“Septicia as well, the mother of Ariminum’s Trachali, because she was angry with her sons, married Publicius who was already old, even though she could no longer have children, as an insult against them. Then she took both of them out of her will. When they appealed to him, the divine Augustus criticized both the woman’s marriage and her final allotments. He ordered that the sons have their mother’s inheritance and the dowry since she had not begun the marriage for the purpose of having children.
If Fairness herself were to judge this affair, could she have come up with a more just or more substantial opinion? You spurn the children you bore, make a sterile marriage, make a mess of a final will because of your malicious spirit, and you don’t blush to hand all your wealth over to a man whose body you climb under even when it has already been laid out like a corpse? So, since you acted like this, you are struck by divine lightning even among the damned!”
Septicia quoque, mater Trachalorum Ariminensium, irata filiis, in contumeliam eorum, cum iam parere non posset, Publicio seni admodum nupsit, testamento etiam utrumque praeteriit. a quibus aditus divus Augustus et nuptias mulieris et suprema iudicia improbavit: nam hereditatem maternam filios habere iussit, dotem, quia non creandorum liberorum causa coniugium intercesserat, virum retinere vetuit. si ipsa Aequitas hac de re cognosceret, potuitne iustius aut gravius pronuntiare? spernis quos genuisti, nubis effeta, testamenti ordinem malevolo animo confundis, neque erubescis ei totum patrimonium addicere cuius pollincto iam corpori marcidam senectutem tuam substravisti. ergo dum sic te geris, ad inferos usque caelesti fulmine adflata es.
Ammianus Marcellinus, Constantius and Gallus 23-25
“And since, as is natural in the world capital, the harsh diseases overpower so intensely that the profession of healing fails at treating them, the plan for safely is that no one will go to see a friend who suffers some disease like this. And some more cautious people add another salubrious remedy to this: slaves who have been sent to ask about the health of someone related to people who have this sickness are not allowed to enter the home before they have cleansed their body with a bath. This is how much they fear a sickness seen by other people.
But even when these practices are rather consistently performed, there are some people who, if they are invited to a wedding where gold might be offered to their open right hands, will run all the way to the Spoletium struggling, even though the strength of their limbs is weak from sickness.
But the mass of the poorest and lowest born people: some of them spend their entire nights in bars while some others haunt the shadows of the theater-awnings which Catullus during his aedileship was the first of all to have suspended as he emulated that Campanian corruption. Some of them play dice violently, sounding out foully when they draw air rapidly into their quivering nostrils; or, that thing they like most of all: they stand with their mouths agape from dawn to dusk in rain or shine analyzing the details of charioteers and the strengths and weaknesses of their horses.
And it is completely a surprise to see an uncountable crowd of plebians with a burning passion in their minds, hanging on what happens in the chariot races. These things and those like them allow nothing serious to happen at Rome.”
Et quoniam apud eos, ut in capite mundi, morborum acerbitates celsius dominantur, ad quos vel sedandos omnis professio medendi torpescit, excogitatum est adminiculum sospitale, nequi amicum perferentem similia videat, additumque est cautioribus paucis remedium aliud satis validum, ut famulos percontatum missos quem ad modum valeant noti hac aegritudine colligati, non ante recipiant domum, quam lavacro purgaverint corpus. Ita etiam alienis oculis visa metuitur Iabes.
Sed tamen haec cum ita tutius observentur, quidam vigore artuum imminuto, rogati ad nuptias, ubi aurum dextris manibus cavatis offertur, impigre vel usque Spoletium pergunt. Haec nobilium sunt instituta.
Ex turba vero imae sortis et paupertinae, in tabernis aliqui pernoctant vinariis, non nulli sub velabris umbraculorum theatralium latent, quae, Campanam imitatus lasciviam, Catulus in aedilitate sua suspendit omnium primus; aut pugnaciter aleis certant, turpi sono fragosis naribus introrsum reducto spiritu concrepantes; aut quod est studiorum omnium maximum ab ortu lucis ad vesperam sole fatiscunt vel pluviis, per minutias aurigarum equorumque praecipua vel delicta scrutantes.
Et est admodum mirum videre plebem innumeram, mentibus ardore quodam infuso, e dimicationum curulium eventu pendentem. Haec similiaque memorabile nihil vel serium agi Romae permittunt. Ergo redeundum ad textum.
To my friend Septicius Clarus, from your buddy Pliny:
You have often encouraged me to gather and publish any of my letters which I wrote with a little effort. I have done this, but without keeping them in chronological sequence but as they arrive to me, since I am not assembling a history. Now all we have left is for me not to regret taking your advice and you forgiving that I followed it! Here’s the way it will go: I will keep looking for letters that lie neglected still and will not hide any I add to them!
Plinius Septicio <Claro> Suo S.
Frequenter hortatus es ut epistulas, si quas paulo curatius scripsissem, colligerem publicaremque. Collegi non servato temporis ordine (neque enim historiam componebam), sed ut quaeque in manus venerat. Superest ut nec te consilii nec me paeniteat obsequii. Ita enim fiet, ut eas quae adhuc neglectae iacent requiram et si quas addidero non supprimam. Vale.
“To begin with, they wrongly reject prior meditation on future affairs. For there is nothing which works so well to calm or relieve anxiety as much as the thought throughout your life that there is nothing that is can’t happen; there’s no contemplation better for our human condition as the law of of life and learning obedience to it—this doesn’t make us sad all the time but keeps us from ever being so. For the person who reflects on the nature of things, on the variety of life, and the precarity of human existence is not sad in considering these things but is carrying out the duty of wisdom in the fullest way.
For they pursue both in enjoying the particular harvest of philosophy by considering what happens in human life and in suffering adverse outcomes by cleansning with a three-part solace. First, by previously accepting the possibility of misfortune—which is the most way of weakening and managing any annoyance and second, by learning that human events must be endured humanely; and third, by recognizing that there is nothing evil except for blame and there is no blame when the event is something against which no human can endure.”
Principio male reprehendunt praemeditationem rerum futurarum. Nihil est enim quod tam obtundat elevetque aegritudinem quam perpetua in omni vita cogitatio nihil esse, quod non accidere possit, quam meditatio condicionis humanae, quam vitae lex commentatioque parendi, quae non hoc adfert, ut semper maereamus, sed ut numquam. Neque enim qui rerum naturam, qui vitae varietatem, qui imbecillitatem generis humani cogitat, maeret, cum haec cogitat, sed tum vel maxime sapientiae fungitur munere. Utrumque enim consequitur, ut et considerandis rebus humanis proprio philosophiae fruatur officio et adversis casibus triplici consolatione sanetur: primum quod posse accidere diu cogitavit, quae cogitatio una maxime molestias omnes extenuat et diluit; deinde quod humana humane ferenda intelligit; postremo quod videt malum nullum esse nisi culpam, culpam autem nullam esse, cum id, quod ab homine non potuerit praestari, evenerit.
Lucretius, De Rerum Natura .540-147
“Unless matter itself had been eternal before our time
Everything would have already reverted to nothing
And whatever we see would also have come from nothing.
But since I have demonstrated that nothing can be made from nothing
And what has been made cannot be returned to nothing
There ought to be a primal creation for the immortal body
Where everything diffuses again at the final moment
to supply matter itself for the rebirth of things.”
raeterea nisi materies aeterna fuisset,
antehac ad nilum penitus res quaeque redissent,
de niloque renata forent quaecumque videmus.
at quoniam supra docui nil posse creari
de nilo neque quod genitum est ad nil revocari,
esse inmortali primordia corpore debent,
dissolui quo quaeque supremo tempore possint,
materies ut suppeditet rebus reparandis.
“Many scholars of Greek studies were not able to communicate what they could teach to their own people because they were unsure that they could share in Latin what they had learned from the Greeks. But I think that in style we have made such improvement that the Greeks do not defeat us even in abundance of words.
The great sickness and heavy pain of our fortune also compelled my mind to this work. If I could have discovered any greater relief, I would not have taken refuge in this most potent comfort. Indeed, I was incapable of enjoying this in any other way that not merely reading books but also writing a monograph on all of philosophy.
We most readily come to learn every part of a subject and all of its parameters when all the questions are explained by writing. And philosophy, moreover, is a certain kind of marvelous continuation and series of things where different ideas appear to be interwoven with each other and they all connect in some way and are bound together.”
Complures enim Graecis institutionibus eruditi ea quae didicerant cum civibus suis communicare non poterant, quod ilia quae a Graecis accepissent Latine dici posse diffiderent: quo in genere tantum profecisse videmur ut a Graecis ne verborum quidem copia vinceremur. Hortata etiam est ut me ad haec conferrem animi aegritudo fortunae magna et gravi commota iniuria; cuius si maiorem aliquam levationem reperire potuissem, non ad hanc potissimum confugissem, ea vero ipsa nulla ratione melius frui potui quam si me non modo ad legendos libros sed etiam ad totam philosophiam pertractandam dedissem. Omnes autem eius partes atque omnia membra tum facillume noscuntur cum totae quaestiones scribendo explicantur; est enim admirabilis quaedam continuatio seriesque rerum, ut alia ex alia nexa et omnes inter se aptae conligataeque videantur.
“When the spirit is worn out and begins to hate a benefit while it waits for it, is it possible to still be grateful? Just as it is the most bitter cruelty which makes a punishment last longer and that killing quickly is a kind of mercy since torment supplies its own final end and the time which comes before death is the greatest period of suffering, so too gratitude for a gift will be greater the shorter the duration of suspense.
For the expectation of good things is upsetting too and since most gifts bring relief from some kind of thing, if anyone allows someone else to be tortured for a while when he was able to free him of burden or if he is slow to rejoice, he has added a punitive slap to his good deed. All generosity should move quickly—someone who acts quickly is someone who acts voluntarily. If someone drags his feet day to day, he does not act according to his spirit. He has thus lost two precious things: time and the demonstration of willing friendship. Consenting slowly is an indication of someone who is unwilling.”
Ubi in taedium adductus animus incipit beneficium odisse, dum expectat, potest ob id gratus esse? Quemadmodum acerbissima crudelitas est, quae trahit poenam, et misericordiae genus est cito occidere, quia tormentum ultimum finem sui secum adfert, quod antecedit tempus, maxima venturi supplicii pars est, ita maior est muneris gratia, quo minus diu pependit. Est enim etiam bonarum rerum sollicita expectatio, et cum plurima beneficia remedium alicuius rei adferant, qui aut diutius torqueri patitur, quem protinus potest liberare, aut tardius gaudere, beneficio suo manus adfert. Omnis benignitas properat, et proprium est libenter facientis cito facere; qui tarde et diem de die extrahens profuit, non ex animo fecit. Ita duas res maximas perdidit, et tempus et argumentum amicae voluntatis; tarde velle nolentis est.
“It is amazing how the schedule is or seems on individual days in the city when they all blend together. If you ask anyone “what did you do today?” He may say, “I went to a toga-ceremony, an engagement, or a marriage. I was the witness at a will-signing, or at court as a witness or supporter.” These things which you do seem necessary on the day that you do them but empty if you remember that you have done the same kind of things every day and they seem even sillier if you consider them when you are away.
Then the realization comes over you: “How many days have I wasted in trivial pursuits!” This occurs to me whenever I am reading or writing or taking some time to exercise, to keep my mind fit for my work, at my Laurentum. I hear nothing and I say nothing which later on it hurts me that I said or heard. No one troubles me with evil rumors. I find no one to blame but myself when I write with too little ease. I am troubled by no hope, no fear; I am disrupted by no gossip. I speak only with myself and my little books.
What a fine and sincere life! What sweet and honest leisure, finer than nearly any business at all. The sea, the beach, my own true and private museum—how much you discover for me, how much you have told me!
Take the first chance you can to leave that noise, the empty conversation, and so many useless tasks and dedicate yourself to studies or relaxing. For our friend Atilius put it most elegantly and intelligently when he said “it is better to do engage in leisure than to do nothing.”
Plinius Minicio Fundano Suo S.
1Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque
Nam si quem interroges “Hodie quid egisti?,” respondeat: “Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in 3 consilium rogavit.” Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: “Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!” 4 Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! 7 Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. 8 Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.
“You deny that anything is possible without god. Look, here Strato from Lampascus interrupts to grant immunity to that god of yours, however big the task. And, since the gods’ priests get a vacation, it is so much fairer that the gods do too!
Anyway, Strato denies that he needs to use divine actions to create the universe: whatever exists—he teaches—comes from natural causes. He does not, however, follow the one who argues that [the world] was put together out of rough and smooth, hook-shaped or crooked atoms separated by void. He believes that these are dreams of Democritus not as he teaches but as he imagines things. Strato himself, as he outlines the components of the universe in order, insists that whatever is or develops emerges from or was made by natural means, through gravity and motion.
Thus he frees the god of great labor and me of fear. For, once they imagine that some deity is worrying about them, who wouldn’t shudder at divine power day and night and, when anything bad happens—for who avoids such things?—wouldn’t fear that it happened because of some negative judgment? Still, I don’t agree with Strato nor, to be honest, with you. Sometimes his idea seems more likely, at other times yours does.”
 Negas sine deo posse quicquam: ecce tibi e transverso Lampsacenus Strato, qui det isti deo inmunitatem — magni quidem muneris; sed cum sacerdotes deorum vacationem habeant, quanto est aequius habere ipsos deos —: negat opera deorum se uti ad fabricandum mundum, quaecumque sint docet omnia effecta esse natura, nec ut ille qui asperis et levibus et hamatis uncinatisque corporibus concreta haec esse dicat interiecto inani: somnia censet haec esse Democriti non docentis sed optantis, ipse autem singulas mundi partes persequens quidquid aut sit aut fiat naturalibus fieri aut factum esse docet ponderibus et motibus. ne ille et deum opere magno liberat et me timore. quis enim potest, cum existimet curari se a deo, non et dies et noctes divinum numen horrere et si quid adversi acciderit, quod cui non accidit, extimescere ne id iure evenerit? nee Stratoni tamen adsentior nec vero tibi; modo hoc modo illud probabilius videtur.’
“For comedy—which can provide a great deal to eloquence since it works through every character and feeling—I will explain soon what purpose I think it serves for students in its own place. For, once characters are safely formed, comedy is among the most important things to read. I am speaking of Menander, but I will not bar the others, for the Latin authors also provide some utility.
Students must first read texts which especially nourish the intelligence and strengthen the character. A long life will give them time for the rest of the works which are good mainly for intellectual reasons. The older Latin poets, moreover, who are mostly effective for their innate ability rather than their skill, can offer a lot—especially for building a great vocabulary. One can find a seriousness in their tragedies and in their comedies an elegance and a certain Attic nature. Their compositions are more considered, too, than modern authors who think that the only virtue of writing is its “quotability”. A high register and, if I may say, a kind of power must be found in these authors since we have now stumbled into the vices of pleasure in our manner of speaking too. And, finally, we should lean on the best orators who take from the poems of the ancients to strengthen their claims or decorate their speaking”
Comoediae, quae plurimum conferre ad eloquentiam potest, cum per omnis et personas et adfectus eat, quem usum in pueris putem paulo post suo loco dicam: nam cum mores in tuto fuerint, inter praecipua legenda erit. De Menandro loquor, nec tamen excluserim alios, nam Latini quoque auctores adferent utilitatis aliquid; sed pueris quae maxime ingenium alant atque animum augeant praelegenda: ceteris, quae ad eruditionem modo pertinent, longa aetas spatium dabit. Multum autem veteres etiam Latini conferunt, quamquam plerique plus ingenio quam arte valuerunt, in primis copiam verborum: quorum in tragoediis gravitas, in comoediis elegantia et quidam velut atticismos inveniri potest. Oeconomia quoque in iis diligentior quam in plerisque novorum erit, qui omnium operum solam virtutem sententias putaverunt. Sanctitas certe et, ut sic dicam, virilitas ab iis petenda est, quando nos in omnia deliciarum vitia dicendi quoque ratione defluximus. Denique credamus summis oratoribus, qui veterum poemata vel ad fidem causarum vel ad ornamentum eloquentiae adsumunt.
“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.