Vacation: Putting the Skholê back into Scholarship

Dio Chrysostom, On Retirement 3

“No, these guys are obviously running away and going AWOL. They have no excuse and could expect no pardon for this kind of vacation and desertion.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὗτοι μὲν δῆλον ὅτι φεύγουσί τε καὶ δραπετεύουσι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴη πρόφασις αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ συγγνώμη τῆς τοιαύτης σχολῆς τε καὶ ἀποδράσεως.

scholar 2

As many people know, the word scholarship is somewhere in the past derived from the Ancient Greek skholê for “leisure” (since literary and linguistic studies were both the sorts of things people did in their leisure time and you had to be a person with leisure time to do them). This also happens to be the word that Woodhouse’s English-Greek Dictionary provides as the translation for English “vacation”.

(also, just ruminate on the Latin etymology of vacation for a minute, the implied emptiness…)

Vacation

One of the popular—and politically expedient—myths about people who teach (both at the college level and lower) is that we are people of leisure—we have too much idle time to engage in (1) not doing ‘real’ work or (2) brainwashing those naïve children society entrusts to us. The truth—especially for college faculty on contract or in contingent positions, for those early in their career or looking for jobs, or for anyone who teaches elementary through high school—is that the past generation has seen the slow but steady erosion of the boundary between leisure and work.

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“When will this year end?” One man gives games and even though he set a great worth on being able to do so, now says, “When will I flee them?” Another lawyer is praised over the whole forum and attracts a great crowd extending farther than they can hear, yet he complains, “When will I get a break?”

Everyone hurries life on and suffers a desire for the future and a weariness from the present. But the one who dedicates all his time to his own use, who orders every day as if it is the last one, neither desires nor fears tomorrow.”

“Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio. At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet.

This boundary has moved not in our favor but in the direction of creating an environment in which teachers and academics never stop working. This is true for many fields where technology and the unholy god of efficiency has extended work hours and expected employees to take work home and to answer work communication at all hours. But it is especially damaging for mental health in higher ed and high school where we buy in to the idea of the life of the mind and willingly submit to the elision between our personal and professional selves.

This means that high school teachers grade until 9 or 10 at night (on an early night) because they are with students until almost dinner time. This means that professors teaching adjunct courses still feel compelled to answer emails at 1 AM because they don’t want lower teaching evaluations. This means that early career professors in the tenure track put off having children or being in relationships for decades because they don’t have the time. This means that life passes us by because we are trying so hard to make the most out our lives.

A few years back in Facebook, Dr. S. Culpepper Stroup (a fantastic name of which I am very jealous) makes a great point about the difference between otium (leisure) and negotium (business) in Latin. The long-and-short of it is that the Roman lexicon reflects an inverse relationship between our work and vacation. But, here are her finer words (quoted with permission):

Speaking of *otium* (as I always do) and its centrality to the Roman intellectual sphere, consider its opposite: *negotium*. Latin instructors often team *otium* as “leisure” and *negotium* as “business,” both of which absolutely miss the train in terms of semantic designation.

(Leisure comes from the Latin *licet*, so it indicates a time when one is *allowed* to do a specific activity, which absolutely lacks the strong autonomous sense of *otium*.)

Anyway, *negotium* is—obviously—the privative of *otium* (early on we see it in Plautus as “nec otium mihi”). *Negotium* is the time when you are deprived of *otium*.

The English “vacation” completely reverses that, making work the “full” thing (full of work, that is), and vacation the privative.

I far prefer the Roman sense of *otium*, as a self-owned time that needed no apologies.

Euripides, Hippolytus 383-384

“Life has many pleasures
Long talks and leisure, a pleasant evil…”

… εἰσὶ δ’ ἡδοναὶ πολλαὶ βίου,
μακραὶ δὲ λέσχαι καὶ σχολὴ τερπνὸν κακόν.

Smarter and more well-informed people than I can make the argument about the evils of neo-liberal capitalism and the commodification of everything. They can point out the insidious culture that insists us to see our online persona as our actual selves and to envision the ‘life’ we pursue there as a never ending process of branding and re-branding to ensure that we will never be less than fully commodifiable. I can merely confess that the anxiety, workload, and self-identification has shaped me in such a way that it is really, really hard to take any time off.

I was grading exams the days both of my children were born (and I got reprimanded by my chair for not entering grades soon enough after). When my daughter was learning to walk, I cheered her on as I furiously finished a book and a few articles to ensure I received tenure. I took one week off when my father died suddenly. I have brought sick kids to class repeatedly. I took one day off when my grandmother died.. None of this is necessary, admirable, or worthy of praise; all of it is from guilt, pressure, and our toxic work culture. And I know I don’t have it particularly bad. I have tenure. I have a place in the world, job security, and safety.

But at this point, I am what I do and I do what I am. I take articles to read at the playground. I proof articles while my kids are at swimming lessons. I have dragged work to Italy, India, France, Germany. Somehow I have not totally ruined my relationship with my spouse by slinking out of bed regularly at 5 am or answering emails after the children are asleep. I have lived through my work and despite my work. And I worry about the long-term consequences.

But I keep going because I love my material, because I love my students and my institution, and because of the fear and guilt: I know there are many others who are smarter, who have worked harder, but who have not had some of the dumb luck I have (or the privilege to which I was born) to end up where I am.

Cicero, Pro Murena 28

“No one can be famous for being wise if it is concerning the type of knowledge which is worthless anywhere beyond Rome and even at Rome too during a vacation. No one can be an expert on something which everyone knows because there can’t be any disagreement on the matter. A subject cannot be considered difficult just because it exists in a very few and rather obscure documents.”

Sapiens existimari nemo potest in ea prudentia quae neque extra Romam usquam neque Romae rebus prolatis quicquam valet. Peritus ideo haberi nemo potest quod in eo quod sciunt omnes nullo modo possunt inter se discrepare. Difficilis autem res ideo non putatur quod et perpaucis et minime obscuris litteris continetur.

At the end of the day (and a life!), I cannot be sure that work that I do is worth the emotion I have put into it. But, of course, this does not mean I can or will stop. I can, however, try to reset definitions a bit and remember to enjoy life a little more and take time off.

So, I am not going to go all memento mori and carpe diem today. (My students already think I have some sort of death-obsessed insanity.) And I won’t claim to be especially unlucky when I know the opposite is true. But I will say that we have a problem in education, especially: we spend a lot of time claiming that we can teach about the value of human life even as we fail so terribly at honoring the worth of our own.

So, the next week of posts will be repeats, cleverly repackaged along with a few retrospective posts I threw together earlier. I am going to try not to do work for a week. Again.

Ok, wait, Screw it. We are ALL GOING TO DIE. Here’s some advice from Ashurbanipal:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

Image result for Ancient Greek Leisure
It is a race, but we all know where it ends.

Vacation Advice from Pliny: Translate Greek into Latin, Maybe Write Some Poems

Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.1–3; 8-11

“You ask me what I think you should study while you enjoy your current vacation? It is really useful—as many propose—to translate Greek into Latin or Latin into Greek. By this kind of exercise you gain the proper and decorative use of words, an abundance of rhetorical devices, a forceful manner of explication, and, importantly, an ability to compose similar works due to the imitation of the best models. The things which escape a reader, moreover, do not evade a translator. From this practice one acquires intelligence and critical judgment.

[…]

From time to time, I want you to pick some passage from a history or perhaps write a letter more carefully. For sometimes even in speech the situation requires not only a bit of historical but even poetic description—a pure and compact style can be found in letters. It is also right to take a break for poetry—I am not talking about a long, continuous poem, since that cannot be completed without a lot of time—but in that sharp and brief style which aptly breaks up your cares and duties however important they are. This is called playing with verse, but these games often attract no less glory than serious pursuits.”

Quaerisquemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. Utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. Quo genere exerci­tationis, proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. Intellegentia ex hoc et indicium adquiritur.

[…]

Volo interdum aliquem ex historia locum adprendas, volo epistulam diligentius scribas. Nam saepe in oratione quoque non historica modo sed prope poetica descriptionum necessitas incidit, et pressus sermo purusque ex epistulis petitur. Fas est et carmine remitti, non dico continuo et longo (id enim perfici nisi in otio non potest), sed hoc arguto et brevi, quod apte quantas libet occupationes curasque distinguit. Lusus vocantur; sed hi lusus non minorem interdum gloriam quam seria consequuntur.

Image result for medieval manuscripts pliny the younger
This is from a manuscript of Pliny the Elder (the Douce Pliny)

Take A Break! The Importance of Vacations

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 1. 14-15

“Moderation was missing from this enthusiastic person in two ways. He did not know how to take a break from work nor how to start it again. When he brought himself to write, the days used to join with nights and he was pushing himself mercilessly without a break, stopping only when he was completely worn out. But when he stopped then, he would lose himself in every kind of game and distraction. Indeed, when he entrusted himself to the forest and the mountains, he was the equal to those born to the forests and mountains, those wild men, in endurance of labor and expertise of the hunt. He was so completely engaged with the embrace of that lifestyle that he could scarcely be dragged back to his former life.

But when he did get himself under control and took himself from alluring leisure, he used to fall into his studies with such passions that he seemed not so much to have lost nothing as to have gained much.

It is clear that everyone benefits from a mental vacation—energy is gathered in leisure and all the sadness which is developed through endless pursuit of work can be dispelled though the enjoyment of distractions. But no one benefited more from a vacation than Latro. Every time he used to speak after a break, he would speak more sharply and with more force—he used to glory in how his mind was refreshed and his strength made whole. And he would squeeze as much from himself as he desired. He did not know how to portion out his powers—but he was a master of unrestrained tyranny—his eagerness had to be stopped because it was not able to be controlled…”

In utramque partem vehementi viro modus deerat: nec intermittere studium sciebat nec repetere.  Cum se ad scribendum concitaverat, iungebantur noctibus dies, et sine intervallo gravius sibi instabat, nec desinebat nisi defecerat: rursus cum se remiserat, in omnes lusus, in omnes iocos se resolvebat; cum vero se silvis montibusque tradiderat, in silvis ac montibus natos, homines illos agrestis, laboris patientia et venandi sollertia provocabat, et in tantam perveniebat sic vivendi cupiditatem ut vix posset ad priorem consuetudinem retrahi. At cum sibi iniecerat manum et se blandienti otio abduxerat, tantis viribus incumbebat in studium ut non tantum nihil perdidisse sed multum adquisisse desidia videretur. Omnibus quidem prodest subinde animum relaxare; excitatur enim otio vigor, et omnis tristitia, quae continuatione pertinacis studii adducitur, feriarum hilaritate discutitur: nulli tamen intermissio manifestius proderat. Quotiens ex intervallo dicebat, multo acrius violentiusque dicebat; exultabat enim <animo>2 novato atque integro robore, et tantum a se exprimebat quantum concupierat. Nesciebat dispensare vires suas, sed inmoderati adversus se imperii fuit, ideoque studium eius prohiberi debebat quia regi non poterat…

 

Seneca the Younger, De Tranquillitate Animi, 5

“Our minds must be allowed a break—once rested, they will rise better and sharper. Just as fertile fields must not be overworked—for endless productivity will exhaust them soon—so too continuous work crushes the force of our minds; but rested and relaxed they restore their own powers. Weakness and weariness are born to minds from constant efforts.”

Danda est animis remissio; meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. Ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum—cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas,—ita animorum impetus adsiduus labor franget, vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi; nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.

Bonus Quotation

Fragments of Dio Chrysostom, Stob. Flor. 4, XIX

“It is right, then, to be be proper master and to permit those who want to rest sometimes. For breaks are preparation for toil—the both, the lyre and human kind become their best through resting.”

Χρὴ οὖν δεσπόζειν ἐπιεικῶς καὶ ἀνεθῆναί ποτε βουλομένοις ἐπιτρέπειν. αἱ γὰρ ἀνέσεις παρασκευαστικαὶ πόνων εἰσί, καὶ τόξον καὶ λύρα καὶ ἄνθρωπος ἀκμάζει δι᾿ ἀναπαύσεως.

Gardecorps. Metallic buttons?  Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)
Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)

For more Roman vacation advice, see Pliny’s suggestions for translating Greek into Latin and writing poems and some other selections from antiquity.

The Difference between Retirement and Vacations

Dio Chrysostom, 20th Discourse, on Retirement

“What then do we call retirement and what people is it right to call retired? Should we call those people retiring who have stepped away from their appropriate work and actions? For example, if someone is Athenian and it is necessary that he join the army to defend the country when the Spartans are invading Attica or because Philip or other enemies are coming but he leaves for Megara or Aigina because he does not want to join the army or risk his life—should this person be called retired?

Or if someone who has acquired great wealth leaves the city in order to avoid paying taxes? Or what if someone who is capable of healing the sick, when his friends and neighbors are ill, leaves them and goes to some other country so that he might avoid getting ill and having the work of assisting them?

Or, if some other person, when it is necessary that he perform a duty for the city, to govern, or help the governors, or to act as a guard, does not want to lose sleep but, so that he will be exempt from all of them and no one will rebuke him or stop him from drinking and sleeping and taking it easy, he goes somewhere else too. Should this person be called retired? No, it is clear that these people are fleeing and running, and there is no excuse or forgiveness for this kind of leisure and vacation.

Instead, then, perhaps we must call “retiring” those who leave unprofitable matters or wastes of time which are not their concern and who provide themselves some kind of leisure from annoying frivolity. And yet, were that the case, the person who moves from one city to another or from one place to another should to be said to “retire”. For wherever this person goes there will be many obstacles which prevent proper accomplishment.

The truth is that being around someone too much either drinking or playing games or wasting time in the kinds of harmful and disadvantageous pastimes people find everywhere are these kinds of things—hanging around every person you meet chatting on and listening to worthless ideas, blathering on about the emperor’s concerns or those of that terrible person whoever he is. For the fool is not in control of his own mind, but he is bounced and led easily around by any random excuse or meeting.”

Τί γάρ ποτε τὸ τῆς ἀναχωρήσεώς ἐστι καὶ τίνας χρὴ τιθέναι τοὺς ἀναχωροῦντας; ἆρά γε τοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν προσηκόντων ἔργων αὐτοῖς καὶ πράξεων ἀφισταμένους, τούτους χρὴ φάσκειν ἀναχωρεῖν; οἷον εἴ τις Ἀθηναῖος ὤν, δέον αὐτὸν στρατεύεσθαι ὑπὲρ τῆς πατρίδος Λακεδαιμονίων εἰσβεβληκότων εἰς τὴν Ἀττικὴν ἢ Φιλίππου ἐπιόντος ἢ ἄλλων πολεμίων, ὁ δὲ ἀναχωρήσειεν εἰς Μέγαρα ἢ Αἴγιναν ἕνεκα τοῦ μὴ στρατεύεσθαι μηδὲ κινδυνεύειν, οὖτος ἂν ἀνακεχωρηκέναι λέγοιτο; ἢ εἴ τις συχνὴν οὐσίαν κεκτημένος ἕνεκα τοῦ διαφυγεῖν τὰς λειτουργίας ἀπέλθοι ἐκ τῆς πόλεως; ἢ εἴ τις ἰᾶσθαι τοὺς νοσοῦντας ἱκανὸς ὤν, καὶ φίλων δὴ καὶ ἐπιτηδείων αὐτῷ καμνόντων, ὅπως μὴ κακοπαθῇ καὶ πράγματα ἔχῃ τούτους θεραπεύων, ἀπολίποι τε αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀποδημήσειεν εἰς ἕτερον τόπον; ἢ εἴ τις ἄλλος, ἐν πόλει δέον ἐξετάζεσθαι καὶ αὐτόν, ἄρχειν καὶ ἀρχαῖς ὑπηρετεῖν καὶ φυλακάς τινας φυλάττειν, ἀγρυπνῶν μὴ βούλοιτο, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως τούτων ἀπηλλαγμένος ἁπάντων ἔσται καὶ μηδὲ εἷς αὐτὸν ἐξελέγξει μηδὲ κωλύσει πίνοντα καὶ καθεύδοντα καὶ ῥᾳθυμοῦντα, ἑτέρωσε ἀποχωροῖ ποι—ἆρα τούτους ἀναχωρεῖν ῥητέον; ἀλλ᾿ οὗτοι μὲν δῆλον ὅτι φεύγουσί τε καὶ δραπετεύουσι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴη πρόφασις αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ συγγνώμη τῆς τοιαύτης σχολῆς τε καὶ ἀποδράσεως.

Μὴ οὖν τοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνωφελῶν πραγμάτων καὶ τῶν οὐ προσηκουσῶν αὐτοῖς ἀσχολιῶν ἀπιόντας καὶ σχολήν τινα πορίζοντας αὑτοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐνοχλούντων μάτην ῥητέον ὡς ἀναχωροῦντας. ἀλλ᾿ οὕτως μέν, οὐχ ὁ μεταβὰς ἐκ πόλεώς τινος εἰς ἑτέραν πόλιν ἢ ἐκ τόπου εἰς ἕτερον τόπον ἀναχωρεῖν λέγοιτ᾿ ἄν· ὅπου γὰρ ἂν ἀφίκηται, πολλὰ ἂν εἴη τὰ ἐμποδὼν αὐτῷ γιγνόμενα καὶ οὐκ ἐῶντα τὰ προσήκοντα ποιεῖν. καὶ γὰρ τὸ ἐπὶ πολύ τῳ ξυνεῖναι καὶ τὸ πίνοντα ἢ κυβεύοντα ἢ ἄλλο τι τῶν βλαβερῶν καὶ ἀσυμφόρων πράττοντα διατελεῖν, πανταχοῦ τοιαῦτά ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ συνδιατρίβειν ἀεὶ τῷ ἐντυχόντι ἀδολεσχοῦντα καὶ ἀκούοντα λόγων οὐδὲν χρησίμων ἢ περὶ τὰ βασιλέως πράγματα διατρίβειν ἢ τὰ τοῦ δεῖνος, ὡς ἔφη τις. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀνόητος τῆς αὑτοῦ ψυχῆς κύριος, ἀλλὰ ῥεμβόμενός τε καὶ ἀγόμενος ῥᾳδίως ὑπὸ τῆς τυχούσης προφάσεως καὶ ὁμιλίας.

Image result for medieval manuscript holiday
Image from here

Take A Break! The Elder and Younger Seneca on the Importance of Vacations

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 1. 14-15

“Moderation was missing from this enthusiastic person in two ways. He did not know how to take a break from work nor how to start it again. When he brought himself to write, the days used to join with nights and he was pushing himself mercilessly without a break, stopping only when he was completely worn out. But when he stopped then, he would lose himself in every kind of game and distraction. Indeed, when he entrusted himself to the forest and the mountains, he was the equal to those born to the forests and mountains, those wild men, in endurance of labor and expertise of the hunt. He was so completely engaged with the embrace of that lifestyle that he could scarcely be dragged back to his former life.

But when he did get himself under control and took himself from alluring leisure, he used to fall into his studies with such passions that he seemed not so much to have lost nothing as to have gained much.

It is clear that everyone benefits from a mental vacation—energy is gathered in leisure and all the sadness which is developed through endless pursuit of work can be dispelled though the enjoyment of distractions. But no one benefited more from a vacation than Latro. Every time he used to speak after a break, he would speak more sharply and with more force—he used to glory in how his mind was refreshed and his strength made whole. And he would squeeze as much from himself as he desired. He did not know how to portion out his powers—but he was a master of unrestrained tyranny—his eagerness had to be stopped because it was not able to be controlled…”

In utramque partem vehementi viro modus deerat: nec intermittere studium sciebat nec repetere.  Cum se ad scribendum concitaverat, iungebantur noctibus dies, et sine intervallo gravius sibi instabat, nec desinebat nisi defecerat: rursus cum se remiserat, in omnes lusus, in omnes iocos se resolvebat; cum vero se silvis montibusque tradiderat, in silvis ac montibus natos, homines illos agrestis, laboris patientia et venandi sollertia provocabat, et in tantam perveniebat sic vivendi cupiditatem ut vix posset ad priorem consuetudinem retrahi. At cum sibi iniecerat manum et se blandienti otio abduxerat, tantis viribus incumbebat in studium ut non tantum nihil perdidisse sed multum adquisisse desidia videretur. Omnibus quidem prodest subinde animum relaxare; excitatur enim otio vigor, et omnis tristitia, quae continuatione pertinacis studii adducitur, feriarum hilaritate discutitur: nulli tamen intermissio manifestius proderat. Quotiens ex intervallo dicebat, multo acrius violentiusque dicebat; exultabat enim <animo>2 novato atque integro robore, et tantum a se exprimebat quantum concupierat. Nesciebat dispensare vires suas, sed inmoderati adversus se imperii fuit, ideoque studium eius prohiberi debebat quia regi non poterat…

 

Seneca the Younger, De Tranquillitate Animi, 5

“Our minds must be allowed a break—once rested, they will rise better and sharper. Just as fertile fields must not be overworked—for endless productivity will exhaust them soon—so too continuous work crushes the force of our minds; but rested and relaxed they restore their own powers. Weakness and weariness are born to minds from constant efforts.”

Danda est animis remissio; meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. Ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum—cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas,—ita animorum impetus adsiduus labor franget, vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi; nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.

Bonus Quotation

Fragments of Dio Chrysostom, Stob. Flor. 4, XIX

“It is right, then, to be be proper master and to permit those who want to rest sometimes. For breaks are preparation for toil—the both, the lyre and human kind become their best through resting.”

Χρὴ οὖν δεσπόζειν ἐπιεικῶς καὶ ἀνεθῆναί ποτε βουλομένοις ἐπιτρέπειν. αἱ γὰρ ἀνέσεις παρασκευαστικαὶ πόνων εἰσί, καὶ τόξον καὶ λύρα καὶ ἄνθρωπος ἀκμάζει δι᾿ ἀναπαύσεως.

Gardecorps. Metallic buttons?  Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)
Codex Manesse 1300-1340(DE)​ 141 (Zürich, Switzerland)

For more Roman vacation advice, see Pliny’s suggestions for translating Greek into Latin and writing poems and some other selections from antiquity.

Pliny The Younger’s Vacation Advice: Translate Greek into Latin, Maybe Write Some Poems

Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.1–3; 8-11

“You ask me what I think you should study while you enjoy your current vacation? It is really useful—as many propose—to translate Greek into Latin or Latin into Greek. By this kind of exercise you gain the proper and decorative use of words, an abundance of rhetorical devices, a forceful manner of explication, and, importantly, an ability to compose similar works due to the imitation of the best models. The things which escape a reader, moreover, do not evade a translator. From this practice one acquires intelligence and critical judgment.

[…]

From time to time, I want you to pick some passage from a history or perhaps write a letter more carefully. For sometimes even in speech the situation requires not only a bit of historical but even poetic description—a pure and compact style can be found in letters. It is also right to take a break for poetry—I am not talking about a long, continuous poem, since that cannot be completed without a lot of time—but in that sharp and brief style which aptly breaks up your cares and duties however important they are. This is called playing with verse, but these games often attract no less glory than serious pursuits.”

1 Quaerisquemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. Utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. Quo genere exerci­tationis, proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non3possunt. Intellegentia ex hoc et indicium adquiritur.

[…]

8-11 Volo interdum aliquem ex historia locum adprendas, volo epistulam diligentius scribas. Nam saepe in oratione quoque non historica modo sed prope poetica descriptionum necessitas incidit, et pressus sermo 9purusque ex epistulis petitur. Fas est et carmine remitti, non dico continuo et longo (id enim perfici nisi in otio non potest), sed hoc arguto et brevi, quod apte quantas libet occupationes curasque distinguit.10 Lusus vocantur; sed hi lusus non minorem interdum gloriam quam seria consequuntur.

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This is from a manuscript of Pliny the Elder (the Douce Pliny)

Vacation: Putting the Skholê back into Scholarship

Dio Chrysostom, On Retirement 3

“No, these guys are obviously running away and going AWOL. They have no excuse and could expect no pardon for this kind of vacation and desertion.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὗτοι μὲν δῆλον ὅτι φεύγουσί τε καὶ δραπετεύουσι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴη πρόφασις αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ συγγνώμη τῆς τοιαύτης σχολῆς τε καὶ ἀποδράσεως.

As many people know, the word scholarship is somewhere in the past derived from the Ancient Greek skholê for “leisure” (since literary and linguistic studies were both the sorts of things people did in their leisure time and you had to be a person with leisure time to do them). This also happens to be the word that Woodhouse provides as the translation for English “vacation”.

(also, just ruminate on the Latin etymology of vacation for a minute, the implied emptiness…)

One of the popular—and politically expedient—myths about people who teach (both at the college level and lower) is that we are people of leisure—we have too much idle time to engage in (1) not doing ‘real’ work or (2) brainwashing those naïve children society entrusts to us. The truth—especially for college faculty on contract or in contingent positions, for those early in their career or looking for jobs, or for anyone who teaches elementary through high school—is that the past generation has seen the slow but steady erosion of the boundary between leisure and work.

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“When will this year end?” One man gives games and even though he set a great worth on being able to do so, now says, “When will I flee them?” Another lawyer is praised over the whole forum and attracts a great crowd extending farther than they can hear, yet he complains, “When will I get a break?”

Everyone hurries life on and suffers a desire for the future and a weariness from the present. But the one who dedicates all his time to his own use, who orders every day as if it is the last one, neither desires nor fears tomorrow.”

“Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio. At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum1 ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet.

This boundary has moved not in our favor but in the direction of creating an environment in which teachers and academics never stop working. This is true for many fields where technology and the unholy god of efficiency has extended work hours and expected employees to take work home and to answer work communication at all hours. But it is especially damaging for mental health in higher ed and high school where we buy in to the idea of the life of the mind and willingly submit to the elision between our personal and professional selves.

This means that high school teachers grade until 9 or 10 at night (on an early night) because they are with students until almost dinner time. This means that professors teaching adjunct courses still feel compelled to answer emails at 1 AM because they don’t want lower teaching evaluations. This means that early career professors in the tenure track put off having children or being in relationships for decades because they don’t have the time. This means that life passes us by because we are trying so hard to make the most of out life.

On Facebook, Dr. S. Culpepper Stroup (a fantastic name of which I am very jealous) makes a great point about the difference between otium (leisure) and negotium (business) in Latin. The long-and-short of it is that the Roman lexicon reflects an inverse relationship between our work and vacation. But, here are her finer words (quoted with permission):

Speaking of *otium* (as I always do) and its centrality to the Roman intellectual sphere, consider its opposite: *negotium*. Latin instructors often team *otium* as “leisure” and *negotium* as “business,” both of which absolutely miss the train in terms of semantic designation.

(Leisure comes from the Latin *licet*, so it indicates a time when one is *allowed* to do a specific activity, which absolutely lacks the strong autonomous sense of *otium*.)

Anyway, *negotium* is—obviously—the privative of *otium* (early on we see it in Plautus as “nec otium mihi”). *Negotium* is the time when you are deprived of *otium*.

The English “vacation” completely reverses that, making work the “full” thing (full of work, that is), and vacation the privative.

I far prefer the Roman sense of *otium*, as a self-owned time that needed no apologies.

Euripides, Hippolytus 383-384

“Life has many pleasures
Long talks and leisure, a pleasant evil…”

… εἰσὶ δ’ ἡδοναὶ πολλαὶ βίου,
μακραὶ δὲ λέσχαι καὶ σχολὴ τερπνὸν κακόν.

Smarter and more well-informed people than I can make the argument about the evils of neo-liberal capitalism and the commodification of everything. They can point out the insidious culture that insists us to see our online persona as our actual selves and to envision the ‘life’ we pursue there as a never ending process of branding and re-branding to ensure that we will never be less than fully commodifiable. I can merely confess that the anxiety, workload, and self-identification has shaped me in such a way that it is really, really hard to take any time off.

I was grading exams the days both of my children were born (and I got reprimanded by my chair for not entering grades soon enough after). When my daughter was learning to walk, I cheered her on as I furiously finished a book and a few articles to ensure I received tenure. I took one week off when my father died suddenly. I have brought sick kids to class repeatedly. I took one day off when my grandmother died this year. None of this is necessary; all of it is from guilt, pressure, and our toxic work culture. And I am sure I don’t have it particularly bad. I have tenure. I have a place in the world, job security, and safety.

But at this point, I am what I do and I do what I am. I take articles to read at the playground. I proof articles while my kids are at swimming lessons. I have dragged work to Italy, India, France, Germany. Somehow I have not totally ruined my relationship with my spouse by slinking out of bed every day at 5 am or answering emails after the children are asleep. I have lived through my work and despite my work. And I worry about the long-term consequences.

But I keep going because I love my material, because I love my students and my institution, and because of the fear and guilt: I know there are many others who are smarter, who have worked harder, but who have not had some of the dumb luck I have (or the privilege to which I was born) to end up where I am.

Cicero, Pro Murena 28

“No one can be famous for being wise if it is concerning the type of knowledge which is worthless anywhere beyond Rome and even at Rome too during a vacation. No one can be an expert on something which everyone knows because there can’t be any disagreement on the matter. A subject cannot be considered difficult just because it exists in a very few and rather obscure documents.”

Sapiens existimari nemo potest in ea prudentia quae neque extra Romam usquam neque Romae rebus prolatis quicquam valet. Peritus ideo haberi nemo potest quod in eo quod sciunt omnes nullo modo possunt inter se discrepare. Difficilis autem res ideo non putatur quod et perpaucis et minime obscuris litteris continetur.

At the end of the day (and a life!), I cannot be sure that work that I do is worth the emotion I have put into it. But, of course, this does not mean I can or will stop. I can, however, try to reset definitions a bit and remember to enjoy life a little more and take time off.

So, I am not going to go all memento mori and carpe diem today. (My students already think I have some sort of death-obsessed insanity.) And I won’t claim to be especially unlucky when I know the opposite is true. But I will say that we have a problem in education, especially: we spend a lot of time claiming that we can teach about the value of human life even as we fail so terribly at honoring the worth of our own.

So, the next week of posts will be repeats, cleverly repackaged. I am going to try not to do work for a week. Happy Holidays to all.

Ok, wait, Screw it.  We are ALL GOING TO DIE. Here’s some advice from Ashurbanipal:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

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It is a race, but we all know where it ends.