How We Spend Our Days–Do Nothing Rather Than Something Useless

Pliny, Letters 9 To Minucius Fundanus

“It is amazing how the schedule is or seems on individual days in the city when they all blend together. If you ask anyone “what did you do today?” He may say, “I went to a toga-ceremony, an engagement, or a marriage. I was the witness at a will-signing, or at court as a witness or supporter.” These things which you do seem necessary on the day that you do them but empty if you remember that you have done the same kind of things every day and they seem even sillier if you consider them when you are away.

Then the realization comes over you: “How many days have I wasted in trivial pursuits!” This occurs to me whenever I am reading or writing or taking some time to exercise, to keep my mind fit for my work, at my Laurentum. I hear nothing and I say nothing which later on it hurts me that I said or heard. No one troubles me with evil rumors. I find no one to blame but myself when I write with too little ease. I am troubled by no hope, no fear; I am disrupted by no gossip. I speak only with myself and my little books.

What a fine and sincere life! What sweet and honest leisure, finer than nearly any business at all. The sea, the beach, my own true and private museum—how much you discover for me, how much you have told me!

Take the first chance you can to leave that noise, the empty conversation, and so many useless tasks and dedicate yourself to studies or relaxing. For our friend Atilius put it most elegantly and intelligently when he said “it is better to do engage in leisure than to do nothing.”

Plinius Minicio Fundano Suo S.

1Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque

Nam si quem interroges “Hodie quid egisti?,” respondeat: “Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in 3 consilium rogavit.” Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: “Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!” 4 Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! 7 Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. 8 Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.

Don’t Blackmail Sick People for Money, A Healthcare Plan

Corpus Hippocratica, Precepts 4.10

“The way you address a patient requires some kind of a theory too. For, if you begin talking about payment, then something else occurs in every situation. You will leave the sick person with the kind of impression that you will abandon him and leave if there is no agreement and that you don’t care and you will not apply any relief in the present.

Therefore, you should not make an issue about payment. For we believe that this kind of thought is harmful when someone is sick, and even more so if the sickness is intense. For the swiftness of a sickness which does not provide ample time for changing your mind urges the one who practices medicine well not to seek profit but to think more of reputation. It is, therefore, better to rebuke patients who have been saved rather than to blackmail those who are facing ruin.”

παραινέσιος δ’ ἂν καὶ τοῦτ’ ἐπιδεηθείη τῆς θεωρίης· εἰ γὰρ ἄρξαιο περὶ μισθαρίων· ξυμβάλλει γάρ τι καὶ τῷ ξύμπαντι· τῷ μὲν ἀλγέοντι τοιαύτην διανόησιν ἐμποιήσεις τὴν, ὅτι [οὐκ] ἀπολιπὼν αὐτὸν πορεύσῃ μὴ ξυνθέμενος, καὶ ὅτι ἀμελήσεις, καὶ οὐχ ὑποθήσῃ τινὰ τῷ παρεόντι. ἐπιμελεῖσθαι οὖν οὐ δεῖ περὶ στάσιος μισθοῦ· ἄχρηστον γὰρ ἡγεύμεθα ἐνθύμησιν ὀχλεομένου τὴν τοιαύτην, πουλὺ δὲ μᾶλλον, ἢν ὀξὺ νόσημά τι· νούσου γὰρ ταχυτὴς καιρὸν μὴ διδοῦσα ἐς ἀναστροφὴν οὐκ ἐποτρύνει τὸν καλῶς ἰητρεύοντα ζητεῖν τὸ λυσιτελές, ἔχεσθαι δὲ δόξης μᾶλλον· κρέσσον οὖν σωζομένοισιν ὀνειδίζειν ἢ ὀλεθρίως ἔχοντας προμύσσειν.

Image result for medieval manuscript doctor seeing patient

“The Equal of Living Heroes”: Sparta’s Counterfeit Myth

Plutarch, Apophthegmata Lakonica 225 c11-12

“When Xerxes wrote again, “send me your weapons”, [Leonidas] wrote back, “Come and take them”

Πάλιν δὲ τοῦ Ξέρξου γράψαντος ‘πέμψον τὰ ὅπλα’, ἀντέγραψε ‘μολὼν λαβέ.’

The remarkable and tireless Dr. Sarah Bond has composed a piece for Eidolon  about the appropriation of Spartan iconography and values in the modern world (“This Is Not Sparta: Why the Modern Romance with Sparta is a Bad One”). If you live in Europe, the coasts in the US or some other blissful bubble, you may be unaware of the fact that the motto μολὼν λαβέ now adorns weapons and military gear of all kinds and is a favorite of certain right-wing political affiliations.

(When people hear I teach ancient Greek and tell me they love Sparta, I take the same deep breath I take when others ask about ‘Ancient Aliens’ or Atlantis. ‘Sparta’ is a production of modern culture as much as ancient. Every time I have taught the Peloponnesian War I found myself hoping it might turn out different this time…)

Dr. Bond does a great job out outlining the sordid modern history of the appropriation of Spartan ideals. But she is especially good at pointing out “A problematic area for valorizing the Spartans lies not only in quoting their famously short (and often witty) turns of phrase and turning them into bumper stickers, but rather in also looking to the Hellenistic culture as a socio-political model for our own society.

In addition to the eugenics, racism, and fascism at home on this constellation of beliefs, there is this: Sparta was a militarized state which enslaved its neighbors and produced little of worth for the world beyond a mythologized memory of a great fighting force.

When it comes to everything else for which we prize ancient Greece, Sparta was terribly and completely deficient. Tragedy, Epic poetry, lyric poetry, visual art, vases, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science, history, rhetoric, everything Western cultural chauvinist champion about the ‘Greek miracle’* developed every where else in Greece.

Read Bond’s piece. It is a good one. Also, Neville Morely’s post on the use of Sparta by the far right is also a must-read.

And, here are some selections from Spartan ‘culture’.

*These are scare quotes. Even as a Hellenist I do not believe in this terminology. I find it ironic, however, that those who do still cleave to the example of Sparta which is, in many ways, antithetical to ‘core Western values’.

Sparta left some martial poetry. It is, well, uninspiring.

Tyrtaeus, Fr. 10.1-2

“It is a fine thing when a noble man falls
In the first ranks while struggling for his country.”

τεθνάμεναι γὰρ καλὸν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι πεσόντα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν περὶ ἧι πατρίδι μαρνάμενον·

Tytaeus, fr. 11.5-8

“Make your life hateful and make the dark fates
Of death as dear as the rays of the sun.
For you know the destructive deeds of much-wept Ares
And you have learned well the fury of fierce war.”

ἐχθρὴν μὲν ψυχὴν θέμενος, θανάτου δὲ μελαίνας
κῆρας αὐγαῖς ἠελίοιο φίλας.
ἴστε γὰρ ὡς ῎Αρεος πολυδακρύου ἔργ’ ἀΐδηλα,
εὖ δ’ ὀργὴν ἐδάητ’ ἀργαλέου πολέμου

Callinus 1. 12-21

“There’s no way for a man to avoid death once it is fated,
Not even if he is a descendant of the immortal gods.
Often when someone has fled strife and the din of spears
Death’s fate will find him at home.
The unsteady man isn’t dear to the people or longed for,
They grieve for him a little even if he suffers something great.
But the whole host misses a strong-hearted man when he dies
A man the equal of living heroes.
They look at him like a tower before their eyes_
He does work of many though he is just one.”

οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ’, οὐδ’ εἰ προγόνων ἦι γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ’ οἴκωι μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου,
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμωι φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός
τὸν δ’ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας ἤν τι πάθηι·
λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

The most famous epigram associated with Sparta was not composed by a Spartan:

Simonides, Epigram (Greek Anthology,7.249): An Epitaph at Thermopylae

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Aelian, 13.19

“Cleomenes the Laconian asserted—in the manner of Spartans—that Homer was a Spartan poet because he spoke about the right way to go to war and that Hesiod was the Helot’s poet, since he talks about how best to farm.”

῎Ελεγεν ὁ Κλεομένης Λακωνικῶς κατὰ τὸν ἐπιχώριον τρόπον τὸν ῞Ομηρον Λακεδαιμονίων εἶναι ποιητήν, ὡς χρὴ πολεμεῖν λέγοντα· τὸν δὲ ῾Ησίοδον τῶν Εἱλώτων, λέγοντα ὡς χρὴ γεωργεῖν.

Some Sayings Attributed to Spartans in the Gnomologicum Vaticanum

69 “When Agesilaos was asked by someone why Sparta was unwalled he said “don’t lie. It is walled not by stones but by its occupants’ excellence.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί ἀτείχιστός ἐστιν ἡ Σπάρτη, „μὴ ψεύδου”, ἔφη, „τετείχισται γάρ, οὐ λίθοις, ἀλλὰ ταῖς τῶν <ἐνοικούντων ἀρεταῖς>”.

394 “When a Spartan man was asked why the Spartans have small spears he said “because they fight close to the enemy”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ ἐρωτώμενος διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι μικρὰ ἔχουσι τὰ ἐγχειρίδια εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἐγγύθεν τοῖς πολεμίοις μάχονται”.

396 “To someone asking why Spartans foster brevity of speech, a Spartan man said “because it is closest to silence”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα αὐτῷ· „διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν βραχυλογίαν ἀσκοῦσιν;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἔγγιστά ἐστι τοῦ σιωπᾶν”.

Sayings Attributed to Spartan Women, 568-576

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

Image result for ancient Greek spartan shield

The Content of a True Education

Isocrates, Panathenaicus 30-32

“Which people do I call educated when I set aside the arts, sciences, and specialties? First, I prize those who handle well the events they meet each day and who have an appropriate judgment for each and the ability to plot the most advantageous path through them.

Then, I esteem those who always treat the people they are near appropriately and justly and who bear the unpleasantness and meanness of others with ease and good temper, and comport themselves towards their associates as lightly and measuredly as possible.

Then, I value those who always control their desires, who are not overcome by their misfortunes, but manage them bravely in a fashion worthy of the nature which we all happen to share.

Fourth—and most important—I consider people educated who are not ruined by their successes, who do not rebel against themselves and become arrogant, but instead remain positioned to be reflective and do not delight more in the goods they have received by chance than those which were theirs from the beginning by nature or thought. Those who have a mind well-fit not just to one of these qualities but to all of them are the men I say are prudent, complete people exhibiting all the virtues.”

Τίνας οὖν καλῶ πεπαιδευμένους, ἐπειδὴ τὰς τέχνας καὶ τὰς ἐπιστήμας καὶ τὰς δυνάμεις ἀποδοκιμάζω; Πρῶτον μὲν τοὺς καλῶς χρωμένους τοῖς πράγμασι τοῖς κατὰ τὴν ἡμέραν ἑκάστην προσπίπτουσι, καὶ τὴν δόξαν ἐπιτυχῆ τῶν καιρῶν ἔχοντας καὶ δυναμένην ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ στοχάζεσθαι τοῦ συμφέροντος·

ἔπειτα τοὺς πρεπόντως καὶ δικαίως ὁμιλοῦντας τοῖς ἀεὶ πλησιάζουσι, καὶ τὰς μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἀηδίας καὶ βαρύτητας εὐκόλως καὶ ῥᾳδίως φέροντας, σφᾶς δ’ αὐτοὺς ὡς δυνατὸν ἐλαφροτάτους καὶ μετριωτάτους τοῖς συνοῦσι παρέχοντας· ἔτι τοὺς τῶν μὲν ἡδονῶν ἀεὶ κρατοῦντας, τῶν δὲ συμφορῶν μὴ λίαν ἡττωμένους, ἀλλ’ ἀνδρωδῶς ἐν αὐταῖς διακειμένους καὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀξίως ἧς μετέχοντες τυγχάνομεν·

τέταρτον, ὅπερ μέγιστον, τοὺς μὴ διαφθειρομένους ὑπὸ τῶν εὐπραγιῶν μηδ’ ἐξισταμένους αὑτῶν μηδ’ ὑπερηφάνους γιγνομένους, ἀλλ’ ἐμμένοντας τῇ τάξει τῇ τῶν εὖ φρονούντων καὶ μὴ μᾶλλον χαίροντας τοῖς διὰ τύχην ὑπάρξασιν ἀγαθοῖς ἢ τοῖς διὰ τὴν αὑτῶν φύσιν καὶ φρόνησιν ἐξ ἀρχῆς γιγνομένοις. Τοὺς δὲ μὴ μόνον πρὸς ἓν τούτων, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἅπαντα ταῦτα τὴν ἕξιν τῆς ψυχῆς εὐάρμοστον ἔχοντας, τούτους φημὶ καὶ φρονίμους εἶναι καὶ τελέους ἄνδρας καὶ πάσας ἔχειν τὰς ἀρετάς.

Image result for ancient greek education medieval manuscript

Hippocratic Precept: Don’t Blackmail Sick People for Money

Corpus Hippocratica, Precepts 4.10

“The way you address a patient requires some kind of a theory too. For, if you begin talking about payment, then something else occurs in every situation. You will leave the sick person with the kind of impression that you will abandon him and leave if there is no agreement and that you don’t care and you will not apply any relief in the present.

Therefore, you should not make an issue about payment. For we believe that this kind of thought is harmful when someone is sick, and even more so if the sickness is intense. For the swiftness of a sickness which does not provide ample time for changing your mind urges the one who practices medicine well not to seek profit but to think more of reputation. It is, therefore, better to rebuke patients who have been saved rather than to blackmail those who are facing ruin.”

παραινέσιος δ’ ἂν καὶ τοῦτ’ ἐπιδεηθείη τῆς θεωρίης· εἰ γὰρ ἄρξαιο περὶ μισθαρίων· ξυμβάλλει γάρ τι καὶ τῷ ξύμπαντι· τῷ μὲν ἀλγέοντι τοιαύτην διανόησιν ἐμποιήσεις τὴν, ὅτι [οὐκ] ἀπολιπὼν αὐτὸν πορεύσῃ μὴ ξυνθέμενος, καὶ ὅτι ἀμελήσεις, καὶ οὐχ ὑποθήσῃ τινὰ τῷ παρεόντι. ἐπιμελεῖσθαι οὖν οὐ δεῖ περὶ στάσιος μισθοῦ· ἄχρηστον γὰρ ἡγεύμεθα ἐνθύμησιν ὀχλεομένου τὴν τοιαύτην, πουλὺ δὲ μᾶλλον, ἢν ὀξὺ νόσημά τι· νούσου γὰρ ταχυτὴς καιρὸν μὴ διδοῦσα ἐς ἀναστροφὴν οὐκ ἐποτρύνει τὸν καλῶς ἰητρεύοντα ζητεῖν τὸ λυσιτελές, ἔχεσθαι δὲ δόξης μᾶλλον· κρέσσον οὖν σωζομένοισιν ὀνειδίζειν ἢ ὀλεθρίως ἔχοντας προμύσσειν.

Image result for medieval manuscript doctor seeing patient

Escaping the Self is Impossible

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.

Wealth is not A Substitute for Education: Xenophon’s Memorabilia, IV.1.5

“Socrates approached men who thought too much of wealth and believed they didn’t need education–because they imagined that their wealth was sufficient for accomplishing whatever they wanted and grounds for being honored by men–and said that ‘anyone who believes that without learning he can distinguish between what is profitable and what is harmful is a fool; and anyone who thinks that without distinguishing these things he can acquire whatever he wants through wealth and be able to do what is necessary is a fool; and anyone who thinks that without being about to do what is necessary he can also live well and has prepared himself to live well or even sufficiently is a buffoon; and anyone who believes that with wealth and without knowing anything, he can seem to be good at all or, without seeming to be good, that he earn a good reputation is a buffoon.’ ”

τοὺς δ’ ἐπὶ πλούτῳ μέγα φρονοῦντας καὶ νομίζοντας οὐδὲν προσδεῖσθαι παιδείας, ἐξαρκέσειν δὲ σφίσι τὸν πλοῦτον οἰομένους πρὸς τὸ διαπράττεσθαί τε ὅ τι ἂν βούλωνται καὶ τιμᾶσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐφρένου λέγων ὅτι μῶρος μὲν εἴη, εἴ τις οἴεται μὴ μαθὼν τά τε ὠφέλιμα καὶ τὰ βλαβερὰ τῶν πραγμάτων διαγνώσεσθαι, μῶρος δ’, εἴ τις μὴ διαγιγνώσκων μὲν ταῦτα, διὰ δὲ τὸν πλοῦτον ὅ τι ἂν βούληται ποριζόμενος οἴεται δυνήσεσθαι τὰ συμφέροντα πράττειν, ἠλίθιος δ’, εἴ τις μὴ δυνάμενος τὰ συμφέροντα πράττειν εὖ τε πράττειν οἴεται καὶ τὰ πρὸς τὸν βίον αὐτῷ [ἢ] καλῶς ἢ ἱκανῶς παρεσκευάσθαι, ἠλίθιος δὲ καὶ εἴ τις οἴεται διὰ τὸν πλοῦτον, μηδὲν ἐπιστάμενος, δόξειν τι ἀγαθὸς εἶναι ἤ, μηδὲν ἀγαθὸς εἶναι δοκῶν, εὐδοκιμήσειν.

In an aggressive capitalist market where the UK is transforming its educational system in imitation of a US system that is witnessing the closure of fine liberal arts schools like Sweet Briar College and the ascendency of STEM disciplines to the detriment of all else, maybe we all need a little Socrates harassing us…