Tuesday, October 25, 2016



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "To Count Carlo Pepoli," lines 78-88 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Another, as if determined to escape
unhappy human fate by spending his days
in other lands and climates, wandering the seas and hills,        80
travels the whole globe, and, as he journeys, comes
to every end of the earth that nature opened to man
in the boundless spaces of the universe.
Alas, black care sits on his ship's high prow,        85
and in every climate, under every sky,
where we seek hopelessly for happiness,
sadness lives and reigns.

Altri, quasi a fuggir volto la trista
Umana sorte, in cangiar terre e climi
L'età spendendo, e mari e poggi errando,        80
Tutto l'orbe trascorre, ogni confine
Degli spazi che all'uom negl'infiniti
Campi del tutto la natura aperse,
Peregrinando aggiunge. Ahi ahi, s'asside
Su l'alte prue la negra cura, e sotto        85
Ogni clima, ogni ciel, si chiama indarno
Felicità, vive tristezza e regna.
Lines 84-85 (Ahi ahi, s'asside / Su l'alte prue la negra cura) recall Horace, Odes 3.1.37-40 (tr. Niall Rudd):
But Fear and Foreboding climb as high as the owner; black Anxiety does not quit the bronze-beaked galley, and sits behind the horseman.

sed Timor et Minae
scandunt eodem quo dominus, neque
decedit aerata triremi et
post equitem sedet atra Cura.
Related posts:


Thinking on Your Feet

George Santayana (1863-1952), "The Philosophy of Travel," Virginia Quarterly Review 40.1 (Winter 1964) 1-10 (at 4-5):
[I]nstead of saying that the possession of hands has given man his superiority, it would go much deeper to say that man and all other animals owe their intelligence to their feet. No wonder, then, that a peripatetic philosophy should be the best. Thinking while you sit, or while you kneel with the eyes closed or fixed upon vacancy, the mind lapses into dreams; images of things remote and miscellaneous are merged in the haze of memory, in which facts and fancies roll together almost indistinguishably, and you revert to the vegetative state, voluminous and helpless. Thinking while you walk, on the contrary, keeps you alert; your thoughts, though following some single path through the labyrinth, review real things in their real order; you are keen for discovery, ready for novelties, laughing at every little surprise, even if it is a mishap; you are careful to choose the right road, and if you take the wrong one, you are anxious and able to correct your error. Meantime, the fumes of digestion are dissipated by the fresh air; the head is cleared and kept aloft, where it may survey the scene; attention is stimulated by the novel objects constantly appearing; a thousand hypotheses run to meet them in an amiable competition which the event soon solves without ambiguity; and the scene as a whole is found to change with the changed station of the traveler, revealing to him his separate existence and his always limited scope, together with the distinction (which is all wisdom in a nutshell) between how things look and what they are.
Related post: Walking and Thinking.


Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners

Euripides, fragment 609 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
A companion who happens to be badly bred trains his companions to be like himself, while a good one makes them good; come then, young men, make sure you seek the company of honourable men.

ὁ γὰρ ξυνὼν κακὸς μὲν ἢν τύχῃ γεγώς,
τοιούσδε τοὺς ξυνόντας ἐκπαιδεύεται,
χρηστοὺς δὲ χρηστός· ἀλλὰ τὰς ὁμιλίας
ἐσθλὰς διώκειν, ὦ νέοι, σπουδάζετε.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Intellectual Slums

George Santayana, letter to Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (November 6, 1934):
I think I should like Quito, and the existence of some superior minds in such a remote and isolated place does not surprise me. If there were more intellectual retreats there would be more intellectual power. The mediocrity of everything in the great world of today is simply appalling. We live in intellectual slums.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Buying and Selling

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Doctor Thorne, chapter I:
Merchants as such are not the first men among us; though it perhaps be open to a merchant to become one of them. Buying and selling is good and necessary; it is very necessary, and may, possibly, be very good; but it cannot be the noblest work of man; and let us hope that it may not in our time be esteemed the noblest work of an Englishman.
Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator, who has been reading Doctor Thorne aloud to me.

Friday, October 21, 2016



The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries, edd. Curt Meine and Richard L. Knight (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), p. 41:
A gadget industry pads the bumps against nature-in-the-raw; woodcraft becomes the art of using gadgets.
Id., pp. 42-43:
The recreationist arrives in the wilds draped and festooned with gadgets, each tending to destroy the contrast value of his vacation. I am not such a purist as to disdain all of them, but I do claim that the presence or absence of gadget inhibitions is a delicate test of any man's outdoor education. Most tourists have no gadget inhibitions whatever.
Id., p. 43:
Then came the gadgeteer, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer. He has draped the American outdoorsman with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them. Gadgets fill the pockets, they dangle from neck and belt. The overflow fills the auto-trunk, and also the trailer. Each item of outdoor equipment grows lighter and often better, but the aggregate poundage becomes tonnage.


Earthly Paradise

[Lactantius,] Phoenix 15-24 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
Hither no bloodless Diseases come, no sickly Eld,        15
nor cruel Death nor desperate Fear
nor nameless Crime nor maddened Lust for wealth
or Wrath or Frenzy afire with the love of murder;
bitter Grief is absent and Beggary beset with rags
and sleepless Cares and violent Hunger.        20
No tempest raveth there nor savage force of wind:
nor does the hoar-frost shroud the ground in chilly damp.
Above the plains no cloud stretches its fleece,
nor falleth from on high the stormy moisture of rain.

non huc exsangues Morbi, non aegra Senectus        15
   nec Mors crudelis nec Metus asper adest
nec Scelus infandum nec opum vesana Cupido
   aut Ira aut ardens caedis amore Furor;
Luctus acerbus abest et Egestas obsita pannis
   et Curae insomnes et violenta Fames.        20
non ibi tempestas nec vis furit horrida venti
   nec gelido terram rore pruina tegit;
nulla super campos tendit sua vellera nubes
   nec cadit ex alto turbidus umor aquae.

Thursday, October 20, 2016



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "The Evening of Holiday," lines 33-39 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Where is the clamor of those ancient peoples?
Where is the renown
of our famed ancestors, and the great empire
of their Rome, her armies,
and the din she made on land and sea?
Everything is peace and quiet now,
the world is calm, and speaks no more of them.

                                   Or dov'è il suono
Di que' popoli antichi? or dov'è il grido
De' nostri avi famosi, e il grande impero
Di quella Roma, e l'armi, e il fragorio
Che n'andò per la terra e l'oceano?
Tutto è pace e silenzio, e tutto posa
Il mondo, e più di lor non si ragiona.
The same, tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
                                                   Where is now
The noise of those old nations? Where is now
The fame of our great ancestors, the might
of that imperial Rome, the arms, the clash
Wherewith the round earth and the ocean rang?
All is repose and silence, and all hushed
The world is; and of them we speak no more.


Survivor's Guilt

Aeschylus, Persians 915-917 (Xerxes speaking; tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Would to Zeus that the fate of death
had covered me over too
together with the men who are departed!

εἴθ᾿ ὄφελε, Ζεῦ, κἀμὲ μετ᾿ ἀνδρῶν
τῶν οἰχομένων
θανάτου κατὰ μοῖρα καλύψαι.
Euripides, Suppliant Women 769 (Adrastus speaking; tr. David Kovacs):
Ah me! How much better for me to have died with them!

οἴμοι· πόσῳ σφιν συνθανεῖν ἂν ἤθελον.
Id. 821 (Adrastus speaking again):
Would that the Cadmean ranks had felled me in the dust!

εἴθε με Καδμείων ἔναρον στίχες ἐν κονίαισιν.


The Punisher

Aeschylus, Persians 827-828 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Zeus, I tell you, stands over all as a chastiser of pride that boasts itself to excess, calling it to stern account.

Ζεύς τοι κολαστὴς τῶν ὑπερκόμπων ἄγαν
φρονημάτων ἔπεστιν, εὔθυνος βαρύς.
Euripides, Children of Heracles 387-388 (tr. David Kovacs):
But Zeus, you may be sure, is the punisher of thoughts that are too high and mighty.

                                 ἀλλά τοι φρονημάτων
ὁ Ζεὺς κολαστὴς τῶν ἄγαν ὑπερφρόνων.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Precision and Reliability

Myron Bement Smith (1897-1970), "Rejoinder to Arthur Upham Pope's Comment," Journal of the American Oriental Society 77.3 (July-September, 1957) 217-219 (at 219):
To me, precision and reliability are of the very essence if scholarship is to be thought of as a way of life.

"Le Dieu est dans les details:" in these words are exposed the heart of every conscientious architect and every honest builder, no less than of every worthy scholar.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


No Atheists in Foxholes

Aeschylus, Persians 497-499 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Those who had never before paid any regard to the gods now addressed them with prayers, making obeisance to earth and heaven.

                                              θεοὺς δέ τις
τὸ πρὶν νομίζων οὐδαμοῦ τότ᾿ ηὔχετο
λιταῖσι, γαῖαν οὐρανόν τε προσκυνῶν.



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "On the Monument to Dante Being Erected in Florence," lines 190-200 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
I, while I'm alive, shall keep exhorting,        190
Turn back to your ancestors, corrupted sons.
Look at these ruins,
these pages, canvases, these stones and temples.
Think what earth you walk on. And if the light
of these examples fails to inspire you,        195
what are you waiting for? Arise and go.
Such low behavior is unworthy
of this nurse and teacher of great spirits.
If she is the home of cowards,
better she be a widow and alone.        200

Io mentre viva andrò sclamando intorno,        190
Volgiti agli avi tuoi, guasto legnaggio;
Mira queste ruine
E le carte e le tele e i marmi e i templi;
Pensa qual terra premi; e se destarti
Non può la luce di cotanti esempli,        195
Che stai? levati e parti.
Non si conviene a sì corrotta usanza
Questa d'animi eccelsi altrice e scola:
Se di codardi è stanza,
Meglio l'è rimaner vedova e sola.        200
The same, tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
I, while I live, will cease not to proclaim:        190
Turn, corrupt stock, turn to your ancestors;
Mark what these ruins tell,
These scrolls and paintings, marbles and temple-shrines;
Think on what soil ye tread; and if, even so,
Ye still are blind to the light that round you shines,        195
Why stay? Rise up and go.
This nurse and school of heroes doth refuse
To brook a custom so degenerate:
If cowards the land abuse,
Better it still lie widowed and desolate.        200


Defiance of the Contemporary

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), Round River (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 3-4:
The text of this sermon is taken from the gospel according to Ariosto. I do not know the chapter and verse, but this is what he says: 'How miserable are the idle hours of the ignorant man!' There are not many texts that I am able to accept as gospel truths, but this is one of them. I am willing to rise up and declare my belief that this text is literally true; true forward, true backward, true even before breakfast. The man who cannot enjoy his leisure is ignorant, though his degrees exhaust the alphabet, and the man who does enjoy his leisure is to some extent educated, though he has never seen the inside of a school. I cannot easily imagine a greater fallacy than for one who has several hobbies to speak on the subject to those who may have none. For this implies prescription of avocation by one person for another, which is the antithesis of whatever virtue may inhere in having any at all. You do not annex a hobby, the hobby annexes you. To prescribe a hobby would be dangerously akin to prescribing a wife—with about the same probability of a happy outcome.

Let it be understood, then, that this is merely an exchange of reflections among those already obsessed—for better or for worse—with the need of doing something queer. Let others listen if they will, and profit by our behavior if they can.

What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant. Certainly many of our most satisfying avocations today consist of making something by hand which machines can usually make more quickly and cheaply, and sometimes better. Nevertheless I must in fairness admit that in a different age the mere fashioning of a machine might have been an excellent hobby. Galileo, I fancy, derived a real and personal satisfaction when he set the ecclesiastical world on its ear by embodying in a new catapult some natural law that St. Peter had inadvertently omitted to catalogue. Today the invention of a new machine, however noteworthy to industry, would, as a hobby, be trite stuff. Perhaps we have here the real inwardness of our question: A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary. It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked. If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that his tribe is inherently a minority.

Thanks to Ian Jackson for identifying the source of the quotation from Ariosto—Orlando Furioso, canto 34, stanza 75, line 3. Here is the stanza from the Valgrisi 1580 edition (also courtesy of Ian Jackson), followed by a transcription and my rough translation:

Le lacrime, e i sospiri de gli amanti,
L'inutil tempo, che si perde à gioco,
E l'otio lungo d'huomini ignoranti,
Vani disegni, che non han mai loco,
I vani desiderii sono tanti,
Che la più parte ingombran di quel loco.
Ciò che in somma qua giù perdesti mai,
Là sù salendo ritrouar potrai.

The tears and sighs of lovers,
The useless time wasted in gambling,
The interminable leisure of ignorant men,
Idle plans, which never come to fruition,
Unfulfilled longings—these are so plentiful
That they almost fill that place.
In short, whatever you've lost down here,
You can find again by climbing up there.


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