Lucretius to the CDC: Guess the Universal Pre-existing Condition?

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1076-1094

“Finally, what great and vile desire for life compels us
To quake so much amidst doubts and dangers?
Mortals have an absolute end to our lives:
Death cannot be evaded—we must leave.
Nevertheless, we move again and still persist—
No new pleasure is procured by living;
But while what we desire is absent, that seems to overcome
All other things; but later, when we have gained it, we want something else—
An endless thirst for life grips us as we gasp for it.
It remains unclear what fortune life will offer,
What chance may bring us and what end awaits.
But by extending life we do not subtract a moment
Of time from death nor can we shorten it
So that we may somehow have less time after our ends.

Therefore, you may continue as living as many generations as you want,
But that everlasting death will wait for you still,
And he will be there for no less a long time, the man who
Has found the end of life with today’s light, than the man who died
Many months and many years before.”

Denique tanto opere in dubiis trepidare periclis
quae mala nos subigit vitai tanta cupido?
certe equidem finis vitae mortalibus adstat
nec devitari letum pote, quin obeamus.
praeterea versamur ibidem atque insumus usque
nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas;
sed dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
cetera; post aliud, cum contigit illud, avemus
et sitis aequa tenet vitai semper hiantis.
posteraque in dubiost fortunam quam vehat aetas,
quidve ferat nobis casus quive exitus instet.
nec prorsum vitam ducendo demimus hilum
tempore de mortis nec delibare valemus,
quo minus esse diu possimus forte perempti.
proinde licet quod vis vivendo condere saecla,
mors aeterna tamen nihilo minus illa manebit,
nec minus ille diu iam non erit, ex hodierno
lumine qui finem vitai fecit, et ille,
mensibus atque annis qui multis occidit ante.

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 1.1:

“Act thus, my Lucilius: justify yourself, collect and save all of the time which to this point has been taken off, or stolen, or simply slipped away. Persuade yourself that the matter stands as I write: some time is stolen from us, some is drawn off, and some just flows away. The most shameful loss, though, is the one which occurs through negligence. If you wish to take note, you will see that a large part of life slips away from those who act badly, the greatest portion slips away from those who do nothing, and all of life slips away from those who are busy doing something else. What person can you cite who places a price upon his time, who takes an account of the day, who understands that he is dying every day? We are deceived in this, that we look forward to death: a large part of it has already gone by, and whatever part of our lives is in the past is death’s property now. Therefore, act as you claim to do, and embrace every hour; thus it will happen that you weigh out less of tomorrow, if you throw your hand upon today.

Life runs away when it is delayed. All things, my Lucilius, are foreign to us: time alone is ours. Nature has granted us the possession of this one fleeting, slippery thing, from which she expels whoever wishes it. The stupidity of humans is so great that they allow the smallest, most worthless things (certainly, those which can be retrieved) to be added to their account when they have accomplished them, but no one thinks that he owes any debt when he receives time, though this is the one thing which no one is able to pay back readily.

You will perhaps ask how I act, I who deliver these precepts to you. I will confess honestly: as happens among the diligent partaker of luxury, I keep an account of the cost. I can not say that I have wasted nothing, but I can give an account of why and how I wasted it. I will explain the causes of my poverty. But it happens to me as to many who have been reduced to poverty through no fault of their own: all ignore him, no one helps him.

What then? I do not consider a man poor if whatever is left to him seems enough to him. I advise you, though to hold on to what is yours, and do it in good time. For, as the ancients say, ‘Parsimony is too late on the ground,’ for not only is the remaining portion at the bottom the smallest, but it is also the worst. Goodbye.”

Ita fac, mi Lucili: vindica te tibi, et tempus quod adhuc aut auferebatur aut subripiebatur aut excidebat collige et serva. Persuade tibi hoc sic esse ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, magna pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, maxima nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus. [2] Quem mihi dabis qui aliquod pretium tempori ponat, qui diem aestimet, qui intellegat se cotidie mori? In hoc enim fallimur, quod mortem prospicimus: magna pars eius iam praeterit; quidquid aetatis retro est mors tenet. Fac ergo, mi Lucili, quod facere te scribis, omnes horas complectere; sic fiet ut minus ex crastino pendeas, si hodierno manum inieceris. [3] Dum differtur vita transcurrit. Omnia, Lucili, aliena sunt, tempus tantum nostrum est; in huius rei unius fugacis ac lubricae possessionem natura nos misit, ex qua expellit quicumque vult. Et tanta stultitia mortalium est ut quae minima et vilissima sunt, certe reparabilia, imputari sibi cum impetravere patiantur, nemo se iudicet quicquam debere qui tempus accepit, cum interim hoc unum est quod ne gratus quidem potest reddere.

[4] Interrogabis fortasse quid ego faciam qui tibi ista praecipio. Fatebor ingenue: quod apud luxuriosum sed diligentem evenit, ratio mihi constat impensae. Non possum dicere nihil perdere, sed quid perdam et quare et quemadmodum dicam; causas paupertatis meae reddam. Sed evenit mihi quod plerisque non suo vitio ad inopiam redactis: omnes ignoscunt, nemo succurrit. [5] Quid ergo est? non puto pauperem cui quantulumcumque superest sat est; tu tamen malo serves tua, et bono tempore incipies. Nam ut visum est maioribus nostris, ‘sera parsimonia in fundo est’; non enim tantum minimum in imo sed pessimum remanet. Vale.

Hieronymous Bosch, “Death and the Miser” 1494

and it keeps going……

Happy Halloween: Werewolves in Greek and Roman Culture

This week we charged full speed down a lykanthropic rabbit-hole in the annual tradition.

Did the Wolf Win or Lose this FIght?
Did the Wolf Win or Lose this Fight?

Here are the sources I’ve gathered in rough chronological order. Most of the material is mentioned in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, although the entry says nothing about the medical texts.

  1. Herodotus’ Histories: A Description of the Neuri, a tribe near the Skythians who could turn into wolves and back.
  2. Plato’s Republic: Lycanthropy is used as a metaphor for the compulsive behavior of tyrants.
  3. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: Pliny describes the origins of ideas about lycanthropy and blames the traditions on the credulity of the Greeks!
  4. Petronius’ Satyricon: A character tells the story of a companion transforming into a wolf at night and back at day.
  5. Pausanias’ Geography of Greece: Like Pliny, Pausanias tells the story of the human sacrifice performed by Lykaon as an origin of lycanthropic narratives.
  6. Greek Medical Treatises on the Treatment of Lycanthropy: Medical authors from the time of Marcus Aurelius to the fall of Byzantium treat lycanthropy as a mental illness.
  7. Augustine of Hippo, City of God:  St. Augustine (5th Century CE) gives an account similar to Pliny’s, but attributes it to Varro.
  8. Michael Psellus, Poemata 9.841:An 11th century CE monk wrote a book of didactic poems about medicine. His description of lycanthropy is clearly influenced by the Greek medical treatises.

What I have learned from these texts:

  1. The early Greek tradition is harmonious with some structural aspects of Greek myth.  Lycanthropy is related to sacrilegious eating–in a system where what you eat communicates who you are, human flesh is taboo (monsters eat it).  In the Greek lycanthropic tradition, this is non mono-directional. Werewolves who abstain from human flesh can turn back again.
  2. The later ‘folkloric’ tradition (e.g. Petronius) is separate from this structural logic. in the earlier tradition, men transform for 9-10 years (in something of a purificatory period). The other tradition has shorter periods (nightly) that don’t correlate with sacrilege: Petronius’ werewolf doesn’t eat human flesh (that we know of).
  3. The moon-association may be a later accretion on the tradition. All of the medical texts associate werewolves with the night; the Roman texts agree. The lunar cycle may be implied in the Petronius tale (where the transformation happens when the light is almost as bright as day) or in the later medical texts vis a vis the connection with menstrual cycles.
  4. There is one hint of a dog-bite being associated with lycanthropy, but no foundational notion that you contract lycanthropy from a werewolf.  In addition, there are no specific suggestions or methods for how to kill a werewolf.

Continue reading “Happy Halloween: Werewolves in Greek and Roman Culture”

Are YOU Like Tiberius?

Suetonius, Life of Tiberius 70

“He pursued the liberal arts of both languages most seriously. He was a follower of Messala Corvinus when it came to Latin oratory, a man whom he had observed while an adolescent. But he used to confuse his style with such excessive affectation and officiousness that he was considered more effective as an extemporaneous speaker than a prepared one.

He also wrote a lyric poem which had the title “A Lament on the Death of Lucius Caesar.” When he composed Greek poems, he imitated Euphorion, Rhianus, and Parthenius, those poets whose writing he liked most of all, and he placed their portraits in the public libraries among the older, famous authors. For this reason, many of the learned men of the time were in a competition dedicating many books about these men to Tiberius.

Still, he took the greatest care in knowledge of the stories of myth, to the point of absurdity and silliness. For he even used to quiz the grammarians, a class of men whom, as I said, he was really preoccupied with, posing questions like: “Who was the mother of Hecuba?” “What name did Achilles have among the girls?” “What were the Sirens accustomed to singing?”

LXX. Artes liberales utriusque generis studiosissime coluit. In oratione Latina secutus est Corvinum Messalam, quem senem adulescens observarat. Sed adfectatione et morositate nimia obscurabat stilum, ut aliquanto ex tempore quam a cura praestantior haberetur. Composuit et carmen lyricum, cuius est titulus “Conquestio de morte L. Caesaris.” Fecit et Graeca poemata imitatus Euphorionem et Rhianum et Parthenium, quibus poetis admodum delectatus scripta omnium et imagines publicis bibliothecis inter veteres et praecipuos auctores dedicavit; et ob hoc plerique eruditorum certatim ad eum multa de his ediderunt.3Maxime tamen curavit notitiam historiae fabularis usque ad ineptias atque derisum; nam et grammaticos, quod genus hominum praecipue, ut diximus, appetebat, eius modi fere quaestionibus experiebatur: “Quae mater Hecubae, quod Achilli nomen inter virgines fuisset, quid Sirenes cantare sint solitae.”

 

 Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 3466 8º, Folio 37r

Disagreements and Words

Cicero, de Amicitia 23-24

“The fact is that if you remove the ties of goodwill from our world, no house or city can stand tall nor can even agriculture persist! If this is less intelligible, one can perceive how powerful friendship and harmony are from the impact of disagreements and disharmony. What house is so stable or what state is so strong that it cannot be upended by hatred and division?”

Quod si exemeris ex rerum natura benevolentiae coniunctionem, nec domus ulla nec urbs stare poterit, ne agri quidem cultus permanebit. Id si minus intellegitur, quanta vis amicitiae concordiaeque sit, ex dissensionibus atque discordiis percipi potest. Quae enim domus tam stabilis, quae tam firma civitas est, quae non odiis et discidiis funditus possit everti?

 

Plato, Euthyphro 7c

“So if we were disagreeing about whether something was bigger or smaller, we’d turn to actual measurement to resolve our disagreement?”

 Οὐκοῦν καὶ περὶ τοῦ μείζονος καὶ ἐλάττονος εἰ διαφεροίμεθα, ἐπὶ τὸ μετρεῖν ἐλθόντες ταχὺ παυσαίμεθ’ ἂν τῆς | διαφορᾶς;

Cicero, de Finibus 4. 22

“If we dispute about a fact, Cato, you and I can have no disagreement! There’s no difference between what you believe and I do when we compare the facts themselves once the words have been changed.”

Si de re disceptari oportet, nulla mihi tecum, Cato, potest esse dissensio; nihil est enim de quo aliter tu sentias atque ego, modo commutatis verbis ipsas res conferamus

Pheasants with a disagreement

Have You Heard about Lesbia?

Catullus 58a

Caelius, our Lesbia, that Lesbia,
that Lesbia, whom alone Catullus loved
more than himself and all of his family,
now, at street corners and in alleyways
pleasures the grandsons of great-souled Remus.

*Pleasures: the latin is “glubit,” and whether this vulgarity involves the hands or the mouth is anybody’s guess.

Caeli, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam
plus quam se atque suos amauit omnes,
nunc in quadriuiis et angiportis
glubit magnanimi Remi nepotes.

Picasso. Bust of a Woman. 1931. Not especially subtle.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Think You’re Done with that Pee? Wait, There’s More!

Marcus Cato, On Agriculture 157.10-11

“Wait, there’s more: save the urine of someone who eats cabbage all the time, warm it, bathe your patient in it, you will heal them! This has been tested. As a bonus, if you wash a babies in this urine, they will never be unhealthy. If someone’s eyes are a little weak, work that potion into them and they will see more! Head pain or neck pain will also lessen when treated with re-heated urine.

If a woman heats her private parts with this urine, they will suffer no disease. Here’s what you do: warm the urine in a pain and place it on a chair with a cut-out cushion. Have the woman sit on it; cover her; and put clothes over her.”

Et hoc amplius lotium conservato eius qui brassicam essitarit, id calfacito, eo hominem demittito, cito sanum facies hac cura; expertum hoc est. Item pueros pusillos si laves eo lotio, numquam debiles fient. Et quibus oculi parum clari sunt, eo lotio inunguito, plus videbunt.

Si caput aut cervices dolent, eo lotio caldo lavito, desinent dolere. Et si mulier eo lotio locos fovebit, numquam miseri fient, et fovere sic oportet: ubi in scutra fervefeceris, sub sellam supponito pertusam. Eo mulier adsidat, operito, circum vestimenta eam dato.

What It Takes to Understand Vergil

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.14-15

“Has it been proved to you that Vergil cannot be understood by someone who is ignorant of the sound of Latin and is equally distant to one who has not drunk Greek learning deep with the fullest thirst?

If I did not fear making you antsy, I could fill huge volumes with the material he translated from the most obscure Greek teachings. But these assertions are enough to support the thesis I have proposed.”

probatumne vobis est Vergilium, ut ab eo intellegi non potest qui sonum Latinae vocis ignorat, ita nec ab eo posse qui Graecam non hauserit extrema satietate doctrinam?

nam si fastidium facere non timerem, ingentia poteram volumina de his quae a penitissima Graecorum doctrina transtulisset implere: sed ad fidem rei propositae relata sufficient.’

 

Image result for Medieval manuscript Vergil

Escaping the Self is Impossible

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1053-1075

“When people seem to feel that there is a weight
On their minds, which wears them out with its pressure–
If they were able to understand where it comes from and what causes
So great a burden of misery to press upon their chests,
They would hardly live their lives as we now see most do:
Each person does not know what he wants and always seeks
To change his place as if he could possibly slough off the burden.

Often this man departs from the doors of his great home,
When he has tired of being there, only to return suddenly
When he comes to believe that he is no better off outside.
He rushes out driving his ponies heedlessly to his villa
As if he were bringing crucial help to a burning home.
Yet when he arrives and crosses the threshold of the house,
He either falls into a deep sleep or pursues oblivion,
Or he even rushes to visit the city again,
This is the way each man flees from himself, but it is his self
That it is impossible to escape, so he clings to it thanklessly and hates.

He does this because he is a sick man who is ignorant of the cause.
If he knew the cause, he would abandon all these things
And begin his first study of the nature of things,
Since the problem is not that of a single hour but of eternal time—
In what state we must understand that all time will pass
For mortal man after the death that awaits all of us.”

Image result for ancient roman art death

Si possent homines, proinde ac sentire videntur
pondus inesse animo, quod se gravitate fatiget,
e quibus id fiat causis quoque noscere et unde
tanta mali tam quam moles in pectore constet,
haut ita vitam agerent, ut nunc plerumque videmus
quid sibi quisque velit nescire et quaerere semper,
commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit.
exit saepe foras magnis ex aedibus ille,
esse domi quem pertaesumst, subitoque [revertit>,
quippe foris nihilo melius qui sentiat esse.
currit agens mannos ad villam praecipitanter
auxilium tectis quasi ferre ardentibus instans;
oscitat extemplo, tetigit cum limina villae,
aut abit in somnum gravis atque oblivia quaerit,
aut etiam properans urbem petit atque revisit.
hoc se quisque modo fugit, at quem scilicet, ut fit,
effugere haut potis est: ingratius haeret et odit
propterea, morbi quia causam non tenet aeger;
quam bene si videat, iam rebus quisque relictis
naturam primum studeat cognoscere rerum,
temporis aeterni quoniam, non unius horae,
ambigitur status, in quo sit mortalibus omnis
aetas, post mortem quae restat cumque manendo.

Nothing But a Shadow: Some Words on Censure and Envy

Dio Chrysostom, 76.3

“One will say goodbye to honors and slights or to censure and praise from simple-minded persons, even if they happen to be many or few, and even if they are the strong and the wealthy. Instead, one will consider what is called “opinion” to be nothing different from a shadow, by observing that opinion often makes little of important matters and much of minor ones. And, often, it makes a big deal at sometimes and then less at another of the same affairs!”

Χαίρειν οὖν ἐάσει τιμὰς καὶ ἀτιμίας καὶ ψόγον τε καὶ ἔπαινον τὸν παρὰ τῶν ἠλιθίων ἀνθρώπων, ἐάν τε πολλοὶ τύχωσιν ὄντες ἐάν τε ὀλίγοι μὲν ἰσχυροὶ δὲ καὶ πλούσιοι. τὴν δέ γε καλουμένην δόξαν ἡγήσεται μηδὲν διαφέρειν σκιᾶς, ὁρῶν ὅτι γίγνεται τῶν μεγάλων μικρὰ καὶ τῶν μικρῶν μεγάλη· πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τῶν αὐτῶν ὁτὲ μὲν πλείων, ὁτὲ δὲ ἐλάττων.

Plutarch, On Envy and Hate 537 c-d

“Envy certainly never develops towards anyone justly—for no one commits injustice in being happy and it is for happiness that people are envied. Many are hated justly—like those we consider “worthy of hate” with the result that we find fault with others when they don’t avoid people like this or fail to find them despicable and annoying.”

Ἔτι τοίνυν τὸ μὲν φθονεῖν πρὸς οὐδένα γίνεται δικαίως (οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀδικεῖ τῷ εὐτυχεῖν, ἐπὶ τούτῳ δὲ φθονοῦνται)· μισοῦνται δὲ πολλοὶ δικαίως, ὡς οὓς ἀξιομισήτους καλοῦμεν, ὥστε καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐγκαλοῦμεν ἂν μὴ φεύγωσι τοὺς τοιούτους μηδὲ βδελύττωνται καὶ δυσχεραίνωσι.

Propertius, Elegies 1.8b

‘Here she will be! Here she has sworn to stay! Fuck the haters!
we have won…”

Hic erit! hic iurata manet! rumpantur iniqui!
vicimus

Scrovegni, Invidia

Nothing But a Shadow: Some Words on Censure and Envy

Dio Chrysostom, 76.3

“One will say goodbye to honors and slights or to censure and praise from simple-minded persons, even if they happen to be many or few, and even if they are the strong and the wealthy. Instead, one will consider what is called “opinion” to be nothing different from a shadow, by observing that opinion often makes little of important matters and much of minor ones. And, often, it makes a big deal at sometimes and then less at another of the same affairs!”

Χαίρειν οὖν ἐάσει τιμὰς καὶ ἀτιμίας καὶ ψόγον τε καὶ ἔπαινον τὸν παρὰ τῶν ἠλιθίων ἀνθρώπων, ἐάν τε πολλοὶ τύχωσιν ὄντες ἐάν τε ὀλίγοι μὲν ἰσχυροὶ δὲ καὶ πλούσιοι. τὴν δέ γε καλουμένην δόξαν ἡγήσεται μηδὲν διαφέρειν σκιᾶς, ὁρῶν ὅτι γίγνεται τῶν μεγάλων μικρὰ καὶ τῶν μικρῶν μεγάλη· πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τῶν αὐτῶν ὁτὲ μὲν πλείων, ὁτὲ δὲ ἐλάττων.

Plutarch, On Envy and Hate 537 c-d

“Envy certainly never develops towards anyone justly—for no one commits injustice in being happy and it is for happiness that people are envied. Many are hated justly—like those we consider “worthy of hate” with the result that we find fault with others when they don’t avoid people like this or fail to find them despicable and annoying.”

Ἔτι τοίνυν τὸ μὲν φθονεῖν πρὸς οὐδένα γίνεται δικαίως (οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀδικεῖ τῷ εὐτυχεῖν, ἐπὶ τούτῳ δὲ φθονοῦνται)· μισοῦνται δὲ πολλοὶ δικαίως, ὡς οὓς ἀξιομισήτους καλοῦμεν, ὥστε καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐγκαλοῦμεν ἂν μὴ φεύγωσι τοὺς τοιούτους μηδὲ βδελύττωνται καὶ δυσχεραίνωσι.

Propertius, Elegies 1.8b

‘Here she will be! Here she has sworn to stay! Fuck the haters!
we have won…”

Hic erit! hic iurata manet! rumpantur iniqui!
vicimus

Scrovegni, Invidia