Stumbling After Pleasure Like a Drunk Looking for Home

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy III. 38-55

“Now all good things dependent upon the body may be understood as we have said. Strength and size seem to confer prominence; beauty and speed bring fame; health brings pleasure. It is clear that happiness alone is sought through all of these qualities. For whatever any man seeks foremost is the very thing he believes is the greatest good. But we have then defined the greatest good as happiness, which is why each man judges the state of happiness to be the very thing he desires beyond all else.

Therefore, you have laid bare before your eyes the basic shape of human happiness: wealth, honor, power, glory and pleasure. When Epicurus examined these things, he decided that his highest good was pleasure because all others seemed to bring enjoyment to the mind. But I return to human desires: for human minds even when the memory is hazy still seeks its own good but, just like a drunk, does not know which path will lead home. Certainly how can those who struggle not to lack anything seem to do wrong?”

Iam vero corporis bona promptum est ut ad superiora referantur. Robur enim magnitudoque videtur praestare valentiam, pulchritudo atque velocitas celebritatem, salubritas voluptatem; quibus omnibus solam beatitudinem desiderari liquet. Nam quod quisque prae ceteris petit, id summum esse iudicat bonum. Sed summum bonum beatitudinem esse definivimus; quare beatum esse iudicat statum quem prae ceteris quisque desiderat.

Habes igitur ante oculos propositam fere formam felicitatis humanae—opes, honores, potentiam, gloriam, voluptates. Quae quidem sola considerans Epicurus consequenter sibi summum bonum voluptatem esse constituit, quod cetera omnia iucunditatem animo videantur afferre. Sed ad hominum studia revertor, quorum animus etsi caligante memoria tamen bonum suum repetit, sed velut ebrius domum quo tramite revertatur ignorat. Num enim videntur errare hi qui nihilo indigere nituntur?

 

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Changing Your Mind is the Point of Research

Quintilian, 3.6.

“I admit that I now have a bit of a different opinion from what I believed before. Perhaps it would be safest for my reputation to change nothing which I not only believed but also approved for many years. But I cannot endure knowing that I misrepresent myself, especially in this work which I compose as some help for our good students. For even Hippocrates, famous still for his skill in medicine, seems to have conducted himself very honorably when he admitted his own errors so his followers would not make a mistake. Marcus Tullius did not hesitate to condemn some of his own books in subsequent publications, the Catulus and Lucullus, for example.

Prolonged effort in research would certainly be useless if we were not allowed to improve upon previous opinions. Nevertheless, nothing of what I taught then was useless. These things I offer now, in fact, return us to basic principles. Thus it will cause no one grief to have learned from me. I am trying only to collect and lay out the same ideas in a slightly more sensible fashion. I want it made known to all, moreover, that I am showing this to others no later than I have convinced myself.”

Ipse me paulum in alia quam prius habuerim opinione nunc esse confiteor. Et fortasse tutissimum erat famae modo studenti nihil ex eo mutare quod multis annis non sensissem modo verum etiam adprobassem. Sed non sustineo esse conscius mihi dissimulati, in eo praesertim opere quod ad bonorum iuvenum aliquam utilitatem componimus, in ulla parte iudicii mei. Nam et Hippocrates clarus arte medicinae videtur honestissime fecisse quod quosdam errores suos, ne posteri errarent, confessus est, et M. Tullius non dubitavit aliquos iam editos libros aliis postea scriptis ipse damnare, sicut Catulum atque Lucullum et… Etenim supervacuus foret in studiis longior labor si nihil liceret melius invenire praeteritis. Neque tamen quicquam ex iis quae tum praecepi supervacuum fuit; ad easdem enim particulas haec quoque quae nunc praecipiam revertentur. Ita neminem didicisse paeniteat: colligere tantum eadem ac disponere paulo significantius conor. Omnibus autem satis factum volo non me hoc serius demonstrare aliis quam mihi ipse persuaserim.

Mind Change real

Take A Break! The Importance of Vacations

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 1. 14-15

“Moderation was missing from this enthusiastic person in two ways. He did not know how to take a break from work nor how to start it again. When he brought himself to write, the days used to join with nights and he was pushing himself mercilessly without a break, stopping only when he was completely worn out. But when he stopped then, he would lose himself in every kind of game and distraction. Indeed, when he entrusted himself to the forest and the mountains, he was the equal to those born to the forests and mountains, those wild men, in endurance of labor and expertise of the hunt. He was so completely engaged with the embrace of that lifestyle that he could scarcely be dragged back to his former life.

But when he did get himself under control and took himself from alluring leisure, he used to fall into his studies with such passions that he seemed not so much to have lost nothing as to have gained much.

It is clear that everyone benefits from a mental vacation—energy is gathered in leisure and all the sadness which is developed through endless pursuit of work can be dispelled though the enjoyment of distractions. But no one benefited more from a vacation than Latro. Every time he used to speak after a break, he would speak more sharply and with more force—he used to glory in how his mind was refreshed and his strength made whole. And he would squeeze as much from himself as he desired. He did not know how to portion out his powers—but he was a master of unrestrained tyranny—his eagerness had to be stopped because it was not able to be controlled…”

In utramque partem vehementi viro modus deerat: nec intermittere studium sciebat nec repetere.  Cum se ad scribendum concitaverat, iungebantur noctibus dies, et sine intervallo gravius sibi instabat, nec desinebat nisi defecerat: rursus cum se remiserat, in omnes lusus, in omnes iocos se resolvebat; cum vero se silvis montibusque tradiderat, in silvis ac montibus natos, homines illos agrestis, laboris patientia et venandi sollertia provocabat, et in tantam perveniebat sic vivendi cupiditatem ut vix posset ad priorem consuetudinem retrahi. At cum sibi iniecerat manum et se blandienti otio abduxerat, tantis viribus incumbebat in studium ut non tantum nihil perdidisse sed multum adquisisse desidia videretur. Omnibus quidem prodest subinde animum relaxare; excitatur enim otio vigor, et omnis tristitia, quae continuatione pertinacis studii adducitur, feriarum hilaritate discutitur: nulli tamen intermissio manifestius proderat. Quotiens ex intervallo dicebat, multo acrius violentiusque dicebat; exultabat enim <animo>2 novato atque integro robore, et tantum a se exprimebat quantum concupierat. Nesciebat dispensare vires suas, sed inmoderati adversus se imperii fuit, ideoque studium eius prohiberi debebat quia regi non poterat…

 

Seneca the Younger, De Tranquillitate Animi, 5

“Our minds must be allowed a break—once rested, they will rise better and sharper. Just as fertile fields must not be overworked—for endless productivity will exhaust them soon—so too continuous work crushes the force of our minds; but rested and relaxed they restore their own powers. Weakness and weariness are born to minds from constant efforts.”

Danda est animis remissio; meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. Ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum—cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas,—ita animorum impetus adsiduus labor franget, vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi; nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.

Bonus Quotation

Fragments of Dio Chrysostom, Stob. Flor. 4, XIX

“It is right, then, to be be proper master and to permit those who want to rest sometimes. For breaks are preparation for toil—the both, the lyre and human kind become their best through resting.”

Χρὴ οὖν δεσπόζειν ἐπιεικῶς καὶ ἀνεθῆναί ποτε βουλομένοις ἐπιτρέπειν. αἱ γὰρ ἀνέσεις παρασκευαστικαὶ πόνων εἰσί, καὶ τόξον καὶ λύρα καὶ ἄνθρωπος ἀκμάζει δι᾿ ἀναπαύσεως.

Gardecorps. Metallic buttons?  Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)
Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)

For more Roman vacation advice, see Pliny’s suggestions for translating Greek into Latin and writing poems and some other selections from antiquity.

Rescuing a Man of Defensive Humor

Seneca, EM 29.4-8

“I am not yet in despair about our companion Marcellinus. He can be saved even now, but only if a hand be given to him quickly. There certainly is a risk that he will drag his rescuer down with him—there is a great force of intelligence in the man, even though it is already leaning towards depravity. Nevertheless, I will face this danger and dare to show him his mistakes.

He will do what he usually does—he will call up his wittiness which can elicit laughter even from mourners and joke first about himself and then about me. He will oppose everything I plan to say. He will scrutinize our philosophical beliefs and complain that philosophers took handouts, had girlfriends, and were gluttons. He will tell me about some philosopher who is caught in adultery, another who hangs out at bars, another found in court. He will tell me about Aristo, Marcus Lepidus’ philosopher who used to have conversations while he was riding around in his carriage (since that was the time he had set aside for editing his work) so that Scaurus gossiped about him, “Well, he’s not one of the Walking Doctors, at least.” Julius Graecinus, when asked about the same person, said “I can’t tell you, for I don’t know what he can do on foot!” as if he were asked about a charioteer.

He will mock these types of cavalrymen, men I think would have been better to have ignored philosophy than sell it. But I am resolved to tolerate the insults. Let him try to move my laughter and I, perhaps, will move him to tears. Or, if he persists telling jokes, I will still take some joy in these sufferings, since he’s touched by a humorous kind of madness. This type of humor is not long-lived. Look carefully and you will see that people like this laugh intemperately and then rage intemperately in a short span of time.”

Marcellinum nostrum ego nondum despero. Etiamnunc servari potest, sed si cito illi manus porrigitur. Est quidem periculum, ne porrigentem trahat; magna in illo ingenii vis est, sed iam tendentis in pravum. Nihilominus adibo hoc periculum et audebo illi mala sua ostendere. Faciet quod solet; advocabit illas facetias, quae risum evocare lugentibus possunt, et in se primum, deinde in nos iocabitur. Omnia, quae dicturus sum, occupabit. Scrutabitur scholas nostras et obiciet philosophis congiaria, amicas, gulam. Ostendet mihi alium in adulterio, alium in popina, alium in aula. Ostendet mihi M. Lepidi philosophum Aristonem, qui in gestatione disserebat. Hoc enim ad edendas operas tempus acceperat. De cuius secta cum quaereretur, Scaurus ait: “Utique Peripateticus non est.” De eodem cum consuleretur Iulius Graecinus, vir egregius, quid sentiret, “Non possum,” inquit, “tibi dicere; nescio enim, quid de gradu faciat,” tamquam de essedario interrogaretur. Hos mihi circulatores, qui philosophiam honestius neglexissent quam vendunt, in faciem ingeret. Constitui tamen contumelias perpeti; moveat ille mihi risum, ego fortasse illi lacrimas movebo, aut si ridere perseverabit, gaudebo tamquam in malis, quod illi genus insaniae hilare contigerit. Sed non est ista hilaritas longa. Observa; videbis eosdem intra exiguum 8tempus acerrime ridere et acerrime rabere.

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BL Add_ms_49622_f193v

The Annoying Liberal Arts, Or: Seneca Goes Full-on Bauerlain

Seneca, Moral Epistle 88

“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.

Image result for medieval manuscript animal teacher
 ca. 1350 | The Morgan Library & Museum

The Curative Powers of Iron

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 34.151

“There are other medicinal applications of iron beyond surgery. For when a circle is drawn around both adults and infants—or of they carry a sharp iron weapon with them—it is useful against poisonous drugs. Iron nails which have been taken out of tombs are useful protections against nightmares if they are hammered down before a threshold.

A small penetration with an iron weapon which has wounded a man is effective against sudden side and chest pains. Some afflictions are treated by cauterization, especially true for the bite of a rabid dog, since even when the disease has advanced and those afflicted are starting to exhibit fear of water, they experience relief at cauterization. The drinking of water which has been heated with burning iron is good for many symptoms, but especially for dysentery.”

XLIV. Medicina e ferro est et alia quam secandi. namque et circumscribi circulo terve circumlato mucrone et adultis et infantibus prodest contra noxia medicamenta, et praefixisse in limine evulsos sepulchris clavos adversus nocturnas lymphationes, pungique leviter mucrone, quo percussus homo sit, contra dolores laterum pectorumque subitos, qui punctionem adferant. quaedam ustione sanantur, privatim vero canis rabidi morsus, quippe etiam praevalente morbo expaventesque potum usta plaga ilico liberantur. calfit etiam ferro candente potus in multis vitiis, privatim vero dysentericis.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1462, Folio 16r

Some Exercise Advice for the Ancient Beach Body

Celsus, 1.2.5-7

“Whether domestic or civic duties occupy you, keep some time of the day for caring for the body. The chief way of caring for the body is exercise and it should always be done before eating. The work should be greater for one who has labored less and digested well and less for one who is tired and has not digested. Good exercises include reading aloud, drilling, playing ball, running, walking. The last is not the most useful on a level road, since going up or down moves the body with a variety, unless the body is completely weak. It is better to walk out in the open than under a roof. And it is also better, should your head endure it, to walk in the sun instead of the shade. But better still in the shade than under a roof and better a straight than an indirect walk.

The end of exercise, moreover, should come with sweat or some bit of tiring which should still be on this side of fatigue. Sometimes more and sometimes less needs to be done. But one should not follow the model of athletes with their fixed rule and excessive workout.”

Quem interdiu vel domestica vel civilia officia tenuerunt, huic tempus aliquod servandum curationi corporis sui est. Prima autem eius curatio exercitatio est, quae semper antecedere cibum debet, in eo, qui minus laboravit et bene concoxit, amplior; in eo, qui fatigatus est et minus concoxit, remissior.

Commode vero exercent clara lectio, arma, pila, cursus, ambulatio, atque haec non utique plana commodior est, siquidem melius ascensus quoque et descensus cum quadam varietate corpus moveat, nisi tamen id perquam inbecillum est: melior autem est sub divo quam in porticu; melior, si caput patitur, in sole quam in umbra, melior in umbra quam paries aut viridia efficiunt, quam quae tecto subest; melior recta quam flexuosa. Exercitationis autem plerumque finis esse debet sudor aut certe lassitudo, quae citra fatigationem sit, idque ipsum modo minus, modo magis faciendum est. Ac ne his quidem athletarum exemplo vel certa esse lex vel inmodicus labor debet.

Hippocrates, Regimen 2 61

“I will now explore what kind of impact exercises have. For some are natural and some are pretty violent. Natural exercise deals with sight, hearing, voice, and thinking. The power of sight is like this. The soul, when it attends to what can be seen, moves and warms. As it warms it dries because the moisture is extracted. In hearing, when sound strikes, the soul shakes and works and as it exercises, it turns warm and dries.

A person’s soul is moved by however many thoughts it has and it also warms and is dried and it spends its moisture as it works—it can empty the flesh and make a person thin. Whenever people exercise their voice either in speaking,reading or singing, all these things move the soul. When it is moved, it warms and dries and uses up the moisture.”

Περὶ δὲ τῶν πόνων ἥντινα ἔχουσι δύναμιν διηγήσομαι. εἰσὶ γὰρ οἱ μὲν κατὰ φύσιν, οἱ δὲ διὰ βίης· οἱ μὲν οὖν κατὰ φύσιν αὐτῶν εἰσιν ὄψιος πόνος, ἀκοῆς, φωνῆς, μερίμνης. ὄψιος μὲν οὖν δύναμις τοιήδε· προσέχουσα ἡ ψυχὴ τῷ ὁρατῷ κινεῖται καὶ θερμαίνεται· θερμαινομένη δὲ ξηραίνεται, κεκενωμένου τοῦ ὑγροῦ. διὰ δὲ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἐσπίπτοντος τοῦ ψόφου σείεται ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ πονεῖ, πονέουσα δὲ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται. ὅσα μεριμνᾷ ἄνθρωπος, κινεῖται ἡ ψυχὴ ὑπὸ τούτων καὶ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται, καὶ τὸ ὑγρὸν καταναλίσκουσα πονεῖ, καὶ κενοῖ τὰς σάρκας, καὶ λεπτύνει τὸν ἄνθρωπον. ὁκόσοι δὲ πόνοι φωνῆς, ἢ λέξιες ἢ ἀναγνώσιες ἢ ᾠδαί, πάντες οὗτοι κινέουσι τὴν ψυχήν· κινεομένη δὲ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται, καὶ τὸ ὑγρὸν καταναλίσκει

British Library MS Royal 10 E IV f. 231