by , under life, thinking

One of the perks of being the resident classicist in the house is that I get to read Greek and Latin with the girls. Last year it was Herodotus and Homer and Ovid, this year it’s Plato and Seneca.

Prima and I agree that Ovid is achingly beautiful as well as very hard; we don’t agree that Seneca is both of those things as well (she only sees the “very hard” part). She thinks he’s an annoying old curmudgeon– and so he is, but oh! the language!

The best part of today’s portion (here is the full text, jump to “10: X”). First some context:

Omnes cum fortuna copulati sumus: aliorum aurea catena est ac laxa, aliorum arta et sordida, sed quid refert? Eadem custodia uniuersos circumdedit alligatique sunt etiam qui alligauerunt, nisi forte tu leuiorem in sinistra catenam putas.

“All of us are joined together with fortune: some people’s chain is made of gold and loose, others’ tight and of base metal, but what does it matter? The same captivity surrounds everyone and even those who bind are bound, unless you think that a chain on the left hand (i.e. that you bind someone else with) is lighter in weight.”

And then the part that makes me ache:

Alium honores, alium opes uinciunt; quosdam nobilitas, quosdam humilitas premit; quibusdam aliena supra caput imperia sunt, quibusdam sua; quosdam exsilia uno loco tenent, quosdam sacerdotia. Omnis uita seruitium est.

“Honours shackle the one, powers the other; nobility oppresses some, humble state others; commands from outside are over some people’s heads, their own over others’; some are kept in one place by exile, some by priesthood. All life is slavery.”

(my translation, which was somewhat easier in Dutch because there were two of us to think of the right words, with a decent dictionary)

I was about Prima’s age when I read Seneca’s letter to Lucilius about slavery, which is in her workbook in translation. That’s probably a subject more appealing to people in their late teens than suffering whatever’s been given to you, but I remember him as an old curmudgeon as well and was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it takes a load of years to appreciate him.

  1. SciamAnna

    I’m curious about the interpretation of the “chain on the left hand” meaning the one you use to bind someone else. It makes sense in context and I’m not disputing it: I’m just not seeing how you get from one to the other. Did you find some reference about it?

    • Irina

      The workbook said so 🙂

      More usefully, when a Roman soldier had a prisoner handcuffed to him for secure transport, the chain was on the soldier’s left hand, probably to keep the right free for a weapon.


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