Pliny on the Utility of Gossip

Pliny, Epistle 18 to Fadius Rufinus 12

“You now have all the city’s rumors: for all our gossip is Tullus. His estate sale is hotly anticipated. For he had so much that on that day when he purchased the largest gardens he also filled them with the most and most ancient statues. These were works of finest beauty in which he had forgotten!

If you have any news you think is worthy of sharing, don’t keep it from me. For human ears are always pleased by news, and we use these examples to learn the art of living. Farewell.”

Habes omnes fabulas urbis; nam sunt omnes fabulae Tullus. Exspectatur auctio: fuit enim tam copiosus, ut amplissimos hortos eodem quo emerat die instruxerit plurimis et antiquissimis statuis; tantum illi pulcherrimorum operum in horreis quae neglegebat. Invicem tu, si quid istic epistula dignum, ne gravare. Nam cum aures hominum novitate laetantur, tum ad rationem vitae exemplis erudimur. Vale.

Gossip
BL MS Royal 6 E VII

 

The Sickness of the Soul: Cicero on Irrational Hate

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.25-6 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Furthermore, for these things it is believed that their opposites are born from fear, just as in hatred of women as in the Misogunos of Atilius or that against the whole race of humankind which we have heard that Timon who is called the Misanthrope felt or even being inhospitable.

All these diseases of the soul develop from a special fear of those things which people fear and then hate. They define a disease of the soul, moreover, as a vehement belief about a thing which is not desired even though it is anticipated powerfully, a belief which is constant and deeply held.”

Quae autem sunt his contraria, ea nasci putantur a metu, ut odium mulierum, quale in Μισογύνῳ Atilii1 est, ut in hominum universum genus, quod accepimus de Timone, qui μισάνθρωπος appellatur, ut inhospitalitas est: quae omnes aegrotationes animi ex quodam metu nascuntur earum rerum, quas fugiunt et oderunt. Definiunt autem animi aegrotationem opinationem vehementem de re non expetenda, tamquam valde expetenda sit, inhaerentem et penitus insitam.

Royal 15 D V   f. 107v
2nd half of the 15th century, Royal MS 15 D V, f. 107v

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

Here’s another Letter from Pliny to show how his causal discussion of purchasing an enslaved person:

Pliny, Letters 1.21: To Plinius Paternus

“I place the highest value on the judgment of your mind and eyes, not just because—and don’t primp about this—it is great, but because it is as full of insight as mine is!

All jokes aside, I think the slaves whom I would buy at your advice look pretty good, but whether they are worthwhile remains to be seen: When it comes to a slave’s worth, it is better judged by the ears than the eyes. Goodbye!”

Plinius Plinio Paterno Suo S.

Ut animi tui iudicio sic oculorum plurimum tribuo, non quia multum (ne tibi placeas) sed quia tantum quantum ego sapis; quamquam hoc quoque multum est. Omissis iocis credo decentes esse servos, qui sunt empti mihi ex consilio tuo. Superest ut frugi sint, quod de venalibus melius auribus quam oculis iudicatur. Vale.

https://twitter.com/wophugus/status/1189285330974924801?s=20

File:Roman collared slaves - Ashmolean Museum.jpg
Roman collared slaves, Ashmolean museum

Treating Sickness of the Mind

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 3.1

“What can I think is the reason, Brutus, that since we consist of soul and body an art for the care and keeping of the body has been sought out and its utility has been accredited to the discovery of the immortal gods, but a art of healing for the soul as not as much been desired because its discover nor has it been practiced once it was known, nor has it been applauded with gratitude by so many, and has in fact been held with suspicion or anger by most?

Is this because we judge the body’s sickness and sorrow with the mind but we cannot use the body to sense sickness of the spirit? The outcome is that the mind must render judgment on itself at that moment when the very tool it needs to do this is sick.

But if nature had crafted us at birth to be able to see the soul itself and to perceive it with it as our guide to complete the course of life, there would clear be no one who would require argument and doctrine. As it stands we have received a tiny spark of understanding that we put out so fast because we are twisted by bad habits and opinions that none of nature’s light remains.

Truly, the seeds of virtue are implanted naturally within us and if we let them develop nature would guide us to a happy life. But, still, we find ourselves taken out into the light in a world of evil and the most twisted ideas possible so that it seems like we sucked down madness with our nurse’s milk. When we go with our parents and are given over to teachers, we have already been so steeped in different fallacies that truth has to yield to vanity and nature bows before the confirmation of opinions.”

Quidnam esse, Brute, causae putem cur, cum constemus ex animo et corpore, corporis curandi tuendique causa quaesita sit ars atque eius utilitas deorum immortalium inventioni consecrata, animi autem medicina nec tam desiderata sit, ante quam inventa, nec tam culta, postea quam cognita est, nec tam multis grata et probata, pluribus etiam suspecta et invisa? An quod corporis gravitatem et dolorem animo iudicamus, animi morbum corpore non sentimus? Ita fit ut animus de se ipse tum iudicet, cum id ipsum, quo iudicatur, aegrotet.

Quod si tales nos natura genuisset, ut eam ipsam intueri et perspicere eademque optima duce cursum vitae conficere possemus, haud erat sane quod quisquam rationem ac doctrinam requireret. Nunc parvulos nobis dedit igniculos, quos celeriter malis moribus opinionibusque depravati sic restinguimus, ut nusquam naturae lumen appareat. Sunt enim ingeniis nostris semina innata virtutum, quae si adolescere liceret, ipsa nos ad beatam vitam natura perduceret: nunc autem, simul atque editi in lucem et suscepti sumus, in omni continuo pravitate et in summa opinionum perversitate versamur, ut paene cum lacte nutricis errorem suxisse videamur. Cum vero parentibus redditi, dein magistris traditi sumus, tum ita variis imbuimur erroribus, ut vanitati veritas et opinioni confirmatae natura ipsa cedat.

File:Extraordinary Popular Delusions V1 page 79.png
From “Extraordinary Popular Delusions”

Stumbling After Pleasure Like a Drunk Looking for Home

Why not?

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy III. 38-55

“Now all good things dependent upon the body may be understood as we have said. Strength and size seem to confer prominence; beauty and speed bring fame; health brings pleasure. It is clear that happiness alone is sought through all of these qualities. For whatever any man seeks foremost is the very thing he believes is the greatest good. But we have then defined the greatest good as happiness, which is why each man judges the state of happiness to be the very thing he desires beyond all else.

Therefore, you have laid bare before your eyes the basic shape of human happiness: wealth, honor, power, glory and pleasure. When Epicurus examined these things, he decided that his highest good was pleasure because all others seemed to bring enjoyment to the mind. But I return to human desires: for human minds even when the memory is hazy still seeks its own good but, just like a drunk, does not know which path will lead home. Certainly how can those who struggle not to lack anything seem to do wrong?”

Iam vero corporis bona promptum est ut ad superiora referantur. Robur enim magnitudoque videtur praestare valentiam, pulchritudo atque velocitas celebritatem, salubritas voluptatem; quibus omnibus solam beatitudinem desiderari liquet. Nam quod quisque prae ceteris petit, id summum esse iudicat bonum. Sed summum bonum beatitudinem esse definivimus; quare beatum esse iudicat statum quem prae ceteris quisque desiderat.

Habes igitur ante oculos propositam fere formam felicitatis humanae—opes, honores, potentiam, gloriam, voluptates. Quae quidem sola considerans Epicurus consequenter sibi summum bonum voluptatem esse constituit, quod cetera omnia iucunditatem animo videantur afferre. Sed ad hominum studia revertor, quorum animus etsi caligante memoria tamen bonum suum repetit, sed velut ebrius domum quo tramite revertatur ignorat. Num enim videntur errare hi qui nihilo indigere nituntur?

 

Image result for boethius

Modesty and Shame are For The Weak

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 1

“Enough has been said about the war. When it comes to peace, since you and all your people are still working on this, I beg you first to think about what kind of thing you are considering. Thus, once you have separated the good from the bad, you can take an open road to the truth. I am of the following opinion: since everything which is born dies, citizens will wage war against their fellow citizens since the fate of Rome’s ruin has come in this storm. In their tired and wounded state, the people will be easy prey for a king or a foreign nation. There is no other way that the whole world or all the races united together could challenge or defeat this empire.

Therefore, you must establish the advantages of harmony and cast aside the horrors of strife. This can happen if you remove the freedom of excessive expenditure and seizures, not by holding people to ancient standards which have long been a joke thanks to our corrupted habits, but if you make each person’s current assets the boundary for his expenditures. It is currently the habit for young men to think it extremely fine to spend someone else’s money and to deny nothing to their own desire and other people’s requests, and, moreover, to believe that this behavior is virtuous and noble even as they think that modesty and shame are for the weak”

De bello satis dictum. De pace firmanda quoniam tuque et omnes tui agitatis, primum id quaeso, considera quale sit de quo consultas; ita bonis malisque dimotis patenti via ad verum perges. Ego sic existimo: quoniam orta omnia intereunt, qua tempestate urbi Romanae fatum excidii adventarit, civis cum civibus manus conserturos, ita defessos et exsanguis regi aut nationi praedae futuros. Aliter non orbis terrarum neque cunctae gentes conglobatae movere aut contundere queunt hoc imperium. Firmanda igitur sunt vel concordiae bona et discordiae mala expellenda. Id ita eveniet, si sumptuum et rapinarum licentiam dempseris, non ad vetera instituta revocans, quae iam pridem corruptis moribus ludibrio sunt, sed si suam quoique rem familiarem finem sumptuum statueris; quoniam is incessit mos, ut homines adulescentuli sua atque aliena consumere, nihil libidinei atque aliis rogantibus denegare pulcherrimum putent, eam virtutem et magnitudinem animi, pudorem atque modestiam pro socordia aestiment.

Modern Statue of Sallust

Skipping the Passive for the Straight-Up Aggressive

Pliny, Letters 2.1

“I am super mad and whether or not it is right I’m not sure but I’m super mad. You know how unfair love is frequently, often powerless always quick to be offended. But my reason is still serious whether I believe it’s right and I am as mad as I would be if it were right since I have had no letter from you for such a long time.

The only solution to this is if you write me many really long letters right now. This is the only way I will forgive you. Other things seem fake. I won’t even hear “I was in Rome” or “I was busy”. But Gods forbid you say, “I’ve been sick.”

I’ve been in my country-house enjoying my two delights that come from leisure: reading and resting. Bye!”

Plinius Paulino Suo S.

1Irascor, nec liquet mihi an debeam, sed irascor. Scis, quam sit amor iniquus interdum, impotens saepe μικραίτιος semper. Haec tamen causa magna est, nescio an iusta; sed ego, tamquam non minus iusta quam magna sit, graviter irascor, quod a te tam diu litterae nullae. Exorare me potes uno modo, si nunc saltem plurimas et longissimas miseris. Haec mihi sola excusatio vera, ceterae falsae videbuntur. Non sum auditurus “non eram Romae” uel “occupatior eram”; illud enim nec di sinant, ut “infirmior”. Ipse ad villam partim studiis partim desidia fruor, quorum utrumque ex otio nascitur. Vale.

File:Ancient Roman villa of Salar 012 (30512518878).jpg ...
This is a Villa. It is not Pliny’s. 

The Brevity and Quickness of Life

Pliny, Letters 3.7 To Caninius Rufus

“I have just learned that Silius Italicus ended his life by starvation in Naples. Sickness was the cause of death, really: he had an untreatable tumor whose pain made him escape by death. He made it to his final day happy and fortunate, except that he lost his two younger songs. He left the older and better son successful and already of consular rank.

Silius harmed his reputation under Nero—for he was believed to have accused people willingly—but he conducted himself in his friendship with Vitellius wisely and with kindness. He earned some fame for his proconsulate in Asia and cleansed the stain of his earlier activity with a praiseworthy retirement.

He was among our top citizens without holding power or incurring envy. He was visited and much sought out, nearly always reclining on his couch in a room crowded not by accident. He filled his days with the most educated conversation whenever he took a break from writing. He used to write his poems more with effort than inspiration, and did not spare himself from critical judgment thanks to his recitations.

In recent years, he left Rome in a concession to old age. Once he made his home in Campania, he did not leave, not even for the coming of a new Emperor. This is reason for great praise for Caesar since he allowed this freedom and for Silius himself since he dared to take it.

He was a lover of things to the extent that he was mocked for excessive purchases. He owned multiple homes in the same neighborhood and overlooked the older ones in his excitement for the new ones. In each he had plenty books, statues, paintings and busts, each of which meant much to him, especially the one of Vergil, whose birthday he celebrated more religiously than his own, especially at Naples where he used to visit his grave as if it were a temple.

He completed his seventy-fifth year in this peaceful place. His body was solicitously tended even though he was not disabled. He was the final consul Nero appointed and the last of Nero’s consuls to die. It is remarkable that not only did Nero’s final consul die with him but that Nero died when he was consul!

Pity for human fragility fills me as I tell you this. Nothing is as brief and quick as the longest human life. Doesn’t it seem to you that Nero just died? But not one of the men who were consuls in his time remain alive today. I should not be so surprised! Only recently did Lucius Piso, the father of the Piso who was killed so evilly by Valerius Festus in Italy, used to say that none of those men he used to ask to speak when he was consul were still in the Senate!

The boundaries of life are so narrow that even in a community of great size I think we could forgive the Persian king for his famous tears—or maybe even admire him for them. For it is reported that after Xerxes reviewed his immense army, he wept when he thought that so many would die in so short a time.

This is why we should draw out our passing minutes with reading and writing, since we don’t have any control over them and action seems futile. Since we cannot live a long life, let us leave something to declare we have lived.

I know that you don’t need to be encouraged. But my concern for you still drives me to encourage you, like a horse eager to run, as you urge me in turn. Competition is good when friends push each other on with shared exhortations on the love of immortal memory.”

Plinius Caninio Rufo Suo S.

Modo nuntiatus est Silius Italicus in Neapolitano suo inedia finisse vitam. Causa mortis valetudo. Erat illi natus insanabilis clavus, cuius taedio ad mortem inrevocabili constantia decucurrit usque ad supremum diem beatus et felix, nisi quod minorem ex liberis duobus amisit, sed maiorem melioremque florentem atque etiam consularem reliquit. Laeserat famam suam sub Nerone (credebatur sponte accusasse), sed in Vitelli amicitia sapienter se et comiter gesserat, ex proconsulatu Asiae gloriam reportaverat, maculam veteris industriae laudabili otio abluerat.

Fuit inter principes civitatis sine potentia, sine invidia: salutabatur colebatur, multumque in lectulo iacens cubiculo semper, non ex fortuna frequenti, doctissimis sermonibus dies transigebat, cum a scribendo vacaret. Scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio, non numquam iudicia hominum recitationibus 6experiebatur. Novissime ita suadentibus annis ab urbe secessit, seque in Campania tenuit, ac ne adventu quidem novi principis inde commotus est: magna Caesaris laus sub quo hoc liberum fuit, magna illius 8qui hac libertate ausus est uti.

Erat ϕιλόκαλος usque ad emacitatis reprehensionem. Plures isdem in locis villas possidebat, adamatisque novis priores neglegebat. Multum ubique librorum, multum statuarum, multum imaginum, quas non habebat modo, verum etiam venerabatur, Vergili ante omnes, cuius natalem religiosius quam suum celebrabat, Neapoli maxime, ubi monimentum eius adire ut templum solebat. In hac tranquillitate annum quintum et septuagensimum excessit, delicato magis corpore quam infirmo; utque novissimus a Nerone factus est consul, ita postremus ex omnibus, quos Nero consules fecerat, decessit. Illud etiam notabile: ultimus ex Neronianis consularibus obiit, quo consule Nero periit. Quod me recordantem fragilitatis humanae miseratio subit.

Quid enim tam circumcisum tam breve quam homini vita longissima? An non videtur tibi Nero modo modo fuisse? cum interim ex iis, qui sub illo gesserant consulatum, nemo iam superest. Quamquam quid hoc miror? Nuper L. Piso, pater Pisonis illius, qui a Valerio Festo per summum facinus in Africa occisus est, dicere solebat neminem se videre in senatu, quem consul ipse sententiam rogavisset.

Tam angustis terminis tantae multitudinis vivacitas ipsa concluditur, ut mihi non venia solum dignae, verum etiam laude videantur illae regiae lacrimae; nam ferunt Xersen, cum immensum exercitum oculis obisset, inlacrimasse, quod tot milibus tam brevis immineret occasus. Sed tanto magis hoc, quidquid est temporis futilis et caduci, si non datur factis (nam horum materia in aliena manu), certe studiis proferamus, et quatenus nobis denegatur diu vivere, relinquamus aliquid, quo nos vixisse testemur. Scio te stimulis non egere: me tamen tui caritas evocat, ut currentem quoque instigem, sicut tu soles me. ’Αγαθὴ δ’ ἔρις cum invicem se mutuis exhortationibus amici ad amorem immortalitatis exacuunt. Vale.

Vergil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright

Septicia’s Second Marriage and Final Testament

Valerius Maximus, Famous Words and Deeds, 7.7.4

“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.

Related image
Marriage scene on a sarcophagus

 

The Value of Living, Overcome

Pliny, Letters 1.12 [CW: Suicide]

My Dear Calestrius Tiro,

“I have suffered the deepest bereavement, if it can be called bereavement when such a great man is gone. Corellius Rufus died and it was by his own will, a fact which hurts me even more. It is truly the most painful kind of death when it appears neither natural or according to fate.

When someone is overwhelmed in sickness and death carries them off too quickly, then there is some solace from the fact there was a reason for it. Deep logic—that force which replaces compulsion for the wise—certainly compelled Corellius, even though he still had many reasons to live: great fame and conscience, considerable authority, in addition to a daughter, wife, sister and grandchild and many real friends among them. Yet he was overwhelmed by such a long, unfair sickness that the value of living was overcome by the reasons for death.”

    1. Plinius Calestrio Tironi Suo S.

1Iacturam gravissimam feci, si iactura dicenda est tanti viri amissio. Decessit Corellius Rufus et quidem sponte, quod dolorem meum exulcerat. Est enim luctuosissimum genus mortis, quae non ex natura nec fatalis videtur. Nam utcumque in illis qui morbo finiuntur, magnum ex ipsa necessitate solacium est; in iis vero quos accersita mors aufert, Corellium quidem summa ratio, quae sapientibus pro necessitate est, ad hoc consilium compulit, quamquam plurimas vivendi causas habentem, optimam conscientiam optimam famam, maximam auctoritatem, praeterea filiam uxorem nepotem 4sorores, interque tot pignora veros amicos. Sed tam longa, tam iniqua valetudine conflictabatur, ut haec tanta pretia vivendi mortis rationibus vincerentur.

The Younger Pliny Reproved, colorized copperplate print by Thomas Burke (1749–1815) after Angelica Kauffmann; c. 39 x 45 cm