Dowd on Seneca

Athens4 "The decline and fall of the American Empire echoes the experience of the Romans, who also tumbled into the trap of becoming overleveraged empire hussies.

As our sand-castle economy washes away under the tide of bad gambles and debts, this most self-indulgent society lurches toward stoicism (even bankrupt Iceland gives us the cold shoulder and turns to a solvent superpower). It’s going to require more than giving up constant infusions of stocks, Starbucks and Botox.

As Seneca, the Roman Stoic who advised treating the body “somewhat strictly,” wrote in a letter: “Avoid whatever is approved of by the mob, and things that are the gift of chance. Whenever circumstance brings some welcome thing your way, stop in suspicion and alarm …They are snares. … we think these things are ours when in fact it is we who are caught. That track leads to precipices; life on that giddy level ends in a fall.

The study of Latin and Greek, with illuminations on morality, philosophy, mob rule and chariot races, reached a nadir in the greedy ‘80s and ‘90s, when it seemed irrelevant for kids who yearned to be investment bankers and high-tech millionaires. But now we’ve learned the hard way that greed is bad — avaritia mala est — and the classics have staged a comeback. Amo Latinam, so I was happy to see last week’s Times story about the soaring enrollment for Latin classes in New York." Dowd



Seneca?  Marcus Aurelius?  Epictetus?  Surely we are too far gone for that.  Education?  Real education?  Learning that leads to "the proper study of mankind?"  Nah!  If you do that, you will end as a waiter, someone who brings drinks for the Masters of the Universe.

There’s precious little of actual education around in a world of shallow people, people who experience every new thing as though example is not available that would illuminate the event.

Trade school!  That’s the thing!  Marketing!  Yes!  Marketing is all!  "Branding!"  Yes!  Branding was good enough for Lincoln and Jefferson, was it not?  Why should it not be good enough for us?

Why indeed?    pl


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30 Responses to Dowd on Seneca

  1. jlcg says:

    Seneca is a puzzle for me because though he wrote those Moral Letters, his own life was one of immense accumulation of money and property. After reflecting about him and being distressed by the lack of harmony between Seneca’s teachings and his actual life I have come to the conclusion that we are snared indeed by the society within which we live. I suppose that if someone wants to be a model of rectitude within a corrupt society that person will be eliminated because he does not act according to the concrete objective manners of the moment, so in order to survive we have to become corrupt also, and that is not difficult. Those that collaborate with tyrannical regimes are under the self same predicament, they either cooperate or perish. Perhaps some prefer to move to the Tebaid but the rest of us just have to deal with our alienated consciences.

  2. Duncan Kinder says:

    Marketing! Yes! Marketing is all!
    Well, if we study Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, the first item we study is a modern advertisement, which the authors praise as an exemplar of classical rhetorical technique.
    In fact, there was quite a lot of marketing back in classical times. Consider, e.g., the “Render unto Caesar” story in the New Testament.

  3. Homer says:

    Re: Education
    Latin and Greek?
    Since the Bush admin empowered al-Dawa in a direct but inadvertent response to the horrific attacks of 9/11, it may be far more practical for today’s youth to learn how to shoot a rifle.
    “George W. Bush has put the United States on the side of undemocratic Iraqis who are Iran’s allies.”
    Is This a ‘Victory’?
    By Peter W. Galbraith, Volume 55, Number 16, October 23, 2008

  4. lina says:

    I wish it WAS about trade school and marketing. Instead it’s about test scores and keeping up with the international Joneses. There’s no time to learn anything extra because we’re busy teaching algebra to 5th graders. If the test scores don’t go up, we add another hour of homework. There’s certainly no time for anything classical.
    Today’s kids are so stressed out by the time they’re 18, I advise long term investing in drug stocks – particularly companies that manufacture anti-depressants.
    I say all of this as a conscripted officer of the homework police.

  5. bstr says:

    Dear Sir, “Branding” is good enough in times of plenty. Hunger drives curiosity. The difficult part is the identification of an empty feeling that won’t be filled by the obvious.

  6. LeaNder says:

    Wonderful “catch”. I haven’t read anything by Dowd for quite some time.
    Really funny “rabble-rouseribus”:
    “Cum Quirites Americani ad rallias Republicanas audiunt nomen Baraci Husseini Obamae, clamant “Mortem!” “Amator terroris!” “Socialiste!” “Bomba Obamam!” “Obama est Arabus!” “Caput excidi!” tempus sit rabble-rouseribus desistere “Smear Talk Express,” …

  7. JohnH says:

    A brand is what you put on the hind quarter of cattle, close to where the BS comes out…

  8. Ed Webb says:

    I am very happy to teach in a liberal arts college where not only are languages and international education a major focus, along with sustainability and other present and pressing concerns, but also where the Classical Studies department flourishes and Greek and Latin are popular. We’ll keep the barbarians at the gates yet…

  9. rjj says:

    Dowd? stoichic as The Latest Thing?

  10. rjj says:

    “Enough is too much of a good thing” is Epicurean, not Stoic.
    Conspicuous abstention as new form of vulgar display should result in some interesting television. The Eating Channel will have to abandon those Seed Corn Casserole contests for Dried Crust Presentation challenges.

  11. Steve says:

    Irony indeed! The glimmers abound.
    “I know not why any one but a school-boy in his declamation should whine over the Commonwealth of Rome, which grew great only by the misery of the rest of mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another. […] A people, who while they were poor robbed mankind; and as soon as they became rich, robbed one another.”
    Samuel Johnson 1709-1784

  12. Will says:

    for those that want to eke out every morsel of meaning in the MODO article
    i forget how to do the html here and the site truncates the url’s so i”ll put it in quotes for a cut and paste
    of course some of the nuggets are obvious and self explanatory
    Terram Eskimorum
    Terrae Santae Elvorumque
    supralupocidit (aerial shooting of wolves) in Hyperborea
    Primus Dudus, spousus Palinanus
    McCain’s Mean Girl (Ferox Puella)
    Cynthia McCaina Birrabaronessa,
    Georgio Busio Secundo colossale goofballo. “V” (because there’s no W. in Latin)
    Sabbatis Nocte Vivo (SNL)

  13. Mad Dogs says:

    Will wrote:
    “for those that want to eke out every morsel of meaning in the MODO article…””…”
    Might I suggest in the case of MoDo, it might be more appropriate to use this translator instead:
    Pig-Latin Generator

  14. If memory serves, Diocletian had Seneca put to death. His stoicism and example in accepting that fate became legend.
    As to the trade school issues, no doubt training is somewhat different than education. But what has been startling and interesting to me has been the post-k-12 shift from largely non-profit colleges and universities to largely profit making colleges and so called Universities since 1970. These statistics could be wrong but my belief is have gone from roughly 6500 non-profits in 1970 (and education was one of several elemosanary (sic) purposes laid out in the definition of charitable uses by Elizabeth I) to less than 3000 today and almost 10,000 profit making colleges and universities. Again in my judgement not all corrupt but definitely part of the student loan problems, much less quality.
    And almost 20% of college work conducted on-line.
    As to the classics would be interested to know % of SST readership that studied latin or greek at some point or better yet majored in classics. I had two years of HS latin but read in translation a number of books from the classical literature and strongly recommend the recent books “Sailing the Wine Dark Sea-What the Greeks Gave Western Civilization” and the work of a British historian “From Homer to Hadrian.”

  15. Will says:

    we must not forget that there a Vikipedia Latina which compromises and sometimes includes the “W” letter, for example
    ” Georgius Walker Bush (Anglice: George Walker Bush; nomen audire Portui Novae Connecticutae die 6 Iulii 1946 natus; Ephemeris dixit olim Bushius[1]) fuit Gubernator Texiae (1995–2000) et nunc est quadragensimus tertius Praeses Civitatum Foederatarum Americae.
    Civitatum Foederatarum Americae praeses anno 2000 electus est, primus praeses factionis Republicanae post patrem, Georgium Herbertum Walker Bush. Georgius Bush, dextralium placitorum fautor strenuus, a se Democratas novatoresque nonnullos prorsus abalienavit, sui tamen studiosissimos reddidit Republicanos eos, qui ad dexteram stabant. Anno 2001, Civitates Foederatas Americae in bellum in Afgania, et anno 2003 in bellum in Iraquia duxit. Bush iterum electus erat anno 2004, cum paulo maiorem suffragiorum partem accepit quam aemulus, Iohannes Kerry. ”

  16. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Educate the masses? A liberal education for the masses???????
    My God pl this might lead to them THINKING and getting IDEAS. If they think, they might start to oppose the plutocracy and its designs for a fascist Amerika.
    Can’t have that!!!
    The masses must have their bread and circuses and leave management of the present imperial dictatorship/principate to their betters…well, like George Shultz and Felix Rohaytn among other deep initiates in the higher circles.
    The masses are much better off listening to Rush and that slut Coulter.
    Teach them the classics?
    My God man, that is well…revolutionary or something…Greeks and Romans and all that olive oil and garlic…subversive indeed.
    Irving is best for them…Irving Kristol and that Neocon ideology that took over the Republican Party….and by the way they have their own way of teaching the classics just right (if one has to)…Leo Strauss and his cult in the universities….right out of Nazi Germany with Carl Schmitt Strauss’ Nazi mentor and patron.
    Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, etal… God….not for the great unwashed…and certainly not my own favorites Isocrates and Cicero…and never ever ever mention Plato or Aristotle let alone Socrates!!!

  17. Albertde says:

    I guess we are a class of readers, whose intelligence is somewhat wanting to need an Irony Alert.
    What I took away from classical Latin is that the writers were plain speaking and succinct. Translation from Latin requires that we insert the embellishments required by English.
    My real reason for learning Latin was to read plain, simply clad prose and poetry. In such clothing you can see the fools a mile away and the geniuses almost immediately. There are a great many truths to be found in the writers of the Roman Republic.

  18. greg0 says:

    One of the historical motives for learning Greek and Latin was the ability to read the Bible closer to it’s source. Personally, I would prefer reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Petronius’s Satyricon.
    But learning a dead language is too much work. Better to change Al Gebra to Freedom Math, etc.

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    OK. I will desist from the irony alerts. pl

  20. JJackson says:

    Driving in the car I was listening to a rather strange BBC religious program about the ethical challenges faced by panelists of different faiths while working in the City of London’s financial markets (most gave up and took other jobs). The comment that stuck with me was by one panelist who had started in 1973 at which time, he said, the ratio of capital invested in industry (i.e. it was going to be used in the building of something tangible) to speculative investment (i.e. it was being put in to a vehicle whose sole purpose was to play the markets to turn a profit) was 9:1. He said the ration was still 9:1 but the other way around.
    Quo Vardimus?

  21. wasa says:

    Here is a translation:

    “Scarcely any person heard the name “Palin” prior to a few moons (ago). Emerging from her tanning bed to the forests in Eskimo-land, now she is asking everyone who is the most traitorous, most ominous, most scurrilous, most dangerous lover of 60’s terrorists and criminals of Chicago? You betcha!”

  22. Tyler says:

    Hey Sir,
    Do you have any recommendations on classics that are “must reads” for those of us that are interested?

  23. Yours Truly says:

    How do you translate “Gotterdammerung” into Latin or Greek?

  24. rjj says:

    Greek for Gotterdammerung might be theossutos coprocheimon. [Probably didn’t get the Greek quite right. Did get the joke.]

  25. jmc5588 says:

    Thanks to Mr. Cumming for the recommendations. IRT his query… 2 years of HS Latin (1961-1962). The one quote I remember most clearly (other than “Omnia Gallia divisa est in partes tres….) was also from Caesar: “Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt” (As a rule, men readily believe what they wish) JC

  26. pbrownlee says:

    Every so often Latin and Greek go through a “revival” of some sort and I know of some ed. admin. types who like Classics because they add “tone” to the place.
    But you try getting funding for the Greek Department!
    As one nice woman commented (quoting one of her own teachers) in the London Daily Telegraph during the last revival in the UK “Latin and Greek will go far to console you for the income that they will prevent you from earning”.
    It’s true…

  27. Grace says:

    it’s ok, but for english to latin i prefer for dictionary usage

  28. YT says:

    rjj: Theossutos coprocheimon. Thanks, didn’t realize you posted a response till today.

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