Escape Yourself! Study the Nature of Things

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1053-1075

“When people seem to feel that there is a weight
On their minds, which wears them out with its pressure–
If they were able to understand where it comes from and what causes
So great a burden of misery to press upon their chests,
They would hardly live their lives as we now see most do:
Each person does not know what he wants and always seeks
To change his place as if he could possibly slough of the burden.

Often this man departs from the doors of his great home,
When he has tired of being there, only to return suddenly
When he comes to believe that he is no better off outside.
He rushes out driving his ponies heedlessly to his villa
As if he were bringing crucial help to a burning home.
Yet when he arrives and crosses the threshold of the house,
He either falls into a deep sleep or pursues oblivion,
Or he even rushes to visit the city again,
This is the way each man flees from himself, but it is his self
That it is impossible to escape, so he clings to it thanklessly and hates.

He does this because he is a sick man who is ignorant of the cause.
If he knew the cause, he would abandon all these things
And begin his first study of the nature of things,
Since the problem is not that of a single hour but of eternal time—
In what state we must understand that all time will pass
For mortal man after the death that awaits all of us.”

Image result for ancient roman art death

Si possent homines, proinde ac sentire videntur
pondus inesse animo, quod se gravitate fatiget,
e quibus id fiat causis quoque noscere et unde
tanta mali tam quam moles in pectore constet,
haut ita vitam agerent, ut nunc plerumque videmus
quid sibi quisque velit nescire et quaerere semper,
commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit.
exit saepe foras magnis ex aedibus ille,
esse domi quem pertaesumst, subitoque [revertit>,
quippe foris nihilo melius qui sentiat esse.
currit agens mannos ad villam praecipitanter
auxilium tectis quasi ferre ardentibus instans;
oscitat extemplo, tetigit cum limina villae,
aut abit in somnum gravis atque oblivia quaerit,
aut etiam properans urbem petit atque revisit.
hoc se quisque modo fugit, at quem scilicet, ut fit,
effugere haut potis est: ingratius haeret et odit
propterea, morbi quia causam non tenet aeger;
quam bene si videat, iam rebus quisque relictis
naturam primum studeat cognoscere rerum,
temporis aeterni quoniam, non unius horae,
ambigitur status, in quo sit mortalibus omnis
aetas, post mortem quae restat cumque manendo.

The Elder Pliny’s Intense Study Habits

From Pliny’s Letters, 3.5:

“Before daybreak, he would go to see the emperor Vespasian, who also liked to work at night, and then he would set about his assigned duty. Once he returned home, he gave the rest of his time up to study. Often, after eating (which, in the ancient way, was always light and sparing) he would lie in the summer sun if he had the leisure, and read a book which he annotated and excerpted from. He never read anything without at least making some notes: he was in the habit of saying that no book was so bad that it was not useful in at least some way. After the sun, he would wash in cold water, then eat and sleep a little bit; soon, as if it were a new day already, he would study again until dinnertime. While eating dinner, he would read and take notes in a cursory fashion. I remember that he was once reading out loud, and was asked by one of his friends to repeat what he had just recited; to this man, my uncle said, ‘Surely, you understood the meaning?’ When the friend said that he had, my uncle responded, ‘Why then did you ask me to repeat it? I have lost the time for reading ten more verses because of your interruption.’ Such was his parsimony of his time. In summer, he would leave the dinner table when it was still light out; in winter, within the first hour of night and as though he were compelled by some law.

He did all this amidst many labors, and the bustle of the city. In his retirement, the only time which he took away from his studies was in the bath-house (and when I say this, I mean the bath itself; when he was being oiled down or dried off, he would listen to or dictate something). When on the road, as though devoid of any other concerns, he had time for this alone: a secretary would be by his side with a book and some note-tablets, and this secretary would wear gloves in winter so that not even foul weather could snatch away any of his time for his studies. For this same reason, he was always carried in a chair when he was in Rome. I remember that one time, he asked me why I was walking. ‘You could have,’ he said, ‘avoided wasting these hours,’ for he thought that all time was wasted which was not spent on study.”

Ante lucem ibat ad Vespasianum imperatorem – nam ille quoque noctibus utebatur -, inde ad delegatum sibi officium. Reversus domum quod reliquum temporis studiis reddebat. Post cibum saepe – quem interdiu levem et facilem veterum more sumebat – aestate si quid otii iacebat in sole, liber legebatur, adnotabat excerpebatque. Nihil enim legit quod non excerperet; dicere etiam solebat nullum esse librum tam malum ut non aliqua parte prodesset. Post solem plerumque frigida lavabatur, deinde gustabat dormiebatque minimum; mox quasi alio die studebat in cenae tempus. Super hanc liber legebatur adnotabatur, et quidem cursim. Memini quendam ex amicis, cum lector quaedam perperam pronuntiasset, revocasse et repeti coegisse; huic avunculum meum dixisse: ‘Intellexeras nempe?’ Cum ille adnuisset, ‘Cur ergo revocabas? decem amplius versus hac tua interpellatione perdidimus.’ Tanta erat parsimonia temporis. Surgebat aestate a cena luce, hieme intra primam noctis et tamquam aliqua lege cogente.

Haec inter medios labores urbisque fremitum. In secessu solum balinei tempus studiis eximebatur – cum dico balinei, de interioribus loquor; nam dum destringitur tergiturque, audiebat aliquid aut dictabat. In itinere quasi solutus ceteris curis, huic uni vacabat: ad latus notarius cum libro et pugillaribus, cuius manus hieme manicis muniebantur, ut ne caeli quidem asperitas ullum studii tempus eriperet; qua ex causa Romae quoque sella vehebatur. Repeto me correptum ab eo, cur ambularem: ‘poteras’ inquit ‘has horas non perdere’; nam perire omne tempus arbitrabatur, quod studiis non impenderetur.

The Elder Pliny’s Intense Study Habits

From Pliny’s Letters, 3.5:

“Before daybreak, he would go to see the emperor Vespasian, who also liked to work at night, and then he would set about his assigned duty. Once he returned home, he gave the rest of his time up to study. Often, after eating (which, in the ancient way, was always light and sparing) he would lie in the summer sun if he had the leisure, and read a book which he annotated and excerpted from. He never read anything without at least making some notes: he was in the habit of saying that no book was so bad that it was not useful in at least some way. After the sun, he would wash in cold water, then eat and sleep a little bit; soon, as if it were a new day already, he would study again until dinnertime. While eating dinner, he would read and take notes in a cursory fashion. I remember that he was once reading out loud, and was asked by one of his friends to repeat what he had just recited; to this man, my uncle said, ‘Surely, you understood the meaning?’ When the friend said that he had, my uncle responded, ‘Why then did you ask me to repeat it? I have lost the time for reading ten more verses because of your interruption.’ Such was his parsimony of his time. In summer, he would leave the dinner table when it was still light out; in winter, within the first hour of night and as though he were compelled by some law.

He did all this amidst many labors, and the bustle of the city. In his retirement, the only time which he took away from his studies was in the bath-house (and when I say this, I mean the bath itself; when he was being oiled down or dried off, he would listen to or dictate something). When on the road, as though devoid of any other concerns, he had time for this alone: a secretary would be by his side with a book and some note-tablets, and this secretary would wear gloves in winter so that not even foul weather could snatch away any of his time for his studies. For this same reason, he was always carried in a chair when he was in Rome. I remember that one time, he asked me why I was walking. ‘You could have,’ he said, ‘avoided wasting these hours,’ for he thought that all time was wasted which was not spent on study.”

Ante lucem ibat ad Vespasianum imperatorem – nam ille quoque noctibus utebatur -, inde ad delegatum sibi officium. Reversus domum quod reliquum temporis studiis reddebat. Post cibum saepe – quem interdiu levem et facilem veterum more sumebat – aestate si quid otii iacebat in sole, liber legebatur, adnotabat excerpebatque. Nihil enim legit quod non excerperet; dicere etiam solebat nullum esse librum tam malum ut non aliqua parte prodesset. Post solem plerumque frigida lavabatur, deinde gustabat dormiebatque minimum; mox quasi alio die studebat in cenae tempus. Super hanc liber legebatur adnotabatur, et quidem cursim. Memini quendam ex amicis, cum lector quaedam perperam pronuntiasset, revocasse et repeti coegisse; huic avunculum meum dixisse: ‘Intellexeras nempe?’ Cum ille adnuisset, ‘Cur ergo revocabas? decem amplius versus hac tua interpellatione perdidimus.’ Tanta erat parsimonia temporis. Surgebat aestate a cena luce, hieme intra primam noctis et tamquam aliqua lege cogente.

Haec inter medios labores urbisque fremitum. In secessu solum balinei tempus studiis eximebatur – cum dico balinei, de interioribus loquor; nam dum destringitur tergiturque, audiebat aliquid aut dictabat. In itinere quasi solutus ceteris curis, huic uni vacabat: ad latus notarius cum libro et pugillaribus, cuius manus hieme manicis muniebantur, ut ne caeli quidem asperitas ullum studii tempus eriperet; qua ex causa Romae quoque sella vehebatur. Repeto me correptum ab eo, cur ambularem: ‘poteras’ inquit ‘has horas non perdere’; nam perire omne tempus arbitrabatur, quod studiis non impenderetur.