The rule, put shortly, which the philosophers seek to express in endless words and volumes

From Pliny the Younger’s Epistles (7.26):

Possum ergo quod plurimis verbis plurimis etiam voluminibus philosophi docere conantur, ipse breviter tibi mihique praecipere, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi. Vale.

So here for our guidance is the rule, put shortly, which the philosophers seek to express in endless words and volumes: in health we should continue to be the men we vowed to become when sickness prompted our words.

I found this cited in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (Part. 1 Sect. 1 Memb. 1 Subs. 1) but his imprecision of quotation drives me mad if I don’t have the OET commentary volumes at hand. The above becomes:

summum esse totius philosophiae, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi

This is the sum of all philosophy – in health we should continue to be the men we vowed to become when sickness prompted our words

Which when googled for the source only ends up putting you into a loop always connecting back to Burton.

But meanwhile I am enjoying my friends’ teasing

From Pliny’s Letters (5.13) – I note this passage as an instance of Pliny’s relaxing of his authorial persona – of allowing a view to a less constructed version of his self.  Where several times he hints, as immediately below in 4.14 and 5.3, at the livelier sides of his personality, he rarely allows those elements into his published letters so they’re all the more welcome and effective when they do appear.


With this letter you will receive some hendecasyllables of mine with which I amuse myself when I have time to spare in my carriage, my bath, or at dinner. Here are my jokes and witticisms, my loves, sorrows, complaints and vexations; now my style is simple, now more elevated, and I try through variety to appeal to different tastes and produce a few things to please everyone.

Accipies cum hac epistula hendecasyllabos nostros, quibus nos in vehiculo in balineo inter cenam oblectamus otium temporis. His iocamur ludimus amamus dolemus querimur irascimur, describimus aliquid modo pressius modo elatius, atque ipsa varietate temptamus efficere, ut alia aliis quaedam fortasse omnibus placeant.


I admit that I do often write verse which is far from serious, for I also listen to comedy, watch farces, read lyric poetry, and appreciate Sotadic verse; there are besides times when I laugh, make jokes, and enjoy my fun, in fact I can sum up all these innocent relaxations in a word “I am human.”

facio non numquam versiculos severos parum, facio; nam et comoedias audio et specto mimos et lyricos lego et Sotadicos intellego; aliquando praeterea rideo iocor ludo, utque omnia innoxiae remissionis genera breviter amplectar, homo sum.


But before a vote could be taken, Nigrinus, the tribune of the people, read out a well-phrased statement of great importance. In this he complained that counsel sold their services, faked lawsuits for money, settled them by collusion, and made a boast of the large regular incomes to be made by robbery of their fellow-citizens. He quoted the relevant paragraphs of the law, reminded the Senate of its decrees, and ended by saying that our noble Emperor should be asked to remedy these serious evils himself, since the law and the Senate’s decrees were fallen into contempt. After a few days the Emperor issued a decree, which was firm but moderate in tone. It is published in the official records, so you can read it.

How glad I am that I have always kept clear of any contracts, presents, remunerations, or even small gifts for my conduct of cases! It is true that one ought to shun dishonesty as a shameful thing, not because it is illegal; but, even so, it is a pleasure to find an official ban on a practice one would never have permitted oneself. Perhaps I shall lose some of the credit and reputation I won from my resolve—in fact I am sure to do so, when everyone is compelled to behave as I did of my own free will—but meanwhile I am enjoying my friends’ teasing, when they hail me as a prophet or pretend that this measure is directed against my own robberies and greed.

Sed prius quam sententiae dicerentur, Nigrinus tribunus plebis recitavit libellum disertum et gravem, quo questus est venire advocationes, venire etiam praevaricationes, in lites coiri, et gloriae loco poni ex spoliis civium magnos et statos reditus. Recitavit capita legum, admonuit senatus consultorum, in fine dixit petendum ab optimo principe, ut quia leges, quia senatus consulta contemnerentur, ipse tantis vitiis mederetur. Pauci dies, et liber principis severus et tamen moderatus: leges ipsum; est in publicis actis. Quam me iuvat, quod in causis agendis non modo pactione dono munere verum etiam xeniis semper abstinui! Oportet quidem, quae sunt inhonesta, non quasi inlicita sed quasi pudenda vitare; iucundum tamen si prohiberi publice videas, quod numquam tibi ipse permiseris. Erit fortasse, immo non dubie, huius propositi mei et minor laus et obscurior fama, cum omnes ex necessitate facient quod ego sponte faciebam. Interim fruor voluptate, cum alii divinum me, alii meis rapinis meae avaritiae occursum per ludum ac iocum dictitant. Vale.

Suppose you had heard the beast himself?

From Pliny’s Letters (2.3)

Nothing brings you to Rome, myself included, but do come to hear [Isaeus the orator]… You may say that you have authors as eloquent whose works can be read at home; but the fact is that you can read them any time, and rarely have the opportunity to hear the real thing. Besides, we are always being told that the spoken word is much more effective; however well a piece of writing makes its point, anything which is driven into the mind by the delivery and expression, the appearance and gestures of a speaker remains deeply implanted there, unless there is no truth in the tale of Aeschines when he was at Rhodes, who countered the general applause he won for his reading of one of Demosthenes’ speeches with the words: “Suppose you had heard the beast himself?”

Proinde si non ob alia nosque ipsos, at certe ut hunc audias veni… Dices: “Habeo hic quos legam non minus disertos.” Etiam; sed legendi semper occasio est, audiendi non semper. Praeterea multo magis, ut vulgo dicitur, viva vox adficit. Nam licet acriora sint quae legas, altius tamen in animo sedent, quae pronuntiatio vultus habitus gestus etiam dicentis adfigit; nisi vero falsum putamus illud Aeschinis, qui cum legisset Rhodiis orationem Demosthenis admirantibus cunctis, adiecisse fertur: τί δέ, εἰ αὐτοῦ τοῦ θηρίου ἠκοὺσατε


It is better to have no work to do than to work at nothing

From Pliny’s Letters (1.9) in the Loeb text and translation.

To Minicius Fundanus

It is extraordinary how, if one takes a single day spent in Rome, one can give a more or less accurate account of it, but scarcely any account at all of days put together. If you ask anyone what he did that day, the answer would be: “I was present at a coming-of-age ceremony, a betrothal, or a wedding. I was called on to witness a will, to support someone in court or to act as assessor.” All this seems important on the actual day, but quite pointless if you consider that you have done the same sort of thing every day, and much more pointless if you think about it when you are out of town. It is then that you realize how many days you have wasted in trivialities.

I always realize this when I am at Laurentum, reading and writing and finding time to take the exercise which keeps my mind fit for work. There is nothing there for me to say or hear said which I would afterwards regret, no one disturbs me with malicious gossip, and I have no one to blame—but myself—when writing doesn’t come easily. Hopes and fears do not worry me, and I am not bothered by idle talk; I share my thoughts with myself and my books. It is a good life and a genuine one, a seclusion which is happy and honourable, more rewarding than almost any “business” can be. The sea and shore are truly my private Helicon, an endless source of inspiration. You should take the first opportunity yourself to leave the din, the futile bustle and useless occupations of the city and devote yourself to literature or to leisure. For it was wise as well as witty of our friend Atilius to say that it is better to have no work to do than to work at nothing.

C. Plinius Minicio Fundano Suo S.

Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque non constet. Nam si quem interroges “Hodie quid egisti?,” respondeat: “Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in consilium rogavit.” Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: “Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!” Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.

If one’s work is to give pleasure it must have its inspiration in happiness

From the letters of Pliny the Younger (book 8, number 19)

C. Plinius Maximo Suo S.

Et gaudium mihi et solacium in litteris, nihilque tam laetum quod his laetius, tam triste quod non per has minus triste. Itaque et infirmitate uxoris et meorum periculo, quorundam vero etiam morte turbatus, ad unicum doloris levamentum studia confugi, quae praestant ut adversa magis intellegam sed patientius feram.

Est autem mihi moris, quod sum daturus in manus hominum, ante amicorum iudicio examinare, in primis tuo. Proinde si quando, nunc intende libro quem cum hac epistula accipies, quia vereor ne ipse ut tristis parum intenderim. Imperare enim dolori ut scriberem potui; ut vacuo animo laetoque, non potui. Porro ut ex studiis gaudium sic studia hilaritate proveniunt. Vale

To Maximus

Literature is both my joy and my comfort: it can add to every happiness and there is no sorrow it cannot console. So worried as I am by my wife’s ill-health and the sickness in my household and death of some of my servants, I have taken refuge in my work, the only distraction I have in my misery. It may make me more conscious of my troubles, but helps me to bear them with patience.

It is, however, my habit to test everything I propose to submit to the general public by the judgement of my friends, especially your own. Will you then give your attention to the book you will receive with this letter, now as never before? I fear my distress will have impaired my own concentration, for I could control my feelings enough to write, but not to write freely and happily, and if one’s work is to give pleasure it must have its inspiration in happiness.