These are quotations for the year 2018. For other years, go back to the first quotation page for the Index to Quotations.

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Apollo playing the lyre

Illustration: Apollo, patron god of music, plays the lyre, the instrument with which the bard accompanied himself as he sang of mythical stories or the news of the day.

Archived quotations of the month

Beginning with September, 2004, my home page will feature a different quotation from Classical or other literature each month, appropriate to the season or to current events. Starting in October, 2004, these pages will contain "Quotations of the Month" from previous months. Translations are my own, except where otherwise noted.

Below is the index to the quotations for 2018, followed by the quotations themselves.

Index to quotations for 2018

Below are quotations for the year 2018. For other years, go back to the first quotation page for the Index to Quotations or click on one of the years below:

Quotations of the Month for the year 2018

Click on a link to read each quotation


Quotation for January, 2018


Petronius Arbiter


For Rev. Martin Luther King's Birthday: Petronius Arbiter on Making Your Own Dreams

Roman Ship 50 AD

Above: Prow of a Roman two-banked war ship, ca. 50 A.D. From a relief found in the Temple of Fortune at Praeneste, now in the Vatican. Note the leather bags around the ports through which the oars stick from the hull; these keep water from getting in around the oars, but do not constrict their movement. (Illustration from Cecil Torr, Ancient Ships, , 1895.)

In Petronius' poem, the sailor may dream that he saves his capsized ship, or that he clings to it as it sinks.

Top: Drawing of Petronius Arbiter from Favissae, utriusque antiquitatis tam romanae quam graecae. . . by Henricus Spoor, 1707, p. 101.

"I have a dream" still resonates

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose holiday we celebrate the third Monday of every year (in 2018 on his actual birthday, January 15), gave his "I have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The repeated refrain came in an extemporized coda to a prepared speech, in which he was urged on by the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who called out to him from the crowd, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" Inspired, he spoke of the American dream, and of his own dream that one day America would "live up to its creed, that 'We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.'"

Together with his other great speech, "I've been to the mountaintop ... and I've seen the Promised Land," delivered on April 3, 1968, one day before his assassination, King's "Dream" speech takes its place among the world's great inspirational orations.

Petronius as an observer of the Roman scene

Our Quotation of the Month is a short poem concerning dreams, and the role each individual plays in deciding what his or her dreams will be. It is by a rather unlikely writer, the Roman Petronius Arbiter (27 A.D.-66 A.D.), whose surname doubtless came from his position at Nero's court as arbiter elegantiae or "judge of elegance." While he seems to have been an able administrator in his position as governor of Bithynia and as consul, he was (as described by Tacitus) more famous for his love of idleness and extravagance. He is best known today as the probable author of the Satyricon, a novel that we have in incomplete form, which satirizes Roman life as he must have known it all too well. Its most famous passage is the Cena Trimalchionis, "Trimalchio's Dinner," an outrageous depiction of over-the-top excess.

Petronius made enemies at court, and accused, whether justly or unjustly, of conspiracy against the emperor, was arrested. Deciding to go out on his own terms, he committed suicide, slitting his wrists, then playfully bandaging them up again, while conversing with his friends, then finally consigning himself to death.

Petronius on our own role in choosing our dreams

In addition to the gross Satyricon, Petronius also wrote poems on a variety of subjects, many in a contemplative mood. One of these is on dreams. Dreams come not from the gods or from the sky, but from ourselves. Whatever concerns us by day, is fulfilled — or not — by night. The warrior sees himself successful in battle, the lawyer trembles as he sees the judge. A woman writes to her lover, and a dog chases rabbits in his sleep. A sailor may save his capsized ship — or he may cling to it as he drowns. It is up to him.

The poem ends with the thought that "for the miserable, the wounds last all night long." This ending may seem a bit downbeat, but the message is clear, that we are ultimately the controllers of our own dreams.

The Latin text is that found in the Loeb edition, the work of Professor Buecheler. It also appears in Helen Waddell's Mediaeval Latin Lyrics (1930). Petronius did not belong to the mediaeval period in terms of chronology, but it was Waddell's point that the mediaeval spirit in poetry, a romantic quality, began much earlier. In her opinion, "Petronius is closer to the first Italian sonnet writers than he is to Horace."

Below, in Latin and English, is Petronius' poem on dreams. The translation, as usual, is my own.

Petronius Arbiter on Dreams

Somnia, quae mentes ludunt volitantibus umbris,
non delubra deum nec ab aethere numina mittunt,
sed sibi quisque facit. nam cum prostrata sopore
urget membra quies et mens sine pondere ludit
quidque luce fuit tenebris agit. oppida bello
qui quatit et flammis miserandas eruit urbes
tela videt versasque acies et funera regum
atque exundantes profuso sanguine campos.
qui causas orare solent, legesque forumque
et pavidi cernunt inclusum chorte tribunal.
condit avarus opes defossumque invenit aurum,
venator saltus canibus quatit. eripit undis
aut premit eversam periturus navita puppem.
scribit amatori meretrix, dat adultera munus;
et canis in somnis leporis vestigia lustrat.
in noctis spatium miserorum vulnera durant.

We dream about our waking concerns

Dreams that play with our minds with flitting shadows,
neither are they sent from temples of the gods nor do spirits send them from the air,
but each man makes his own dreams. For when repose
presses down on limbs prostrate with sleep, and the mind, weightless, plays,
whatever was by light, it does in darkness. He who batters towns
in war and overthrows in flames unhappy cities,
sees weapons and fleeing ranks and funerals of kings
and fields overflowing with gushing blood.
They who are accustomed to plead cases, see laws and the forum
and, terrified, observe the magistrates behind their attendant crowd.
The miser hides his wealth and finds buried gold,
the hunter shakes the forest with his dogs. The sailor rescues from the waves
his capsized ship — or about to perish, clings to it.
The courtesan writes to her lover; the adulteress gives her gift;
and the dog, in his sleep, chases the rabbit's tracks.
The wounds of the unhappy last all night long.


Bust of Selene on a sarcophagus, from Tomb D in Via Belluzzo, Rome, now at the Baths of Diocletian. Goddess of the Moon, who lights up the night, she wears a crescent on her head and carries a torch. The concerns of the day are rehashed at night. (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006), from Wikimedia.)

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