Ovid’s Worst Lines

Seneca, Controversiae, 2.2.12

“Ovid rarely gave declamations on controversies, and those always of the ethical (character) variety. He was happier to declaim suasoriae (persuasion speeches). He hated to adduce proofs of any kind. In oratory, he did not choose his words with the same careless lack of restraint which he used in his poems, the faults of which he was not ignorant of – nay, he loved them! The surest proof of this is the fact that once, when he was asked by his friends if he would remove three verses from his poems, he asked in turn that he could make an exception for three verses, against which their request would not stand.

The proposal seemed fair, so they wrote in secret the three which they wanted to see removed, and he wrote down the ones which he wished preserved. In both pieces of paper there were the same three verses, of which the first was (as told by Albinovanus Pedo, who was among the judges):

semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem (Half-ox man, half-man ox)

The second:

et gelidum Borean egelidumque Notum. (Cold Boreas, and not-cold Notus.)

From which it is clear that this man of remarkable talent was not lacking the judgment to hold back the licentiousness of his poems, but rather, he lacked the will to do so. He would occasionally remark that that face was prettier which had a mole upon it.”

Declamabat autem Naso raro controversias et non nisi ethicas. libentius dicebat suasorias. molesta illi erat omnis argumentatio. verbis minime licenter usus est, non (ut) in carminibus, in quibus non ignoravit vitia sua sed amavit. manifestum potest esse (ex eo), quod rogatus aliquando ab amicis suis, ut tolleret tres versus, invicem petit, ut ipse tres exciperet, in quos nihil illis liceret. aequa lex visa est: scripserunt illi quos tolli vellent secreto, hic quos tutos esse vellet. in utrisque codicillis idem versus erant, ex quibus primum fuisse narrabat Albinovanus Pedo, qui inter arbitros fuit:

semibovemque virum semivirumque bovem;

secundum:

et gelidum Borean egelidumque Notum.

ex quo apparet summi ingenii viro non iudicium defuisse ad compescendam licentiam carminum suorum sed animum. aiebat interim decentiorem faciem esse, in qua aliquis naevus fuisset.

Love Of Quotations is not Erudition, It is Only…

Here’s another decontextualize gem from Seneca popular online

For love of bustle is not industry – it is only the restlessness ...

” For love of bustle is not industry,—it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.”

This sounds like a Dale Carnegie line or some sententious dollop in dialogue written now for a movie set in the 1930s. To be fair, the translation is copyrighted to 1917 by Richard M. Gummere (the Loeb translation).

Here’s the Latin:

Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria, sed exagitatae mentis concursatio

In the translation above, there’s no sense of what the demonstrative Illa is doing, and there is definitely something off about the “hunted” for exagitatae, which I think is something closer to “thoroughly bothered/distracted/agitated.” To my taste it is something closer to:

“Taking pleasure in that chaos is not diligence, but the anxiety/movement of a thoroughly troubled mind”

This is decidedly less quotable than the passage above. And it is so because it needs the larger context, which actually, as usual, tells a more complicated, and I think richer, story.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 3.4-6

“There are certain kinds of people who tell things which ought to be entrusted only to friends to anyone they meet and they unload on just any ears whatever has bothered them. Another group of people in turn hesitates at trusting their most dear friends and, if they could, would suppress every secret inside because they do not trust themselves.

But we should do neither thing. It is a mistake both to trust everyone and no one. The first mistake, however, I think is more honest while the second is safer. So, you should criticize both types in this way, those who are always boisterous and those who are always reserved.

For taking pleasure in such disturbance is not diligence, but the anxiety of a troubled mind. And it is not peace to believe that every movement is annoying, but lethargy and apathy. For this, commend to mind this line I have read in Pomponius: “Some people retreat so far into the shadows that they think they are in darkness when in the light.”

People need to mix these habits and one who is resting should move and one who is moving should rest! Take this up with the nature of things: she will explain that she made both the daytime and night. Goodbye!”

Quidam quae tantum amicis committenda sunt, obviis narrant et in quaslibet aures, quicquid illos urserit, exonerant. Quidam rursus etiam carissimorum conscientiam reformidant, et si possent, ne sibi quidem credituri interius premunt omne secretum. Neutrum faciendum est. Utrumque enim vitium est, et omnibus credere et nulli. Sed alterum honestius dixerim vitium, alterum tutius: sic utrosque reprehendas, et eos qui semper inquieti sunt, et eos qui semper quiescunt. Nam illa tumultu gaudens non est industria, sed exagitatae mentis concursatio. Et haec non est quies, quae motum omnem molestiam iudicat, sed dissolutio et languor. Itaque hoc, quod apud Pomponium legi, animo mandabitur: “quidam adeo in latebras refugerunt, ut putent in turbido esse, quicquid in luce est.” Inter se ista miscenda sunt, et quiescenti agendum et agenti quiescendum est. Cum rerum natura delibera; illa dicet tibi et diem fecisse se et noctem. Vale.

I totally understand why people select parts of ancient works to excerpt. I mean, that’s kind of what we do on this blog every day. But the line quoted out of context above completely subverts Seneca’s meaning in service of a modern flat and unsophisticated understanding of Stoicism. It is ok to be busy and troubled, just not all the time! It is no better to be completely withdrawn! For each quality Seneca discusses above in its extreme form, there is an extreme opposite which is no better.

This is another Cylon-Helen fake.Seneca EM3

 

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

Some Roman Morals for a Season of Gifts

Cicero, De Officiis 3.118

“For goodness, generosity and kindness cannot exist any more than friendship if they are not pursued for themselves but are nurtured for the sake of pleasure or advantage.”

Neque enim bonitas nec liberalitas nec comitas esse potest, non plus quam amicitia, si haec non per se expetantur, sed ad voluptatem utilitatemve referantur.

Publilius Syrus, 78

“Generosity even devises an excuse for giving”

Benignus etiam causam dandi cogitat.

Seneca, De Beneficiis 4

“All generosity hurries—it is characteristic of one who does something willingly to do it quickly. If someone comes to help slowly or drags it out day by day, he does not do it sincerely. And he has thus lost the two most important things: time and a sign of his willing friendship. To be slowly willing is a sign of being unwilling.”

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.

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze
Aeneas Panel from the Ara Pacis

Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. These examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs.

This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”

Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.

Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health. 

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d

“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].

And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

Image result for Ancient Greek insanity

Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. These examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs.

This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”

Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.

Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health. 

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d

“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].

And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

Image result for Ancient Greek insanity

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