Friday 29 March 2024

It is Better to be Busy with Leisure than Doing Nothing

 C. Plinius  Minicio Fundano Suo S.

   Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare uideatur, pluribus iunctisque non constet. nam si quem interroges ‘hodie quid egisti?’ respondeat  ‘officio togae uirilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentaui, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in aduocationem, ille in consilium rogauit.’ haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania uidentur, multo magis cum secesseris. tunc enim subit recordatio ‘quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!’ quod euenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori uaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. nihil audio, quod audisse, nihil dico, quod dixisse paeniteat: nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me, cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe, nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. o rectam sinceramque uitam, o dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! o mare, o litus, uerum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa inuenitis, quam multa dictatis! proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis uel otio trade. Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. uale.

To Minutius Fundanus from Pliny:

   It is strange how, if you take each day here in the city one at a time, it is spent or seems to have been well spent, but when you lump all of the days together, it is hard to take account of it all. For if you ask any one, ‘What have you been doing today?’ he will respond: ‘I took part in a coming-of-age ceremony, I was celebrating a betrothal or a wedding, someone asked be to witness a will signing, I was a witness in court for someone, or I have had a consultation with someone. These all seem urgent on the day in question, but if you think over how you spend day after day it all seems like a waste of time, especially when you have withdrawn from the city, for then the thought pops up, ‘what number of days have I wasted in mind-numbing affairs!’ What is what happens to me when I am at my Laurentum either reading something or writing or even taking care of my body, as the mind requires its support to be sustained. I hear nothing, I say nothing which I may regret having heard or said: nobody harasses me with evil words, and I myself blame no one except myself when my writing does not go as well as I would like; I fuss over no hopes, no fears and no rumours disturb my sleep. In converse only with myself and my little books. What a clean and proper life, what sweet and honest leisure, finer than almost any job! The sea, the shore my own secret and true museum, and how many things you discover for me, how many things you have told me! So, you likewise, the first chance you get, leave behind the commotion, vapid conversations and endless useless tasks  and devote yourself to studies or leisure. For it is better, as our Atilius most skillfully and cleverly once said, that it is better to be busy with leisure than doing nothing. Farewell.
Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, I.ix. My translation.