτιστον αὐτῆς ἔχουσιν ὑπὲρ ἥμισυ, οὐδὲν τῆς ἄλλης δεόμενοι· οὐ γὰρ εὔφορος αὐτοῖς ἐστὶν οὐδ᾿ ἣν ἔχουσιν.

Suetonius, Divus Julius 47

 

“They say that [Julius Caesar] attacked Britain because of a hope for pearls and that in comparing their mass he used to check their weight with his own hand. For he was extremely eager to collect gems, carvings, statues, and images by ancient artists. He was also fond of rather good looking slaves with better training for a huge price—this also caused him enough shame that he did not allow them to be entered into his expenditures.”

 

XLVII. Britanniam petisse spe margaritarum, quarum amplitudinem conferentem interdum sua manu exegisse pondus; gemmas, toreumata, signa, tabulas operis antiqui semper animosissime comparasse; servitia rectiora politioraque inmenso pretio, et cuius ipsum etiam puderet, sic ut rationibus vetaret inferri.

 

Tacitus, Agricola, 13

 

“The people of Britain themselves respond eagerly to drafts, tributes, and obligations set by the government, if abuses are absent. They endure these poorly since, although they are conquered enough to obey, they are not yet slaves [to us].  

As a matter of fact, the divine Julius of all the Romans first attacked Britain with an army, and, although he terrified the inhabitants with a hasty battle and was master of the coast, he seems to have exposed Britain for his successors rather than handed it down. The Civil Wars followed soon after and while the arms of Rome’s first men were turned against the state, there was a prolonged forgetfulness of Britain, which the divine Augustus used to call a “plan” and Tiberius called a “precedent”.

 

13. Ipsi Britanni dilectum ac tributa et iniuncta imperii munera impigre obeunt, si iniuriae absint: has aegre tolerant, iam domiti ut pareant, nondum ut serviant. igitur primus omnium Romanorum divus Iulius cum exercitu Britanniam ingressus, quamquam prospera pugna terruerit incolas ac litore potitus sit, potest videri ostendisse posteris, non tradidisse; mox bella civilia et in rem publicam versa principum arma, ac longa oblivio Britanniae etiam in pace: consilium id divus Augustus vocabat, Tiberius praeceptum.

 

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Hadrian Built a Wall. Who paid for it?

Some words;

σφαιριστής: “ball-player”

σφαιριστικός: “skilled at ball-playing”

σφαιρομαχία: “ball-match”

σφαιροπαίκτης: “ball-player”