“You can understand from the two popular lines which Epictetus wrote about himself that the gods do not completely hate those who suffer because of a range of miseries in this life, but that there are some secret causes which the curiosity of a few may be able to sense:
“I, Epictetus, was born a slave with a crippled body
both an Irus in poverty and dear to the gods.
You have, I believe, sufficient argument why the name “servant” should not be despised or taboo, since concern for a slave affected Jupiter and because it turns out that many of them are faithful, intelligent, brave, and even philosophers!”
45. cuius etiam de se scripti duo versus feruntur, ex quibus illud latenter intellegas, non omni modo dis exosos esse qui in hac vita cum aerumnarum varietate luctantur, sed esse arcanas causas ad quas paucorum potuit pervenire curiositas:
This is a contract written on a wax tablet for the sale of a Marmarian slave girl to Titus Memmius Montanus, a sailor in the praetorian fleet stationed at Ravenna. The girl is described as ‘veteranae’ (βετρανε), meaning she has been enslaved for some time. We don’t know what happened to her after this moment, but, as this contract was found in Egypt, there is good reason to believe that Titus Memmius was there at some point.
The writer of the contract was likely a native Greek speaker who was unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet, employing Greek morphology (nominative -ος, , genitive -ου/-ης, accusative -ους, etc.), phonetic tendencies (-αρουν for -arum), and vocabulary (πεντηρω) in an otherwise formulaic document. It also displays several spellings reflective of Latin speech, such as the merging of /b/ and /w/ to /β/, and the monophthongization of /ae/ to /ɛ/.
For more on the language, see Adams (2003) Bilingualism and the Latin Language.
Idem cosulubus aeadem diem Domitius The/ophilus scrisi me in veditionem puellae Marma/riae supra scriptae pro Aescine Aescine phi/lium Flavianum secundum auctorem ex/stitise acctum
“In the consulships of Gaius Curtius Iustus and Julius Nauto (151 CE), October 2nd. I, Aeschines Flavianus, a Milesian, son of Aeschines, wrote that I received from Titus Memmius Montanus, soldier on the quinquireme Augustus, 625 denarii as the price of the Marmarian girl, a long-serving (‘veteran’) slave, whom I sold to him at double repayment (i.e. on default) under the best terms and handed over after the finished inspection of the signed tablets. Completed at the camp of the praetorian fleet at Ravenna.
In the same consulships and on the same day, I, Domitius Theophilus, wrote that I was present as a witness on behalf of Aeschines Flavianus, son of Aeschines, for the sale of the Marmarian girl, described above. Completed.”
Should anyone else want to use this in a Latin class (I’m incorporating it into a course reading), I’ve adapted a somewhat standardized version in the Latin alphabet:
Gaio Curtio Iusto (et) Iulio Nautone consulibus, sextum nonas Octobres, Aeschines Aeschinae (filius) Flavianus Milesius scripsi me accepisse a Tito Memmio Montano, milite quinquiremis Augusti, denarios sescentos viginti quinque pretium puellae Marmariae veteranae, quam ei dupla optimis condicionibus vendidit (vendidi) et tradidi ex interrogatione facta tabellarum signatarum, actum castris classis praetoriae Ravennae.
Idem consulibus eadem die, Domitius Theophilus scripsi me in venditione puellae Marmariae, supra scriptae, pro Aeschine Aeschinae filio Flaviano secundum auctorem exstitisse. Actum.
“Once he is struck by the wave,
And [comes] naked to a kind reception at Salmydessos
Where the top-knotted Thracians
Grab him—where he will suffer many evils
Eating the bread of slavery
He will shiver struck by the cold. When he emerges from the foam
May he puke up much seaweed
And let his teeth chatter, as he lies on his face
Like a dog in his weakness
At the farthest end of the sea…
I want him to see all of these things
Because he wronged me and broke his oath,
Even though he was once my friend before.”
I have placed in bold just a few of the fragments that remind me of Odyssean language. Although the phrase δούλιον ἄρτον does not appear in Homer, it does recall for me the phrase “day of slavery” (δούλιον ἦμαρ).
The Odyssey follows the slaughter of the suitors with the mutilation and murder of slaves: the torture of the goatherd Melanthios (Od. 22.474–477) and the hanging of twelve slave women (Od. 22.463–73). But it also considers the death of the older slave Eurykleia on multiple occasions. We first hear about her in book 1:
Homer, Odyssey 1.428-433
“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches.
She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor
whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions
when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home
but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”
So, it seems, Eurykleia’s life is ‘dear’—in the archaic English meaning of having a high price—since she was worth so many oxen and Laertes honored her equal to his wife without having sex with her. Despite so high a price—or perhaps because of it—her life is risked several times in the epic. The moment that has always stuck with me comes from the famous recognition of the scar scene. While this scene has garnered a lot of attention for the way the scar triggers a story and communicates Odysseus’ identity, there have been relatively few comments about the violence imminent in the scene.
Homer, Odyssey 19.466-490
“The old woman, as she took it in the flat part of her hands,
recognized the scar as she felt it, and she dropped the foot.
His shin fell onto the basin and the bronze clanged,
then it tilted to one side and water sloshed out onto the ground.
Joy and pain overtook her mind at once and
both of her eyes filled with tears as her strong voice got stuck inside.
She touched his beard and then addressed Odysseus.
“You really are Odysseus, dear child.
I did not recognize you before, before I examined my lord all over.”
And then she would have gotten Penelope’s attention too
with her eyes because she wanted to tell her
that her dear husband was here.
But she was not able to turn or to notice anything
because Athena had turned her mind elsewhere. But Odysseus closed his hand on her throat with his right hand and with his left hand he drew her close and said,
“Auntie, why do you want to ruin me?
You fed me yourself on your own breast.
Now after suffering many pains I have returned
in the twentieth year to my fatherland.
But since you have recognized me and a god put it in your mind
be silent lest anyone else in the home learn it.
For I will speak this out and it will be completed,
If the god subdues the haughty suitors under me I will not leave you even though you were my nurse, when I kill all the other slave women in my home.”
This theme is internalized later when Eurykleia threatens her own life.When she tries to tell Penelope in book 23 that Odysseus is actually present, she offers to wager her life on the truth of the statement when Penelope doubts her.
Homer, Odyssey 23.75-79
“…I wanted to tell you myself
but he took me with his hands at my throat
and would not allow me to speak thanks to the cleverness of his mind.
So, follow me. But I will wager myself over this to you: If I have deceived you, kill me with the most pitiful death”
For me, Eurykleia’s willingness to wager her life is indication of an internalized oppression created by the experience of slavery. But the specific value of her initial price is interesting too. This probably complicates matters, but there is little in the Homeric poems set at a worth of 20 oxen. The price comes up again during the slaughter of the suitors. Eurymachus tries to offer Odysseus recompense and sets the price for each suitor at 20 oxen (in addition to payment for all the food and drink).
Homer, Odyssey 21.54–59
“But now, even though it is ordained by fate, spare your people.
And in exchange we will gather about the land as payment
As much as was drunk up and eaten in your halls,
And each man will bring a payment worth twenty oxen,
Which we will pay in bronze and gold, until your heart
Softens—before this, there is no blame for being angry.”
Post-script: An average ox seems to cost around $3000.00 right now. So, in modern ox-dollars, Eurykleia was valued at $60,000. This seems a little off to me. According to Beef Magazine (which is a real thing)a good bull on average can run more like $7500, placing Eurykleia at $150,000. I do not print any of this to make light of the selling of human beings (because, when we leave the abstract, this is all really horrifying), but instead, rather, to give a really relative view of what her–and the suitors–economic value might be in today’s terms. The range is basically luxury car to cheap apartment. This is, alternatively, the price acceptable for a good slave, but not worth the life of an offending suitor. In both cases the economic equivalence for any human life is, to put it simply, dehumanizing.
“Some people blame these traits on Marcus Cato’s cheapness; but others believe he is a model for his rectitude and wisdom, since he counterbalanced the excess of everyone else. But I believe that how he used slaves up as if they were pack animals and then driving them away and selling them when they were old is the mark of a deeply cruel character—one that believes that human beings have nothing in common except for need.
But we know that kindness occupies more territory than justice. For we use law and justice only in reference to human beings, but it is kindness and charity that at times pour out from a gentle character even for the unthinking animals just as water from a full spring. Kind people take care of horses even when they are old and dogs too—not just when they are puppies, but when their old age requires care.”
“Live mercifully with your slave, even in a friendly way. Invite him to a conversation, to share your plans and to live with you. At this suggestion the whole band of elites will shout at me: “Nothing is baser or fouler than this”. These very same men I often catch kissing on the hands of other men’s slaves.
Don’t you see this, at least, how our forebears tried to erase everything insidious and every kind of insult from slaveholding? They called the master a “father of the family” and slaves “family members”, a fact that endures today in mimes. They started a festival day one which it was custom and obligation for masters to eat with their servants. They also permitted slaves to earn honors in the home and to pronounce judgments so that the home was a microcosm of the state.”
Vive cum servo clementer, comiter quoque, et in sermonem illum admitte et in consilium et in convictum. Hoc loco adclamabit mihi tota manus delicatorum: “Nihil hac re humilius, nihil turpius.” Hos ego eosdem deprehendam alienorum servorum osculantes manum. Ne illud quidem videtis, quam omnem invidiam maiores nostri dominis, omnem contumeliam servis detraxerint? Dominum patrem familiae appellaverunt, servos, quod etiam in mimis adhuc durat, familiares. Instituerunt diem festum, non quo solo cum servis domini vescerentur, sed quo utique; honores illis in domo gerere, ius dicere permiserunt et domum pusillam rem publicam esse iudicaverunt.
Just before this passage, he writes to try to encourage people to treat slaves better. Unfortunately, Seneca seems to accept slavery as a condition of human life. This is part of the point of Macrobius’ post too, that we are all ‘slaves’ to something and therefore never truly free. Yet this certainly overlooks the very real difference in agency and liberty between those who are ‘slaves’ to desire and those who are literally enslaved to another human being (or to a state).
Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.10-12
“Please remember that the person you call your slave rose from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky and equally breathes, lives and dies! You could see him just as much as a free man as a slave. Because of the slaughter in the time of Marius, fortune struck down many born to high station, taking the trail to the senate through the army—one of these it made a shepherd, another an overseer of a cottage. Despise now the fortune of a person whose place you may take even as you look down on them!
I don’t want to get involved in a big controversy and argue about the treatment of slaves toward whom we are most arrogant, cruel, and offensive. But this is the sum of my guidance: deal with your inferior the way you wish your superior would deal with you. However many times it pops in your mind to consider how much is right for you regarding your slave, let it also occur that this is permitted to your master regarding you. “But I have no master” you say. Your age is still good. Don’t you know how old Hecuba was when she began to serve, or Croesus, or Darius’ mother, or Plato and Diogenes?”
Vis tu cogitare istum, quem servum tuum vocas, ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum. Mariana clade multos splendidissime natos, senatorium per militiam auspicantes gradum, fortuna depressit, alium ex illis pastorem, alium custodem casae fecit; contemne nunc eius fortunae hominem, in quam transire, dum contemnis, potes.
Nolo in ingentem me locum inmittere et de usu servorum disputare, in quos superbissimi, crudelissimi, contumeliosissimi sumus. Haec tamen praecepti mei summa est: sic cum inferiore vivas, quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere. Quotiens in mentem venerit, quantum tibi in servum liceat, veniat in mentem tantundem in te domino tuo licere. “At ego,” inquis, “nullum habeo dominum.” Bona aetas est; forsitan habebis. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Platon, qua Diogenes?
Although Odysseus has recently–and frequently–told similarly long and detailed stories, the scholia do not suspect them because they think Odysseus is lying. But Eumaios, who speaks mimetically, vividly and effectively, is doubted for his power of memory.
Homer, Odyssey 15.389–484
Then the swineherd, marshal of men, responded:
“Friend, since you have asked me and inquired truly of these things,
Listen now in silence and take some pleasure and drink your wine
While you sit there. These nights are endless. There is time for sleep And there is time to take pleasure in listening. It is not at all necessary For you to sleep before it is time. Even a lot of sleep can be a burden.
Let whoever of the rest the heart and spirit moves
Go out and sleep. For as soon as the down shows itself
Let him eat and follow the master’s swine.
As we two drink and dine in this shelter Let us take pleasure as we recall one another’s terrible pains. For a man finds pleasure even in pains later on After he has suffered so very many and survived many too.
I will tell you this because you asked me and inquired.
There is an island called Suriê, if you have heard of it,
Above Ortygia, where the rays of the sun rise.
It is not too filled, but it is a good place
Well stocked with cows, sheep, with much wine and grain too.
Poverty never curses the people there, nor does any other
Hateful sickness fall upon the wretched mortals,
But when the race of humans grow old in the city
Apollo silverbow comes with Artemis
And kills them with his gentle arrows.
There are two cities there and everything is divided between them.
My father used to rule both of them as king
Ktêsios the son of Ormenos, a man equal to the immortal gods.
The ship-famous Phaeacians used to to frequent there
Pirates, bringing countless treasures in their black ships.
There was a Phoenician woman in my father’s house
Beautiful and broad and skilled in wondrous works.
The devious Phoenicians were corrupting her.
First, one of them joined her for sex while she was washing clothes
Near the swift ship—these things mix up the thoughts
For the female sex even when one of them is work-focused.
He then asked her who she was and where she was from
And she immediately told him about the high-roofed home of my father.
“I claim to be from Sidon of much-bronze,
And I am the daughter of Arubas, a wealthy man.
Taphian pirates kidnapped me one day
As I was returned from the country, and they forced me to come here
To the house of this man. And he paid a great price.”
The man who had sex with her in secret responded,
“Would you want to go back home again now with us
So that you might see the high-roofed home of you father and mother
And them too? For they are still there and are reputedly wealthy.”
And the woman then answered him in turn,
“I wish that this would happen, if you would be willing, sailors,
To swear an oath to take me home unharmed.”
So she said, and all of them swore an oath as she requested.
And once they swore and completed the oath,
The woman spoke among them again and answered with a plan.
“Be quiet now. Don’t let anyone address me with words
Should any one of your companions happen to meet me
In the street or near the stream so that no one might go to the house
And speak to the old man who might suspect something and bind me
In strong bonds. But plan for this destruction yourselves.
Keep this plan in your thoughts and earn the pay for your travels.
But whenever the ship is indeed full of its material,
Let a message come to me swiftly in the house.
And I will bring gold, as much as is ready-to-hand,
And I will add another passage-fee which I may wish to give.
For I care for the child of this nobleman in his home.
This child is clever indeed, and he is always following me outside.
I would bring him to the ship because he will earn for you
A great price when you take him to some foreign people.”
So she spoke and then left to the beautiful home.
They remained there among us for the rest of the year
As they sold the martial in their cavernous ship.
But when the hollow ship was packed up to leave,
They sent a messenger who informed the woman.
A very clever man came to the house of my father
Bringing a golden necklace worked out with amber bits.
The slave-women in the hall and my mistress mother went
To touch the necklace with their hands and see it with their eyes
As they discussed the price. He nodded to her in silence.
And once he nodded he returned to the hollow ship.
And she took my hand and led me from the house outside.
In the front part of the house she found cups and platters
From the men who dine there and attend my father.
They went to the council place and the opinion of the people,
So she quickly hind three tankards under her bosom
And left. And I followed without a care in my mind.
The sun set and all the roads were in shadows.
We went to the famous harbor in a hurry,
And there was the salt-swift ship of the Phoenician men.
They disembarked then and went sailing over the watery ways,
After they put the two of us on board. And Zeus sent a favorable wind.
We were sailing for six nights and days.
But when Kronos’ son Zeus brought the seventh day
Artemis the archer killed that woman
And she thudded into the cargo hold like a diving sea gull.
And they threw her out to be food for the seals and fish.
But I remained still, filled with pain in my heart.
The wind and the water carried them to Ithaca
Where Laertes purchased me among his possessions.
Thus I saw this land here with my own eyes.”