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.

Anger and Masks of Injury

Seneca, De Ira 5-8

“Some one will be said to have spoken badly of you: think whether you did this first; think of how many people you talk about. Let us think, I say, that some are not offending us, but repaying us; that some are doing good for us, that others are forced to act, and some are just ignorant. There are those who do what they do willingly and with full understanding who attach us not for the injury itself: one is either seduced by the sweetness of his wit; other does it not to move against us but because he cannot pursue his own aims unless he moves through us.

Often praise, although it flatters, offends. Whoever reminds himself of how many times he has encountered false suspicion or how many good services fortune has disguised with masks of injury, or how many people he learned to love after hating them, he will not anger quickly. As you are offended each time, say to yourself quietly: “I have done this myself.”

And where would you encounter a judge this just? The one who desires everyone’s wife and believes that it is just enough a reason to love her that someone else has her refuses to have his own wife seen. The traitor has the harshest demands on loyalty and the perjurer is obsessed with lies himself. The devious lawyer despises any charge made against him and the man who thinks nothing of his own shame will not abide the temptation of others. We keep everyone else’s vices in clear view, but own own behind our backs.”

Dicetur aliquis male de te locutus; cogita an prior feceris, cogita de quam multis loquaris. Cogitemus, inquam, alios non facere iniuriam sed reponere, alios pro nobis facere, alios coactos facere, alios ignorantes, etiam eos, qui volentes scientesque faciunt, ex iniuria nostra non ipsam iniuriam petere; aut dulcedine urbanitatis prolapsus est, aut fecit aliquid, non ut nobis obesset, sed quia consequi ipse non poterat, nisi nos repulisset; saepe adulatio, dum blanditur, offendit. Quisquis ad se rettulerit, quotiens ipse in suspicionem falsam inciderit, quam multis officiis suis fortuna speciem iniuriae induerit, quam multos post odium amare coeperit, poterit non statim irasci, utique si sibi tacitus ad singula quibus offenditur dixerit: “Hoc et ipse commisi.” Sed ubi tam aequum iudicem invenies? Is qui nullius non uxorem concupiscit et satis iustas causas putat amandi, quod aliena est, idem uxorem suam aspici non vult; et fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus, et mendacia persequitur ipse periurus, et litem sibi inferri aegerrime calumniator patitur; pudicitiam servulorum suorum adtemptari non vult qui non pepercit suae. Aliena vitia in oculis habemus, a tergo nostra sunt.

 

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Roman Calvary Sports Mask, MET

Philosophers, Spectators at the Game of Life?

Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras 8.3

“Sôsikrates, in his Successions, says that when Pythagoras was asked by Leon, the tyrant of the Phliasians, who he was, he said, “a philosopher,” and that he said life was like the Great Games. Some people go there to compete, others go to make money, and the best people go to watch. For in life, some people have a slavish nature and they hunt for glory or profit, while philosophers search for the truth.”

Σωσικράτης δ᾿ ἐν Διαδοχαῖς φησιν αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ Λέοντος τοῦ Φλιασίων τυράννου τίς εἴη, φιλόσοφος, εἰπεῖν. καὶ τὸν βίον ἐοικέναι πανηγύρει· ὡς οὖν εἰς ταύτην οἱ μὲν ἀγωνιούμενοι, οἱ δὲ κατ᾿ ἐμπορίαν, οἱ δέ γε βέλτιστοι ἔρχονται θεαταί, οὕτως ἐν τῷ βίῳ οἱ μὲν ἀνδραποδώδεις, ἔφη, φύονται δόξης καὶ πλεονεξίας θηραταί, οἱ δὲ φιλόσοφοι τῆς ἀληθείας.

Plato compares life to a game too, just a different one….

Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b

“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”

Κυβείᾳ γὰρ ὁ Πλάτων (Resp. 604c) τὸν βίον ἀπείκασεν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ βάλλειν δεῖ τὰ πρόσφορα, καὶ βαλόντα χρῆσθαι καλῶς τοῖς πεσοῦσι. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν βάλλειν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, τὸ δὲ προσηκόντως δέχεσθαι τὰ γινόμενα παρὰ τῆς τύχης καὶ νέμειν ἑκάστῳ τόπον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸ οἰκεῖον ὠφελήσει μάλιστα καὶ τὸ ἀβούλητον ἥκιστα λυπήσει τοὺς ἐπιτυγχάνοντας, ἡμέτερον ἔργον ἐστίν, ἂν εὖ φρονῶμεν.

And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)

“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”

Τῷ βουλεύεσθαι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, περὶ τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πτώσει κύβων πρὸς τὰ πεπτωκότα τίθεσθαι τὰ αὑτοῦ πράγματα, ὅπῃ ὁ λόγος αἱρεῖ βέλτιστ’ ἂν ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ προσπταίσαντας καθάπερ παῖδας ἐχομένους τοῦ πληγέντος ἐν τῷ βοᾶν διατρίβειν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἐθίζειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτι τάχιστα γίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ ἰᾶσθαί τε καὶ ἐπανορθοῦν τὸ πεσόν τε καὶ νοσῆσαν, ἰατρικῇ θρηνῳδίαν ἀφανίζοντα.

*ἰατρικῇ: lit. “art of medicine”; some translations use “therapy”.

Image from Wikipedia

Choosing a Captain on the Ship of Fools

Plato, Republic 6 488a7-89a2

[This was inspired by a”Ship of Fools” post at LitKicks]

Consider this how this could turn out on many ships or even just one: there is a captain of some size and strength beyond the rest of the men in the ship, but he is deaf and similarly limited at seeing, and he knows as much about sailing as these qualities might imply. So, the sailors are struggling with one another about steering the ship, because each one believes that he should be in charge, even though he has learned nothing of the craft nor can indicate who his teacher was nor when he had the time to learn. Some of them are even saying that it is not teachable, and that they are ready to cut down the man who says it can be taught.

They are always hanging all over the captain asking him and making a big deal of the fact that he should entrust the rudder to them. There are times when some of them do not persuade him, and some of them kill others or kick them off the ship, and once they have overcome the noble captain through a mandrake, or drugs, or something else and run the ship, using up its contents drinking, and partying, and sailing just as such sort of men might. In addition to this, they praise as a fit sailor, and call a captain and knowledgeable at shipcraft the man who is cunning at convincing or forcing the captain that they should be in charge. And they rebuke as useless anyone who is not like this.

Such men are unaware what a true helmsman is like, that he must be concerned about the time of year, the seasons, the sky, the stars, the wind and everything that is appropriate to the art, if he is going to be a leader of a ship in reality, how he might steer the ship even if some desire it or not, when they believe that it is not possible to obtain art or practice about how to do this, something like an art of ship-steering. When these types of conflicts are occurring on a ship, don’t you think the one who is a true helmsman would be called a star-gazer, a blabber, or useless to them by the sailors in the ships organized in this way?

 

νόησον γὰρ τοιουτονὶ γενόμενον εἴτε πολλῶν νεῶν πέρι εἴτε μιᾶς· ναύκληρον μεγέθει μὲν καὶ ῥώμῃ ὑπὲρ τοὺς ἐν τῇ νηὶ πάντας, ὑπόκωφον δὲ καὶ ὁρῶντα ὡσαύτως βραχύ τι καὶ γιγνώσκοντα περὶ ναυτικῶν ἕτερα τοιαῦτα, τοὺς δὲ ναύτας στασιάζοντας πρὸς ἀλλήλους περὶ τῆς κυβερνήσεως, ἕκαστον οἰόμενον δεῖν κυβερνᾶν, μήτε μαθόντα πώποτε τὴν τέχνην μέτε ἔχοντα ἀποδεῖξαι διδάσκαλον ἑαυτοῦ μηδὲ χρόνον ἐν ᾧ ἐμάνθανεν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις φάσκοντας μηδὲ διδακτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν λέγοντα ὡς διδακτὸν ἑτοίμους κατατέμνειν, αὐτοὺς δὲ αὐτῷ ἀεὶ τῷ ναυκλήρῳ περικεχύσθαι δεομένους καὶ πάντα ποιοῦντας ὅπως ἂν σφίσι τὸ πηδάλιον ἐπιτρέψῃ, ἐνίοτε δ’ ἂν μὴ πείθωσιν ἀλλὰ ἄλλοι μᾶλλον, τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἢ ἀποκτεινύντας ἢ ἐκβάλλοντας ἐκ τῆς νεώς, τὸν δὲ γενναῖον ναύκληρον μανδραγόρᾳ ἢ μέθῃ ἤ τινι ἄλλῳ συμποδίσαντας τῆς νεὼς ἄρχειν χρωμένους τοῖς ἐνοῦσι, καὶ πίνοντάς τε καὶ εὐωχουμένους πλεῖν ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς τοὺς τοιούτους, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἐπαινοῦντας ναυτικὸν μὲν καλοῦντας καὶ κυβερνητικὸν καὶ ἐπιστάμενον τὰ κατὰ ναῦν, ὃς ἂν συλλαμβάνειν δεινὸς ᾖ ὅπως ἄρξουσιν ἢ πείθοντες ἢ βιαζόμενοι τὸν ναύκληρον, τὸν δὲ μὴ τοιοῦτον ψέγοντας ὡς ἄχρηστον, τοῦ δὲ ἀληθινοῦ κυβερνήτου πέρι μηδ’ ἐπαΐοντες, ὅτι ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖσθαι ἐνιαυτοῦ καὶ ὡρῶν καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἄστρων καὶ πνευμάτων καὶ πάντων τῶν τῇ τέχνῃ προσηκόντων, εἰ μέλλει τῷ ὄντι νεὼς ἀρχικὸς ἔσεσθαι, ὅπως δὲ κυβερνήσει ἐάντε τινες βούλωνται ἐάντε μή, μήτε τέχνην τούτου μήτε μελέτην οἰόμενοι δυνατὸν εἶναι λαβεῖν ἅμα καὶ τὴν κυβερνητικήν. τοιούτων δὴ περὶ τὰς ναῦς γιγνομένων τὸν ὡς ἀληθῶς κυβερνητικὸν οὐχ ἡγῇ ἂν τῷ ὄντι μετεωροσκόπον τε καὶ ἀδολέσχην καὶ ἄχρηστόν σφισι καλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ταῖς οὕτω κατεσκευασμέναις ναυσὶ πλωτήρων;

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Hieronymus Bosch, “Ship of Fools”

Deep Thoughts with Aristotle

Aristotle, Problems 885b

“Why does sitting make some people fat while it makes others thin?”

Διὰ τί ἡ καθέδρα τοὺς μὲν παχύνει τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τοὺς δὲ ἰσχναίνει

886a

“Why do people yawn when they see others yawn? Is it because they desire something if they are reminded of it, especially with things that are easily encouraged, like urination?”

Διὰ τί τοῖς χασμωμένοις ἀντιχασμῶνται ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ | πολύ; ἢ διότι, ἐὰν ἀναμνησθῶσιν ὀργῶντες, ἐνεργοῦσιν, μάλιστα δὲ τὰ εὐκίνητα, οἷον οὐροῦσιν;

[…]

“is it because every voice and sound is actually breath?”

ἢ διότι φωνὴ μὲν πᾶσα καὶ ψόφος πνεῦμά ἐστιν;

887a

“Why when we see someone being cut or burned or harmed or suffering any other terror do we feel grief in our minds?”

Διὰ τί, ἐπειδὰν τεμνόμενόν τινα ἴδωμεν ἢ καιόμενον ἢ στρεβλούμενον ἢ ἄλλο τι τῶν δεινῶν πάσχοντα, συναλγοῦμεν τῇ διανοίᾳ;

888b

“Why do we shiver after we’ve finished peeing?”

Διὰ τί ἐν τῇ τελευταίᾳ προέσει τοῦ οὔρου φρίττομεν;

889a

“Why don’t angry people feel the cold?”

Διὰ τί οἱ ὀργιζόμενοι οὐ ῥιγῶσιν;

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On Drinking and Sex

872b

“Why can’t drunk people have sex?”

Διὰ τί οἱ μεθύοντες ἀφροδισιάζειν ἀδύνατοί εἰσιν;

874b

“Why are the drunk more prone to tears?”

Διὰ τί οἱ μεθύοντες ἀριδάκρυοι μᾶλλον;

“Why is it hard to sleep when you’re drunk?”

Διὰ τί τοῖς μεθύουσιν οὐκ ἐγγίνεται ὕπνος

 

“Why does someone who is buzzed act more inebriated than either the drunk or the sober?”

Διὰ τί ὁ ἀκροθώραξ μᾶλλον παροινεῖ τοῦ μᾶλλον μεθύοντος καὶ τοῦ νήφοντος;

 

876b

“Why does a drinker’s tongue stumble?”

Διὰ τί τῶν μεθυόντων ἡ γλῶττα πταίει;

877a

“Why is being barefoot not an advantage for sex?”

Διὰ τί ἡ ἀνυποδησία οὐ συμφέρει πρὸς ἀφροδισιασμούς;

“Why does sex wear humans out more than other animals?”

Διὰ τί ἐκλύεται μάλιστα τῶν ζῴων ἀφροδισιάσας ἄνθρωπος;

877b

“Why do people fasting have sex so quickly?”

Διὰ τί νήστεις θᾶττον ἀφροδισιάζουσιν;

878a

“Why is it harder for people for have sex in water?”

Διὰ τί ἐν τῷ ὕδατι ἧττον δύνανται ἀφροδισιάζειν οἱ ἄνθρωποι;

880b

“Why does a person’s eyes weaken if they have sex?”

Διὰ τί, ἐὰν ἀφροδισιάζῃ ὁ ἄνθρωπος, οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἀσθενοῦσι μάλιστα;

882b

“Why do people fall more while running than walking?”

Διὰ τί μᾶλλον θέοντες ἢ βαδίζοντες πίπτουσιν;

883b

“Why does the road seem longer when we don’t know how far we are walking than when we do, even if everything else is the same?”

Διὰ τί πλείων δοκεῖ ἡ ὁδὸς εἶναι, ὅταν μὴ εἰδότες βαδίζωμεν πόση τις, ἢ ὅταν εἰδότες, ἐὰν τἆλλα ὁμοίως | ἔχοντες τύχωμεν;

883b

“Why is running harder than walking?”

Διὰ τί χαλεπώτερον θεῖν ἢ βαδίζειν;

884a

“Why do short walks wear us out?”

Διὰ τί κοπώδεις οἱ βραχεῖς τῶν περιπάτων;

885b

“Why do those on horses fall less frequently? Is it because they are more afraid?”

Διὰ τί οἱ ἀφ᾿ ἵππων ἧττον πίπτουσιν; ἢ διὰ τὸ φοβεῖσθαι φυλάττονται μᾶλλον;

 

“Why do some of us feel numb?”

Διὰ τί ναρκῶσιν;

Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. These examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs.

This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”

Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.

Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health. 

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d

“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].

And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

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Plotinus on That Guy in Your Philosophy Seminar

Plotinus, Ennead 6.7

And the following cannot be dismissed, what some super-cranky man might say, that “you people, why do you puff yourselves up and down with words, claiming that life is good, saying that thought is good, and that there is something beyond these things? Why should thought be good? Or what that is good can the thinker of the ideal forms derive while he hunts for each of them? If he is deceived and feels pleasure in them, well then he might soon say that it is god and that life is because it is pleasant.

But what if he remains in a state free of pleasure, why would he call them good? Is it just because this exists? What difference could there be in existing or totally not existing, unless someone establishes affinity for these things as the cause for it? Then, he would have to concede that the good of these things is posited because of this natural kind of deception and fear of the loss of these things.”

κἀκεῖνο δὲ οὐκ ἀφετέον, ὃ τάχ᾿ ἄν τις δυσχεραντικὸς ἀνὴρ εἴποι, ὡς “ὑμεῖς, ὦ οὗτοι, τί δὴ ἀποσεμνύνετε τοῖς ὀνόμασιν ἄνω καὶ κάτω ζωὴν20ἀγαθὸν λέγοντες καὶ νοῦν ἀγαθὸν λέγοντες καί τι ἐπέκεινα τούτων; τί γὰρ ἂν καὶ ὁ νοῦς ἀγαθὸν εἴη; ἢ τί ὁ νοῶν τὰ εἴδη αὐτὰ ἀγαθὸν ἔχοι αὐτὸ ἕκαστον θερῶν; ἠπατημένος μὲν γὰρ ἂν καὶ ἡδόμενος ἐπὶ τούτοις τάχα ἂν ἀγαθὸν λέγοι καὶ τὴν ζωὴν ἡδεῖαν οὖσαν· στὰς δ᾿ ἐν 25τῷ ἀνήδονος εἶναι διὰ τί ἂν φήσειν ἀγαθά; ἢ τὸ αὐτὸν εἶναι; τί γαρ ἂν ἐκ τοῦ εἶναι καρπώσαιτο; ἢ τί ἂν διαφέροι ἐν τῷ εἶναι ἢ ὅλως μὴ εἶναι, εἰ μή τις τὴν πρὸς αὑτὸν φιλίαν αἰτίαν τούτων θεῖτο; ὥστε διὰ ταύτην τὴν ἀπάτην φυσικὴν οὖσαν καὶ τὸν φόβον τῆς φθορᾶς τὴν 30τῶν ἀγαθῶν νομισθῆναι θέσιν.”

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From this website.