I Made Your Poems Worse: You’re Welcome!

Pliny, Letters, 4.18

“To Arrius Antonius, My friend:

Is there any way I can prove myself to you beyond the work I have put in to your Greek epigrams, which I have tried to match in Latin translation? It’s still a turn for the worse: the cause is the weakness of my own genius followed by the inadequacy of what Lucretius calls the “poverty of our country’s language.” But, if these Latin translations of mine seem to you to possess any bit of charm, then you know how much pleasure I have in the originals you made in Greek. Farewell.”

Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Greek Epigram by Sopater

A Slave Revolt in the Bath

Pliny describes an attack by slaves with little empathy and comes to a dehumanizing conclusion. Here is some excellent advice on how to teach and write about slavery  from P. Gabrielle Foreman (@profgabrielle). I have not followed all of the advice in the translation in an effort to convey Pliny’s tone.

Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.14

“This terrible news deserves more than just a letter: Lucius Macedo, a former praetor has been overcome by his own slaves. He was an arrogant and harsh slave owner, one who remembered too little—or maybe too much—that his own father was enslaved. He was bathing in his Formian villa. Suddenly, the slaves stood around him. One attacked his throat; another beat his face; others struck his chest, gut, and—foul to report—they also struck his genitals.

When they believed he was dead, they left him to lie out cooking on the pavement just to see if he was alive or not. Whether he was conscious or not or just pretending not to be, he stayed there without moving, making them confident that he was completely dead. At that point he was taken out as if he were overcome by the heat. His more faithful slaves took him as his concubines rushed around with screaming and wailing. He was revived by such voices and perhaps the cooler place, and then seemed to believe it was safe to show he was alive with a glance of the eyes or some movement of the body.

The slaves fled and a great number of them have been caught while the others are being actively sought. Macedo himself was resuscitated for a few days and only with great labor. But he did not die without the comfort of vengeance, since he lived with the punishment meted out as if they had murdered him. You see here how many dangers and insults we are exposed to. There is no one who can feel safe just because he is gentle or restrained: slave owners are murdered not because of reason but because of an inclination toward crime.”

1 Rem atrocem nec tantum epistula dignam Larcius Macedo vir praetorius a servis suis passus est, superbus alioqui dominus et saevus, et qui servisse patrem suum parum, immo nimium meminisset. 2 Lavabatur in villa Formiana. Repente eum servi circumsistunt. Alius fauces invadit, alius os verberat, alius pectus et ventrem, atque etiam (foedum dictu) verenda contundit; et cum exanimem putarent, abiciunt in fervens pavimentum, ut experirentur an viveret. Ille sive quia non sentiebat, sive quia se non sentire simulabat, immobilis et extentus fidem 3 peractae mortis implevit. Tum demum quasi aestu solutus effertur; excipiunt servi fideliores, concubinae cum ululatu et clamore concurrunt. Ita et vocibus excitatus et recreatus loci frigore sublatis oculis agitatoque corpore vivere se (et iam tutum erat) confitetur.
Diffugiunt servi; quorum magna pars comprehensa est, ceteri requiruntur. Ipse paucis diebus aegre focilatus non sine ultionis solacio decessit 5ita vivus vindicatus, ut occisi solent. Vides quot periculis quot contumeliis quot ludibriis simus obnoxii; nec est quod quisquam possit esse securus, quia sit remissus et mitis; non enim iudicio domini sed scelere perimuntur.

Listen to the letter read aloud here on librivox  (h/t to Dr. Liv Yarrow, @profyarrow,  for that tip)

Thanks to @wophugus for bringing up this passage when discussing Dani Bostick’s essay on Slave Auctions and the Junior Classical League

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Roman collared slaves, Ashmolean museum

Fear of Ghosts in Imperial Rome

Pliny, Natural History 27.98

“For treatment against night terrors and fear of ghosts it is suggested that a string of big teeth will help”

contra nocturnos pavores umbrarumque terrorem unus e magnis dentibus lino alligatus succurrere narratur.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 82.16

“Death should be hated more than it is customarily. For we believe many things about death. There has been a struggle among geniuses to increase its bad reputation. The world below is depicted as a prison and the region is oppressed by eternal night where:

“The huge guardian of death / laying upon half-eaten bones in his gory cave / horrifies the bloodless ghosts with eternal barking”*

Even if you can persuade someone that these are stories and that there is nothing there for the dead to fear, another fright comes over you. For they fear going to the underworld no less than they fear going nowhere.”

Mors contemni debet magis quam solet. Multa enim de illa credidimus. Multorum ingeniis certatum est ad augendam eius infamiam. Descriptus est carcer infernus et perpetua nocte oppressa regio, in qua

Ingens ianitor Orci

Ossa super recubans antro semesa cruento,

Aeternum latrans exsangues terreat umbras.

Etiam cum persuaseris istas fabulas esse nec quicquam defunctis superesse, quod timeant, subit alius metus. Aeque enim timent, ne apud inferos sint, quam ne nusquam.

*From Vergil’s Aeneid.

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Breaks and Games in Education

Quintilian  1.3

“Everyone still needs some kind of break, not only because there is no material which can endure endless labor—and even those things which lack perception or life must be guarded in turns of rest in order to protect their strength—but also because studying requires a desire to learn which cannot be compelled.

Once renewed and made fresh, students who often bristle at what is compulsory bring a greater intensity and a sharper mind to learning. Games do not bother me in young students—for this is also a sign of an excited mind—and I do not hope that a sad and always downcast child will come to studies with a sharp mind when the natural energy customary to that age is missing.

But, still, there should be a reasonable balance to breaks so students might not hate their studies when breaks are denied nor get too accustomed to leisure. There are even some games which are helpful for sharpening the wits of students—such as when they compete by asking each other little questions of any kind. Characters also unveil themselves more simply during games. But, no age seems to be so infirm that it cannot learn immediately what is right and wrong and the age especially good for shaping a character is before children know how to dissimulate and still yield to their teachers most easily. For it is faster to break things that have hardened into evil than it is to correct them.”

Danda est tamen omnibus aliqua remissio, non solum quia nulla res est quae perferre possit continuum laborem, atque ea quoque quae sensu et anima carent ut servare vim suam possint velut quiete alterna retenduntur, sed quod studium discendi voluntate, quae cogi non potest, constat. Itaque et virium plus adferunt ad discendum renovati ac recentes et acriorem animum, qui fere necessitatibus repugnat. Nec me offenderit lusus in pueris (est et hoc signum alacritatis), neque illum tristem semperque demissum sperare possim erectae circa studia mentis fore, cum in hoc quoque maxime naturali aetatibus illis impetu iaceat. Modus tamen sit remissionibus, ne aut odium studiorum faciant negatae aut otii consuetudinem nimiae. Sunt etiam nonnulli acuendis puerorum ingeniis non inutiles lusus, cum positis invicem cuiusque generis quaestiunculis aemulantur. Mores quoque se inter ludendum simplicius detegunt: modo nulla videatur aetas tam infirma quae non protinus quid rectum pravumque sit discat, tum vel maxime formanda cum simulandi nescia est et praecipientibus facillime cedit; frangas enim citius quam corrigas quae in pravum induruerunt.

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From the British Library

Anger and Masks of Injury

Seneca, De Ira 5-8

“Some one will be said to have spoken badly of you: think whether you did this first; think of how many people you talk about. Let us think, I say, that some are not offending us, but repaying us; that some are doing good for us, that others are forced to act, and some are just ignorant. There are those who do what they do willingly and with full understanding who attach us not for the injury itself: one is either seduced by the sweetness of his wit; other does it not to move against us but because he cannot pursue his own aims unless he moves through us.

Often praise, although it flatters, offends. Whoever reminds himself of how many times he has encountered false suspicion or how many good services fortune has disguised with masks of injury, or how many people he learned to love after hating them, he will not anger quickly. As you are offended each time, say to yourself quietly: “I have done this myself.”

And where would you encounter a judge this just? The one who desires everyone’s wife and believes that it is just enough a reason to love her that someone else has her refuses to have his own wife seen. The traitor has the harshest demands on loyalty and the perjurer is obsessed with lies himself. The devious lawyer despises any charge made against him and the man who thinks nothing of his own shame will not abide the temptation of others. We keep everyone else’s vices in clear view, but own own behind our backs.”

Dicetur aliquis male de te locutus; cogita an prior feceris, cogita de quam multis loquaris. Cogitemus, inquam, alios non facere iniuriam sed reponere, alios pro nobis facere, alios coactos facere, alios ignorantes, etiam eos, qui volentes scientesque faciunt, ex iniuria nostra non ipsam iniuriam petere; aut dulcedine urbanitatis prolapsus est, aut fecit aliquid, non ut nobis obesset, sed quia consequi ipse non poterat, nisi nos repulisset; saepe adulatio, dum blanditur, offendit. Quisquis ad se rettulerit, quotiens ipse in suspicionem falsam inciderit, quam multis officiis suis fortuna speciem iniuriae induerit, quam multos post odium amare coeperit, poterit non statim irasci, utique si sibi tacitus ad singula quibus offenditur dixerit: “Hoc et ipse commisi.” Sed ubi tam aequum iudicem invenies? Is qui nullius non uxorem concupiscit et satis iustas causas putat amandi, quod aliena est, idem uxorem suam aspici non vult; et fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus, et mendacia persequitur ipse periurus, et litem sibi inferri aegerrime calumniator patitur; pudicitiam servulorum suorum adtemptari non vult qui non pepercit suae. Aliena vitia in oculis habemus, a tergo nostra sunt.

 

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Roman Calvary Sports Mask, MET

Philosophers Need Life-Coaches

Cicero, Letter Fragments. Nepos to Cicero IIa

Nepos Cornelius also writes to the same Cicero thus: it is so far away from me thinking that philosophy is a teacher of life and the guardian of a happy life, that I do not believe that anyone needs teachers of living more than the many men who are dedicated to philosophical debate. I certainly see that a great number of those who rush into speeches about restraint and discipline in the classroom live amidst the desire for every kind of vice.”

Nepos quoque Cornelius ad eundem Ciceronem ita scribit: tantum abest ut ego magistram putem esse vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore <et> continentia praecipiant argutissime eosdem in omnium libidinum cupiditatibus vivere. (Lactant. Div. inst. 3.5.10)

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Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

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Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)