aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Archive for February 2011

Petronius, fr. 48 (Bücheler)

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My first attempt at getting the indentation to work for elegiacs. Please let me know if it’s not displaying properly for you.

lecto compositus vix prima silentia noctis
   carpebam et somno lumina victa dabam,
cum me saevus Amor prensat sursumque capillis
   excitat et lacerum pervigilare iubet.
'tu famulus meus,' inquit, 'ames cum mille puellas,
   solus, io, solus, dure, iacere potes?'
exsilio et pedibus nudis tunicaque soluta
   omne iter ingredior, nullum iter expedio.
nunc propero, nunc ire piget, rursumque redire
   paenitet, et pudor est stare via media.
ecce tacent voces hominum strepitusque viarum
   et volucrum cantus fidaque turba canum:
solus ego ex cunctis paveo somnumque torumque,
   et sequor imperium, magne Cupido, tuum.

I had just lain down in bed, enjoying the night’s first silence and giving my vanquished eyes to sleep, when savage Love grabbed hold of me and roused me, pulling me up by the hair and ordering me, shattered though I was, to stay awake. ‘You, my slave,’ he said, ‘though you love a thousand girls, can you lie alone – alone! – you hard-hearted one?’ I jump out of bed with my feet bare and my tunic undone; I go down every road, leave no road free. Now I hurry, now I’m reluctant to go, I’m sorry to return again, and I’m ashamed to stand in the middle of the road. See! The voices of men, the din of the streets, the song of the birds, and the faithful pack of dogs are silent; I alone out of all creatures dread both sleep and bed, and I follow, great Cupid, your command.

Writing a little over a century ago, H.E. Butler says:

If this is not great poetry, it is at least one of the most perfect specimens of conventional erotic verse in all ancient literature. If we except a very few of the best poems of Propertius, Latin Elegiacs have nothing to show that combines such perfection of form with such exquisite sensuous charm. It breathes the fragrance of the Greek anthology. (H.E. Butler, Post-Augustan Poetry, Oxford 1909, p.138-139)

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Petronius

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 6.13

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Diogenes of Sinope, the original Cynic philosopher, laments humans’ stupidity when compared to the animals.

κατεγέλα δὲ τῶν, ὁπότε διψῷεν, τὰς μὲν κρήνας παρερχομένων, ζητούντων δὲ πάντως ὁπόθεν ὠνήσονται Χῖον ἢ Λέσβιον, καὶ πολὺ ἔφασκεν ἀφρονεστέρους εἶναι τῶν βοσκημάτων· ἐκεῖνα γὰρ οὐδέποτε διψῶντα κρήνην οὐδὲ ῥεῦμα καθαρὸν παρελθεῖν οὐδὲ πεινῶντα ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν ἁπαλωτάτων φύλλων καὶ πόας τῆς ἱκανῆς τρέφειν.

He derided those men who, being thirsty, would walk past springs and search high and low for somewhere where they could buy Chian or Lesbian wine. He said they were much more foolish than cattle, as those animals never pass by a spring or a clear stream when they are thirsty, and when they are hungry do not shun the tender leaves and the grass which is enough to give them nourishment.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 25, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Dio Chrysostom

Horace, Epistles 1.2.1-4

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Horace has been reading Homer again and finding it a profitable experience, better than reading philosophers.

Troiani belli scriptorem, Maxime Lolli,
dum tu declamas Romae, Praeneste relegi:
qui quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non,
planius ac melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.

While you, Lollius Maximus, have been declaiming at Rome, I have been rereading at Praeneste the writer of the Trojan War. He says better and more plainly than Chrysippus and Crantor what is beautiful, what is ugly, what is useful, what is not.

Chrysippus was the ‘second founder’ of Stoicism, Crantor was a follower of Plato who wrote 30,000 lines of commentary, according to Diogenes Laertius 4.24.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Horace

Aristophanes, Clouds 12-18

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Strepsiades can’t sleep for worrying about the debts he has to pay at the end of the month to fund his son’s addiction to horse-racing.

ἀλλ’ οὐ δύναμαι δείλαιος εὕδειν δακνόμενος
ὑπὸ τῆς δαπάνης καὶ τῆς φάτνης καὶ τῶν χρεῶν
διὰ τουτονὶ τὸν υἱόν. ὁ δὲ κόμην ἔχων
ἱππάζεταί τε καὶ ξυνωρικεύεται
ὀνειροπολεῖ θ’ ἵππους. ἐγὼ δ’ ἀπόλλυμαι
ὁρῶν ἄγουσαν τὴν σελήνην εἰκάδας·
οἱ γὰρ τόκοι χωροῦσιν.

But I can’t get to sleep, poor old me. I’m being bitten by expenditure and provender and debts because of this son of mine. He wears his hair long, he rides horses, he goes chariot-racing and he dreams about horses! But as for me, I’m perishing as I watch the moon bringing on the twenties, because my interest payments are approaching.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 23, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Aristophanes

Symphosius, Riddles 39

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Last time’s answer was a sponge (spongia). Here’s just one more for now. It might be a bit harder, perhaps?

quattuor insignis pedibus manibusque duabus
dissimilis mihi sum, quia sum non unus et unus.
et vehor et gradior, quia me mea corpora portant.

Distinguished by four feet and two hands, I am different from myself, because I am one and not one. I both ride and walk, since my bodies carry me.

The word after the comma in the last line appears variously in the manuscripts, so take your pick from:
que (= quae)

[3/4/11: Edit: I omitted to give you the answer to this one. It’s a centaur!]

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Symphosius

Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.5.14 (1010a10-15)

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I’m currently reading David Sedley’s fantastic book on Plato’s Cratylus. The same Cratylus who appears in this dialogue is mentioned by Aristotle, in a passage which will serve as a warning of the dangers that can result from taking philosophy to extremes! He’s rejecting Heraclitus’ famous dictum that, like a flowing river, the world is ever-changing; this seems to have led Cratylus to decide that one cannot even use words to communicate, because they too are in a constant state of flux.

ἐκ γὰρ ταύτης τῆς ὑπολήψεως ἐξήνθησεν ἡ ἀκροτάτη δόξα τῶν εἰρημένων, ἡ τῶν φασκόντων ἡρακλειτίζειν καὶ οἵαν Κρατύλος εἶχεν, ὃς τὸ τελευταῖον οὐθὲν ᾤετο δεῖν λέγειν ἀλλὰ τὸν δάκτυλον ἐκίνει μόνον, καὶ Ἡρακλείτῳ ἐπετίμα εἰπόντι ὅτι δὶς τῷ αὐτῷ ποταμῷ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμβῆναι· αὐτὸς γὰρ ᾤετο οὐδ’ ἅπαξ.

From this notion there blossomed the most extreme maxim of the ones I have mentioned, namely the maxim of those who call themselves followers of Heraclitus. Cratylus also held an opinion of this sort; he ended up thinking that it was not necessary to say anything, and only moved his finger. He was also critical of Heraclitus for saying that it is not possible to walk in the same river twice. For Cratylus himself thought that once could not even do it once.


Written by aleatorclassicus

February 21, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Aristotle

Symphosius, Riddles 63

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The last riddle was fairly easy – it was a ball (pila). Here’s a second one to try.

ipsa gravis non sum, sed aquae mihi pondus inhaeret.
viscera tota tument patulis diffusa cavernis.
intus lympha latet, sed non se sponte profundit.

I’m not heavy myself, but the weight of water clings to me.
All my innards swell up, spread wide by my broad cavities.
Within me the liquid lies hidden, but does not pour forth of its own accord.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 20, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Symphosius

Aelian, Varia Historia 12.3.7

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ὅτι Ἀλέξανδρος τὸν Ἀχιλλέως τάφον ἐστεφάνωσε καὶ Ἡφαιστίων τὸν τοῦ Πατρόκλου, αἰνιττόμενος ὅτι καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἐρώμενος τοῦ Ἀλεξάνδρου, ὥσπερ Ἀχιλλεῖ ὁ Πάτροκλος.

Note that Alexander laid a garland on Achilles’ tomb and Hephaestion laid one on Patroclus’ tomb, hinting that he was the beloved of Alexander, just as Patroclus had been to Achilles.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 19, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Aelian

Symphosius, Riddles 59

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I’ll post a few poems from this collection of riddles. I’ll keep the solution to this one back until I give you the next one!

non sum cincta comis et non sum compta capillis.
intus enim crines mihi sunt, quos non videt ullus.
meque manus mittunt manibusque remittor in auras.

I’m not encircled with hair, and I’m not adorned with tresses.
For my hair is inside, and no one can see it.
Hands throw me, and I am thrown back into the air by hands.

Quite a virtuosic little poem, with some remarkable alliteration in the first and last lines, three words for ‘hair’ and interesting half-rhymes at the end of the lines.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Symphosius

Philo of Alexandria, On the Embassy to Gaius 357-359

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Philo is recalling the deputation of which he formed a part in 40 AD: it was visiting the Emperor Gaius (aka Caligula) at a time of unrest between the Greek and Jewish communities in Alexandria. The Emperor had not been helping matters by wanting his own statue set up in the Temple at Jerusalem.

In this grimly comic passage the Emperor responds to the deputation’s protestations that the Alexandrian Jews have been offering up sacrifices in his honour. But his attention seems to be much more focused on the interior decoration of his palace…

“ἔστω” φησί “ταῦτα ἀληθῆ, τεθύκατε, ἀλλ’ ἑτέρῳ, κἂν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ· τί οὖν ὄφελος; οὐ γὰρ ἐμοὶ τεθύκατε.” φρίκηβύθιος εὐθὺς κατέσχεν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ τῷ προτέρῳ καὶ τοῦτο ἀκούσαντας, ἣ καὶ μέχρι τῆς ἐπιφανείας ἀνεχύθη. καὶ ταῦθ’ ἅμα λέγων ἐπῄει τὰς ἐπαύλεις, ἀνδρῶνας κατανοῶν, γυναικωνίτιδας, τὰ ἐν ἐπιπέδῳ, τὰ ὑπερῷα, ἅπαντα, αἰτιώμενος ἐνίας ὡς ἐλλιπεῖς κατασκευάς, ἑτέρας ἐπινοῶν καὶ προσδιατάττων πολυτελεστέρας αὐτός.

εἶτα ἡμεῖς ἐλαυνόμενοι παρηκολουθοῦμεν ἄνω κάτω, χλευαζόμενοι καὶ κατακερτομούμενοι πρὸς τῶν ἀντιπάλων ὡς ἐν θεατρικοῖς μίμοις· καὶ γὰρ τὸ πρᾶγμα μιμεία τις ἦν· ὁ μὲν δικαστὴς ἀνειλήφει σχῆμα κατηγόρου, οἱ δὲ κατήγοροι φαύλου δικαστοῦ πρὸς ἔχθραν ἀποβλέποντος, ἀλλ’ οὐ τὴν φύσιν τῆς ἀληθείας.

‘Assuming that all this is true,’ he said, ‘and you did sacrifice, but to another god, even if it was on my behalf – what good did that do? You didn’t sacrifice to me!’ A shuddering immediately took hold of us when we heard this – a shuddering which came over us also at his first appearance. And while he was still saying this he went into the outer buildings, examining the men’s quarters, the women’s quarters, the ground floor rooms, the upper storey, everything, finding fault with some parts for being defectively fitted out, making plans for other parts and personally giving instructions that they should be more lavish.

Then we were herded around, following close behind him upstairs and downstairs, being mocked and abused by our adversaries, just like in the mimes at the theatre. And the thing actually was a farce: the judge was taking the role of an accuser, and the accusers were taking the role of an incompetent judge who looks at the defendant with hostility and no regard for the nature of truth.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 17, 2011 at 12:00 PM