Weekend Plans with Pliny

Pliny to his Friend Calpurnius Macer, (Letter 18)

“I’m doing well because you are! You have your wife, and you have your son. You enjoy the sea, the streams, the forest, the fields and your most charming home. I cannot doubt that it must be truly charming when it’s the place where a man stays who was already lucky before he became the luckiest!

I am hunting and studying in Tuscany, either taking turns between them or trying them at the same time. I am not able right now to tell you whether it is more difficult to catch something or write about it. Be well!”

C. Plinius Calpurnio Macro Suo S.
1Bene est mihi quia tibi bene est. Habes uxorem tecum, habes filium; frueris mari fontibus viridibus agro villa amoenissima. Neque enim dubito esse amoenissimam, in qua se composuerat homo felicior, 2ante quam felicissimus fieret. Ego in Tuscis et venor et studeo, quae interdum alternis, interdum simul facio; nec tamen adhuc possum pronuntiare, utrum sit difficilius capere aliquid an scribere. Vale.

Roman mosaic of men surrounding deer with nets
Hunting with Nets – Piazza Armerina, Sicily (ca. 300 AD)

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

Want to Hear a Story? The First Class Crudeness of This Man!

Pliny, Letters, 2.20C. Plinius Calvisio Suo S.

“Get your money out and get ready for premium story—really, stories, since the new one reminds me of others and there’s no difference in where I begin.

The widow of Piso—the one Galba adopted—was really sick. And who arrived on the spot, but Regulus! The first class crudeness of a man who visited her sick bed when he was her husband’s greatest foe and a terrible sight to her too. It’s enough that he visited, but he sat right next to her bed and asked her what day and hour she was born in! When he listened, he made a serious face, he looked straight at her while he moving his lips and counting up numbers on his fingers. Nothing after that.

After he left her in suspense, waiting for a while, he said, “You are in a climactic period, but you will survive. Still, to relieve you of anxiety, I will consult a fortune-teller whom I use from time to time.” Then, he immediately made a sacrifice and confirmed that the entrails are aligned with the star signs.

Already thinking her life was endangered, Verania asked for an amendment to her will, and added Regulus as a heir. Immediately, she got sicker and as she died she accused the evil, treacherous man, worse than the perjurer who swore an oath on the safety of his son.

Regulus does stuff no less criminal than this with some frequency, an act to enrage the gods whom he evades on a daily basis and leaves for his miserable son to worry about.

Veleius Blaesus, that wealthy ex-consul was derising to change his will too. Regulus, hoping for something from the new accounting, because he had recently begun to court Velleius, was begging the doctors to give just a little more time to the man. After the will was signed, well he changed his face, and turned to attack the same doctors, by saying “Why do you torture a miserable man? Why do you deprive him of an easy death when you can’t give him life?” Blaesus dies, perhaps he heard it all, and didn’t leave Regulus even a little.

Are two tales enough, or do you want to follow that academic law of three? There’s more where that came from. Aurelia bought the most beautiful clothes and was all dressed up for signing her will. When Regulus showed up for the event, he asked, “Will you leave these clothes to me?” And Aurelia thinks he’s joking. Of course, he insists, seriously. To cut to the chase, he forced the woman to unseal the will and add the very tunic she was wearing to the list, all while watching her write to make sure she had done it. Aurelia is still alive today, but he acted as if she were about to die. And this ‘inheritor’ gets his bequests and acts as if he earned them.

“But why get bothered” about this when I live in a country where wickedness and dishonesty have long earned the same—or even greater—rewards as shame and honor? Just look at Regulus who has climbed from poverty and nowhere to such great wealth on sinful steps that he actually told me that, when he was trying to figure out when he would be worth 60 million he found a double set of entrails implying that he would have twice as much!

So he will have it, that most immoral crook, if he continues as he started, dictating other poeple’s wills when they are most desperate to make them.”

Assem para et accipe auream fabulam, fabulas immo; nam me priorum nova admonuit, nec refert a qua potissimum incipiam. Verania Pisonis graviter iacebat, huius dico Pisonis, quem Galba adoptavit. Ad hanc Regulus venit. Primum impudentiam hominis, qui venerit ad aegram, cuius marito inimicissimus, ipsi invisissimus fuerat! Esto, si venit tantum; at ille etiam proximus toro sedit, quo die qua hora nata esset interrogavit. Ubi audiit, componit vultum intendit oculos movet labra, agitat digitos computat. Nihil. Ut diu miseram exspectatione suspendit, “Habes” inquit “climactericum tempus sed evades. Quod ut tibi magis liqueat, haruspicem consulam, quem sum frequenter expertus.” Nec mora, sacrificium facit, adfirmat exta cum siderum significatione congruere. Illa ut in periculo credula poscit codicillos, legatum Regulo scribit. Mox ingravescit, clamat moriens hominem nequam perfidum ac plus etiam quam periurum, qui sibi per salutem filii peierasset. Facit hoc Regulus non minus scelerate quam frequenter, quod iram deorum, quos ipse cotidie fallit, in caput infelicis pueri detestatur.

Velleius Blaesus ille locuples consularis novissima valetudine conflictabatur: cupiebat mutare testamentum. Regulus qui speraret aliquid ex novis tabulis, quia nuper captare eum coeperat, medicos hortari rogare, quoquo modo spiritum homini prorogarent. Postquam signatum est testamentum, mutat personam, vertit adlocutionem isdemque medicis: “Quousque miserum cruciatis? quid invidetis bona morte, cui dare vitam non potestis?” Moritur Blaesus et, tamquam omnia audisset, Regulo ne tantulum quidem.

Sufficiunt duae fabulae, an scholastica lege tertiam poscis? est unde fiat. Aurelia ornata femina signatura testamentum sumpserat pulcherrimas tunicas. Regulus cum venisset ad signandum, “Rogo” inquit  “has mihi leges.” Aurelia ludere hominem putabat, ille serio instabat; ne multa, coegit mulierem aperire tabulas ac sibi tunicas quas erat induta legare; observavit scribentem, inspexit an scripsisset. Et Aurelia quidem vivit, ille tamen istud tamquam morituram coegit. Et hic hereditates, hic legata quasi mereatur accipit.

Ἀλλὰ τί διατείνομαι in ea civitate, in qua iam pridem non minora praemia, immo maiora nequitia et improbitas quam pudor et virtus habent? Adspice Regulum, qui ex paupere et tenui ad tantas opes per flagitia processit, ut ipse mihi dixerit, cum consuleret quam cito sestertium sescentiens impleturus esset, invenisse se exta duplicia, quibus portendi miliens et ducentiens habiturum. Et habebit, si modo ut coepit, aliena testamenta, quod est improbissimum genus falsi, ipsis quorum sunt illa dictaverit. Vale.

The beginning of Pliny’s letters in the manuscript Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Ms. S.XX.2, fol. 1r. from Wikimedia Commons

Sure, I’ll Read Your Manuscript On Vacation

Pliny. Letters 3.15 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“You are asking me to read some of your poems when I am on vacation to see if they should be published. You add pleading and provide an example, when you ask if I can find any spare moments of time to spend on this. You say that Cicero nurtured poetic talent with amazing kindness.

But I do not need to be begged or encouraged. I worship poetry itself almost religiously and I love you most deeply. I would do what you want as carefully as I would happily. Nevertheless, I think I can already respond to you that the work is fine and should not be suppressed, as much as this is possible to evaluate from the parts you have already recited to me, unless it was your power of recitation which moved me (since you read sweetly and skillfully). But I am still confident that I was not misled enough by my ears that the clarity of my judgment was at all dulled. Perhaps my wits have weakened and restrained a little, but they can’t be plucked and removed completely. That’s already my statement on the work as a whole, but I will test its parts by reading them.”

C. Plinius Silio Proculo Suo S.

Petis ut libellos tuos in secessu legam examinem, an editione sint digni; adhibes preces, adlegas exem¬plum: rogas enim, ut aliquid subscivi temporis studiis meis subtraham, impertiam tuis, adicis M. Tullium mira benignitate poetarum ingenia fovisse. Sed ego nec rogandus sum nec hortandus; nam et poeticen ipsam religiosissime veneror et te valdissime diligo. Faciam ergo quod desideras tam diligenter quam libenter. Videor autem iam nunc posse rescribere esse opus pulchrum nec supprimendum, quantum aestimare licuit ex iis quae me praesente recitasti, si modo mihi non imposuit recitatio tua; legis enim suavissime et peritissime. Confido tamen me non sic auribus duci, ut omnes aculei iudicii mei illarum delenimentis refringantur: hebetentur fortasse et paulum retundantur, evelli quidem extorquerique non possunt. Igitur non temere iam nunc de universitate pronuntio, de partibus experiar legendo. Vale.

Plinio Il Giovane.jpg
Pliny the Younger on the Duomo Di Como

Four Years of Presidential Memories: Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

Cicero Says August Is the Start of a Whole New Year!

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 5.15 [=LCL 108]

“I made it to Laodicea on July 31st: you will start the reckoning of the year from this day. Nothing was lacking or unexpected in my arrival, but it is amazing how much this work wears me out. It provides me far too little space for my intellectual curiosity and the work for which I have earned my position.”

Laodiceam veni prid. Kal. Sext.; ex hoc die clavum anni movebis. nihil exoptatius adventu meo, nihil c<>arius; sed est incredibile quam me negoti taedeat, non habeat satis magnum campum ille tibi non ignotus cursus animi et industriae meae, praeclara opera cesset.

Cicero writing his letters, woodcut 1547

After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

seneca strength

 

Or we could do this kind of fading…

Sure, I’ll Read Your Manuscript On Vacation

Pliny. Letters 3.15

“You are asking me to read some of your poems when I am on vacation to see if they should be published. You add pleading and provide an example, when you ask if I can find any spare moments of time to spend on this. You say that Cicero nurtured poetic talent with amazing kindness.

But I do not need to be begged or encouraged. I worship poetry itself almost religiously and I love you most deeply. I would do what you want as carefully as I would happily. Nevertheless, I think I can already respond to you that the work is fine and should not be suppressed, as much as this is possible to evaluate from the parts you have already recited to me, unless it was your power of recitation which moved me (since you read sweetly and skillfully). But I am still confident that I was not misled enough by my ears that the clarity of my judgment was at all dulled. Perhaps my wits have weakened and restrained a little, but they can’t be plucked and removed completely. That’s already my statement on the work as a whole, but I will test its parts by reading them.”

C. Plinius Silio Proculo Suo S.

Petis ut libellos tuos in secessu legam examinem, an editione sint digni; adhibes preces, adlegas exem¬plum: rogas enim, ut aliquid subscivi temporis studiis meis subtraham, impertiam tuis, adicis M. Tullium mira benignitate poetarum ingenia fovisse. Sed ego nec rogandus sum nec hortandus; nam et poeticen ipsam religiosissime veneror et te valdissime diligo. Faciam ergo quod desideras tam diligenter quam libenter. Videor autem iam nunc posse rescribere esse opus pulchrum nec supprimendum, quantum aestimare licuit ex iis quae me praesente recitasti, si modo mihi non imposuit recitatio tua; legis enim suavissime et peritissime. Confido tamen me non sic auribus duci, ut omnes aculei iudicii mei illarum delenimentis refringantur: hebetentur fortasse et paulum retundantur, evelli quidem extorquerique non possunt. Igitur non temere iam nunc de universitate pronuntio, de partibus experiar legendo. Vale.

Plinio Il Giovane.jpg
Pliny the Younger on the Duomo Di Como

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

seneca strength