Mendicatio

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Ideo propera, Lucili mi, vivere, et singulos dies singulas vitas puta. Qui hoc modo se aptavit, cui vita sua cotidie fuit tota, securus est; in spem viventibus proximum quodque tempus elabitur, subitque aviditas et miserrimus ac miserrima omnia efficiens metus mortis. inde illud Maecenatis turpissimum votum, quo et debilitatem non recusat et deformitatem et novissime acutam crucem, dummodo inter haec mala spiritus prorogetur:
debilem facito manu, debilem pede coxo,
tuber adstrue gibberum, lubricos quate dentes:
vita dum superest, benest. hanc mihi, vel acuta
si sedeam cruce, sustine… [Maecenas fr. 4 Courtney]
quod miserrimum erat si incidisset optatur, et tamquam vita petitur supplici mora. contemptissimum putarem, si vivere vellet usque ad crucem: ‘tu vero’ inquit ‘me debilites licet, dum spiritus in corpore fracto et inutili maneat. depraves licet, dum monstroso et distorto temporis aliquid accedat. suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas.’ est tanti vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum, dum differat id, quod est in malis optimum, supplicii finem? est tanti habere animam, ut agam? quid huic optes nisi deos faciles? quid sibi vult ista carminis effeminati turpitudo? quid timoris dementissimi pactio? quid tam foeda vitae mendicatio?
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 101.10-13)

So make haste to live, my dear Lucilius and think of each single day as a single life. The man who has equipped himself like this, who has had a whole life each day, is free of care: for those who live in hope each coming instant slips away and greed advances on him with the fear of death, itself most wretched and making all things wretched. Hence that disgraceful prayer of Maecenas in which he does not jib at feebleness and ugliness and finally the sharpened stake, so long as his life is prolonged among these evils:
Make me feeble in hand, feeble with limping foot,
Impose a hunchbacked swelling, loosen my slippery teeth;
While there is life I am fine; keep it going for me
Even if I sit impaled on a sharpened stake.
He is wishing for what would be most wretched if it came upon him, and asking for a prolongation of his torment as if it were life. I would think him beneath contempt if he wanted to live on up to the moment of the stake. He says: ‘You can make me weak, so long as my breath persist in a broken and useless body; you can corrupt me, so long as some time is added to my repellent and distorted life; you may crucify me and put a sharpened stake beneath for me to sit on.’ Is it worth so much to drive in one’s own wound and hang stretched from a cross, so long as it postpones the best part of all misfortunes, the end of one’s torment? Is my living breath worth so much that I am ready to give it up? What would you wish for this fellow if not obliging gods? What is the meaning of this disgraceful and unmanly poem? What is the object bargained by this crazy fear? What the aim of such vile begging for life? (tr. Elaine Fantham)

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