aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Archive for May 2011

Tacitus, Annals 14.50

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At the moment of typing (Sunday morning), in common with every other resident of England and Wales, I’m legally prohibited from revealing the name of a footballer who is attempting to prevent anyone from knowing about his alleged extra-marital affair. As this graph* and this graph reveal, his attempt has utterly and catastrophically failed, and by the time the post you’re now reading makes it onto the internet the injunction may well have been lifted, since the information it attempts to keep private is firmly in the public domain: current estimates are that about 50% of the UK population knows the name.

The whole sorry episode is an example of the Streisand Effect, a phenomenon which was by no means unknown in the Roman world. It’s discussed by the ever-cynical Tacitus:

haud dispari crimine Fabricius Veiento conflictatus est, quod multa et probrosa in patres et sacerdotes composuisset iis libris, quibus nomen ‘codicillorum’ dederat. adiciebat Tullius Geminus accusator venditata ab eo munera principis et adipiscendorum honorum ius. quae causa Neroni fuit suscipiendi iudicii, convictumque Veientonem Italia depulit et libros exuri iussit, conquisitos lectitatosque, donec cum periculo parabantur: mox licentia habendi oblivionem attulit.

A not dissimilar charge brought Fabricius Veiento to ruin. The accusation was that he had composed many lampoons against senators and priests, in those books to which he had given the name of Codicils. The prosecutor, Tullius Geminus, claimed that the favours of the emperor, and the right of receiving promotions, had also been offered for sale by him. For this reason it was Nero himself who undertook the trial. He convicted Veiento, banished him from Italy, and ordered his books to be burned. The books were sought after and eagerly read for as long as it was dangerous to get hold of them. Soon, when the possession of them was again allowed, they were forgotten about.

*The spike was even more pronounced on Saturday, eclipsing even the previous high when the name was first revealed nearly a month ago.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Tacitus

Plato, Phaedrus 279b-c

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Socrates gives an example of a Socratic prayer.

ὦ φίλε Πάν τε καὶ ἄλλοι ὅσοι τῇδε θεοί, δοίητέ μοι καλῷ γενέσθαι τἄνδοθεν· ἔξωθεν δὲ ὅσα ἔχω, τοῖς ἐντὸς εἶναί μοι φίλια. πλούσιον δὲ νομίζοιμι τὸν σοφόν· τὸ δὲ χρυσοῦ πλῆθος εἴη μοι ὅσον μήτε φέρειν μήτε ἄγειν δύναιτο ἄλλος ἢ ὁ σώφρων.

O dear Pan and as many other gods as are here, grant that I may become beautiful within, and that what I possess externally may be in harmony with what is within. May I consider wisdom to be wealth, and may I have just as much gold as no one other than a moderate person could bear and carry.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 23, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Plato

Martial, Epigrams 12.51

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tam saepe nostrum decipi Fabullinum
miraris, Aule? semper homo bonus tiro est.

Are you surprised that our Fabullinus so often gets cheated, Aulus? A good man is always a novice.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 10, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Martial

Lysias 20 (For Polystratus) 20-21

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εἰ δέ τινες κακόνοι ἐγένοντο εἰς τὰ ὑμέτερα πράγματα ἢ γνώμην μὴ ἐπιτηδείαν εἶπον, οὐχ οἱ ἀπόντες τούτων αἴτιοί εἰσιν, ἐπεὶ καὶ τοὺς παρόντας ὑμεῖς ἀπελύσατε. οὐδὲ γὰρ εἴ τις τῶν ἐνθάδε μὴ τὰ ἄριστα λέγων πείθει ὑμᾶς, οὐχ ὑμεῖς ἐστε αἴτιοι, ἀλλ’ ὁ ἐξαπατῶν ὑμᾶς.

If any men have been ill-disposed towards your government or have proposed an improper motion, it is not the absent ones who are to blame for these things – since you have cleared even the ones who were present. For even if one of these men here persuades you by giving advice which is not the best, it is not you who are to blame, but the man who deceives you.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 9, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Lysias

Ennius, Satires fr. 20 Courtney

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numquam poëtor nisi podager.

I never write poetry, except when I’m suffering from gout.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 8, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Ennius

Xenophon, Anabasis 4.3.8-9

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In Xenophon’s account of his own adventures taking part in the ‘march inland’ of the famous Ten Thousand he even records his dreams. At this point the Greeks are having trouble working out how to cross a river.

ταύτην μὲν οὖν τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ νύκτα ἔμειναν ἐν πολλῇ ἀπορίᾳ ὄντες. Ξενοφῶν δὲ ὄναρ εἶδεν· ἔδοξεν ἐν πέδαις δεδέσθαι, αὗται δὲ αὐτῷ αὐτόμαται περιρρυῆναι, ὥστε λυθῆναι καὶ διαβαίνειν ὁπόσον ἐβούλετο. ἐπεὶ δὲ ὄρθρος ἦν, ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν Χειρίσοφον καὶ λέγει ὅτι ἐλπίδας ἔχει καλῶς ἔσεσθαι, καὶ διηγεῖται αὐτῷ τὸ ὄναρ. ὁ δὲ ἥδετό τε καὶ ὡς τάχιστα ἕως ὑπέφαινεν ἐθύοντο πάντες παρόντες οἱ στρατηγοί. καὶ τὰ ἱερὰ καλὰ ἦν εὐθὺς ἐπὶ τοῦ πρώτου, καὶ ἀπιόντες ἀπὸ τῶν ἱερῶν οἱ στρατηγοὶ καὶ λοχαγοὶ παρήγγελλον τῇ στρατιᾷ ἀριστοποιεῖσθαι.

That day and night they stayed there, in a state of great bafflement. But Xenophon had a dream: he thought he was bound in fetters, and that they fell off spontaneously, so that he was unbound and could walk across to wherever he wanted. At dawn he went to Cheirisophus. Xenophon said he had hopes that all would be well and told him the dream. Cheirisophus was pleased and as soon as day began to break all the generals were at hand and made sacrifices. From the very first one the omens were favourable. When the generals and captains left after the sacrifices they ordered the army to take breakfast.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Xenophon

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 8.14.ext.5

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In 356 BC an arsonist by the name of Herostratus burned down the temple of Artemis at Ephesus (famous as one of the Seven Wonders). Needless to say, the Ephesians weren’t best pleased.

illa vero gloriae cupiditas sacrilega: inventus est enim qui Dianae Ephesiae templum incendere vellet, ut opere pulcherrimo consumpto nomen eius per totum terrarum orbem dissiceretur, quem quidem mentis furorem eculeo inpositus detexit. ac bene consuluerant Ephesii decreto memoriam taeterrimi hominis abolendo, nisi Theopompi magnae facundiae ingenium historiis eum suis conprehendisset.

Here is a case where the desire for glory was sacrilegious. For a man was found who wished to set fire to the temple of Diana at Ephesus, so that by the ruination of a most beautiful structure his name would be published across the entire world. This madness of his mind he disclosed while sitting on his colt. And the Ephesians had well decreed that the memory of this most repulsive man should be obliterated – but Theopompus, the genius of great eloquence, included him in his Histories

Note that Valerius piously avoids naming the man.

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Valerius Maximus

Hierocles & Philagrios, The Laughter-Lover 25

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In honour of World Laughter Day, a little joke. Its butt is a generic scholastikos of the ‘absent-minded professor’ sort, one of the Philogelos‘ frequent targets.

σχολαστικὸς ἐν τῷ πλέειν χειμῶνος ὄντος σφοδροῦ καὶ τῶν οἰκετῶν κλαιόντων· “μὴ κλαίετε,” ἔφη· “πάντας γὰρ ὑμᾶς ἐν διαθήκαις ἐλευθέρους φῆκα.”

A professor was travelling by sea when a great storm arose. As his slaves were weeping he said, ‘Don’t cry! I’ve set you all free in my will!’

Written by aleatorclassicus

May 1, 2011 at 12:00 PM