It’s Thursday: An Eternal Death Awaits, No Matter What

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.

Illustration for article titled Ancient Roman funeral masks made from wax were freakishly lifelike
Ancient Roman Funeral Masks

#BuyNothingDay: Read Some More Lucretius

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.

Epicureanism doesn’t do it for you? Here’s something else;

Epictetus, Encheiridion 44

“These statements are illogical: “I am richer than you and therefore better than you. I am more articulate than you and therefore better than you.” But these conclusions are more fitting: “I am wealthier than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours. I am more articulate than you, therefore my speech is better than yours.” You are neither your property nor your speech.”

c. 44. Οὗτοι οἱ λόγοι ἀσύνακτοι· “ἐγώ σου πλουσιώτερός εἰμι, ἐγώ σου ἄρα κρείσσων”· “ἐγώ σου λογιώτερος, ἐγώ σου ἄρα κρείσσων” ἐκεῖνοι δὲ μᾶλλον συνακτικοί· “ἐγώ σου πλουσιώτερός εἰμι, ἡ ἐμὴ ἄρα κτῆσις τῆς σῆς κρείσσων”· “ἐγώ σου λογιώτερος, ἡ ἐμὴ ἄρα λέξις τῆς σῆς κρείσσων.” σὺ δὲ γε οὔτε κτῆσις εἶ οὔτε λέξις.

Some Approving Words from Cicero,

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum 7-8

“Can something good be bad for anyone, or is it possible for someone not to be good in the abundance of goods? But indeed, we see that all of those things we mentioned are of such a sort that the wicked have them, but the good do not. For that reason, anyone at all may laugh at me if they wish, but true reasoning will possess more power with me than the opinion of the common mob. Nor will I ever say that someone has lost their goods if they should lose their cattle or furniture. I will always praise the wise man Bias who, as I think, is numbered among the seven sages. When the enemy had seized his fatherland of Priene, and the other citizens were fleeing while carrying many of their possessions with them, Bias was advised by another to do them same himself. Bias responded, ‘I am doing just that – I carry everything I own with me.’”

Potestne bonum cuiquam malo esse, aut potest quisquam in abundantia bonorum ipse esse non bonus? Atqui ista omnia talia videmus, ut et inprobi habeant et absint probis. Quam ob rem licet inrideat, si qui vult, plus apud me tamen vera ratio valebit quam vulgi opinio; neque ego umquam bona perdidisse dicam, si quis pecus aut supellectilem amiserit, nec non saepe laudabo sapientem illum, Biantem, ut opinor, qui numeratur in septem; cuius quom patriam Prienam cepisset hostis ceterique ita fugerent, ut multa de suis rebus asportarent, cum esset admonitus a quodam, ut idem ipse faceret, ‘Ego vero’, inquit, ‘facio; nam omnia mecum porto mea.’

Image result for medieval manuscript marketplace scene
Market scene, 15th century, Manuscript, Bibliothèque Municipale, Rouen

Let’s Talk about [Death] Baby: #DeathAndClassics

Roman Epitaph, B808

“[Hey,] you who are reading this epitaph, remember that you too will be dead.”

Qui legis hunc titulum, mortalem te esse memento.

A few days ago I posted the following tweet.

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

There were lots of interesting answers–it would be annoying to post all the tweets here, but I have added some to give an idea of the range of responses.

Simonides, Fragment 15

“Human strength is meager
Our plains incomplete
Toil follows toil in our short lives.
Death looms inescapable for all—
People who are good and bad draw
of that an equal portion.”

ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ’ ἐν παύρωι πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνωι·
ὁ δ’ ἄφυκτος ὁμῶς ἐπικρέμαται θάνατος·
κείνου γὰρ ἴσον λάχον μέρος οἵ τ’ ἀγαθοὶ
ὅστις τε κακός.

Fragment 16

“Since you are human, never claim what tomorrow might bring.
Nor, if you see a fortunate man, how long it will last.
For not even the time of a tender-winged fly
Is not as fast.”

ἄνθρωπος ἐὼν μή ποτε φάσηις ὅ τι γίνεται 〚αὔριον〛,
μηδ’ ἄνδρα ἰδὼν ὄλβιον ὅσσον χρόνον ἔσσεται·
ὠκεῖα γὰρ οὐδὲ τανυπτερύγου μυίας
οὕτως ἁ μετάστασις.

https://twitter.com/EICClassics/status/999769864758878208

Here are the tweets I sent to try to contextualize the question:

I ask the #deathandclassics question in all seriousness because it is a question I actually consider often (1/8)

I actually have been memorizing the opening lines of the #Odyssey to recite to myself in times of agitation. And I think, if I know I am going to die, I will recite it to myself. (2/8)

Why the #Odyssey? I think the #Iliad is the poem of death and the Odyssey is the poem of life. Both poems are at some level about what it means to be a person, but the Odyssey is about how life is lived. #deathandclassics (3/8)

In a way, it will be like a replaying of my life through a story I have read many times. There is also the ancient allegorical tradition that the Odyssey is about the transition from one realm to the next, the movement of a soul from one plane to another #deathandclassics (4/8)

Even without the allegory, the Odyssey is about the journey of a person and the journey that IS the person. #deathandclassics (5/8)

I think that this might be nice to think about in the final moments—that even though I individual am passing on, I am drifting away on words that have moved through a thousand years #deathandclassics (6/8)

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Talking Dreams in Silent Speech

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.453-461

“And when sleep has bound our limbs with sweet
slumber and the whole body lies in deep repose,
we still seem to ourselves to be awake and to move
our limbs—in the obscure darkness of night.
We think that we see the sun and the light of day;
we seem to trade a closed room or the sky, sea,
rivers and mountains—-we cross fields on our feet.
We hear sounds when the heavy quiet of night
hangs over everything; we utter words while staying silent.”

Denique cum suavi devinxit membra sopore
somnus et in summa corpus iacet omne quiete,
tum vigilare tamen nobis et membra movere
nostra videmur, et in noctis caligine caeca
cernere censemus solem lumenque diurnum,
conclusoque loco caelum mare flumina montis
mutare et campos pedibus transire videmur,
et sonitus audire, severa silentia noctis
undique cum constent, et reddere dicta tacentes.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman Dreams

Need, Benefit, Fear: Ancient Thinkers on the Origin of the Social Contract

We often make a lot of noise about our political beliefs and affiliations without coming straight out and saying what we think a government is for. Such questions are not merely ‘academic’–without an articulation of core beliefs, politics devolves into mere tribalism.

Today is the start of a virtual conference  “Teaching Leaders and Leadership Through Classics” . (You can participate by registering). In teaching courses on leadership, I have found that students are sometimes surprised by the questions “What is a state for? Why do we have government?”

In thinking about ancient politics and leadership, it is important to consider what authors say about where governments come from: Ancient states did not have constitutions and guiding treatises, they had traditions. But, sometimes, authors spoke to the issue directly.

A city develops to help us pursue the good?

Aristotle, Politics 1252a1-8

“Since we recognize that every state is some kind of a partnership and that every partnership has been undertaken for the sake of some good—for it seems that all people do everything for what seems good—it is clear that all states pursue some benefit, but that the most powerful state of all pursues the most powerful benefit which also includes all others. This state is called the city and this partnership is political.”

    ᾿Επειδὴ πᾶσαν πόλιν ὁρῶμεν κοινωνίαν τινὰ οὖσαν καὶ πᾶσαν κοινωνίαν ἀγαθοῦ τινος ἕνεκεν συνεστηκυῖαν (τοῦ γὰρ εἶναι δοκοῦντος ἀγαθοῦ χάριν πάντα πράττουσι πάντες), δῆλον ὡς πᾶσαι μὲν ἀγαθοῦ τινος στοχάζονται, μάλιστα δὲ καὶ τοῦ κυριωτάτου πάντων ἡ πασῶν κυριωτάτη καὶ πάσας περιέχουσα τὰς ἄλλας. αὕτη δ’ ἐστὶν ἡ καλουμένη πόλις καὶ ἡ κοινωνία ἡ πολιτική.

What is good? Is it to supply something we’re missing?

Plato, Republic 369b

“A city develops, I believe, because each of us isn’t self-sufficient— we lack much of what we need. Is there any other reason to build a community?”

γίγνεται τοίνυν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, πόλις, ὡς ἐγᾦμαι, ἐπειδὴ τυγχάνει ἡμῶν ἕκαστος οὐκ αὐτάρκης, ἀλλὰ πολλῶν ὢν ἐνδεής: ἢ τίν᾽ οἴει ἀρχὴν ἄλλην πόλιν οἰκίζειν;

Perhaps the good is to avoid what is bad…

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1145-1160

“The human race, tired of living in a state of violence 
and languishing in feuds, was eager 
to submit to law and strict judgments.
Otherwise, each person would turn to vengeance
More harshly than our current laws allow,
And this is why people have avoided living in a state of violence.
From here comes the fear that alters life’s rewards
Since violence and pain entrap the one who wields them
And tend to return most to those who acted first.
It isn’t easy to lead a quiet and peaceful life
If you break the faith of a community’s written peace.
Even if you deceive the races of god and man,
There’s no way to be sure to keep a secret forever.
Often many reveal themselves by speaking in sleep
Or confused by a lengthy illness, they finally
Disclose their deeply hidden memories and sins.”

nam genus humanum, defessum vi colere aevom,
ex inimicitiis languebat; quo magis ipsum
sponte sua cecidit sub leges artaque iura.

acrius ex ira quod enim se quisque parabat
ulcisci quam nunc concessumst legibus aequis,
hanc ob rem est homines pertaesum vi colere aevom.
inde metus maculat poenarum praemia vitae.
circumretit enim vis atque iniuria quemque
atque unde exortast, ad eum plerumque revertit,
nec facilest placidam ac pacatam degere vitam
qui violat factis communia foedera pacis.
etsi fallit enim divom genus humanumque,
perpetuo tamen id fore clam diffidere debet;
quippe ubi se multi per somnia saepe loquentes
aut morbo delirantes protraxe ferantur
et celata [mala] in medium et peccata dedisse.

Image result for Ancient Roman Government

Xenophon Memorabilia 2.1.12-14

Socrates: “Come now, if only this path wouldn’t lead through men at all, just as through slavery or dominion, you would be saying something. But, as it is, since you live among human beings, if you think it right neither to rule nor to be ruled, nor again to serve rulers willingly, I think that you may see that the stronger know how to make those weaker weep in public and in private—and how to use them as slaves. Or does it escape you that they cut the grain and harvest the trees where others have sown and planted, or that the powerful set siege to the weaker in every way until they “persuade” them to choose to serve as slaves instead of warring against the stronger? Don’t you think it’s the same in private life—that brave and capable men prey upon the weak and powerless once they have enslaved them?”

Aristippus said, “But, indeed, to avoid suffering these things, I do not bind myself to any state—I am a stranger [guest/foreigner] everywhere.”

Socrates: “You have now described a clever trick!” For since the time of Sinis, Skeiron and Procrustes died, no one has done a stranger wrong! But now men gathered together in their states and make laws so that they might not suffer harm, that they might acquire friends as help beyond what they have acquired by birth, and they have built defenses around their cities and acquired weapons to defend themselves against those who might do them wrong and, in addition to this, they have managed to make alliances in other lands. And even those who have done all these things still suffer injustice. Now you, who have none of these advantages, you spend time on the roads where men suffer harm the most and in every city you arrive you arrive you are weaker than all of the citizens—you are the sort of man who are especially exposed to those who want to harm someone. Given all this, you think that you will not suffer harm because you are a “guest”? Is it because the cities announce your safety when you are coming and going that you are so bold? Or is it because you think that you’re the kind of man who’d be of profit to no master? For who would welcome a man into his home who delights in living well but is unwilling to work?”

᾿Αλλ’ εἰ μέν, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὥσπερ οὔτε δι’ ἀρχῆς οὔτε διὰ δουλείας ἡ ὁδὸς αὕτη φέρει, οὕτω μηδὲ δι’ ἀνθρώπων, ἴσως ἄν τι λέγοις· εἰ μέντοι ἐν ἀνθρώποις ὢν μήτε ἄρχειν ἀξιώσεις μήτε ἄρχεσθαι μηδὲ τοὺς ἄρχοντας ἑκὼν θεραπεύσεις, οἶμαί σε ὁρᾶν ὡς ἐπίστανται οἱ κρείττονες τοὺς ἥττονας καὶ κοινῇ καὶ ἰδίᾳ κλαίοντας καθίσαντες δούλοις χρῆσθαι· ἢ λανθάνουσί σε οἱ ἄλλων σπειράντων καὶ φυτευσάντων τόν τε σῖτον τέμνοντες καὶ δενδροκοποῦντες καὶ πάντα τρόπον πολιορκοῦντες τοὺς ἥττονας καὶ μὴ θέλοντας θεραπεύειν, ἕως ἂν πείσωσιν ἑλέσθαι δουλεύειν ἀντὶ τοῦ πολεμεῖν τοῖς κρείττοσι; καὶ ἰδίᾳ αὖ οἱ ἀνδρεῖον καὶ δυνατοὶ τοὺς ἀνάνδρους καὶ ἀδυνάτους οὐκ οἶσθα ὅτι καταδουλωσάμενοι καρποῦνται;

᾿Αλλ’ ἐγώ τοι, ἔφη, ἵνα μὴ πάσχω ταῦτα, οὐδ’ εἰς πολιτείαν ἐμαυτὸν κατακλείω, ἀλλὰ ξένος πανταχοῦ εἰμι.

καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης ἔφη· Τοῦτο ἤδη λέγεις δεινὸν πάλαισμα. τοὺς γὰρ ξένους, ἐξ οὗ ὅ τε Σίνις καὶ ὁ Σκείρων καὶ ὁ Προκρούστης ἀπέθανον, οὐδεὶς ἔτι ἀδικεῖ· ἀλλὰ νῦν οἱ μὲν πολιτευόμενοι ἐν ταῖς πατρίσι καὶ νόμους τίθενται, ἵνα μὴ ἀδικῶνται, καὶ φίλους πρὸς τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις καλουμένοις ἄλλους κτῶνται βοηθούς, καὶ ταῖς πόλεσιν ἐρύματα περιβάλλονται, καὶ ὅπλα κτῶνται οἷς  ἀμυνοῦνται τοὺς ἀδικοῦντας, καὶ πρὸς τούτοις ἄλλους ἔξωθεν συμμάχους κατασκευάζονται· καὶ οἱ μὲν ταῦτα πάντα κεκτημένοι ὅμως ἀδικοῦνται· σὺ δὲ οὐδὲν μὲν τούτων ἔχων, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ὁδοῖς, ἔνθα πλεῖστοι ἀδικοῦνται, πολὺν χρόνον διατρίβων, εἰς ὁποίαν δ’ ἂν πόλιν ἀφίκῃ, τῶν πολιτῶν πάντων ἥττων ὤν, καὶ τοιοῦτος, οἵοις μάλιστα ἐπιτίθενται οἱ βουλόμενοι ἀδικεῖν, ὅμως διὰ τὸ ξένος εἶναι οὐκ ἂν οἴει ἀδικηθῆναι; ἦ διότι αἱ πόλεις σοι κηρύττουσιν ἀσφάλειαν καὶ προσιόντι καὶ ἀπιόντι, θαρρεῖς; ἢ διότι καὶ δοῦλος ἂν οἴει τοιοῦτος εἶναι οἷος μηδενὶ δεσπότῃ λυσιτελεῖν; τίς γὰρ ἂν ἐθέλοι ἄνθρωπον ἐν οἰκίᾳ ἔχειν πονεῖν μὲν μηδὲν ἐθέλοντα, τῇ δὲ πολυτελεστάτῃ διαίτῃ χαίροντα;

In Sleep, Dreams Seem Real; Awake…

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.453-461

“And when sleep has bound our limbs with sweet
slumber and the whole body lies in deep repose,
we still seem to ourselves to be awake and to move
our limbs—in the obscure darkness of night.
We think that we see the sun and the light of day;
we seem to trade a closed room or the sky, sea,
rivers and mountains—-we cross fields on our feet.
We hear sounds when the heavy quiet of night
hangs over everything; we utter words while staying silent.”

Image result for Ancient Roman art dreams

Denique cum suavi devinxit membra sopore
somnus et in summa corpus iacet omne quiete,
tum vigilare tamen nobis et membra movere
nostra videmur, et in noctis caligine caeca
cernere censemus solem lumenque diurnum,
conclusoque loco caelum mare flumina montis
mutare et campos pedibus transire videmur,
et sonitus audire, severa silentia noctis
undique cum constent, et reddere dicta tacentes.

Shakespeare, Hamlet

To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Advice on Christmas Gifts from Solon to Lucretius

Epigonoi Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

 

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.275

“Poems are certainly praised, but great gifts are what is sought.”

carmina laudantur sed munera magna petuntur.

 

Sophocles, Ajax, 664-5

“But the old saying is true: the gifts of enemies are no gifts, and sure to yield no profit.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἀληθὴς ἡ βροτῶν παροιμία,
ἐχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα

 

Aeschylus, fr. 279a2

“Alone of the gods, Death doesn’t long for gifts.”

μόνος θεῶν γὰρ Θάνατος οὐ δώρων ἐρᾶι·

 

Solon, 13.64

“The gifts of the gods must not be rejected”

δῶρα δ᾿ ἄφυκτα θεῶν γίγνεται ἀθανάτων

religion-09

Nostoi, fr. 8.1

“Gifts debase the minds and actions of men”

δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα

 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.