aleator classicus

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Archive for September 2010

Quintilian, Training of the Orator 11.2.17

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Quintilian is discussing mnemonic systems. Simonides’ system (allegedly developed after he identified crushed dinner-party guests from the seats where he remembered they were sitting) involves the recall of places and how associating them with ideas can make memorisation easier. Quintilian agrees that one easily associates certain places with certain memories:

ex hoc Simonidis facto notatum videtur iuvari memoriam signatis animo sedibus, idque credet suo quisque experimento. nam cum in loca aliqua post tempus reversi sumus, non ipsa agnoscimus tantum sed etiam quae in iis fecerimus reminiscimur, personaeque subeunt, nonnumquam tacitae quoque cogitationes in mentem revertuntur. nata est igitur, ut in plerisque, ars ab experimento.

From this achievement of Simonides it seems to have been noticed that memory is helped by locations impressed on the mind – a thing which everyone can try out for themselves, because when we have returned to places after some time we not only recognise the places themselves but can also remember the things we did there; people too come into our heads – and often even unspoken thoughts return to our minds. So, as in most things, a skill is begotten by experiment.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Quintilian

Philo of Byzantium, On the Seven Wonders of the World

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I’ve just been teaching about the Pharos at Alexandria, famously one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – except it’s not on the ancient lists of the wonders! Philo of Byzantium (a different chap from Philo of Alexandria) is credited with a short essay on the subject. Orelli’s edition of Philo’s work is actually a fantastic compendium of ancient discussions of the Wonders, and is well worth a look.

In this introductory section, Philo explains why it is hard trying to visit all the Wonders in person.

τῶν ἑπτὰ θεαμάτων ἕκαστον φημῃ μὲν γινώσκεται πᾶσιν, ὄψει δὲ σπανίοις ὁρᾶται. δεῖ γὰρ εἰς Πέρσας ἀποδημῆσαι, καὶ διαπλεῦσαι τὸν Εὐφράτην, καὶ τὴν Αἴγυπτον ἐπελθεῖν, καὶ τοῖς Ἠλείοις τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἐνεπιδημῆσαι, καὶ τῆς Καρίας εἰς Ἁλικαρνασσὸν ἐλθεῖν, καὶ Ῥόδῳ προσπλεῦσαι, καὶ τῆς Ἰωνίας τὴν Ἔφεσον θεάσασθαι· πλανηθέντα δὲ τὸν κόσμον, καὶ τῷ κόπῳ τῆς ἀποδημίας ἐκλυθέντα, τότε πληρῶσαι τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν, ὅτε καὶ τοῖς ἔτεσι τοῦ ζῇν ὁ βίος παρῴχηκεν.

The seven wonders are each known to everyone by repute, but few people have seen them all. For you need to travel abroad to Persia, sail across the Euphrates, go to Egypt, pay a visit to the Elians in Greece, go to Halicarnassus in Caria, sail up to Rhodes, and see the sights of Ephesus in Ionia. And when you have travelled the world and been worn out by the exertion of foreign travel, only then will your desire be satisfied – by which time your life has gone by, along with its best years.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 28, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Philo of Byzantium

Cicero, Letters to his friends 14.20

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This is the last letter we have from Cicero to his wife Terentia. He was to divorce her the following year, and you don’t need to read far between the lines of this little note to detect that their relations were at this time rather strained…

Tullius s.d. Terentiae suae.

in Tusculanum nos venturos putamus aut Nonis aut postridie. ibi ut sint omnia parata. plures enim fortasse nobiscum erunt et, ut arbitror, diutius ibi commorabimur. labrum si in balineo non est, ut sit; item cetera quae sunt ad victum et ad valetudinem necessaria.


Kal. Oct. de Venusino.

Tullius greets his Terentia.

We think we’ll be coming to the Tusculan house either on the 7th or the day after. Let everything be ready there. For there will perhaps be more people with us, and, I think, we shall stay there for quite a while. If there’s not a tub in the bathroom, make sure there is. Likewise everything else required for food and good health.


October 1st, from the region of Venusia.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Cicero

Plato, Socrates’ Defence Speech 21d

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Here is part of Plato’s version of the speech that Socrates gave at his trial (often called his ‘apology’, an archaic use of the word which is misleading in its modern sense, since the speech is far from ‘apologetic’). After recalling an encounter with an unnamed politician, Socrates reflects on his realisation that neither of them could be called wise.

κινδυνεύει μὲν γὰρ ἡμῶν οὐδέτερος οὐδὲν καλὸν κἀγαθὸν εἰδέναι, ἀλλ’ οὗτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴομαι· ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.

It seems likely that neither of us knows anything good and beautiful; but he thinks he knows something, although he doesn’t know it, whereas I don’t know anything and don’t think that I do. So, in this one little way at least, it seems that I am wiser: I don’t think that I know the things which I don’t know.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 21, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Plato

Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind 17.5

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Seneca uses a farming analogy to argue that we must not overwork.

danda est animis remissio: meliores acrioresque requieti surgent. ut fertilibus agris non est imperandum (cito enim illos exhauriet numquam intermissa fecunditas), ita animorum impetus assiduus labor franget; vires recipient paulum resoluti et remissi. nascitur ex assiduitate laborum animorum hebetatio quaedam et languor.

We must give our minds a break: they will rise up better and sharper after being rested. Just as fertile fields must not be forced to produce (for fruitfulness which is never allowed a break will quickly exhaust them), so unremitting work will diminish the vigour of our minds; they will regain their strength little by little if they have been unyoked and allowed to relax. From unbroken labours is born a certain dullness and languor in our minds.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 20, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Seneca the Younger

Hesiod, fr. dub. 357

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A fragment attributed to Hesiod, using the metaphor of ‘stitching’ for poetic composition.

ἐν Δήλῳ τότε πρῶτον ἐγὼ καὶ Ὅμηρος ἀοιδοὶ
μέλπομεν, ἐν νεαροῖς ὕμνοις ῥαψαντες ἀοιδήν.

Then in Delos for the first time we bards sang, Homer and I, stitching song in new hymns.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 19, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Hesiod

Nepos, Life of Hannibal 1

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Nepos offers his assessment of Hannibal’s abilities.

Hannibal, Hamilcaris filius, Carthaginiensis. si verum est (quod nemo dubitat) ut populus Romanus omnes gentes virtute superarit, non est infitiandum Hannibalem tanto praestitisse ceteros imperatores prudentia, quanto populus Romanus antecedat fortitudine cunctas nationes. nam quotienscumque cum eo congressus est in Italia, semper discessit superior. quod nisi domi civium suorum invidia debilitatus esset, Romanos videtur superare potuisse.

Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar, was a Carthaginian. If it is true – and no one doubts that it is – that the Roman people has excelled all other races in courage, it is undeniable that Hannibal excelled other commanders in his shrewdness by as much as the Roman people surpasses all nations in bravery. For whenever when he joined battle with the Romans in Italy, he always left with the upper hand. And, were it not for his being damaged by his citizens’ envy at home, he would, it seems, have been able to conquer the Romans.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 18, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Nepos

Lucian, Gout 252-262

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An excerpt from Lucian’s parodic ‘tragedy’ on the subject of gout. Here the goddess Gout claims (a little implausibly) to have afflicted many mythological characters.

Πρίαμος Ποδάρκης ποδαγρὸς ὢν ἐκλῇζετο·
ἔθανε δ’ Ἀχιλλεὺς ποδαγρὸς ὢν ὁ Πηλέως·
ὁ Βελλεροφόντης ποδαγρὸς ὢν ἐκαρτέρει·
Θηβῶν δυνάστης Οἰδίπους ποδαγρὸς ἦν·
ἐκ τῶν Πελοπιδῶν ποδαγρὸς ἦν ὁ Πλεισθένης·
Ποίαντος υἱος ποδαγρὸς ὢν ἦρχεν στόλου·
ἄλλος Ποδάρκης Θεσσαλῶν ἦν ἡγέμών,
ὅς, ἐπείπερ ἔπεσε Πρωτεσίλαος ἐν μάχῃ,
ὅμως ποδαγρὸς ὢν καὶ πονῶν ἦρχεν στόλου·
Ἰθάκης ἄνακτα Λαρτιάδην Ὀδυσσέα
ἐγὲ κατέπεφνον, οὐκ ἄνανκτα τρυγόνος.

Priam, called Swift-of-foot, had gout; Achilles, Peleus’ son, had gout and died; Bellerophon had gout and bore with it; the Theban ruler Oedipus had gout; Plisthenes, of the sons of Pelops, had gout; Poeas’ son [Philoctetes] had gout and led an army; another Swift-of-foot was the Thessalians’ leader (and when Protesilaus had fallen in battle, he led the army despite having gout and being in pain); Ithaca’s king Odysseus I myself slew, not the spine of a fish.

There is of course some logic to this list: the characters either have names associated with feet (e.g. Priam’s original name Podarces meant Swift-of-foot), or had experiences related to their feet (e.g. Achilles’ heel, Philoctetes’ foot bitten by a snake), or both (Oedipus = ‘Swollen-foot’, from damage sustained to his bound feet when he was exposed to the elements as a baby).

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 17, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Lucian

Plautus, The Play With The Asses In, 833

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Demaenetus addresses a worthy sentiment to his son Argyrippus.

decet verecundum esse adulescentem.

A young man ought to be respectful.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 16, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Plautus

Homer, Iliad 1.44-52

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Apollo comes down from Olympus to bring plague to the Greek army.

βῆ δὲ κατ’ Οὐλύμποιο καρήνων χωόμενος κῆρ,
τόξ’ ὤμοισιν ἔχων ἀμφηρεφέα τε φαρέτρην·
ἔκλαγξαν δ’ ἄρ’ ὀϊστοὶ ἐπ’ ὤμων χωομένοιο,
αὐτοῦ κινηθέντος· ὃ δ’ ἤϊε νυκτὶ ἐοικώς.
ἕζετ’ ἔπειτ’ ἀπάνευθε νεῶν, μετὰ δ’ ἰὸν ἕηκε·
δεινὴ δὲ κλαγγὴ γένετ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο.
οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς,
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτ’ αὐτοῖσι βέλος ἐχεπευκὲς ἐφιεὶς
βάλλ’· αἰεὶ δὲ πυραὶ νεκύων καίοντο θαμειαί.

And he came down from the peaks of Olympus, angered in his heart, with his bow and his close-covered quiver on his shoulders. And the arrows clanged terribly on the angry god’s shoulders as he moved. He came like the night. Then he sat away from the ships, and let an arrow fly. Terrible was the twang of his silver bow. It was the mules he attacked first and the swift hounds, but then, letting fly his sharp arrows on the men themselves, he struck them, and at all times the pyres of corpses burned thick.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 15, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Homer