Learning by the Example of Ulysses: Some Romans on Odysseus

Cicero, Academica II 28 (fragment from an unknown Latin tragedy)

“I see you, I see you. Live, Ulysses, while you can”

video, video te. vive, Ulixes, dum licet

 

Cicero, Letters to Friends 10.13 (To Plancus, 11 May 43)

“You must weave an end fit to the beginning. Whoever defeats Marcus Antonius will win the war. That’s why Homer called Ulysses the “city-sacker” instead of Ajax or Achilles”

tu contexes extrema cum primis. qui enim M. Antonium oppresserit, is bellum confecerit. itaque Homerus non Aiacem nec Achillem sed Ulixem appellavit πτολιπόρρθιον.

 

Tacitus, Germania 3

“But, I digress. Some people believe that Ulysses was taken by that long and fantastic journey and arrived in the German lands. Asciburgium, which is still inhabited on the banks of the Rhine, was founded by Ulysses and named by him. They add too that an altar was built and given the name of his father Laertes, which was found in the same place once. There were also monuments and certain mounds inscribed with Greek letters—these can be found still on the boundary between Germany and Raetia. I do not intend to confirm or refute these things with evidence—let everyone diminish or increase belief from his own inclination.”

ceterum et Ulixen quidam opinantur longo illo et fabuloso errore in hunc Oceanum delatum adisse Germaniae terras, Asciburgiumque, quod in ripa Rheni situm hodieque incolitur, ab illo constitutum nominatumque; aram quin etiam Ulixi consecratam, adiecto Laërtae patris nomine, eodem loco olim repertam, monumentaque et tumulos quosdam Graecis litteris inscriptos in confinio Germaniae Raetiaeque adhuc extare. quae neque confirmare argumentis neque refellere in animo est: ex ingenio suo quisque demat vel addat fidem.

 

Seneca, Epistulae Morales 88

“You ask, ‘where did Ulysses wander?’ rather than trying to ensure that we are not always wandering? We don’t have the time to listen to whether he was tossed between Italy and Sicily or beyond the world we know—indeed, so long a journey could not happen in such constraint—storms of the spirit toss us daily even as our madness compels us towards Ulysses’ sufferings. We never lack beauty to distract our eyes, nor an enemy; from this side wild monsters delight in human flesh too and from that side evil charms our ears. From another quarter still expect shipwrecks and every kind of evil. Teach me this instead: how I might love my country, my wife, my father, and how I may find my way to these true ports even when shipwrecked?”

Quaeris, Vlixes ubi erraverit, potius quam efficias, ne nos semper erremus? Non vacat audire, utrum inter Italiam et Siciliam iactatus sit an extra notum nobis orbem, neque enim potuit in tam angusto error esse tam longus; tempestates nos animi cotidie iactant et nequitia in omnia Vlixis mala inpellit. Non deest forma, quae sollicitet oculos, non hostis; hinc monstra effera et humano cruore gaudentia, hinc insidiosa blandimenta aurium, hinc naufragia et tot varietates malorum. Hoc me doce, quomodo patriam amem, quomodo uxorem, quomodo patrem, quomodo ad haec tam honesta vel naufragus navigem.

 

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Sleep, Death, and Dying: Some Anecdotes for a Monday

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

128 “When Aesop was asked by someone how the greatest trouble might occur among people he responded “If the dead return and ask for their stuff back.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτώμενος ὑπό τινος πῶς ἂν μεγίστη ταραχὴ γένοιτο ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἔφη· „εἰ οἱ τετελευτηκότες ἀναστάντες ἀπαιτοῖεν τὰ ἴδια.”

 

160 “Biôn used to say that [we have] two teachers for death: the time before we were born and sleep.”

Βίων ἔλεγε δύο διδασκαλίας θανάτου εἶναι, τόν τε πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι χρόνον καὶ τὸν ὕπνον.

 

446 “Plato said that sleep was a short-lived death but death was a long-lived sleep.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφησε τὸν μὲν ὕπνον ὀλιγοχρόνιον θάνατον, τὸν δὲ θάνατον πολυχρόνιον ὕπνον.

 

64 “Anaxarkhos, the natural philosopher, when king Alexander said to him “I will hang you” responded: “Threaten others. It is no difference to me whether I rot above or below the earth.”

᾿Ανάξαρχος, ὁ φυσικὸς φιλόσοφος, ᾿Αλεξάνδρου τοῦ βασιλέως εἰπόντος αὐτῷ· „κρεμῶ σε”, „ἄλλοις”, ἔφη, „ἀπείλει· ἐμοὶ δὲ οὐδὲν διαφέρει ὑπὲρ γῆς ἢ κατὰ γῆς σήπεσθαι.”

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Sleep and Death on the Euphronios Krater

The Benefits of Philosophy

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

36 “When [Aristippos] was asked what benefit had come to him from philosophy he said “being able to engage pleasantly with the people I meet.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθείς, τί αὐτῷ περιγέγονεν ἐκ φιλοσοφίας, ἔφη· „τὸ ἀδεῶς τοῖς ἐντυγχάνουσιν ὁμιλεῖν”.

 

162 “Biôn used to say that thought was the procurer of all good things but prudence is the master.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς τὴν μὲν φρόνησιν ἔφη παντοπώλιον εἶναι τῶν ἀγαθῶν, τὴν δὲ σωφροσύνην στρατουργίαν.

 

182 “When Diogenes was asked by Aristippos what benefit he gained from philosophy he said “Being wealthy without having a cent”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπὸ ᾿Αριστίππου τί αὐτῷ περιεγένετο ἐκ φιλοσοφίας εἶπε· „τὸ πλουτεῖν μηδὲ ὀβολὸν ἔχοντα.”

 

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Bad Witnesses: Some Apocryphal Sayings of Heraclitus

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

310 “Heraclitus the natural philosopher said that he was wisest of all when he was young because he didn’t think that he knew anything.”

῾Ηράκλειτος ὁ φυσικὸς ἔφησε σοφώτατος γεγονέναι πάντων νέος ὤν, ὅτι ᾔδει ἑαυτὸν μηδὲν εἰδότα.

 

311 “Heraclitus used to say “The ears and eyes of foolish people are terrible witnesses.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη· „κακοὶ μάρτυρες ὦτα καὶ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἀφρόνων ἀνθρώπων”.

 

312 “Heraclitus used to say “Honors enslave gods and men”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη· „τιμαὶ θεοὺς καὶ ἀνθρώπους καταδουλοῦνται”.

 

313 “Heraclitus said “people are terrible judges of the truth”

<῾Ο> αὐτὸς εἶπεν· „ἄνθρωποι κακοὶ ἀληθινῶν ἀντίδικοι”

 

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Quipping with Diogenes

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

168 “Diogenes, after he saw a small city with big gates, said “Lock the gates so that the city can’t escape!”

Διογένης θεασάμενος μικρὰν πόλιν μεγάλας πύλας ἔχουσαν ἔφη· „κλείσατε τὰς πύλας, μὴ ἡ πόλις ἐξέλθῃ”.

 

189 “When [Diogenes] was asked what is evil in life, he said “A pretty woman.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τί κακὸν ἐν βίῳ ἔφη· „γυνὴ καλὴ τῷ εἴδει”.

 

201 “[Diogenes] to say that he had everything that happened in the tragedies: for he was a beggar, a wanderer, and he had an ephemeral life.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη πάντα ἔχειν τὰ ἐν ταῖς τραγῳδίαις· εἶναί τε γὰρ πτωχός, πλανήτης, βίον ἔχων ἐφήμερον·

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Healing the Spirit: Sayings on Doctors and Philosophy

The following anecdotes are taken from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

 

37 “When people were asking [Aristippos] why he spent time with wretched men he said “Because doctors also minister to the sick.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς εἰπόντος τινὸς αὐτῷ, διὰ τί τοῖς μοχθηροῖς πλησιάζει, εἶπεν· „ὅτι καὶ ἰατροὶ τοῖς νοσοῦσιν.”

 

412 “Nikokles used to say that doctors are lucky because the sun shines on their successes while the earth hides their mistakes.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς τοὺς ἰατροὺς εὐτυχεῖς ἔλεγεν, ὅτι τὰς μὲν ἐπιτυχίας αὐτῶν ὁ ἥλιος ὁρᾷ, τὰς δὲ ἀποτυχίας ἡ γῆ καλύπτει.

 

289 “Erasistratos [the doctor] used to say that medicine was philosophy’s sister: one treats maladies of the spirit, the other treats those of the body.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς τὴν ἰατρικὴν τῆς φιλοσοφίας ἔφησεν ἀδελφὴν εἶναι· τὴν μὲν γὰρ τὰ ψυχικά, τὴν δὲ τὰ σωματικὰ θεραπεύειν ἀῤῥωστήματα.

 

226 “After [Demosthenes] saw that a bad wrestler was acting as a doctor he said “Now you’ve found a way you can throw everybody down!”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἰδὼν κακὸν παλαιστὴν ἰατρεύοντα „νῦν” εἶπεν „εὕρηκας μέθοδον, δι’ ἧς πολλοὺς καταβαλεῖς”.

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Praying the Right Way, With Socrates

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, 7.6 ext 1

“Our time won’t last while I relate the native examples, since our empire finds its safety and growth not so much from strength of bodies as from vigor of our minds. Therefore, let Roman intelligence for the most part be put aside under silent admiration—instead  we will turn to similar examples from foreign peoples.

Socrates, some kind of an earth-bound oracle of human wisdom, believed that nothing more should be sought from the immortal gods beyond asking them for good. This is because only they know what is helpful for each individual and we often pray for that which it would be better if we did not have. Indeed, would that the mortal mind be enveloped in the darkest shadows, since it so often spreads the blindest prayers into wide open error!

You seek riches which were the death of many! You desire honors which have ruined more than a few. You contemplate those very reigns that are often known to end in misery. You have reached your hand to glorious marriages which sometimes make homes shine while they shake others to the ground. So stop drooling stupidly over future causes of your troubles as if they are the most fortunate matters and entrust yourself entirely to divine will since those who are in the habit of easily giving good things can also choose them appropriately”

Tempus deficiet domestica narrantem, quoniam imperium nostrum non tam robore corporum quam animorum vigore incrementum ac tutelam sui comprehendit. maiore itaque ex parte Romana prudentia in admiratione tacita reponatur, alienigenisque huius generis exemplis detur aditus.

Socrates, humanae sapientiae quasi quoddam terrestre oraculum, nihil ultra petendum a dis immortalibus arbitrabatur quam ut bona tribuerent, quia ii demum scirent quid unicuique esset utile, nos autem plerumque id votis expeteremus quod non impetrasse melius foret: etenim densissimis tenebris involuta mortalium mens, in quam late patentem errorem caecas precationes tuas spargis! divitias appetis, quae multis exitio fuerunt; honores concupiscis, qui complures pessum dederunt; regna tecum ipsa volvis, quorum exitus saepenumero miserabiles cernuntur; splendidis coniugiis inicis manus: at haec ut aliquando illustrant, ita nonnumquam funditus domos evertunt. desine igitur stulta futuris malorum tuorum causis quasi felicissimis rebus inhiare, teque totam caelestium arbitrio permitte, quia qui tribuere bona ex facili solent, etiam eligere aptissime possunt.

 

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