Goodbye Cato, Cicero and Sallust: Loving Literature until It Hurts

Aurelius to Fronto

“Am I supposed to study when you are in pain—especially when you are in pain because of me? Should I not voluntarily punish myself with every kind of discomfort? It is deserved, by Hercules. What other person caused the pain in your knee which you wrote increased last night, except for Centumcellae, except for me? What can I do when I cannot see you and I am tortured with worry? And, in addition, even if I could study, the courts prohibit it since, as those who know say, they consume whole days.

Nevertheless, I sent you today’s maxim and yesterday’s commonplace. We traveled on the road the whole day yesterday. Today it is difficult to do anything but the evening maxim. Do you, you say, sleep so long a night? I certainly can sleep, for I am big on sleep. But it is so cold in my room that I can barely reach my hand from my clothes!

In all honesty, what distracted my mind the most from studies especially was that, because I love literature too much, I was a burden for you at the Harbor, as events proved. So, then, goodbye to all the Catos, the Ciceros, and the Sallusts, provided that you are well and that I may see you healthy even without books.

Farewell, my greatest joy, my sweetest teacher.

Egone ut studeam quom tu doleas, praesertim quom mea causa doleas? Non me omnibus incommodis sponte ipse adflictem? Merito hercule. Quis enim tibi alius dolorem genus, quem scribis nocte proxima auctum, quis alius eum suscitavit, nisi Centumcellae, ne me dicam? Quid igitur faciam, qui nec te video et tanto angore | discrucior? Adde eo quod etiamsi libeat studere, iudicia prohibent, quae, ut dicunt qui sciunt, dies totos eximent. Misi tamen hodiernum γνώμην et nudiustertianum locum communem. Heri totum diem in itinere adtrivimus. Hodie difficile est ut praeter vespertinam γνώμην quicquam agi possit. Nocte, inquis, tam longa dormis? Et dormire quidem possum, nam sum multi somni; sed tantum frigoris est in cubiculo meo, ut manus vix exseri possit. Sed re vera illa res maxime mih-animum a studiis depulit, quod, dum nimium litteras amo, tibi incommodus apud Portum fui, ut res ostendit. Itaque valeant omnes Porcii et Tullii et Crispi, dum tu valeas, et te vel sine libris firmum tamen videam. Vale, praecipuum meum gaudium, magister dulcissime.

 

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Fronto on Cicero: A Font of Eloquence with Predictable words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE) 1.3

“Up to now, you have perhaps been wondering in what number I might place Marcus Cicero who is the peak and the origin of Roman eloquence. I think that he used the most beautiful words all the time and that he was ahead of all other orators in making magnificent whatever topic he wished to illustrate. But, he seems to be to have been less than scrupulous in selecting his words—either because of the hugeness of his mind, in avoidance of extra work, or because of a trust that without even seeking it he would find present what barely appears when others search for it.

And so, as someone who has repeatedly read all of his writings most carefully, I believe that I have sensed that he managed every kind of word most effectively—direct words, metaphors, simple and compound words—and what shines through everywhere in his writings, noble words and often quite charming ones. But still, in all of his speeches you will discover very few works which are uncommon or unexpected, the types of words which cannot be hunted down without study, and concern, and work, and a great memory of old poems.

I am calling an uncommon and unexpected word one which is offered beyond the hope or expectation of those reading or listening so that, if you take it away and ask the reader to finish the meaning, he would discover no other word or at least none so well matched to what the phrase means.”

3. Hic tu fortasse iamdudum requiras quo in numero locem M. Tullium, qui caput atque fons Romanae eloquentiae cluet. Eum ego arbitror usquequaque verbis pulcherrimis elocutum et ante omnes alios oratores ad ea, quae ostentare vellet, ornanda magnificum fuisse. Verum is mihi videtur a quaerendis scrupulosius verbis procul afuisse vel magnitudine animi vel fuga laboris vel fiducia, non quaerenti etiam sibi, quae vix aliis quaerentibus subvenirent, praesto adfutura. Itaque comperisse videor, ut qui eius scripta omnia studiosissime lectitarim, cetera eum genera verborum copiosissime uberrimeque tractasse, verba propria translata simplicia composita et, quae in eius scriptis ubique dilucent, verba honesta, saepenumero etiam amoena: quom tamen in omnibus eius orationibus paucissima admodum reperias insperata atque inopinata verba, quae non nisi cum studio atque cura atque vigilia atque Vat.145multa veterum carminum memoria indagantur. | Insperatum autem atque inopinatum verbum appello, quod praeter spem atque opinionem audientium aut legentium promitur, ita ut, si subtrahas atque eum qui legat quaerere ipsum iubeas, nullum aut non ita significando adcommodatum verbum aliud reperiat.

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Quintilian: Advice for Judging Great Authors

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1.24-26

“Let the reader not be persuaded as a matter of course that everything the best authors said is perfect. For they slip at times, they give in to their burdens, and they delight in the pleasure of their own abilities. They do not always pay attention; and they often grow tired. Demosthenes seems to doze to Cicero; Homer naps for Horace. Truly, they are great, but they are still mortals and it happens that those who believe that whatever appears in these authors should be laws for speaking often imitate their lesser parts, since this is easier—and they believe they are enough like them if they emulate the faults of great authors.

Still, one must pass judgment on these men with modesty and care to avoid what often happens when people condemn what they do not understand. If it is necessary to err in either part, I would prefer readers to enjoy everything in these authors rather than dismiss much.”

Neque id statim legenti persuasum sit, omnia quae summi auctores dixerint utique esse perfecta. Nam et labuntur aliquando et oneri cedunt et indulgent ingeniorum suorum voluptati, nec semper intendunt animum, nonnumquam fatigantur, cum Ciceroni dormitare interim Demosthenes, Horatio vero etiam Homerus ipse videatur.  Summi enim sunt, homines tamen, acciditque iis qui quidquid apud illos reppererunt dicendi legem putant ut deteriora imitentur (id enim est facilius), ac se abunde similes putent si vitia magnorum consequantur. Modesto tamen et circumspecto iudicio de tantis viris pronuntiandum est, ne, quod plerisque accidit, damnent quae non intellegunt. Ac si necesse est in alteram errare partem, omnia eorum legentibus placere quam multa displicere maluerim.

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Comparing Domitian to Ovid, Lucan and Friends: Quintilian With Some World-Class Shade

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1

“Atacinus Varro acquired his name as a translator of other’s work—he certainly shouldn’t be dismissed, but in truth he has little to commend for improving an ability in speaking. Ennius, we should adore as we would groves sacred with age whose ancient trees have less beauty than they have religious awe. Others are closer to this time and are more useful for our subject. Ovid is certainly indulgent in his epic verse and too in love with his own genius, but still should be praised for some things. Cornelius Severus, moreover, even if he was a better metrician than a poet, still would have claimed second place for himself if he had finished his Sicilian War to the standard of his first book.

An early death kept Serranus from reaching his potential, yet his youthful works demonstrate special ability and a desire for correct form that is especially admirable in one so young. We recently lost a lot in Valerius Flaccus. Saleius  Bassus had a forceful poetic ability—it did not improve with age. Rabirius and Pedo are worth a read, if you have extra time. Lucan is forceful, intense, and famous for his quotability, but, if I may say what I really think, a model more for orators than poets.

I am listing these authors because care for the lands of the earth has distracted Germanicus Augustus [Domitian] from the pursuits he began—it seemed insufficient to the gods that he be the greatest of poets. But, still, what could appear more sublime, more learned, and more outstanding by every account than the works of this young man who put the empire aside? Who could sing of wars better than the one who wages them in this way? Whom would the deities of these arts heed more closely? To whom would Minerva more easily unveil her own arts? Future generations will explain these things more fully, for now this praise is constrained by the glare of his other virtues.”

Atacinus Varro in iis per quae nomen est adsecutus interpres operis alieni, non spernendus quidem, verum ad augendam facultatem dicendi parum locuples. Ennium sicut sacros vetustate lucos adoremus, in quibus grandia et antiqua robora iam non tantam habent speciem quantam religionem. Propiores alii atque ad hoc de quo loquimur magis utiles. Lascivus quidem in herois quoque Ovidius et nimium amator ingenii sui, laudandus tamen partibus. Cornelius autem Severus, etiam si sit versificator quam poeta melior, si tamen (ut est dictum) ad exemplar primi libri bellum Siculum perscripsisset, vindicaret sibi iure secundum locum. Serranum consummari mors inmatura non passa est, puerilia tamen eius opera et maximam indolem ostendunt et admirabilem praecipue in aetate illa recti generis voluntatem. Multum in Valerio Flacco nuper amisimus. Vehemens et poeticum ingenium Salei Bassi fuit, nec ipsum senectute maturuit. Rabirius ac Pedo non indigni cognitione, si vacet. Lucanus ardens et concitatus et sententiis clarissimus et, ut dicam quod sentio, magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandus. Hos nominamus quia Germanicum Augustum ab institutis studiis deflexit cura terrarum, parumque dis visum est esse eum maximum poetarum. Quid tamen his ipsis eius operibus in quae donato imperio iuvenis secesserat sublimius, doctius, omnibus denique numeris praestantius? Quis enim caneret bella melius quam qui sic gerit? Quem praesidentes studiis deae propius audirent? Cui magis suas artis aperiret familiare numen Minerva?  Dicent haec plenius futura saecula, nunc enim ceterarum fulgore virtutum laus ista praestringitur. Nos tamen sacra litterarum colentis feres, Caesar, si non tacitum hoc praeterimus et Vergiliano certe versu testamur

 

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The Greeks Were Poetic Thieves (or, Clement Doesn’t Get Poetry)

Clement of Alexandria was an early church father who wrote a book of miscellany entitled the Stromata (“turnings”). In book 6, he takes on Greek plagiarism.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata book 6.2 (Go here for a full translation of this masterpiece)

“Come on, let us put forth the Greeks as witnesses against themselves for their theft. For when they steal their material from one another they show that they are thieves and they illustrate, even if unwillingly, how they secretly expropriate the truth from us to their own tribes. If they do not spare themselves, they will hardly spare us.

I will not mention the beliefs of philosophers, since they all agreeing in writing—lest they appear ungrateful—that they have gathered the precepts of their beliefs from those that hold the greatest authority through Socrates.

Once I have offered a few testimonies of the authors most famous and most frequented among the greats and I have unveiled their thieving ways—and after I have done this through a few periods—I will turn to what remains.”

After Orpheus wrote “There is nothing more doglike and frightening than a woman” and Homer wrote in the same way “there is nothing more dreadful and doglike than a woman”. After Musaios wrote “Since craft is much better than strength”, Homer wrote “the woodcutter is much better by wit than by force”.

Again, after Musaios wrote:

In the same way that the fertile field grows plants,
Some fall from the ash-trees and in turn others grow.
So too the tribe and race of man twists and turns.

And then Homer wrote later

The wind makes some leaves fall to the ground and tree
Blooms and grows others, when the spring’s season comes
That’s the way it is with the race of men: one grows, another dies.

And after Homer said: “It ain’t right to boast over men who have been killed.” Arkhilokhos and Kratinos said, “it is not noble to brag over men who have died.”

φέρε μάρτυρας τῆς κλοπῆς αὐτοὺς καθ’ ἑαυτῶν παραστήσωμεν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας· οἱ γὰρ τὰ οἰκεῖα οὕτως ἄντικρυς παρ’ ἀλλήλων ὑφαιρούμενοι βεβαιοῦσι μὲν τὸ κλέπται εἶναι, σφετερίζεσθαι δ’ ὅμως καὶ ἄκοντες τὴν παρ’ ἡμῶν ἀλήθειαν εἰς τοὺς
ὁμοφύλους λάθρᾳ διαδείκνυνται. οἱ γὰρ μηδὲ ἑαυτῶν, σχολῇ γ’ ἂν τῶν ἡμετέρων ἀφέξονται. καὶ τὰ μὲν κατὰ φιλοσοφίαν σιωπήσομαι δόγματα, αὐτῶν ὁμολογούντων ἐγγράφως τῶν τὰς αἱρέσεις διανεμομένων, ὡς μὴ ἀχάριστοι ἐλεγχθεῖεν, παρὰ Σωκράτους εἰληφέναι τὰ κυριώτατα τῶν δογμάτων. ὀλίγοις δὲ τῶν καθωμιλημένων καὶ παρὰ τοῖς ῞Ελλησιν εὐδοκίμων ἀνδρῶν χρησάμενος μαρτυρίοις, τὸ κλεπτικὸν διελέγξας εἶδος αὐτῶν, ἀδιαφόρως τοῖς χρόνοις καταχρώμενος, ἐπὶ τὰ ἑξῆς τρέψομαι.

᾿Ορφέως τοίνυν ποιήσαντος·
ὣς οὐ κύντερον ἦν καὶ ῥίγιον ἄλλο γυναικός,
῞Ομηρος ἄντικρυς λέγει·
ὣς οὐκ αἰνότερον καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο γυναικός.
Γράψαντός τε Μουσαίου·
ὡς αἰεὶ τέχνη μέγ’ ἀμείνων ἰσχύος ἐστίν,
῞Ομηρος λέγει
μήτι τοι δρυτόμος περιγίνεται ἠὲ βίηφι.

clemensvonalexandrien

Πάλιν τοῦ Μουσαίου ποιήσαντος·
ὡς δ’ αὔτως καὶ φύλλα φύει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα·
ἄλλα μὲν ἐν μελίῃσιν ἀποφθίνει, ἄλλα δὲ φύει·
ὣς δὲ καὶ ἀνθρώπων γενεὴν καὶ φῦλον ἑλίσσει.
῞Ομηρος μεταγράφει·
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει, ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.
Πάλιν δ’ αὖ ῾Ομήρου εἰπόντος·
οὐχ ὁσίη κταμένοισιν ἐπ’ ἀνδράσιν εὐχετάασθαι,
᾿Αρχίλοχός τε καὶ Κρατῖνος γράφουσιν, ὃ μέν·
οὐ γὰρ ἐσθλὰ κατθανοῦσι κερτομεῖν ἐπ’ ἀνδράσιν,
Κρατῖνος δὲ ἐν τοῖς Λάκωσι·
φοβερὸν ἀνθρώποις τόδ’ αὖ,
κταμένοις ἐπ’ αἰζηοῖσι[ν] καυχᾶσθαι μέγα.
Αὖθίς τε ὁ ᾿Αρχίλοχος τὸ ῾Ομηρικὸν ἐκεῖνο μεταφέρων·
ἀασάμην, οὐδ’ αὐτὸς ἀναίνομαι· ἀντί νυ πολλῶν, ὧδέ πως γράφει·
ἤμβλακον, καί πού τινα ἄλλον ἥδ’ ἄτη κιχήσατο·

Isocrates on the Power of Homeric Poetry

Isocrates, To Nicocles 48-50

“But this is clear: those who wish to compose or write anything that is cherished popularly need to seek out not the most beneficial types of speech but the most mythical. For people take pleasure in listening to these types of tales and when they witness contests and struggles.  For this reason, it is right to wonder at the poetry of Homer and the first tragedians—because they recognize human nature, they have imbued their poetry with both of these powers. Homer has told tales of the struggles and wars of the demigods while the tragedians have worked the myths into competitions and actions so that we are not just listeners but eyewitnesses as well. Given these types of prior examples, then, it is necessary that those who desire to keep our attention should avoid warning and counseling and should focus instead on those things which they know effectively pleases the crowd.”

᾿Εκεῖνο δ’ οὖν φανερὸν, ὅτι δεῖ τοὺς βουλομένους ἢ ποιεῖν ἢ γράφειν τι κεχαρισμένον τοῖς πολλοῖς μὴ τοὺς ὠφελιμωτάτους τῶν λόγων ζητεῖν, ἀλλὰ τοὺς μυθωδεστάτους· ἀκούοντες μὲν γὰρ τῶν τοιούτων χαίρουσιν, θεωροῦντες δὲ τοὺς ἀγῶνας καὶ τὰς ἁμίλλας. Διὸ καὶ τὴν ῾Ομήρου ποίησιν καὶ τοὺς πρώτους εὑρόντας τραγῳδίαν ἄξιον θαυμάζειν, ὅτι κατιδόντες τὴν φύσιν τὴν τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀμφοτέραις ταῖς ἰδέαις ταύταις κατεχρήσαντο πρὸς τὴν ποίησιν. ῾Ο μὲν γὰρ τοὺς ἀγῶνας καὶ τοὺς πολέμους τοὺς τῶν ἡμιθέων ἐμυθολόγησεν, οἱ δὲ τοὺς μύθους εἰς ἀγῶνας καὶ πράξεις κατέστησαν, ὥστε μὴ μόνον ἀκουστοὺς ἡμῖν ἀλλὰ καὶ θεατοὺς γενέσθαι. Τοιούτων οὖν παραδειγμάτων ὑπαρχόντων δέδεικται τοῖς ἐπιθυμοῦσιν τοὺς ἀκροωμένους ψυχαγωγεῖν ὅτι τοῦ μὲν νουθετεῖν καὶ συμβουλεύειν ἀφεκτέον, τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα λεκτέον, οἷς ὁρῶσι τοὺς ὄχλους μάλιστα χαίροντας.

Isocrates

 

Panegyricus 159

“I suspect that even Homer’s poetry acquired a greater reputation because he gloriously promoted the men who fought against the barbarians and thanks to this our forefathers made his art honored in our musical competitions and in the education of the youth so that by hearing his poems often we might learn the ancient enmity towards them and, because we admire the excellence of those who went to war, we might pursue the same deeds.”

Οἶμαι δὲ καὶ τὴν ῾Ομήρου  ποίησιν μείζω λαβεῖν δόξαν ὅτι καλῶς τοὺς πολεμήσαντας τοῖς βαρβάροις ἐνεκωμίασεν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο βουληθῆναι τοὺς προγόνους ἡμῶν ἔντιμον αὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι τὴν τέχνην ἔν τε τοῖς τῆς μουσικῆς ἄθλοις καὶ τῇ παιδεύσει τῶν νεωτέρων, ἵνα πολλάκις ἀκούοντες τῶν ἐπῶν ἐκμανθάνωμεν τὴν ἔχθραν τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν πρὸς αὐτοὺς καὶ ζηλοῦντες τὰς ἀρετὰς τῶν στρατευσαμένων τῶν αὐτῶν ἔργων ἐκείνοις ἐπιθυμῶμεν.

Hipponax Invented Parody? 14.698

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists

“Polemon, in the twelfth book of his To Timaios, writes about his studies on the authors of parody “I would call Boeiotos and Euboios word-smiths since they play deftly with multiple meanings and they surpass the poets who preceded them in earlier generations. But it must be admitted that the founder of this genre was Hipponax, the iambic poet. For he writes as follows in hexameter:

“Muse, tell me the tale the sea-swallowing
Stomach-slicing, son of Eurymedon, who eats without order,
How he died a terrible death thanks to a vile vote
in the public council along the strand of the barren sea.”

Parody is also accredited to Epicharmus of Syracuse in some of his plays, Cratinus the Old Comic poetry in his play The Sons of Eunêos, and also to Hegemon of Thasos, whom they used to call “Lentil Soup”, as he says himself.”

Πολέμων δ’ ἐν τῷ δωδεκάτῳ τῶν πρὸς Τίμαιον περὶ τῶν τὰς παρῳδίας γεγραφότων ἱστορῶν τάδε γράφει ‘καὶ τὸν Βοιωτὸν δὲ καὶ τὸν Εὔβοιον τοὺς τὰς παρῳδίας γράψαντας λογίους ἂν φήσαιμι διὰ τὸ παίζειν ἀμφιδεξίως καὶ τῶν προγενεστέρων ποιητῶν ὑπερέχειν ἐπιγεγονότας. εὑρετὴν μὲν οὖν τοῦ γένους ῾Ιππώνακτα φατέον τὸν ἰαμβοποιόν. λέγει γὰρ οὗτος ἐν τοῖς ἑξαμέτροις

Μοῦσά μοι Εὐρυμεδοντιάδεα τὴν ποντοχάρυβδιν,
τὴν ἐν γαστρὶ μάχαιραν, ὃς ἐσθίει οὐ κατὰ κόσμον,
ἔννεφ’, ὅπως ψηφῖδι <κακῇ>* κακὸν οἶτον ὀλεῖται
βουλῆι δημοσίηι παρὰ θῖν’ ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο.

κέχρηται δὲ καὶ ᾿Επίχαρμος ὁ Συρακόσιος ἔν τισι τῶν δραμάτων ἐπ’ ὀλίγον καὶ Κρατῖνος ὁ τῆς ἀρχαίας κωμῳδίας ποιητὴς ἐν Εὐνείδαις καὶ τῶν κατ’ αὐτὸν ῾Ηγήμων ὁ Θάσιος, ὃν ἐκάλουν Φακῆν. λέγει γὰρ οὕτως.

 

*Emendation suggested via twitter by Armand D’Angour

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