Otium, a Latin abstract term, has a variety of meanings, including leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. It sometimes, but not always, relates to a time in a person's retirement after previous service to the public or private sector, opposing "active public life". Otium can be a temporary time of leisure, that is sporadic. It can have intellectual, virtuous or immoral implications. It originally had the idea of withdrawing from one's daily business (neg-otium) or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e. speaking, writing, philosophy). It had particular meaning to businessmen, diplomats, philosophers and poets.
Otio qui nescit uti
plus negotii habet quam cum est negotium in negotio;
nam cui quod agat institutum est non ullo negotio
id agit, id studet, ibi mentem atque animum delectat suum:
otioso in otio animus nescit quid velit
Hoc idem est ; em neque domi nunc nos nec militiae sumus;
imus huc, hinc illuc; cum illuc ventum est, ire illinc lubet.
Incerte errat animus, praeterpropter vitam vivitur.
He who does not know how to use leisure
has more of work than when there is work in work.
For to whom a task has been set, he does the work,
desires it, and delights his own mind and intellect:
in leisure, a mind does not know what it wants.
The same is true (of us); we are neither at home nor in the battlefield;
we go here and there, and wherever there is a movement, we are there too.
The mind wanders unsure, except in that life is lived.-- Iphigenia, 241-248
According to historian Carl Deroux in his work Studies in Latin literature and Roman history, the word otium appears for the first time in a chorus of Ennius' Iphigenia. Ennius' first use of the term otium around 190 BC showed the restlessness and boredom during a reprieve from war and was termed otium negotiosum (free time to do what one wanted) and otium otiosum (idle wasteless free time). Aulus Gellius, while discussing the word praeterpropter ("more or less") quotes a fragment of Ennius's Iphigenia, which contrasts otium with negotium repeatedly.[A] Ennius imagined the emotions of Agamemnon's soldiers at Aulus, that while in the field and not at war and not allowed to go home, as "more or less" living.
The earliest extant appearance of the word in Latin literature occurs in a fragment from the soldiers' chorus in the Iphigenia of Ennius, where it is contrasted to negotium.[B] Researchers have determined the etymological and semantic use of otium was never a direct translation of the Greek word "schole", but derived from specifically Roman contexts. Otium is an example of the usage of the term "praeterpropter", meaning more or less of leisure. It was first used in military terms related to inactivity during war. In ancient Roman times soldiers were many times unoccupied, resting and bored to death when not at war (i.e., winter months, weather not permitting war). This was associated with otium otiosum (unoccupied and pointless leisure - idle leisure). The opposite of this was otium negotiosum (busy leisure) - leisure with a satisfying hobby or being able to take care of one's personal affairs or one's own estate. This was otium privatum (private leisure), equal to negotium (a type of business).[C]
The oldest citation for otium is this chorus of soldiers, singing about idleness on campaign, in an otherwise lost Latin tragedy by Ennius. Andre shows in these lines that Ennius is showing the soldiers in the field would rather go home tending to their own affairs (otium) than to be idle doing nothing. Its military origin meant to stop fighting in battle and lay down weapons - a time for peace. Even though originally otium was a military concept in early Roman culture of laying down one's weapons, it later became an elite prestigious time for caring for oneself. The ancient Romans had a sense of obligatory work ethics in their culture and considered the idle-leisure definition of otium as a waste of time. Historians of ancient Roman considered otium a time of laborious leisure of much personal duties instead of public duties. Author Almasi shows that historians Jean-Marie Andre and Brian Vickers point out the only legitimate form of otium was transpired with intellectual activity. Otium was thought of by the wise elite as being free from work and other obligations (negotium) and leisure time spent on productive activities, however a time that should not be wasted as was thought the non-elite did with their leisure time.
The favorable sense of otium in Ciceronian Latin reflects the Greek term (skhol?, "leisure", a meaning retained in Modern Greek as , schól?); "leisure" having a complex history in Greek philosophy before being used in Latin (through Latin the word became the root of many education-related English terms, such as school, scholar and scholastic). In Athens, leisure was one of the marks of the Athenian gentleman: the time to do things right, unhurried time, time to discuss in. From there it became "discussion", and from there, philosophical and educational schools, which were both conducted by discussion. Four major Greek philosophical schools influenced the Roman gentlemen of Cicero's time. Plato (and his contemporaries, if the Greater Hippias be not authentic) brought schole into philosophy; as often, Plato can be quoted on both sides of the question whether leisure is better than the business of a citizen. In the Greater Hippias, it is one weakness of the title character that, although he has the education and manners of a gentleman, he has no leisure; but Socrates, in the Apology, has no leisure either; he is too busy as a gad-fly, keeping his fellow Athenians awake to virtue. However, by the time the Romans encountered Plato's school, the Academy, they had largely ceased to discuss anything so practical as the good life; the New Academy of Carneades practiced verbal agility and boundless skepticism.
It is better to lie on the naked ground and be at ease, than to have a golden coach and a rich table and be worried.
The phrase "to be at ease" can have the meaning "to be of good cheer" or "to be without fear" - these being interdependent. The Epicurean idea of otium favors contemplation, compassion, gratitude and friendship. The Epicurean view is that wisdom has as much to contribute to the benefit of the public as does that of contributions of politicians and laborers (i.e. sailors). The rustic otium concept incorporates country living into Epicureanism. The active city public life of negotium and an otium of reserved country life of reflection have been much written about by Cicero and Seneca the Younger.
Epicurus's philosophy was contrary to Hellenistic Stoicism. Epicurus promised enjoyment in retirement as a concept of otium. The concept of the Epicurean otium (private world of leisure) and the contemplative life were represented in Epicurus' school of philosophy and his garden. The portraits of the Garden of Epicurus near Athens represented political and cultural heroes of the time. Twenty-first-century historians Gregory Warden and David Romano have argued that the layout of the sculptures in "The Garden" were designed to give the viewer contrasting viewpoints of the Epicurean otium and the Hellenistic Stoic viewpoint of otium (i.e. private or public; contemplation or "employment"; otium or negotium).
In early and colloquial Latin, despite the etymological contrast, otium is often used pejoratively, in contrast rather to officium, "office, duty" than to negotium ('business"). There was a difference established in ancient Roman times (second century BCE and forward) developing the idea elite social status was when one fulfilled one's duties in business and then otium meant "leisure" while negotium meant "non-leisure" (work duties still needed to be done). This new time of otium was filled by Greek scholarly pursuits and Greek pleasures. The time environment within which a person existed had sides to it that were filled with Greek customs such as pastimes, hobbies, interchanges of thoughts and ideas, and private bathing. Otium and negotium was then a new social concept which has perpetuated to our own time.
Historian J. M. Andre concludes that the original sense of otium was related to military service and the idleness that happened in the winter, as opposed to the business (negotium) of the rest of the year. The most ancient Roman calendar divided the year into ten months devoted to war and farming, leaving the winter months of January and February vacant for individual otium. Andre shows that the beauty of the individual otium poses rest. Titus Maccius Plautus in his play Mercator says that while you are young is the time to save up for your retirement otium so you can enjoy it later, in his claim tum in otium te conloces, dum potes, ames (then you may set yourself at your ease, drink and be amorous).
Cicero speaks of himself, with the expression otium cum dignitate, that time spent in activities one prefers is suitable for a Roman citizen who has retired from public life. When he was ousted from each office, this forced an inactive period, which he used for "worthy leisure". During this time he composed Tusculanae Disputationes, a series of books on Stoic philosophy. Cicero saw free time as a time to devote to writing. Cicero defines otium as leisure, avoiding active participation in politics. He further defines it as a state of security and peace (pax) - a type of "public health". It is often associated with tranquility. Cicero advises in his third book On Duties that when the city life becomes too much, one should retreat to the country for leisure. The term otium cum dignitate in Cicero's Pro Sestio was to mean peace (pax) for all and distinction for some. Cicero says in Pro Sestio, XLV., 98
Id quod est praestantissimum, maximeque optabile omnibus sanis et bonis et beatis, cum dignitate otium.
That which stands first, and is most to be desired by all happy, honest and healthy-minded men, is ease with dignity.
Cicero explains that, while not necessarily his cup of tea, he recognized many different ways to spend leisure time and otium. In one passage of De Oratore he explains that Philistus spent his retirement writing history as his otium. He goes on to say in De Oratore Book iii that other men passed their otium of leisure due to bad weather that prevented them from doing their daily chores to playing ball, knucklebones, dice games or just games they made up. Others that were "retired" from public life for whatever reason devoted their otium cum seritio (leisure with service) to poetry, mathematics, music and teaching children.
German historian Klaus Bringmann shows in Cicero's works that one can not characterize him as a hypocrite while in otium because of his sense of duty to serve the state. Cicero's concept of otium does not mean selfish pursuit of pleasure. It means the well-earned leisure which is a culmination of a long career of action and achievement. It's a reward. Idleness (desidia) had derogatory implications and unqualified otium was a problem for Cicero's elite group of followers. Its break away from civic affairs contrasted with negotia publica, participation in civic affairs of the republican aristocracy. To distinguish between plain "idleness" and aristocratic otium homestum, otium liberale or otium cum dignitate, writers of the day said that literary and philosophical pursuits were worthwhile activities and that they had benefit to res publica (the general public). These pursuits were a type of 'employment' and therefore not mere laziness.
Cicero praises Cato the Elder for his respectful use of otium in his expression non-minus otii quam negotii ("no less for doing nothing than business"). Cicero was associating otium with writing and thinking when he admires Cato for pointing out that Scipio Africanus claimed he was "never less idle than when he was at leisure, and never less lonely than when he was alone." Cicero in his De Officiis (book III, 1-4) further says of Scipio Africanus "Leisure and solitude, which serve to make others idle, in Scipio's case acted as a goad." Cicero's idea of otium cum dignitate ("leisure with dignity") is considerably different from today's version of the concept. In his time, this kind of "free time" was only for the few privileged elite and was mostly made possible by the toil of slaves. It was associated with an egotistic and arrogant lifestyle, compared to those who had to earn their own living with no slaves. Today technology and educational systems enter into the equation on making leisure time (otium) available to almost everyone, not just the privileged elite, which enables the pursuit of hobbies. Cicero has a number of different concept versions for otium. In one concept he feels that a lifetime of loyalty attending one's duty (maximos labores) should be rewarded with some form of retirement. This then promotes great sacrifices which promotes civic peace with honor within the state. He points out that the tranquillity one enjoys is due to the efforts of the majority. This concept of retirement through a lifetime of work was enjoyed only by the ruling class and the elite. The common people could only hope to enjoy a leisurely retirement with dignity as an inheritance.
Catullus, a late Roman Republic poet, in his poems shows that the significance of otium of the middle Republican time of autonomy into the concept of how, why, and when a member of the patronal class might exchange political activity for literary leisure. He tended to mark otium with erotic influence.
otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est;
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis;
otium et reges prius et beatas
Leisure, Catullus, is mischievous to you:
You revel in and desire leisure too much:
Leisure has previously destroyed kings and
bountiful cities.-- 51.13-16
The imperial dictatorship by Augustus during the fall of the Roman Republic put the Roman ruling classes into a state of change as their traditional role as always being in town was no longer needed. They were given much leisure time (otium) because of their wealth. The wives of wealthy men were known to write poetry in special rooms devoted to education of the entire family (except the master of the house as it would have been below his dignity).
The home of choice (domus) then became the countryside villa as the rise of the Roman Empire made them even wealthier. They could afford almost anything they could dream up in the way of a residence, especially among the large and middle class Roman landowners. Greek-style architecture became their new villa otium outside of town. In ancient Roman times the "otium villa" was a Dionysian idealistic rural home setting that evoked peace, leisure, simplicity and serenity. Often in ancient writings is found the mention of restorative powers due its natural setting (otium) in the rural country home, contrasted to the busy city life with all the businesses (negotium). The "villa with a garden" and "villa by the sea" was associated with otium. The life at the Roman villa was associated with Greek culture in rooms which had Greek themes indicating a "superior world" of living.
The Imperial Roman poet Statius writes of a "otium villa" that he planned to retire to in Naples in his work Silvae: "It has secure peace, an idle life of leisure, non-troubled rest and sleep. There is no madness in the market-place, no strict laws in dispute ..." Pliny the Younger exemplified the philosophy of the Roman elite in otium of the time by the life he lived from his "otium villas". He would dictate letters to his secretary, read Greek and Latin speeches, go on walks on the villa's grounds, dine and socialize with friends, meditate, exercise, bathe, take naps and occasionally hunt.
Tibullus was an Augustan elegiac poet who offered an alternative lifestyle to the Roman ideal of the military man or the man of action. He preferred the country lifestyle. In his existing first two books of poetry he compares the lifestyle of his chief friend and patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus as a commander and soldier to that of a farmer. Tibullus in his poem 1.3 rejects the work style of the rich man, adsiduus labor, and military service (militia). He shows in his poetry that originally otium was a military concept, the disuse of one's weapons. Tibullus prefers the rustic agricultural landscape and a simple life. He indicates that while he would do agricultural work, he would only be interested in doing it sometimes (interdum) and therefore inserts otium (peace and leisure time) into agricultural life. He expresses in his attitude of his poetry that the qualities of the Epicurean resolve to quietism (occultism - religious mysticism) and pacifism (abstention from violence) as the pursuits of ignobile otium (mean leisure) - peace of mind (peace with one's self) and detachment from worldly ambitions.
Seneca compares the difference in the Epicurean and Stoic choice of otium. He confesses that classic Stoicism urges active public life while Epicurus has a tendency not to advance public life unless forced to. Seneca views Stoicism and Epicureanism as legitimate to inaction in the proper situations. He defends the Stoic philosophy as leaning toward otium. The main responsibility for the Stoic is to benefit the public in some manner. This could be done by the cultivation of virtue or the research of nature in retirement. This would mean a life of meditation and contemplation rather than an active political life. Seneca shows that otium is not really "free time", but a study of other matters (i.e., reading, writing) other than political and career gains.
The increase of retirees retreating to rural villas became more attractive as writers of the day wrote that Stoic ways included pursuits of reading, writing and philosophy. This meant that the work of public duties was replaced by otium liberale (liberal leisure) and was sanctified if the retiree did pursuits of reading, writing and philosophy. The benefits of the simplicity of rustic country life was reinforced in the intellectual legitimacy of otium ruris (rural leisure) because it drew out the spiritual implications of Horatian and Vergilian images of this type of life. Seneca's doctrine of De Otio describes retirement from public life. The contemplative life that Seneca revised was a Roman debate on otium (a productive peaceful time) and at some point in the evolution of the term was later contrasted to negotium.
These are some of the elements in Seneca's doctrine of De Otio:
While Seneca's doctrine appears to be close to the doctrine of Athenodorus's De Tranquillitate it is basically different. In De Otio 3.5 Seneca points out the benefits towards man in general, while in De Tranquillitate the theme is peace of mind.
Saint Augustine of Hippo reminded Romans of otium philosophandi, a positive element, that life was happiest when one had time to philosophize. Augustine points out that otium was the prerequisite for contemplation. It was because of otium that Alypius of Thagaste steered Augustine away from marriage. He said that they could not live a life together in the love of wisdom if he married. Augustine described Christianae vita otium as the Christian life of leisure. Many Christian writers of the time interpreted the Roman idea of otium as the deadly sin of acedia (sloth). Some Christian writers formulated otium as meaning to serve God through deep thought. Christian writers encouraged biblical studies to justify otium. These same Christian writers also showed otium ruris (secluded rural leisure) as a needed step to monastic propositum. Augustine describes the monastic life as otium sanctum (sanctified leisure or approved leisure). In Augustine's time the idea of philosophy had two poles of ambitions - one to be a worthy Christian (vacation - negotium) and the other to be a worthy friend of God (devotion - otium).
Petrarch, 14th-century poet and Renaissance humanist, discusses otium in his De vita solitaria as it relates to a human life of simple habits and self-restraint. Like his favorite Roman authors Cicero, Horace, Seneca, Ovid and Livy, he sees otium not as leisure time devoted to idleness, passion, entertainment or mischievous wrongdoing; but time ideally spent on nature appreciation, serious research, meditation, contemplation, writing and friendship.
Petrarch considered solitude (i.e., rural setting, "villa otium", his Vaucluse home) and its relationship to otium as a great possession for a chance at intellectual activity, the same philosophy as Cicero and Seneca. He would share such a precious commodity with his best friends in the spirit of Seneca when he said "no good thing is pleasant to possess without friends to share it".
Historian Julia Bondanella translates Petrarch's Latin words of his own personal definition of otium:
... ought it not to be my first aim to have my leisure as remote from idleness as my life is from active affairs?
Petrarch stressed the idea of an active mind even in otium (leisure). He refers back to Augustine's Vetus Itala in De otio religioso where in Christianity it was associated with contemplation and vacatio (vacate - be still). He points out that this is associated with videre (to see), which in Christianity is physical and mental activity aimed at moral perfection. He relates this concept of otium as vacate et videte (be still and see - a form of meditation, contemplation). Petrarch points out that one should not take leisure as so relaxed as to weaken the mind, but to be active in leisure to build up strength in the view of a unique character and religion.
Andrew Marvell's seventeenth-century poem The Garden is a lyric of nine stanzas in which he rejects all forms of activity in the world in favor of solitude of the retiree in a garden. It is a type of retirement poem expressing the love of retirement – an ancient Roman concept related to otium. The poem shows the high degree of pleasure of rural retirement. Some critics see that he shows otium to mean peace, quiet and leisure - a goal for retirement from politics and business. Others see a Christianized otium with Marvell showing a representation of the progress of a soul from the pursuit for the pagan promised land of the peaceful countryside and contemplation to the search for the lost heaven on earth.
Part of Marvell's poem "The Garden" below:
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile, mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.
Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises 'twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.
Brian Vickers, a 20th-century British literary scholar, points out an expression made by Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th-century German philosopher, on scholars' opinion of otium in his 1878 publication Menschliches, Allzumenschliches:
Scholars are ashamed of otium. But there is something noble about leisure and idleness.--If idleness really is the beginning of all vice, then it is at any rate in the closest proximity to all virtue; the idle man is always a better man than the active.--But when I speak of leisure and idleness, you do not think I am alluding to you, do you, you sluggards?[D][E]
Private life meaning of otium meant personal retirement - the opposite of business. It meant leisure only for one's own pleasure with no benefit to the state or public. Examples here is where one attends only his own farm or estate. Another is hunting. It was the opposite of "active public life". One would not be a historian in this case.
In public life otium meant public peace and relief after war. It meant freedom from the enemy with no hostilities. It was not only freedom from external assault (the enemy), it was also freedom from internal disorder (civil war). This then had the meaning of leisure, peace and safety at the homeland. This eventually became the status quo: acceptance of existing political and social conditions of the local laws, the custom of the ancestors, the powers of magistrates, authority of the senate, religions, the military, the treasury, and the praise of the empire.
Otium carried with it many different meanings (including but not limited to time, chance, opportunity), depending on the time period or the philosophers involved in determining the concept.
Synonyms of positive connotations are:
Synonyms of negative connotations are:
For a comparatively recent and exhaustive authoritative study on "otium" in the history of Roman culture see André, Jean-Marie (1966). "L'otium dans la vie morale et intellectuelle romaine, des origines à l'époque augustéenne". Revue des Études Anciennes. Paris: Presses universitaires de France. 69 (1-2): 166-168.
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