Today’s Latin Lesson

This tweet of mine unexpctedly opened up the meditation on US politics which follows it:


Friendly, unsolicited advice to Republicans in search of solutions to their poor, bedraggled (driven through the mud) party or, alternatively, toward founding a new center-right one:

Go back to the basics.

You likely aspire after RES PUBLICA, a “public thing” – a govt answering to its franchised citizens.

You probably do not think that the DEMOS, the People, especially a people composed of multiple conflicting identities, should rule. That would be DEMOCRACY.

Obviously, the question of citizenship, more precisely who is franchised, must be defined. My advice would be to expand the franchise to as many as possible. Short of genocide, white people, those who consider themselves such, will become a minority almost everywhere in the US.  

Epicurus, Lucretius et al

Epicurus: “The most terrible evil, death, is nothing for us, since when we exist, death does not exist, and when death exists, we do not exist.” <

Epicurus’s principle: lathe biōsas, or ‘live hidden’ (: λάθε βιώσας Láthe biṓsas), often by staying close to home, to avoid all complex desires, and spend a lot of time with close friends. As Epicurus said “Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”

There is indeed a touch of Epicurean philosophy in the new California lock-down, λάθε βιώσας (Láthe biṓsas, live hidden). Stay close to home. Avoid complex desires, Spend a lot of time with close friend (properly masked, distanced and manually hygienic).

More often, on the contrary, it is Religion breeds Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds, L 83

So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong: Line 101 is one of the most famous lines in the poem: tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. Voltaire believed it would last as long as the world. (See also Introduction, p. xi.)

Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 151.

Quoted in David Ganz, “Lucretius in the Carolingian Age: The Leiden Manuscripts and Their Carolingian Readers,” in Claudine A. Chavannes-Mazel and Margaret M. Smith, eds., Medieval Manuscripts of the Latin Classics: Production and Use, Proceedings of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Leiden, 1993 (Los Altos Hills, CA: Anderson-Lovelace, 1996), 99.

The words of Ovid, words that were enough to send any book hunter scurrying through the catalogs of monastic libraries: “The verses of sublime Lucretius are destined to perish only when a single day will consign the world to destruction.”

After the destruction of the Alexandrian Library, the poet Palladas wrote:

Is it not true that we are dead,
        and living only in appearance,
We Hellenes, fallen on disaster,
Likening life to a dream,
since we remain alive while
Our way of life is dead and gone?

  • Greek Anthology, p 172

Greek Anthology, trans. W. R. Paton, Loeb Classical Library, 84 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1917).

Machiavelli would exploit to shocking effect in the next century in constructing a disenchanted analysis of the political uses of all religious faith — is never quite made, and Poggio’s work merely ends with a fantasy of stripping the hypocrites of their protective cloaks. Loc 2202

But, as he did so, he might have uttered the words that Freud reputedly spoke to Jung, as they sailed into New York Harbor to receive the accolades of their American admirers: “Don’t they know we are bringing them the plague?” Loc 2668

Catherine Wilson: Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008). See also W. R. Johnson, Lucretius and the Modern World (London: Duckworth, 2000); Dane R. Gordon and David B. Suits, Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance (Rochester, NY: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2003); and Stuart Gillespie and Donald Mackenzie, “Lucretius and the Moderns,” in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, ed. Stuart Gillespie and Philip Hardie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 306–24. Fn 185

“Sight did not exist before the birth of the eyes, nor speech before the creation of the tongue.” (4.836–37) These organs were not created in order to fulfill a purposed end; their usefulness gradually enabled the creatures in whom they emerged to survive and to reproduce their kind. Loc 2775

The soul: at the moment of death, it dissolves “like the case of a wine whose bouquet has evaporated, or of a perfume whose exquisite scent has dispersed into the air.” (3.221–2) Loc 2817

Religions are invariably cruel. Religions always promise hope and love, but their deep, underlying structure is cruelty. This is why they are drawn to fantasies of retribution and why they inevitably stir up anxiety among their adherents. The quintessential emblem of religion—and the clearest manifestation of the perversity that lies at its core—is the sacrifice of a child by a parent. Loc ? Fn 52

The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion. The principal enemies of human happiness are inordinate desire—the fantasy of attaining something that exceeds what the finite mortal world allows—and gnawing fear. Even the dreaded plague, in Lucretius’ account—and his work ends with a graphic account of a catastrophic plague epidemic in Athens—is most horrible not only for the suffering and death … that it brings but also and still more for the “perturbation and panic” that it triggers. 52%

Even in the hour of possession the passion of the lovers fluctuates and wanders in uncertainty: they cannot decide what to enjoy first with their eyes and hands. They tightly squeeze the object of their desire and cause bodily pain, often driving their teeth into one another’s lips and crushing mouth against mouth. (4.1076–81) 

The point of this passage—part of what W. B. Yeats called “the finest description of sexual intercourse ever written”—is not to urge a more decorous, tepid form of lovemaking. It is to take note of the element of unsated appetite that haunts even the fulfillment of desire. The insatiability of sexual appetite is, in Lucretius’ view, one of Venus’ cunning strategies; it helps to account for the fact that, after brief interludes, the same acts of love are performed again and again.

John Dryden brilliantly captured Lucretius’ remarkable vision: . . . 

  awhen the youthful pair more closely join, 

When hands in hands they lock, and thighs in thighs they twine; Just in the raging foam of full desire, 

When both press on, both murmur, both expire, 

They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart, 

As each would force their way to th’others heart. 

In vain; they only cruise about the coast. 

For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost, 

As sure they strive to be, when both engage 

In that tumultuous momentary rage. 

So tangled in the nets of love they lie, 

Till man dissolves in that excess of joy. (4.1105–14)

Cf Stallings’

Even at the very moment of having, the raging tide 

Of desire tosses lovers this way and that. They can’t decide 

What to enjoy first with hand or eye – so closely pressing 

What they long for, that they hurt the flesh by their possessing, [1080] Often sinking teeth in lips, and crushing as they kiss, 

Since what the lovers feel is not some pure and simple bliss – Rather, there are stings that lurk beneath it, pains that shoot, Goading them to hurt the thing that’s made madness take root, Whatever it may be.

Delight of humankind and gods above, 

Parent of Rome, propitious Queen of Love, 

Whose vital power, air, earth, and sea supplies, 

And breeds whate’er is born beneath the rolling skies; 

For every kind, by thy prolific might, 

Springs and beholds the regions of the light:

Thee, Goddess, thee, the clouds and tempests fear, 

And at thy pleasing presence disappear; 

For thee the land in fragrant flowers is dressed, 

For thee the ocean smiles and smooths her wavy breast, 

And heaven itself with more serene and purer light is blessed.  (1.1–9)