Fatiscunt

Somnium Scipionis
Somnium Scipionis

Omnia nata quidem pereunt et adulta fatiscunt;
nec manet in rebus quicquam mortalibus; unde
vir etenim sperare potest populusve quod alma
Roma nequit? facili labuntur saecula passu:
tempora diffugiunt; ad mortem curritis; umbra,
umbra estis pulvisque levis vel in aethere fumus
exiguus, quem ventus agat. quo sanguine parta
gloria? quo tanti mundo fugiente labores?
stare quidem vultis, sed enim rapidissima caeli
vos fuga praecipitat. cernis quam parva pudendi
imperii pateant circum confinia nostri?
haec tamen heu quanto nobis extenta labore!
nunc quoque quam multo vobis servanda periclo!
finge quod esse potest, et erit, nisi Fata benigni
paenitet incepti: totius sola sit orbis
Roma caput, terris dominetur sola subactis.
quid tamen hic magnum? tanto quid nomine dignum
invenis? angustis arctatus finibus orbis
insula parva situ est, curvis quam flexibus ambit
Oceanus, viden ut parvus cognomine magno?
nec tamen hanc totam incolitis. nam multa paludes,
multa tenent silvae; pars rupibus hispida torpet,
parsque riget glacie; pars squalet inusta calore,
serpentumque domos calidis tegit aestus harenis.
utque simul totum videas, huc lumina volve.
verticibus caeli adversos atque alta tenentes
cernis stare polos, subiectaque cuncta duobus
perpetuo durata gelu? Prohibetur ab illa
stirps hominum regione procul; nil nascitur illic
quod victum praestare queat. qua semita solis
latior, obliquusque vagis it circulus astris,
ignibus arva rubent, mediusque exaestuat ingens
pontus et ardorem male caeli temperat humor
subditus.
(Petrarch, Africa 2.344-377)

Everything that has been born dies and grows weak when aged. Nothing in mortal affairs is lasting. How can a man and his people hope for what mother Rome cannot? The centuries will slip by with little suffering. Ages will pass. You will hasten to your death. You are a shade, light ash or a bit of smoke, which even the wind may move. For what purpose is glory gained by blood? To what purpose are great labors in a fleeting world? Though you wish to stay, heaven’s swiftest flights cast you down. Do you see how close our shameful empire’s boundaries extend? With what great labor we stretched them! Now with how much danger must you likewise guard these things! Do what can be done, and it will be accomplished, unless these fruitful undertakings displease the Fates. Let Rome alone be the head of the entire world. Let her alone be mistress of conquered lands. Is it still a great thing? Do you find it worthy of such a name? The world is an island wedged in a small space by narrow boundaries, which winding Ocean embraces in his ambit. Do you not see how small it is, though great of name? Nor do you inhabit it all. For the marshes hold many, as do the forests. The rougher part is weighed down by crags, and another is stiffened by ice. The scorched part is burned by heat. Fire covers the homes of serpents with searing sands. Turn your eyes this way so that you may see the whole thing at once. Do you see that each pole that stands at heaven’s peaks supporting the heights has been made subject to and hardened by everlasting ice? The race of men has been forbidden from that far-off land. Nothing grows there that can sustain life. There the path of the sun is wider, its slanting circle goes among the wandering stars, the fields redden with fire, the great middle sea boils, and its subterranean liquid cools heaven’s fire poorly. (tr. Erik Z.D. Ellis)

Caducum

Paul Gauguin, D'où venons-nous, que sommes-nous, où allons-nous, 1897
Paul Gauguin, D’où venons-nous ? Que sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous ? (1897-98)

Nimis caducum simul ac superbum animal est homo, nimis alte fragilibus superedificat fundamentis. e tanta sodalium turba ad quem redacti numerum sumus, vides; et ecce, dum loquimur, ipsi etiam fugimus atque umbre in morem evanescimus, momentoque temporis abiisse alter alterum accipiet, et ipse mox previum secuturus. quid ergo sumus, frater optime? quid sumus? nec desinimus superbire. suis angoribus consternatus Cicero, in epystola quadam ad Athicum, “Ipsi” inquit “quid sumus aut quandiu hec curaturi sumus?” brevis quidem sed bona, ni fallor, questio, et salutaris et gravida atque utilibus plena sententiis, sub qua multum vere humilitatis ac modestie multumque contemptus rerum fugitivarum vigil fossor inveniet. “quid sumus?” inquam; quam gravi, quam tardo, quam fragili corpore, quam ceco, quam turbido, quam inquieto animo, quam varia quamque incerta volubilique fortuna! “qut quandiu hec curaturi sumus?” profecto perbreviter. nempe non aliud sonat, quam si diceret: “ipsi quid sumus, et hoc ipsum quandiu futuri sumus?” utique hercle non diu, cum hoc idem nostrum esse, ut diuturnum esse non potest, sic nunc possit inter verba desinere, neque si accidat, miri aliquid acciderit. utrunque igitur bene et graviter queris, Marce Tulli; sed, queso te, ubinam tertium reliquisti, et eventu periculosius et quesitu dignius? postquam hic esse desierimus, quid futuri sumus? o rem magnam et ambiguam, sed neglectam! vale.
(Petrarca, Epist. Fam. 8.7.23-26)

Man is both too mortal and too proud a creature, and builds too high on brittle foundations. YOu see the small number to which we have been reduced from so great a group of friends, and even as we talk we ourselves are fleeting and disappearing like a shadow, and in a moment of time one of us will learn that the other has departed, destined himself soon to follow his predecessor. O best of brothers, what are we? What? And yet we do not abandon our pride. Cicero once, overwhelmed by anxieties, wrote in a letter to Atticus: “Who are we, really, or for how long will we concern ourselves over these woes?” A short question, but a good one, if I am not mistaken, one beneficial and loaded with useful thoughts, that will force the wakeful investigator to find much true humility and modesty and much contempt for fleeting affairs. I say again, what are we? How heavy, slow and fragile is our body, how blind, how troubled, how disturbed our mind, how shifting and unsure and mobile is Fortune. Or how long shall we care for these troubles? Surely only for a very brief time. To me this does not sound any different than if Cicero were saying: “Who are we, really? And how long shall we be the same person?” In any case, not for long, since our identities cannot last for long and can come to an end now as we speak, and if it happened this would be nothing strange. So you do well and wisely to ask both questions, Marcus Tullius; but I ask you, where did you leave that third possibility, more dangerous in outcome and more worthy of investigation? After we have ceased to exist here, what shall we become? What a great and problematic issue, but one overlooked! Farewell. (tr. Elaine Fantham)

Homuncio

Altichiero,_ritratto_di_Francesco_Petrarca

Fuerit tibi forsan de me aliquid auditum—quamquam et hoc dubium sit: an exiguum et obscurum longe nomen seu locorum seu temporum perventurum sit—et illud forsitan optabis, nosse, quid hominis fuerim aut quis operum exitus meorum, eorum maxime, quorum ad te fama pervenerit vel quorum tenue nomen audieris. et de primo quidem variae erunt hominum voces: ita enim ferme quisque loquitur, ut impellit non veritas, sed voluptas; nec laudis nec infamiae modus est. fui autem vestro de grege unus, mortalis homuncio, nec magne admodum nec vilis originis, familia—ut de se ait Augustus Caesar—antiqua. honestis parentibus, florentinis origine, fortuna mediocri, et—ut verum fatear—ad inopiam vergente, sed patria pulsis Arretii in exilio natus sum, anno huius aetatis ultimae quae a Cristo incipit MCCCIV, die lunae ad auroram XIII kalendas Augusti. natura quidem non iniquo neque inverecundo animo, nisi ei consuetudo contagiosa nocuisset. adolescentia me fefellit, iuventa corripuit, senecta autem correxit experimentoque perdocuit verum illud quod diu ante perlegeram: quoniam adolescentia et voluptas vana sunt; immo etatum temporumque omnium Conditor, qui miseros mortales de nihilo tumidos aberrare sinit interdum, ut peccatorum suorum vel sero memores se se cognoscant. corpus iuveni non magnarum virium sed multe dexteritatis obtigerat. forma non glorior excellenti, sed quae placere viridioribus annis posset: colore vivido inter candidum et subnigrum, vivacibus oculis et visu per longum tempus acerrimo, qui praeter spem supra sexagesimum aetatis annum me destituit, ut indignanti mihi ad ocularium confugiendum esset auxilium. tota aetate sanissimum corpus senectus invasit, et solita morborum acie circumvenit.
(Francesco Petrarca, Rerum Senilium Libri 18.1 (= Epistola Posteritati) 1-4)

It is possible that some word of me may have come to you, though even this is doubtful, since an insignificant and obscure name will scarcely penetrate far in either time or space. If, however, you should have heard of me, you may desire to know what manner of man I was, or what was the outcome of my labors, especially those of which some description or, at any rate, the bare titles may have reached you. To begin, then, with myself. The utterances of men concerning me will differ widely, since in passing judgment almost every one is influenced not so much by truth as by preference, and good and evil report alike know no bounds. I was, in truth, a poor mortal like yourself, neither very exalted in my origin, nor, on the other hand, of the most humble birth, but belonging, as Augustus Cæsar says of himself, to an ancient family. My parents were honorable folk, Florentine in their origin, of medium fortune, or, I may as well admit it, in a condition verging upon poverty. They had been expelled from their native city, and consequently I was born in exile, at Arezzo, in the year 1304 of this latter age, which begins with Christ’s birth, July the 20th, on a Monday, at dawn. As to my disposition, I was not naturally perverse or wanting in modesty, however the contagion of evil associations may have corrupted me. My youth was gone before I realized it; I was carried away by the strength of manhood. But a riper age brought me to my senses and taught me by experience the truth I had long before read in books, that youth and pleasure are vanity—nay, that the Author of all ages and times permits us miserable mortals, puffed up with emptiness, thus to wander about, until finally, coming to a tardy consciousness of our sins, we shall learn to know ourselves. In my prime I was blessed with a quick and active body, although not exceptionally strong; and while I do not lay claim to remarkable personal beauty, I was comely enough in my best days. I was possessed of a clear complexion, between light and dark, lively eyes, and for long years a keen vision, which, however, deserted me, contrary to my hopes, after I reached my sixtieth birthday, and forced me, to my great annoyance, to resort to glasses. Although I had previously enjoyed perfect health, old age brought with it the usual array of discomforts. (tr. James Harvey Robinson)