“A life without parties is a long journey without inns.”
βίος ἀνεόρταστος μακρὴ ὁδὸς ἀπανδόκευτος.
Plato, Laws 653d
“Great. Now, since many of these kinds of education—which accustom us to correctly manage pleasures and pains—lose their effectiveness during life, the gods took pity on the human race because it is born to toil and assigned to us as well parties as vacations from our toil. In addition, they have also given us the Muses, Apollo the master of music, and Dionysus as party-guests so that people can straighten out their habits because they are present at the festival with the gods.”
“Certainly we have furnished our mind with the greatest reliefs from our labors, maintaining games and feasts throughout the year in public and in private living with care and finery, all those things which provide pleasure to expel our grief. Because of the greatness of our city, everything comes to us from the earth and we are lucky enough to harvest all of the goods from our own land with no less familiar pleasure than those we gather from other peoples.”
“Greece is the witness to this because it was set aflame with a desire for eloquence and has surpassed in it and exceeded other places But Greece also has greater antiquity in all arts which it not only discovered but perfected because the power and abundance of speaking was developed by the Greeks. When I consider Greece, Atticus, your Athens occurs to me especially and shines out like a lighthouse. It is here that an orator first showed himself and here that oratory began to be entrusted to monuments and writings.”
vii. Testis est Graecia, quae cum eloquentiae studio sit incensa iamdiuque excellat in ea praestetque ceteris, tamen omnis artis vetustiores habet et multo ante non inventas solum sed etiam perfectas, quam haec est a Graecis elaborata dicendi vis atque copia. In quam cum intueor, maxime mihi occurrunt, Attice, et quasi lucent Athenae tuae, qua in urbe primum se orator extulit primumque etiam monumentis et litteris oratio est coepta mandari.
“What else besides? Nothing really except for this. Athens has been a delight to me, when it comes to the city and its decoration and the love that its people show you, a certain kind of goodwill they have for us. But many things have been changed and philosophy is disordered this way and that. If there is anything left, it is Aristos’ and I am staying with him.
I left your, or rather ‘our’, friend Zeno to Quintus even though he is close enough that we are together the whole day. I wish that you will write me of your plans as soon as you can so I may know what you are doing and where you will be at which time and, especially, when you will be in Rome.
Quid est praeterea? nihil sane nisi illud: valde me Athenae delectarunt, urbe dumtaxat et urbis ornamento et hominum amore in te, in nos quadam benevolentia; sed mu<tata mu>lta.6 philosophia sursum deorsum. si quid est, est in Aristo, apud quem eram; nam Xenonem tuum vel nostrum potius Quinto concesseram, et tamen propter vicinitatem totos dies simul eramus. tu velim cum primum poteris tua consilia ad me scribas, ut sciam quid agas, ubi quoque tempore, maxime quando Romae futurus sis.
“I wish you’d think about one thing also. I am hearing that Appius is building a gateway at Eleusis. Would we be fools if we made one at the Academia too? “I think so” you will answer. But, still, then—write this to me. I really do love Athens itself. I want there to be some memento in the city and I hate lying inscriptions on other’s statues. But do what pleases you. And let me know what day the Roman mysteries indicate and how the winter has been. Take care of yourself.”
Unum etiam velim cogites. audio Appium πρόπυλον Eleusine facere; num inepti fuerimus si nos quoque Aca<de>miae fecerimus? ‘puto’ inquies. ergo id ipsum scribes ad me. equidem valde ipsas Athenas amo; volo esse aliquod monumentum, odi falsas inscriptiones statuarum alienarum, sed ut tibi placebit, faciesque me in quem diem Romana incidant mysteria certiorem et quo modo hiemaris. cura ut valeas.
“Everyone still needs some kind of break, not only because there is no material which can endure endless labor—and even those things which lack perception or life must be guarded in turns of rest in order to protect their strength—but also because studying requires a desire to learn which cannot be compelled.
Once renewed and made fresh, students who often bristle at what is compulsory bring a greater intensity and a sharper mind to learning. Games do not bother me in young students—for this is also a sign of an excited mind—and I do not hope that a sad and always downcast child will come to studies with a sharp mind when the natural energy customary to that age is missing.
But, still, there should be a reasonable balance to breaks so students might not hate their studies when breaks are denied nor get too accustomed to leisure. There are even some games which are helpful for sharpening the wits of students—such as when they compete by asking each other little questions of any kind. Characters also unveil themselves more simply during games. But, no age seems to be so infirm that it cannot learn immediately what is right and wrong and the age especially good for shaping a character is before children know how to dissimulate and still yield to their teachers most easily. For it is faster to break things that have hardened into evil than it is to correct them.”
Danda est tamen omnibus aliqua remissio, non solum quia nulla res est quae perferre possit continuum laborem, atque ea quoque quae sensu et anima carent ut servare vim suam possint velut quiete alterna retenduntur, sed quod studium discendi voluntate, quae cogi non potest, constat. Itaque et virium plus adferunt ad discendum renovati ac recentes et acriorem animum, qui fere necessitatibus repugnat. Nec me offenderit lusus in pueris (est et hoc signum alacritatis), neque illum tristem semperque demissum sperare possim erectae circa studia mentis fore, cum in hoc quoque maxime naturali aetatibus illis impetu iaceat. Modus tamen sit remissionibus, ne aut odium studiorum faciant negatae aut otii consuetudinem nimiae. Sunt etiam nonnulli acuendis puerorum ingeniis non inutiles lusus, cum positis invicem cuiusque generis quaestiunculis aemulantur. Mores quoque se inter ludendum simplicius detegunt: modo nulla videatur aetas tam infirma quae non protinus quid rectum pravumque sit discat, tum vel maxime formanda cum simulandi nescia est et praecipientibus facillime cedit; frangas enim citius quam corrigas quae in pravum induruerunt.
“Everything is prepared except for a secret and safe journey to the upper sea [Adriatic]. We are not able to travel by sea in this season. But in what way may I go where my spirit and the situation call? We must depart quickly so that I am not delayed or tied down by some matter.
Nor in fact does he [Pompey] who seems to pull me actually call me—a man I already knew before as the most unpolitical of all and now truly the least strategic general. It is not he then who draws me but the words of people which have been sent to me by Philotimus. For he says that I am being torn apart by the optimates.
Good gods, what kind of optimates? Those ones now who are running out and selling themselves to Caesar! The towns pretend he is a god and they were doing this when they were praying for sick Pompey. But whatever evil this Pisistratus has not done is as valuable to him as if he stopped someone from doing it. They hope to find a gracious power in him, but they think that Pompey is angry.”
Omnia mihi provisa sunt praeter occultum et tutum iter ad mare superum; hoc enim mari uti non possumus hoc tempore anni. illuc autem quo spectat animus et quo res vocat qua veniam? cedendum enim est celeriter, ne forte qua re impediar atque adliger. nec vero ille me ducit qui videtur; quem ego hominem ἀπολιτκώτατον omnium iam ante cognoram, nunc vero etiam ἀστρατηγητότατον. non me igitur is ducit sed sermo hominum qui ad me <a> Philotimo scribitur; is enim me ab optimatibus ait conscindi. quibus optimatibus, di boni? qui nunc quo modo occurrunt, quo modo etiam se venditant Caesari! municipia vero deum, nec simulant, ut cum de illo aegroto vota faciebant. sed plane quicquid mali hic Pisistratus non fec[er]it tam gratum est quam si alium facere prohibuerit. <hunc> propitium sperant, illum iratum putant.
My wife has a job at a remote island hospital on the weekends and we often travel with her by ferry. During the busier part of the summer it is too busy to get a vehicle on the ferry, so we took a taxi to the hospital apartment this morning. The driver had a pile of books next to the gear shaft and one was Claude Levi-Strauss’s The Savage Mind. I asked the driver what he thought of Levi-Strauss, and he said “Not much. But I do like what he says about mermaids. I have been thinking about mermaids since I lived in Montreal in 1969.”
The driver proceeded to tell me that there was a global conspiracy to hide the truth about mermaids from the rest of us: not only do they exist—and many have recently been captured alive and dead—but they leave coral spears in sharks all over the world, they can dive over 100 feet, and they are actually our ancestors. And, just in case I was interested, they don’t wear shells on their breasts.
Now, I had not ever really given much thoughts to mermaids. Sea-nymphs and the like seem like obvious analogs in Greek myth occupying a positive angle—as in Thetis and the daughters of Nereus—or a negative one as in Skylla or the Sirens. And there are transformations like those of Ino the Cadmeid into Leukothea the ‘sea-nymph’ who rescues Odysseus in Odyssey 5. But there’s more! (thanks to Wikipedia and googling the truth about mermaids).
Pliny, Nat. Hist. 5
“The following is about the interior lands. Hollow Syria contains Apamea which is divided from the tetrarchy of the Nosairis by the river Marsyas; Bambyx, which is also called Hierapolis and Mabog by the Syrians. This is where the fearsome goddess Atargatis, whom the Greeks call Dercetô, is worshipped.”
XIX. Nunc interiora dicantur. Coele habet Apameam Marsya amne divisam a Nazerinorum tetrarchia, Bambycen quae alio nomine Hierapolis vocatur, Syris vero Mabog—ibi prodigiosa Atargatis, Graecis autem Derceto dicta, colitur
In the following example we find a typical motif of a figure turned into an animal because of an illicit love affair. The resulting blend imagined in this account is like the image on the coin above: fish-body with human head.
Diodorus Siculus, 2.82
“In Syria, there is a city called Askalôn and close to it is a large lake full of fish. Next to it, there is the precinct of the well-known goddess the Syrians call Dercetô. She has the head of a woman, but her body is completely fish for the following reasons. The most well-versed of the region tell the story that because Aphrodite was angry at this goddess, she filled her with love for a certain pretty youth among those sacrificing to her. After she had sex with the Syrian man, she gave birth to a daughter. Because she was ashamed for her actions, she killed the youth and exposed the child in a a deserted, rocky place. Beset by shame and grief, she threw herself into the lake and the shape of her body reformed into a fish. For this reason Syrians still abstain from the animal to this day and honor fish as gods.”
In other accounts we find an association with pigeons as well–perhaps a symbolic bleed from the association of women with birds (e.g. Sirens, Harpies etc.) and women with fish. The important thing for myth and genealogy is that this goddess becomes the mother of the famous Semiramis, a wife of King Nimrod and eventually ruler herself of Assyria). Here we get a description of mermaids closer to our own…
Lucian, On the Syrian Goddess 14
“There is an ancient story among them about the shrine of this sort. There are some who say that Semiramis the Babylonian, many of whose deeds are in Asia, built this temple but erected it for her mother, named Derketô rather than Hera. I saw an image of Derketô in Phoenicia, a wonderful sight. She is half woman—but as much of her as extends from thighs to the end of her feet was made up with a fish tail! But the statue at Hierapols is just a woman.
The explanations for this story are not really mysterious. For they believe that fish are sacred creatures—they don’t touch them—and they use the rest of the birds for food except they refrain from eating pigeons, which are also sacred. They think that Derketô and pigeons are holy for the following reasons. They think that Derketô takes the shape of a fish; and Semiramos turned into a pigeon. But I will accept that the temple in question belongs to Semiramos. I cannot believe that it is Derketô’s since even some of the Egyptians do not eat fish, and they don’t do it to please Derketô!”
“I believe that these journeys which remove my languor are good for both my strength and my researches. How they profit my health is clear: my love of literature makes me lazy, neglectful of my body. On a journey, I may exercise incidentally.
I can show you how this helps my research too. But I in no way take a break from reading. My reading, I believe, is necessary: first, it ensures I will not be satisfied with myself as I am; second, once I have understood what others have learned, I may judge what has been discovered and what still must be thought out.
Reading feeds the mind and replenishes it when it is worn from studying—even though it is not without work itself. We should not restrict ourselves to writing or to reading: endless writing saps our strength and then exhausts it. Too much reading can puff up or dilute our ability. Most commendable is to take them in their turn, to mix one with the other, so that the seeds of one’s reading may be grown anew with the pen.”
Itinera ista, quae segnitiam mihi excutiunt, et valitudini meae prodesse iudico et studiis. Quare valitudinem adiuvent, vides: cum pigrum me et neglegentem corporis litterarum amor faciat, aliena opera exerceor; studio quare prosint, indicabo: a lectionibus nihil recessi. Sunt autem, ut existimo, necessariae, primum ne sim me uno contentus; deinde ut, cum ab aliis quaesita cognovero, tum et de inventis iudicem et cogitem de inveniendis. Alit lectio ingenium et studio fatigatum, non sine studio tamen, reficit. Nec scribere tantum nec tantum legere debemus; altera res contristabit vires et exhauriet, de stilo dico, altera solvet ac diluet. Invicem hoc et illo commeandum est et alterum altero temperandum, ut quicquid lectione collectum est, stilus redigat in corpus.
I was reminded of this passage while contemplating Paul Holdengraber’s regular injunction not to read bad writing:
I feel that Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis. I know that the last line above is translated a little freely, but I have the following in my head. It is important to grow ideas in the garden of your mind.