Still more on early French travellers to Libya – Durand’s article at last!

Illustration opposite p.200.

In 2010 I wrote about the circus at Leptis Magna, and how guidebooks say that Durand, a 17th century traveller, found it in much better condition.  In 2011 I found a snippet from it.

This week Joe Rock,[1] who commented on the article, has come to all of our assistance.  He has obtained a copy of the article in Le Mercure Galant, March, 1684, and generously shared it with me.  The article, on p.199-219, contains  a letter by Monsieur Durand describing what he saw at Leptis, together with a diagram opposite p.200.

The PDF of the article is here: Mercure Galant_mars_1684_p.199-219 – smaller (PDF)

Dr Rock also created a transcription of the article, which he has kindly allowed me to place here: Mercure Galant transcription (.doc)

The spelling is of course that of French as it was more than four centuries ago.  So I have created a rough translation of the article, which is as follows.  (The drawing above appears opposite p.200).

    *    *    *    *    *    *

Mercure Galant,
March 1684.

[p.199] …

You have heard talk of a great number of columns, which are at Paris, on the Quai, between the Gate of the Conference and the Course, in a forecourt of the Palace of the Tuileries, and of which there remain a very great number at Toulon, which [p.200] must be transported here.  I believe that you have already said that the columns come from Lebida,  otherwise Leptis, an ancient ruined town, and whose territory is today under the government of the state of Tripoli; but here is something curious on this subject. It is a letter of Mr Durand, a young gentleman, who having been at Lebida, there has noted with care everything that he believed worthy of the curiosity of those who love antiquities, and has made a relation of it which he has sent [p.201] from Tripoli.  A copy has been handed to me, and from which I give you the following extract:

LEBIDA, a place situated at thirty-five leagues from Tripoli, to the east, was formerly called Leptis, following an old English author who spoke in these terms, of the place where may still be seen the debris of which I shall speak.  Here is what he says.

Leptis Magna was so-called to distinguish it from another Leptis which was nearby, on the other side of the river.  There may be seen [p.202] another town, also called Leptis.  The Romans having made themselves masters of the place, first occupied by the Greeks, joined these places together and made of them a very great town, very rich and very renowned, which they called Tripolis.  It has been destroyed many times by the inroad of many different peoples, rebuilt likewise many times, and finally entirely abandoned.

Everything is spoken of these, the three towns that the name of Tripolis signifies, the situation, the prodigious [p.203] quantity of debris, and the little to distinguish
[other] two places which are named by this name; so this town and another small habitation forty leagues from here, at Ponant, named in the maps as Tripolis Vetus [old Tripolis], in both of which there is no mark of antiquity, no appearance of a river, and which are not in the situation spoken of; these are something other than Leptis Magna.

Be that as it may, the place must have been extremely impressive, since one may still see there three things which are incomparable, the [p.204] magnificence of the port, which is entirely silted up, a circus of prodigious grandeur, which may easily be distinguished, and a space of almost two leagues along the sea entirely surrounded with walls, and a league inland, and the suburbs of the town were entirely filled with constructions and monuments.  The port resembled the figure marked A in the illustration.  It is of a prodigious extent and labour, entirely surrounded with chiselled stone.  At the mouth are two towers, which it is easy to distinguish, and immediately [p.205] to the two sides of the entrance, there are still some steps which go down to the sea. One may still see there the remains of broken columns.  From the two sides of the circuit of the port, one finds every so often steps, although not so beautiful as those of the terraces of the Tuilleries, and all around there are Amares (?) of stone which once served as vessels.  Near the entrance to the port, the circuit opens into a square, and beyond a platform, there one still goes up twenty-five very large steps; behind which there are five [p.206] arches, and debris of marbles and columns. Apparently there was at that place some kind of magnificent loggia, where the sailors went to render account of their

The striped area that you see in the circuit marks a special opening where the river goes into the sea under an arch, rather than obstruct or inconvenience the port, which is entirely filled up. 

The circus situated on the east side (= côté du levant) along the sea-shore is incomparable. It is a little like the figure marked B in the illustration, being more than twelve hundred feet long and three hundred wide. [p.207]  It has fifteen or sixteen steps all around, almost entirely complete. The square below had some arcades, beneath which one walked.  Of them there are still some remains standing.

The place that you see marked in the middle around which apparently the chariots and horsemen ran, was full of columns, pedestals and figures of marble.  Of these one sees many remains, all dilapidated.  There are some traverses at certain intervals which are two persons wide, and at the end a type of circular amphitheatre. [p.208]  Behind, at the end of the great circus, was a grand arcade which emerged outside. 

The body of the town, as one may easily see, is almost two leagues in length along the sea, surrounded by walls of chiselled stone; of which in places one may see the rampart (le cordon).  There are in this wall some stones with Roman inscriptions, turned upside down and in no order, which indicates that the barbarians have desired to reuse them.    The largest part of the town inland is no more than a league; the wall can be followed almost everywhere. [p.209]  One of the gates of the town which was of a dozen arcades, and of which one may see three still standing, resembles a triumphal arch, and the others half of one. 

Many columns of marble have been taken from this gate, and three among others which are still at the sea-shore (? = la marive), and which nobody has been able to load onto ship because of their size and length, being twenty-five feet de tour (?) by forty long.  This gate belonged to a palace, or perhaps a temple, or maybe both together; whatever the case, it is impossible to describe to you the magnificence of the [p.210] remains of the place. 

One cannot recognise any regularity there.  It is a very great plain, full of masonry made of great stones, especially of marble, without lime or mortar, but which were joined with iron, and covered within with a green marble of which one finds quantities of fragments of the width of a finger, of which the most part has been carried off to Constantinople.  There has been taken from this place, either for Constantinople in the past, or for us at present, more than seven or eight hundred columns, and there are still more than three or [p.211] four hundred of them, either buried or broken and damaged by time.  I have only seen of these ten which are very complete.  This place was without doubt the most impressive in the town. 

The rest is an infinity of buildings, one after another, part filled with sand, and many razed almost to the ground, but all of chiselled stones, and in all of them a very great quantity of columns of all kinds, the grandest made of marble, broken and gnawed, so that it seems that the town has been built over.  There are [p.212] a dozen of them which appear entire, but if one digs the sand out of one, one finds quantities of others in the sand.  The environs of the town are full of ruined masonry, and of the remains of habitations, of which these are the principal ones.  An extraordinary wall fifteen feet thick with supports at a certain interval which are twelve feet square.  This wall is still three hundred feet long, the river whose course it determined having eaten it away, despite its thickness; and although it does not run at all with water in the summer, it was still diverted from the port, [p.213] so that it would not be inconvenienced.  It is half a league from the town.  At a quarter of a league, on the other side, the debris of a very large temple with the marks of a village; three aqueducts, one large and two small, stone blocks, figured with square towers (? Figures de tours en quarré), with pictures of the sun and animals, made apparently to decorate the roads, or to the memory of someone; because there is such a quantity of them, and which are very elevated, some square, some pointed.  At a single league from Ponant along the sea, [there are] the marks of a very great village [p.214] surrounded by walls, the remains of forts and cisterns; in the environs of the town,  the remains of a quantity of subterranean cisterns, and magnificent in their grandeur, but all filled with sand. As it does not rain here in summer, these are apparently all the cisterns of the town filled which have forced the abandonment of a  country as beautiful as this. 

Here are the inscriptions which I have found.  I have copied them faithfully.  There is reason to believe that the great pains that the barbarians have taken to destroy them have ensured that one may not find anything more considerable, [p.215]  or in greater quantity, or, if they are there, they are under the sand. 

On a pedestal of white marble, four feet high, in writing like that of today, like all the others of which I will make mention, one reads on one of the faces:

Divina stirpe progenitor.
D.N.Fortissimo Principi,
Valentiniano. Victori Pio,
Felici. ac Triumphatori.
Semper Augusto.
Flavius Benedictus, V.P.
Preses Provinciae
Tripolitano Numini   [p.216]
Maiestati que eius
Semper devotus.

On the other face of the same pedestal there is:

Dignissimo, principali,
Innocentissimo puero,
T. Fabio Vibiano junior;
Pontifici Duro Viro filio,
Ac collego T. Flavio Frontini,
Heraclii, in parvulis annis,
Exibentio Aqualiter
Voluptatem genera patris
Sui studiis, populi suffragio,
Et decreto ordinis.

On many stones in the middle of the town, scattered and out of order.

Traiano,   [p.217]
Divi Trajani,
Imp. VI. Cosu.
Imp. Galba
pro Repu.
C. Pomponius R.
Proimp. Provive,
Bombei, io.
Sari divi Nervae
Max. trib. Pro XIIII.
Coloniae Vulpiae Tr.
Cum ornament.
Q. Pompa
io, cerea
li, ex de
creto Or   [p.218]
dinis Rom.

On a small square stone.

In large letters on the sea side, the others being without order.


Outside the town, on a stone which is presently in a wall.

Bono filio
Bono fratr.
Pater feci.

On another stone, which [p.219] is still in use in a wall.

Domitiae Roga,
Tul. vixit,
annis XXIII.
M. Jullius,
Phicissiam Uxori,
Carissimae fecit.

In another place.

L. CL.
Tui pro
Vixit ann.
XX.    [p.220]

On another stone, in Greek, Latin and Arabic.

Birichi Basiliei
Mater flodi Medici.

DIOSIATROS in Greek letters, and the rest in Arabic.

In the open countryside.

Rutilius Victor
Vixit annis XI.

  1. [1]PS: Joe, if you’re reading this, your email isn’t working.

Philip of Macedon on those who spoke ill of him

A quotation from Paley’s collection of Greek Wit, p.42:

Philip, King of Macedon, thanked the Athenian demagogues for their abuse, and said that his morals were much improved by it, for his constant endeavour was both by his words and his deeds to prove them liars.

—  Plutarch, Philip c. 7.


Did the Romans eat strawberries?

Summer is upon us.  I can’t really be bothered to sit at the computer.  Mild air, soft rains, hot sun and dusty blue skies … the time for indoor activities is the winter. 

All I can think of, this evening, is that I intend to go out tomorrow to a farm near my home, and purchase some strawberries.   Let us, then, think of strawberries.

Did the Greeks and the Romans eat strawberries?  It seems that they did.

Wild strawberries

In Kevin M. Folta, Genetics and genomics of rosaceae, p.422, I find a discussion of the strawberry in the ancient world, telling us that Greek authors do not mention it, nor the authors of Egypt or the Bible, in which lands, of course, it does not grow.

But it does grow wild in Italy, and there are, apparently, a number of references in classical literature to it.  The Latin word for the strawberry is ‘fragum, -i‘, plural ‘fraga‘. 

Virgil mentions the strawberry as ‘humi nascentia fraga’, the ‘children of the earth’, in his third eclogue, and adds a warning to children picking the wild fruit — he says nothing of cultivated strawberries in his day — to beware of serpents:

“You, picking flowers and strawberries that grow
So near the ground, fly hence, boys, get you gone!
There’s a cold adder lurking in the grass.”

Ovid, in the Metamorphoses I, v. 104, tells that they gathered ‘arbuteos fructus montanaque fraga‘, arbutus berries and mountain strawberries, as food for the golden age.  (The arbutus is the so-called ‘strawberry tree’) 

 The teeming Earth, yet guiltless of the plough,
And unprovok’d, did fruitful stores allow:
Content with food, which Nature freely bred,
On wildings and on strawberries they fed;
Cornels and bramble-berries gave the rest,
And falling acorns furnish’d out a feast.

In his 13th book he refers again to ‘mollia fraga‘.

My garden fill’d with fruits you may behold,
And grapes in clusters, imitating gold;
Some blushing bunches of a purple hue:
And these, and those, are all reserv’d for you.
Red strawberries, in shades, expecting stand,
Proud to be gather’d by so white a hand.

Pliny the Elder, book 15, c. 28, distinguishes the ‘terrestribus fragis‘ or ground strawberry from the arbutus tree:

XXVIII. The flesh of the ground strawberry is different from that of the strawberry-tree which is related to it, the strawberry being the only fruit that grows at the same time on a bush and on the ground. The tree itself is a sort of shrub; the fruit takes a year to mature, and the following crop flowers side by side with the earlier crop when it is ripening. Authorities disagree as to whether it is the male plant or the female that is unproductive. The fruit is held in no esteem, the reason for its name being that a person will eat only one! Nevertheless the Greeks call it by the two names of comaron and memaecylon, which shows that there are two varieties of the plant; and with ourselves it has another name, the arbutus. Juba states that in Arabia the strawberry tree grows to a height of 75 feet. 

We are also told that Cato the Elder mentions medical uses for the fruit; but no reference is given, which is always grounds to suspect that the author has not verified the claim himself.  A search of De agricultura reveals nothing.  A wild claim that Cato was addicted to strawberries seems to circulate in gardening manuals, such as this:

The Censor was always anxious beyond measure for the welfare of his strawberry beds, and took dire vengeance on any of his gardeners who ventured to neglect them.

There is a mysterious reference “D.B. 1880” in this, but I can’t see enough to work out what it is.

Likewise pseudo-Apuleius, the 4th century author of a ‘Herbarium‘ or ‘De herbarum virtutibus‘ — apparently a 6th century copy exists at Leiden, according to French Wikipedia, is said to mention the fruit.  The author seems to be called Apuleius Barbarus also.  Editions are hard to find!  Unfortunately, because herbals are illustrated, people seem to print copies of particular manuscripts.  A German edition of an early Middle English version exists at  I’m afraid that I cannot, therefore, check this reference.

On the following page, however, Dr. Folta tells us that

The ancient Romans originally cultivated it in gardens, …

Unfortunately he gives no reference for this.

UPDATE:  Nearly all the references to the classical history of the strawberry, including those of Dr. Folta, clearly go back — the wording is so similar — to U.P.Hedrick, Sturtevant’s notes on edible plants (1919).  This may be found here.  Another link reveals this.

I should note that the various manuals of cultivation also state that the modern strawberry is derived, not from these small fruits, but from a hybrid of two American varieties of considerably larger size.  The Romans had no access to what we today would call a strawberry.


Arrian’s lost work on “After Alexander” and what survives of it

The second century writer Arrian is our best source for the life of Alexander the Great, using impeccable sources then extant but now lost.  A number of his other works are extant, and indeed his work On hunting even exists in English, and can be found on 

But equally interesting to us is his Τα μετὰ Αλέξανδρον, After Alexander.  This work in ten books is lost, but we know of it from Photius, who, in his Bibliotheca, also gives us a long summary of its contents.  This 9th century epitome, made casually as part of this enormous work, is one of our major sources for the early years of the Succcessor period, from the death of Alexander in 323 to the summer of 319.  The work clearly existed in a complete form when Photius read it, which makes it a pity that it did not survive the next few centuries. 

However I learn that we do have a little more.  For it seems that some leaves from one or more copies were reused, and these palimpsest leaves have reached us. 

The first of these is a Vatican palimpsest, ms. Vaticanus 495, which contains two leaves — a single bifolium — which appear as folios 230, and 235.  This was discovered in 1886 by Reitzenstein, and published in 1888.(1)  The leaves seem to be 10th century.  The pages contain a portion of the account of the doomed Egyptian campaign of Perdiccas, which ended in his death, the destruction of the central authority, and the foundation of the power and prestige of the Ptolemaic dynasty.  The editor believed the extract to be from book 7 of the work. 

The second survival was discovered much more recently by Jacques Noret in 1977 at Göteborg, ms. Graecus 1, folios 72 and 73, and was published by him with diplomatic transcription,  a “normal” text, and a French translation.(2)  This has a portion of book 10.  A discussion with images of the pages was published by B. Dreyer in 1999, and I think this is online.(3) The manuscript contains Dionysius Periegetes (f. 1-40) and then the commentary of Eustathius upon it (f. 48-142).  The first was written in the 14th century, the commentary 14-15th c.

 There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century, so very close to the date of composition, published by V. Bartoletti in 1951, which contains a portion of the struggle between Eumenes, Craterus and Neoptolemus. 

So it looks as if at least one 10th century manuscript existed down to the renaissance, when it was dismembered for use as raw materials!

1. Reitzenstein, Arriani τῶν μετὰ Αλέξανδρον libri septimi fragmenta e codice Vaticano rescripto nuper iteratis curis lecto, Breslauer philologische Abhandlungen Bd. 3, H. 3, Breslau 1888, S. 1–36.
2. Noret, Analecta Bollandia 95, 1977, 269–73. Noret, Ant. Class. 52, 1982, 235–242.
3. Boris Dreyer, Zum ersten Diadochenkrieg: Der Göteborger Arrian-Palimpsest (ms Graec 1), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 125 (1999) 39–60. This contains colour images of the Göteborg leaves and monochrome ones — rather poor — of the Vatican leaves.


Books, libraries, codices and punctuation in Rome in Galen’s “Peri Alupias”

Galen’s Peri Alupias, (On the Avoidance of Grief), contains many interesting statements about the destruction of libraries in the fire.  The following excerpts are from the translation by Clare K. Rothschild and Trevor W. Thompson 1, of the fire and its aftermath.

6. Likewise, it is no (longer possible to have) the books – corrected versions, copies by my hand (of the works) of ancient men, and those (works) composed by me …

12b. In fact, the most terrible thing – in addition to the destruction of the books – has escaped you: hope of recovery no longer remains because all the libraries on the Palatine burned on that day.

13. It is, therefore, neither possible to find any of the rare books and the ones ‘nowhere else kept’, nor (possible to find) the common ones sought out for the accuracy of the text, the Callinia, Atticiana, Pedoucinia and certainly the Aristarcheia, which include two Homeric works, the Plato of Panaetius, and many other such works, since those writings – which, in the case of each book, the men after whom the books were named either wrote them or had them copied – were preserved inside (the libraries). And, in fact, copies of books from many ancient grammarians were kept (there), also those of rhetoricians, physicians and philosophers.

14. In addition to these (books) so important and so numerous, I then lost on the same day all the books that, after correction, had been written by me onto a pure text, books with unclear and errant readings throughout the texts – planning to produce my own edition. The writings were worked to (the point of) accuracy so that neither was something added nor words taken away, not even a paragraphos – single or double, or a coronis – appropriately placed between books. What is there to say about the period or comma? As you know, they are very valuable in unclear books, so that one who pays attention to them does not need an interpreter.

15 Such items included the books of Theophrastus, Aristotle, Eudemus, Clitomachus, Phanias, most of Chrysippus’ and all of the old physicians’.

16. Further, these things will especially distress you; I found outside (the libraries on the Palatine) books recorded in the so-called catalogs – some in the libraries on the Palatine and some, on the contrary, which clearly do not belong to the author to whom they are ascribed [i.e., in the catalogs] – neither with respect to style nor thought similar to him [i.e., the author]. I also found [books] of Theophrastus, in particular those on scientific matters.

17. – there are also his books on plants expounded in two extended treatises – everyone has them. And, there was the tractate in precise agreement with Aristotle, that I discovered and copied, which is now lost. In the same way, both (the books) of Theophrastus and of some other men of old were not reported in the catalogues, some although recorded in them, are no longer extant. I found, then, many of these in the libraries on the Palatine, but some, on the contrary, I prepared.

18.  In fact, those on the Palatine were destroyed on the same day as mine; the fire not only destroyed the storehouses on the Sacred Way, but also, before them, the (libraries) by the Temple of Peace, and afterwards, both those on the Palatine and the so-called “Tiberian House” in which there was also a library full of many other books; but some, on the contrary – on account of the negligence of those continually robbing (them) …… – at the time I first went up to Rome, were on the verge of destruction.

19. These (books), then, did not cause me a small pain when copying them. As it is, the papyri are completely useless, not even able to be unrolled because they have been glued together by decomposition, since the region is both marshy and low-lying, and, during the summer, it is stifling.

20. The treatise on Attic nouns [i.e., a dictionary] will also probably distress you, especially all the common terms and nouns. There are two parts, as you know, one from the Old Comedy and the other from the prose writers. But, luckily, some copies of the latter had been brought to Campania. If, in fact, those at Rome had burned two months later, the copies of all of my works would then have arrived in Campania.

21. For all (of my works) intended for publication were already transcribed in duplicate, not counting those that were to remain in Rome. On the one hand, my friends at home [i.e., Pergamum] were requesting that all of the works composed by me be sent to them in order that they may place (them) in a public library – just as, in fact, some other (friends) already placed many of my works in other cities – and, on the other hand, I was planning to have copies of everything in Campania.

22.  For this reason, then, there were duplicates of all of my (works), excluding those that were to remain in Rome, as I said.

23a.  So, the fire broke out at the end of winter. I planned, at the beginning of summer, to transport to Campania both those (works) that were meant to remain there [i.e., at Campania] and those that were to be sent to Asia when the Etesian winds blow.

23b–24a. Fortune, then, ambushed me by taking away many others of my books, and, above all, the treatise on nouns [i.e., a dictionary] that I excerpted from the whole of Old Comedy, from which, as you know, Didymus (Chalcenterus) had previously explained both the common and all the rare (terms) in fifty books, from which I prepared an epitome in six thousand lines. …

29–30 None of these things, then – although there were many (books) both useful and difficult-to-find – troubled me, not even the destruction of my commentaries, being of two types. Some were adapted so as to be useful also to others. Some were for me alone, although having the same provision for memory. Then there were many summaries, synopses of a great number of medical and philosophical books. But not even these things distressed me.

31. What then, you will say, is even greater than all the things mentioned that might be able to cause distress? Well, I will tell you this: I was entrusted with the possession of the most remarkable medical recipes, …

33. These medical recipes were preserved, with the utmost care, in two parchment codices that a certain one of the heirs – himself most dear to me – gave to me of his own accord without being asked.

What an invaluable discovery this work is!  The translators tell us:

The letter-treatise, dated to 193, was discovered as codex images on a CD-ROM in January 2005 in Vlatadon Monastery Thessaloniki. The manuscript, Vlatadon 14, is of immense value to scholars of antiquity. As Vivian Nutton rightly observes, “The discovery in 2005 by a French research student of Vlatadon 14 in a monastic library in Thessalonica must rank with one of the most spectacular finds ever of ancient literature” … 

A footnote indicates:

According to private correspondence, the work of Jouanna, Boudon-Millot and Pietrobelli was performed without access to the manuscript, but from a CD-ROM copy of microfilm.

Nutton’s statement is undoubtedly true.  Even from the limited excerpts above, we can see how much this tells us about ancient Rome.  The description of the decaying library in the Domus Tiberiana, where the papyrus rolls were stuck together by damp, is precious all by itself.  Fronto, indeed, tells us 2 that the curator could be bribed:

… in the afternoon we came home. I to my books: so taking off my boots and doffing my dress I passed nearly two hours on my couch, reading Cato’s speech On the property of Pulchra, and another in which he impeached a tribune. “Ho,” you cry to your boy, “go as last as you can and fetch me those speeches from the libraries of Apollo!” It is no use your sending, for those volumes, among others, have followed me here.  So you must get round the librarian of Tiberius’s library: a little douceur will be necessary, in which he and I can go shares when I come back to town.

Note also the reference in Galen to codices, containing the receipes for various medicines.  We all know of Martial’s reference to the codex, but here we see it being used for technical works, and the material — parchment — specified.

Clare Rothschild and Trevor Thompson has done us all a favour by making this translation.  It highlights how important this work is.  If only it was online!

1. Rothschild, Clare K.; Thompson, Trevor W., Galen: “On the Avoidance of Grief”, “Early Christianity”, 2011, pp. 110-129 (20).
2. Ad M. Caesar. iv, 5 (Naber, p.68) Loeb Classical Library, vol. 1, p.179


On the lives of the philosophers

It is a salutary experience to read through Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the eminent philosophers.  I have just completed volume 1, and in the process have gained quite an insight into the running of the Greek states, just from the way in which they interacted with various individuals.  The wills of some of them are given by Laertius as well.  As a guide to daily living, it is revealing.

Unfortunately it is also somewhat disgusting.  Few of the philosophers are men whom any of us would respect.  The majority are addicted to money and vice.  From the way in which the Greek states tended to deal with them, it seems clear that these people rarely enjoyed a very good reputation.  The charge against Socrates, of corrupting the young, is amply evidenced in other cases.

Among the most obvious rogues is Aristippus, and you can read the Life here.

Having come forward as a lecturer or sophist, as Phanias of Eresus, the Peripatetic, informs us, he was the first of the followers of Socrates to charge fees and to send money to his master. … He was capable of adapting himself to place, time and person, and of playing his part appropriately under whatever circumstances. Hence he found more favour than anybody else with Dionysius, because he could always turn the situation to good account. He derived pleasure from what was present, and did not toil to procure the enjoyment of something not present. Hence Diogenes called him the king’s poodle. Timon, too, sneered at him for luxury …

He is said to have ordered a partridge to be bought at a cost of fifty drachmae, and, when someone censured him, he inquired, “Would not you have given an obol for it?” and, being answered in the affirmative, rejoined, “Fifty drachmae are no more to me.” And when Dionysius gave him his choice of three courtesans, he carried off all three, saying, “Paris paid dearly for giving the preference to one out of three.” And when he had brought them as far as the porch, he let them go. To such lengths did he go both in choosing and in disdaining. …  He bore with Dionysius when he spat on him, and to one who took him to task he replied, “If the fishermen let themselves be drenched with sea-water in order to catch a gudgeon, ought I not to endure to be wetted with negus in order to take a blenny?”

… Being reproached for his extravagance, he said, “If it were wrong to be extravagant, it would not be in vogue at the festivals of the gods.” … When he was reproached by Plato for his extravagance, he inquired, “Do you think Dionysius a good man?” and the reply being in the affirmative, “And yet,” said he, “he lives more extravagantly than I do. So that there is nothing to hinder a man living extravagantly and well.” … One day, as he entered the house of a courtesan, one of the lads with him blushed, whereupon he remarked, “It is not going in that is dangerous, but being unable to go out.”

It happened once that he set sail for Corinth and, being overtaken by a storm, he was in great consternation. Some one said, “We plain men are not alarmed, and are you philosophers turned cowards?” To this he replied, “The lives at stake in the two cases are not comparable.” …

To one who accused him of living with a courtesan, he put the question, “Why, is there any difference between taking a house in which many people have lived before and taking one in which nobody has ever lived?” The answer being “No,” he continued, “Or again, between sailing in a ship in which ten thousand persons have sailed before and in one in which nobody has ever sailed?” “There is no difference.” “Then it makes no difference,” said he, “whether the woman you live with has lived with many or with nobody.” …

He enjoyed the favours of Laïs, as Sotion states in the second book of his Successions of Philosophers. To those who censured him his defence was, “I have Lais, not she me; and it is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without ever being worsted.” to one who reproached him with extravagance in catering, he replied, “Wouldn’t you have bought this if you could have got it for three obols?” The answer being in the affirmative, “Very well, then,” said Aristippus, “I am no longer a lover of pleasure, it is you who are a lover of money.” …

When Charondas (or, as others say, Phaedo) inquired, “Who is this who reeks with unguents?” he replied, “It is I, unlucky wight, and the still more unlucky Persian king. … Confound the effeminates who spoil for us the use of good perfume.” … Polyxenus the sophist once paid him a visit and, after having seen ladies present and expensive entertainment, reproached him with it later.

One day Dionysius over the wine commanded everybody to put on purple and dance. Plato declined … Aristippus, however, put on the dress and, as he was about to dance, was ready with the repartee …

He was once staying in Asia and was taken prisoner by Artaphernes, the satrap. “Can you be cheerful under these circumstances?” some one asked. “Yes, you simpleton,” was the reply, “for when should I be more cheerful than now that I am about to converse with Artaphernes?” …

 A courtesan having told him that she was with child by him, he replied, “You are no more sure of this than if, after running through coarse rushes, you were to say you had been pricked by one in particular.” Someone accused him of exposing his son as if it was not his offspring. Whereupon he replied, “Phlegm, too, and vermin we know to be of our own begetting, but for all that, because they are useless, we cast them as far from us as possible.”

He received a sum of money from Dionysius at the same time that Plato carried off a book and, when he was twitted with this, his reply was,, “Well, I want money, Plato wants books.” …

He said the world was his country. Theft, adultery, and sacrilege would be allowable upon occasion, since none of these acts is by nature base, if once you have removed the prejudice against them, which is kept up in order to hold the foolish multitude together. The wise man would indulge his passions openly without the least regard to circumstances.

A conman with a line of blarney would behave just so.  The majority of them seem no better. 

Our image of a philosopher is perhaps that of the Roman period, of a man dedicated to virtue.  But it is telling that the Romans passed edicts expelling the philosophers from the city from time to time — indeed the Athenians did so, even in the classical period — and with this as our example, it is easy to see why.

I confess to being a little disappointed.  I do not think I shall purchase volume 2.


Josephus and his assistants

In Contra Apionem book 1, 50, (p.183 of the Loeb) we find the following interesting statement about how Josephus worked on the Jewish War:

Then, in the leisure that Rome afforded me, with all my materials in readiness, and with the aid of some assistants for the sake of the Greek, at last I committed to writing my narrative of the events.

It is useful to see this.  It is a reminder that the process of composition may not be straightforward, and the presence of such “assistants” should be considered, when we attempt to draw conclusions based upon stylistic considerations.


Pythagoras is full of beans!

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, book 4, chapter 11, we find this curious tale about Pythagoras, the philosopher well-known for his vegetarianism and opposition to eating beans.  It is, perhaps, from an anti-Pythagoras source.

11. The nature of the information which Aristoxenus has handed down about Pythagoras on the ground that it was more authoritative; and also what Plutarch wrote in the same vein about that same Pythagoras.

An erroneous belief of long standing has established itself and become current, that the philosopher Pythagoras did not eat of animals: also that he abstained from the bean, which the Greeks call κύαμος. In accordance with that belief the poet Callimachus wrote:

I tell you too, as did Pythagoras,
Withhold your hands from beans, a hurtful food.

Also, as the result of the same belief, Marcus Cicero wrote these words in the first book of his work On Divination:  “Plato therefore bids us go to our sleep in such bodily condition that there may be nothing to cause delusion and disturbance in our minds. It is thought to be for that reason too that the Pythagoreans were forbidden to eat beans, a food that produces great flatulency, which is disturbing to those who seek mental calm.”

So then Cicero. But Aristoxenus the musician, a man thoroughly versed in early literature, a pupil of the philosopher Aristotle, in the book On Pythagoras which he has left us, says that Pythagoras used no vegetable more often than beans, since that food gently loosened the bowels and relieved them. I add Aristoxenus’ own words:  “Pythagoras among vegetables especially recommended the bean, saying that it was both digestible and loosening; and therefore he most frequently made use of it.”

Aristoxenus also relates that Pythagoras ate very young pigs and tender kids. This fact he seems to have learned from his intimate friend Xenophilus the Pythagorean and from some other older men, who lived not long after the time of Pythagoras. And the same information about animal food is given by the poet Alexis, in the comedy entitled “The Pythagorean Bluestocking.”  Furthermore, the reason for the mistaken idea about abstaining from beans seems to be, that in a poem of Empedocles, who was a follower of Pythagoras, this line is found:

O wretches, utter wretches, from beans withhold your hands.

For most men thought that κυάμους meant the vegetable, according to the common use of the word. But those who have studied the poems of Empedocles with greater care and knowledge say that here κυάμους refers to the testicles, and that after the Pythagorean manner they were called in a covert and symbolic way κύαμοι, because they are the cause of pregnancy and furnish the power for human generation: and that therefore Empedocles in that verse desired to keep men, not from eating beans, but from excess in venery.

Plutarch too, a man of weight in scientific matters, in the first book of his work On Homer wrote that Aristotle gave the same account of the Pythagoreans: namely, that except for a few parts of the flesh they did not abstain from eating animals. Since the statement is contrary to the general belief, I have appended Plutarch’s own words:  “Aristotle says that the Pythagoreans abstained from the matrix, the heart, the ἀκαλήφη and some other such things, but used all other animal food.” Now the ἀκαλήφη is a marine creature which is called the sea-nettle. But Plutarch in his Table Talk says that the Pythagoreans also abstained from mullets.

But as to Pythagoras himself, while it is well known that he declared that he had come into the world as Euphorbus, what Cleanthes and Dicaearchus have recorded is less familiar—that he was afterwards Pyrrhus Pyranthius, then Aethalides, and then a beautiful courtesan, whose name was Alco.


For sale: two slave girls. Slightly used.

In the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, in book 4, chapter 2, there is an interesting passage on the buying and selling of slaves.  Here it is:

2. On the difference between a disease and a defect, and the force of those terms in the aediles’ edict; also whether eunuchs and barren women can be returned, and the various views as to that question.

The edict of the curule aediles, in the section containing stipulations about the purchase of slaves, reads as follows: “See to it that the sale ticket of each slave be so written that it can be known exactly what disease or defect each one has, which one is a runaway or a vagabond, or is still under condemnation for some offence.”

Therefore the jurists of old raised the question of the proper meaning of a “diseased slave” and one that was “defective,” and to what degree a disease differed from a defect.  Caelius Sabinus, in the book which he wrote On the Edict of the Curule Aediles, quotes Labeo, as defining a disease in these terms: “Disease is an unnatural condition of any body, which impairs its usefulness.”  But he adds that disease affects sometimes the whole body and at other times a part of the body. That a disease of the whole body is, for example, consumption or fever, but of a part of the body anything like blindness or lameness.  “But,” he continues, “one who stutters or stammers is defective rather than diseased, and a horse which bites or kicks has faults rather than a disease. But one who has a disease is also at the same time defective. However, the converse is not also true; for one may have defects and yet not be diseased. Therefore in the case of a man who is diseased,” says he, “it will be just and fair to state to what extent ‘the price will be less on account of that defect.’ “

With regard to a eunuch in particular it has been inquired whether he would seem to have been sold contrary to the aediles’ edict, if the purchaser did not know that he was a eunuch.  They say that Labeo ruled that he could be returned as diseased; and that Labeo also wrote that if sows were sterile and had been sold, action could be brought on the basis of the edict of the aediles.  But in the case of a barren woman, if the barrenness were congenital they say that Trebatius gave a ruling opposed to that of Labeo.  For while Labeo thought that she could be returned as unsound, they quote Trebatius as declaring that no action could be taken on the basis of the edict, if the woman had been born barren. But if her health had failed, and in consequence such a defect had resulted that she could not conceive, in that case she appeared to be unsound and there was ground for returning her.

With regard to a short-sighted person too, one whom we call in Latin luscitiosus, there is disagreement; for some maintain that such a person should be returned in all cases, while others on the contrary hold that he can be returned only if that defect was the result of disease.

Servius indeed ruled that one who lacked a tooth could be returned, but Labeo said that such a defect was not sufficient ground for a return: “For,” says he, “many men lack some one tooth, and most of them are no more diseased on that account, and it would be altogether absurd to say that men are not born sound, because infants come into the world unprovided with teeth.”

I must not omit to say that this also is stated in the works of the early jurists, that the difference between a disease and a defect is that the latter is lasting, while the former comes and goes.  But if this be so, contrary to the opinion of Labeo, which I quoted above, neither a blind man nor a eunuch is diseased.

I have added a passage from the second book of Masurius Sabinus On Civil Law: “A madman or a mute, or one who has a broken or crippled limb, or any defect which impairs his usefulness, is diseased. But one who is by nature near-sighted is as sound as one who runs more slowly than others.”

The works referred to here are all lost, of course.

There is something rather humorous in all this, as if the buyer might complain to the local council that he had been swindled by a rogue trader.

The slaves of the Roman world had two sources.  The first sort of slave was one who had been abandoned as an infant by its parents, under the custom of “exposing” unwanted children.  The second sort was a prisoner taken in war.

The first sort could well be a Roman by birth, of good health and even of noble blood sometimes.  What sort of slave turned up in the second class would depend on the origin of the prisoner.  Cicero complains in one of his letters that slaves from Britain are not likely to be much good for anything except hard labour, and certainly not skilled in various professions like Greek slaves.  In another letter, written while after a battle in Asia Minor, he remarks that the prisoners are being sold as he writes and that there are so many thousand sesterces on the block.  Their fates are unknown.

It is worth remembering the casual inhumanity of the ancient world; an inhumanity that ceased to exist in the western world with the fall of the Roman empire, even though serfdom then arose.  The exploitation of the Africans was an abberation, driven by profit.  But the ancient world took slavery for granted, and the consequences thereof.

Probably in most western cities a woman or two will be raped most weekends.  In ancient cities thousands of women were degraded thus every night.  It was Constantine who prohibited this evil custom, although, like nearly all edicts of late emperors, we may presume that the edict was largely not put into effect.  But in that single comparison we may see one part of what Christ did for the world, even for those who did not know Him.

Postscript.  After writing that post, somewhat naively I sought to find an image online to illustrate “two slave-girls for sale”.   I will not trouble readers with any of the improbable images that I found.