Some Roman Notes for Stressed out Writers

Some notes of encouragement as we turn to summer projects. Alas, Martial’s words ring in my head every morning: “You will live tomorrow, you say? Postumus, even living today is too late; he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.” (Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est: / ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri, 5.58). For those of us lucky enough to get our summers off, the season’s onset comes too with panic: what are we working on? When will we start!

the effect of this over time is that some of us are incapable of really taking any time off. Before you make the mistake of thinking I am holding a one-Homerist sized pity-party, I do acknowledge that having the time even to worry about this is an indication of immense privilege both in terms of the course of human history and contemporary conditions. Even overlooking the billions of humans now living who struggle with basic needs (and under much worse conditions), there are thousands (if not more) of academics who are struggling to make ends meet while also facing the existential threat of publishing (and perhaps still perishing).

Here are two Roman authors talking about writing and publication.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 13-14

“Why do we need to compose work that will endure for generations? Why not stop driving to make sure posterity won’t be quiet about you? You have been born mortal—a silent funeral is less annoying! So, for the sake of passing time, write something for your use in a simple style not for publication. There is less need to work for those who study just for today.”

Quid opus est saeculis duratura componere? Vis tu non id agere, ne te posteri taceant? Morti natus es, minus molestiarum habet funus tacitum! Itaque occupandi temporis causa, in usum tuum, non in praeconium aliquid simplici stilo scribe; minore labore opus est studentibus in diem.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 10 To Octavius Rufus

“For the meantime, do as you wish regarding publication too. Recite it from time to time, then you may feel more eager to publish and then you may experience the joy I have long been predicting for you, and not without reason. I imagine what crowds, what admiration, what clamor then silence awaits you. (For myself, I like this as much as applause when I speak or read, as long as it shows a desire to hear me speaking). There is a great reward ready for you! Stop undermining your work with endless delay! When even this is excessive, we need to be wary of hearing the name of idleness, laziness, or even fear. Farewell!”

Et de editione quidem interim ut voles: recita saltem quo magis libeat emittere, utque tandem percipias gaudium, quod ego olim pro te non temere praesumo. Imaginor enim qui concursus quae admiratio te, qui clamor quod etiam silentium maneat; quo ego, cum dico vel recito, non minus quam clamore delector, sit modo silentium acre et intentum, et cupidum ulteriora audiendi. Hoc fructu tanto tam parato desine studia tua infinita ista cunctatione fraudare; quae cum modum excedit, verendum est ne inertiae et desidiae vel etiam timiditatis nomen accipiat. Vale.

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Addendum:

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum

Seneca’s Research Advice: Exercise. Then Read and Write in Turn

Seneca, Moral Epistles 84

“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:

Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis.  As we have mentioned before, this resonates with Leonardo de Bruni’s warning about reading trash. Of course, the statement should probably be tempered by Pliny the Elder’s suggestion that “no book is so bad it doesn’t have something to offer”.

Related image

 

Sinister Letters and Sore Feet

Anonymous Parodic Epic fr. 3-7 (Brandt)

Poverty, be brave and endure the foolish talkers.
For a multitude of sweets and pleasureless hunger overwhelm you.
Whomever the Muses taught their letters backward
Walked having chilblains under his feet
Hermokaikoxanthos prayed to father Zeus:
“Oh man-slayer: how many mortals have you assigned to Hell?”

τέτλαθι δὴ πενίη καὶ ἀνάσχεο μωρολογούντων·
ὄψων γὰρ πλῆθός σε δαμᾷ καὶ λιμὸς ἀτερπής.
οὓς ἐδίδαξαν ἀριστερὰ γράμματα Μοῦσαι
ἔστειχε δ’ ἔχων ὑπὸ ποσσὶ χίμεθλα
῾Ερμοκαϊκόξανθος ἐπευξάμενος Διὶ πατρί·
ὦ βροτολοιγέ, πόσους σὺ <βρο>τῶν ῎Αιδι προΐαψας;

The “backward letters” above (ἐδίδαξαν ἀριστερὰ γράμματα) is more precisely “left-side letters”, with either the pejorative sense of Latin sinister or just a general notion of wrongness. I took the comic lines below as inspiration.

Theognetus, fr. 1.7-8

“Wretch, you learned your letters backwards.
Your books have turned your life upside down.”

ἐπαρίστερ’ ἔμαθες, ὦ πόνηρε, γράμματα·
ἀνέστροφέν σου τὸν βίον τὰ βιβλία.

Suda

“Right-hand of the lord”: this phrase means influence coming from on high and good action in the holy writings. For the ancients used to call right-hand things prudent but left-hand things foolish. Sophocles writes: “You never walked to the left because of your mind, son of Telamôn.”

Δεξιὰ κυρίου: ἡ ἄνωθεν ῥοπὴ καὶ ἡ ἀγαθὴ ἐνέργεια παρὰ τῇ θείᾳ γραφῇ. Δεξιὰ ἔλεγον οἱ παλαιοὶ τὰ συνετά, ἀριστερὰ δὲ τὰ μωρά. Σοφοκλῆς· οὔποτε γὰρ φρένοθέν γ’ ἐπ’ ἀριστερά, παῖ Τελαμῶνος ἔβης.

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Boustrophedon Style from the 5th Century BCE

Silver For Gold: Strategic Gift Exchange for the Holiday Season

Julian, Letter 63 (To Hecebolus)

“…but the story is from ancient men. If, then, I were to give to you silver as swap of equal worth when you sent me gold, do not value the favor less nor, as Glaukos did, believe that the exchange is harmful, since not even Diomedes would switch silver armor for gold since the former is much more practical than the latter in the way of lead that is shaped for the ends of spears.

I am joking with you! I have assumed a certain freedom of speech based on the example you have written yourself. But, if in truth you want to send me gifts worth more than gold, write and don’t ever stop writing to me! For even a brief not from you is more dear to me than anything someone might call good.”

ἀλλὰ παλαιῶν ἀνδρῶν ὁ λόγος ἐστίν. εἰ δέ σοι τοῦ πεμφθέντος ὑπὸ σοῦ χρυσοῦ νομίσματος εἰς τὸ ἴσον τῆς τιμῆς ἕτερον ἀργύρεον ἀντιδίδομεν, μὴ κρίνῃς ἥττω τὴν χάριν, μηδὲ ὥσπερ τῷ Γλαύκῳ πρὸς τὸ ἔλαττον οἰηθῇς εἶναι τὴν ἀντίδοσιν, ἐπεὶ μηδὲ ὁ Διομήδης ἴσως ἀργυρᾶ χρυσῶν ἀντέδωκεν ἄν,1 ἅτε δὴ πολλῷ τῶν ἑτέρων ὄντα χρησιμώτερα καὶ τὰς αἰχμὰς οἱονεὶ μολίβδου δίκην ἐκτρέπειν εἰδότα. ταῦτά σοι προσπαίζομεν, ἀφ᾿ ὧν αὐτὸς γράφεις τὸ ἐνδόσιμον εἰς σὲ τῆς παρρησίας λαμβάνοντες. σὺ δὲ εἰ τῷ ὄντι χρυσοῦ τιμιώτερα ἡμῖν δῶρα ἐθέλεις ἐκπέμπειν, γράφε, καὶ μὴ λῆγε συνεχῶς τοῦτο πράττων· ἐμοὶ γὰρ καὶ γράμμα παρὰ σοῦ μικρὸν ὅτου περ ἂν εἴπῃ τις ἀγαθοῦ κάλλιον εἶναι κρίνεται.

Who knew that the popular Christmas song was inspired by Julian the Apostate?

Julian is referring to the famous scene of exchange between Diomedes and Glaukos in the Iliad (6.230-236)

“Let’s exchange armor with one another so that even these people
May know that we claim to be guest-friends from our fathers’ lines.”

So they spoke and leapt down from their horses,
Took one another’s hands and made their pledge.
Then Kronos’s son Zeus stole away Glaukos’ wits,
For he traded to Diomedes golden arms in exchange for bronze,
weapons worth one hundred oxen traded for those worth nine.”

τεύχεα δ’ ἀλλήλοις ἐπαμείψομεν, ὄφρα καὶ οἷδε
γνῶσιν ὅτι ξεῖνοι πατρώϊοι εὐχόμεθ’ εἶναι.
῝Ως ἄρα φωνήσαντε καθ’ ἵππων ἀΐξαντε
χεῖράς τ’ ἀλλήλων λαβέτην καὶ πιστώσαντο·
ἔνθ’ αὖτε Γλαύκῳ Κρονίδης φρένας ἐξέλετο Ζεύς,
ὃς πρὸς Τυδεΐδην Διομήδεα τεύχε’ ἄμειβε
χρύσεα χαλκείων, ἑκατόμβοι’ ἐννεαβοίων.

Schol. ad. Il. 6.234b ex.

“Kronos’ son Zeus took Glaukos’ wits away”. Because he was adorning him among his allies with more conspicuous weapons. Or, because they were made by Hephaistos. Or, as Pios claims, so that [the poet?] might amplify the Greek since they do not make an equal exchange—a thing which would be sweet to the audience.

Or, perhaps he credits him more, that he was adorned with conspicuous arms among his own and his allies. For, wherever these arms are, it is a likely place for an enemy attack.”

ex. ἔνθ’ αὖτε Γλαύκῳ <Κρονίδης> φρένας ἐξέλετο: ὅτι κατὰ τῶν συμμάχων ἐκόσμει λαμπροτέροις αὐτὸν ὅπλοις. ἢ ὡς ῾Ηφαιστότευκτα. ἢ, ὡς Πῖος (fr. 2 H.), ἵνα κἀν τούτῳ αὐξήσῃ τὸν ῞Ελληνα μὴ ἐξ ἴσου ἀπηλ<λ>αγμένον, ὅπερ ἡδὺ τοῖς ἀκούουσιν. T
ἢ μᾶλλον αἰτιᾶται αὐτόν, ὅτι λαμπροῖς ὅπλοις ἐκοσμεῖτο κατὰ ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τῶν συμμάχων· ὅπου γὰρ ταῦτα, εὔκαιρος ἡ τῶν πολεμίων ὁρμή. b(BE3E4)

I always thought that Glaukos got a raw deal from interpreters here. Prior to the stories Diomedes and Glaukos tell each other, Diomedes was just murdering everyone in his path. Glaukos—who already knew who Diomedes was before he addressed him—tells a great tale, gives Diomedes his golden weapons, and actually lives to the end of the poem. I think this is far from a witless move. And, if the armor is especially conspicuous, maybe the plan-within-a-plan is to put a golden target on Diomedes’ back.

Scholarly Loathing and Self-Loathing

(Scholars hating scholars. And themselves)

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.22

“You know that somewhere Timo the Philasian calls the Museum a birdcage as he mocks the scholars who are supported there because they were fed like the priciest birds in a big cage:

Many are fed in many-peopled Egypt,
The paper-pushers closed up waging endless war
in the bird-cage of the Muses.

ὅτι τὸ Μουσεῖον ὁ Φιλιάσιος Τίμων ὁ σιλλογράφος (fr. 60 W) τάλαρόν πού φησιν ἐπισκώπτων τοὺς ἐν αὐτῷ τρεφομένους φιλοσόφους, ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν  πανάγρῳ τινὶ σιτοῦνται καθάπερ οἱ πολυτιμότατοι ὄρνιθες·

πολλοὶ μὲν βόσκονται ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πολυφύλῳ
βιβλιακοὶ χαρακῖται ἀπείριτα δηριόωντες
Μουσέων ἐν ταλάρῳ.

 Pausanias, 9.30.3

“It would not be sweet for me to write about the relative age of Homer and Hesiod, even though I have worked on the problem as closely as possible. This is because I am familiar with the fault-finding character of others and not the least of those who dominate the study of epic poetry in my time.”

περὶ δὲ ῾Ησιόδου τε ἡλικίας καὶ ῾Ομήρου πολυπραγμονήσαντι ἐς τὸ ἀκριβέστατον οὔ μοι γράφειν ἡδὺ ἦν, ἐπισταμένῳ τὸ φιλαίτιον ἄλλων τε καὶ οὐχ ἥκιστα ὅσοι κατ’ ἐμὲ ἐπὶ ποιήσει τῶν ἐπῶν καθεστήκεσαν.

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, Book 5 222a-b

“And, you, my grammarians who do not inquire into these sorts of things, I quote from Herodicus the Babylonian:

Flee, Aristarcheans, over the wide back of the sea
Flee Greece, men more frightened than the brown deer,
Corner-buzzers, monosyllabists, men who care about
Sphin and sphoin and whether its min or nin*.
This is what I would have for you storm-drowned men:
But may Greece and God-born Babylon always wait for Herodicus.

And, to add another, the words of the comic poet Anaxandrides:

…It brings pleasure
Whenever someone discovers some new notion,
To share it with everyone. But those wise men who first
have no judge of their skill are later despised.
For it is right to offer the mob
Everything anyone might think is brand-new.

The majority of them departed at these words and slowly the party disbanded.”

‘ὑμεῖς οὖν, ὦ γραμματικοί, κατὰ τὸν Βαβυλώνιον ῾Ηρόδικον, μηδὲν τῶν τοιού-
των ἱστοροῦντες,

φεύγετ’, ᾿Αριστάρχειοι, ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάττης
῾Ελλάδα, τῆς ξουθῆς δειλότεροι κεμάδος,
γωνιοβόμβυκες, μονοσύλλαβοι, οἷσι μέμηλε
τὸ σφὶν καὶ σφῶιν καὶ τὸ μὶν ἠδὲ τὸ νίν.
τοῦθ’ ὑμῖν εἴη δυσπέμφελον· ῾Ηροδίκῳ δὲ
῾Ελλὰς ἀεὶ μίμνοι καὶ θεόπαις Βαβυλών.’
κατὰ γὰρ τὸν κωμῳδιοποιὸν ᾿Αναξανδρίδην (II 159 K)·

ἡδονὴν ἔχει,
ὅταν τις εὕρῃ καινὸν ἐνθύμημά τι,
δηλοῦν ἅπασιν· οἱ δ’ ἑαυτοῖσιν σοφοὶ
πρῶτον μὲν οὐκ ἔχουσι τῆς τέχνης κριτήν,
εἶτα φθονοῦνται. χρὴ γὰρ εἰς ὄχλον φέρειν
ἅπανθ’ ὅσ’ ἄν τις καινότητ’ ἔχειν δοκῇ.

ἐπὶ τούτοις τοῖς λόγοις ἀναχωροῦντες οἱ πολλοὶ λεληθότως διέλυσαν τὴν συνουσίαν.

*Alternative pronoun forms found in manuscripts.

Seneca, of course, gets in on the game:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too. This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

And self loathing eventually takes over.

Palladas of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.169

“The wrath of Achilles has become for me, as a grammarian, the cause of my destructive poverty. I wish that that wrath would have killed me along with the Danaans, before the bitter poverty of scholarship put me to death. But instead, so that Agamemnon could take Briseis and Paris make off with Helen, I have become a beggar.”

Μῆνις ᾿Αχιλλῆος καὶ ἐμοὶ πρόφασις γεγένηται
οὐλομένης πενίης γραμματικευσαμένῳ.
εἴθε δὲ σὺν Δαναοῖς με κατέκτανε μῆνις ἐκείνη,
πρὶν χαλεπὸς λιμὸς γραμματικῆς ὀλέσει.
ἀλλ’ ἵν’ ἀφαρπάξῃ Βρισηίδα πρὶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων,
τὴν ῾Ελένην δ’ ὁ Πάρις, πτωχὸς ἐγὼ γενόμην.

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The Danger of Students without Teaching: Against Illiterate Literacy

 

Plato, Phaedrus 274e-275a (go here for the full dialogue)

Socrates is telling a story of the invention of writing in Egypt

“When it came to the written letters, Theuth said, ‘This training, King, will make Egyptians wiser and will give them stronger memories: for it is a drug for memory and wisdom!’ But the king replied, “Most inventive Theuth, one man is able to create technology, but another judges how much harm and benefit it brings to those who use it. Just so now you, who are father of letters, declare the opposite of what they are capable because of your enthusiasm. This craft will engender forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it from the disuse of the memory since they will trust external writing struck by others, no longer recalling their own thoughts within them. You have discovered a drug for reminding, not one for memory; you will offer students the reputation of wisdom but not the true thing. For many who become students without instruction will seem to know a lot when they are mostly ignorant and difficult to be around, since they have become wise for appearance instead of wise.’

Ph. Socrates, you can easily make up any story about Egypt that you want to”

ἐπειδὴ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς γράμμασιν ἦν, Τοῦτο δέ, ὦ βασιλεῦ, τὸ μάθημα, ἔφη ὁ Θεύθ,

σοφωτέρους Αἰγυπτίους καὶ μνημονικωτέρους παρέξει, μνήμης τε γὰρ καὶ σοφίας φάρμακον εὑρέθη. ῾Ο δ’ εἶπεν, ῏Ω τεχνικώτατε Θεύθ, ἄλλος μὲν δυνατὸς τεκεῖν τὰ τέχνης, ἄλλος δὲ κρῖναι, τίν’ ἔχει μοῖραν βλάβης τε καὶ ὠφελείας τοῖς μέλλουσι χρῆσθαι. Καὶ νῦν σὺ πατὴρ ὢν γραμμάτων δι’ εὔνοιαν τοὐναντίον εἶπες ἢ δύναται. Τοῦτο γὰρ τῶν μαθόντων λήθην μὲν ἐν ψυχαῖς παρέξει, μνήμης ἀμελετησίᾳ, ἅτε διὰ πίστιν γραφῆς ἔξωθεν ὑπ’ ἀλλοτρίων τύπων, οὐκ ἔνδοθεν αὐτοὺς ὑφ’ αὑτῶν ἀναμιμνησκομένους. Οὐκοῦν οὐ μνήμης ἀλλ’ ὑπομνήσεως φάρμακον εὗρες, σοφίας δὲ τοῖς μαθηταῖς δόξαν οὐκ ἀλήθειαν πορίζεις. πολυήκοοι γάρ σοι γενόμενοι ἄνευ διδαχῆς πολυγνώμονες εἶναι δόξουσιν, ἀγνώμονες ὡς ἐπὶ πλῆθος ὄντες καὶ χαλεποὶ ξυνεῖναι, δοξόσοφοι γεγονότες ἀντὶ σοφῶν.

ὦ Σώκρατες, ῥᾳδίως σὺ Αἰγυπτίους καὶ ὁποδαποὺς ἂν ἐθέλῃς λόγους ποιεῖς.

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Two Roman Notes of Encouragement for Procrastinating Authors

I suspect there are others are just like me right now, keeping busy and avoiding the start of summer projects. Alas, Martial’s words ring in my head every morning: “You will live tomorrow, you say? Postumus, even living today is too late; he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.” (Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est: / ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri, 5.58). Here are two Roman authors talking about writing and publication.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 13-14

“Why do we need to compose work that will endure for generations? Why not stop driving to make sure posterity won’t be quiet about you? You have been born mortal—a silent funeral is less annoying! So, for the sake of passing time, write something for your use in a simple style not for publication. There is less need to work for those who study just for today.”

Quid opus est saeculis duratura componere? Vis tu non id agere, ne te posteri taceant? Morti natus es, minus molestiarum habet funus tacitum! Itaque occupandi temporis causa, in usum tuum, non in praeconium aliquid simplici stilo scribe; minore labore opus est studentibus in diem.

 

Pliny the Younger, Letters 10 To Octavius Rufus

“For the meantime, do as you wish regarding publication too. Recite it from time to time, then you may feel more eager to publish and then you may experience the joy I have long been predicting for you, and not without reason. I imagine what crowds, what admiration, what clamor then silence awaits you. (For myself, I like this as much as applause when I speak or read, as long as it shows a desire to hear me speaking). There is a great reward ready for you! Stop undermining your work with endless delay! When even this is excessive, we need to be wary of hearing the name of idleness, laziness, or even fear. Farewell!”

Et de editione quidem interim ut voles: recita saltem quo magis libeat emittere, utque tandem percipias gaudium, quod ego olim pro te non temere praesumo. Imaginor enim qui concursus quae admiratio te, qui clamor quod etiam silentium maneat; quo ego, cum dico vel recito, non minus quam clamore delector, sit modo silentium acre et intentum, et cupidum ulteriora audiendi. Hoc fructu tanto tam parato desine studia tua infinita ista cunctatione fraudare; quae cum modum excedit, verendum est ne inertiae et desidiae vel etiam timiditatis nomen accipiat. Vale.

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Addendum:

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum

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