What Binds Uncertain Minds

Lucan, Pharsalia 5.249-259

“Caesar did not learn better in any other struggle
How he looked down from an unstable, shaky precipice
And that even the ground he stood on was trembling.

Undone by so many hands cut down, left only
His own sword, this man who forced so many peoples to war
He understood that the drawn sword is the soldier’s not the general’s.

The murmur was no longer timid, no more was anger
Hidden in the heart: for what binds together uncertain minds,
That each person fears the others he causes terror
And everyone thinks that they alone are oppressed by injustice,
Was no longer a cause to restrain people.”

Haud magis expertus discrimine Caesar in ullo est,
Quam non e stabili tremulo sed culmine cuncta
Despiceret staretque super titubantia fultus.
Tot raptis truncus manibus gladioque relictus
Paene suo, qui tot gentes in bella trahebat,
Scit non esse ducis strictos sed militis enses.
Non pavidum iam murmur erat, nec pectore tecto
Ira latens; nam quae dubias constringere mentes
Causa solet, dum quisque pavet, quibus ipse timori est,
Seque putat solum regnorum iniusta gravari,
Haud retinet.

Julius Caesar on Horseback, Writing and Dictating Simultaneously to His Scribes. Painted by artist Jaques de Gheyn II (1565–1629).

Plagues for Steel and Weeds

Statius, Thebaid 2.159–167

“He also [taught] me about juices and grains to treat
Sickness, what medicine might slow excessive bleeding,
What fosters sleep, how to close wounds wide open,
What plague is best ended by steel and what needs herbs.

He also fixed in my heart the principles of justice,
How he used to provide laws revered by Pelion’s peoples
Capable of bringing peace to his own bi-formed race.

That’s as much of the training of my youth I remember, Friends
And it delights me to recall it: mother knows the rest.”

quin etiam sucos atque auxiliantia morbis
gramina, quo nimius staret medicamine sanguis,
quid faciat somnos, quid hiantia vulnera claudat,
quae ferro cohibenda lues, quae cederet herbis,
edocuit monitusque sacrae sub pectore fixit
iustitiae, qua Peliacis dare iura verenda
gentibus atque suos solitus pacare biformes.
hactenus annorum, comites, elementa meorum
et memini et meminisse iuvat: scit cetera mater.’

A sculpture of a very judgmental centaur

 

Livy, 4.25

“An #epidemic in that year provided a break from other problems.”

Pestilentia eo anno aliarum rerum otium praebuit.

The Sorrow of Times Like These

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 6.1230-1251

“This thing alone had to be mourned the most,
This lamented: how when anyone would give up
when they realized they had contracted the disease
As condemned to die, they would stretch out with a sad heart,
Surrendering their spirit while considering the rites of the dead.

For the spread of that greedy sickness did not stop
Even for a single moment from one to another,
Thick together as woolly flocks and horned heads—
That’s the reason why grave was piling on grave.
Whoever was reluctant to see their own sick,
For this very excessive love of life and fear of death
They were punished eventually with a foul and evil end,
As deserters without help, paid back for their neglect.

But those who stayed to help faced contagion too,
And the suffering which shame compelled them to meet.
The pleading voice of the weary mixed with cries of complaint.
Well, the best kinds of souls met death like this.

…Then some falling upon others, fighting to bury their masses
Of dead, worn out by tears and grief as they returned.
They surrendered to their beds for the better part.

No one could be found anywhere who was untouched by the disease
By the death, by the sorrow of times like these.”

Illud in his rebus miserandum magnopere unum
aerumnabile erat, quod ubi se quisque videbat
implicitum morbo, morti damnatus ut esset,
deficiens animo maesto cum corde iacebat,
funera respectans animam amittebat ibidem.

quippe etenim nullo cessabant tempore apisci
ex aliis alios avidi contagia morbi,
lanigeras tamquam pecudes et bucera saecla;
idque vel in primis cumulabat funere funus.
nam quicumque suos fugitabant visere ad aegros,
vitai nimium cupidos mortisque timentis
poenibat paulo post turpi morte malaque,
desertos, opis expertis, incuria mactans.

qui fuerant autem praesto, contagibus ibant
atque labore, pudor quem tum cogebat obire
blandaque lassorum vox mixta voce querellae.
optimus hoc leti genus ergo quisque subibat.
. . . . . . .
inque aliis alium, populum sepelire suorum
certantes; lacrimis lassi luctuque redibant;
inde bonam partem in lectum maerore dabantur.
nec poterat quisquam reperiri, quem neque morbus
nec mors nec luctus temptaret tempore tali.

 

Palermo-trionfo-della-morte-bjs.jpg
Triumph of Death Fresco, Palermo
File:Follower of Jheronimus Bosch - The Harrowing of Hell.jpg
“The Harrowing of Hell” Hieronymus Bosch

Two Romans Speak of Mothers

Sidonius, Letters 4.21

“The first place in explaining someone’s heritage is usually given to the father’s line, but we still owe much to our mothers. So it is not right that we give some smaller honor to the fact that we were our mothers’ burdens than that we were our father’s seeds.”

Est quidem princeps in genere monstrando partis paternae praerogativa, sed tamen multum est,quod debemus et matribus. non enim a nobis aliquid exilius fas honorari quod pondera illarum quam quod istorum semina sumus.

Image result for Ancient Roman Mothers

Vergil, Aeneid 2.796-798

“And here, I was shocked to find an overwhelming
Flood of new companions, mothers and men,
A band assembled for exile, a pitiable crowd.”

“Atque hic ingentem comitum adfluxisse novorum
invenio admirans numerum, matresque virosque,
collectam exsilio pubem, miserabile vulgus.

Infinity Games in the Mind

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.973-983

“And whenever people give uninterrupted attention
To games many days in a row, we often see
That when they have stopped training their senses on this,
There are still certain pathways left open in the mind
Where the impressions of these things still may enter.

For many days later then, they see these same images
Before their eyes so that even when they are alert
They think they see dancers moving their soft limbs,
And their ears catch bits of the lyre’s liquid song or ringing chords
And along with it the marvelous props of the stage shine on”

Et quicumque dies multos ex ordine ludis
adsiduas dederunt operas, plerumque videmus,
cum iam destiterunt ea sensibus usurpare,
relicuas tamen esse vias in mente patentis,
qua possint eadem rerum simulacra venire.
per multos itaque illa dies eadem obversantur
ante oculos, etiam vigilantes ut videantur
cernere saltantis et mollia membra moventis,
et citharae liquidum carmen chordasque loquentis
auribus accipere, et consessum cernere eundem
scenaique simul varios splendere decores.

Image result for super mario bros 1

Blame it on the Comets

Manilius, Astronomica 875-893

“The sky has never gone alight with meaningless fires,
But farmers, deluded, have cursed their wasted fields
And in the infertile rows the depressed plowman
Pointlessly coaxes his mourning oxen to their yokes.
Or when a mortal spark hollows out the marrow of life
In bodies taken by heavy sickness or aged exhaustion,
And it takes a wavering people, and throughout entire cities
Shared mourning is accompanied by funereal fires.

That’s what the plague was like when it attacked Erekhtheus’ people
And carried ancient Athens out to graves in a time of peace.
One after another, slipping into sickness and cursing fate,
No kind of medical skill or prayer was helping them.

Duty itself fell to sickness, and the dead received neither
Burial nor tears. Even fire failed in its exhaustion
And the limbs of bodies were piled on burning limbs.
A people once so great could scarcely find their next of kin.

These are the horrors shining comets often proclaim.”

numquam futtilibus excanduit ignibus aether,
squalidaque elusi deplorant arva coloni,
et sterilis inter sulcos defessus arator
ad iuga maerentis cogit frustrata iuvencos.
aut gravibus morbis et lenta corpora tabe
corripit exustis letalis flamma medullis
labentisque rapit populos, totasque per urbes
publica succensis peraguntur iusta sepulcris.
qualis Erectheos pestis populata colonos
extulit antiquas per funera pacis Athenas,
alter in alterius labens cum fata ruebant,
nec locus artis erat medicae nec vota valebant;
cesserat officium morbis, et funera derant
mortibus et lacrimae; lassus defecerat ignis
et coacervatis ardebant corpora membris,
ac tanto quondam populo vix contigit heres.
talia significant lucentes saepe cometae:

 

From Gizmodo.com

The Ruin Exceeding our Stockpiles

Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.523–528

“A terrible disease came over our people thanks to angry Juno
Who hated us because our land was named after her husband’s mistress.
As long as the evil was hidden because it seemed of mortal cause,
We tried to fight it with the art of medicine.
But the destruction was exceeding our stockpiles, which lay there open, conquered.”

dira lues ira populis Iunonis iniquae
incidit exosae dictas a paelice terras.
dum visum mortale malum tantaeque latebat
causa nocens cladis, pugnatum est arte medendi:
exitium superabat opem, quae victa iacebat.

Minos, Aeacus and Rhadamanthys by Ludwig Mack, Bildhauer

Trying To Drink From a Raging River

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.1084-1104

“But Venus lightly breaks the penalties suffered during love
And comforting pleasure is mixed in to temper the bites.
And there is hope in this: it is possible to extinguish the flame
In that same body, the place where the fire arises.

But nature prevents this from happening in every way.
This is the only matter: whatever we have more of,
The more our heart burns for it with dread desire.
For food and drink are absorbed into our bodies
And since they are able to be separated into clear parts,
It is easy to get our fill of bread and water.

But from a person’s appearance and pretty complexion
The body gains nothing except fleeting images
To enjoy: a pitiful hope often snatched away by the wind.

Just as when a thirsty man tries to drink in dreams
and can get no water to satisfy the fire in his limbs,
but he reaches for water’s image and exhausts himself
and stays parched even as he tries to drink a raging river;
In the same way Venus uses mere images to toy with lovers.
They can never satisfy their bodies just by looking,
Nor can they wipe any bit of it away by wearing down
Their tender limbs wandering lost over the whole body.”

Sed leviter poenas frangit Venus inter amorem,
blandaque refrenat morsus admixta voluptas;
namque in eo spes est, unde est ardoris origo,
restingui quoque posse ab eodem corpore flammam.
quod fieri contra totum natura repugnat:
unaque res haec est, cuius quam plurima habemus,
tam magis ardescit dira cuppedine pectus.
nam cibus atque umor membris adsumitur intus;
quae quoniam certas possunt obsidere partis,
hoc facile expletur laticum frugumque cupido.
ex hominis vero facie pulchroque colore
nil datur in corpus praeter simulacra fruendum
tenvia; quae vento spes raptast saepe misella.
ut bibere in somnis sitiens quom quaerit, et umor
non datur, ardorem qui membris stinguere possit,
sed laticum simulacra petit frustraque laborat
in medioque sitit torrenti flumine potans,
sic in amore Venus simulacris ludit amantis,
nec satiare queunt spectando corpora coram,
nec manibus quicquam teneris abradere membris
possunt errantes incerti corpore toto.

Lovers
 Sloane MS 2435, f. 9v.  (from this blog)

Dabbling in the Occult: Odysseus, Necromancer

It is the right time of the year for raising the dead. A student paper on the Elpenor Pelike at the MFA in Boston drew my attention to the following passage.

Servius ad Aen. 6.107

“For this reason the place is named without joy since, as people claim, it would not have been there but for necromancy or spell-craft. For, Aeneas completed these sacred rites when Misenus was killed and Ulysses did it with the death of Elpenor.

This very scene Homer himself presented falsely from the detail of its location which he specifies along with the length of time of the journey. For he claims that Ulysses sailed for one night and came to the place where he completed these sacrifices. For this reason it is abundantly clear that he doesn’t mean the ocean but Campania.”

sine gaudio autem ideo ille dicitur locus, quod necromantia vel sciomantia, ut dicunt, non nisi ibi poterat fieri: quae sine hominis occisione non fiebant; nam et Aeneas illic occiso Miseno sacra ista conplevit et Vlixes occiso Elpenore. quamquam fingatur in extrema Oceani parte Vlixes fuisse: quod et ipse Homerus falsum esse ostendit ex qualitate locorum, quae commemorat, et ex tempore navigationis; dicit enim eum a Circe unam noctem navigasse et ad locum venisse, in quo haec sacra perfecit: quod de Oceano non procedit, de Campania manifestissimum est.

The relevant passages from the Odyssey don’t give any hint that Elpenor was intentionally killed for black magic. When Odysseus actually does summon the dead, now that gets a little dark.

Odyssey, 10.552–560

“I could not even lead my companions unharmed from there.
The youngest of my companions was a certain Elpênor,
He was neither especially brave in battle or composed in his thoughts.
He separated himself from the companions in Kirkê’s holy home
Because he needed some air; then he fell asleep because he was drunk.
When he heard the noise and trouble of our companions moving out,
He got up immediately and it completely escaped his thoughts
To climb down again by the long ladder—
So he fell straight from the roof and his neck
Shattered along his spine; then his spirit flew down to Hades.”

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδ’ ἔνθεν περ ἀπήμονας ἦγον ἑταίρους.
᾿Ελπήνωρ δέ τις ἔσκε νεώτατος, οὔτε τι λίην
ἄλκιμος ἐν πολέμῳ οὔτε φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἀρηρώς,
ὅς μοι ἄνευθ’ ἑτάρων ἱεροῖσ’ ἐν δώμασι Κίρκης,
ψύχεος ἱμείρων, κατελέξατο οἰνοβαρείων·
κινυμένων δ’ ἑτάρων ὅμαδον καὶ δοῦπον ἀκούσας
ἐξαπίνης ἀνόρουσε καὶ ἐκλάθετο φρεσὶν ᾗσιν
ἄψορρον καταβῆναι ἰὼν ἐς κλίμακα μακρήν,
ἀλλὰ καταντικρὺ τέγεος πέσεν· ἐκ δέ οἱ αὐχὴν
ἀστραγάλων ἐάγη, ψυχὴ δ’ ῎Αϊδόσδε κατῆλθεν.

Elpênor appears twice more in the epic: 11.51–80 (Odysseus meets Elpênor’s ghost when he summons the dead); 12.9-15 (Odysseus buries Elpênor).

MFA Boston, Accession Number 34.79; Caskey-Beazley, Attic Vase Paintings (MFA), no. 111; Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 070-071.

Nekuomanteia, glossed by Hesychius as nekromanteia (i.e. “necromancy”) is an alternate name for the Nekyuia, the parade of the dead in book 11 of the Odyssey. From the Greek Anthology: ᾿Εν τῷ Η ἡ τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως νεκυομαντεία· (3.8); Scholia to the Odyssey, Hypotheses: Λ. Νεκυομαντεία, ἢ, Νεκυία. Cf. Eustathius, Comm. Ad Od. 1.396.10

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

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1076-1094

“Finally, what great and vile desire for life compels us
To quake so much amidst doubts and dangers?
Mortals have an absolute end to our lives:
Death cannot be evaded—we must leave.

Nevertheless, we move again and still persist—
No new pleasure is procured by living;
But while what we desire is absent, that seems to overcome
All other things; but later, when we have gained it, we want something else—

An endless thirst for life grips us as we gasp for it.
It remains unclear what fortune life will offer,
What chance may bring us and what end awaits.
But by extending life we do not subtract a moment
Of time from death nor can we shorten it
So that we may somehow have less time after our ends.

Therefore, you may continue as living as many generations as you want,
But that everlasting death will wait for you still,
And he will be there for no less a long time, the man who
Has found the end of life with today’s light, than the man who died
Many months and many years before.”

Denique tanto opere in dubiis trepidare periclis
quae mala nos subigit vitai tanta cupido?
certe equidem finis vitae mortalibus adstat
nec devitari letum pote, quin obeamus.
praeterea versamur ibidem atque insumus usque
nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas;
sed dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
cetera; post aliud, cum contigit illud, avemus
et sitis aequa tenet vitai semper hiantis.
posteraque in dubiost fortunam quam vehat aetas,
quidve ferat nobis casus quive exitus instet.
nec prorsum vitam ducendo demimus hilum
tempore de mortis nec delibare valemus,
quo minus esse diu possimus forte perempti.
proinde licet quod vis vivendo condere saecla,
mors aeterna tamen nihilo minus illa manebit,
nec minus ille diu iam non erit, ex hodierno
lumine qui finem vitai fecit, et ille,
mensibus atque annis qui multis occidit ante.

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