Bayeux tapestry

Mars deus o belli, gladiis qui sceptra coerces,
corpora qui iuvenum sanguinolenta placent
et cruor effusus permulta cede virorum,
quis tibi tunc animus, quanta cupido mali,
cum medius saevas acies miscere iubebas!
quo pocius nullum te iuvat excidium
ex quo Pompeium superavit Iulius armis,
et Romana sibi moenia subripuit,
compulit atque metu Nili transire per amnem,
nulla reor caedes tam tibi grata fuit.
nec iuvenile decus nec te reverenda senectus,
nec peditum vilis et miseranda manus,
flectere nec valuit te nobilitudo parentum,
quin ageres quicquid mens tua torva cupit.
caecatos miseros radiantia trudis in arma,
et veluti ludum cogis adire necem.
quid moror in verbis cum iam furor exstat in armis?
exple velle tuum, Mars, age mortis opus!
(Guy of Amiens, Carmen de Hastingae Proelio 345-362)

O Mars, god of war, who punishes kingdoms with swords and rejoices in the bloody corpses of the young and men’s gore spilled in mass slaughter: how great then was your ardour, how strong your thirst for evil, when, standing in the midst, you ordered the savage ranks to join battle! No carnage delighted you more since Julius Caesar overcame Pompey in war, deprived him of Rome and compelled him in fear to cross the river Nile. No bloodshed, I think, gave you greater joy. Neither the beauty of youth, nor the reverence due to old age, nor the mean and pitiful throng of infantry, nor nobility of birth could deflect you from doing whatever your savage mind desired. You forced those deluded wretches into shining mail and sent them to death as though to a game. But why do I toy with words when already Fury appears in arms? Do what you will, O Mars. Do the work of death! (tr. Frank Barlow)


parmigianino detail
Parmigianino, Circoncisione di Gesù (detail)

Τὰ μὲν γένη τῶν ἐν εἴδει νόμων, οἱ προσαγορευόμενοι δέκα λόγοι, διὰ τῆς προτέρας ἠκρίβωνται συντάξεως, τὰ δ’ ἐν μέρει διατάγματα κατὰ τὴν τῆς γραφῆς ἀκολουθίαν νῦν ἐπισκεπτέον. ἄρξομαι δ’ ἀπὸ τοῦ γελωμένου παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς. γελᾶται δὲ ἡ τῶν γεννητικῶν περιτομή. πρᾶγμα σπουδαζόμενον οὐ μετρίως καὶ παρ’ ἑτέροις ἔθνεσι καὶ μάλιστα τῷ Αἰγυπτιακῷ, ὃ καὶ πολυανθρωπότατον καὶ ἀρχαιότατον καὶ φιλοσοφώτατον εἶναι δοκεῖ. παρὸ καὶ προσῆκον ἦν παιδικὴν χλεύην μεθεμένους φρονιμώτερον καὶ σεμνότερον ἀναζητῆσαι τὰς αἰτίας, ὧν χάριν ἐκράτησε τὸ ἔθος, καὶ μὴ προεξαναστάντας καταγινώσκειν μεγάλων ἐθνῶν εὐχέρειαν, λογιζομένους, ὡς εἰκός, τοσαύτας μυριάδας καθ’ ἑκάστην γενεὰν ἀποτέμνεσθαι, μετὰ χαλεπῶν ἀλγηδόνων ἀκρωτηριαζούσας τά τε ἑαυτῶν καὶ τῶν οἰκειοτάτων σώματα, πολλὰ δ’ εἶναι τὰ προτρέποντα τὴν εἰσήγησιν τῶν παλαιῶν διατηρεῖν καὶ ἐπιτελεῖν, τὰ δ’ ἀνωτάτω τέτταρα· (…)
(Philo, Peri tōn en merei diatagmatōn 1.1-3)

The Ten Words, as they are called, the main heads under which are summarized the Special Laws, have been explained in detail in the preceding treatise. We have now, as the sequence of our dissertation requires, to examine the particular ordinances. I will begin with that which is an object of ridicule among many people. Now the practice which is thus ridiculed, namely the circumcision of the genital organs, is very zealously observed by many other nations, particularly by the Egyptians, a race regarded as pre-eminent for its populousness, its antiquity and its attachment to philosophy. And therefore it would be well for the detractors to desist from childish mockery and inquire in a wiser and more serious spirit into the causes to which the persistence of this custom is due, instead of dismissing the matter prematurely and impugning the good sense of great nations. Such persons might naturally reflect that all these thousands in every generation undergo the operation and suffer severe pains in mutilating the bodies of themselves and their nearest and dearest, and that there are many circumstances which urge the retention and performance of a custom introduced by the men of old. The principal reasons are four in number. (tr. Francis Henry Colson)



Τίς οὖν ἡ τοῦ πολέμου τοῦ ἀκηρύκτου ἐν ζῴοις καὶ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἀνάγκη; ἢ ἀλληλοφαγίαι μὲν ἀναγκαῖαι, ἀμοιβαὶ ζῴων οὖσαι οὐ δυναμένων, οὐδ’ εἴ τις μὴ κτιννύοι αὐτά, οὕτω μένειν εἰς ἀεί. εἰ δὲ ἐν ᾧ χρόνῳ δεῖ ἀπελθεῖν οὕτως ἀπελθεῖν ἔδει, ὡς ἄλλοις γενέσθαι χρείαν παρ’ αὐτῶν, τί φθονεῖν ἔδει; τί δ’ εἰ βρωθέντα ἄλλα ἐφύετο; οἷον εἰ ἐπὶ σκηνῆς τῶν ὑποκριτῶν ὁ πεφονευμένος ἀλλαξάμενος τὸ σχῆμα ἀναλαβὼν πάλιν εἰσίοι ἄλλου πρόσωπον. ἀλλὰ τέθνηκεν ἀληθῶς οὗτος. εἰ οὖν καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν ἀλλαγή ἐστι σώματος, ὥσπερ ἐσθῆτος ἐκεῖ, ἢ καί τισιν ἀποθέσεις σώματος, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖ ἔξοδος ἐκ τῆς σκηνῆς παντελὴς τότε, εἰσύστερον πάλιν ἥξοντος ἐναγωνίσασθαι, τί ἂν δεινὸν εἴη ἡ τοιαύτη τῶν ζῴων εἰς ἄλληλα μεταβολὴ πολὺ βελτίων οὖσα τοῦ μηδὲ τὴν ἀρχὴν αὐτὰ γενέσθαι; ἐκείνως μὲν γὰρ ἐρημία ζωῆς καὶ τῆς ἐν ἄλλῳ οὔσης ἀδυναμία· νῦν δὲ πολλὴ οὖσα ἐν τῷ παντὶ ζωὴ πάντα ποιεῖ καὶ ποικίλλει ἐν τῷ ζῆν καὶ οὐκ ἀνέχεται μὴ ποιοῦσα ἀεὶ καλὰ καὶ εὐειδῆ ζῶντα παίγνια. ἀνθρώπων δὲ ἐπ’ ἀλλήλους ὅπλα θνητῶν ὄντων ἐν τάξει εὐσχήμονι μαχομένων, οἷα ἐν πυρρίχαις παίζοντες ἐργάζονται, δηλοῦσι τάς τε ἀνθρωπίνας σπουδὰς ἁπάσας παιδιὰς οὔσας τούς τε θανάτους μηνύουσιν οὐδὲν δεινὸν εἶναι, ἀποθνῄσκειν δ’ ἐν πολέμοις καὶ ἐν μάχαις ὀλίγον προλαβόντας τοῦ γινομένου ἐν γήρᾳ θᾶττον ἀπιόντας καὶ πάλιν ἰόντας. εἰ δ’ ἀφαιροῖντο ζῶντες χρημάτων, γινώσκοιεν ἂν μηδὲ πρότερον αὐτῶν εἶναι καὶ τοῖς ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτοῖς γελοίαν εἶναι τὴν κτῆσιν ἀφαιρουμένων αὐτοὺς ἄλλων· ἐπεὶ καὶ τοῖς μὴ ἀφαιρεθεῖσι χεῖρον γίνεσθαι τῆς ἀφαιρέσεως τὴν κτῆσιν. ὥσπερ δ’ ἐπὶ τῶν θεάτρων ταῖς σκηναῖς, οὕτω χρὴ καὶ τοὺς φόνους θεᾶσθαι καὶ πάντας θανάτους καὶ πόλεων ἁλώσεις καὶ ἁρπαγάς, μεταθέσεις πάντα καὶ μετασχηματίσεις καὶ θρήνων καὶ οἰμωγῶν ὑποκρίσεις. καὶ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα ἐπὶ τῶν ἐν τῷ βίῳ ἑκάστων οὐχ ἡ ἔνδον ψυχή, ἀλλ’ ἡ ἔξω ἀνθρώπου σκιὰ καὶ οἰμώζει καὶ ὀδύρεται καὶ πάντα ποιεῖ ἐν σκηνῇ τῇ ὅλῃ γῇ πολλαχοῦ σκηνὰς ποιησαμένων. τοιαῦτα γὰρ ἔργα ἀνθρώπου τὰ κάτω καὶ τὰ ἔξω μόνα ζῆν εἰδότος καὶ ἐν δακρύοις καὶ σπουδαίοις ὅτι παίζων ἐστὶν ἠγνοηκότος. μόνῳ γὰρ τῷ σπουδαίῳ σπουδαστέον ἐν σπουδαίοις τοῖς ἔργοις, ὁ δ’ ἄλλος ἄνθρωπος παίγνιον. σπουδάζεται δὲ καὶ τὰ παίγνια τοῖς σπουδάζειν οὐκ εἰδόσι καὶ τοῖς αὐτοῖς οὖσι παιγνίοις. εἰ δέ τις συμπαίζων αὐτοῖς τὰ τοιαῦτα πάθοι, ἴστω παραπεσὼν παίδων παιδιᾷ τὸ περὶ αὐτὸν ἀποθέμενος παίγνιον.
(Plotinus, Enn. 3.2.15)

What, then, is the necessity of the undeclared war among animals and among men? It is necessary that animals should eat each other; these eatings are transformations into each other of animals which could not stay as they are for ever, even if no one killed them. And if, at the time when they had to depart, they had to depart in such a way that they were useful to others, why do we have to make a grievance out of their usefulness? And what does it matter if, when they are eaten, they come alive again as different animals? It is like on the stage, when the actor who has been murdered changes his costume and comes on again in another character. But [in real life, not on the stage,] the man is really dead. If, then, death is a changing of body, like changing of clothes on the stage, or, for some of us, a putting off of body, like in the theatre the final exit, in that performance, of an actor who will on a later occasion come in again to play, what would there be that is terrible in a change of this kind, of living beings into each other? It is far better than if they had never come into existence at all. For that way there would be a barren absence of life and no possibility of a life which exists in something else; but as it is a manifold life exists in something else; but as it is a manifold life exists in the All and makes all things, and in its living embroiders a rich variety and does not rest from ceaselessly making beautiful and shapely living toys. And when men, mortal as they are, direct their weapons against each other, fighting in orderly ranks, doing what they do in sport in their war-dances, their battles show that all human concerns are children’s games, and tell us that deaths are nothing terrible, and that those who die in wars and battles anticipate only a little death which comes in old age – they go away and come back quicker. But if their property is taken away while they are still alive, they may recognise that it was not theirs before either, and that its possession is a mockery to the robbers themselves when others take it away from them; for even to those who do not have it taken away, to have it is worse than being deprived of it. We should be spectators of murders, and all deaths, and takings and sackings of cities, as if they were on the stages of theatres, all changes of scenery and costume and acted wailings and weepings. For really here in the events of our life it is not the soul within but the outside shadow of man which cries and moans and carries on in every sort of way on a stage which is the whole earth where men have in many places set up their stages. Doings like these belong to a man who knows how to live only the lower and external life and is not aware that he is playing in his tears, even when they are serious tears. For only the seriously good part of man is capable of taking serious doing seriously; the rest of man is a toy. But toys, too, are taken seriously by those who do not know how to be serious and are toys themselves. But if anyone joins in their play and suffers their sort of sufferings, he must know that he has tumbled into a children’s game and put off the play-costume in which he was dressed. (tr. Arthur Hilary Armstrong)



Respice nunc alia ac diversa pericula noctis:
quod spatium tectis sublimibus unde cerebrum
testa ferit, quotiens rimosa et curta fenestris
vasa cadant, quanto percussum pondere signent
et laedant silicem. possis ignavus haberi
et subiti casus improvidus, ad cenam si
intestatus eas: adeo tot fata, quot illa
nocte patent vigiles te praetereunte fenestrae.
ergo optes votumque feras miserabile tecum,
ut sint contentae patulas defundere pelves.
(Juvenal, Sat. 3.268-277)

Now consider the various other dangers of the night. What a long way it is from the high roofs for a tile to hit your skull! How often cracked and leaky pots tumble down from the windows! What a smash when they strike the pavement, marking and damaging it! You could be thought careless and unaware of what can suddenly befall if you go out to dinner without having made your will. As you pass by at night, there are precisely as many causes of death as there are open windows watching you. So make a wish and a pathetic prayer as you go that they’ll be content with emptying their shallow basins on you. (tr. Susanna Morton Braund)



Albi, nostrorum sermonum candide iudex,
quid nunc te dicam facere in regione Pedana?
scribere quod Cassi Parmensis opuscula vincat,
an tacitum silvas inter reptare salubres,
curantem quicquid dignum sapiente bonoque est?
non tu corpus eras sine pectore: di tibi formam,
di tibi divitias dederunt artemque fruendi.
Quid voveat dulci nutricula maius alumno,
qui sapere et fari possit quae sentiat et cui
gratia, fama, ualetudo contingat abunde,
et mundus victus non deficiente crumina?
Inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras
omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum:
grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora.
me pinguem et nitidum bene curata cute vises,
cum ridere voles Epicuri de grege porcum.
(Horace, Ep. 1.4)

Albius, good-natured critic of my ‘Conversations’,
out there in the Pedana what shall I say you’re doing?
Outdoing Cassius of Parma and his little books?
or strolling silently around those healthy woods,
concerned with what befits a man who’s wise and good?
No, you were never body without mind. The gods
gave you looks, wealth and skill to make the best of them.
What better could a little nursemaid pray for,
whose charge had sense, could speak his mind, who had
good name, good friends, good health in plenty too,
and lived with style and with a purse that’s deep enough?
Amid anxiety and hope, anger and fear,
think of each day that dawns as if it were your last.
Each unexpected hour will be a gift of joy.
I shall be plump, kempt, glossy when you visit
to laugh at one from Epicurus’ herd: a pig.
(tr. Keith Maclennan)


Giovanni Strazza, La vergine velata, 185x
Giovanni Strazza, La vergine velata

Ambiunt virgines hominum adversus virgines dei, nuda plane fronte temerarie in audaciam excitatae, et virgines videntur, quae aliquid a viris petere possunt, nedum tale factum, ut scilicet aemulae earum, tanto magis liberae quanto Christi solius ancillae, dedantur illis! ‘scandalizamur’, inquiunt, ‘quia aliter aliae incedunt’, et malunt scandalizari quam provocari. Scandalum, nisi fallor, non bonae rei, sed malae exemplum est, aedificans ad delictum; bonae res neminem scandalizant nisi malam mentem. si bonum est modestia, verecundia, fastidium gloriae, soli Deo captans placere, agnoscant malum suum, quae de tali bono scandalizantur. quid enim? si incontinentes dicant se a continentibus scandalizari, et continentia revocanda est? et ne multinubi scandalizentur, monogamia recusanda est? cur non magis hae querantur scandalo sibi esse petulantiam, impudentiam ostentaticiae virginitatis? propter huiusmodi igitur capita nundinaticia trahantur virgines sanctae in ecclesiam, erubescentes, quod cognoscantur in medio, paventes, quod detegantur accersitae quasi ad stuprum? non minus enim et hoc pati nolunt. omnis publicatio virginis bonae stupri passio est. et tamen vim carnis pati minus est, quia de officio naturae venit; sed cum spiritus ipse violatur in virgine sublato velamine, didicit amittere, quod tuebatur. o sacrilegae manus, quae dicatum deo habitum detrahere potuerunt!
(Tertullian, De Virginibus Velandis 3.3-8)

In contrast with the virgins of God, the virgins of this world go around with foreheads distinctly uncovered, having been roused to a rash audacity. They are considered virgins who are able to ask anything from men, much less the following example, in order that their rivals (with so much more freedom as servants of Christ alone) certainly are surrendered to them. ‘We are scandalized,’ the [virgins without veils] say, ‘because the others go about differently [than we do],’ and they choose to be scandalized rather than challenged. A scandal, unless I am mistaken, is not an example of a good situation but of a harmful one, creating an offence. Good situations scandalize nobody, except [those with] an evil mind. If restraint, reserve, aversion to the spotlight, striving to please God alone is good, let them who are scandalized by such goodness realize their own evil. So what if those lacking self-control say that they are scandalized by those with self-control! Should self-control be revoked? Lest the polygamists be scandalized, must monogamy be objected to also? Why do these [virgins with self-control] not complain more that the petulance and shamelessness of ostentatious virginity is an offence to themselves? Therefore, on account of the availability of heads of this kind, must pure virgins be dragged into the church, being ashamed because they are recognized in public, trembling because they are uncovered, summoned as if to their defilement? For they are no less willing to suffer even this. Every confiscation [of the veil] of a virtuous virgin is the suffering of defilement, and yet to suffer physical violence is less [terrible] because it comes from a natural bodily function. But when the spirit itself is violated in a virgin by her veil having been taken, she learns to cope with the loss of what she was guarding. O sacrilegious hands that have been able to remove the appearance that was dedicated to God! (tr. Geoffrey D. Dunn)




Quid fratres, gratasque nurus, castasque sorores,
et quos blanda tibi coniunxit gratia lecti,
iam referam? comitemque tori, dulcesque propinquos,
et quae prima tibi quondam dedit ubera nutrix,
et prima excepit gremio, carosque parentes,
iam raptos laetosque alibi, iam tristia rerum
evectos? nam posse ipsas cum corpore mentes
exstingui, res nulla docet. furor impius egit
mortales diversa sequi vestigia vero
brutorumque animis torporem affingere nostris.
ah tibi ne tam foeda, puer, persuaserit autor
imbellis, quamquam et patrias praescribat Athenas
et multam referat Romano e carmine laudem.
heu fuge crudeles scopulos et naufraga saxa.
quippe etenim, si corpus humo cum cedere iussum est,
iam nusquam est pars haec ingens qua vivimus una
omniaque in terris gerimus, iacet illicet omnis
et spes et ratio virtutum, et nomen inane
relligio cultusque Dei, quem tota vetustas
amplexa est, vitaeque olim promissa voluptas
venturae laetusque ardor, qui pectora famae
admonet instantemque docet contemnere mortem.
(Daniel Heinsius, De Contemptu Mortis 2.279-300)

Why should I mention your brothers, your charming daughters-in-law, your chaste sisters, all those who are bound to you by sweet family ties? Your spouse, your beloved relatives, the nurse who first suckled you and took you on her lap, your dear parents, already taken from you and happy elsewhere, having long escaped the sadness of things? For nothing suggests that the mind can be extinguished together with the body. A godless frenzy has driven mortal man to follow a path that diverges from the truth, and to ascribe the torpor of brute beasts to his own soul. Ah, don’t let that weak author* convince you of such awful things, boy, even if he claims that Athens is his native city and he is highly praised in a Roman poem! Ah, avoid those cruel cliffs and ship-smashing rocks. Because if, when the body has to be committed to the ground, that great part by the sole grace of which we live and do everything on earth is no longer anywhere to be found, all hope, all reason for virtue is instantly lost, and religion and the worship of God, which were embraced by all of Antiquity, are but idle words, as are the joy of a life to come once promised to us and the happy fervour which stirs the heart to praiseworthy deeds and teaches it to despise its impending death.

* Epicurus

(tr. David Bauwens)