Anger or Love: the Thirteenth Labor of Hercules

In the last few weeks I’ve been meditating on this idea that every speech act lies on a continuum between poles of anger and love. I’ll not go into it in detail at the moment, but for now just note that I came across the following in Lactantius, a scholar and associate of Constantine at the turn of the fourth century, which reminded me of the idea:

Opera sunt ista fortis viri, hominis tamen. Illa enim, quae vicit, fragilia et mortalia fuerunt. Nulla enim est (quod ait Orator) tanta vis, quae non ferro ac viribus debilitari frangique possit. At animum vincere, iracundiam cohibere, fortissimi est: quae ille nec fecit unquam, nec potuit. Haec qui faciat, non ego eum cum summis viris comparo; sed simillimum Deo iudico.

[The labors of Hercules] are the works of a strong man [fortis vir], but of a man [homo] nevertheless. For the things which he conquered were destructible and mortal. For there is no violence so great (as the Orator says [i.e., Cicero, in his speech In Defense of Marcellus]), that it cannot be weakened and broken by iron and strength. But to conquer anger, to check wrath, is the mark of the strongest man [fortissimi (sc. viri)]: which [Hercules] never did, nor was able to do. I do not compare him that do these things with the finest of men [summis viris]; but I judge him to be most like God.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for helping me move the dial a little more towards love. For it is in talking about the things that we love, that is, in speech whose cause is love, that we lose track of where we are, that our heart beats faster, that we don’t care if anyone hears what we say, because we say it for no other reason in the world.

And you whom I do not know, who may or may not even exist in this or that case, this or that post, are with me in doing this even as I am with Lactantius, who never could have known when he wrote about what he thought to be true, that he was sharing it with me.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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