No One Who Is Serious Writes Their Best Ideas 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

Going Hunting? Don’t Forget Your Notebooks

Pliny, Letters To Cornelius Tacitus 6

“You will laugh—and it is right to laugh. I, that friend of yours, have gotten three boars and they’re really great ones too. “That guy?” You ask. Yes, this guy, and I did it without taking a break from my rest and relaxation. I was just sitting by the hunting nets and next to me weren’t spear or lance but my pen and notes because I was thinking about something and was trying to write a bit, supposing that even if I returned with empty hands I would still have full notebooks.

There’s no reason to scoff at this kind of research—for it is a wonder how the mind is inspired by the agitation and movement of the body. For solitude somewhere in the woods and the silence needed for hunting bring many opportunities for thought. So, whenever you are hunting next, take me as an authority and bring your notebooks with your picnic basket and your flask. You will discover that Minerva wanders the hills no less than Diana does.”

Ridebis, et licet rideas. Ego, ille quem nosti, apros tres et quidem pulcherrimos cepi. “Ipse?” inquis. Ipse; non tamen ut omnino ab inertia mea et quiete discederem. Ad retia sedebam; erat in proximo non venabulum aut lancea, sed stilus et pugillares; meditabar aliquid enotabamque, ut si manus vacuas, plenas tamen ceras reportarem. Non est quod contemnas hoc studendi genus; mirum est ut animus agitatione motuque corporis excitetur; iam undique silvae et solitudo ipsumque illud silentium quod venationi datur, magna cogitationis incitamenta sunt. Proinde cum venabere, licebit auctore me ut panarium et lagunculam sic etiam pugillares feras: experieris non Dianam magis montibus quam Minervam inerrare. Vale.

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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 note from you is more dear to me than anything someone else might consider 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.

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Seneca’s 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”.

Related image

 

A Word Overwrought: Longinus on Verbal Tumescence

Longinus, On the Sublime 1.3.3-5

‘For although they often believe that they are inspired, they are not carried away by a god but they are fooling around. As a general rule, it seems that being puffed up is among the the most difficult things to avoid. For, naturally, all those who strive to be grand are carried away into this fault as they attempt to avoid the accumulation of weakness or dryness, perhaps believing in the idea that “slipping in the pursuit of great things is still a noble mistake.”

Ah, but tumors are evil things if they are in bodies or words, those empty voids all misshapen and most often compelling us to the opposite of what we wanted. For, as they say, “there’s nothing dry as dropsy”. But while overwrought writing aims to surpass the sublime, childishness is the polar opposite of aiming high. It is completely ugly, small-minded, and in truth the least noble evil of all.”

πολλαχοῦ γὰρ ἐνθουσιᾶν ἑαυτοῖς δοκοῦντες οὐ βακχεύουσιν ἀλλὰ παίζουσιν. ὅλως δ᾿ ἔοικεν εἶναι τὸ οἰδεῖν ἐν τοῖς μάλιστα δυσφυλακτότατον. φύσει γὰρ ἅπαντες οἱ μεγέθους ἐφιέμενοι, φεύγοντες ἀσθενείας καὶ ξηρότητος κατάγνωσιν, οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅπως ἐπὶ τοῦθ᾿ ὑποφέρονται, πειθόμενοι τῷ “μεγάλων ἀπολισθαίνειν ὅμως εὐγενὲς  ἁμάρτημα.” κακοὶ δὲ ὄγκοι καὶ ἐπὶ σωμάτων καὶ λόγων οἱ χαῦνοι καὶ ἀναλήθεις καὶ μήποτε περιιστάντες ἡμᾶς εἰς τοὐναντίον· οὐδὲν γάρ, φασί, ξηρότερον ὑδρωπικοῦ. Ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν οἰδοῦν ὑπεραίρειν βούλεται τὰ ὕψη, τὸ δὲ μειρακιῶδες ἄντικρυς ὑπεναντίον τοῖς μεγέθεσι· ταπεινὸν γὰρ ἐξ ὅλου καὶ μικρόψυχον καὶ τῷ ὄντι κακὸν ἀγεννέστατον.

Image result for medieval manuscript cancer treatment
Sometimes a good editor is like a medieval surgeon: brutal.

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 send 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)