University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Classics




Troiani belli scriptorem, Maxime Lolli,

dum tu declamas Romae, Praeneste relegi;

qui, quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non,

plenius ac melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.

Cur ita crediderim, nisi quid te distinet, audi.


Fabula, qua Paridis propter narratur amorem

Graecia barbariae lento conlisa duello,

stultorum regum et populorum continet aestum.

Antenor censet belli praecidere causam;

quid Paris? Vt saluus regnet uiuatque beatus     


cogi posse negat. Nestor componere litis

inter Pelidem festinat et inter Atriden;

hunc amor, ira quidem communiter urit utrumque.

Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achiui.

Seditione, dolis, scelere atque libidine et ira


Iliacos intra muros peccatur et extra.

Rursus, quid uirtus et quid sapientia possit,

utile proposuit nobis exemplar Vlixen,

qui domitor Troiae multorum prouidus urbes,

et mores hominum inspexit, latumque per aequor,


dum sibi, dum sociis reditum parat, aspera multa

pertulit, aduersis rerum inmersabilis undis.

Sirenum uoces et Circae pocula nosti;

quae si cum sociis stultus cupidusque bibisset,

sub domina meretrice fuisset turpis et excors,


uixisset canis inmundus uel amica luto sus.

Nos numerus sumus et fruges consumere nati,

sponsi Penelopae nebulones Alcinoique

in cute curanda plus aequo operata iuuentus,

cui pulchrum fuit in medios dormire dies et


ad strepitum citharae cessatum ducere curam.

Vt iugulent hominem surgunt de nocte latrones;

ut te ipsum serues, non expergisceris? Atqui

si noles sanus, curres hydropicus; et ni

posces ante diem librum cum lumine, si non      


intendes animum studiis et rebus honestis,

inuidia uel amore uigil torquebere. Nam cur,

quae laedunt oculum, festinas demere, siquid

est animum, differs curandi tempus in annum?

Dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet; sapere aude,


incipe. Viuendi qui recte prorogat horam,

rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis: at ille

labitur et labetur in omne uolubilis aeuum.

Quaeritur argentum puerisque beata creandis

uxor, et incultae pacantur uomere siluae;


quod satis est cui contingit, nil amplius optet.

Non domus et fundus, non aeris aceruus et auri

aegroto domini deduxit corpore febris,

non animo curas; ualeat possessor oportet,

si comportatis rebus bene cogitat uti.


Qui cupit aut metuit, iuuat illum sic domus et res

ut lippum pictae tabulae, fomenta podagram,

auriculas citharae collecta sorde dolentis.

Sincerum est nisi uas, quodcumque infundis acescit.

Sperne uoluptates; nocet empta dolore uoluptas.          


Semper auarus eget; certum uoto pete finem.

Inuidus alterius macrescit rebus opimis;

inuidia Siculi non inuenere tyranni

maius tormentum. Qui non moderabitur irae,

infectum uolet esse, dolor quod suaserit et mens,


dum poenas odio per uim festinat inulto.

Ira furor breuis est; animum rege, qui nisi paret,

imperat, hunc frenis, hunc tu compesce catena.

Fingit equum tenera docilem ceruice magister

ire uiam qua monstret eques; uenaticus, ex quo


tempore ceruinam pellem latrauit in aula,

militat in siluis catulus. Nunc adbibe puro

pectore uerba puer, nunc te melioribus offer;

quo semel est imbuta recens, seruabit odorem

testa diu. Quodsi cessas aut strenuus anteis,


nec tardum opperior nec praecedentibus insto.

While you were studying oratory at Rome, Lollius Maximus [a young student of law], I was at Praeneste rereading Homer, the author of the Trojan War. He states better and more clearly than the learned philosophers Crantor [of Soli, c. 335-c 275 B.C.E., member of the Old Academy] and Chrysippus [c. 280-207 B.C.E., head of the Stoic school] what is beautiful, what is base, what is useful and what is not (quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non). If you have time, let me tell you why I think so.

That story about the collision between Greek and barbarian in a stubborn war over Paris' love is a study in the passions of foolish kings and peoples. Antenor wanted to remove the cause of war, Paris did not, refusing to be forced to live in happiness and safety! Nestor tried valiantly to settle the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon. The latter was fired by love, and both by anger--and when kings go mad, the people pay for it! So it was with the Achaeans. Inside the walls of Ilium and out, behold: sedition, treachery, criminal lust and wrath.

Homer offers us Ulysses' might as a useful model of courage and wisdom. This vanquisher of Troy prudently observed the ways and the cities of many people. Not to be drowned in the waved of adversity, he endured many a hardship to bring this men and himself home across the broad sea. You remember those Siren voices and Circe's cups. Had Ulysses been like his comrades who drank from them in lustful folly, he would have become a base and witless slave of a harlot and lived the life of an unwashed dog or a mud-loving sow.

In comparison with him we are mere ciphers, born to consume, like the suitors of Penelope or Alcinoüs' lazy troupe, wasting time tending their complexions, sleeping through the day or dulling their wits in the drone of the cithara.

Thieves rise in the night to strangle a man. Won't you at least wake up to save your life? After all, if you won't run for healthy exercise, you will when you have the dropsy. If you don't call for a book and a lamp before daybreak and apply your mind to virtuous studies and matters (si non / intendes animum studiis et rebus honestis), you'll twist in envy--or lust--and still not sleep! You are quick to remove anything which hurts your eye, so why do you put off until next year the cure of your mind? "Begun's half done!" "Dare to be wise!" Begin now! Postponing the good life is like the bumpkin who waits for an ever-flowing river to run dry before crossing.

Because men want money and a rich wife to bear children, the untilled woods yield to the plow. "Want only what you need, no more!" A house and estate, a heap of bronze and gold never cooled the rich man's fever or took away care from the mind. One should only ponder how to use possessions properly. House and property no more cure anxiety than painted murals aid a sore eye, or pillows the gout, or lyres an ear infection. "Whatever you put in a rotten pot spoils."

Spurn foolish pleasures bought with pain. "The greedy man is forever a pauper." Limit your desires. "A prosperous neighbor makes the envious man grow thin." Not even Sicilian tyrants could devise tortures greater than envy.

The man quick to anger will live to wish undone the works of his wrath as he forever rushes violently to gratify any hatred however small. "Anger is a passing madness." Control your mind or it will control you. Put it in reins, cast it in chains!

A trainer knows how to tame the tender neck and teach the horse to obey its rider. The great hound hunting in the wilds began his career as a pup yapping at stuffed stags in the farmyard. So, lad, drink in my words with a pure heart, give heed to your superiors. The pot will keep alive the same flavor with which it was first imbued. But whether you fall back or bravely push ahead--it's all the same to me. I don't wait for the sluggard or try to keep up with those who pass me by.

Translation by Z. Philip Ambrose, from The University of Vermont: The First Two Hundred Years, R. V. Daniels, Senior Editor (Hanover and London: University of Vermont, distributed by Univ. Pr. of New England, 1991) 92-3.

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Last modified February 17 2010 10:37 AM