“But because I have welcomed someone eager for a feast of learning, I shall prepare it so well that there will be some leftovers rather than allow you to leave still hungry for more….”
Sed quoniam avidum hominem ad has discendi epulas recepi, sic accipiam, ut reliquiarum sit potius aliquid quam te hinc patiar non satiatum discedere.
Pliny the Younger to Septimius Clarus (Letter 15)
“Who do you think you are?! You agree to come do dinner…but you don’t come? The judgment is passed: You must pay my cost to a penny, and this is not moderate. All was set out: a lettuce for each, three snails, two eggs, wine with honey chilled with snow—for you should include this too among the highest expense since it dissolves on the plate—and there were olives, beets, pickles, onions and countless other things no less neat.
You would have heard a comedy or a reader or a singer of all of them, given my generosity. But you went where I don’t know, preferring oysters, a sow’s belly, sea-urchins, and Spanish dancers. You will suffer for this, somehow, believe me. You did something bad to one of us, certainly to me, but perhaps to yourself too. How much we played, laughed, and studied! You might eat better food at many homes, but nowhere will you eat so enjoyably, simply, and freely. In sum: try me: and if later you don’t excuse yourself from another’s meal, you can always lie to me again. Goodbye!”
Plinius Septicio Claro Suo S.
Heus tu! promittis ad cenam, nec venis? Dicitur ius: ad assem impendium reddes, nec id modicum. Paratae erant lactucae singulae, cochleae ternae, ova bina, halica cum mulso et nive (nam hanc quoque computabis, immo hanc in primis quae perit in ferculo), olivae betacei cucurbitae bulbi, alia mille non minus lauta. Audisses comoedos vel lectorem vel lyristen vel (quae mea liberalitas) omnes. At tu apud nescio quem ostrea vulvas echinos Gaditanas maluisti. Dabis poenas, non dico quas. Dure fecisti: invidisti, nescio an tibi, certe mihi, sed tamen et tibi. Quantum nos lusissemus risissemus studuissemus! Potes adparatius cenare apud multos, nusquam hilarius simplicius incautius. In summa experire, et nisi postea te aliis potius excusaveris, mihi semper excusa. Vale.
“But, truly, the knowledge of many disciplines is pleasurable”. Ok, then, let’s keep only what is necessary from these arts. Do you think that the person who considers superficial matters equal to useful ones and for this reason makes his home a museum of expensive products is reprehensible but not the man who is obsessed with the superfluous aspects of academia? To want to know more than is enough is a kind of excessive delusion.
Why? Well, this extreme pursuit of the liberal arts makes people annoying, wordy, bad-mannered, and overly self-satisfied, even though they have not learned the basics because they pursue the useless.
The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand books. I would pity him if had only read that many useless works. In these books he searched for Homer’s homeland, the real mother of Aeneas, whether Anacreon is more licentious or just drunk, whether Sappho was promiscuous and other various questions which, if you learned them, would have been necessarily forgotten. Go on, don’t say life is long. No, when you turn to your own people too, I will show you many things which should be pruned back with an ax.”
“At enim delectat artium notitia multarum.” Tantum itaque ex illis retineamus, quantum necessarium est. An tu existimas reprendendum, qui supervacua usibus conparat et pretiosarum rerum pompam in domo explicat, non putas eum, qui occupatus est in supervacua litterarum supellectile? Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est.
Quid? Quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. Quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. Misererer, si tam multa supervacua legisset. In his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia, quae erant dediscenda, si scires. I nunc et longam esse vitam nega. Sed ad nostros quoque cum perveneris, ostendam multa securibus recidenda.
These are themes close to the old man’s heart, elsewhere too:
Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13
“This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”
Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.
Seneca, Moral Epistle 108
“But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”
Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.
J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship (Ausonius)
“It is difficult to imagine that a man capable of writing such trifles as these (not to mention his lines on the Caesars and on celebrated cities) had some ten years previously (in 378 a.d.) filled the splendid position of praetorian praefect of the provinces of Gaul (an official whose sway extended even over Spain and the opposite coast of Africa, and over the southern part of Britain), and, in the four years between 376 and 380, had seen his father honorary praefect of lllyricum, his son and son-in-law proconsuls of Africa, and his nephew praefect of Rome. It seems as if, on his return to the scenes of his early work as a professor at Bordeaux, the praefect relapsed into the ‘ grammarian ‘, spending his time on learned trifles, which are among the least important products of scholarship, and consoling himself in his tedious task by recalling Virgil’s famous phrase: — ‘in tenui labor, at tenuis non gloria’. We may regret that Ausonius does not appear to have used his great opportunities for reforming the educational system which prevailed in the schools of the Western Empire, and thus rendering a lasting service to the cause of learning; but we may allow him the credit of having possibly inspired the memorable decree promulgated by Gratian in 376, which improved the status of public instructors by providing for the appointment of teachers of rhetoric and of Greek and Latin ‘ grammar ‘ in the principal cities of Gaul, and fixing the amount of their stipends ‘. “
“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.
“For this reason we must examine whether or not it is possible for the study of the philosophers to bring us [happiness].”
Quare hoc videndum est, possitne nobis hoc ratio philosophorum dare.
Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 2.1 (1219a25)
“Let the work of the mind be the performance of life—and what this means is using life and being awake (for sleep is some kind of a rest and cessation of life). As a result, since the work of the mind and its virtue are identical, then the work of virtue is an earnest life.
This, then, is the complete good, which is itself happiness. For it is clear from what we have argued—as we said that happiness was the best thing; the goals and the greatest of the goods are in the mind, but aspects of the mind are either a state of being or an action—it is clear that, since an action is better than a state and the best action is better than the best state, that the performance of virtue is the greatest good of the mind. Happiness, then, is the action of a good mind.”
ψυχή: can be translated into English as “spirit” or “soul” instead of “mind”. I avoided the former to sidestep the implication that Aristotle is making some kind of a mystical argument; I avoided the latter because it has such strong religious associations in English.
Seneca De Beneficiis 22
“A just reason for happiness is seeing that a friend is happy—even better, is to make a friend happy.”
iusta enim causa laetitiae est laetum amicum videre, iustior fecisse
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.
“Both habits, moreover, should be avoided. Don’t imitate bad people, because there are many of them, nor hate the many, because you aren’t like them. Take shelter in yourself, whenever you can. Spend time with people who will make you a better person. Embrace those whom you can make better. Such improvement is a partnership, for people learn while they teach.”
Utrumque autem devitandum est; neve similis malis fias, quia multi sunt, neve inimicus multis, quia dissimiles sunt. Recede in te ipsum, quantum potes. Cum his versare, qui te meliorem facturi sunt. Illos admitte, quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines, dum docent, discunt.
Seneca, De Beata Vita 17-18
“ ‘This is enough for me: to each day lose one of my vices and recognize my mistakes. I have not perfected my health, nor certainly will I. I hope to relieve my gout rather than cure it, happy if it comes less frequently and cause less pain. But when I compare myself to your feet, I am a sprinter even though crippled.’
I do not say these things for myself—since I am deep in every kind of vice—but for the person who has done something.
You say, “You talk one way but you live another.” This insult, most shameful and hateful friend, was thrown at Plato, tossed at Epicurus, and dropped on Zeno. For all these people were talking not about how they were living themselves but about how they should live. When it comes to virtue, I do not talk about myself, and my fight is with vices, but chiefly my own. When I can, I will live as I should.”
Hoc mihi satis est, cotidie aliquid ex vitiis meis demere et errores meos obiurgare. Non perveni ad sanitatem, ne perveniam quidem; delenimenta magis quam remedia podagrae meae compono, contentus, si rarius accedit et si minus verminatur; vestris quidem pedibus comparatus, debilis1 cursor sum.” Haec non pro me loquor—ego enim in alto vitiorum omnium sum—, sed pro illo, cui aliquid acti est.
“Aliter,” inquis, “loqueris, aliter vivis.” Hoc, malignissima capita et optimo cuique inimicissima, Platoni obiectum est, obiectum Epicuro, obiectum Zenoni; omnes enim isti dicebant non quemadmodum ipsi viverent, sed quemadmodum esset ipsis vivendum. De virtute, non de me loquor, et cum vitiis convicium facio, in primis meis facio. 2Cum potuero, vivam quomodo oportet.
Apart from his pristine Latinity, Cicero was likely popular with church fathers for other reasons….
Letter to Octavian, 10
“Brutus will hear that the very people he himself and his children freed from kings have descended into slavery for the sake of filthy lust. This news will come to him quickly—and I will take it if no one else will. For if I cannot escape such things while alive, I have decided that I will flee them and life at the same time.”
audiet Brutus eum populum, quem ipse primo, post progenies eius a regibus liberavit, pro turpi stupro datum in servitutem. quae quidem, si nullo alio, me tamen internuntio celeriter ad illos deferentur; nam si vivus ista subterfugere non potero, una cum istis vitam simul fugere decrevi.
Tusculan Disputationes, 4.68
“And as those who are carried away with joy when they enjoy Venus’ pleasures are filthy, those who share their desire with a burning spirit are criminal. Indeed, the whole thing which is commonly called ‘love’—and by god it is impossible to name it anything else—is of such meaninglessness that I know of nothing I think is comparable.”
Et ut turpes sunt qui efferunt se laetitia tum, cum fruuntur Veneriis voluptatibus, sic flagitiosi, qui eas inflammato animo concupiscunt. Totus vero iste, qui vulgo appellatur amor—nec hercule invenio quo nomine alio possit appellari—, tantae levitatis est, ut nihil videam quod putem conferendum
De Senectute, 39
“The third typical criticism of old age follows this, and that is that people complain that it lacks [sexual] pleasures. Oh! Glorious wealth of age, if it takes that from us, the most criminal part of youth! Take this from me, most noble young men, this is the ancient speech of Archytas of Tarentum, which was repeated to me when I was a young man working for Quintus Maximus there: “Nature has given man no deadlier a curse than sexual desire.”
XII. Sequitur tertia vituperatio senectutis, quod eam carere dicunt voluptatibus. O praeclarum munus aetatis, si quidem id aufert a nobis, quod est in adulescentia vitiosissimum! Accipite enim, optimi adulescentes, veterem orationem Archytae Tarentini, magni in primis et praeclari viri, quae mihi tradita est cum essem adulescens Tarenti cum Q. Maximo. Nullam capitaliorem pestem quam voluptatem corporis hominibus dicebat a natura datam