Peril Shows A Person’s True Nature

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.41-58

“For men often claim that disease and a life
of a bad reputation should be feared more than Tartaros.
And they claim they know that the nature of the soul is like blood
Or even air, if that fits their current desire.

And they claim that they do not need our arguments.
But what follows will make you see these things as a matter of boasting
rather than because the matter itself has been proved.

The same men, out of their homeland and in a long exile
From the sight of others, charged with some foul crime,
live as they do, even afflicted with all possible troubles.
But, still, wherever they go the outcasts minister to their ancestors
and slaughter dark cattle and make their offerings
to the departed ghosts and when things get worse
they focus more sharply on religion.

For this reason it is better to examine a man in doubt or danger:
Adverse circumstances make it easier to know who a man is,
for then true words finally rise from his deepest heart;
when the mask is removed, the thing itself remains.”

nam quod saepe homines morbos magis esse timendos
infamemque ferunt vitam quam Tartara leti
et se scire animi naturam sanguinis esse,
aut etiam venti, si fert ita forte voluntas,
nec prosum quicquam nostrae rationis egere,
hinc licet advertas animum magis omnia laudis
iactari causa quam quod res ipsa probetur.
extorres idem patria longeque fugati
conspectu ex hominum, foedati crimine turpi,
omnibus aerumnis adfecti denique vivunt,
et quo cumque tamen miseri venere parentant
et nigras mactant pecudes et manibus divis
inferias mittunt multoque in rebus acerbis
acrius advertunt animos ad religionem.
quo magis in dubiis hominem spectare periclis
convenit adversisque in rebus noscere qui sit;
nam verae voces tum demum pectore ab imo
eliciuntur [et] eripitur persona manet res.

 

Related image
Demons From The Livre de la vigne nostre Seigneur, 1450 – 70

Rain and Four-Horse Chariots: Some Metaphors for Language

Varro, On The Latin Language 5.11-12

“Pythagoras of Samos claims that the basic elements of all things are paired—finite and infinite; good and bad; alive and dead, day and night. For this reason, then, two basic elements are motion and set-position; and both split into four parts: what is still or is moved is a body; where it is moved is a place; while it is moved, is a time; what is the character of the movement, an action. The four-part split will be more obvious like this: the body is something like a runner; the stadium is where he runs; the hour is his time; and the running is the action.

For this reason, then, all things can be divided into four parts and these are eternal—since there is never time unless there is motion—even an interruption of motion needs time; nor is there motion without place and body, since the former is the thing that moves and the latter is where it moves; nor is there a lack of action where the body moves. Therefore, location, body, time and action are the four-horse chariot of etymological foundations.”

Pythagoras Samius ait omnium rerum initia esse bina ut finitum et infinitum, bonum et malum, vitam et mortem, diem et noctem. Quare item duo status et motus, utrumque quadripertitum: quod stat aut agitatur, corpus, ubi agitatur, locus, dum agitatur, tempus, quod est in agitatu, actio. Quadripertitio magis sic apparebit: corpus est ut cursor, locus stadium qua currit, tempus hora qua currit, actio cursio.

Quare fit, ut ideo fere omnia sint quadripertita et ea aeterna, quod neque unquam tempus, quin fuerit motus: eius enim intervallum tempus; neque motus, ubi non locus et corpus, quod alterum est quod movetur, alterum ubi; neque ubi is agitatus, non actio ibi. Igitur initiorum quadrigae locus et corpus, tempus et action.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1.192-198

“One must consider too that without a fixed annual amount of rain
the land cannot produce its gladdening fruit
nor is it the nature of animals bereft of their customary food
to be able to increase their race and safeguard life;
In this way you ought to understand more readily that many bodies
are shared among many things, just as we see letters shared among words,
than that anything could ever exist without elemental beginnings.”

Huc accedit uti sine certis imbribus anni
laetificos nequeat fetus submittere tellus
nec porro secreta cibo natura animantum
propagare genus possit vitamque tueri; 195
ut potius multis communia corpora rebus
multa putes esse, ut verbis elementa videmus,
quam sine principiis ullam rem existere posse.

 

Image result for Medieval Manuscript abecedario

Peril Shows A Person’s True Nature

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.41-58

“For men often claim that disease and a life
of a bad reputation should be feared more than Tartaros.
And they claim they know that the nature of the soul is like blood
Or even air, if that fits their current desire.

And they claim that they do not need our arguments.
But what follows will make you see these things as a matter of boasting
rather than because the matter itself has been proved.

The same men, out of their homeland and in a long exile
From the sight of others, charged with some foul crime,
live as they do, even afflicted with all possible troubles.
But, still, wherever they go the outcasts minister to their ancestors
and slaughter dark cattle and make their offerings
to the departed ghosts and when things get worse
they focus more sharply on religion.

For this reason it is better to examine a man in doubt or danger:
Adverse circumstances make it easier to know who a man is,
for then true words finally rise from his deepest heart;
when the mask is removed, the thing itself remains.”

nam quod saepe homines morbos magis esse timendos
infamemque ferunt vitam quam Tartara leti
et se scire animi naturam sanguinis esse,
aut etiam venti, si fert ita forte voluntas,
nec prosum quicquam nostrae rationis egere,
hinc licet advertas animum magis omnia laudis
iactari causa quam quod res ipsa probetur.
extorres idem patria longeque fugati
conspectu ex hominum, foedati crimine turpi,
omnibus aerumnis adfecti denique vivunt,
et quo cumque tamen miseri venere parentant
et nigras mactant pecudes et manibus divis
inferias mittunt multoque in rebus acerbis
acrius advertunt animos ad religionem.
quo magis in dubiis hominem spectare periclis
convenit adversisque in rebus noscere qui sit;
nam verae voces tum demum pectore ab imo
eliciuntur [et] eripitur persona manet res.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman Danger

Always Think about Death: Seneca is the Worst Pen-pal

Seneca, Moral Epistle 30.17-18

“If we want to clarify the causes of our fear, we will discover that some are there and others only seem to exist. We do not fear death, but the thought of death. For we are always distant by some degree from death. Thus, if death must be feared, it should always be feared. For what portion of our time is free from death?

But I ought to fear that you fear the length of this letter more than death. So, I will bring it to an end. Nevertheless, think about death always so that you may not fear it. Farewell.

Si distinguere voluerimus causas metus nostri, inveniemus alias esse, alias videri. Non mortem timemus, sed cogitationem mortis. Ab ipsa enim semper tantundem absumus. Ita si timenda mors est, semper timenda est. Quod enim morti tempus exemptum est?

Sed vereri debeo, ne tam longas epistulas peius quam mortem oderis. Itaque finem faciam. Tu tamen mortem ut numquam timeas, semper cogita. Vale.

 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 65

“Let us be brave in adverse fortune. Let us not fear injury, wounds, chains, or poverty. What is death? It is either the end or a transformation. I do not fear ending, it is the same as never having begun. Nor do I fear transformation, because I will not ever be as constrained as I am now. Farewell.”

Fortes simus adversus fortuita. Non contremescamus iniurias, non vulnera, non vincula, non egestatem. Mors quid est? Aut finis aut transitus. Nec desinere timeo, idem est enim, quod non coepisse, nec transire, quia nusquam tam anguste ero. Vale.

Image result for Ancient Roman Memento Mori

Seneca, Moral Epistles 115.5-6

“But if you are wise, measure all things by the human condition. Control both how you delight and how you fear. It is, indeed, worth much to delight in nothing too long so that you might not fear for too long. But why do I narrowly define this ill? There is nothing which you should think must be feared. All these things which trouble us, which keep us worried, they are empty. No one of us has sounded out what is true, but instead we entrust fear to one another. No one of us has dared to address what really bothers us, to recognize the nature and the good of fear. For this reason what is false and empty still have credence, because they are not countered. Let us consider it worthwhile to train our eyes on this: how brief, how uncertain, how anodyne are the things we fear.”

Sed si sapis, omnia humana condicione metire; simul et quod gaudes et quod times, contrahe. Est autem tanti nihil diu gaudere, ne quid diu timeas. Sed quare istuc malum adstringo? Non est quod quicquam timendum putes. Vana sunt ista, quae nos movent, quae attonitos habent. Nemo nostrum quid veri esset, excussit, sed metum alter alteri tradidit; nemo ausus est ad id, quo perturbabatur, accedere et naturam ac bonum timoris sui nosse. Itaque res falsa et inanis habet adhuc fidem, quia non coarguitur. Tanti putemus oculos intendere; iam apparebit, quam brevia, quam incerta, quam tuta timeantur.

Seneca goes on to cite a little bit of the following passage from Lucretius. Here’s more.

Lucretius 2.53-61

“But what if we see that these things are ridiculous and contemptible,
that, in truth, man’s fear and lurking anxiety
do not shudder at the sound of arms or fierce weapons
or when they bravely move among kings and the world’s rulers
if they do not revere the shine of gold or
turn at the bright shine of purple fabrics—
why do you doubt that real power is wholly the province of reason
especially when life labors completely in the shadows?
For just as children tremble at anything and
jump at dark shadows, so we remain afraid in the light
of things which should not be feared any more
than boys grow pale at shadows in imagining future dangers.
We must therefore dispel the mind’s fear and shadows
Not with a ray of sunshine or the clear shafts of day
But through nature’s clear vision and reason.”

quod si ridicula haec ludibriaque esse videmus,
re veraque metus hominum curaeque sequaces
nec metuunt sonitus armorum nec fera tela
audacterque inter reges rerumque potentis 50
versantur neque fulgorem reverentur ab auro
nec clarum vestis splendorem purpureai,
quid dubitas quin omnis sit haec rationis potestas,
omnis cum in tenebris praesertim vita laboret?
nam vel uti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis 55
in tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
inter dum, nihilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
non radii solis neque lucida tela diei 60
discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.

 Reading this passage made me think of the “Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear” which shows up early in Herbert’s Dune (and yes, there was a time I had this memorized as a child):

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain

 

Jupiter Made Us Stop Being Cannibals

Most people know Ennius for his fragmentary Annales inspired in part by Greek epic poetry. But he was also inspired by the tradition of Euhemerism, the idea that the gods were just metastasized stories of once great men. He left fragments of a prose work inspired by this Greek mythographical tradition.

Ennius, Euhemerus, 81-87

“In that time, Jupiter used to spend most of his time on Mount Olympos; and people would come to him there if there was any matter over which there was a dispute. In the same way, if anyone found anything new which might be useful for human life, they would go there to show it to him.

It once was the case that Saturn and Ops and even the rest of mankind were in the habit of eating human flesh;. But, in truth, it was Jupiter, the first to make laws and customs for men, who prohibited through an edict that it was any longer allowed to consume that food.”

Ea tempestate Iuppiter in monte Olympo
Maximam partem vitae colebat et eo ad
Eum in ius veniebant, si quae res in
Controversia erant. Item si quis quid
novi invenerat quod ad vitam humanum
utile esset, eo veniebant atque Iovi
ostendebant.

Saturnum et Opem eterosque tunc
Homines humanam carnem solitos esitare;
Verum primum Ovem leges hominibus
Moresque condentem edicto prohibuisse
Ne liceret eo cibo vesci

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1-15: Epicurus, I’m Your Biggest Fan

“I follow you who first could raise so clear a light
to illuminate in so great a darkness the best parts of life,
the glory of the Greek people; and I place my feet
firmly in the signs you left behind
not for the sake of competition but because of love
I long to imitate you: for how could a swallow compete
with swans or who would think that a kid could match
his shaking limbs in a race with a mighty horse?
You, father, are the investigator of nature, and you give us
a father’s precepts drawn from your papers, famous man,
just as bees live off of everything in the flowery groves
so too we subsist on all your golden words
always most worthy of a life everlasting.”

E tenebris tantis tam clarum extollere lumen
qui primus potuisti inlustrans commoda vitae,
te sequor, o Graiae gentis decus, inque tuis nunc

Epicurus. Epi-cutest, I say.
Epicurus. Epi-cutest, I say.

ficta pedum pono pressis vestigia signis,
non ita certandi cupidus quam propter amorem
quod te imitari aveo; quid enim contendat hirundo
cycnis, aut quid nam tremulis facere artubus haedi
consimile in cursu possint et fortis equi vis?
tu, pater, es rerum inventor, tu patria nobis
suppeditas praecepta, tuisque ex, inclute, chartis,
floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant,
omnia nos itidem depascimur aurea dicta,
aurea, perpetua semper dignissima vita.

Arriving in Italy, But Not at the Journey’s End: Aeneid 6.1-12

I am currently in Siena, Italy (leading a summer study-abroad program for the month). My travels took about 20 hours followed by a mad search through Florence for a lost student who had neither phone nor money. (And today I travel south to retrieve more students from Rome!). I arrived in Siena tired and worn. But once I opened the Aeneid to consider Aeneas’ arrival on the Italian peninsula, I realized my complaints were quite unbecoming:

“He spoke this crying and then gave rein to the fleet
And they finally reached the Eubaean shores of Cumae.
They turn the prows toward the sea and then fasten the ships
safe by anchor where the curved boats make a shelter
on the shore. An eager band of youths leap down
on the Italian strand; one part seeks the seeds of flame
contained in a flint’s vein; another seizes trees
used as beasts’ thick roofs; and another traces along the river’s path.
But dutiful Aeneas climbs the hills where Apollo rules
On high and seeks the hollow cave of the horrid Sibyl,
the prophet whose mind and great soul the Delian inspires
as he lays open for her the secrets yet to come.”

Sic fatur lacrimans, classique immittit habenas,
et tandem Euboïcis Cumarum adlabitur oris.
Obvertunt pelago proras; tum dente tenaci
ancora fundabat naves, et litora curvae
praetexunt puppes. Iuvenum manus emicat ardens
litus in Hesperium; quaerit pars semina flammae
abstrusa in venis silicis, pars densa ferarum
tecta rapit silvas, inventaque flumina monstrat.
At pius Aeneas arces, quibus altus Apollo
praesidet, horrendaeque procul secreta Sibyllae
antrum immane petit, magnum cui mentem animumque
Delius inspirat vates, aperitque futura.

What We Could Have Done Instead of War: Lucan on Labor Lost (6.48-63)

{I have debated Lucan’s ability before, but this passage has an urgency and power I find compelling)

“Now let ancient myth build up Troy’s walls
and credit it to the gods; let the retreating Parthians
wonder at the brick walls encircling Babylon—
Look, a place as great as that the Tigris or swift Orontes embraces–
one large enough to be a kingdom for Assyrians in the East–
such a space is suddenly enclosed by the tumult of war!
Such labors are wasted.
So many hands might have joined Sestus to Abydos
with an earthenwork made to erase Phrixus’ sea.
Or they could have ripped Corinth from the Peloponnese
To give relief to ships from the distant Cape Malea,
Or some other part of the world–even if nature denied it–
They could have changed the place for the better.
The plain of war is engaged. Here we nourish blood that will flow on all lands;
Here we hold the victims from Thessaly and Libya;
Here the insanity of civil war churns on narrow strands.”

nunc uetus Iliacos attollat fabula muros
ascribatque deis; fragili circumdata testa
moenia mirentur refugi Babylonia Parthi. 50
en, quantum Tigris, quantum celer ambit Orontes,
Assyriis quantum populis telluris Eoae
sufficit in regnum, subitum bellique tumultu
raptum clausit opus. tanti periere labores.
tot potuere manus aut iungere Seston Abydo 55
ingestoque solo Phrixeum elidere pontum,
aut Pelopis latis Ephyren abrumpere regnis
et ratibus longae flexus donare Maleae,
aut aliquem mundi, quamuis natura negasset,
in melius mutare locum. coit area belli: 60
hic alitur sanguis terras fluxurus in omnis,
hic et Thessalicae clades Libycaeque tenentur;
aestuat angusta rabies ciuilis harena.

Athens Gave us Everything!? (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 6.1-11)

“Athens, that famous name, first gave to sickly man
Fruit bearing crops long ago and with them
Created life anew and called for laws
And first offered the sweet comforts of life
When she produced a man with such a soul
That he once divulged everything from his truth-telling tongue.
Though his life has ended, thanks to his divine discoveries,
His glory has been carried abroad and now nears the heavens.
For he saw then that everything which is needed for life
Has already been set aside for mortal man and that
As far as they were able, their life was already safe…”
 

Primae frugiparos fetus mortalibus aegris
dididerunt quondam praeclaro nomine Athenae
et recreaverunt vitam legesque rogarunt
et primae dederunt solacia dulcia vitae,
cum genuere virum tali cum corde repertum,
omnia veridico qui quondam ex ore profudit;
cuius et extincti propter divina reperta
divolgata vetus iam ad caelum gloria fertur.

nam cum vidit hic ad victum quae flagitat usus
omnia iam ferme mortalibus esse parata
et, pro quam possent, vitam consistere tutam…

 

The man at Athens? Epicurus, of course.