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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Is it interesting to know details and anecdotes of the Ancient World?

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Surely there are many people, including friends from "facebook", to whom these various anecdotes or comments about the ancient world interest little or interest nothing at all indeed. Probably somebody thinks they are writings made by self-absorbed people who don´t really care about the real and current problems of the crazy world we actually live in because he or she considers that the Ancient World is far away. Of course it is a respectable opinion.

I understand there are people who appreciate little or nothing to know that the ninth month of the calendar is called  "September," precisely because it was the "seventh" month of the Roman calendar, or that when we use the term "god father", we  are just translating the Latin expression "Deus pater" (<Dius pitar) or Iuppiter (Jupiter) <Ioupitar; "deus, dius or Iou  or Iu (in Indo-European)" means "day, light" and  “piter or pater”, father, and so "god father” or Jupiter means simply “father of day, father of light”, divinity which in fact it´s characteristic of every Indo-European peoples (indeed Zeus is the Greek name or term that has got precisely the same Indo-European root).

I think that about the ancient world is worth knowing as many details as possible, some inconsequential or seemingly inconsequential and others more substantial and transcendent.

I think it is worth knowing, for example, a heartfelt and pious funeral epigram which was written by the acid poet Martial (who was born and died in Bilbilis, next to the current Calatayud) and dedicated to the girl "Erotion",  who was curiously a little slave, playing with the ritual phrase "Sit tibi terra levis" (usually expressed with its acronym S.T.T.L.), “May the ground rest lightly on you", equivalent to our “Requiescat in PaceRIP- or Rest in peace”:

To you, father Fronton, and to you, mother Flaccila,
I commend this child, the little Erotion, my joy and my delight.
That she may not be terrified at the dark shades
nor at the monstrous mouth of the dog of Tartarus.
She was about to pass the cold of a sixth winter,
But she lived a few days less.
Among so venerable patrons she may play happily,
and with her childish mouth she may babble my name.
Do not let the rude lawn cover her tender bones,
Nor you, ground, presses heavy on her:  she pressed but lightly on you.

(Martial, Epigrams, V, 34)Bohn's Classical Library (1897),Edition by George Bell and sons.

Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
paruola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,
uixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam ueteres ludat lasciua patronos
et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
terra grauis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.

Or know enough about Sulla, his proscriptions and some of his laws, if only to better understand, for example, the newspaper article published in the daily newspaper "El Mundo" (“The World”) (Spain), by Peter G. Cuartango, on the past and recent day 22nd of November in 2013, entitled "Cornelian laws", which draw a parallel between the reform of the "General Council of the Judiciary" in Spain and the Roman era:

http://www.elmundo.es/opinion/2013/11/22/528fbf420ab74083068b456c.html

(The use of Latin expressions or direct references to the ancient world in the daily press is numerous, and cultism and technical words as well, whose understanding are easier from the knowledge of Greek and Latin languages).

Or feel ourselves identified with the moving and exciting speech of Tiberius Gracchus that Plutarch tells us in his “Life of Tiberius Gracchus”, IX, 4-5:

“´ The wild beasts that roam over Italy, ´ he would say, have every one of them a cave or lair to lurk in; but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy the common air and light, indeed, but nothing else; houseless and homeless they wander about with their wives and children. And it is with lying lips that their imperators exhort the soldiers in their battles to defend their graves and shrines from the enemy; but they lie them for not a man of them has an hereditary altar, not one of all these many Romans an ancestral tomb, but they fight and die to support others in wealth and luxury, and though they are styled masters of the world, they have not a single clod of earth that is their own.” (Tiberius Gracchus. Bernadotte Perrin, Ed.)

This is a paragraph of the speech of one of the Gracchi brothers, Tiberius, in which he asks for something as old and modern as the "agrarian revolution" and the division of property, demand that killed him and his brother Gaius Gracchus, by order, naturally, of the landowners, who were the senators.

The text may make some devout reader remember the Gospel of Luke, IX, 58, but has nothing to do, except the rhetorical force of the comparison:

And Jesus said to him: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air, nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head”.

But maybe some other reader, versed in Marx´s sources, can remember a paragraph of the Communist Manifesto:

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property.  But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.  You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, but the necessary condition for its existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

Of course, talking about Karl Marx, perhaps it is interesting to know that modern patricians authors have compared him with the seditious Gracchi or the rebellious Spartacus.

Although it may be worth even more to know that Marx was a good Latin student in his native city, Trier (the Augusta Treverorum of the Romans) where he studied the culture, history and language of the Romans.

He was born there in 1818. He studied from 1830 to 1835 at the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium (Frederick William Institute) and read Ovid, Cicero, Tacitus, Propertius, Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Thucydides and Plutarch. Even in love with the poetry of Ovid he thought precisely about devoting to poetry, which caused a conflict with his father, a notary of the city, who wanted Karl to study Law. In fact at the end of the Gymnasium he translated the first of Ovid’s “Sad Poems” (Tristia).

Curiosities of History, Ovid also experienced a similar conflict with his father, who also objected to him becoming a poet, evidently without much success (there is an old story about this which I will comment any time later).

The German high school pupils studied then and also for a long time later more than eight hours a week of Latin in the Gymnasium at the most prestigious high school mode then and today in Germany.

To obtain the high school degree the pupils had to do several exercises, including among them an extensive writing in Latin. Karl Marx made his in 1835: An principatus Augusti merito inter feliciores ætates rei publicæ Romanæ numeretur? Can deservedly be considered the Princedom of Augustus among the most prosperous eras of the Roman Republic?

It was graded as a “good” exercise, though he was reproached by his poor handwriting: in the exercise there is a side note by Professor Loers which says, "... vero quam turpis littera!” “What a horrible handwriting!

So Marx was a good connoisseur of the Ancient World. It is not the time to dig something in this Marx´s school exercise that sometimes devout and orthodox Marxists have tried to hide.

Furthermore, anyone can think that at that time Marx was still too young and certainly he was not yet "Marxist".  But something and not just little he should be influenced by his studies at the Institute: he went on reading Plutarch at University, attended the chair of Greek to study Homer and especially in 1841, when he was only 23 years old, when to get a doctorate, important moment in a person's academic life, he chose for his thesis such a classic matter as The difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. 

It is true that Democritus and Epicurus are the two “materialist” philosophers par excellence in the Greek world. Epicurus is also the most maligned and distorted author by the culture and society of his time and later, but I assure you that the study of the differences between them on the issue of title is only available to anyone with a high knowledge and expertise of the subject. Anyone who is curious could read the thesis of Marx (where it is possible to check his level of scholarship) or make something easier and available to everyone: read the extraordinary work by Carlos García Gual "Epicurus" (Alianza Editorial, 1981), especially chapter 5 , dedicated to "Physical theory.  Atomic constitution of the universe”.

Not to dwell more on the subject, I will conclude by saying that most likely it was just his study and knowledge of the classical world which made Karl Marx a "world citizen" who sends his message to the international proletarian community. The Communist Manifesto ends precisely with the famous internationalist proclaiming "Workers of the world unite" ("Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt Euch").

These details, stories and anecdotes I´m telling you can be transcendent or inconsequential; it depends largely on the consideration of the reader himself or herself. Of course, Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto and The Capital have been essential in the conformation of the contemporary world.
 

   
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