Friday, 3 May 2013

Seneca: A still valid critique



Exams are coming near in the Netherlands and I am now training two students who discovered that almost 6 years of Latin haven’t brought them the skills to read and translate a text with confidence. For this year Seneca is the exam author and so I have been reading a lot of Seneca, also texts which I haven’t read before. This one is quite interesting. It is from Ad Helviam matrem de consolation, a text Seneca wrote to his mother when he was exiled by Claudius to Corsica in 41 AD on the accusation of adultery with Iulia Livilla, the sister of Caligula. The only reason he was not put to death is that Claudius thought that Seneca’s life would end soon. He spent there years in studying till he was called back in 49 by Agrippina the Younger to tutor her son Nero.  In that year he wrote about his exile to his mother Helvia. Circumstances were tolerable, but Seneca did not have access to expensive food. Instead of complaining about that, he is criticizing the taste for rare and exquisite food for which animals are slaughtered and woods destroyed. This makes him the first environmentalist and what he is saying is still valid….

Seneca, Ad Helviam matrem de consolatione 10 1-6

Bene ergo exilium tulit Marcellus nec quicquam in animo eius mutauit loci mutatio, quamuis eam paupertas sequeretur; in qua nihil mali esse, quisquis modo nondum peruenit in insaniam omnia subuertentis auaritiae atque luxuriae intellegit. Quantulum enim est quod in tutelam hominis necessarium est! et cui deesse hoc potest ullam modo uirtutem habenti? 2. Quod ad me quidem pertinet, intellego me non opes sed occupationes perdidisse. Corporis exigua desideria sunt: frigus summoueri uult, alimentis famem ac sitim extinguere; quidquid extra concupiscitur, uitiis, non usibus laboratur. Non est necesse omne perscrutari profundum nec strage animalium uentrem onerare nec conchylia ultimi maris ex ignoto litore eruere: di istos deaeque perdant quorum luxuria tam inuidiosi imperii fines transcendit! 3. Vltra Phasin capi uolunt quod ambitiosam popinam instruat, nec piget a Parthis, a quibus nondum poenas repetimus, aues petere. Vndique conuehunt omnia nota fastidienti gulae; quod dissolutus deliciis stomachus uix admittat ab ultimo portatur oceano; uomunt ut edant, edunt ut uomant, et epulas quas toto orbe conquirunt nec concoquere dignantur. Ista si quis despicit, quid illi paupertas nocet? Si quis concupiscit, illi paupertas etiam prodest; inuitus enim sanatur et, si remedia ne coactus quidem recipit, interim certe, dum non potest, illa nolenti similis est. 4. C. Caesar [Augustus], quem mihi uidetur rerum natura edidisse ut ostenderet quid summa uitia in summa fortuna possent, centiens sestertio cenauit uno die; et in hoc omnium adiutus ingenio uix tamen inuenit quomodo trium prouinciarum tributum una cena fieret. 5. O miserabiles, quorum palatum nisi ad pretiosos cibos non excitatur! Pretiosos autem non eximius sapor aut aliqua faucium dulcedo sed raritas et difficultas parandi facit. Alioqui, si ad sanam illis mentem placeat reuerti, quid opus est tot artibus uentri seruientibus? quid mercaturis? quid uastatione siluarum? quid profundi perscrutatione? Passim iacent alimenta quae rerum natura omnibus locis disposuit; sed haec uelut caeci transeunt et omnes regiones peruagantur, maria traiciunt et, cum famem exiguo possint sedare, magno inritant. 6. Libet dicere: 'quid deducitis naues? Quid manus et aduersus feras et aduersus homines armatis? Quid tanto tumultu discurritis? Quid opes opibus adgeritis? Non uultis cogitare quam parua uobis corpora sint? Nonne furor et ultimus mentium error est, cum tam exiguum capias, cupere multum? Licet itaque augeatis census, promoueatis fines, numquam tamen corpora uestra laxabitis. Cum bene cesserit negotiatio, multum militia rettulerit, cum indagati undique cibi coierint, non habebitis ubi istos apparatus uestros conlocetis.

Marcellus: Marcus Claudius Marcellus was consul in 51 BC. He was an enemy of Caesar and went into voluntary exile after the battle of Pharsalos.
in qua (pauperitate)
insaniam omnia subuertentis auaritiae: the madness of everything overthrowing greed
quantulus: very little
tutela: protection, maintenance
hoc: sc. intelligere
vult (corpus)
uitiis, non usibus laboratur: is exerted for our vices, not for use
profundum: the depth of the sea
strages –is (f): slaughter, massacre
onero: to overload
conchylium:, shell-fish, oyster
eruo –ui –tum: to dig up
perdo –didi –ditum: to destroy
invidiosus: enviable
Phasis: the river Rioni in Georgia
quod ambitiosam popinam instruat: what furnishes an ambitious eating-house
a quibus nondum poenas repetimus: in 53 BC Crassus was defeated by the Parthians and the standards were captured. Seneca forgets to mention that in 20 BC August got the standards back through negotiations.
poenam repeto: to demand compensation
Vndique conuehunt omnia nota fastidienti gulae: From everywhere they collect everything for a throat despising the well-known (but the transmission of the text is disputed and some read omnia, nota ignota, everything, known and unknown.)
dissolutus deliciis: weakened by fine food
epulae: sumptuous food, dishes
concoquo: digest
invitus: unwilling
ne quidem: not even
C. Caesar [Augustus]: Caligula
rerum natura: nature
edo: to bring forth
in summa fortuna: in the highest position
centiens sestertio: ten million sesterces
omnium adiutus ingenio: helped by the genius of all
palatum: taste
eximius: excellent
sapor -oris (m): taste
fauces -ium (f): throat
alioqui: otherwise
mercatura: trade
vastatio –onis (f): devastation
caecus: blind
exiguus: little
irrito: stimulate
deduco: to launch
fera: wild animal
discurro: to run in different directions
Quid opes opibus adgeritis?: wherefore are you putting wealth upon wealth?
furor –oris (m): madness
census –us (m) wealth
laxo: to expand
Cum bene cesserit negotiation: though business turns out well
indago: to search
istos apparatus uestros: that stock of food of yours



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