An Awkward Letter about Not Getting Letters

In this day and age, this might instead be a text message or a tweet to someone in a position of authority. But this letter is from Libanius to Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor and our personal (anti-?)hero:

Ep. 86

“Even if you don’t send me letters, I still dine on your words. For whenever someone else gets one, we hear about it and immediately read it, either by persuading or overpowering the unwilling recipient. So, my profit is no less than theirs even though it is only their right to be honored. I would also ask for honor, for some love-token from you. For, clearly, if you would honor me in any way, you wouldn’t do it without love.”

Ἀλλ᾿ εἰ καὶ μὴ πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἐπιστέλλεις, ἡμεῖς γε τοῖς σοῖς ἑστιώμεθα γράμμασιν. ὅταν γὰρ ὅτι τις ἔλαβε μάθωμεν, εὐθὺς ἡμεῖς πλησίον καὶ ἢ πείσαντες ἢ κρατήσαντες ἀκόντων ἀνέγνωμεν.τὸ μὲν οὖν κέρδος οὐχ ἧττον ἡμῶν ἢ ᾿κείνων, τὸ τετιμῆσθαι δὲ παρ᾿ ἐκείνοις μόνοις. ἐρῶμεν δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ τιμῆς, ἐπειδὴ καὶ φίλτρου τοῦ παρὰ σοί. δῆλον γὰρ ὡς, εἴ τι τιμήσεις, οὐκ ἄνευ γε τοῦ φιλεῖν τοῦτο ποιήσεις.

Image result for Julian the Apostate

Letters Like Thersites’ Speech: Libanius Throws Some Epistolary Shade

Libanius, Letter 81

To Anatolios

“You used to insist that I be free in my speech because you would endure whatever might come from my mouth. But Aeschylus has changed my mind by saying that it is not right for lesser men to speak boldly. But Euripides also says that powerful men take the words of their inferiors badly. But, still, since you ask for responses, I will accede both to you and the poets by not revealing everything to them nor hiding everything from you.

First,  I have this to say about the length of our letters. You are angry about the brevity of mine, and I despise the length of yours. Sparta inspires mine, and you have called it the “Laconic letter”. But, remind me of the models for your nonsense. You have none but that unmeasured man* who bawled during the Achaeans’ assembly.”


Σὺ μὲν παρεκάλεις με πρὸς παρρησίαν ὡς πᾶν οἴσων ὅ τι ἂν ἐξ ἐμοῦ λέγηται, Αἰσχύλος δὲ ἀποτρέπει λέγων μὴ δεῖν τοὺς ἥττους θρασυστομεῖν. ἀλλὰ καὶ Εὐριπίδης φησίν, ὡς οἱ μεγάλα πνέοντες, περὶ ὑμῶν δή που λέγων, πικρῶς φέρουσι λόγους παρ᾿ ἐλαττόνων κρείσσονας. ὅμως φέρουσι λόγους παρ’ ἐλαττόνων κρείσσονας. ὅμως δέ, ἐπειδὴ τῶν ἀμοιβαίων ἐπιθυμεῖς, σοί τε χαριοῦμαι καὶ τοῖν ποιηταῖν, τοῖς μὲν οὐ πάντα εἰπών, σοὶ δὲ οὐ πάντα κρύψας.

πρῶτον μὲν οὖν περὶ τοῦ μέτρου τῶν γραμμάτων ἐκεῖνο λέγω, ὅτι σὺ μὲν τῶν ἐμῶν τὴν βραχύτητα δυσχεραίνεις, ἐγὼ δὲ τῶν σῶν τὸ μῆκος. τὸ μὲν οὖν ἐμὸν ἡ Σπάρτη παραμυθεῖται, καὶ σὺ προσείρηκας Λακωνικὴν τὴν ἐπιστολήν, τῆς δὲ σῆς φλυαρίας εἰπὲ τοὺς ἡγεμόνας· ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἂν ἔχοις πλὴν εἰ τὸν ἀκριτόμυθον τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῶν Ἀχαιῶν κλάοντα.

*Thersites; an allusion to Il. 2.246 Θερσῖτ’ ἀκριτόμυθε, λιγύς περ ἐὼν ἀγορητής.


Image result for Ancient Greek Thersites

A Letter To a Miserly Father on Learning and Books

Libanius, Letter 428

To Heortios

“I am probably intervening by telling a father to care for a son he has decided to ignore, but after I saw Themistius crying I welcomed seeming like this rather than neglecting it. He was saying nothing harsh, but that some amnesia regarding him had overcome you. If you were not well off, I would think it proper for you to gather money from your friends to help your son. But since you do well and are among the wealthiest men, I am advising you to spend some of your wealth on your most worthy possession.  Poverty, perhaps, is also not completely useful to a young man. But now this argument is not about his stomach, but how he will get books: without them, he will be like someone trying to learn archery without a bow.”


Περιεργάζομαι μὲν ἴσως πατέρα παρακαλῶν ἐπιμελεῖσθαι παιδὸς ἀμελεῖν ἐγνωκότα, δακρύοντα δὲ ἰδὼν Θεμίστιον μᾶλλον ἐδεξάμην ἐκεῖνο δόξαι ἢ τοῦτο παριδεῖν.

ἔλεγε τοίνυν τραχὺ μὲν οὐδέν, ὡς δὲ λήθη σέ τις αὑτοῦ λάβοι, ἐγὼ δέ, εἰ μὲν ἠπόρεις, ἠξίουν ἄν σε παρὰ τῶν φίλων ἀγείροντα τῷ παιδὶ βοηθεῖν· ἐπεὶ δὲ εὖ ποιῶν ἐν πρώτοις εἶ τῶν εὐπόρων, παραινῶ τι τῶν ὄντων εἰς τὸ τῶν ὄντων σοι τιμιώτατον ἀναλῶσαι.

ἴσως μὲν γὰρ οὐδὲ πεῖνα σφόδρα νέῳ χρήσιμον, ἔστι δὲ νῦν οὐ περὶ τῆς γαστρὸς ὁ λόγος, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ᾖ τῷ νεανίσκῳ βιβλία· ὧν ἀπόντων ὅμοιος ἔσται τῷ πειρωμένῳ τοξεύειν ἄνευ τόξου μανθάνειν.

Image result for Ancient Greek books

Away Messages? Ancient Advice On Getting Someone To Respond to Your Email

Here is a model letter from Libanius (1 in the Loeb; 15 in the Foerster Teubner). Yes, Libanius is (allegedly) writing a letter about how he is no longer going to write letters.

1 To Zenobius

“I have decided to fight silence with silence. Indeed, I do still understand that this penalty falls short of the wrongs done to me: It is not the same for me to be bereft of your letters and my letters to fail to go to you. The harm I suffer is as much greater than my vengeance as your letters are better than mine.”

  1. Ζηνοβίῳ

Σιγῇ τὴν σιγὴν ἔγνωμεν ἀμύνασθαι. καίτοι γε ἠπιστάμην λειπομένην τῶν ἀδικημάτων τὴν δίκην. οὐ γὰρ ἴσον ἦν ἐμὲ σῶν ἀποστερεῖσθαι γραμμάτων καὶ σοὶ <τὰ>1 παρ᾿ ἡμῶν μὴ φοιτᾶν. ἀλλ᾿ ὅσῳ καλλίω τὰ σά, τοσούτῳ μείζων ἡ βλάβη τῆς τιμωρίας.


Plato Nicknames Aristotle; Aristotle Starts his Own School (Aelian, 4.9)

{An earlier anecdote from Aelian explains part of the fallout between the two philosophers).

“Plato used to call Aristotle Pôlos [the Foal]. What did he wish with that name? Everyone knows that a foal, when it has had its fill of baby’s milk, kicks its mother. Thus Plato was signaling a certain ingratitude on Aristotle’ part. Indeed, Aristotle received the greatest seeds of Philosophy from Plato and then, though he was filled to the brim with the best ideas, he broke with Plato rebelliously. He founded his own house, took his friends on Plato’s walk, and set himself up to be Plato’s rival.”

῾Ο Πλάτων τὸν ᾿Αριστοτέλη ἐκάλει Πῶλον. τί δὲ ἐβούλετο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα ἐκεῖνο; δηλονότι ὡμολόγηται τὸν πῶλον, ὅταν κορεσθῇ τοῦ μητρῴου γάλακτος, λακτίζειν τὴν μητέρα. ᾐνίττετο οὖν καὶ ὁ Πλάτων ἀχαριστίαν τινὰ τοῦ ᾿Αριστοτέλους. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος μέγιστα ἐς φιλοσοφίαν παρὰ Πλάτωνος λαβὼν σπέρματα καὶ ἐφόδια, εἶτα ὑποπλησθεὶς τῶν ἀρίστων καὶ ἀφηνιάσας, ἀντῳκοδόμησεν αὐτῷ διατριβὴν καὶ ἀντιπαρεξήγαγεν ἐν τῷ περιπάτῳ ἑταίρους ἔχων καὶ ὁμιλητάς, καὶ ἐγλίχετο ἀντίπαλος εἶναι Πλάτωνι.