Altius ingenio raptus quam corpore, mundos
innumeros potuit animo numerasse suosque
Pythagoras superos. stupidus narrante dolebat
Magnus Anaxarcho; nec aperto lingua dolori
defuit, et morbum gemitu testatus anhelo:
‘ha miser!’ exclamat ‘vacuos rectoris inermes
tot video mundos, mihi nondum serviat unus;
nec mea dignatur casa mundus sceptra, nec unum
exaequasse Iovem Pellaeis glorior armis.’
o nimis excurrens praesumptio! nescia votis
ambitio praeferre modum, quae sola iubendi
anxia, diis solis regnantibus invidet orbem.
fixum non habuit successum gloria: Magnum
parvula, qui mundos sitiebat, sorbuit urna.
(Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius 6.15)
Borne aloft more in understanding than in body, the mind of Pythagoras was capable of enumerating innumerable worlds, each with its gods. Stupefied by Anaxarchus’s account, great Alexander grieved; speech was not lacking to express his grief openly, and he revealed his suffering in a pitiful groan: “Wretch that I am!” he cries, “for I behold so many worlds, lacking rulers and defenseless, but as yet not a single world owes service to me; not even the world where I dwell acknowledges my scepter, nor may I glory in having made myself the equal of even a single Jove by force of Pellaean arms.” O too unrestrained Presumption! Ambition that knows no limit to its hopes, tormented by the desire to command, looks jealously on a world ruled only by its gods. But the pursuit of glory attains no lasting success: a little urn swallowed the great Alexander, who had thirsted for entire worlds. (tr. Winthrop Wetherbee)
Itaque de isto feremus sententiam, an oporteat fastidire senectutis extrema et finem non opperiri, sed manu facere. prope est a timente, qui fatum segnis exspectat, sicut ille ultra modum deditus vino est, qui amphoram exsiccat et faecem quoque exsorbet. de hoc tamen quaeremus, pars summa vitae utrum faex sit an liquidissimum ac purissimum quiddam, si modo mens sine iniuria est et integri sensus animum iuvant nec defectum et praemortuum corpus est; plurimum enim refert, vitam aliquis extendat an mortem. at si inutile ministeriis corpus est, quidni oporteat educere animum laborantem? et fortasse paulo ante quam debet faciendum est, ne, cum fieri debebit, facere non possis; et cum maius periculum sit male vivendi quam cito moriendi, stultus est, qui non exigua temporis mercede magnae rei aleam redimit. paucos longissima senectus ad mortem sine iniuria pertulit, multis iners vita sine usu sui iacuit; quanto deinde crudelius iudicas aliquid ex vita perdidisse quam ius finiendae? noli me invitus audire, tamquam ad te iam pertineat ista sententia, et quid dicam aestima; non relinquam senectutem, si me totum mihi reservabit, totum autem ab illa parte meliore; at si coeperit concutere mentem, si partes eius convellere, si mihi non vitam reliquerit, sed animam, prosiliam ex aedificio putri ac ruenti. morbum morte non fugiam, dumtaxat sanabilem nec officientem animo. non afferam mihi manus propter dolorem: sic mori vinci est. Hunc tamen si sciero perpetuo mihi esse patiendum, exibo, non propter ipsum, sed quia impedimento mihi futurus est ad omne, propter quod vivitur. imbecillus est et ignavus, qui propter dolorem moritur, stultus, qui doloris causa vivit.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 58.32-36)
So now I will give an opinion on the point you raise, whether it is appropriate to spurn extreme old age, not waiting for the end but making an end by one’s own act. It’s the next thing to cowardice when one merely waits in idleness for death to come, just as one must be excessively devoted to wine if he drains every drop from the vat and guzzles even the lees. My question, though, is this: is the last part of life really the lees, or is it the finest, purest part? That is, provided the mind is without impairment, the senses intact and of use to the mind, and provided the body is not crippled and moribund before its time. For it matters a great deal whether one is prolonging life or prolonging death. Yet if the body can no longer perform any service, why should it not be appropriate to release the suffering mind? Perhaps what is called for is even to act a little before you must, lest when the time comes you should be unable. The risk of living in misery is worse than that of dying swiftly—and that being so, it’s foolish not to use a small amount of time as coin to buy off a huge gamble. Rarely does a prolonged old age deliver anyone to death without impairment; on the contrary, people are frequently confined to their beds without use of their limbs. Do you think it is any more cruel to lose something of your life than it is to lose the privilege of ending it? Don’t be unwilling to hear me, thinking that this opinion relates immediately to yourself. Assess what I’m saying on its own merits. I will not abandon old age as long as it allows me to keep my whole self—that is, the whole of my better part. But if it begins to attack my mind and lop off parts of it—if it keeps me alive without allowing me a life, then I will fling myself from the decayed and collapsing edifice. I will not die to escape sickness, provided it is curable and no impediment to the mind. I will not lay hands on myself because of pain: such a death is defeat. But if I know I will have to endure the pain without intermission, I will depart, not because of the pain itself, but because it will hinder me from everything that makes life worth living. He who dies merely because of pain is weak and lazy; he who lives merely for pain is a fool. (tr. Margaret Graver & Anthony A. Long)
Thus did she abuse her own body licentiously, making it seem that she had genitals not in the place where nature ordained for all other women, but in her face! All who were intimate with her were instantly known, by that very fact, to be men who did not have sex according to the laws of nature, while any decent men who came across her in the marketplace would turn back and beat a hasty retreat, lest they should touch a corner of that person’s clothes and feel that they had been tainted by the pollution. Those who saw her, especially early in the morning, regarded her as an ill omen. Yet she was in the habit of constantly lashing out viciously, like a scorpion, against her fellow actresses, for she was mad with envy. When Hekebolos, a man from Tyre, was later appointed to govern the Pentapolis, she followed in order to serve him in the most shameful things. But she offended the man in some way and was thrown out forthwith. And so it came to pass that she was destitute, lacking even necessities which she obtained from then on in her usual manner, by prostituting her body. First she went to Alexandria and then, after touring the entire East, she returned to Byzantion, plying her trade in each city on the way—God would show no mercy upon the man who specified the name of that trade. It was as though some evil force had decreed that no place should be unacquainted with Theodora’s lechery. (tr. Anthony Kaldellis)
Never has there been a person so enslaved to lust in all its forms. She often went to the potluck dinner parties in the company of ten young escorts, or even more than that, all at the peak of their physical prowess and skilled at screwing, and she would bed down with her fellow diners in groups all night long. And when all were exhausted from doing this, she would turn to their servants, all thirty of them if that’s how many there were, and couple with each of them separately—but even this would not satisfy her lust. One time when she went to the house of a notable to entertain during drinks, they say that when the eyes of all the diners were upon her she mounted the frame of the couch by their feet and unceremoniously lifted up her clothes right there and then, not caring in the least that she was making a spectacle of her shamelessness. Even though she put three of her orifices to work she would impatiently reproach Nature for not making the holes in her nipples bigger than they were so that she could devise additional sexual positions involving them as well. She was often pregnant, but by using almost all known techniques she could induce immediate abortions. Often in the theater too, and with the entire populace as her audience, she would strip and stand naked at the very center of attention, having only a loincloth about her genitals and groin—not that she would have been ashamed to flaunt those before the whole city too, but only because it was not permitted for anyone to be entirely naked in the theater, that is without a loincloth about the groin. Wearing this outfit, then, she would lie down on her back and spread herself out on the floor whereupon certain menials, who were hired to do this very job, would sprinkle barley grains all over her genitals. Then the geese, which were trained for this purpose, pecked them off one at a time with their beaks and ate them. When she stood up again not only was she not blushing with shame but seemed rather to be proud of this performance. For she was not just shameless: she was also more accomplished than anyone else at devising shameless acts. Often she would take her clothes off and stand in the middle of the stage by the mimes, alternately bending backwards or drawing attention to her rear, advertising her special brand of gymnastics both to those who had more intimate knowledge of it and to those who did not—yet. (tr. Anthony Kaldellis)
At this time Theodora was hardly ripe enough to sleep with a man or to have sex with him in the way that a woman should. So she would offer herself to certain poor wretches who performed that disgusting act on her that some men do with other men. She did it even with slaves who were attending their owners at the theater and who took the opportunity to step aside for a moment and practice this pestilence. And so she spent much time selling herself in this way, specializing in that unnatural service of the body. As soon as she reached puberty and was ripe enough, she joined the women on the stage and immediately became a call girl in her own right. She belonged to the lowest rank, which in the old days they called “basic infantry.” For she had no skill with the aulos, nor could she sing or even perform in the dance troupe: all she had to offer to passing customers was her youth, and she put her whole body to work for them. Later she took up full-time with the mimes in the theater, taking part in their performances by providing backup vulgarity for the comedians. For she had an especially quick and biting wit, and soon became a star feature of the show. There was no shame at all in her, and no one ever saw her embarrassed. She would provide shameful services without the slightest hesitation and was of such a sort that if someone slapped her or even punched her full in the face she would crack a joke about it and then burst out laughing. She would strip down in front for any passers-by and then in back as well, revealing in the nude those parts which custom forbids to be shown to men. She would joke with her lovers lying around in bed with them, and, by toying with new sexual techniques, constantly managed to arouse the souls of those who were debauched. Nor did she wait for her customers to make the first pass at her; quite the contrary, she herself tempted all who came along, flirting and suggestively shaking her hips, especially if they were beardless youths. (tr. Anthony Kaldellis)
It so happened that, some time later, when the emperor Theodosius was proceeding to the church at Holy Epiphany, the magister Paulinus, who was indisposed because of his foot, remained behind and sent his apologies. A poor man brought to the emperor Theodosius a Phrygian apple of enormous size, so big as to defy description. The emperor and all his senate were amazed. Immediately the emperor gave 150 nomismata to the man who brought the apple, and sent it to the Augusta Eudokia; and the Augusta sent it to the magister Paulinus, since he was a friend of the emperor; but the magister Paulinus, not being aware that it was the emperor who had sent it to the Augusta, took it and sent it to the emperor Theodosius, as he was entering the palace. When the emperor received it, he recognised it and concealed it. He called the Augusta and questioned her, saying, “Where is the apple which I sent you?” She replied, “I ate it”. Then he made her swear the truth by his salvation, whether she had eaten it or had sent it to somebody. She swore, “I have not sent it to anybody, I have eaten it myself”. Then the emperor commanded the apple to be brought in and showed it to her. He became angry with her, suspecting that it was because she was in love with Paulinus that she had sent him the apple and had denied it. For this reason the emperor Theodosius put Paulinus to death. The Augusta Eudokia was offended at the insult she had received, for it was known everywhere that Paulinus had been executed on her account, for he was a very handsome young man. (tr. Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys & Roger Scott)
The cruel disposition of the emperor was at this time abused by an execrable demon, who induced certain curious persons to institute an inquiry by means of necromancy as to who should succeed Valens on the throne. To their magical incantations the demon gave responses not distinct and unequivocal, but as the general practice is, full of ambiguity; for displaying the four letters q, e, o, and d, he declared that the name of the successor of Valens began with these; and that it was a compound name. When the emperor was apprised of this oracle, instead of committing to God, who alone can penetrate futurity, the decision of this matter, in contravention of those Christian principles to which he pretended the most zealous adherence, he put to death very many persons of whom he had the suspicion that they aimed at the sovereign power: thus such as were named ‘Theodore,’ ‘Theodotus,’ ‘Theodosius,’ ‘Theodulus,’ and the like, were sacrificed to the emperor’s fears; and among the rest was Theodosiolus, a very brave man, descended from a noble family in Spain. Many persons therefore, to avoid the danger to which they were exposed, changed their names, giving up those which they had received from their parents in infancy as dangerous. This will be enough on that subject. (tr. Edward Walford, revised by Andrew Constantinides Zenos)