Sunday, 28 May 2017

Cicero, De oratore: an expert speaking?

With dozens of volumes of the Loeb Classical Library and the Tusculum and Artemis Greek/Latin – German editions within reach, it is easy to think that Classical Antiquity was a culture of the written word.  Of course this is to some extant true, but the spoken word was dominant: reading was done aloud and poets and would-be poets recited there latest poems at street corners – not always to everyone’s delight. No wonder that the art of speaking held an important position within the school curriculum, as power over the spoken word was indispensable for politicians, magistrates, lawyers or anyone with ambition.
In his De oratore (ca 55 BC) Cicero explains what the conditions are for becoming a good orator. The work is composed as a dialogue and in Book 2 Marcus Antonius Orator (143-97 BC), a famous orator, and Quintus Catulus (149-87 BC), Roman general and also orator, are the main speakers. The question is whether an orator should himself be an expert in the subjects he is teaching schoolboys to speak about. Take for instance that orator Phormio, who in front of Hannibal held a speech about military matters. Hannibal had so his ideas about the `expertise’ of this orator. I am afraid there are still a lot of such `experts’ walking around.
Catulus is speaking:

Cicero, de Oratore, 2, 75-76

[75] Nec mihi opus est Graeco aliquo doctore, qui mihi pervulgata praecepta decantet, cum ipse numquam forum, numquam ullum iudicium aspexerit; ut Peripateticus ille dicitur Phormio, cum Hannibal Karthagine expulsus Ephesum ad Antiochum venisset exsul proque eo, quod eius nomen erat magna apud omnis gloria, invitatus esset ab hospitibus suis, ut eum, quem dixi, si vellet, audiret; cumque is se non nolle dixisset, locutus esse dicitur homo copiosus aliquot horas de imperatoris officio et de [omni] re militari. Tum, cum ceteri, qui illum audierant, vehementer essent delectati, quaerebant ab Hannibale, quidnam ipse de illo philosopho iudicaret: hic Poenus non optime Graece, sed tamen libere respondisse fertur, multos se deliros senes saepe vidisse, sed qui magis quam Phormio deliraret vidisse neminem. [76] Neque me hercule iniuria; quid enim aut adrogantius aut loquacius fieri potuit quam Hannibali, qui tot annis de imperio cum populo Romano omnium gentium victore certasset, Graecum hominem, qui numquam hostem, numquam castra vidisset, numquam denique minimam partem ullius publici muneris attigisset, praecepta de re militari dare?

opus est (+ abl.): there is need for
aliquo Graeco doctore: note the derogative tone
pervulgatus: very usual, very common
decanto (-are): to repeat in a singing manner, say the same thing over and again
forum: court
iudicium: trial
praeceptum: precept, instruction
Antiochus: Antiochus Magnus (c. 241 – 187 BC), Seleucid king of Syria
ille dicitur Phormio: as that Phormio is said = as they say about that Phormio
Peripateticus: adherent of the philosophy of Aristotle
exsul: as exile
proque eo, quod: and for this, because = and for the reason that his name (as general) etc.
magna gloria: apposition to nomen eius
ut eum: i.e. Phormio
non nolle dixisset: a double negative is used to emphasise the positive (litotes) `he said he would like to come.’
copiosus: abounding (in words)
delecto (-are): to delight
Graece: in the Greek language
libere: freely
fertur: is said to
delirus: silly, crazy
deliro (-are): to be crazy, deranged
iniuria (verba)
loquacius: more verbosely
Hannibali…Graecum hominen…praecepta de re mlitari dare
Populo Romano, victore
certo (-are): to struggle
minimam partem: even the slightest part
attingo attigi attactum: to come in contact with

E. W. SUTTON, B.C.L., M.A. (1949)

75 Nor do I need any Greek professor to chant at me
a series of hackneyed axioms, when he himself never
had a glimpse of a law-court or judicial proceeding,
as the tale goes of Phormio the well-known Peri-
patetic ; for when Hannibal, banished from Carthage,
had come in exile to Antiochus at Ephesus and, inas-
much as his name was highly honoured all the world
over, had been invited by his hosts to hear the
philosopher in question, if he so pleased, and he had
intimated his willingness to do so, that wordy in-
dividual is said to have held forth for several hours
upon the functions of a commander-in-chief and
military matters in general. Then, when the other
listeners, vastly delighted, asked Hannibal for his
opinion of the eminent teacher, the Carthaginian is
reported to have thereupon replied, in no very good
Greek, but at any rate candidly, that time and again
he had seen many old madmen but never one madder
than Phormio. And upon my word he was right, for
what better example of prating insolence could there
be than for a Greek, who had never seen a foeman or
a camp, or even had the slightest connexion with any
public employment, to lecture on military matters to
Hannibal, who all those years had been disputing
empire with the Roman people, the conquerors of the
world ?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Seneca, de ira, fish fodder.

One of the concerns of Stoic philosophy is the control of passions. In this respect stoicism is not just a philosophy, but also a way of life. One of the most dangerous passions is anger (ira). Seneca dedicated a treatise to this subject and gave various examples of anger can bring about. Augustus visited once Vedius Pollio, a man known for his cruelty. When a slave broke a crystalline vase, Pollio ordered that this slave should be thrown in his fish-pond, in which he kept murenes. Murenes are big fishes and can be dangerous for men. Their meat was highly valued by the Romans and that is why they were kept in ponds. Pollio however seemed to have kept them as some African dictators in the past are said to have kept crocodiles: as punishment for their enemies. Augustus was appalled by this punishment for breaking a glass, but the slave could get away and fled to Augustus, who by his actions made very clear what he thought of such a treatment.

Seneca, De ira, XL 2-4

2. Castigare uero irascentem et ultro obirasci incitare est: uarie adgredieris blandeque, nisi forte tanta persona eris ut possis iram comminuere, quemadmodum fecit diuus Augustus, cum cenaret apud Vedium Pollionem. Fregerat unus ex seruis eius crustallinum; rapi eum Vedius iussit ne uulgari quidem more periturum: murenis obici iubebatur, quas ingentis in piscina continebat. Quis non hoc illum putaret luxuriae causa facere? saeuitia erat. 3. Euasit e manibus puer et confugit ad Caesaris pedes, nihil aliud petiturus quam ut aliter periret, ne esca fieret. Motus est nouitate crudelitatis Caesar et illum quidem mitti, crustallina autem omnia coram se frangi iussit conplerique piscinam. 4. Fuit Caesari sic castigandus amicus; bene usus est uiribus suis: 'e conuiuio rapi homines imperas et noui generis poenis lancinari? Si calix tuus fractus est, uiscera hominis distrahentur? Tantum tibi placebis ut ibi aliquem duci iubeas ubi Caesar est?'

Castigare uero irascentem et ultro obirasci incitare est: truly to reproach someone who is angry and to become angry (with him) from your part (ultro: from the other side) is to stir up (the situation).
varie: in various ways
adgredior adgressus: to approach, handle (the irascentem)
blande: charmingly, seductively
forte: by chance
tanta persona: such a person
comminuo: to lessen
ceno: to dine
crustallinum: a crystalline vase
rapio rapui: to seize
vulgari more: in the usual way
per-eo: to die
obicio obieci obiectum: to throw before
ingentis (= ingentes: enormous) murenas
continebat: he (Vedius Pollio) used to keep
luxuria causa: out of pleasure
saevitia: cruelty
evado evasi: to get away, escape
puer = servus
Caesaris = Augusti
peto petivi petitum: to ask
aliter: in another way
esca: food
mitti (to be released)iussit
coram (+ abl.) in the presence of, in front of
compleo complevi completum (-ēre): to fill up
lancino: to destroy
viscera, -um ( inner parts of the body
distraho distraxi distractum: to tear in pieces
tantum tibi placebis: you will be very pleased with yourself, i.e. think highly of yourself
duci: to be led away (for capital punishment)

Translation by Aubrey Stewart, M.A (1900)

To reprove a man when he is angry is to add to his anger by being angry oneself. You should approach him in different ways and in a compliant fashion, unless perchance you be so great a personage that you can quash his anger, as the Emperor Augustus did when he was dining with Vedius Pollio.[15] One of the slaves had broken a crystal goblet of his: Vedius ordered him to be led away to die, and that too in no common fashion: he ordered him to be thrown to feed the muraenae, some of which fish, of great size, he kept in a tank. Who would not think that he did this out of luxury? but it was out of cruelty. The boy slipped through the hands of those who tried to seize him, and flung himself at Caesar's feet in order to beg for nothing more than that he might die in some different way, and not be eaten. Caesar was shocked at this novel form of cruelty, and ordered him to be let go, and, in his place, all the crystal ware which he saw before him to be broken, and the tank to be filled up. This was the proper way for Caesar to reprove his friend: he made a good use of his power. What are you, that when at dinner you order men to be put to death, and mangled by an unheard-of form of torture? Are a man's bowels to be torn asunder because your cup is broken? You must think a great deal of yourself, if even when the emperor is present you order men to be executed.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Pliny: retirement.

Pliny has heard that his friend Pomponius Bassus has retired and writes a letter to congratulate him: now he has time for travelling, reading and living at ease. It is noteworthy how this life of retirement does not differ much from that of modern day well off pensioners. If I may believe advertisements, it must be fantastic. We will see, still some years to go.

Plinius, Epistulae, 4. 23


1 Magnam cepi voluptatem, cum ex communibus amicis cognovi te, ut sapientia tua dignum est, et disponere otium et ferre, habitare amoenissime, et nunc terra nunc mari corpus agitare, multum disputare, multum audire, multum lectitare, cumque plurimum scias, cotidie tamen aliquid addiscere. 2 Ita senescere oportet virum, qui magistratus amplissimos gesserit, exercitus rexerit, totumque se rei publicae quam diu decebat obtulerit. 3 Nam et prima vitae tempora et media patriae, extrema nobis impertire debemus, ut ipsae leges monent, quae maiorem annis otio reddunt. 4 Quando mihi licebit, quando per aetatem honestum erit imitari istud pulcherrimae quietis exemplum? quando secessus mei non desidiae nomen sed tranquillitatis accipient? Vale.

S: salutem dicit
cum cognavi te: when I learnt that you
dignus (+abl.):  worthy of
disponere otium et ferre: to arrange and experience your retirement
amoenissime: most pleasantly
agito: to exercise
disputo: to discuss
lectito: to read
cumque: and though
addisco addidici: to learn in addition
qui magistratus amplissimos gesserit: who has fulfilled the most splendid magisterial offices
quam diu decebat: as long as was fitting
offero obtuli oblatum: to dedicate (+ dat.)
tempora vitae also with media and extrema
impertio impertivi impertivus: to give oneself, devote
ipsae leges: it is unclear what laws exactly and what age they refer to, but 60 or 65 year is likely.
maiorem annis: a man of advanced years
reddo reddidi redditum: to grant (+ dat.)
per aetatem: because of my age
honestum erit imitari: it will be hounorable to follow
quietis: of rest (from duties, not from being inactive)
secessus –us (m.): recess, holiday
desidia: idleness
nomen accipient: will receive the designation of

Translation Done into English By several Hands. 1723

IT was a great Satisfaction to me, to hear from our Common Friends, that you, as it becomes your good Sense, employ your Leisure and bear it, live very delightfully, make Use of Exercise, by Land or Water, converse, hear, and read very much; and tho' you are very knowing, yet you daily learn. Thus the Man should grow old, who has gone thro' the greatest Offices, has commanded Armies, and given himself up entirely, as far as it was fit for him, to the Common-wealth. For we ought to sacrifice the First and the Middle Times of Life to our Country, the last to our selves; as the very Laws admonish us, which restore a Man, that is past his LXth Year, to his private Repose. When shall I have that Liberty? When shall my Age make it reputable for me to Copy after this Pattern of honourable Ease? When shall my Retreat have the Name, not of Supineness, but of Tranquility?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Juvenal: watchful windows...

Walking by night through a densely populated city has its dangers and one of these is being hit by some utensil thrown out from a high window. This is one of the many complaints uttered by a friend of Juvenal, when he is about to leave Rome and settle elsewhere. Such danger was not confined to antiquity, but op to the 19th century people were at risk of being hit by stuff thrown out a window, as there was no sanitation and no garbage collection. Easy going times then.

Juvenalis, Satura 3, 268-277.

Respice nunc alia ac diversa pericula noctis:
quod spatium tectis sublimibus unde cerebrum
testa ferit, quotiens rimosa et curta fenestris                   270
vasa cadant, quanto percussum pondere signent
et laedant silicem. possis ignavus haberi
et subiti casus inprovidus, ad cenam si
intestatus eas: adeo tot fata, quot illa
nocte patent vigiles te praetereunte fenestrae.                   275
ergo optes votumque feras miserabile tecum,
ut sint contentae patulas defundere pelves.
quod spatium: what distance (= height). The height of building (tectum) was limited to 21 meters.
sublimis: elevated
testa: earthen vessel
inprovidus, careless, reckless
ferio: to strike, hit (Though it was forbidden to throw items from windows on the street, this was often ignored.)
rimosus: full of cracks
curtus: broken
vas vasis (n. plur. vasa vasorum): utensil, pot
quanto percussum pondere signent et laedant silicem: with what weight (pondus –eris, n.) they might mark the impact and damage (laedo laesi laesum,ere) the pavement.
ignavus: sluggish
subiti casus inprovidus: careless for (gen. obj.) sudden accidents
ad cenam: in a world without television and internet, dining with friends was a favourite way of spending evenings.
intestatus: without a will
adeo: indeed
pateo patui: to stand open
vigiles fenestrae: `the watchful windows’, as if the windows are watching passers-by and wait for them to hit them with whatever is thrown out. Note how effectively te praetereunte (when you are passing by) is placed between adjective and verb: watchful – and there is a victim! – windows.
optes votumque feras tecum: pray and carry your prayer with you (as a kind of amulet)
ut sint (fenestrae)
contentae: i.e. they are just pleased (contentus) to throw out the content of the patulas pelves (shallow basins, i.e. chamber pots) and not more harmful stuff.
defundo defudi defusum (-ere): to pour down

Translation by G. G. Ramsay (1918)

"And now regard the different and diverse perils of the night. See what a height it is to that towering roof from which a potsherd comes crack upon my head every time that some broken or leaky vessel is pitched out of the window! See with what a smash it strikes and dints the pavement! There's death in every open window as you pass along at night; you may well be deemed a fool, improvident of sudden accident, if you go out to dinner without having made your will. You can but hope, and put up a piteous prayer in your heart, that they may be content to pour down on you the contents of their slop-basins!