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, Troi. 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)




Cum videris forum multitudine refertum et saepta concursu omnis frequentiae plena et illum circum in quo maximam sui partem populus ostendit, hoc scito, istic tantundem esse vitiorum quantum hominum. inter istos quos togatos vides nulla pax est: alter in alterius exitium levi compendio ducitur; nulli nisi ex alterius iniuria quaestus est; felicem oderunt, infelicem contemnunt; maiorem gravantur, minori graves sunt; diversis stimulantur cupiditatibus; omnia perdita ob levem voluptatem praedamque cupiunt. non alia quam in ludo gladiatorio vita est cum isdem viventium pugnantiumque. ferarum iste conventus est, nisi quod illae inter se placidae sunt morsuque similium abstinent, hi mutua laceratione satiantur. hoc uno ab animalibus mutis differunt, quod illa mansuescunt alentibus, horum rabies ipsos a quibus est nutrita depascitur.
(Seneca Minor, De Ira 2.8)

When you see the forum packed with a mob, and the polling place filled with a swarming crowd, and that circus where the greatest part of the populace is on display, be sure that there are just as many vices on hand as there are people. Those you see in civilian dress are constantly warring among themselves. One man’s led to destroy another for a small gain; no one profits save from another’s harm; they hate the prosperous and despise the poor, resent the greater man and afflict the lesser. Goaded by a host of desires, they lust to win some trivially pleasurable prize from any and every depravity. It’s a way of life no different from a gladiatorial school: living and fighting with the same people. It’s a gathering of wild beasts—except that beasts live peacefully among themselves and don’t bite their own, whereas these get their fill by tearing each other to pieces. In this one respect they differ from animals incapable of speech: the latter behave gently toward their keepers, these in their frenzy bite the hand that feeds them. (tr. Robert A. Kaster)



Ἄγου δέ μ’, ὦ Ζεῦ, καὶ σύ γ’ ἡ Πεπρωμένη,
ὅποι ποθ’ ὑμῖν εἰμι διατεταγμένος·
ὡς ἕψομαί γ’ ἄοκνος· ἢν δέ γε μὴ θέλω,
κακὸς γενόμενος, οὐδὲν ἧττον ἕψομαι.
(Cleanthes, fr. 2 Powell)

Lead me, Zeus, and you too, Destiny,
To wherever your decrees have assigned me.
I follow readily, but if I choose not,
Wretched though I am, I must follow still.
(tr. Nicholas P. White)

Et sic adloquamur Iovem, cuius gubernaculo moles ista derigitur, quemadmodum Cleanthes noster versibus disertissimis adloquitur, quos mihi in nostrum sermonem mutare permittitur Ciceronis, disertissimi viri, exemplo. si placuerint, boni consules; si displicuerint, scies me in hoc secutum Ciceronis exemplum:
Duc, o parens celsique dominator poli,
quocumque placuit; nulla parendi mora est.
adsum impiger. fac nolle, comitabor gemens
malusque patiar, facere quod licuit bono.
ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 107.10-11)

(…) and let us address Jupiter, the pilot of this vessel, as our Cleanthes addresses him in most eloquent verses, and as our most eloquent Cicero’s example allows me to adapt in our own language. If you like them, you will take it well, but if they don’t please you, you will know that in this I followed Cicero’s lead:
Lead me, father and lord of heaven’s lofty pole
Where’er you choose; I’ll not delay obedience;
Here I am, active. If I’m reluctant, I will follow groaning,
A bad man suffering what the good man chooses.
The Fates lead on the willing but drag behind the laggard.
(tr. Elaine Fantham)



Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est. quid? quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. misererer, si tam multa supervacua legisset. in his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia quae erant dediscenda, si scires. i nunc et longam esse vitam nega.
(Seneca, Ep. ad Luc. 88.36-37)

To want to know more than is sufficient is a form of intemperance. Apart from which this kind of obsession with the liberal arts turns people into pedantic, irritating, tactless, self-satisfied bores, not learning what they need simply because they spend their time learning things they will never need. The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand works: I should feel sorry for him if he had merely read so many useless works. In these works he discusses such questions as Homer’s origin, who was Aeneas’ real mother, whether Anacreon’s manner of life was more that of a lecher or that of a drunkard, whether Sappho slept with anyone who asked her, and other things that would be better unlearned if one actually knew them! Don’t you go and tell me now that life is long enough for this sort of thing! (tr. Robin Campbell)