Hie Folly of Human Desires

Astro Elements

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Jlncient sources provide no information about Marcus Manilius, the author of a lengthy work on astrology, the Astronomica, but references in the poem show that he wrote in the early part of the first century a.d.

Although the outward forms of traditional Roman religion were still kept up in imperial times, the Greek philosophical systems, Stoicism and Epicureanism, had replaced traditional beliefs for many of the educated class. One of the principal tenets of Stoicism was the idea of an immutable Fate that determines human life. For some Stoics, such as Manilius, this led to an acceptance of astrology. In the following selection, he tells that, because the course of our lives has already been fixed at the moment of birth, any anxiety we might have about the future is pointless.

Quid tam sollicitis vitam consumimus annis torquemurque metu caecaque cupidine rerum aeternisque senes curis, dum quaerimus, aevum perdimus et nullo votorum fine beati victuros agimus semper nec vivimus umquam, 5

text Manilius Astronomica, ed. G. P. Gould (Loeb Classical Library, 1977) meter hexameter [§mi]

quid tam | sollici|tIs || vl|tam con|sumImus | annis torque|murque me|tu || cae|caque cu|pldine | rerum

The first eleven lines contain a series of rhetorical questions complaining of the folly of pursuing material goals.

1 Quid why; tam sollicitis ... annis abl. of manner [§g45] in such anxious years; vitam in English we would use the plural lives; consumo -ere spend.

2 torquemur (torqueo -ere) do we torture ourselves (reflexive use of the passive [§G59]); metu and cupidine (cupido cupidinis f. desire) instrumental ablatives [§g47]; the latter is blind (caecus) because it is irrational; rerum (lit., of things) objective gen. [§g23] with caeca cupidine, trans, with blind desire for possessions.

si. aeternis senes curls [made] old men by ceaseless worries; aevum (-i n. here life), the object of perdimus, is also the understood object of quaerimus, while we are seeking [it], we lose life—a paradoxical statement typical of Silver Age poets; Manilius means that by our seeking what we think are the means to live a full life, we are never able to live such a life; nullo votorum fine beat! satisfied (lit., happy) with no end of [our] desires, i.e., never satisfied when we achieve our immediate desires but always forming fresh ones—the basic meaning of votum is a vow to give something to a divinity in return for a favor; here and in 1. 9, it is used in the broader sense of desire, wish, but in 1.21 it has the sense of prayer. 5 victuros (fut. pple. of vivo -ere) used as a noun, those [who are] going to live; ago here play the part of; nec vivimus umquam lit., nor do we ever [really] live (i.e., enjoy life to the full).

pauperiorque bonis quisque est, quia plura requirit nec quod habet numerat, tantum quod non habet optat, cumque sibi parvos usus natura reposcat materiam struimus magnae per vota ruinae luxuriamque lucris emimus luxuque rapinas, 10

et summum census pretium est effundere censum?

solvite, mortales, animos curasque levate totque supervacuis vitam deplete querellis.

fata regunt orbem, certa stant omnia lege longaque per certos signantur tempora casus. 15

nascentes morimur, finisque ab origine pendet.

6 pauperidr compar. of pauper poor; bonis abl. of cause [§G 48] through [his] possessions; quisque each [person]; plura (compar. of multus) more things; requlro -ere want.

7 numero -are count (up); tantum adv. only; opto -are desire; to make a strong contrast between the two clauses, Manilius omits sed (but)—this should be supplied in English.

8 cum here although; usus (acc. pi. of usus -us m.) needs; reposed -ere demand, claim.

9 materiam ... struimus (strud -ere lit., build) do we put together the material; magnae ... ruinae dat. of result [§g33] for a great downfall; the sense is through [our] desires (per vota) we amass wealth, only to see it fall apart.

10 lucris (lucrum -I n. gain) and luxu (luxus -us m. luxury) instrumental ablatives [§G47]; emimus (emo emere buy) governs luxuriam (luxuria -ae f. luxury) and rapinas (rapina -ae f. act of plundering); the last words are paradoxical, lit., and [buy] plunderings with [our] luxury, i.e., through our luxurious living, we bring it about that others plunder us.

11 census gen. of census -us m. wealth; effundo -ere here squander.

12 solvite (solvo -ere free) and levate (levo -are lighten) are both 2 pi. imp. act.; mortalis mortalis m. human (being), mortal.

13 Take tot (indecl., so many) with supervacuis (pointless) querellis (querella -ae f. complaint); trans, vitam by lives, as in 1.1; deplete (2 pi. imp. act. of depleo -ere empty, rid [something] of) is followed by an accusative (vitam) and an ablative of separation [§G4o] (tot... querellis).

14 fata should be translated by the singular Fate; orbis orbis m. world; certa ... lege instrumental abl. [§G47] by unchangeable law; stant stand [fixed],

15 longa ... tempora the long ages (since all time is meant, we should use the definite article in English); signantur (signo -are) lit., are stamped (the metaphor is from stamping coins); per certos ... casus is the equivalent of an instrumental ablative, lit., with immutable happenings (casus -us m.)—Manilius is saying that everything that happens throughout time is predetermined.

16 nascentes (nascor nasci be born) morimur another paradox, we die as we are being born, i.e., at the moment of birth, the time of our death is fixed; finis [our]

hinc et opes et régna ñuunt et, saepius orta, paupertas, artesque datae moresque creatis et vitia et laudes, damna et compendia rerum, nemo carere dato poterit nec habere negatum 20

Fortunamve suis invitam prendere votis aut fugere instantem: sors est sua cuique ferenda.

Manilius Astronómica 4.1-22

end; ab origine pendet lit., hangs (pendeô 'ère) from (i.e., results from) [our] beginning (orïgô orïginis F.)—the second clause makes virtually the same point as the first.

X7ÎF. hinc hence, from this [source] (i.e., from Fate); opes (ops opis f.) here wealth; régna (regnum -i n.) kingdoms; fluunt (fluô 'ere) flow, i.e., are derived, come; saepius (compar. of saepe) more often; take orta (orior oriri arise, occur) with paupertas (paupertàtis f.), lit., poverty, occurring more often (the perf. pples. of deponent verbs are often used in a present sense (§G74j), trans, poverty, which occurs more often; artès ... môrësque skills and characters; datae [sunt] ... creâtïs (creô -are give birth to) are given to [people when] born; vitia (vitium -(i)ï n.) faults; laudes (laus laudis f.) here virtues; damna et compendia rërum losses (damnum -I n.) and gains (compendium -(i)ï n.) of property.

20 careô -ëre (lack, be exempt from) takes the ablative, here daté ([what is] assigned); poterit fut. of possum; negatum [what is] denied; both the assigning and denying are done by Fate—trans, no one will [ever] be able to be exempt from [what is] assigned [to him] or to have [what is] denied [to him],

2if. The two infinitive phrases introduced by -ve and aut (both or) are governed by nëmo ... poterit of 1. 20; invitam (with Fortunam) [if she is] unwilling—for Manilius, Fortune and Fate are one and the same; suis ... vôtïs instrumental abl. [§g 47] with his prayers; prendô -ere take hold of; take instantem (instô -are here approach) with Fortunam; sors sortis f. destiny; cuique (quisque each) dat. of agent [§g2ç)] with the gerundive used predicatively [§g8o], ferenda, lit., his own destiny must be borne by each, i.e., everyone must endure his own destiny; on this use of suus, see §(156.

Of Arms and the Kings

The German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz said that war was diplomacy by other means, but the same sentiment was more cogently expressed by arms manufacturers of the 18th century who inscribed their cannon with the words Ultima ratio regum—The final argument of kings.

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