Claudius, Gourd-God

The following excerpt is from a satirical essay called the “Apocolocyntosis”–the “gourdification”–attributed to Seneca the Younger  (by Cassius Dio). 

Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 4-5

“And he spat up his soul and then he seemed to stop living. He died, moreover, while he listened to comedians, so you understand that I do not fear them without reason. His final voice was heard among people as follows. When he emitted the greater sound with that part with which he spoke more easily, he said “Oh my, I shat myself I think”. Whether or not he did this, I do not know: but he certainly fouled up the place.

The things that were done next on earth are useless to report—for you certainly know it clearly. There is no risk that the memory left by public celebration will disappear—no one forgets his own joy. What was done in heaven, you should hear—the proof will come from the author!

It was announced to Jupiter that a man of certain good size had come, really grey. I don’t know what he was threatening, since he was constantly moving his head and dragging his right foot. When they asked what country he was from he responded with a confused sound and troubled voice—they could not understand his language. He was not Greek or Roman or of any other race.

Then Jupiter sent Hercules who had wandered over the whole earth and seemed to know every nation. He ordered him to go and explore what people this man was from. Then Hercules was a bit undone by the first sight because he had not yet feared all the monsters. As he gazed upon this new kind of a thing with its uncommon step, a voice belonging to no earth-bound beast but more like something coming out of a marine monster, coarse and wordless, he thought that he had arrived at a thirteenth labor. As he looked more closely, it seemed to him to be a man. Se he went up to him and said what comes easiest to a Greek tongue. “Who are you among men and from where? Where is your city and parents?”

Et ille quidem animam ebulliit, et ex eo desiit vivere videri. Exspiravit autem dum comoedos audit, ut scias me non sine causa illos timere. Ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: “vae me, puto, concacavi me.” Quod an fecerit, nescio: omnia certe concacavit.

Quae in terris postea sint acta, supervacuum est referre. Scitis enim optime, nec periculum est ne excidant memoriae quae gaudium publicum impresserit: nemo felicitatis suae obliviscitur. In caelo quae acta sint, audite: fides penes auctorem erit. Nuntiatur Iovi venisse quendam bonae staturae, bene canum; nescio quid illum minari, assidue enim caput movere; pedem dextrum trahere. Quaesisse se, cuius nationis esset: respondisse nescio quid perturbato sono et voce confusa; non intellegere se linguam eius, nec Graecum esse nec Romanum nec ullius gentis notae. Tum Iuppiter Herculem, qui totum orbem terrarum pererraverat et nosse videbatur omnes nationes, iubet ire et explorare, quorum hominum esset. Tum Hercules primo aspectu sane perturbatus est, ut qui etiam non omnia monstra timuerit. Ut vidit novi generis faciem, insolitum incessum, vocem nullius terrestris animalis sed qualis esse marinis beluis solet, raucam et implicatam, putavit sibi tertium decimum laborem venisse. Diligentius intuenti visus est quasi homo. Accessit itaque et quod facillimum fuit Graeculo, ait:

τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν, πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες;

Image result for roman emperor claudius

On Kindness, Some Roman Words

Seneca, De Beata Vita 3

“Nature commands me to bring help to all people. What difference is it whether they are slaves, born free or freed, whether laws made then free or friends did? Wherever there is a human being, there is a place for kindness.”

Hominibus prodesse natura me iubet. Servi liberine sint hi, ingenui an libertini, iustae libertatis an inter amicos datae, quid refert? Ubicumque homo est, ibi benefici locus est.

Cicero, Laws 1.18

“Where shall we find a kind man if no one acts kindly for anyone else? Where is the grateful man, if those who return a good turn are not actually thankful to those whom they thank? Where is that sacred thing friendship if the friend himself is not loved with the whole heart for his own sake, as the saying going? Why then should a friend be abandoned an rejected when there is no longer an expectation from benefits and profits? What could be more monstrous than this?”

Ubi enim beneficus, si nemo alterius causa benigne facit? ubi gratus, si non eum ipsi cernunt grati, cui referunt gratiam? ubi illa sancta amicitia, si non ipse amicus per se amatur toto pectore, ut dicitur? qui etiam deserendus et abiciendus est desperatis emolumentis et fructibus; quo quid potest dici immanius?

Dicta Catonis 15

“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”

Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.

Image result for ancient roman friendship wall painting

Seneca on the Faults of Historians

Seneca the Younger, Nat. Quest. 7. 16

“This has been said against the arguments; now I must speak against the witnesses. Euphorus’ authority need not be attacked with a great effort—he is a historian. Some of these types gain commendation by telling of incredible things and they excite a reader with something amazing when he would probably do something else if he were guided through more common events.”

Some historians believe anything; others overlook much. Some are unaware of a lie; but others find it pleasing. The first type do not avoid misinformation while the second seek it out. That’s enough about the whole nation of historians who do not think that their own work can be praised and achieve popularity unless they spice it up with lies. Indeed, Euphorus is not one of ‘religious’ fidelity. Often he is deceived, and often he deceives.”

Contra argumenta dictum est, contra testes dicendum est. Nec magna molitione detrahenda est auctoritas Ephoro: historicus est. Quidam incredibilium relatu commendationem parant et lectorem, aliud acturum si per cotidiana ducetur, miraculo excitant; quidam creduli, quidam neglegentes sunt; quibusdam mendacium obrepit, quibusdam placet; illi non evitant, hi appetunt. Haecin commune de tota natione, quae approbari opus suum et fieri populare non putat posse, nisi illud mendacio aspersit. Ephorus vero non est religiosissimae fidei; saepe decipitur, saepe decipit.

Image result for muse of history
Johannes Moreelse,  “Clio, Muse of History”

Well Enough to Read, Well Enough to Write?

A few more passages from Seneca on reading and writing, following up on Seneca’s injunction to alternate between the two.

Moral Epistle 45

“You complain that there’s a lack of books where you are. It is not how many books, but how many good ones you have that makes a difference. A short reading list has advantages; variety brings entertainment. One who reaches his desired place should follow one path and not go roam over many. This is not to travel, but to wander.”

Librorum istic inopiam esse quereris. Non refert, quam multos, sed quam bonos habeas; lectio certa prodest, varia delectat. Qui, quo destinavit, pervenire vult, unam sequatur viam, non per multas vagetur. Non ire istuc, sed errare est.

Moral Epistle 83

“Today has been whole: no one has stolen any part at all from me. The whole day was spent in reading and rest. There was a little bit given to exercise. For this nominal amount, I give thanks to old age. It is not a big deal for me: as soon as I have moved, I am tired.”

Hodiernus dies solidus est; nemo ex illo quicquam mihi eripuit. Totus inter stratum lectionemque divisus est. Minimum exercitationi corporis datum, et hoc nomine ago gratias senectuti: non magno mihi constat; cum me movi, lassus sum

Moral Epistle 65

“Yesterday I spent the day in poor health: it occupied me until noon. After noon, it gave in to me. So, first, I tested my mind with reading. Then, when I handled this, I dared to push myself, or perhaps indulge myself, more: I wrote something…”

Hesternum diem divisi cum mala valetudine; antemeridianum illa sibi vindicavit, postmeridiano mihi cessit. Itaque lectione primum temptavi animum. Deinde cum hanc recepisset, plus illi imperare ausus sum, immo permittere; aliquid scripsi

Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Let’s Talk about [Death] Baby: #DeathAndClassics

Roman Epitaph, B808

“[Hey,] you who are reading this epitaph, remember that you too will be dead.”

Qui legis hunc titulum, mortalem te esse memento.

A few days ago I posted the following tweet.

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

There were lots of interesting answers–it would be annoying to post all the tweets here, but I have added some to give an idea of the range of responses.

Simonides, Fragment 15

“Human strength is meager
Our plains incomplete
Toil follows toil in our short lives.
Death looms inescapable for all—
People who are good and bad draw
of that an equal portion.”

ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ’ ἐν παύρωι πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνωι·
ὁ δ’ ἄφυκτος ὁμῶς ἐπικρέμαται θάνατος·
κείνου γὰρ ἴσον λάχον μέρος οἵ τ’ ἀγαθοὶ
ὅστις τε κακός.

Fragment 16

“Since you are human, never claim what tomorrow might bring.
Nor, if you see a fortunate man, how long it will last.
For not even the time of a tender-winged fly
Is not as fast.”

ἄνθρωπος ἐὼν μή ποτε φάσηις ὅ τι γίνεται 〚αὔριον〛,
μηδ’ ἄνδρα ἰδὼν ὄλβιον ὅσσον χρόνον ἔσσεται·
ὠκεῖα γὰρ οὐδὲ τανυπτερύγου μυίας
οὕτως ἁ μετάστασις.

https://twitter.com/EICClassics/status/999769864758878208

Here are the tweets I sent to try to contextualize the question:

I ask the #deathandclassics question in all seriousness because it is a question I actually consider often (1/8)

I actually have been memorizing the opening lines of the #Odyssey to recite to myself in times of agitation. And I think, if I know I am going to die, I will recite it to myself. (2/8)

Why the #Odyssey? I think the #Iliad is the poem of death and the Odyssey is the poem of life. Both poems are at some level about what it means to be a person, but the Odyssey is about how life is lived. #deathandclassics (3/8)

In a way, it will be like a replaying of my life through a story I have read many times. There is also the ancient allegorical tradition that the Odyssey is about the transition from one realm to the next, the movement of a soul from one plane to another #deathandclassics (4/8)

Even without the allegory, the Odyssey is about the journey of a person and the journey that IS the person. #deathandclassics (5/8)

I think that this might be nice to think about in the final moments—that even though I individual am passing on, I am drifting away on words that have moved through a thousand years #deathandclassics (6/8)

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Elections and the Good Life

Seneca, De Vita Beata 2

“Now, in truth, the people stand against reason as champion of their own wickedness. And this happens as in elections when, the flitting breeze has changed direction and the very people who chose their candidates are amazed that these candidates were selected. We approve the same thing one moment and hate it another. This is the product of every decision which is dependent upon the majority’s opinion.

When what is debated is the good life, it is useless for you to respond to me “This side seems to be in the majority. For this is likely the worse side. Humanity is not so well governed that the better ways please the majority of people. The crowd is proof of the worst choice.”

Nunc vero stat contra rationem defensor mali sui populus. Itaque id evenit quod in comitiis, in quibus eos factos esse praetores idem qui fecere mirantur, cum se mobilis favor circumegit. Eadem probamus, eadem reprehendimus; hic exitus est omnis iudicii, in quo secundum plures datur.

Cum de beata vita agetur, non est quod mihi illud discessionum more respondeas: “Haec pars maior esse videtur.” Ideo enim peior est. Non tam bene cum rebus humanis agitur, ut meliora pluribus placeant; argumentum pessimi turba est.

Image result for Medieval manuscript elections

Seneca here echoes some anti-democratic opinion that was popular among ancient thinkers from Plato on. Similar prejudices against majority rule are emerging here and there in response to current events. Such sneering dismissal of the wishes of the majority is likely also a result of a disengagement from the needs of the majority. Blithe confidence–if not satisfaction–in one’s superior taste and sense in respect to the majority serves only to preserve the exclusivity of one’s claims to superiority. It does little to serve the common good. But, hey, some people don’t even believe that there is such a thing as the common good!

On Kindness, Some Roman Words

Seneca, De Beata Vita 3

“Nature commands me to bring help to all people. What difference is it whether they are slaves, born free or freed, whether laws made then free or friends did? Wherever there is a human being, there is a place for kindness.”

Hominibus prodesse natura me iubet. Servi liberine sint hi, ingenui an libertini, iustae libertatis an inter amicos datae, quid refert? Ubicumque homo est, ibi benefici locus est.

Cicero, Laws 1.18

“Where shall we find a kind man if no one acts kindly for anyone else? Where is the grateful man, if those who return a good turn are not actually thankful to those whom they thank? Where is that sacred thing friendship if the friend himself is not loved with the whole heart for his own sake, as the saying going? Why then should a friend be abandoned an rejected when there is no longer an expectation from benefits and profits? What could be more monstrous than this?”

Ubi enim beneficus, si nemo alterius causa benigne facit? ubi gratus, si non eum ipsi cernunt grati, cui referunt gratiam? ubi illa sancta amicitia, si non ipse amicus per se amatur toto pectore, ut dicitur? qui etiam deserendus et abiciendus est desperatis emolumentis et fructibus; quo quid potest dici immanius?

Dicta Catonis 15

“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”

Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.

Image result for ancient roman friendship wall painting