Sunday, November 29, 2020

C.J. Rowe’s dating of the Phaedrus

Rowe dates the Phaedrus late, ‘certainly later than the Republic and other middle dialogues like the Phaedo and the Symposium; certainly later than the Timaeus; possibly or probably later than the Parmenides, the Theaetetus, the Sophist and the Statesman; and probably earlier than the Philebus’. (Plato Phaedrus, with translation and commentary by C. J. Rowe, 2nd ed., p. 14.) In ‘The argument and structure of Plato’s Phaedrus’ (Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 1986, pp. 106-125) he says at point (1) that those who regard the Phaedrus as belonging with the middle dialogues ‘rely on the close resemblance between some of the main ideas contained in Socrates’ speech and those of the Republic, the Symposium, and the Phaedo: including, most notably, the idea of separated Forms and that of learning as recollection. What has not been sufficiently recognised is that these ideas appear in the Phaedrus exclusively in the framework of a muthos. If no muthos is to be taken as literally true, the result will be to throw immediate doubt on their status.’ (p. 120-121). In support of his argument he quotes Socrates’ reference to his second speech, the Palinode, as a muthos (265c1): ‘a playful hymn in the form of a story’ (muthikon tina humnon). (p. 116)

Concerning Rowe’s point (1) I must ask: does Plato want to ‘throw immediate doubt’ on the Republic when he speaks of the State in which philosophers are to be rulers as a muthos? At Republic 501e2-5 he says that ‘until philosophers bear rule, States and individuals have no rest from evil, nor will this our imaginary State ever be realized (oude hȇ politeia hȇn muthologoumen logȏi ergȏi telos lȇpsetai)?’ (Tr. B. Jowett) Rowe’s ‘playful hymn in the form of a story’ has nothing in common with Jowett’s ‘our imaginary State’; we must go to the original in order to see the connection. In the Phaedrus Socrates views his Palinode as a muthos, in the Republic he views his whole narrative as a muthos. The reader might object that I twisted Socrates’ words in the Republic by emphasizing mutho while deemphasizing logoumen logȏi ‘narrate by logos’. But if in the light of this objection we return to the Phaedrus, the connection will be intensified, for in it, as in the Republic, Socrates combines the notion of muthos with the conception of logos: ‘mixing together a not wholly implausible speech (logon), we sang a playful hymn in the form of a story (muthikon, 265b8-c1)’.

At point (2) Rowe says that in the Phaedrus ‘Socrates argues that skilfully constructed logoi will be based on the procedures of collection and division (264e-266c, 277b-c). If, as I suggest, Plato has in mind his own works as models, this will connect the Phaedrus especially with the Sophist and the Politicus. (p. 121) He found this connection outlined in ‘the short but excellent introduction to Thompson’s edition of the Phaedrus, published in 1868’: ‘The key point of Thompson’s interpretation is that Socrates’ second speech is to be understood as an example of the kind of oratory which is described in the Politicus: “that part of oratory which persuades people of what is right, and so helps to guide behaviour in cities in partnership with the art of kingship”, and which “persuades the mass of people, the crowd, through muthologia rather than teaching” … This rhetoric, as understood by the Politicus and the Phaedrus, “was to be the handmaid at once of Philosophy and Political, or what in the ancient view was the same thing, of Ethical Science”.’ (pp. 107-8)

Thompson’s and Rowe’s interpretation corresponds to Plato’s view of rhetoric in the Politicus (i.e. the Statesman). The Stranger asks: ‘To what science do we assign the power of persuading a multitude by pleasing tale and not by teaching?’ – The younger Socrates answers: ‘That power, I think, must clearly be assigned to rhetoric.’ – Stranger: ‘And to what science do we give the power of determining whether we are to employ persuasion or force towards any one, or to refrain altogether?’ – Y. Socrates: ‘To that science which governs the arts of speech and persuasion.’ – Stranger: ‘Which, if I am not mistaken, will be politics.’ – Y. Socrates: ‘Very good.’ – Stranger: ‘Rhetoric seems to be quickly distinguished from politics, being a different species, yet ministering to it.’ (304c10-e2, tr. B. Jowett)

In contrast, in the Phaedrus the rhetoric and politics are in unity. In response to Phaedrus’ statement that ‘one of our politicians was railing at Lysias and reproaching him on the score of writing speeches, constantly calling him a speech-writer’ Socrates replied: ‘An absurd idea, young man … the proudest of politicians have the strongest desire to write speeches and bequeath compositions; why, whenever they write a speech, they are so pleased to have admirers that they put in a special clause at the beginning with the names of the persons who admire the speech in question.’ – Phaedrus: ‘What do you mean? I don’t understand.’ – Socrates: ‘You don’t understand that when a politician begins a composition the first thing he writes is the name of his admirer. – Ph.: ’Is it?’ – S.: ‘Yes, he says may be “Resolved by the Council” or “by the People” or both: and then “Proposed by so-and-so” – a pompous self-advertisement on the part of the author; after which he proceeds with what he has to say, showing off his own wisdom to his admirers, sometimes in a very lengthy composition; or does such a thing seem to you to differ from a written speech?’ – Ph.: ‘Not to me.’ – S.: ‘Then if the speech holds its ground, the author leaves the ground rejoicing; but if it is blotted out, and he loses his status as a recognised speech-writer, he goes into mourning, and his friends with him.’ – Ph.: ‘Quite so.’ – S.: ‘Which clearly implies that their attitude to the profession is not one of disdain, but of admiration.’ – Ph. ‘To be sure.’ – S.: ‘Well then – when he becomes an orator or king (rȇtȏr ȇ basileus) capable of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Darius, and achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city, doesn’t he think himself equal to the gods even while he is alive, and don’t those who come later think the same of him, when they observe his compositions?’ – P.: ‘Indeed so.’ (257c8-258c6)

At point (3) Rowe says: ‘The Phaedrus rejects the conception of gods as a combination of soul and body (246c-d): such a conception of them is present in the Timaeus (38e, 41a-b), but – pace Cornford – absent from Laws 10.’

To answer Rowes point (3), let me begin by contrasting Phaedrus 246c-d with the related Timaeus passages.

In Phaedrus 246c-d Socrates explains how it is that some living creatures are called mortal and some immortal: ’All soul has the care of all that is soulless, and ranges about the whole universe, coming now to be in one form, now in another. Now when it is perfectly winged, it travels above the earth and governs the whole cosmos; but the one that has lost its wings is swept along until it lays hold of something solid, where it settles down, taking on an earthy body, which seems to move itself because of the power of the soul, and the whole is called a living creature, soul and body fixed together, and acquires the name “mortal”; immortal it is not, on the basis of any argument which has been reasoned through, but because we have not seen or adequately conceived a god we imagine a kind of immortal living creature which has both a soul and body, combined for all time.’ (246b5-d2, tr. Rowe)

In Timaeus 38e Plato says: ‘Now, when each of the stars which were necessary to the creation of time had come to its proper orbit, and they had become living creatures having bodies fastened by ensouled chains, and learnt their appointed task …’

In 41a-b Plato says: ‘Now, when all of them, both those who visibly appear in their revolutions as well as those other gods who are of a more retiring nature (kai hosoi phainontai kath’ hoson an ethelȏsin theoi ‘and those gods who appear whenever they wish’), had come into being, the creator of the universe addressed them in these words: “Gods, who are my works, and of whom I am the artificer and father, my creations are indissoluble, if so I will. All that is bound may be undone, but only an evil being would wish to undo that which is harmonious and happy. Wherefore, since ye are but creatures, ye are not altogether immortal and indissoluble, but ye shall certainly not be dissolved, nor be liable to the fate of death, having in my will a greater and mightier bond than those with which ye were bound at the time of your birth.” (Timaeus 41a-b, tr. B. Jowett)

When Row argues at (3) that ‘The Phaedrus rejects the conception of gods as a combination of soul and body (246c-d): such a conception of them is present in the Timaeus (38e, 41a-b),’ he takes Phaedrus 34c-d as a rejection of Timaeus 38e, 41a-b. But how can the argument in the Phaedrus – that the conception of gods as immortal living beings composed of body and soul has not been reasoned through by any argument – refer to the stars, the divine beings whose creation was seen by Plato as necessary to create time (38b-39e)? In the Timaeus Plato employs all his knowledge of astronomy to reason through the necessary creation of the stars as divine beings composed of body and soul.

Furthermore, there is a passage in the Timaeus in which Plato appears to refer directly to Phaedrus 246c-d, when he says that the gods ‘who appear whenever they wish’, i.e. the gods of Greek mythology, are conceived ‘without any probable or necessary proofs’ as immortal beings composed of body and soul. But while in Phaedrus 246c-d Plato pays only a perfunctory lip service to the established religion – ‘but let this, and our account of it, be as is pleasing to god’ (246d2-3) – in the Timaeus he is much more circumspect: ‘To know or tell the origin of the other divinities is beyond us, and we must accept the tradition of the men of old time who affirm themselves to be the offspring of the gods  – that is what they say – and they must surely have known their own ancestors. How can we doubt the word of the children of the gods? Although they give no probable or certain proofs (kaiper aneu te eikotȏn kai anankaiȏn apodixeȏn legousin, 40e1-2), still, as they declare that they are speaking of what took place in their own family, we must conform to custom and believe them. In this manner, then, according to them, the genealogy of these gods is to be received and set forth. Oceanus and Thetys were the children of Earth and Heaven, and from these sprang Phorkys and Cronos and Rhea, and all that generation; and from Cronos and Rhea sprang Zeus and Hera, and all those who are said to be their brethren, and others who were the children of these.’ (Timaeus 40d6-41a3, tr. B. Jowett)

In answer to Rowe’s contention in point (3) that the conception of god’s as a combination of soul and boy ‘is absent from Laws 10’ I shall quote the relevant arguments of the Athenian Stranger, marking Cleinias’ responses by three dots.

Athenian: ‘If, in principle, soul drives round the sun, moon, and the other heavenly bodies, does it not impel each individually?’ … ‘Let’s take a single example: our results will then obviously apply to all the other heavenly bodies … the sun. Everyone can see its body, but no one can see its soul – not that you could see the soul of any other creature, living or dying. Nevertheless, there are good grounds for believing that we are in fact held in the embrace of some such thing though it is totally below the level of our bodily senses, and is perceptible by reason alone. So by reason and understanding let’s get hold of a new point about the soul. … If soul drives the sun, we shan’t go far wrong if we say that it operates in one of three ways. … Either (a) the soul resides within this visible spherical body and carries it wherever it goes, just as our soul takes us around from one place to another, or (b) it acquires its own body of fire or air of some kind, as certain people maintain, and impels the sun by the external contact of body with body, or (c) it is entirely separate from body, but guides the sun along its path by virtue of possessing some other prodigious and wonderful powers. … Now, just wait a minute. Whether we find that it is by stationing itself in the sun and driving it like a chariot, or moving it from outside, or by some other means, that this soul provides us all with light, every single one of us is bound to regard it as a god. Isn’t that right? … Now consider all the stars and the moon and the years and months and all the seasons: what can we do but repeat the same story? A soul or souls – and perfectly virtuous souls at that – have been shown to be the cause of all these phenomena, and whether it is by their living presence in the bodies (eite en sȏmasin enousai, 899b7) that they direct all the heavens, or by some other means, we shall insist that these souls are gods.’ (898d3-899b8)

In Laws 10 Plato leaves undecided the question whether the souls of the sun and all the other heavenly bodies direct all the heavens (kosmousi panta ouranon, 899b8) ‘by their living presence in the bodies, or by some other means’. Pace Rowe, the possibility that the souls of the gods are in the heavenly bodies is not ‘absent from Laws 10’.

What remains to be discussed is Rowe’s point (4): ‘Other clear connections with Laws 10, as has long been noticed, are to be found in the arguments for immortality (245c-246a)’.

The reference Rowe gives at point (4) is to Plato’s proof of the immortality of the soul, which is as follows:

‘All soul is immortal. For that which is always in movement is immortal; that which moves something else and is moved by something else, in ceasing from movement, ceases from living. Only that which moves itself (to hauto kinoun), because it does not abandon itself, never stops moving. It is also source and first principle of movement (archȇ kinȇseȏs) for the other things which move. A first principle is something which does not come into being (Archȇ de agenȇton). For all that comes into being must come into being from a first principle, but a first principle itself cannot come into being from anything at all; for if a first principle came into being from anything, it would not do so from a first principle. Since it does not come into being (agenȇton estin), it must also be something which does not perish. For if a first principle is destroyed, neither will it ever come into being from anything nor anything else from it, given that all things must come into being from a first principle. It is in this way, then, that that which moves itself is first principle of movement (kinȇseȏs men archȇ to auto hauto kinoun). It is not possible for this either to be destroyed or to come into being (touto de out’ apollusthai oute gignesthai dunaton), or else the whole universe and the whole of that which comes to be might collapse [‘would collapse’, Hackforth] together and come to a halt, and never again have a source from which things will come to be moved. And since that which is moved by itself has been shown to be immortal (athanatou de pephasmenou tou huph’ heautou kinoumenou), it will incur no shame to say that this is the essence and the definition of soul. For all body which has its source of motion outside itself is soulless, whereas that which has it within itself and from itself is ensoled, this being the nature of soul; and if this is so – that that which moves itself is nothing other than soul (mȇ allo ti einai to auto heauto kinoun ȇ psuchȇn), soul will be necessarily something which never comes into being nor dies (ex anankȇs agenȇton te kai athanaton psuchȇ an eiȇ).’ (245b7-246a2, translation C.J. Rowe)

In Laws X the Athenian Stranger defines the soul as ‘motion capable of moving itself’ (tȇn dunamenȇn autȇn hautȇn kinein kinȇsin, 896a1-2). In the Phaedrus Plato defined the soul as ‘that which moves itself‘ (to auto heauto kinoun, 245e7-8). The connection between the two is obvious. This similarity forms the basis for dating the Phaedrus late with reference to Laws 10 by Rowe and others. But there is a difference between the two. In the Phaedrus Plato emphasises again and again that the soul ‘does not come into being’, it is agenȇton (245d1, d3, 246a1), it is not possible for it to come into being (touto de oute gignesthai dunaton, 245d7-8). But in Laws 10 he speaks about its birth (autȇs peri geneseȏs 892a4): ‘it was born before all bodies’ (sȏmatȏn emprosthen pantȏn genomenȇ 892a5).

Presumably, the creation of the soul in the Timaeus provided the basis for Plato’s revision of the Phaedran soul in Laws X.

Let me go through the relevant passages in Laws X. At 892a8-b1 Plato days that ‘all things related to the soul will necessarily have been created before (protera an eiȇ gegonota) things related to the body, since soul itself is older than body.’ He goes on to say that those who deny the existence of the gods, ‘when they use the word “nature”, they mean the process by which the first things came into being. But if it can be shown that the soul came first, not fire or air, and that it was one of the first things created (psuchȇ d’ en prȏtois gegenȇmenȇ), it will be quite correct to say that soul is pre-eminently by nature. This is true, provided you can demonstrate that soul is older than body, but not otherwise.’ (892c2-7)

In the Timaeus Plato demonstrated that God created the soul of the universe before its body: ‘Now God did not make the soul after the body, although we are speaking of them in this order; for when he put them together he would never have allowed that the elder should be ruled by the younger … he made the soul in origin (genesei) and excellence prior (proteran) to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject.’ (34b10-c5, tr. B. Jowett)

In Laws 10 he maintains that it can be shown that ‘the motion (kinȇsis) that moves both itself and other things’ (tȇn te hautȇn te kinousan kai heteron, 894c4-5) ‘is the first by birth (prȏton genesei te estin) as well as in power’ (894d10)’, and that it can be shown that it is archȇ, the first principle of motion: ‘When that which moves itself by itself (auto hauto kinȇsan) effects an alteration in something, and that in turn in something else, so that motion is transmitted to thousands upon thousands of things, will there be any other initial principle of the entire sequence of their movements than the change that moves itself by itself (plȇn hȇ tȇs autȇs hautȇn kinȇsasȇs metabolȇ;)? Now let’s put the point in a different way. Suppose the whole universe were somehow to coalesce and come to a standstill, which of the motions we have enumerated would inevitably be the first to arise (prȏtȇn genesthai) in it? The one that moves itself by itself (tȇn autȇn heautȇn kinȇsan), surely, because no antecedent impulse can ever be transmitted from something else in a situation where no antecedent impulse exists. The first principle of all motions (archȇn ara kinȇseȏn pasȏn), which is the first born among things that stand still (kai prȏtȇn en te hestȏsi genomenȇn), and is the first among things that move, is the motion that moves itself by itself (tȇn hautȇn kinousan); we shall say that it is necessarily the oldest (presbutatȇn) and most potent of all changes.’ (894e4-895b6)

In Laws 10 Plato views ’the motion that moves itself by itself’ (tȇn hautȇn kinousan kinȇsin) as archȇ, the first principle of motion and change, just as he viewed motion ‘that moves itself’ (to hauto kinoun) as archȇ in the Phaedrus. But the notion of archȇ is different. In the Phaedrus the archȇ is agenȇton, it ’does not come into being’, whereas in Laws 10 it is the first principle (archȇ) that came into being (genomenȇ). To this difference corresponds the different outcome of the thought experiments, in which all that moves came to a standstill. In the Phaedrus if ‘the whole universe, the whole of that which comes to be, would collapse into immobility, and never find another source of motion to bring it back into being (tr. Hackforth)’; in Laws 10, if all came to standstill, it would be the motion that moves itself, which of necessity would be the first to come into being.

In Laws 10 the Athenian then asks: ‘If we ever saw this’ – i.e. the motion moving itself – ‘in something made of earth (genomenȇn en tȏi gȇinȏi ‘that came into being in something made of earth’) or water or fire, alone or in combination, what state we would say it to be in?’ – Cleinias: ‘Don’t you really ask me, whether we shall say it to be alive when it moves itself by itself (hotan auto hauto kinȇi;)?’ – Ath. ‘Yes’. – Cl. ‘To be alive (Zȇn), of course.’ (895c4-10)

Allow me a joke: Cleinias could answer the intentionally obscure question for he happened to have read the Phaedrus and remembered the passage in which the soul that loses its wings ‘is swept along until it lays hold of something solid, where it settles down, taking on an earthy body, which seems to move itself because of the power of the soul, and the whole is called a living creature (zȏion), soul and body fixed together.’ (246c2-5)

The Athenian Stranger then gives Cleinias an elementary lesson in philosophy: ‘Now, hold on a minute, for heaven’s sake. Aren’t you prepared to recognize three elements concerning each thing?’ Cl.: ‘What do you mean?’ – Ath.: ‘The first point is what the object actually is, the second is its definition, and the third is its name. And, in addition, there are two question to be asked about every existing thing.’ – Cl. ‘Two?’ – Ath.: ‘Sometimes we put forward the mere name and want to know the definition, and sometimes we put forward the definition and ask for the name … a number has the name “even” and its definition is “a number divisible into two equal parts” … when we call it “even” and define it as “a number divisible in two”, it’s the same thing we’re talking about.’ (895d1-e8)

After this preparation, the Athenian asks: ‘So what’s the definition of the thing we call soul? Do we have any other than the one we said a moment ago [at 895c4-10]: “the motion capable of moving itself by itself” (tȇn dunamenȇn autȇn hautȇn kinein kinȇsin;)? – Cl.: ‘Do you mean that the motion that moves itself (to heauto kinein) is the definition of the same entity, which we all call by the name soul?’ – Ath.: ‘I do. And if this is true, are we still dissatisfied? Haven’t we got ourselves a satisfactory proof that soul is identical (psuchȇn t’auton on) with the first generation (kai tȇn prȏtȇn genesin) and motion of all past, present and future things and their contraries? When it has been shown to be the cause of all change and motion in everything?’ – Cl.: ’Dissatisfied? No! (Ouk), On the contrary, it has been proved most sufficiently that soul is the oldest of all things (psuchȇ tȏn pantȏn presbutatȇ), the first principle of motion that was generated (genomenȇ ge archȇ kinȇseȏs) … Ath.: ‘So it was equally correct, final and complete statement of the truth, when we said that soul was generated prior to body (psuchȇn men proteran gegonenai sȏmatos), and that body came second and later, soul being the master, and body its natural subject.’ (895e10-896c3)

Let me compare to this ‘final and complete statement of the truth’ in Laws X the concluding statement of the proof of immortality of soul in the Phaedrus: ‘All body which has its source of motion outside itself is soulless, whereas that which has it within itself and from itself is ensoled (empsuchon), this being the nature of soul; and if this is so – that that which moves itself is nothing other than soul, soul will be necessarily something which never comes into being (agenȇton) nor dies.’

The similarity is undeniable, but so is the difference. In Laws X the soul was generated (genomenȇ); it was brought into being prior to body, body came second, in the Phaedrus the soul has never come into being, it was ‘of necessity agenȇton’.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Before I return to Plato

I spent the last half a year with Latin poetry. I enjoyed every minute of it, but almost every day there came moments of unhappiness – I left my discussion of Rowe’s article on Plato’s Phaedrus unfinished. Returning to Plato, I must resume and finish the discussion. But before doing so, I want to express my thanks to Gavin Betts and Daniel Franklin for their brilliantly annotated Beginning Latin Poetry Reader (70 Selections from the Great Periods of Roman Verse and Drama), while giving vent to my unhappiness with their exhortations ‘trans.’, i.e. ‘translate’, which they repeat again and again, with instructions how this or that Latin phrase should be translated.

I’ve chosen one of the shorter poems, which I shall present with the authors’ translation (provided in the ‘key section’), with their elucidations of meter and grammar, including their explanations in the corresponding paragraphs of the GRAMMAR section.


A lament for the death of Lesbia’s sparrow.

Meter: hendecasyllable (§M3). In the metrical section the authors explain: [§M3: A hendecasyllable (from Greek hendeka eleven) is a line of eleven syllables. (Since I cannot find the way of expressing the meter by symbols, I must explain it as follows.) The first two syllables: iamb or spondee, next three syllables: dactyl, next four syllables: two trochees, the last two syllables: trochee or spondee.]

Luget(e) o Veneres Cupidinesque,                              1

et quant(um) est hominum venustiorum.

passer mortuus est meae puellae,

passer deliciae meae puellae,

quem plus ill(a) oculis suis amabat.                           5

nam mellitus erat suamque norat

ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,

nec ses(e) a grem(i) illius movebat,

sed circumsilliens mod(o) huc mod(o) illuc

ad solam domin(am) usque pipiabat;                         10

qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum

illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.

at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae

Orci, qu(ae) omnia bella devoratis:

tam bellum mihi passer(em) abstulistis.                     15

o factum male, o miselle passer!

tua nunc opera meae puellae

flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

1 lūgēte 2 pl. imp. lūgeō -ēre lament; Venerēs Cupīdinēsque voc. Loves (Venus Veneris F.) and Cupids (Cupīdō Cupīdinis M.) – an odd expression (there was only one Venus) that Catullus probably thought matched the mock-serious tone of the poem.

2 Take quantum (rel. pron. of quantity) with hominum venustiorum (partitive gen. [§G24: The partitive genitive occurs in phrases where a noun in the genitive expresses a whole and the noun or noun substitute that it qualifies expresses a part. The noun substitute may be a pronoun, adjective, or adverb. Fortissima Tyndaridarum. The bravest of the daughters of Tyndareus. *HORACE Sermōnēs 1.1.100]), lit. how much more refined (compar. of venustus) people there are, trans. all those of finer feelings. [[ The exhortation “translate”, and the  instruction how to do it lead the learner astray. If he/she wants to properly enjoy Latin poetry, they must understand it as it goes in Latin: et quant(um) est hominum venustiorum.]]

3f passer nom. of passer passeris M. sparrow or a similar small bird; mortuus est 3 sing. perf. ind. morior morī has died; dēliciae -ārum F. PL. darling (pl. used with a sg. meaning {§G53: A common feature of Latin verse is the use of the plural form of a noun instead of the singular, with no difference of meaning.] meae puellae gen. sing. my girl’s.

5 oculīs suīs abl. Of comparison [G42: The ablative of comparison is used after a comparative adjective; plus more.] than her own eyes.

6f. mellītus honey-sweet; … suam … ipsam its (i.e., sparrow’s) mistress – in the language of slaves, a master and his wife were euphemistically called ipse [he] himself and ipsa [she] herslf; nōrat = nōverat [§G95: The shorter ending is a poetic form that occurs in poetry and in some prose writers, such as Livy and Tacitus; it appears to have been used in popular speech.] knew – the perfect and pluperfect of noscō can be used in a present and imperfect sense, respectively; tam bene quam as well as.

8 sēsē = ; gremium - N. lap.

9 circumsiliō -īre hop around; modo … modo … at one time … at another time …, trans. now … now ….

10 usque adv. always; pīpiō -āre chirp.

11 The rel. pron. quī (antecedent passer) connects the following sentence with the previous one, trans. it; it 3 sg. pres. ind. act. eō īre; per iter tenebricōsum along the gloomy way, i.e., the road to the Underworld – the fact that the sparrow was still on its way to the nether regions seems to indicate that it had only recently died.

12 illūc, unde trans. to the place from where; negant … quemquam they say that no one; redeō -īre return.

13 vōbīs male sit lit., may it be (subj. to express a wish [§G67: The optative subjunctive (negated by nē) expresses a wish. In the present tense, an optative subjunctive expresses a wish for the future.]) badly for you, trans. a curse on you; tenebrae -ārum F.PL. darkness, shades.

14 Orcus -ī M. another name for the Underworld; bellus beautiful (also in l. 15); dēvorō -āre swallow up.

15 mihi dat. of disadvantage [§G31: The dative of advantage/disadvantage is used for a person who is affected by the action expressed by a verb, whether advantageously or the opposite. This can sometimes be translated by for, but often the translation must be adapted to the context.], lit., to my disadvantage, trans. from me; abstulistis 2 pl. perf. ind. act. auferō -ferre take away.

16 factum male lit., wickedly done, i.e., wicked deed; misellus diminutive of miser, trans. poor littlediminutives were commonly used in colloquial Latin for emotional effects, as here and in l. 18.

17 tuā … operā instrumental abl. [§G47: The instrumental ablative is used for the tool with which something is done and is usually translated by by or with; it is occasionally used of something living.] lit., through your work, i.e. because of you; take meae puellae with ocellī (l. 18).

18 flendō (gerund [§G78: The gerund is a verbal noun and is active in meaning. Its English equivalent is the verbal noun in -ing.] abl. of cause [§G48: The ablative of cause gives the reason for something and is close in meaning to the instrumental ablative.] from weeping; the force of the diminutives turgidulus (turgidus swollen) and ocellus (oculus eye) cannot be expressed in English; rubeō -ēre be red.


‘Lament, O Loves and Cupids and all those of finer feelings (lit., how much more refined people there are), my girl’s sparrow has died, the sparrow [that was] my girl’s darling, whom she loved more than her own eyes. For it was honey sweet and knew its mistress as well as a girl [knows her own] mother, and it did not stir (lit., move itself) from her lap, but hopping around now here, now there, it always chirped to its mistress alone.

Now it goes along the gloomy way to the place from where they say that no one returns. But a curse on you (lit., may it be badly for you), wicked Shades of Orcus that swallow up everything beautiful; so beautiful a sparrow have you taken from me. O wicked deed! O poor little sparrow! Because of you, my girl’s swollen eyes are red from weeping.’

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Lucretius on the origin of the belief in the gods

In the closing verses of the section devoted to ‘civilization in progress’ Lucretius prepared the ground for his discussion of the origin of religion. Let me repeat those verses in Bailey’s translation:

‘Violence and hurt tangle everyman in their toils, and for the most part fall on the head of him, from whom they had their rise, nor is it easy for one who by his act breaks the common pact of peace to lead a calm and quiet life. For though he be unnoticed of the race of gods and men, yet he must needs mistrust that his secret will be kept forever; nay indeed, many by speaking in their sleep or raving in fever have often, so ‘tis said, betrayed themselves, and brought to light misdeeds long hidden.’ (1152-1160)

The next section Lucretius opens as follows:

Nunc quae causa deum per magnas numina gentis

pervulgarit et ararum compleverit urbis

suscipiendaque curarit sollemnia sacra,

quae nunc in magnis florent sacra rebu’ locisque,

und(e) etiam nunc est mortalibus insitus horror

qui delubra deum nova toto suscitat orbi

terrar(um) et festis cogit celebrare diebus,

non ita difficilest rationem reddere verbis.

‘Next, what cause spread abroad the divine powers of the gods among great nations, and filled cities with altars, and taught men to undertake sacred rites at yearly festivals, rites which are honoured to-day in great empires and at great places; whence even now there is implanted in mortals a shuddering dread, which raises new shrines of the gods all over the world, and constrains men to throng them on the holy days; of this it is not hard to give account in words.’

quippe etenim iam tum divum mortalia saecla

egregias animo facies vigilante videbant

et magis in somnis mirando corporis auctu.

‘For indeed already the races of mortals used to perceive the glorious shapes of gods with waking mind, an all the more in sleep with wonderous bulk of body.’

his igitur sensum tribuebant propterea quod

membra movere videbantur vocesque superbas

mittere pro facie praeclar(a) et viribus amplis.

‘To these they would assign sense because they were seen to move their limbs, and to utter haughty sounds befitting their noble mien and ample strength.’

aeternamque dabant vitam, quia smper eorum

suppeditabat facies et forma manebat

et tamen omnino quod tantis viribus auctos

non temer(e) ulla vi convinci posse putabant.

‘And they gave them everlasting life because their images came in constant stream and the form remained unchanged, and indeed above all because they thought that those endowed with such strength could not readily be vanquished by any force.’

fortunisqu(e) ideo longe praestare putabant,

quod mortis timor haud quemquam vexaret eorum,

et simul in somnis quia multa et mira videbant

efficer(e) et nullum capere ipsos inde laborem.

‘They thought that they far excelled in happiness, because the fear of death never harassed any of them, and at the same time because in sleep they saw them accomplish many marvels, yet themselves not undergo any toil.’

praeterea caeli rationes ordine certo

et vari(a) annorum cernebant tempora verti

nec poterant quibus id fieret cognoscere causis.

‘Moreover, they beheld the workings of the sky in due order, and the diverse seasons of the year come round, nor could they learn by what causes that was brought about.’

ergo perfugium sib(i) habebant omnia divis

trader(e) et illorum nutu facer(e) omnia flecti.

‘And so they made it their refuge to lay all to the charge of the gods, and to suppose that all was guided by their will.’

in caeloque deum sedis et templa locarunt,

‘And they placed the abodes and quarters of the gods in the sky,’

per caelum volvi quia nox et luna videtur,

‘because through the sky night and the moon are seen to roll on their way,’

luna dies et nox et noctis signa severa

‘moon, day and night, and the stern signs of night,’

noctivagaeque faces caeli flammaeque volantes,

‘and the torches of heaven that rove through the night, and the flying flames,’

nubila sol imbres nix venti fulmina grando

‘clouds, sunlight, rain, snow, winds, lightning, hail,’

et rapidi fremitus et murmura magna minarum.

‘and the rapid roar and mighty murmurings of heaven’s threats.’



Religion brought misery and unhappiness:

O genus infelix humanum, talia divis

cum tribuit fact(a) atqu(e) iras adiunxit acerbas!

‘Ah! unhappy race of men, when it has assigned such acts to the gods and joined therewith bitter anger!’

quantos tum gemitus ipsi sibi, quantaque nobis

vulnera, quas lacrimas peperere minoribu’ nostris!

‘what groaning did they then beget for themselves, what sores for us, what tears for our children to come!’

Nec pietas ullast velatum saepe videri

vertier ad lapid(em) atqu(e) omnis acceder(e) ad aras

‘Nor is it piety at all to be seen often with veiled head turning towards a stone, and to draw near to every altar,’

nec procumber(e) humi prostrat(um) et pandere palmas

‘no, nor to lay prostrate on the ground with outstretched palms’

ante deum delubra nec aras sanguine multo

spargere quadrupedum nec votis nectere vota,

‘before the shrines of the gods, nor to sprinkle the altars with the streaming blood of beasts, nor to link vow to vow,’

sed mage pacata poss(e) omnia mente tueri.

‘but rather to be able to contemplate all things with a mind at rest.’

nam cum suspicimus magni caelestia mundi

templa super stellisque micantibus aethera fixum,

‘For indeed when we look up at the heavenly quarters of the great world, and the firm-set ether above the twinkling stars,’

et venit in mentem solis lunaeque viarum,

‘and it comes to our mind to think of the journeyings of sun and moon,’

tunc aliis oppressa malis in pectora cura

‘then into our hearts weighed down with other ills,’

illa quoqu(e) expergefactum caput eriger(e) infit,

‘this misgiving too begins to raise up its wakened head,’

neqae forte deum nobis immensa potestas

sit, vario motu quae candida sidera verset.

‘that there may be perchance some immeasurable power of the gods over us, which whirls on the bright stars in their diverse motions.’

temptat enim dubiam mentem rationis egestas,

‘For lack of reasoning assails our mind with doubt,’

ecquaenam fuerit mundi genitalis origo,

‘whether there was any creation and beginning of the world,’

et simul ecquae sit finis, quoad moenia mundi

solliciti motus hunc possint ferre laborem,

‘and again whether there is an end, until which the walls of the world may be able to endure this weariness of endless motion,’

an divinitus aeterna donata salute

‘or whether gifted by the gods’ will with an everlasting being’

perpetuo possint aevi labentia tractu

immensi validas aevi contemnere viris.

,they may be able to glide on down the everlasting groove of time, and set at naught the mighty strength of measureless time.’

praeterea cui non animus formidine divum

contrahitur, cui non correpunt membra pavore,

‘Moreover, whose heart does not shrink with terror of the gods, whose limbs do not crouch in fear,’

fulminis horribili cum plaga torrida tellus

contremit et magnum percurrunt murmura caelum?

‘when the parched earth trembles beneath the awful stoke of lightning and rumblings run across the great sky?’

non populi gentesque tremunt, regesque superbi

corripiunt divum percussi membra timore,

‘Do not the peoples and nations tremble, and proud kings shrink in every limb, thrilled with the fear of the gods,’

nequid ob admissum foede dictumve superbe

‘lest for some foul crime or haughty word’

poenarum grave sit solvendi tempus adultum?

‘the heavy time of retribution be ripe?’

summ(a) etiam cum vis violenti per mare venti

‘Or again, when the fiercest force of furious wind at sea’

induperatorem classis super aequora vertit

‘sweeps the commander of a fleet over the waters’

cum pariter validis legionibus atqu(e) elephantis,

‘with his strong legions and his elephants, all in like case,’

non divum pacem votis adit ac prece quaesit

ventorum pavidus paces animasque secundas,

‘does he not seek with vows the peace of the gods, and fearfully crave in prayer a calm from wind and favouring breezes;’

nequiquam, quoniam violento turbine saepe

correptus nilo fertur minus ad vada leti?

‘all in vain, since often when caught in the headstrong hurricane he is born for all his prayers to the shallow waters of death?’

usque adeo res humanas vis abdita quaedam

obterit et pulchros fascis saevasque securis

proculcar(e) ac ludibrio sib(i) habere videtur.

‘So greatly does some secret force grind beneath its heel the greatness of men, and it is seen to tread down and make sport for itself of the glorious rods and relentless axes.’

denique sub pedibus tellus cum tota vacillat

‘Again, when the whole earth rocks beneath men’s feet,’

concussaeque cadunt urbes dubiaeque minantur,

‘and cities are shaken to their fall or threaten doubtful of their doom,’

quid mirum si se temnunt mortalia saecla

‘what wonder if the races of mortal men despise themselves’

atque potestates magnas mirasque relinquunt

in rebus viris divum, quae cuncta gubernent?

‘and leave room in the world for the mighty power and marvellous strength of the gods, to guide all things?’


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Lucretius on civilization in progress

The next three lines, with which the new section begins in Baily’s oxford edition, are in fact backward looking:

Inque dies magis hi victum vitamque priorem

commutare novis monstrabant rebus et igni

ingenio qui praestabant et corde vigebant.

‘And day by day those who excelled in understanding and were strong in mind showed them more and more how to change their former life and livelihood for new habits and for fire.’

In the preceding discussion of the beginning and the early developments of civilization Lucretius emphasized that all members of the society were involved in the making of those events, which was particularly strongly voiced when he spoke of the beginning and the development of language. In these three lines he qualified it.

What came next was a profound change of direction:

condere coeperunt urbis arcemque locare

praesidium reges ipsi sibi perfugiumque,

‘Kings began to build cities and to found a citadel, to be for themselves a stronghold and a refuge;’

et pecus atqu(e) agros diviser(e) atque dedere

pro facie cuiusqu(e) et viribus ingenioque;

‘and they parcelled out and gave flocks and fields to each man for his beauty or his strength and understanding;’

nam facies multum valuit viresque vigebant.

‘for beauty was then of much avail, and strength stood high.’


Then came another momentous development:

posterius res inventast aurumque repertum

‘Thereafter property was invented and gold found,’

quod facil(e) et validis et pulchris dempsit honorem;

‘which easily robbed the strong and beautiful of honour;’

divitioris enim sectam plerumque sequuntur

quamlibet et fortes et pulchro corpore creti.

‘for, for the most part, however strong men are born, however beautiful their body, they follow the lead of the richer man.’


Lucretius can’t help remarking that this was not a happy development:

quod siquis vera vitam ratione gubernet,

divitiae grandes homini sunt vivere parce

aequ(o) animo; nequ(e) enim est penuria parvi.

‘Yet if a man would steer his life by true reasoning, it is great riches to a man to live thriftily with calm mind; for never can he lack for a little.’


But men were driven to vie for fame and power:

at claros homines voluerunt se atque potentis,

‘But men wished to be famous and powerful,’

ut fundamento stabili fortuna maneret

‘that their fortune might rest on a sure foundation,’

et placidam possent opulenti degere vitam

‘and they might in wealth lead a peaceful life;’

nequiquam, quoni(am) ad summum succeeder(e) honorem

certantes iter infestum fecere viai,

‘all in vain, since struggling to rise to the heights of honour, they made the path of their journey beset with danger,’

et tamen e summo, quasi fulmen, deicit ictos

invidi(a) interdum contempt(im) in Tartara taetra;

‘and yet from the top, like lightening, envy smites them and casts them down anon in scorn to a noisome Hell;’

invidia quoniam, ceu fulmine, summa vaporant

plerumqu(e) et quae sunt aliis magis edita cumque;

‘since by envy, as by lightening, the topmost heights are most often set ablaze, and all places that rise high above others;’

ut satius multo iam sit parere quietum

quam reger(e) imperio res vell(e) et regna tenere.

‘so that it is far better to obey in peace than to long to rule the world with kingly power and to sway kingdoms.’

proinde sin(e) incassum defessi sanguine sudent,

angustum per iter luctantes ambitionis;

‘Wherefore let them sweat out their life-blood, worn away to no purpose, battling their way along the narrow path of ambition;’

quandoquidem sapiunt alien(o) ex ore petuntque

res ex auditis potius quam sensibus ipsis,

nec magis id nunc est nequ(e) erit mox quam fuit ante.

‘inasmuch as their wisdom is but from the lips of others, and they seek things rather through hearsay than from their own feelings, and that is of no more avail now nor shall be hereafter than it was of old.’



Dramatic developments followed; kings were killed, their glory destroyed.

Ergo regibus occisis subversa iacebat

pristina maiestas solior(um) et sceptra superba,

‘And so the kings were put to death and the ancient majesty of thrones and proud sceptres was overthrown and lay in ruins,’

et capitis summi praeclar(um) insigne cruentum

sub pedibus vulgi magnum lugebat honorem;

‘and the glorious emblem of the head of kings was stained with blood, and beneath the feet of the mob mourned the loss of its high honour;’

nam cupide conculcatur nimis ante metutum.

‘for once dreaded overmuch, eagerly now it is trampled.’


Anarchy with its life of violence ensued, tired of which, men became ready to establish laws and obey them:

res itaqu(e) ad summam faecem turbasque redibat,

‘And so things would pass to the utmost dregs of disorder,’

imperium sibi c(um) ac summatum quisque petebat.

‘when every man sought for himself the power and the headship.’

inde maistratum partim docuere creare

‘Then some of them taught men to appoint magistrates’

iuraque constituere, ut vellent legibus uti.

‘and establish laws that they might consent to obey ordinances.’

nam genus humanum, defessum vi colere aevum

‘For the race of men, worn out with leading a life of violence,’

ex inimicitiis languebat; quo magis ipsum

sponte sua cecidit sub leges artaque iura.

‘lay faint from its feuds; wherefore the more easily of its own will it gave in to ordinances and the close mesh of laws.’

acrius ex ira quod enim se quisque parabat

ulcisci quam nunc concessumst legibus aequis,

‘For since each man set out to avenge himself more fiercely in his passion than is now suffered by equal laws,’

hanc ob rem est homines pertaesum vi coler(e) aevum.

‘for this cause men were weary of leading a life of violence.’

inde metus maculat poenarum praemia vitae.

‘Thence fear of punishment taints the prizes of life.’

circumretit enim vis atqu(e) iniuria quemque

atqu(e), und(e) exortast, ad eum plerumque revertit,

‘For violence and hurt tangle everyman in their toils, and for the most part fall on the head of him, from whom they had their rise,’

nec facilest placid(am) ac pacatam degere vitam

qui violat factis communia foedera pacis.

‘nor is it easy for one who by his act breaks the common pact of peace to lead a calm and quiet life.’

etsi fallit enim divum genus humanumque,

perpetuo tamen id fore clam diffidere debet;

‘For though he be unnoticed of the race of gods and men, yet he must needs mistrust that his secret will be kept forever;’

quipp(e) ubi se multi per somnia saepe loquentes

aut morbo delirantes protraxe ferantur

et celata <di(u)> in medium peccata dedisse.

‘nay indeed, many by speaking in their sleep or raving in fever have often, so ‘tis said, betrayed themselves, and brought to light misdeeds long hidden.’