aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Seneca, Natural Questions 6.3.3

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Seneca justifies his investigations into various natural phenomena.

quid ergo? non religionem incutit mentibus, et quidem publice, sive deficere sol visus est, sive luna (cuius obscuratio frequentior) aut parte sui aut tota delituit? longeque magis illa, actae in transversum faces et caeli magna pars ardens et crinita sidera et plures solis orbes et stellae per diem visae subitique transcursus ignium multam post se lucem trahentium. nihil horum sine timore miramur. et cum timendi sit causa nescire, non est tanti scire, ne timeas? quanto satius est causas inquirere, et quidem toto in hoc intentum animo. neque enim illo quicquam inveniri dignius potest cui se non tantum commodet sed impendat.

What then? Does it not strike religion into our minds, and even among the whole people, if either the sun or the moon (whose eclipse is more frequent) are seen to disappear, whether in part or completely? And this is all the more the case when lights are driven across the sky and when a great part of the sky is burning, when there are stars with tails, there are multiple suns, stars are observed during the day, and fires suddenly cross the sky trailing a great deal of light behind them. We don’t marvel at any of these things without feeling afraid. And since ignorance is the cause of fear, is it not worth much to have knowledge, so as to prevent yourself from being afraid? How much better it is to investigate the reasons, and indeed to be intent on this investigation with your whole mind! For nothing can be found worthier than a subject to which the mind not only lends itself but spends itself.

I’ve never found Seneca easy to translate. Can you come up with an elegant version for that final sentence? I’ve borrowed the Loeb translation for now, but I’m not sure it puts across the meaning as well as it might.

crinita sidera (‘hairy stars’) are comets; the English term comes from the Greek word for ‘long-haired’. They are so named, of course, because of what in English idiom we would call their ‘tails’ but what the ancients thought of as ‘hair’.

Written by aleatorclassicus

July 2, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Seneca the Younger

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