Editor’s Note1.'post grande interuallum dum solus in eremo sedeo et praeter caelum terramque nihil uideo, coepi mecum tacitus uoluere et inter multa monachorum quoque contubernia recordari, maximeque uultum patris mei, qui me erudierat, tenuerat, perdiderat. Editor’s Note2.sicque cogitans aspicio formicarum gregem angusto calle feruere. uideres onera maiora quam corpora. aliae herbarum quaedam semina forcipe oris trahebant, aliae egerebant humum de foueis et aquarum meatus aggeribus excludebant. illae uenturae hiemis memores, ne madefacta humus in herbam horrea uerteret, illata semina praecidebant; hae luctu celebri corpora defuncta portabant. quodque magis mirum esset in tanto agmine, egrediens non obstabat intrantibus; quin potius si quam sub fasce uidissent et onere concidisse, suppositis umeris adiuuabant. Editor’s Note3.quid multa? pulchrum mihi spectaculum dies illa praebuit, unde recordatus Salomonis ad formicae sollertiam nos mittentis et pigras mentes sub tali exemplo suscitantis coepi taedere captiuitatis et monasterii cellulas quaerere ac formicarum illarum sollicitudinem desiderare ubi laboratur in medium et, cum nihil cuiusquam proprium sit, omnia omnium sunt.
1.'After a long period, while I was sitting alone in the desert seeing nothing but heaven and earth, I began silently to reflect and to recall among many things the community of the monks as well, and especially the face of my Father, who had taught me, kept me, and lost me. 2.While I reflected thus, I caught sight of a colony of ants buzzing with activity along a narrow path. You could see that their loads were larger than their bodies. Some were dragging some grass seeds with the pincers of their mouth. Others were carrying out soil from the chambers and blocking water courses with ramparts. Some, mindful of the coming winter, to prevent the moistened earth from turning the granaries into grass, were cutting up the seeds which had been brought in. Others were carrying out deceased bodies in a mournful procession. But what was more remarkable in such a throng, whoever was going out did not get in the way of those coming in; rather, if they saw one of their number fall under its heavy burden, they would support it by putting their shoulders to the load. 3.In short, splendid was the spectacle that that day offered me. As a result, remembering Solomon, who points us to the ingenuity of the ant and rouses sluggish minds by their example, I began to tire of captivity and to long for the cells of the monastery, and to crave the industrious way of life of those ants, where labour is for the common good and, with no one having anything in private, everything belongs to everyone.
Table 2. Parallels between Pliny, NH 11.108–10 and VM 7.2–3
Pliny, NH 11
108 plurima insectorum uermiculum gignunt, nam et formicae similem ouis uere
. . . et hae communicantes laborem ut apes,
laboratur in medium et, cum nihil cuiusquam proprium sit, omnium omnia sunt
sed illae faciunt cibos, haec condunt.
aliae herbarum quaedam semina ... trahebant
ac si quis conparet oneracorporibus earum, fateatur nullis portione uires esse maiores.
uideres oneramaiora quam corpora
gerunt ea morsu
forcipe oris trahebant
maiora auersae postremis pedibus moliuntur umeris obnixae
suppositis umeris adiuuabant
et his rei publicae ratio, memoria, cura.
109 semina adrosa condunt, ne rursus in frugem exeant e terra, maiora ad introitum diuidunt, madefacta impre proferunt atque siccant.
ne madefacta humus in herbam, horrea uerteret, illata semina praecidebant
operantur et noctu plena luna, eaedem interlunio cessant.
iam in opera qui labor, quae sedulitas!
Salomonis ad formicae sollertiam nos mittentis . . .
coepi . . . formicarum illarum sollicitudinem desiderare, ubi laboratur in medium
et quoniam ex diuerso conuehunt altera alterius ignara, certi dies ad recognitionem mutuam nundinis dantur.
110 quae tunc earum concursatio,quam diligens cum obuiis quaedam conlocutio atque percunctatio!
silices itinere earum adtritos uidemus et opere semitam factam, ne quis dubitet, qualibet in re quid possit quantulacumque adsiduitas.
angusto calle feruere
sepeliunt inter se uiuentium solae praeter hominem.
hae luctu celebri corpora defuncta portabant.
- . . . sicut
- paruula (nam exemplo est) magni formica laboris
- ore trahit quodcumque potest atque addit aceruo
- 35 quem struit haud ignara ac non incauta futuri.
- quae, simul inuersum contristat Aquarius annum,
- non usquam prorepit et illis utitur ante
- quaesitis sapiens; cum te neque feruidus aestus
- demoueat lucro neque hiems, ignis, mare, ferrum,
- 40 nil obstet tibi, dum ne sit te ditior alter.
. . . just like the small ant (for she serves as an example [for the avaricious]) with great effort drags with her mouth whatever she can and adds to the heap which she is building, not without knowledge and care for the future. But as soon as Aquarius darkens the declining year she does not crawl out anywhere and in her wisdom uses the goods collected earlier; whereas you cannot be deflected from your gain by blazing heat nor by storm, fire, sea, or sword; nothing will stand in the way of your quest that no other man be richer than you.
- migrantis cernas totaque ex urbe ruentis,
- ac uelut ingentem formicae farris aceruom
- cum populant hiemis memores tectoque reponunt:
- it nigrum campis agmen praedamque per herbas
- 405 conuectant calle angusto, pars grandia trudunt
- obnixae frumenta umeris, pars agmina cogunt
- castigantque moras, opere omnis semita feruet.
You would see them move home and rush from everywhere in the city, just like ants who ravage a huge pile of spelt, mindful of winter, and lay it by in their home: a black battleline moves over the field and drags the booty across the grass on a narrow path; a fraction push along the large grains, straining with their shoulders, a fraction bring up the rear of the columns and punish delays; their whole path seethes with toil.
- namque aliae uictu inuigilant et foedere pacto
- exercentur agris; pars intra saepta domorum
- Narcissi lacrimam et lentum de cortice gluten
- prima fauis ponunt fundamina, deinde tenacis
- suspendunt ceras; aliae spem gentis adultos
- educunt fetus; aliae purissima mella
- stipant et liquido distendunt nectare cellas.
For some watch over the provisions and are busy in the field according to an agreed rule; a faction, enclosed inside the dwellings, arrange the tear of Narcissus and the sticky resin from the bark as the first foundations of the honeycomb, and then hang up the clinging wax; some lead out the grown-up young, the hope of the tribe; others stack the purest honey and stretch the cells with fluid nectar.
ueniamus ad eos, qui plures in commune habitant, id est, quos uocari coenobium diximus. prima apud eos confoederatio est oboedire maioribus et, quidquid iusserint, facere. diuisi sunt per decurias atque centurias, ita ut nouem hominibus decimus praesit et rursus decem praepositos sub se centesimus habeat. manent separati, sed iunctis cellulis.
Let us come to those who live together in larger numbers, that is to say, those whom we have said to be called coenobium. The first basis of their covenant is that they obey their elders and to do whatever they command. They are divided into groups of ten and groups of a hundred, so that one person in ten is in charge of the nine others, and one in a hundred is in charge of these superiors. They live apart from each other, but their cells are linked.