Changing Your Mind is the Point of Research

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 3.6.

“I admit that I now have a bit of a different opinion from what I believed before. Perhaps it would be safest for my reputation to change nothing which I not only believed but also approved for many years. But I cannot endure knowing that I misrepresent myself, especially in this work which I compose as some help for our good students. For even Hippocrates, famous still for his skill in medicine, seems to have conducted himself very honorably when he admitted his own errors so his followers would not make a mistake. Marcus Tullius did not hesitate to condemn some of his own books in subsequent publications, the Catulus and Lucullus, for example.

Prolonged effort in research would certainly be useless if we were not allowed to improve upon previous opinions. Nevertheless, nothing of what I taught then was useless. These things I offer now, in fact, return us to basic principles. Thus it will cause no one grief to have learned from me. I am trying only to collect and lay out the same ideas in a slightly more sensible fashion. I want it made known to all, moreover, that I am showing this to others no later than I have convinced myself.”

Ipse me paulum in alia quam prius habuerim opinione nunc esse confiteor. Et fortasse tutissimum erat famae modo studenti nihil ex eo mutare quod multis annis non sensissem modo verum etiam adprobassem. Sed non sustineo esse conscius mihi dissimulati, in eo praesertim opere quod ad bonorum iuvenum aliquam utilitatem componimus, in ulla parte iudicii mei. Nam et Hippocrates clarus arte medicinae videtur honestissime fecisse quod quosdam errores suos, ne posteri errarent, confessus est, et M. Tullius non dubitavit aliquos iam editos libros aliis postea scriptis ipse damnare, sicut Catulum atque Lucullum et… Etenim supervacuus foret in studiis longior labor si nihil liceret melius invenire praeteritis. Neque tamen quicquam ex iis quae tum praecepi supervacuum fuit; ad easdem enim particulas haec quoque quae nunc praecipiam revertentur. Ita neminem didicisse paeniteat: colligere tantum eadem ac disponere paulo significantius conor. Omnibus autem satis factum volo non me hoc serius demonstrare aliis quam mihi ipse persuaserim.

Mind Change real

Here Comes the SCAPP Bot!

Editor’s Note: Here is a second post by/for Dr. Alexandra Ratzlaff. Alex has been working with the Brandeis Techne Group as Residents at the Autodesk Technology Center and in partnership with the Brandeis MakerLab run by Brandeis’ very own Ian Roy. They have some pretty amazing work to feature.

The overarching aim of the Brandeis Techne Group as Residents at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston is to develop new equipment and methodologies to help push forward the collaboration between technology and the humanities. With a focus on archaeological research and applications, this group seeks to develop new ways of analyzing the material culture of the ancient and historical world. The initial goal of our project is to fabricate a prototype ‘Single Camera Automated Photogrammetry Platform’ (SCAPP) with the final designs and methodology available for reproduction through an open-source platform. The SCAPP is intended to be relatively low-cost and easily reproduced as an alternative to other digital imaging equipment.

Techne-Logo2

Archaeologists tend to be technological and equipment scavengers, often looking to related fields for ways to gather data and perform an array of methods of object analysis. The advantage of this is that it is a process and environment that breeds innovation. It is easy to work outside the box when you have very few limitations. This spirit of innovation is what drives our Techne Group.

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After being initially approached by a member of the Autodesk team at the Boston Technology Center, Alexandra considered how to combine her interests in technology with archaeological field methods. With over 15 years of experience excavating, she recognized the importance of new technological applications used in digital imaging, mapping, and site virtual reality among other areas. The Autodesk Technology Center presented an opportunity to not only develop new equipment to be used in excavation and lab analysis but also a means towards further bridging the gap between the humanities and technology. A partnership with Autodesk and Brandeis also would have the potential to be used as a learning experience for students and a way to experience the humanities through a completely new lens.

IMG_2986

After spending months negotiating a contract between the two institutions, Alex then had to build a team. Having met Ian Roy the previous year, Alexandra considered his background in digital applications, imaging, and 3D workflows particularly relevant and ideal as a potential team partner. Ian’s extensive background in 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and photography, as well as participation in archaeological excavations in Greece as a technology director and specialist, all complimenting the potential collaboration with Alexandra and the Autodesk team. In an effort to make the Autodesk team a beneficial learning experience for students, Alexandra selected a graduate and undergraduate student from the Department of Classical Studies to join the team. Erin Brantmayer (MA 18’) and Helen Wong (BA 19’) contributed years of archaeological excavation experience as well as Erin’s previous work with field photogrammetry and Helen’s comprehensive work with 3D scanning provided the team with a variety of skill sets.

In an initial meeting with the early team members, numerous ideas were proposed in how to effectively integrate new forms of technology into archaeological methodology and what current applications could be further modified and improved upon? Ian showed the group the research of Professor Duncan Irschick’s “BEAST Cam”, a photogrammetry rig that employs approximately forty dSLR cameras to capture image datasets. This methodology produces high-quality images and models; however, the equipment is far too cumbersome for archaeological fieldwork and impractical for budgets as well. Ian’s suggestion inspired the group to focus on digital imaging. This resonated with archaeologists, Alexandra noted that a current problem in archaeology is obtaining high quality photogrammetry of artifacts as they are found in the ground before removal, in which some fragile artifacts sometimes further deteriorate. From this conversation, the idea emerged to develop and fabricate a new type of photogrammetry equipment that would incorporate the group’s interests and expertise.

However, it was evident that any development of equipment would require the input of a professional engineer. Ian proposed another member of the Brandeis RTI team, Tim Hebert, the Embedded Systems and Robotics Specialist and head of the Automation Lab in the Brandeis Library. Tim and Ian had worked together since 2013 as part of the team that founded the MakerLab at Brandeis. Tim contributes a background in embedded systems engineering and mechanical logic, as well as meticulous CAD design with Fusion 360. Together the initial group began their residency at Autodesk in the winter of 2018. Alex took the role of Team Lead and Principle Investigator, Ian took the role of Head of Method, Workflow & Planning, and Tim took the role of Head of Engineering and Design.

In archaeology we are constantly seeking new technological applications to field and survey research. However, very seldom is any of the equipment or software we use specifically designed for archaeology. Recording architecture and artifacts is a cornerstone in archaeological methodology, any developments in this area can become vital for the preservation and interpretation of a site or assemblage of artifacts. This was the broad problem identified by the group, further focusing on the development of equipment that could be used in the field and laboratory on objects that are highly specular or unsuitable for structured light scanning.

Copy of 2019-02-15 16.02.48

The SCAPP resolves these issues as a relatively light-weight and portable automated rig for a single camera. The design helps to rectify another issue faced by archaeologists in the field, which is how to perform photogrammetry on small object before they are removed in excavation. Some artifacts can be extremely fragile, such as glass or metal, the SCAPP is specifically designed to be put over an artifact to collect a photogrammetry dataset before the artifact is ultimately removed in excavation. If it is too fragile and further deteriorates while being removed at least a partial or full 3D model can be created from the SCAPP data. It also allows consistent and repeatable results. Our goal in the Techne Group is to “Science the past” – so much photogrammetry is based on artistic decisions, we want to “science” this problem. We have found that by normalizing our data acquisition, we can be agnostic about our processing methodology: cleaner data results in cleaner renders regardless of the software used.

 

The Techne group is truly a product of multi-disciplinary experiences and approaches to problem-solving. As our group keeps refining the capabilities of the SCAPP we will look at other issues facing archaeology in the realm of digital imaging and reconstruction.

Copy of 2019-04-05 14.41.25

The Process: What is a SCAPP bot?

Design and fabrication of an automated gantry system to move a dSLR camera in a full circuit around an object in order to take 30-100 + photos as datasets processed in photogrammetry software. The output generated through these programs provides a scale and color accurate 3D model, best for objects with high secularity.

  •  The initial prototype was constructed in birch to test the perimeters of camera angles and the feasibility of the geared frame and arch system.
  •     In the second incarnation of the SCAPP the entire frame was cut from aluminum using the Autodesk waterjet; carriages were printed in PLA and Markforged; and a computer from an industry standard “Ramps board” – the materials were chosen for their accessibility and relatively low cost.
  •     The SCAPP operates essentially as if it were a 3D printer, it uses a printer control board and motors, but moves and actuates a DSLR or phone).
  •     SCAPP can also function as a non-automated circular tripod in which data acquisition can be done manually while maintaining the leveled set degree position of the camera. 

SCAP Prototype

The Fieldwork

Designed as a portable imaging tool, SCAPP testing has included laboratory settings such as those at Autodesk, the classroom, and at an archaeological excavation. Initial SCAPP field testing was carried out in the summer of 2019 at Tel Kabri (israel) by Alexandra Ratzlaff and Erin Brantmayer of the Brandeis Techne Group.

While data was collected in the field, team members Ian Roy, Tim Hebert, and Daniel Lay developed an updated version of the SCAPP based on feedback from field and continued lab testing. Currently, the group is continuing to improve and refine the engineering and design of the SCAPP through collection of data sets primarily on artifacts from the Brandeis CLARC (Classical Artifact Research Collection). 

The Future

In archaeology we are constantly seeking new technological applications to field and survey research. However, very seldom is any of the equipment or software we use specifically designed for archaeology. Recording architecture and artifacts is a cornerstone in archaeological methodology, any developments in this area can become vital for the preservation and interpretation of a site or assemblage of artifacts. This was the broad problem identified by the group, further focusing on the development of equipment that could be used in the field and laboratory on objects that are highly specular or unsuitable for structured light scanning.

The SCAPP resolves these issues as a relatively light-weight and portable automated rig for a single camera. The design helps to rectify another issue faced by archaeologists in the field, which is how to perform photogrammetry on small object before they are removed in excavation. Some artifacts can be extremely fragile, such as glass or metal, the SCAPP is specifically designed to be put over an artifact to collect a photogrammetry dataset before the artifact is ultimately removed in excavation. If it is too fragile and further deteriorates while being removed at least a partial or full 3D model can be created from the SCAPP data. It also allows consistent and repeatable results. Our goal in the Techne Group is to “Science the past” – so much photogrammetry is based on artistic decisions, we want to “science” this problem. We have found that by normalizing our data acquisition, we can be agnostic about our processing methodology: cleaner data results in cleaner renders regardless of the software used.

The Techne group is truly a product of multi-disciplinary experiences and approaches to problem-solving. As our group keeps refining the capabilities of the SCAPP we will look at other issues facing archaeology in the realm of digital imaging and reconstruction.

The Annoying Liberal Arts

Seneca, Moral Epistle 88

“But, truly, the knowledge of many disciplines is pleasurable”. Ok, then, let’s keep only what is necessary from these arts. Do you think that the person who considers superficial matters equal to useful ones and for this reason makes his home a museum of expensive products is reprehensible but not the man who is obsessed with the superfluous aspects of academia? To want to know more than is enough is a kind of excessive delusion.

Why? Well, this extreme pursuit of the liberal arts makes people annoying, wordy, bad-mannered, and overly self-satisfied, even though they have not learned the basics because they pursue the useless.

The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand books. I would pity him if had only read that many useless works. In these books he searched for Homer’s homeland, the real mother of Aeneas, whether Anacreon is more licentious or just drunk, whether Sappho was promiscuous and other various questions which, if you learned them, would have been necessarily forgotten. Go on, don’t say life is long. No, when you turn to your own people too, I will show you many things which should be pruned back with an ax.”

“At enim delectat artium notitia multarum.” Tantum itaque ex illis retineamus, quantum necessarium est. An tu existimas reprendendum, qui supervacua usibus conparat et pretiosarum rerum pompam in domo explicat, non putas eum, qui occupatus est in supervacua litterarum supellectile? Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est.

Quid? Quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. Quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. Misererer, si tam multa supervacua legisset. In his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia, quae erant dediscenda, si scires. I nunc et longam esse vitam nega. Sed ad nostros quoque cum perveneris, ostendam multa securibus recidenda.

These are themes close to the old man’s heart, elsewhere too:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

Image result for medieval manuscript animal teacher
ca. 1350 | The Morgan Library & Museum

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship (Ausonius)

“It is difficult to imagine that a man capable of writing such trifles as these (not to mention his lines on the Caesars and on celebrated cities) had some ten years previously (in 378 a.d.) filled the splendid position of praetorian praefect of the provinces of Gaul (an official whose sway extended even over Spain and the opposite coast of Africa, and over the southern part of Britain), and, in the four years between 376 and 380, had seen his father honorary praefect of lllyricum, his son and son-in-law proconsuls of Africa, and his nephew praefect of Rome. It seems as if, on his return to the scenes of his early work as a professor at Bordeaux, the praefect relapsed into the ‘ grammarian ‘, spending his time on learned trifles, which are among the least important products of scholarship, and consoling himself in his tedious task by recalling Virgil’s famous phrase: — ‘in tenui labor, at tenuis non gloria’. We may regret that Ausonius does not appear to have used his great opportunities for reforming the educational system which prevailed in the schools of the Western Empire, and thus rendering a lasting service to the cause of learning; but we may allow him the credit of having possibly inspired the memorable decree promulgated by Gratian in 376, which improved the status of public instructors by providing for the appointment of teachers of rhetoric and of Greek and Latin ‘ grammar ‘ in the principal cities of Gaul, and fixing the amount of their stipends ‘. “

Obscenity Watch: Walk Like an Egyptian

We are happy to have new contributions from the Fabulous Dr. Amy Coker. She shares a certain scatalogical interest, but brings considerable expertise to the matter.

This latest word is not to do with sex, but rather with another bodily action which is often a source of taboo words, excretion. More specifically, this post is about words I have been affectionately characterising as denoting ‘solid waste’ (or ‘poo’, ‘faeces’, etc.). One of the words in ancient Greek for the noun ‘poo’ is κόπρος (ko-pross), the word which gives us English scientific words beginning with ‘copro-‘ such as ‘coprolite’ – fossilised faeces – coined in the early nineteenth century.

Despite the unpleasantness of the substance κόπρος indicates, the word itself is not really ‘taboo’ or offensive, and is found in a range of Classical works from Homer’s epics to medical works in the Hippocratic corpus: κόπρος is milder in tone than the English four-letter word, ‘sh*t’. What sparked this post is an example in our ancient texts of a word similar to κόπρος – κόπριον (ko-pree-on). In technical parlance, this word is the stem κοπρ- plus the diminutive suffix -ιον (-ee-on): this last part is a segment which makes a word meaning the same thing as the stem, or a smaller version of it, or indicates affection from the speaker to the object (a bit like English ‘toe’, diminutive ‘toe-sie’).

The example of κόπριον we are interested in comes from a papyrus letter written in Egypt in the late 2nd or 3rd century AD, known as P.Oxy. 1761. Greek was the dominant language of Egypt for around a thousand years from the conquest of Alexander the Greek to the Arab conquest in the mid 7th century AD, so that fact that this letter is written in Greek in Egypt is not unusual. This letter is in other respects too typical of those written in vast numbers by individuals about everyday matters; these people are otherwise lost to history, but their correspondence by chance survives. (See picture for an example of what a papyrus letter looks like).

P.Oxy. 1672 Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, AD 37-41. Image courtesy of The Garstang Museum, University of Liverpool.
The first two lines read: Δημήτριος καὶ Παυσανίας Παυσαν[ί]αι | τῶι πατρὶ πλεῖστα χαίρειν καὶ ὑγι(αίνειν)- ‘Demetrius and Pausanias to their father Pausanias very many greetings and wishes for good health.’
It is lines 6-7 of P.Oxy. 1761 where the surprise lies: as Grenfell and Hunt put it in their edition in the early twentieth century, here ‘A very singular symptom of regret for an absent friend is specified’. Here is a full translation of the letter, as given by Montserrat’s Sex & Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt (1996, 8); the bold words are the ones which concerns us:

Callirhoë to her dear Sarapis, greetings. I say a prayer for you every day in the presence of the lord Sarapis. Since you have been away I go on the trail of your shit in my desire to see you. Greet Thermouthis and Helias and Ploution and Aphrodite and Nemesianus. Carabus and Harpocration greet you, and everyone at home. I pray for your health.

The Greek text which lies behind this ‘singular symptom of regret’ is: ἐπιζῃητοῦμέν σου τὰ κόπρια, literally, ‘I/we look for (or miss?) your κόπριον-s’ (κόπρια is the plural of κόπριον). There is no wandering about here, despite the impression the translation might give. A slightly more recent translation by Bagnall & Cribiore in their collection of women’s letters (2006, 392) renders these words as the striking ‘we are searching for your turds’.

Is Callirhoë really looking through the dunghill because she misses her friend? Even when we accept that ancient peoples did things differently, this seems a stretch. We could be tempted to think that this is an idiom peculiar to Egypt, perhaps stemming from a native expression, but there seems to be no obvious parallel (suggestions are welcome). I think rather the best explanation comes back to what κόπρος/κόπριον means.

Both these words are also used more broadly of ‘rubbish’, or things which can be taken away to be used as fertiliser: remember that most ancient waste was organic. κόπριον is found in this kind of sense in the Magical Papyri, an ancient collection of spells, where it is something picked up from the ground where a corpse has lain (PGM 4.1395-8, 4.1441-2). Dieter Betz translates this as ‘polluted dirt’, but the pollution comes only from the context of the spell.

I think here and in our letter we should rather take κόπρια as indicating ‘useless remains’ or ‘traces’, akin to English ‘crap’: note how ‘crap’ has just this double meaning of ‘excrement’ and ‘rubbish’ in contemporary UK English (e.g. ‘there is so much crap in my house’). The result is that Callirhoë is not looking for any particular bodily waste produced by her dear Sarapis, but rather for indications that she has been around: a rather loose translation of this sentiment might therefore be ‘I go through your crap wanting to find you there’.

Thanks to the Gartang Museum for use of the image of P.Oxy. 1672: follow the Museum’s blog at: http://garstangmuseum.wordpress.com.

Copyright © 2014/2019 Amy Coker. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Amy Coker has over the last decade held positions in Classics and Ancient History at the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol in the UK. After undergraduate studies in Classics at Downing College, Cambridge, and an MA in Linguistics at the University of Manchester, she was awarded funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council to support her doctoral work on gender variation in Ancient Greek (2007-2009, PhD Manchester 2010). She later secured a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (2013-2016) for a project on Greek sexual and scatological vocabulary, and ancient offensive language. She was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Classical Studies, University of London (2017-2018), and is now an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of Bristol (2018-), and teacher of Classics at Cheltenham Ladies College (2018-).

She has published work in the fields of historical linguistics, pragmatics, and classics, and has pieces about to appear on the treatment of obscene language in the most well-known lexicon of Ancient Greek, Liddell and Scott, and on a filthy joke told by Cleopatra involving a ladle.

She is a keen supporter of outreach and public engagement, and has worked with the UK charity Classics for All running projects to bring Latin and Greek teaching to schools which have no tradition of teaching these subjects. She can be found on Twitter at @AECoker.

 

Research Advice: Exercise. Then Read and Write in Turns

Seneca, Moral Epistles 84

“I believe that these journeys which remove my languor are good for both my strength and my researches. How they profit my health is clear: my love of literature makes me lazy, neglectful of my body. On a journey, I may exercise incidentally.

I can show you how this helps my research too. But I in no way take a break from reading. My reading, I believe, is necessary: first, it ensures I will not be satisfied with myself as I am; second, once I have understood what others have learned, I may judge what has been discovered and what still must be thought out.

Reading feeds the mind and replenishes it when it is worn from studying—even though it is not without work itself. We should not restrict ourselves to writing or to reading:  endless writing saps our strength and then exhausts it. Too much reading can puff up or dilute our ability. Most commendable is to take them in their turn, to mix one with the other, so that the seeds of one’s reading may be grown anew with the pen.”

Itinera ista, quae segnitiam mihi excutiunt, et valitudini meae prodesse iudico et studiis. Quare valitudinem adiuvent, vides: cum pigrum me et neglegentem corporis litterarum amor faciat, aliena opera exerceor; studio quare prosint, indicabo: a lectionibus nihil recessi. Sunt autem, ut existimo, necessariae, primum ne sim me uno contentus; deinde ut, cum ab aliis quaesita cognovero, tum et de inventis iudicem et cogitem de inveniendis. Alit lectio ingenium et studio fatigatum, non sine studio tamen, reficit. Nec scribere tantum nec tantum legere debemus; altera res contristabit vires et exhauriet, de stilo dico, altera solvet ac diluet. Invicem hoc et illo commeandum est et alterum altero temperandum, ut quicquid lectione collectum est, stilus redigat in corpus.

I was reminded of this passage while contemplating Paul Holdengraber’s regular injunction not to read bad writing:

Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis.  As we have mentioned before, this resonates with Leonardo de Bruni’s warning about reading trash. Of course, the statement should probably be tempered by Pliny the Elder’s suggestion that “no book is so bad it doesn’t have something to offer”.

Related image

Changing Your Mind is the Point of Research

Quintilian, 3.6.

“I admit that I now have a bit of a different opinion from what I believed before. Perhaps it would be safest for my reputation to change nothing which I not only believed but also approved for many years. But I cannot endure knowing that I misrepresent myself, especially in this work which I compose as some help for our good students. For even Hippocrates, famous still for his skill in medicine, seems to have conducted himself very honorably when he admitted his own errors so his followers would not make a mistake. Marcus Tullius did not hesitate to condemn some of his own books in subsequent publications, the Catulus and Lucullus, for example.

Prolonged effort in research would certainly be useless if we were not allowed to improve upon previous opinions. Nevertheless, nothing of what I taught then was useless. These things I offer now, in fact, return us to basic principles. Thus it will cause no one grief to have learned from me. I am trying only to collect and lay out the same ideas in a slightly more sensible fashion. I want it made known to all, moreover, that I am showing this to others no later than I have convinced myself.”

Ipse me paulum in alia quam prius habuerim opinione nunc esse confiteor. Et fortasse tutissimum erat famae modo studenti nihil ex eo mutare quod multis annis non sensissem modo verum etiam adprobassem. Sed non sustineo esse conscius mihi dissimulati, in eo praesertim opere quod ad bonorum iuvenum aliquam utilitatem componimus, in ulla parte iudicii mei. Nam et Hippocrates clarus arte medicinae videtur honestissime fecisse quod quosdam errores suos, ne posteri errarent, confessus est, et M. Tullius non dubitavit aliquos iam editos libros aliis postea scriptis ipse damnare, sicut Catulum atque Lucullum et… Etenim supervacuus foret in studiis longior labor si nihil liceret melius invenire praeteritis. Neque tamen quicquam ex iis quae tum praecepi supervacuum fuit; ad easdem enim particulas haec quoque quae nunc praecipiam revertentur. Ita neminem didicisse paeniteat: colligere tantum eadem ac disponere paulo significantius conor. Omnibus autem satis factum volo non me hoc serius demonstrare aliis quam mihi ipse persuaserim.

Mind Change real

The Annoying Liberal Arts, Or: Seneca Goes Full-on Bauerlain

Seneca, Moral Epistle 88

“But, truly, the knowledge of many disciplines is pleasurable”. Ok, then, let’s keep only what is necessary from these arts. Do you think that the person who considers superficial matters equal to useful ones and for this reason makes his home a museum of expensive products is reprehensible but not the man who is obsessed with the superfluous aspects of academia? To want to know more than is enough is a kind of excessive delusion.

Why? Well, this extreme pursuit of the liberal arts makes people annoying, wordy, bad-mannered, and overly self-satisfied, even though they have not learned the basics because they pursue the useless.

The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand books. I would pity him if had only read that many useless works. In these books he searched for Homer’s homeland, the real mother of Aeneas, whether Anacreon is more licentious or just drunk, whether Sappho was promiscuous and other various questions which, if you learned them, would have been necessarily forgotten. Go on, don’t say life is long. No, when you turn to your own people too, I will show you many things which should be pruned back with an ax.”

“At enim delectat artium notitia multarum.” Tantum itaque ex illis retineamus, quantum necessarium est. An tu existimas reprendendum, qui supervacua usibus conparat et pretiosarum rerum pompam in domo explicat, non putas eum, qui occupatus est in supervacua litterarum supellectile? Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est.

Quid? Quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. Quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. Misererer, si tam multa supervacua legisset. In his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia, quae erant dediscenda, si scires. I nunc et longam esse vitam nega. Sed ad nostros quoque cum perveneris, ostendam multa securibus recidenda.

These are themes close to the old man’s heart, elsewhere too:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

Image result for medieval manuscript animal teacher
 ca. 1350 | The Morgan Library & Museum