Advice on Buying Gifts from Seneca

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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A Banquet of Learning; A Dinner No-Show

Cicero Topica V

“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.

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Fresco from Pompeii

Nothing To Write about: Cicero Gives Up

Cicero to Atticus, 129 (VII.6) Formiae, ca. 18 December 50 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“There’s clearly nothing for me to write to you about. You know everything worth knowing and I have nothing to expect from you. Still, let me keep up our practice so that we don’t let anyone travel near you without a letter.

I am really afraid for our country. I have barely found anyone who doesn’t think we should give Caesar what he wants, rather than fighting with him.”

Plane deest quid ad te scribam. nota omnia tibi sunt, nec ipse habeo a te quod exspectem. tantum igitur nostrum illud sollemne servemus, ut ne quem istuc euntem sine litteris dimittamus.

De re publica valde timeo, nec adhuc fere inveni qui non concedendum putaret Caesari quod postularet potius quam depugnandum.

The Mind Recoils When Left to Itself: What Do You Do on The Weekend?

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 2

“Regret for work only begun grips them and then fear of starting again and then the anxiety of a mind that can find no end—because they can neither control their desires nor serve them, the hesitation of a life which cannot make its own way and the stillness of a soul growing dull among failed schemes.

These traits grow worse when people flee toward leisure because of hatred of unsuccessful work, or they flee to private studies which a mind set on more public achievement cannot tolerate because it desires accomplishment and is restless by nature since it certainly has too little comfort in itself. Therefore, once the distractions are removed which vocations themselves offer those who run to them, the mind cannot endure home, quiet, or the walls of a room as it recoils unwillingly at being left to itself.

From this arises that boredom and displeasure and the volatility of mind that can rest nowhere—the sad and sickly tolerance of one’s own leisure. This especially is true when it is a matter of shame to admit the causes and embarrassment suppresses the torments deeper. Desires compressed in a narrow space without escape choke on one another.

This is the origin of mourning and depression and the endless fluctuations of an uncertain mind which hopes for work begun keep in suspense and the failure makes sorrowful. This is where that feeling that makes people despise their own leisure comes from and why they complain they have nothing to do; this also prompts their hateful envy of other’s success. Their sad lack of motion feeds jealousy and they want everyone to fail because they could not succeed themselves. Then from this dismissal of the success of others and their own despair, the mind is enraged against fortune—it complains of the era, and then retreats and ruminates over its trouble until it bores and shames itself.

For the human mind is naturally agile and prone to motion. It welcomes every cause of excitement and reason for being distracted from itself—even more welcome to those worse types who are worn out more freely in pursuing such diversions.”

Tunc illos et paenitentia coepti tenet et incipiendi timor subrepitque illa animi iactatio non invenientis exitum, quia nec imperare cupiditatibus suis nec obsequi possunt, et cunctatio vitae parum se explicantis et inter destituta vota torpentis animi situs. Quae omnia graviora sunt, ubi odio infelicitatis operosae ad otium perfugerunt, ad secreta studia, quae pati non potest animus ad civilia erectus agendique cupidus et natura inquies, parum scilicet in se solaciorum habens; ideo detractis oblectationibus, quas ipsae occupationes discurrentibus praebent, domum, solitudinem, parietes non fert, invitus aspicit se sibi relictum.

Hinc illud est taedium et displicentia sui et nusquam residentis animi volutatio et otii sui tristis atque aegra patientia; utique ubi causas fateri pudet et tormenta introsus egit verecundia, in angusto inclusae cupiditates sine exitu se ipsae strangulant. Inde maeror marcorque et mille fluctus mentis incertae, quam spes inchoatae suspensam habent, deploratae tristem; inde ille adfectus otium suum detestantium querentiumque nihil ipsos habere, quod agant et alienis incrementis inimicissima invidia. Alit enim livorem infelix inertia et omnes destrui cupiunt, quia se non potuere provehere; ex hac deinde aversatione alienorum processuum et suorum desperatione obirascens fortunae animus et de saeculo querens et in angulos se retrahens et poenae incubans suae, dum illum taedet sui pigetque. Natura enim humanus animus agilis est et pronus ad motus. Grata omnis illi excitandi se abstrahendique materia est, gratior pessimis quibusque ingeniis, quae occupationibus libenter deteruntur.

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MS from Bodleian Library. (Found on Pinterest)

The Annoying Liberal Arts

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.

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ca. 1350 | The Morgan Library & Museum

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 ‘. “

Leaving Life From an Inn, Not a Home

Cicero De Senectute, 84

“Even if some god should permit that I would return to the time of my birth from this age, I would sternly refuse–for, truly, I do not wish to restart as if to retrace a race run from the finish line to the starting post.

What attraction does life have? Or, rather, what labor does it lack? Let it have clear charm–even still, it must have either satiety or a conclusion. It is not my purpose to deplore life as many–even learned men–have often done. And I do not regret that I have lived, because I lived in a such a way that I do not believe I was pointlessly born.  And I am leaving life as if from an inn, not a home. For nature has given us a way-station for a brief delay, not to permanently reside.”

Et si quis deus mihi largiatur ut ex hac aetate repuerascam et in cunis vagiam, valde recusem, nec vero velim quasi decurso spatio ad carceres a calce revocari. Quid habet enim vita commodi? Quid non potius laboris? Sed habeat sane; habet certe tamen aut satietatem aut modum. Non libet enim mihi deplorare vitam, quod multi et ei docti saepe fecerunt, neque me vixisse paenitet, quoniam ita vixi, ut non frustra me natum existimem, et ex vita ita discedo tamquam ex hospitio, non tamquam e domo; commorandi enim natura divorsorium nobis, non habitandi dedit.

This last bit made me think of Lucretius:

De Rerum Natura, 3.970-971

“Thus one thing never ceases to arise from another,
and life is given to no one for ownership, but to all for rent.”

sic aliud ex alio numquam desistet oriri
vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu

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Fear of Ghosts in Imperial Rome

Pliny, Natural History 27.98

“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.

*From Vergil’s Aeneid.

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The Wakeful Mind and Happiness

Cicero, De Finibus 5. 87

“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.”

Ἔτι ἔστω ψυχῆς ἔργον τὸ ζῆν ποιεῖν, τοῦτοχρῆσις καὶ ἐγρήγορσις (ὁ γὰρ ὕπνος ἀργία τις καὶ ἡσυχία)· ὥστ᾿ ἐπεὶ τὸ ἔργον ἀνάγκη ἓν καὶ ταὐτὸ εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τῆς ἀρετῆς, ἔργον ἂν εἴη τῆς ἀρετῆς ζωὴ σπουδαία.

τοῦτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ τέλεον ἀγαθόν, ὅπερ ἦν ἡ εὐδαιμονία. δῆλον δὲ ἐκ τῶν ὑποκειμένων (ἦν μὲν γὰρ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον, τὰ δὲ τέλη ἐν ψυχῇ καὶ τὰ ἄριστα τῶν ἀγαθῶν, τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ ἢ ἕξις ἢ ἐνέργεια), ἐπεὶ βέλτιον ἡ ἐνέργεια τῆς διαθέσεως καὶ τῆς βελτίστης ἕξεως ἡ βελτίστη ἐνέργεια ἡ δ᾿ ἀρετὴ βελτίστη ἕξις, τὴν τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐνέργειαν τῆς ψυχῆς ἄριστον εἶναι. ἦν δὲ καὶ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον· ἔστιν ἄρα ἡ εὐδαιμονία ψυχῆς ἀγαθῆς ἐνέργεια.

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

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Ms 3045 fol.22v Boethius with the Wheel of Fortune, from ‘De Consolatione Philosophiae’, translated by Jean de Meung

The Best People Sickness Can Make

Pliny The Younger, Letters, 7.26

“A friend’s sickness has lately reminded me that we are the best people when we are sick. Does greed or lust ever bother a sick person? They are not controlled by their desires or their love of honors. They don’t care about wealth and think whatever little bit they have is enough, because they will leave it behind! The sick remember the gods and realize they are mortal. They don’t feel envy or awe or contempt for other people. Slander doesn’t attract or encourage the sick and all they dream of are baths and fountains.

These are the end of their concerns, the object of their prayers. And they promise that will be enough if they are lucky to survive. I can now say briefly and clearly what the philosophers try to convey in so many endless words: When we’re healthy we should strive to be the kind of people we promised to be when we were sick. Goodbye!”

Nuper me cuiusdam amici languor admonuit, optimos esse nos dum infirmi sumus. Quem enim infirmum aut avaritia aut libido sollicitat? Non amoribus servit, non adpetit honores, opes neglegit et quantulumcumque, ut relicturus, satis habet. Tunc deos tunc hominem esse se meminit, invidet nemini, neminem miratur neminem despicit, ac ne sermonibus quidem malignis aut attendit aut alitur: balinea imaginatur et fontes.

Haec summa curarum, summa votorum mollemque in posterum et pingue destinat vitam. Possum ergo quod plurimis verbis plurimis etiam voluminibus philosophi docere conantur, ipse breviter tibi mihique praecipere, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi. Vale.

Euricius Cordus (1486-1535); Fur die newe, hievor vnerhorte und erschrocklich todtliche Kranckheyt und schnellen todt, die English schweyee-sucht geant, Strassbourg: 1529.Early books on medicine..Published: 1928..Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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.

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Verdun, Bibl. mun., ms. 0070, f. 42v.