Pliny’s Slightly Less Stupid Treatments for Sickness

 

Pliny the Elder Natural History, 28.33

“The treatment is for their hands to be washed in water first and then for that water to be sprinkled on patients. However, those who are struck at some point by a scorpion are never attacked again by wasps and bees. Someone who knows that clothes worn at a funeral are never touched by moths or that snakes are only with great labor pulled out out of their holes except by the left hand will not be shocked by this.

Of the discoveries of Pythagoras, this will not prove false: an unequal number of vowels foretells lameness, blindness, or some similar disability on the right side; an even number predicts this on the left. People claim that a difficult birth labor will result in an immediate delivery if a stone or a missile which has killed three animals with a single strike (a human, a boar and a bear) is thrown over the home containing the pregnant woman. This is done with more success with a spear that has been pulled from a human body and has not touched the ground. This works the same if the spear is carried inside.”

remedio est ablui prius manus eorum aquaque illa eos quibus medearis inspergi. rursus a scorpione aliquando percussi numquam postea a crabronibus, vespis apibusve feriuntur. minus miretur hoc qui sciat vestem a tineis non attingi quae fuerit in funere, serpentes aegre praeterquam laeva manu extrahi. e Pythagorae inventis non temere fallere, inpositivorum nominum inparem vocalium numerum clauditates oculive orbitatem ac similes casus dextris adsignare partibus, parem laevis. ferunt difficiles partus statim solvi, cum quis tectum in quo sit gravida transmiserit lapide vel missili ex his qui tria animalia singulis ictibus interfecerint, hominem, aprum,  ursum. probabilius id facit hasta velitaris evulsa corpori hominis, si terram non attigerit. eosdem enim inlata effectus habet.

Image result for medieval manuscript pliny natural history
From Arundel_ms_98_f085v

Changing Your Mind is the Point of Research

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 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

Demosthenes Gaetz it: Remorse for 10,000 Drachmas

Aulus Gellius on Demosthenes and the Courtesan Lais (Attic Nights 1.VIII)

8 A detail excerpted from the writings of the philosopher Sotion about the prostitute Lais and the orator Demosthenes

Sotion was a rather well known man from the peripatetic school. He wrote a book filled with varied and extensive anecdotes and named it The Horn of Amaltheia, which in our tongue is pretty close to saying The Horn of Plenty.

In that book he included this anecdote about Demosthenes the orator and Lais the prostitute. “Lais”, he says, “the Corinthian, used to earn a lot of money through the elegance and beauty of her body. Often, some of the most well-known wealthy men from all of Greece came to see her, but not a one was admitted unless he gave what she asked: and she used to ask for no small amount.” He says that this is where the common saying was born among Greeks that “It is not possible for everyman to sail to Corinth”, since a man went to Corinth to Lais in vain if he could not give what she asked.

“And the famous Demosthenes went to her in secret and asked for her services. But she asked for 10,000 drachmas” [1]–an amount which would be exchanged for ten thousand of our denarii—“Struck dumb by the woman’s daring and by the great heap of money, Demosthenes turned away pale and said “I cannot buy regret for such a price”. But the Greek which he is said to have spoken is more charming: “I will not buy remorse for 10,000 drachmas.”

8 Historia in libris Sotionis philosophi reperta super Laide meretrice et Demosthene rhetore.
1 Sotion ex peripatetica disciplina haut sane ignobilis vir fuit. Is librum multae variaeque historiae refertum composuit eumque inscripsit Κέρας Ἀμαλθείας. 2 Ea vox hoc ferme valet, tamquam si dicas “cornum Copiae”. 3 In eo libro super Demosthene rhetore et Laide meretrice historia haec scripta est: “Lais” inquit “Corinthia ob elegantiam venustatemque formae grandem pecuniam demerebat, conventusque ad eam ditiorum hominum ex omni Graecia celebres erant, neque admittebatur, nisi qui dabat, quod poposcerat; poscebat autem illa nimium quantum.” 4 Hinc ait natum esse illud frequens apud Graecos adagium:

Οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐς Κόρινθον ἔσθ᾿ ὁ πλοῦς

quod frustra iret Corinthum ad Laidem, qui non quiret dare, quod posceretur. 5 “Ad hanc ille Demosthenes clanculum adit et, ut sibi copiam sui faceret, petit. At Lais myrias drachmas poposcit”, hoc facit nummi nostratis denarium decem milia. 6 “Tali petulantia mulieris atque pecuniae magnitudine ictus expavidusque Demosthenes avertitur et discedens “ego” inquit “paenitere tanti non emo”. Sed Graeca ipsa, quae fertur dixisse, lepidiora sunt: οὐκ ὠνοῦμαι μυρίων δραχμῶν μεταμέλειαν.

demosthenes-bust
Does this face merit a surcharge?

[1] If we use the popular idea that a drachma was worth one day of a skilled worker’s wages, then Lais’ services cost 10,000 working days. Perhaps less overwhelming, but still impressive is valuing a drachma at $25 USD: A night with Lais is only $250,000 dollars. But maybe that’s just because it was Demosthenes….

The Death of Augustus

Velleius Paterculus, 2.123

“This is the time attended by the most fear. Augustus had sent his own grandson Germanicus to Germany to handle the end of the conflict there. And he was about to send his son Tiberius to Illyricum to shore up the peace where he had subjugated with war. Following him and at the same time intending to visit the athletic competitions which had been established in his honor by the Neapolitans, Augustus traveled to Campania. Although he had already at that point felt the growth of weakness and sensed the beginning of his own deterioration, he followed his son with a resolute strength of spirit—he parted from him at Beneventum and left for Nola. There, as his strength dissipated by the day, and he recognized whom it was necessary to summon if he wished for everything to remain safe once he was gone, he quickly recalled his son.

Tiberius returned to the father of his fatherland more quickly than he was expected. Then, confessing that he has more content because he was surrounded by the embrace of his son, he entrusted to him their common efforts without any kind of an end, allowing that, if the fates demanded, he was ready. Even though he was renewed at first by the sight of his son and at the voice of someone dearest to him, soon, since the fates can conquer every kind of care, he released his elements and returned his divine soul to heaven in his seventy-sixth year, during the consulship of Pompeius and Apuleius” (14 CE).

Venitur ad tempus, in quo fuit plurimum metus. Quippe Caesar Augustus cum Germanicum nepotem suum reliqua belli patraturum misisset in Germaniam. Tiberium autem filium missurus esset in Illyricum ad firmanda pace quae bello subegerat, prosequens eum simulque interfuturus athletarum certaminis ludicro, quod eius honori sacratum a Neapolitanis est, processit in Campaniam. Quamquam iam motus imbecillitatis inclinataeque in deterius principia valetudinis senserat, tamen obnitente vi animi prosecutus filium digressusque ab eo Beneventi ipse Nolam petiit: et ingravescente in dies valetudine, cum sciret, quis volenti omnia post se salva remanere accersendus foret, festinanter revocavit filium; ille ad patrem patriae expectato revolavit maturius. 2 Tum securum se Augustus praedicans circumfususque amplexibus Tiberii sui, commendans illi sua atque ipsius opera nec quidquam iam de fine, si fata poscerent, recusans, subrefectus primo conspectu alloquioque carissimi sibi spiritus, mox, cum omnem curam fata vincerent, in sua resolutus initia Pompeio Apuleioque consulibus septuagesimo et sexto anno animam caelestem caelo reddidit.

Augustus - Wikipedia

Saving the State With A Single Body

Cicero, De Domo Sua 63-64

“Leaders, this violence, this crime, this rage was what I defended from the necks of all good people with my body—I met with my skin the full force of civil strife, the explosive savagery of criminals which was just now bursting out because it had found such daring leaders after it had grown for so long as hatred suppressed.

Against me alone the consular firebrands fell, thrown by the tribunes’ hands; all the criminal points of conspiracy which I had broken before struck me. But if I had done what many of the bravest men found pleasing and had decided to face this force in open arms, I would have been victorious with the death of so many criminals who were still citizens or I would have fallen with the Republic following the death of so many good people, something those criminals wished for most.”

Hanc ego vim, pontifices, hoc scelus, hunc furorem meo corpore opposito ab omnium bonorum cervicibus depuli omnemque impetum discordiarum, omnem diu collectam vim improborum, quae inveterata compresso odio atque tacito iam erumpebat nancta tam audaces duces, excepi meo corpore. In me uno consulares faces, iactae manibus tribuniciis, in me omnia, quae ego quondam rettuderam, coniurationis nefaria tela adhaeserunt. Quod si, ut multis fortissimis viris placuit, vi et armis contra vim decertare voluissem, aut vicissem cum magna internicione improborum, sed tamen civium, aut interfectis bonis omnibus, quod illis optatissimum erat, una cum re publica concidissem

Officer Eugene Goodman at the Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021. Image taken from The Hill https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/533657-capitol-police-officer-hailed-as-hero-for-drawing-rioters-away-from-senate

When You Can, Live as You Should

Seneca, Moral Epistles 7.8-9

“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.

Image result for medieval manuscripts meditating
Verdun, Bibl. mun., ms. 0070, f. 42v.

How We Spend Our Days–Do Nothing Rather Than Something Useless

Pliny, Letters 9 To Minucius Fundanus

“It is amazing how the schedule is or seems on individual days in the city when they all blend together. If you ask anyone “what did you do today?” He may say, “I went to a toga-ceremony, an engagement, or a marriage. I was the witness at a will-signing, or at court as a witness or supporter.” These things which you do seem necessary on the day that you do them but empty if you remember that you have done the same kind of things every day and they seem even sillier if you consider them when you are away.

Then the realization comes over you: “How many days have I wasted in trivial pursuits!” This occurs to me whenever I am reading or writing or taking some time to exercise, to keep my mind fit for my work, at my Laurentum. I hear nothing and I say nothing which later on it hurts me that I said or heard. No one troubles me with evil rumors. I find no one to blame but myself when I write with too little ease. I am troubled by no hope, no fear; I am disrupted by no gossip. I speak only with myself and my little books.

What a fine and sincere life! What sweet and honest leisure, finer than nearly any business at all. The sea, the beach, my own true and private museum—how much you discover for me, how much you have told me!

Take the first chance you can to leave that noise, the empty conversation, and so many useless tasks and dedicate yourself to studies or relaxing. For our friend Atilius put it most elegantly and intelligently when he said “it is better to do engage in leisure than to do nothing.”

Plinius Minicio Fundano Suo S.

1Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque

Nam si quem interroges “Hodie quid egisti?,” respondeat: “Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in 3 consilium rogavit.” Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: “Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!” 4 Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! 7 Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. 8 Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.

Even Gods Need Vacations

Cicero Academica (Lucullus) 121

“You deny that anything is possible without god. Look, here Strato from Lampascus interrupts to grant immunity to that god of yours, however big the task. And, since the gods’ priests get a vacation, it is so much fairer that the gods do too!

Anyway, Strato denies that he needs to use divine actions to create the universe: whatever exists—he teaches—comes from natural causes. He does not, however, follow the one who argues that [the world] was put together out of rough and smooth, hook-shaped or crooked atoms separated by void. He believes that these are dreams of Democritus not as he teaches but as he imagines things. Strato himself, as he outlines the components of the universe in order, insists that whatever is or develops emerges from or was made by natural means, through gravity and motion.

Thus he frees the god of great labor and me of fear. For, once they imagine that some deity is worrying about them, who wouldn’t shudder at divine power day and night and, when anything bad happens—for who avoids such things?—wouldn’t fear that it happened because of some negative judgment? Still, I don’t agree with Strato nor, to be honest, with you. Sometimes his idea seems more likely, at other times yours does.”

 

[121] Negas sine deo posse quicquam: ecce tibi e transverso Lampsacenus Strato, qui det isti deo inmunitatem — magni quidem muneris; sed cum sacerdotes deorum vacationem habeant, quanto est aequius habere ipsos deos —: negat  opera deorum se uti ad fabricandum mundum, quaecumque sint docet omnia effecta esse natura, nec ut ille qui asperis et levibus et hamatis uncinatisque corporibus concreta haec esse dicat interiecto inani: somnia censet haec esse Democriti non docentis sed optantis, ipse autem singulas mundi partes persequens quidquid aut sit aut fiat naturalibus fieri aut factum esse docet ponderibus et motibus. ne ille et deum opere magno liberat et me timore. quis enim potest, cum existimet curari se a deo, non et dies et noctes divinum numen horrere et si quid adversi acciderit, quod cui non accidit, extimescere ne id iure evenerit? nee Stratoni tamen adsentior nec vero tibi; modo hoc modo illud probabilius videtur.’

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (Vatican City) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creaci%C3%B3n_de_Ad%C3%A1n.jpg

Seneca’s Advice on Buying Gifts

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.11-12

“Let’s imagine what might be worth the greatest pleasure after it has been given—what would greet the recipient’s eye frequently and make him think of us whenever he sees it. Each time let us be wary not to send useless gifts, such as hunting implements to a woman or an old man, books to a simpleton or fishing nets to someone dedicated to literature. However, we should be equally mindful that, although we want to send welcome gifts, we do not send things which will reprove someone for a failing, such as sending wine to a drunk or medicine to a healthy man. For something which uncovers a fault in the recipient turns out to be an insult not a gift.

If the choice of the gift is our choice, we should think especially of things which will endure, that the gift may last as long as possible. For there are truly few people so grateful that they will think about what they have received when they do not see it. But memory revives for the ungrateful with the gift itself when it is in front of them and it will not allow them to be forgetful. And we should seek gifts which endure even more for the fact that we ought not to ever remind people: let the things themselves prompt a fading memory.

I will give silver which is sculpted rather than money and I give statues more freely than clothing or things which will deteriorate after brief use. Gratitude lasts among few longer than the objects themselves. Greater is the number among whom gifts remain in mind no longer than they are in use. So I, if it is possible, do not want my gift to be used up. Let it last, let it stick fast to my friend. Let it live alongside him.”

Videamus, quid oblatum maxime voluptati futurum sit, quid frequenter occursurum habenti, ut totiens nobiscum quotiens cum illo sit. Utique cavebimus, ne munera supervacua mittamus, ut feminae aut seni arma venatoria, ut rustico libros, ut studiis ac litteris dedito retia. Aeque ex contrario circumspiciemus,ne, dum grata mittere volumus, suum cuique morbum exprobratura mittamus, sicut ebrioso vina et valetudinario medicamenta. Maledictum enim incipit esse, non munus, in quo vitium accipientis adgnoscitur.

Si arbitrium dandi penes nos est, praecipue mansura quaeremus, ut quam minime mortale munus sit. Pauci enim sunt tam grati, ut, quid acceperint, etiam si non vident, cogitent. Ingratos quoque memoria cum ipso munere incurrit, ubi ante oculos est et oblivisci sui non sinit, sed auctorem suum ingerit et inculcat. Eo quidem magis duratura quaeramus, quia numquam admonere debemus; ipsa res evanescentem memoriam excitet. Libentius donabo argentum factum quam signatum; libentius statuas quam vestem et quod usus brevis deterat. Apud paucos post rem manet gratia; plures sunt, apud quos non diutius in animo sunt donata, quam in usu. Ego, si fieri potest, consumi munus meum nolo; extet, haereat amico meo, convivat.

 

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Cicero on Judicious Generosity

Cicero, De officiis 2.62-63

“The case of the person who is hard-pressed by disaster is different from that of the one who seeks improved affairs when nothing adverse stands in the way. Charity will be obligated to favor those in misfortune unless there is some way they have earned their misfortune. Even for these, still, we should not refuse those who desire to be helped not only that they are suffering misfortune but that they may rise to a higher station. But we should guide our judgment and care in selecting those who are worthy. For, as Ennius famously says: “I believe that good deeds poorly placed are poorly done.”

In addition, when some benefit is given to a good and grateful man, it is useful both in his response and in others’ reactions too. For, generosity is most gratefully received when it is not random and people praise it more heartily because it represents the goodness of a man in a high station and common refuge for all. Hence, efforts much be made to provide as many people as possible with benefits so that the memory of our generosity will be handed down to their children and grandchildren so that even they may not be ungrateful. For all people hate forgetfulness of a favor and consider it as an injury which has been committed against them because generosity is discouraged and those who do this are a common enemy of the poor.”

Alia causa est eius, qui calamitate premitur, et eius, qui res meliores quaerit nullis suis rebus adversis. Propensior benignitas esse debebit in calamitosos, nisi forte erunt digni calamitate. In iis tamen, qui se adiuvari volent, non ne affligantur, sed ut altiorem gradum ascendant, restricti omnino esse nullo modo debemus, sed in deligendis idoneis iudicium et diligentiam adhibere. Nam praeclare Ennius:

Bene fácta male locáta male facta árbitror.

Quod autem tributum est bono viro et grato, in eo cum ex ipso fructus est, tum etiam ex ceteris. Temeritate enim remota gratissima est liberalitas, eoque eam studiosius plerique laudant, quod summi cuiusque bonitas commune perfugium est omnium. Danda igitur opera est, ut iis beneficiis quam plurimos afficiamus, quorum memoria liberis posterisque prodatur, ut iis ingratis esse non liceat. Omnes enim immemorem beneficii oderunt eamque iniuriam in deterrenda liberalitate sibi etiam fieri eumque, qui faciat, communem hostem tenuiorum putant.

Image result for medieval manuscript generosity
from the Roman de la Rose, Royal MS 20 A XVII, f. 9r