Quid? illos otiosos vocas, quibus apud tonsorem multae horae transmittuntur, dum decerpitur, si quid proxima nocte succrevit, dum de singulis capillis in consilium itur, dum aut disiecta coma restituitur aut deficiens hinc atque illinc in frontem compellitur? quomodo irascuntur, si tonsor paulo neglegentior fuit, tamquam virum tonderet? quomodo excandescunt, si quid ex iuba sua decisum est, si quid extra ordinem iacuit, nisi omnia in anulos suos reciderunt? quis est istorum qui non malit rem publicam turbari quam comam suam? qui non sollicitior sit de capitis sui decore quam de salute? qui non comptior esse malit quam honestior? hos tu otiosos vocas inter pectinem speculumque occupatos?
(Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 12.3)

Tell me, do you call those people leisured who spend many hours at the barber’s while any overnight growth is trimmed away, solemn consultation is taken over each separate hair, and disheveled locks are rearranged or thinning hair is combed forward from both sides to cover the forehead? How angry they get if the barber has been a little too careless, as if he were cutting a real man’s hair! How they flare up if anything is wrongly cut off their precious mane, if a hair lies out of place, or if everything doesn’t fall back into its proper ringlets! Which of those people wouldn’t rather have their country thrown into disarray than their hair? Who isn’t more concerned about keeping his head neat rather than safe? Who wouldn’t rather be well groomed than well respected? You call leisured these people who are kept busy between the comb and the mirror? (tr. John W. Basore)


american tourists

Inde peregrinationes suscipiuntur vagae et invia litora pererrantur et modo mari se modo terra experitur semper praesentibus infesta levitas. “nunc Campaniam petamus.” iam delicata fastidio sunt: “inculta videantur, Bruttios et Lucaniae saltus persequamur.” aliquid tamen inter deserta amoeni requiritur, in quo luxuriosi oculi longo locorum horrentium squalore releventur: “Tarentum petatur laudatusque portus et hiberna caeli mitioris et regio vel antiquae satis opulenta turbae.” nimis diu a plausu et fragore aures vacaverunt, iuvat iam et humano sanguine frui: “iam flectamus cursum ad urbem.” aliud ex alio iter suscipitur et spectacula spectaculis mutantur. ut ait Lucretius: “hoc se quisque modo semper fugit.” sed quid prodest, si non effugit? sequitur se ipse et urget gravissimus comes. itaque scire debemus non locorum vitium esse quo laboramus, sed nostrum; infirmi sumus ad omne tolerandum, nec laboris patientes nec voluptatis nec nostri nec ullius rei diutius. hoc quosdam egit ad mortem, quod proposita saepe mutando in eadem revolvebantur et non reliquerant novitati locum. fastidio esse illis coepit vita et ipse mundus, et subit illud tabidarum deliciarum: “quousque eadem?”
(Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 2.13-15)

This is why men go touring on their travels and wander around the beach resorts; and their restlessness, ever hostile to present circumstances, tests itself now by sea, now on land. “Let’s make for Campania now.” Soon they are sated with fancy resorts. “Let’s go and see wild country, making for the moorland of Bruttium and Lucania.” But even in uninhabited places they miss some charm to give their pampered eyes relief from the stretches of neglect of rough terrain. “Let’s make for Tarentum, with its much-praised harbor and milder winter weather, and a hinterland wealthy enough even for a crowd of long ago.” “Now let’s turn about toward the city”: their ears have been deprived for too long of the din of applause, and now they are eager to enjoy human bloodshed. They embark on one journey after another and exchange one show for another. As Lucretius says: “This is how each man constantly is fleeing himself”, but what is the point of fleeing if he doesn’t escape himself? He is his own escort and drives himself on, the most burdensome of companions. So we ought to realize that we are suffering, not the fault of our surroundings, but our own fault; we are too weak to bear anything, enduring neither toil nor pleasure nor ourselves nor any thing for long. This condition has driven some people to death, because when they constantly changed their purpose, they returned to the same setup and had left no room for any novelty; they began to be sated with life and the world itself, and that old lament of spoiled indulgence came over them: “How long will we experience the same things?” (tr. John W. Basore)




Metus remitte, prospero regnum in statu est
domusque florens sorte felici viget.
sed tu beatis mitior rebus veni!
namque anxiam me cura sollicitat tui,
quod te ipse poenis gravibus infestus domas.
quem fata cogunt, ille cum venia est miser;
at si quis ultro se malis offert volens
seque ipse torquet, perdere est dignus bona
quis nescit uti. potius annorum memor
mentem relaxa: noctibus festis facem
attolle, curas Bacchus exoneret graves.
aetate fruere: mobili cursu fugit.
nunc facile pectus, grata nunc iuveni Venus:
exultet animus. cur toro viduo iaces?
tristem iuventam solve; nunc cursus rape,
effunde habenas, optimos vitae dies
effluere prohibe. propria descripsit deus
officia et aevum per suos ducit gradus:
laetitia iuvenem, frons decet tristis senem.
Quid te coërces et necas rectam indolem?
seges illa magnum fenus agricolae dabit
quaecumque laetis tenera luxuriat satis,
arborque celso vertice evincet nemus
quam non maligna caedit aut resecat manus:
ingenia melius recta se in laudes ferunt,
si nobilem animum vegeta libertas alit.
truculentus et silvester ac vitae inscius
tristem iuventam Venere deserta coles?
hoc esse munus credis indictum viris,
ut dura tolerent, cursibus domitent equos
et saeva bella Marte sanguineo gerant?
(Seneca Minor, Phaedra 436-465)


Have no fear, the kingdom prospers and the house is flourishing vigorously amidst good fortune. But you should meet your blessings with more geniality! I am troubled by anxious cares about you, because you subdue yourself like an enemy with heavy ordeals. A person coerced by fate may be forgiven for unhappiness; but if someone willingly volunteers for suffering and tortures himself, he deserves to lose the good things he is incapable of using. Instead, remember your years, and let your mind relax: raise a torch in nighttime celebrations, let Bacchus lighten your heavy cares. Enjoy your time of life: it runs swiftly away. Now your heart is free and easy, now your youth welcomes Venus. Let your spirit run riot! Why lie in a solitary bed? Unfetter your joyless youth. Now make all speed, let go the reins, and prevent the best days of life from slipping away. God has prescribed appropriate duties, and leads life through its proper stages: happiness suits the young, gloomy brows the old. Why inhibit yourself and strangle your natural disposition? That crop will pay the farmer great interest, whose plants when young grow lush and exultant; and that tree will overtop the grove with its towering crown, that is not cut or pruned back by a niggard hand: upright dispositions grow better to renown, if a lively freedom nourishes the noble spirit. As a truculent backwoodsman who knows nothing of life, will you pass your youth in gloom and abandon Venus? Do you think men have this obligation imposed on them, to endure hardships, tame horses by running them, and wage savage wars amid martial bloodshed? (tr. John G. Fitch)


Giovanni Battista Pittoni de Jongere, Il sacrificio di Polissena sulla tomba di Achille, ca. 1735 (2)
Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Il sacrificio di Polissena sulla tomba di Achille (ca. 1735)


PYR. Est regis alti spiritum regi dare.
AGA. cur dextra regi spiritum eripuit tua?
PYR. mortem misericors saepe pro vita dabit.
AGA. et nunc misericors virginem busto petis?
PYR. iamne immolari virgines credis nefas?
AGA. praeferre patriam liberis regem decet.
PYR. lex nulla capto parcit aut poenam impedit.
AGA. quod non vetat lex, hoc vetat fieri pudor.
PYR. quodcumque libuit facere victori licet.
AGA. minimum decet libere cui multum licet.
(Seneca Minor, Troades 327-336)


PYR. It is the act of a great king to grant life to a king.
AGA. Why then did your hand deprive the king of life?
PYR. Often a compassionate man will grant death rather than life.
AGA. And now as a compassionate man you seek a virgin for the tomb?
PYR. So nowadays you consider sacrifice of virgins a crime?
AGA. To put fatherland before children befits a king.
PYR. No law spares a prisoner, or forbids reprisal.
AGA. What law does not forbid, a sense of restraint forbids.
PYR. The victor has a right to do whatever he pleases.
AGA. He who has much right should please himself least.
(tr. John G. Fitch)




LYC. Animosne mersus inferis coniunx facit?
MEG. inferna tetigit, posset ut supera assequi.
LYC. telluris illum pondus immensae premit.
MEG. nullo premetur onere, qui caelum tulit.
LYC. cogere.
MEG. cogi qui potest nescit mori.
LYC. effare thalamis quod novis potius parem
regale munus.
MEG. aut tuam mortem aut meam.
LYC. moriere demens.
MEG. coniugi occurram meo.
LYC. sceptrone nostro potior est famulus tibi?
MEG. quot iste famulus tradidit reges neci!
LYC. cur ergo regi servit et patitur iugum?
MEG. imperia dura tolle: quid virtus erit?
LYC. obici feris monstrisque virtutem putas?
MEG. virtutis est domare quae cuncti pavent.
LYC. tenebrae loquentem magna Tartareae premunt.
MEG. non est ad astra mollis e terris via.
(Seneca Minor, Herc. Fur. 422-437)


LYC. You take courage from a husband sunk in the underworld?
MEG. He visited the underworld to gain the upper world.
LYC. He is crushed by the weight of the vast earth.
MEG. No burden will crush the one who carried the heavens.
LYC. You will be forced.
MEG. One who can be forced does not know how to die.
LYC. Say what kingly gift I should prepare instead for our new marriage.
MEG. Either your death or mine.
LYC. You will die, madwoman.
MEG. Then I shall find my husband.
LYC. And is a slave more to you than my sceptered power?
MEG. How many kings that “slave” has delivered to death!
LYC. Then why does he serve a king and endure subjection?
MEG. Take away harsh commands: what will valour be?
LYC. You think being thrown to beasts and monsters is valour?
MEG. Valour consists of subduing what everyone fears.
LYC. The darkness of Tartarus covers that great boaster.
MEG. The path from earth to the stars is not a smooth one.
(tr. John G. Fitch)



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)



Nam, ut aiunt qui priscos mores urbis tradiderunt, brachia et crura cotidie abluebant, quae scilicet sordes opere collegerant, ceterum toti nundinis lavabantur. hoc loco dicet aliquis: ‘liquet mihi immundissimos fuisse’. quid putas illos oluisse? militiam, laborem, virum. postquam munda balnea inventa sunt, spurciores sunt.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 85.12)

It is stated by those who have reported to us the old-time ways of Rome that the Romans washed only their arms and legs daily—because those were the members which gathered dirt in their daily toil—and bathed all over only once a week. Here someone will retort: “Yes; pretty dirty fellows they evidently were! How they must have smelled!” But they smelled of the camp, the farm, and heroism. Now that spick- and-span bathing establishments have been devised, men are really fouler than of yore. (tr. Richard M. Gummere)