How to cope with pain and stress? Nowadays we can turn to shrinks and psychological help yourself books or watch Dr. Phill, but the Romans had no such options. But they did have philosophers: especially the various schools of Hellenistic philosophy had developed attitudes to cope with the difficulties of life. In this respect their writings did indeed resemble modern help yourself books, but of course with a much smaller circulation.
In the second book his Tusculanae Disputationes Cicero deals with the question of pain and suffering. It is, he says, better to confront suffering than to flee away. For this one needs strength of mind (animi contentio `stretching of the mind’). This strength of mind is a prerequisite for every function or duty (officium) one is striving after, but especially when it comes to pain and grief a man should bear it without crying and screaming.
Is a man never allowed to scream or groan? Yes, in sports for making the blow stronger. A phenomenon we still see, or rather hear, today when watching sport. I wonder what Cicero would have said about the orgasmic screams of some female tennis players.
Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes II, 54-56.
54 Ut enim fit in proelio, ut ignavus miles ac timidus, simul ac viderit hostem, abiecto scuto fugiat, quantum possit, ob eamque causam pereat non numquam etiam integro corpore, cum ei qui steterit, nihil tale evenerit, sic qui doloris speciem ferre non possunt, abiiciunt se atque ita adflicti et exanimati iacent; qui autem restiterunt, discedunt saepissime superiores. Sunt enim quaedam animi similitudines cum corpore. Ut onera contentis corporibus facilius feruntur, remissis opprimunt, simillime animus intentione sua depellit pressum omnem ponderum, remissione autem sic urgetur, ut se nequeat extollere. 55 Et, si verum quaerimus, in omnibus officiis persequendis animi est adhibenda contentio; ea est sola offici tamquam custodia. Sed hoc idem in dolore maxime est providendum, ne quid abiecte, ne quid timide, ne quid ignave, ne quid serviliter muliebriterve faciamus, in primisque refutetur ac reiiciatur Philocteteus ille clamor. Ingemescere non numquam viro concessum est, idque raro, eiulatus ne mulieri quidem. Et hic nimirum est "lessus", quem duodecim tabulae in funeribus adhiberi vetuerunt.
56 Nec vero umquam ne ingemescit quidem vir fortis ac sapiens, nisi forte ut se intendat ad firmitatem, ut in stadio cursores exclamant quam maxime possunt. Faciunt idem, cum exercentur, athletae, pugiles vero, etiam cum feriunt adversarium, in iactandis caestibus ingemescunt, non quod doleant animove succumbant, sed quia profundenda voce omne corpus intenditur venitque plaga vehementior.
simul ac: as soon as
pereo perii: to perish (because he doesn’t defend himself and is killed in flight)
non numquam: sometimes
integro corpore: i.e. not wounded while fighting
doloris speciem: the face of suffering
discedunt saepissime superiores: go very often away as winners (of the battle)
onus oneris (n.): burden
contentis...remissis: i.e. a strained body can withstand a weight, but a relaxed body crushes under the weight of a burden
simillime: in very much the same way
intentio –onis (f.): a straining, tension
depello depuli depulsum: to drive out
pondus ponderis (n.): weight, burden
ut se nequeat extollere: to such an extent that it can’t raise itself
adhibeo adhibui adhibitum: to apply
tamquam: so to speak
officii custodia: guarantee for a duty
provideo provisi provisum: to take care for
refuto (-are): to resist, refute
reicio reieci reiectum: to drive off, reject
Philocteteus: Philoctetes is a hero from the Trojan War, who was left behind at Lemnos because of his stinking wounds. This to his great dismay and he bewailed his fate. According to Stoic philosophy, he should have accepted his fate.
ingemisco (ingemesco) (-ere): to groan
non nunquam: sometimes
eiulatus -us (m.): wailing, lamenting
nimirum: without doubt
lessus: funeral lamentation
duodecim tabulae: the Law of the Twelve Tables, the first legal code of the Romans, according to tradition created in 450-449 BC. The original texts were according to some destroyed when Roma was sacked by the Gauls in 387 BC. They are known from quotes by ancient authors. Cicero, who said he learnd them by heart as a schoolboy, refers here to law X, 8: Mulieres genas ne radunto, neve lessum funeris ergo habento. (Women shall not tear their cheeks with their nails; nor shall they utter loud cries bewailing the dead.)
nec.. ne…quidem: nec does not take the negation away, cf. English `never not’
forte: by chance
ut se intendat ad firmitatem: when he exerts (stretches out) himself to strength.
cursor cursoris (m.): runner
pugil pugilis (m.): boxer
ferio: to beat, strike
caestus –us (m.) boxing-glove, a strap of bull's hide loaded with balls of lead or iron, wound around the hands and arms
doleo dolui: to feel pain
animo succumb- bui –buitum: to lose spirit
profundo profudi profusum: to pour/cast out
Translation by C. D. Yonge (1877)
Even as in a battle the dastardly and timorous soldier throws away his shield on the first appearance of an enemy, and runs as fast as he can, and on that account loses his life sometimes, though he has never received even one wound, when he who stands his ground has nothing of the sort happen to him, so they who cannot bear the appearance of pain throw themselves away, and give themselves up to affliction and dismay. But they that oppose it, often come off more than a match for it. For the body has a certain resemblance to the soul: as burdens are more easily borne the more the body is exerted, while they crush us if we give way, so the soul by exerting itself resists the whole weight that would oppress it; but if it yields, it is so pressed that it cannot support itself. And if we consider things truly, the soul should exert itself in every pursuit, for that is the only security for its doing its duty. But this should be principally regarded in pain, that we must not do anything timidly, or dastardly, or basely, or slavishly, or effeminately, and, above all things, we must dismiss and avoid that Philoctetean sort of outcry. A man is allowed sometimes to groan, but yet seldom; but it is not permissible even in a woman to howl; for such a noise as this is forbidden, by the twelve tables, to be used even at funerals. Nor does a wise or brave man ever groan, unless when he exerts himself to give his resolution greater force, as they who run in the stadium make as much noise as they can. The wrestlers, too, do the same when they are training; and the boxers, when they aim a blow with the cestus at their adversary, give a groan, not because they are in pain, or from a sinking of their spirits, but because their whole body is put upon the stretch by the throwing-out of these groans, and the blow comes the stronger.