In his tenth satire Juvenal (late first century –early second century) criticizes human striving after wealth and fame. This satire has an Epicurean and Stoic outlook: we should live according to Nature and not exceed the limits set by her. After a number of examples, Juvenal asks:`ìs there nothing people shall wish for?’ Yes, there is: we can ask for a free mind and live a life a virtue. Once we have this, we don’t need Fortuna any more.
It is in this final part of the satire, that we find the famous dictum: mens sana in corpore sano. Isolated from its context, it is interpreted as something we should work for ourselves. Countless sport schools, clubs and physiotherapist have this as slogan – as if a healthy mind is taken for granted! But within the context it is something people can pray for, if they want something to pray for. For me, having no inclination for total body workouts, this is a great relief!
Juveanl, Satire x, 346-367
nil ergo optabunt homines? si consilium uis,
permittes ipsis expendere numinibus quid
conueniat nobis rebusque sit utile nostris;
nam pro iucundis aptissima quaeque dabunt di.
carior est illis homo quam sibi. nos animorum 350
inpulsu et caeca magnaque cupidine ducti
coniugium petimus partumque uxoris, at illis
notum qui pueri qualisque futura sit uxor.
ut tamen et poscas aliquid uoueasque sacellis
exta et candiduli diuina tomacula porci, 355
orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem,
qui spatium uitae extremum inter munera ponat
naturae, qui ferre queat quoscumque labores,
nesciat irasci, cupiat nihil et potiores 360
Herculis aerumnas credat saeuosque labores
et uenere et cenis et pluma Sardanapalli.
monstro quod ipse tibi possis dare; semita certe
tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae.
nullum numen habes, si sit prudentia: nos te, 365
nos facimus, Fortuna, deam caeloque locamus.
expendo expendi expensum: litt. `to pay’, but here ``to decide’
ipsis numinibus: to the very powers that be (a numen is less concrete than a deus.)
pro iucundis: instead of pleasant things
aptissima quaeque dabunt di = di dabunt ea quae aptissima sunt
coniugium: union (i.e. a marriage)
partum uxoris: and the wife giving birth (partus, partus, m.)
illis: the gods
qui = quales
posco poposci: to ask. pray
voveo vovi votum: to consecrate
sacella: a small temple, shrine
exta extorum: organs
divinus: (here) predicting
tomacula: sausages (note that sacella, candula and tomacula are all diminutives, expressing Juvenal’s contempt for asking the future from the gods.)
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem: pray for a strong mind free from (careo + abl.) fear of death.
extremum: as the least valuable
munus muneris (n.): gift
quieo quivi quitum: to be able, can
irascor iratus sum: to be angry
potiores: more preferable (than the venere etc. of Sardanapalius)
Herculis : Hercules was seen as an example of wisdom by the Stoics. His 12 labours were allegorically explained as exertions for reaching moral perfection
aerumna: hardship, toil
venus vernris (f.) lust
cena: dinner party
pluma: feather, cushion filled with feathers
Sardanapalius: Assurbanipal (669-627 BC), the last king of Assyria, known for his lavish and luxurious lifestyle.
monstro: to point out
semita certe tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae: a single way (semita) lies open through virtue for a quiet life, (i.e. the practice of a Stoic lifestyle.)
Translation by G.G. Ramsay (1918):
Is there nothing then for which men shall pray? If you ask my counsel, you will leave it to the gods themselves to provide what is good for us, and what will be serviceable for our state; for, in place of what is pleasing, they will give us what is best. Man is dearer to them than he is to himself. Impelled by strong and blind desire, we ask for wife and offspring; but the gods know of what sort the sons, of what sort the wife, will be. Nevertheless that you may have something to pray for, and be able to offer to the shrines entrails and presaging sausages from a white porker, you should pray for a sound mind in a sound body; for a stout heart that has no fear of death, and deems length of days the least of Nature's gifts; that can endure any kind of toil; that knows neither wrath nor desire, and thinks that the woes and hard labours of Hercules are better than the loves and the banquets and the down cushions of Sardanapalus. What I commend to you, you can give to yourself; for it is assuredly through virtue that lies the one and only road to a life of peace. Thou wouldst have no divinity, O Fortune, if we had but wisdom; it is we that make a goddess of thee, and place thee in the skies.