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.

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