Don’t Make a Fuss, Quote Seneca Like Truss!

Steal Quotes from Other people

“Whatever someone else says well, that’s mine.”

quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est, Seneca, EM 16

From Earlier in the Same Epistle? Seneca, Moral Epistle 104.12

“You will consider losing any of the people you love the worst evil , even though it is as inappropriate as crying because the leaves of the charming trees that decorate your home have fallen. Treat everything that pleases you like those growing plants: while they live, use them, since different plants wilt and die on different days. Just as the the fall of some leaves is a minor affair because they grow back again, so it is with those come you love and you believe are your life’s happiness–they can be replaced even though they are not reborn. 

‘New friends won’t be the same!” one objects. Nope, and you won’t be the same either. Every day, every hour changes you. What time takes is easier to see in others, it is hidden in yourself because it doesn’t happen obviously. Others disappear, but we are stolen from ourselves secretly. You will not consider these problems or find any treatment for the wounds. But you will raise up reasons for anxiety by hoping some days, despairing others. If you are smart, you will mix these two. Don’t hope without despairing or despair without hope.”

Gravissimum iudicabis malum, aliquem ex his, quos amabis, amittere, cum interim hoc tam ineptum erit quam flere, quod arboribus amoenis et domum tuam ornantibus decidant folia. Quicquid te delectat, aeque vide ut flores virides; dum virent, utere; alium alio die casus excutiet. Sed quemadmodum frondium iactura facilis est, quia renascuntur, sic istorum, quos amas quosque oblectamenta vitae putas esse, damnum, quia reparantur, etiam si non renascuntur. 

“Sed non erunt idem.” Ne tu quidem idem eris. Omnis dies, omnis hora te mutat; sed in aliis rapina facilius apparet, hic latet, quia non ex aperto fiet. Alii auferuntur, at ipsi nobis furto subducimur. Horum nihil cogitabis nec remedia vulneribus oppones, sed ipse tibi seres sollicitudinum causas alia sperando, alia desperando. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe.

Are you even alive? Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“Therefore, it is not right to think that anyone has lived long because of grey hair or wrinkles. They have not lived a while, but they have existed for a time. Certainly, what if you thought that the person had traveled far whom a terrible storm grabbed in the harbor and dragged here and there in turns of winds raging from different directions  over the same space in a circle? They did not travel far, but were tossed around a lot.”

Non est itaque quod quemquam propter canos aut rugas putes diu vixisse; non ille diu vixit, sed diu fuit. Quid enim si illum multum putes navigasse, quem saeva tempestas a portu exceptum huc et illuc tulit ac vicibus ventorum ex diverso furentium per eadem spatia in orbem egit? Non ille multum navigavit, sed multum iactatus est.

Are you even awake? Seneca Moral Epistle 83. 5-7

“Not much of my strength remains for a bath. Then, after I do bathe, I have some dry bread, breakfast without a table. Hands don’t need to be washed after such a meal. After that, I nap for a bit. You are familiar with my custom: I take the shortest bit of sleep, as if just releasing myself from the yoke. It is enough for me to stop staying awake. At times, I know I have slept; at others, I only suspect it.”

 Non multum mihi  balneum superest. Panis deinde siccus et sine mensa prandium, post quod non sunt lavandae manus. Dormio minimum. Consuetudinem meam nosti: brevissimo somno utor et quasi interiungo. Satis est mihi vigilare desisse. Aliquando dormisse me scio, aliquando suspicor.

Let’s Talk about Death, baby: Seneca, Moral Epistle 30.17-18

“If we want to clarify the causes of our fear, we will discover that some are there and others only seem to exist. We do not fear death, but the thought of death. For we are always distant by some degree from death. Thus, if death must be feared, it should always be feared. For what portion of our time is free from death?

But I ought to fear that you fear the length of this letter more than death. So, I will bring it to an end. Nevertheless, think about death always so that you may not fear it. Farewell.

Si distinguere voluerimus causas metus nostri, inveniemus alias esse, alias videri. Non mortem timemus, sed cogitationem mortis. Ab ipsa enim semper tantundem absumus. Ita si timenda mors est, semper timenda est. Quod enim morti tempus exemptum est?

Sed vereri debeo, ne tam longas epistulas peius quam mortem oderis. Itaque finem faciam. Tu tamen mortem ut numquam timeas, semper cogita. Vale.

Better Off Dead? Seneca, Moral Epistle 22.12-13

“And look, here is something that comes to my mind which I don’t know if it is truer or more well-put. “Whose saying?” you ask? It is Epicurus, for I am still sewing my quilt from other people’s fragments. “Everyone leaves from life just as if they just had entered it”.

Grab anyone suddenly—a youth, an old man, someone in the middle—and you will find them equally afraid of death and without understanding of life. No one has finished anything, because we keep postponing everything we do to tomorrow. Nothing makes me happier in that quotation than the fact that it calls old men out for being babies.

“No one”, he says, “leaves the world differently from the way in which they were born.” This is false! We are worse when we die than when we are born. This is our fault, not nature’s. Nature ought to criticize us, saying, “What is this? I produced you without desires, without fear, without superstition, without treachery and these diseases! Leave as you were when you got here!”

 et occurrit mihi ecce nescio utrum verior an eloquentior. “Cuius?” inquis; Epicuri, adhuc enim alienas sarcinas adsero; “Nemo non ita exit e vita, tamquam modo intraverit.” Quemcumque vis occupa, adulescentem senem medium; invenies aeque timidum mortis, aeque inscium vitae. Nemo quicquam habet facti, in futurum enim nostra distulimus. Nihil me magis in ista voce delectat quam quod exprobratur senibus infantia. “Nemo,” inquit, “aliter quam qui modo natus est exit e vita.” Falsum est; peiores morimur quam nascimur. Nostrum istud, non naturae vitium est. Illa nobiscum queri debet et dicere: “Quid hoc est? Sine cupiditatibus vos genui, sine timoribus, sine superstitione, sine perfidia ceterisque pestibus; quales intrastis exite.”

You’re faking it, I’m Faking It. Hurray: Seneca, Moral Epistles 120, 21-22

“Those people I describe are like this, that kind of man Horace talks about, someone who is never the same or even really like himself. That’s how far he walks in the opposite direction. Did I mention that many are like this? It is the same way with most people. Everyone changes their plans and prayers daily. Someone wants a spouse, then only a bit of fun on the side. Someone wants to rule, then they act more officious than an enslaved person. One day, someone flexes to the point of derision, only to withdraw and shrink into more humility than those who are truly without pretense. They throw money about and then hoard it!

This is how a silly mind exposes itself. It takes this form and then another and then never looks like itself. This is, for me, the worst way to be. I do understand, it is hard to take the shape of one person alone. No one can truly be singular except for the wise person, so the rest of us try on different masks in turn. We seem sober and serious one moment and then wasteful and silly the next. We often change our roles and play a part against where we started.

For this reason, try to play the same character to the end of life’s game that you started at the beginning. Try to make people praise you. If you can’t, at least let them recognize you. Otherwise, when it comes to someone you saw yesterday, they can ask, “who is this person?” That’s how much change you allow. Goodbye!”

Homines isti tales sunt, qualem hunc describit Horatius Flaccus, numquam eundem, ne similem quidem sibi; adeo in diversum aberrat. Multos dixi? Prope est, ut omnes sint. Nemo non cotidie et consilium mutat et votum. Modo uxorem vult habere, modo amicam, modo regnare vult, modo id agit, ne quis sit officiosior servus, modo dilatat se usque ad invidiam, modo subsidit et contrahitur infra humilitatem vere iacentium, nunc pecuniam spargit, nunc rapit. 

Sic maxime coarguitur animus inprudens; alius prodit atque alius et, quo turpius nihil iudico, impar sibi est. Magnam rem puta unum hominem agere. Praeter sapientem autem nemo unum agit, ceteri multiformes sumus. Modo frugi tibi videbimur et graves, modo prodigi et vani. Mutamus subinde personam et contrariam ei sumimus, quam exuimus. Hoc ergo a te exige, ut, qualem institueris praestare te, talem usque ad exitum serves. Effice ut possis laudari, si minus, ut adgnosci. De aliquo, quem here vidisti, merito dici potest: “hic qui est?” Tanta mutatio est. Vale.

We’re All CraZy aNYwaY: Seneca, Moral Epistles 94.17

“This part of precepts should be tossed away because it can’t give to everyone what it guarantees to a small few. Wisdom, however, welcomes all. There’s no difference, really, between the popular madness in general and the kind that requires medical treatment except that the individual suffers from a disease and the masses are afflicted by false opinions. For one, the symptoms of insanity develop from poor health, the other arises from sick minds.

If one offers maxims to a madman about how to speak, or walk, or how to act in public and private, they’d prove to be crazier than the one they’re advising. Someone really needs to treat their black bile and remove the initial cause of the affliction. This is what is required for a diseased mind too. The madness needs to be shed first, otherwise all your words of warning are useless.”

“Ergo ista praeceptiva pars summovenda est, quia quod paucis promittit, praestare omnibus non potest; sapientia autem omnes tenet. Inter insaniam publicamet hanc, quae medicis traditur, nihil interest nisi quod haec morbo laborat, illa opinionibus falsis. Altera causas furoris traxit ex valitudine, altera animi mala valitudo est. Si quis furioso praecepta det, quomodo loqui debeat, quomodo procedere, quomodo in publico se gerere, quomodo in privato, erit ipso, quem monebit, insanior. Ei bilis1 nigra curanda est et ipsa furoris causa removenda. Idem in hoc alio animi furore faciendum est. Ipse discuti debet; alioqui abibunt in vanum monentium verba.”

IDK, Maybe Seneca Sucks: Fronto to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (“On Speeches”, Ambr. 382)

“…I am not ignorant that Seneca is a person fully stuffed and overflowing with ideas, but to be honest I see his sentences as trotting around, announcing their course with a full gallop, but stopping to fight nowhere and never striking the sublime. Like Laberius, he plays at wit-darts, or really just assembling sounds, rather than composing words worth repeating.

Do you believe that you would uncover graver sentiments on the same ideas in your Annaeus than in Sergius*? Ah, Sergius’ words don’t have the same rhythm or the same speed as Seneca’s, I admit. The sounds don’t sing the same, I won’t deny it.

But what if the same meal is offered to two people and the first picks up the olives on the table with his fingers, brings them to his mouth, puts them between his teeth to chew them in the right and proper way, while the other throws them up high and catches them with his mouth open and then shows them off once caught with his lips like a juggler? Really, children at school would applaud at what was done and the guest would be entertained, but one will have eaten lunch properly while the other did tricks with his lips.

So you say that some things are expressed cleverly and some with weight. But sometimes little silver coins are found in the sewer. Should we take over the job of cleaning the sewers too?”

Neque ignoro copiosum sententiis et redundantem hominem esse: verum sententias eius tolutares video nusquam quadripedo concitas cursu ten<d>ere, nusquam pugnare, nusquam maiestatem studere; ut Laberius dictabolaria, immo dicteria, potius eum quam dicta confingere.

Itane existimas graviores sententias et eadem de re apud Annaeum istum reperturum te quam apud Sergium? Sed non modulatas aeque: fateor;  neque ita| cordaces: ita est; neque ita tinnulas: non nego. Quid vero, si prandium utrique adponatur, adpositas oleas alter digitis prendat, ad os adferat, ut manducandi ius fasque est ita dentibus subiciat, alter autem oleas suas in altum iaciat, ore aperto excipiat, ut calculos praestigiator, primoribus labris ostentet? Ea re profecto pueri laudent, convivae delectentur; sed alter pudice pranderit, alter labellis gesticulatus erit.

At enim sunt quaedam in libris eius scite dicta, graviter quoque nonnulla. Etiam laminae interdum argentiolae cloacis inveniuntur; eane re cloacas purgandas redimemus?

drawing of seneca'ssuicide. A man is held by a group of enslaved people in a columned hall .
Jean Guillaume Moitte, The Death of Seneca, Unknown Date. MET

Custom, Violence, and Law

Pindar fr. 169a [=P. Oxy. 2450 (26, 1961), vv. 6–62; = Plato, Gorg. 484b]

“Custom, the king of everything,
Of mortals and immortal alike,
Guides them with the final hand
To the most violent kinds of justice.
I’ll prove this
With the deeds of Herakles
Since he drove the cattle of Geryon
To the Cyclopean gates of Eurystheus
Unpunished and unpaid.

Νόμος ὁ πάντων βασιλεύς
θνατῶν τε καὶ ἀθανάτων
ἄγει δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον
ὑπερτάτᾳ χειρί. Τεκμαίρομαι
ἔργοισιν Ἡρακλέος·
ἐπεὶ Γηρυόνα βόας
Κυκλώπειον ἐπὶ πρόθυρον Εὐρυσθ̣έος
ἀνατεί τε] καὶ ἀπριάτας ἔλασεν

Plato, Gorgias 484a-b

“But when a person comes around with sufficient nature, he shakes off and shatters all these things [laws], escaping them. He tramples all over our precedents and edicts, our pronouncements and all the laws that a contrary to his nature, and our slave rises up to become our master and clearly shows the justice of nature. This is what Pindar seems to indicate in that song when he says…”

ἐὰν δέ γε, οἶμαι, φύσιν ἱκανὴν γένηται ἔχων ἀνήρ, πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσεισάμενος καὶ διαρρήξας καὶ διαφυγών, καταπατήσας τὰ ἡμέτερα γράμματα καὶ μαγγανεύματα καὶ ἐπῳδὰς καὶ νόμους τοὺς παρὰ φύσιν ἅπαντας, ἐπαναστὰς ἀνεφάνη δεσπότης ἡμέτερος ὁ δοῦλος, καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἐξέλαμψε τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιον. δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ Πίνδαρος ἅπερ ἐγὼ λέγω ἐνδείκνυσθαι ἐν τῷ ᾄσματι ἐν ᾧ λέγει ὅτι…

Fragmentary marble relief sculpture with bearded figure looking forward holding a boar's carcass on his shoulder
Roman; Relief of Herakles and the boar; Stone Sculpture

The Proverb Behind Silenus’ Wisdom

According to Plutarch, this conversation is taken from a lost dialogue ascribed to Aristotle, entitled, On the Soul. This passage also shows up in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy chapter 3.

Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius [Moralia, 115a-c]

“There is also the saying you know has been passed around the mouth of many humans over the years.” “what is that?” he asked. The other one, interrupted, “that it is best of all not to exist and then second it is better to die than to live. This has been demonstrated by many examples from the divine.

For certainly they say this concerning Midas after the hunt when he caught Silenus and was asking him and finding out from him what is best for mortals and what should be most preferred. But Silenus was willing to say nothing, but remained stubbornly silent.

After he tried nearly every kind of approach, he persuaded him to provide some answer—so compelled, he said, “brief-lived offspring of a laboring god and harsh fate, why do you force me to tell you what it is better not to know? A life lived in ignorance of your most intimate griefs is the least painful.

But for humans it is not at all possible to have the best thing of all or to have any share of the best nature—since the best thing for all men and women is not to be born. But the second best thing after this and the first available to mortals, is to die as soon as possible after being born.” It is clear that he said this because the way that exists in death is better than the one in life.”

τὸ διὰ στόματος ὂν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ὁρᾷς ὡς ἐκ πολλῶν ἐτῶν περιφέρεται θρυλούμενον.” “τί τοῦτ᾿;” ἔφη. κἀκεῖνος ὑπολαβών “ὡς ἄρα μὴ γενέσθαι μέν,” ἔφη, “ἄριστον πάντων, τὸ δὲ τεθνάναι τοῦ ζῆν ἐστι κρεῖττον. καὶ πολλοῖς οὕτω παρὰ τοῦ δαιμονίου μεμαρτύρηται. τοῦτο μὲν ἐκείνῳ τῷ Μίδᾳ λέγουσι δήπου μετὰ τὴν θήραν ὡς ἔλαβε τὸν Σειληνὸν διερωτῶντι καὶ πυνθανομένῳ τί ποτ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ βέλτιστοντοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ τί τὸ πάντων αἱρετώτατον, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον οὐδὲν ἐθέλειν εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ σιωπᾶν ἀρρήτως· ἐπειδὴ δέ ποτε μόγις πᾶσαν μηχανὴν μηχανώμενος προσηγάγετο φθέγξασθαί τι πρὸς αὐτόν, οὕτως ἀναγκαζόμενον εἰπεῖν, ‘δαίμονος ἐπιπόνου καὶ τύχης χαλεπῆς ἐφήμερον σπέρμα, τί με βιάζεσθε λέγειν ἃ ὑμῖν ἄρειον μὴ γνῶναι; μετ᾿ ἀγνοίας γὰρ τῶν οἰκείων κακῶν ἀλυπότατος ὁ βίος. ἀνθρώποις δὲ πάμπαν οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι τὸ πάντων ἄριστον οὐδὲ μετασχεῖν τῆς τοῦ βελτίστου φύσεως (ἄριστον γὰρ πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι)· τὸ μέντοι μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ πρῶτον τῶν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀνυστῶν, δεύτερον δέ, τὸ γενομένους ἀποθανεῖν ὡς τάχιστα.’ δῆλον οὖν ὡς οὔσης κρείττονος τῆς ἐν τῷ τεθνάναι διαγωγῆς ἢ τῆς ἐν τῷ ζῆν, οὕτως ἀπεφήνατο.”

This comment seems proverbial–split in similar attributions in hexameter and elegiac poetry.

In the Contest of Homer and Hesiod

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”
Homer answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

ἀρ υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.

The passage floats around some. Stobaeus (4.52.22) attributes it to Alcidamas’ Mousaion but the most widely cited source is Theognis. It is listed without attribution by the paroemiographer Michael Apostolos, with the explanation that this is a proverb “[attributed] to people living in misfortune”  (ἐπὶ τῶν δυστυχῶς βιούντων, 3.85.3)

Theognis, 425-428

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
Not to see the rays of the piercing sun
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.
And to lie with a great pile of earth heaped above you.

πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
μηδ᾿ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου,
φύντα δ᾿ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι
καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον.

The Loeb note to this passage suggest that Theognis is merely adding to the hexameter lines, since the pentameter lines add nothing. But I think this is problematic. Consider the similar doublet to the first 2 lines above in Bacchylides.

Bacchylides 5.159–161

“And answering him, he said:
“It is best for mortals not to be born
Nor to see the sun.”

καί νιν ἀμειβόμενος
τᾶδ᾿ ἔφα· ‘θνατοῖσι μὴ φῦναι φέριστον
μηδ᾿ ἀελίου προσιδεῖν

Note how Bacchylides acknowledges the proverbial–or at least ‘other’–status of these lines by putting it into the mouths of one of his characters. Notice the stability of the infinitive construction μὴ φῦναι with the mobility of the dative θνατοῖσι and the lexical variations of θνατοῖσι instead of ἐπιχθονίοισιν and φέριστον instead of ἄριστον.

Sophocles, Oedipus Colonos 1225–1227

“Not being born conquers
every argument. But, then, if someone does emerge,
to return where you came from as fast as possible
is second best by far.”

Μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νι-
κᾷ λόγον· τὸ δ’, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,
βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥ-
κει, πολὺ δεύτερον, ὡς τάχιστα.

Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism 3.230–231) compares the Theognis passage to this fragment from Euripides (fr. 449)

“We should have a gathering to mourn
Someone when they are born, when they come to so many evils
And when someone has died and found a break from evils,
We should be happy and bless them as we carry them from their homes.”

ἐχρῆν γὰρ ἡμᾶς σύλλογον ποιουμένους
τὸν φύντα θρηνεῖν, εἰς ὅσ᾿ ἔρχεται κακά,
τὸν δ᾿ αὖ θανόντα καὶ κακῶν πεπαυμένον
χαίροντας εὐφημοῦντας ἐκπέμπειν δόμων.

Valerius Maximus claimed that Thracians actually did mourn births and celebrate funerals.

A clearer reflection on the proverb is Euripides fr. 235 (from Bellerophon):

“I agree with the thing reported everywhere,
That it is best for a mortal not to be born.”

ἐγὼ τὸ μὲν δὴ πανταχοῦ θρυλούμενον
κράτιστον εἶναι φημὶ μὴ φῦναι βροτῷ·

Note the different superlative at the beginning of the phrase and the singular βροτῷ. Based on the flexibility of the expression and the riffing on it, I would suggest that this is a broadly dispersed cultural idea that has proverbial status at a very early period. Note how Euripides, in another fragment, toys with the more broadly used phrase:

Euripides, fr. 908

“Not existing is better for mortals than being born.”

Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.

Epicurus (Diogenes Laertius, 10.127) thinks that anyone who believes this and says it is a fool since “if he says it because he believes it, how is it he does not just stop living? For this is ready for him to do, if it is completely believed by him.” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως).

And there is, of course, the Ancient Near Eastern context to consider!

Sebastiano Ricci, “Sacrifice to Silenus” c. 1723

Talking Too Much and the Work of Existing

Apollonius of Tyana, Letters [excerpts]

89 “Most people argue in defense of their own weaknesses but are prosecutors of others’ ”

Ἀπολλώνιος Σατύρῳ. Οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν μὲν ἰδίων ἁμαρτημάτων συνήγοροι γίνονται, τῶν δὲ ἀλλοτρίων κατήγοροι.


90 “To not exist is nothing, but existing is work.”

Ἀπολλώνιος Δίωνι. Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι οὐδέν, τὸ δὲ γενέσθαι πόνος.


93 “Talking too much leads to many mistakes; being silent is safe.”

Ἀπολλώνιος τοῖς γνωρίμοις. Πολυλογία πολλὰ σφάλματα ἔχει, τὸ δὲ σιγᾶν ἀσφαλές.


99 “We must not mourn the kinds of friends we have lost, but we should remember how great were the lives we lived with them”

Οὐ θρηνητέον οἵων φίλων ἐστερήθημεν, ἀλλὰ μνημονευτέον, ὅτι μετὰ τῶν φίλων τὴν καλλίστην βιοτὴν ἐβιοτεύσαμεν.

Achilles tending Patroclus wounded by an arrow, identified by inscriptions on the upper part of the vase. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 500 BC. From Vulci.

Pyrrho on Homer and the Eating Pig

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 9.11 on Pyrrho

“But Philo the Athenian, who was his friend, used to say that he often called to mind Democritus and then Homer, wondering at him and constantly saying “just as the generation of leaves so are the generations of men”. And he liked the fact that Homer compared human beings to wasps, flies and birds. He also used to add these lines: “But, friend, die too: why do you mourn like this? / Patroklos also died and he was much better than you.” He would recite that along with all the passages which attested to the uncertain and empty pursuits, the childish simplicity of humankind.

Poseidonios also passes down a certain story like this about him. When his shipmates were exceedingly anxious because of a storm, he was calm and unshaken in his spirit. After he pointed to a piglet on the boat who was eating, he said that it was right for a wise person to settle into such an untroubled state.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ Φίλων ὁ Ἀθηναῖος, γνώριμος αὐτοῦ γεγονώς, ἔλεγεν ὡς ἐμέμνητο μάλιστα μὲν Δημοκρίτου, εἶτα δὲ καὶ Ὁμήρου, θαυμάζων αὐτὸν καὶ συνεχὲς λέγων, “οἵη περ φύλλων γενεή, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν·”

καὶ ὅτι σφηξὶ καὶ μυίαις καὶ ὀρνέοις εἴκαζε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. προφέρεσθαι δὲ καὶ τάδε·

ἀλλά, φίλος, θάνε καὶ σύ· τίη ὀλοφύρεαι οὕτως;
κάτθανε καὶ Πάτροκλος, ὅ περ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων·

καὶ ὅσα συντείνει εἰς τὸ ἀβέβαιον καὶ κενόσπουδον ἅμα καὶ παιδαριῶδες τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

Ποσειδώνιος δὲ καὶ τοιοῦτόν τι διέξεισι περὶ αὐτοῦ. τῶν γὰρ συμπλεόντων αὐτῷ ἐσκυθρωπακότων ὑπὸ χειμῶνος, αὐτὸς γαληνὸς ὢν ἀνέρρωσε τὴν ψυχήν, δείξας ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ χοιρίδιον ἐσθίον καὶ εἰπὼν ὡς χρὴ τὸν σοφὸν ἐν τοιαύτῃ καθεστάναι ἀταραξίᾳ.

Image result for medieval manuscript piglet
Luttrell Psalter, British Library Add MS 42130 (medieval manuscript,1325-1340), f59v

On Falling in Love in Old Age

87 Plato Parmen. 137a and Ibykos fr. 287

“And I certainly seem to be experiencing the fate of Ibykos’ horse, a prize-winner who, even though old, was about to compete in the chariot race and was trembling because of experience at what was about to happen. Ibykos compared himself to him when he said that he too was old and was being compelled to move towards lust”

καίτοι δοκῶ μοι τὸ τοῦ Ἰβυκείου ἵππου πεπονθέναι ᾧ ἐκεῖνος ἀθλητῇ ὄντι καὶ πρεσβυτέρῳ ὑφ᾿ ἅρματι μέλλοντι ἀγωνιεῖσθαι καὶ δι᾿ ἐμπειρίαν τρέμοντι τὸ μέλλον ἑαυτὸν ἀπεικάζων ἄκων ἔφη καὶ αὐτὸς οὕτω πρεσβευτὴς ὢν εἰς τὸν ἔρωτα ἀναγκάζεσθαι ἰέναι.

schol. ad loc. 

[Scholiast] Here is the saying of Ibykos the lyric poet:

τὸ τοῦ μελοποιοῦ Ἰβύκου ῥητόν·

“Love again, gazing up from under dark lashes,
Throws me down with every kind of spell
Into the Cyprian’s endless nets.
In truth, I tremble at this arrival,
Just as a prize-winning horse on the yoke in old age
Goes into the contest with his swift wheels, but not willingly.”

Ἔρος αὖτέ με κυανέοισιν ὑπὸ
βλεφάροις τακέρ᾿ ὄμμασι δερκόμενος
κηλήμασι παντοδαποῖς ἐς ἀπειρα
δίκτυα Κύπριδος ἐσβάλλει·
ἦ μὰν τρομέω νιν ἐπερχόμενον,
ὥστε φερέζυγος ἵππος ἀεθλοφόρος ποτὶ γήρᾳ
ἀέκων σὺν ὄχεσφι θοοῖς ἐς ἅμιλλαν ἔβα

Greek Anthology, 5.26

“If I saw you shining with dark hair
Or at another time with blond locks, mistress,
The same grace would gleam from both.
Love will make its home in your hair even when it’s gray.”

Εἴτε σε κυανέῃσιν ἀποστίλβουσαν ἐθείραις,
εἴτε πάλιν ξανθαῖς εἶδον, ἄνασσα, κόμαις,
ἴση ἀπ’ ἀμφοτέρων λάμπει χάρις. ἦ ῥά γε ταύταις
θριξὶ συνοικήσει καὶ πολιῇσιν ῎Ερως.

Image result for ancient greek chariot horse
A force of nature

Introducing the SA Tweetbook

This often ridiculous site and its associated twitter feed turn 10 years-old this Thursday (October, 21). In typically self-indulgent style, I will run a post on the history of the site then, but I wanted to start with a kind of gift/curse to the world: the SA Tweetbook.

What in all that is sacred is a Tweetbook? It is a collection of tweets! Is it a real book? No, just a somewhat edited, collection of some of @sentantiq’s most common tweets from 2011-2020. This document is a cleaned up version of my tweet rotation document (cleverly titled “tweetmaster”).

I have made the Tweetbook available as a public google drive document (both .doc and .pdf) and on as a .pdf. I have provided the .doc version in case people want to create documentseven books–of their own. (And, let’s be honest, it’s me: there are likely mistakes and typos.)

It starts like this:

Homer, Iliad 22.304-5

“May I not die without a fight and without glory but after doing something big for people to come to hear about”

ὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην, ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.

It ends like this:

Sophocles, Antigone 737

“The state which belongs to one man is no state at all.”

πόλις γὰρ οὐκ ἔσθ᾽ ἥτις ἀνδρός ἐσθ᾽ ἑνός.

And there are 450 pages in between.

Most of the passages appear in some form or another on this website. The translations in this collection will not perfectly match those that have been shared over time. Our views about using non-binary and gender-neutral language have evolved over the past decade. Where, due to our rather conventional classical training, we were pedantically strict concerning the number and gender represented in Greek and Latin, we have seen the value in offering more inclusive translations. (And the internet has presented us with countless instances to illustrate the closemindedness of pedantry.) We have retained clear gender where the context or meaning seems to demand it in some way.

Ok, but what is a tweetbook? This document’s pages contain over 2000 passages drawn from over 2000 years of Greek and Latin. The quotations below are not exhaustive, broadly representative, or ordered in any systematic or pleasing fashion. Instead, the order is more or less chronological in terms of first appearance on the website or the twitter feed. Thanks to the editorial assistance of Julia Greig, the tweets have been presented with their citations in a more-or-less correct and consistent fashion. (If there are inconsistencies, their fault lies not with Julia, whose work was exemplary, but with my incessant meddling.)

But Why a tweetbook? Over the years, several people have asked for a document with our favorite lines. I have considered assembling a kind of coffee-table quote book at times, but my interest in doing this is on the other side of tepid. So, as a compromise I have used the occasion of our website’s tenth anniversary to share this strange fruit of our labors with the world. I don’t know what the next ten years may bring, but this is a version of a document I keep called “tweets master” from which I schedule daily tweets.

This ‘book’, then, gives you, dear reader, the power to become your own ancient tweetbot. Someday, there may be no twitter. Perhaps this document will be the source of a quote-feed in some future communal space. Perhaps it will just me something you search (through reading or ctrl+f) for words to match to your feeling or time. Perhaps you want to take these lines into new worlds, to boldly conquer instagram or some other social media we have not heard of. Or, maybe you just want to start up your own twitter feed. Whatever the case, I let this rather unpolished collection into the world and give it and you my best wishes. Re-use at will. But reuse for good, where possible.

Four Years of Special Memories: Racists Use This Fake Quote From Aristotle

“Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society”

The character of this quotation is alien to Aristotle and ancient Greek ideas including using “tolerance” in this way and “dying society” (see the quora discussion). I poked around a bit through Aristotle, changing some of the ideas (an ancient Greek might think of “sick” or “corrupt” society”) but there is nothing close to this.

While searching, I found the variation “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” attributed to Dr. James Kennedy (an Evangelical preacher) and then Hutton Gibson (father of Mel Gibson and Holocaust Denier). Some of the mis-translations and fake translations can be found in quote books from the 19th century. This one does not appear in any books older than a decade or so and mostly in self-published racist texts whose titles and authors I will not print.

One need only a little familiarity with the discourse of modern politics to hear echoes of right-wing alarmism here. As a Reddit commenter notes, this one seems used to target multiculturalism and support a supremacist world view. And, as Curtis Dozier shows in Pharos, this fake-quotation is alive and well in modern xenophobia.

Don’t google this to see how people use it, because it will be upsetting. A reddit user did point to the Loeb translation of Politics:

“Also difference of race is a cause of faction, until harmony of spirit is reached; for just as any chance multitude of people does not form a state, so a state is not formed in any chance period of time. ” (Politics Book 5 section 1303a)

Aristotle, Politics 1303a27-30

“Not being of the same tribe is a cause of strife until they “breathe in sync” [breathe together? Sumpneusê], for just as a state does not develop from an accidental mob, so too it does not come together at an accidental time.”

στασιωτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ μὴ ὁμόφυλον, ἕως ἂν συμπνεύσῃ· ὥσπερ γὰρ οὐδ᾿ ἐκ τοῦ τυχόντος πλήθους πόλις γίγνεται, οὕτως οὐδ᾿ ἐν τῷ τυχόντι χρόνῳ. διὸ ὅσοι ἤδη συνοίκους ἐδέξαντο ἢ ἐποίκους οἱ πλεῖστοι ἐστασίασαν

It is easy to take this passage as supporting a racist point of view; I think that it probably is kind of racist, but it connects more with the Greek political idea of homophrosune or homonoia, that a unifying feature of a multiple people must be shared beliefs or aims. Also, rather than focusing on the first clause (the same tribe thing) note the trouble focus on “accident”: states cannot just happen. They need planning, work and a reason to be.

(Also, homonoia is not unproblematic, but at least it leaves open the idea that people who look different can join together in common cause. Maybe that is a pretty low bar, but it is as far from the texts using this fake quote as Olympos is from Tartaros.)

But, don’t fear, I am not going to defend Aristotle here. He can be plenty hateful. The point is, he did not say this stupid thing. And, further, there’s plenty of material he actually did say which is reprehensible. So, why be so lazy and recycle some nonsense from an American preacher?

LSJ Supneu

Talking Too Much and the Work of Existing

Apollonius of Tyana, Letters [excerpts]

89 “Most people argue in defense of their own weaknesses but are prosecutors of others’ ”

Ἀπολλώνιος Σατύρῳ. Οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν μὲν ἰδίων ἁμαρτημάτων συνήγοροι γίνονται, τῶν δὲ ἀλλοτρίων κατήγοροι.


90 “To not exist is nothing, but existing is work.”

Ἀπολλώνιος Δίωνι. Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι οὐδέν, τὸ δὲ γενέσθαι πόνος.


93 “Talking too much leads to many mistakes; being silent is safe.”

Ἀπολλώνιος τοῖς γνωρίμοις. Πολυλογία πολλὰ σφάλματα ἔχει, τὸ δὲ σιγᾶν ἀσφαλές.


99 “We must not mourn the kinds of friends we have lost, but we should remember how great were the lives we lived with them”

Οὐ θρηνητέον οἵων φίλων ἐστερήθημεν, ἀλλὰ μνημονευτέον, ὅτι μετὰ τῶν φίλων τὴν καλλίστην βιοτὴν ἐβιοτεύσαμεν.

Achilles tending Patroclus wounded by an arrow, identified by inscriptions on the upper part of the vase. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 500 BC. From Vulci.

Love Of Quotations is not Erudition, It is Only…

Here’s another decontextualize gem from Seneca popular online

For love of bustle is not industry – it is only the restlessness ...

” For love of bustle is not industry,—it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.”

This sounds like a Dale Carnegie line or some sententious dollop in dialogue written now for a movie set in the 1930s. To be fair, the translation is copyrighted to 1917 by Richard M. Gummere (the Loeb translation).

Here’s the Latin:

Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria, sed exagitatae mentis concursatio

In the translation above, there’s no sense of what the demonstrative Illa is doing, and there is definitely something off about the “hunted” for exagitatae, which I think is something closer to “thoroughly bothered/distracted/agitated.” To my taste it is something closer to:

“Taking pleasure in that chaos is not diligence, but the anxiety/movement of a thoroughly troubled mind”

This is decidedly less quotable than the passage above. And it is so because it needs the larger context, which actually, as usual, tells a more complicated, and I think richer, story.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 3.4-6

“There are certain kinds of people who tell things which ought to be entrusted only to friends to anyone they meet and they unload on just any ears whatever has bothered them. Another group of people in turn hesitates at trusting their most dear friends and, if they could, would suppress every secret inside because they do not trust themselves.

But we should do neither thing. It is a mistake both to trust everyone and no one. The first mistake, however, I think is more honest while the second is safer. So, you should criticize both types in this way, those who are always boisterous and those who are always reserved.

For taking pleasure in such disturbance is not diligence, but the anxiety of a troubled mind. And it is not peace to believe that every movement is annoying, but lethargy and apathy. For this, commend to mind this line I have read in Pomponius: “Some people retreat so far into the shadows that they think they are in darkness when in the light.”

People need to mix these habits and one who is resting should move and one who is moving should rest! Take this up with the nature of things: she will explain that she made both the daytime and night. Goodbye!”

Quidam quae tantum amicis committenda sunt, obviis narrant et in quaslibet aures, quicquid illos urserit, exonerant. Quidam rursus etiam carissimorum conscientiam reformidant, et si possent, ne sibi quidem credituri interius premunt omne secretum. Neutrum faciendum est. Utrumque enim vitium est, et omnibus credere et nulli. Sed alterum honestius dixerim vitium, alterum tutius: sic utrosque reprehendas, et eos qui semper inquieti sunt, et eos qui semper quiescunt. Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria, sed exagitatae mentis concursatio. Et haec non est quies, quae motum omnem molestiam iudicat, sed dissolutio et languor. Itaque hoc, quod apud Pomponium legi, animo mandabitur: “quidam adeo in latebras refugerunt, ut putent in turbido esse, quicquid in luce est.” Inter se ista miscenda sunt, et quiescenti agendum et agenti quiescendum est. Cum rerum natura delibera; illa dicet tibi et diem fecisse se et noctem. Vale.

I totally understand why people select parts of ancient works to excerpt. I mean, that’s kind of what we do on this blog every day. But the line quoted out of context above completely subverts Seneca’s meaning in service of a modern flat and unsophisticated understanding of Stoicism. It is ok to be busy and troubled, just not all the time! It is no better to be completely withdrawn! For each quality Seneca discusses above in its extreme form, there is an extreme opposite which is no better.

This is another Cylon-Helen fake.Seneca EM3