Writing Your Way Out of Misery

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.4

“Many scholars of Greek studies were not able to communicate what they could teach to their own people because they were unsure that they could share in Latin what they had learned from the Greeks. But I think that in style we have made such improvement that the Greeks do not defeat us even in abundance of words.

The great sickness and heavy pain of our fortune also compelled my mind to this work. If I could have discovered any greater relief, I would not have taken refuge in this most potent comfort. Indeed, I was incapable of enjoying this in any other way that not merely reading books but also writing a monograph on all of philosophy.

We most readily come to learn every part of a subject and all of its parameters when all the questions are explained by writing. And philosophy, moreover, is a certain kind of marvelous continuation and series of things where different ideas appear to be interwoven with each other and they all connect in some way and are bound together.”

Complures enim Graecis institutionibus eruditi ea quae didicerant cum civibus suis communicare non poterant, quod ilia quae a Graecis accepissent Latine dici posse diffiderent: quo in genere tantum profecisse videmur ut a Graecis ne verborum quidem copia vinceremur. Hortata etiam est ut me ad haec conferrem animi aegritudo fortunae magna et gravi commota iniuria; cuius si maiorem aliquam levationem reperire potuissem, non ad hanc potissimum confugissem, ea vero ipsa nulla ratione melius frui potui quam si me non modo ad legendos libros sed etiam ad totam philosophiam pertractandam dedissem. Omnes autem eius partes atque omnia membra tum facillume noscuntur cum totae quaestiones scribendo explicantur; est enim admirabilis quaedam continuatio seriesque rerum, ut alia ex alia nexa et omnes inter se aptae conligataeque videantur.

Cicero, after 10 months in quarantine

New Years Resolutions with Plato: Don’t Write Anything Down

Plato, Epistle 7 344c-e

“For this reason it is necessary that every serious person does not write about serious subjects so that they might not end up an object of envy or confusion among regular people. Simply, when you look at someone’s written work, whether it is a law by a legislator or anything by anyone else, you need to understand that this is not the person’s most serious work even if the author is very serious. Instead, his best works remain in the most noble part of his own realm. But if it turns out that the most serious works are those they have been written down, it is surely not the gods, but mortals themselves “who have totally ruined their senses.”

Anyone who has been following this story and my digression will clearly know that whether Dionysus has written anything about the ultimate and primary truths of nature or some lesser or greater mind has done the same, according to my argument nothing of what he has written is sound thanks to what he has learned or what he has heard. For, he would have the same respect for these things as I do and would not dare to make them available for inappropriate or unacceptable reception.

Dionysius did not write those things for the sake of reminding himself. For there is no danger of anyone forgetting a thing once he has obtained it with his soul, where it is settled among the smallest of all places. But it was for shameful pride, if truly he did write, either as a way of establishing the ideas as his own or to demonstrate that he was an initiate in great learning for which he proved himself unworthy by delighting in the reputation he might gain from it. If this happened to Dionysius because of our single interaction, it could be the case. But how, Only Zeus knows, as the Theban says. For, as I said before, I went through my ideas with him only once and never again afterwards.”

Διὸ δὴ πᾶς ἀνὴρ σπουδαῖος τῶν ὄντως σπουδαίων πέρι πολλοῦ δεῖ μὴ γράψας ποτὲ ἐν ἀνθρώποις εἰς φθόνον καὶ ἀπορίαν καταβάλῃ· ἑνὶ δὴ ἐκ τούτων δεῖ γιγνώσκειν λόγῳ, ὅταν ἴδῃ τίς του συγγράμματα γεγραμμένα εἴτε ἐν νόμοις νομοθέτου εἴτε ἐν ἄλλοις τισὶν ἅττ᾿ οὖν, ὡς οὐκ ἦν τούτῳ ταῦτα σπουδαιότατα, εἴπερ ἔστ᾿ αὐτὸς σπουδαῖος, κεῖται δέ που ἐν χώρᾳ τῇ καλλίστῃ τῶν τούτου· εἰ δὲ ὄντως αὐτῷ ταῦτ᾿ ἐσπουδασμένα ἐν γράμμασιν ἐτέθη, Ἐξ ἄρα δή οἱ ἔπειτα, θεοὶ μὲν οὔ, βροτοὶ δὲ φρένας ὤλεσαν αὐτοί.

Τούτῳ δὴ τῷ μύθῳ τε καὶ πλάνῳ ὁ ξυνεπισπόμενος εὖ εἴσεται, εἴτ᾿ οὖν Διονύσιος ἔγραψέ τι τῶν περὶ φύσεως ἄκρων καὶ πρώτων εἴτε τις ἐλάττων εἴτε μείζων, ὡς οὐδὲν ἀκηκοὼς οὐδὲ μεμαθηκὼς ἦν ὑγιὲς ὧν ἔγραψε κατὰ τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον· ὁμοίως γὰρ ἂν αὐτὰ ἐσέβετο ἐμοί, καὶ οὐκ ἂν αὐτὰ ἐτόλμησεν εἰς ἀναρμοστίαν καὶ ἀπρέπειαν ἐκβάλλειν. οὔτε γὰρ ὑπομνημάτων χάριν αὐτὰ ἔγραψεν· οὐδὲν γὰρ δεινὸν μή τις αὐτὸ ἐπιλάθηται, ἐὰν ἅπαξ τῇ ψυχῇ περιλάβῃ, πάντων γὰρ ἐν βραχυτάτοις κεῖται· φιλοτιμίας δὲ αἰσχρᾶς, εἴπερ, ἕνεκα, εἴθ᾿ ὡς αὑτοῦ τιθέμενος εἴθ᾿ ὡς παιδείας δὴ μέτοχος ὤν, ἧς οὐκ ἄξιος ἦν ἀγαπῶν δόξαν τὴν τῆς μετοχῆς γενομένην. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐκ τῆς μιᾶς συνουσίας Διονυσίῳ τοῦτο γέγονε, τάχ᾿ ἂν εἴη· γέγονε δ᾿ οὖν ὅπως, ἴττω Ζεύς, φησὶν ὁ Θηβαῖος· διεξῆλθον μὲν γὰρ ὡς εἶπόν τότε ἐγὼ καὶ ἅπαξ μόνον, ὕστερον δὲ οὐ πώποτε ἔτι.

enough about plato

Nothing To Write about: Cicero Gives Up

Cicero to Atticus, 129 (VII.6) Formiae, ca. 18 December 50 (Full Latin text on the Scaife Viewer)

“There’s clearly nothing for me to write to you about. You know everything worth knowing and I have nothing to expect from you. Still, let me keep up our practice so that we don’t let anyone travel near you without a letter.

I am really afraid for our country. I have barely found anyone who doesn’t think we should give Caesar what he wants, rather than fighting with him.”

Plane deest quid ad te scribam. nota omnia tibi sunt, nec ipse habeo a te quod exspectem. tantum igitur nostrum illud sollemne servemus, ut ne quem istuc euntem sine litteris dimittamus.

De re publica valde timeo, nec adhuc fere inveni qui non concedendum putaret Caesari quod postularet potius quam depugnandum.

Cicero Delayed Publishing a Book of Poetry Because the Acknowledgements Would Be Too Long

Cicero, Letters to Friends  30 Lentulus Spinther 1.9. 29

“I have also composed a three book poem On My Times which I ought to have sent you previously if I thought it right to publish it. For these books are truly an eternal testament of your efforts for me and my duty to you. But I was reluctant not because of those who might judge themselves wounded by it—I have done this rarely and gently—but because of those who had helped me, if I had named them at all I would have gone on for ever.

But you will still see these books if I can find anyone I can rightly trust to bring them to you. I will entrust this for your preservation. I pass to you for judgment this part of my life and my practice, however much I am able to accomplish in literature, in research and in our old pleasures, I send to you who have always loved these things.”

scripsi etiam versibus tris libros De temporibus meis, quos iam pridem ad te misissem si esse edendos putassem; sunt enim testes et erunt sempiterni meritorum erga me tuorum meaeque pietatis. sed quia verebar, non eos qui se laesos arbitrarentur (etenim id feci parce et molliter), sed eos quos erat infinitum bene de <me> meritos omnis nominare ∗ ∗ ∗quos tamen ipsos libros, si quem cui recte committam invenero, curabo ad te perferendos. atque istam quidem partem vitae consuetudinisque nostrae totam ad te defero; quantum litteris, quantum studiis, veteribus nostris delectationibus, consequi poterimus, id omne <ad> arbitrium tuum, qui haec semper amasti, libentissime conferemus.

 

Harley MS 4329, f 130r. 

Weekend Plans with Pliny

Pliny to his Friend Calpurnius Macer, (Letter 18)

“I’m doing well because you are! You have your wife, and you have your son. You enjoy the sea, the streams, the forest, the fields and your most charming home. I cannot doubt that it must be truly charming when it’s the place where a man stays who was already lucky before he became the luckiest!

I am hunting and studying in Tuscany, either taking turns between them or trying them at the same time. I am not able right now to tell you whether it is more difficult to catch something or write about it. Be well!”

C. Plinius Calpurnio Macro Suo S.
1Bene est mihi quia tibi bene est. Habes uxorem tecum, habes filium; frueris mari fontibus viridibus agro villa amoenissima. Neque enim dubito esse amoenissimam, in qua se composuerat homo felicior, 2ante quam felicissimus fieret. Ego in Tuscis et venor et studeo, quae interdum alternis, interdum simul facio; nec tamen adhuc possum pronuntiare, utrum sit difficilius capere aliquid an scribere. Vale.

Roman mosaic of men surrounding deer with nets
Hunting with Nets – Piazza Armerina, Sicily (ca. 300 AD)

Research Advice: Exercise. Then Read and Write in Turns

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”.

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Cicero On Using “Leftover Time” for Writing Projects

Cicero, Laws 1.8-10

M. I do understand that I have been promising this work for a long time now, Atticus. It is something I would not refuse if any bit of open and free time were allotted to me. A work as momentous as this cannot be taken up when one’s efforts are occupied and his mind is elsewhere. It is really necessary to be free from worry and business.

A. What about the other things you have written more of than any of our people? What free time did you have set aside then?

M. These ‘leftover moments’ occur and I will not suffer wasting them—as when there are some days set aside for going to the country, I write something equal to what the number of days allow. But a history cannot be begun unless there is dedicated time and it can’t be completed in a short time. I habitually weigh down my thought when, once I have started, I am distracted by something else. And once a project is interrupted, I do not finish what was started easily.”

M. Intellego equidem a me istum laborem iam diu postulari, Attice; quem non recusarem, si mihi ullum tribueretur vacuum tempus et liberum; neque enim occupata opera neque inpedito animo res tanta suscipi potest; utrumque opus est, et cura vacare et negotio.

A. Quid ad cetera. quae scripsisti plura quam quisquam e nostris? quod tibi tandem tempus vacuum fuit concessum?

M. Subsiciva quaedam tempora incurrunt, quae ego perire non patior, ut, si qui dies ad rusticandum dati sint, ad eorum numerum adcommodentur quae scribimus. historia vero nec institui potest nisi praeparato otio nec exiguo tempore absolvi, et ego animi pendere soleo, cum semel quid orsus sum,1 si traducor alio, neque tam facile interrupta contexo quam absolvo instituta.

I encourage everyone to copy “Intellego equidem a me istum laborem iam diu postulari” and paste it liberally into emails explaining why you have yet to complete that review, abstract, etc. etc. Take a break for a day or a nap for an hour. Let Cicero speak for you!

 

Image result for ancient scholars writing
Image taken from this blog

Well Enough to Read, Well Enough to Write?

A few more passages from Seneca on reading and writing, following up on Seneca’s injunction to alternate between the two.

Moral Epistle 45

“You complain that there’s a lack of books where you are. It is not how many books, but how many good ones you have that makes a difference. A short reading list has advantages; variety brings entertainment. One who reaches his desired place should follow one path and not go roam over many. This is not to travel, but to wander.”

Librorum istic inopiam esse quereris. Non refert, quam multos, sed quam bonos habeas; lectio certa prodest, varia delectat. Qui, quo destinavit, pervenire vult, unam sequatur viam, non per multas vagetur. Non ire istuc, sed errare est.

Moral Epistle 83

“Today has been whole: no one has stolen any part at all from me. The whole day was spent in reading and rest. There was a little bit given to exercise. For this nominal amount, I give thanks to old age. It is not a big deal for me: as soon as I have moved, I am tired.”

Hodiernus dies solidus est; nemo ex illo quicquam mihi eripuit. Totus inter stratum lectionemque divisus est. Minimum exercitationi corporis datum, et hoc nomine ago gratias senectuti: non magno mihi constat; cum me movi, lassus sum

Moral Epistle 65

“Yesterday I spent the day in poor health: it occupied me until noon. After noon, it gave in to me. So, first, I tested my mind with reading. Then, when I handled this, I dared to push myself, or perhaps indulge myself, more: I wrote something…”

Hesternum diem divisi cum mala valetudine; antemeridianum illa sibi vindicavit, postmeridiano mihi cessit. Itaque lectione primum temptavi animum. Deinde cum hanc recepisset, plus illi imperare ausus sum, immo permittere; aliquid scripsi

Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Hybrid eagle, holding open book | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1420-1425 | The Morgan Library & Museum

What Audience Are You Writing For? Cicero on the Middle-Ground

[Marcus Varro is the speaker in this excerpt]

Cicero, Academica 1.4

“Because I recognized that philosophy had been most expertly explored in the Greek language, I believed that anyone from Rome who was inclined toward the subject would prefer to read it in Greek, if they were educated in Greek doctrines. If they shuddered at Greek arts and learning, they would not be interested in those very matters which could not be understood without Greek. So, I did not want to write what the unlearned could not understand or what the learned would not care to.”

Nam cum philosophiam viderem diligentissime Graecis litteris explicatam, existimavi si qui de nostris eius studio tenerentur, si essent Graecis doctrinis eruditi, Graeca potius quam nostra lecturos; sin a Graecorum artibus et disciplinis abhorrerent, ne haec quidem curaturos quae sine eruditione Graeca intellegi non possunt; itaque ea nolui scribere quae nec indocti intellegere possent nec docti legere curarent.

Image result for Ancient Roman philosopher

Make Your “Away Message” Simple….

Pliny Letters 13, to Julius Ferox

“The same letter implies that you are not working and are working. Am I uttering riddles? So it goes, until I clarify what I am thinking. For the letter denies that you are working but it is so polished that it could not be written unless by someone in deep study. Or, you are blessed beyond all others  if you can complete such works at rest and in leisure.

Farewell.

C. Plinius Feroci Suo S.

Eadem epistula et non studere te et studere significat. Aenigmata loquor? Ita plane, donec distinctius quod sentio enuntiem. Negat enim te studere, sed est tam polita quam nisi a studente non potest scribi; aut es tu super omnes beatus, si talia per desidiam et otium perficis. Vale.

Pliny the Younger
I don’t believe that you’re not working.