Thursday, November 27, 2014


Knowing Greek

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), p. 293:
I have met students who claimed to 'know Greek' on the basis of their acquaintance with the Greek New Testament; even if that latter acquaintance were exhaustive, it would no more amount to a knowledge of Greek than acquaintance with the English New Testament would amount to a knowledge of English. There is a story told of A.S. Peake writing a Greek word on the blackboard of his Manchester classroom, and one of his students saying, 'You needn't write it down, Doctor; we know Greek.' To which he replied, 'I wish I did.' To know a language, even an ancient language, involves having such a feel for its usage that one can tell, almost as by instinct, whether a construction is permissible or not, or whether a translation is possible or not. Translation is not simply a matter of looking up a word in a dictionary and selecting the equivalent which one would like to find in a particular passage.
Id., p. 145:
I can think of no better foundation than a classical education for the professional cultivation of biblical studies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


In Dr. Herman's Classroom

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), The Caxtons: A Family Picture, Part II, Chapter I:
He was extremely indignant that little boys should be brought up to confound Zeus with Jupiter, Ares with Mars, Artemis with Diana—the Greek deities with the Roman; and so rigidly did he inculcate the doctrine that these two sets of personages were to be kept constantly contradistinguished from each other, that his cross-examinations kept us in eternal confusion.

"Vat," he would exclaim, to some new boy fresh from some grammar-school on the Etonian system—"Vat do you mean by dranslating Zeus Jupiter? Is dat amatory, irascible, cloud-compelling god of Olympus, vid his eagle and his aegis, in the smallest degree resembling de grave, formal, moral Jupiter Optimus Maximus of the Roman Capitol?—a god, Master Simpkins, who would have been perfectly shocked at the idea of running after innocent Fräulein dressed up as a swan or a bull! I put dat question to you vonce for all, Master Simpkins." Master Simpkins took care to agree with the Doctor. "And how could you," resumed Dr. Herman majestically, turning to some other criminal alumnus—"how could you presume to dranslate de Ares of Homer, sir, by the audacious vulgarism Mars? Ares, Master Jones, who roared as loud as ten thousand men when he was hurt; or as you vill roar if I catch you calling him Mars again! Ares, who covered seven plectra of ground; confound Ares, the manslayer, with the Mars or Mavors whom de Romans stole from de Sabines! Mars, de solemn and calm protector of Rome! Master Jones, Master Jones, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" And then waxing enthusiastic, and warming more and more into German gutturals and pronunciation, the good Doctor would lift up his hands, with two great rings on his thumbs, and exclaim,—"Und Du! and dou, Aphrodite; dou, whose bert de seasons velcomed! dou, who didst put Atonis into a coffer, and den tid durn him into an anemone; dou to be called Venus by dat snivel-nosed little Master Budderfield! Venus, who presided over Baumgartens and funerals, and nasty tinking sewers! Venus Cloacina—O mein Gott! Come here, Master Budderfield; I must flog you for dat; I must indeed, liddle boy!"


Odium Philologicum

The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1882), pp. 298-299:

Nay, marvel not to see these scholars fight,
    In brave disdain of certain scath and scar;
'T is but the genuine old Hellenic spite,—
    "When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war!"


Quoth David to Daniel, "Why is it these scholars
    Abuse one another whenever they speak?"
Quoth Daniel to David, "It nat'rally follers
    Folks come to hard words if they meddle with Greek!"
Cf. Nathaniel Lee, The Rival Queens, or The Death of Alexander the Great, Act IV, Scene 2: "When Greeks join'd Greeks, then was the tug of war." This became a proverb.


A Reason to Marry

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), p. 48 (on Alexander Souter at Aberdeen University):
He was much criticized for being more interested in later Latin than in classical Latin. He thought it right that his students should have at least an introduction to later Latin, so he regularly gave this to his second year class, working according to a quadrennial cycle, in which the set texts were (1) Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche, (2) the first half of Tertullian's Apology, (3) the second half of Tertullian's Apology, (4) Augustine's De Catechizandis Rudibus. One scholar of my acquaintance affirms that he married his wife, who was a student in the year after him, because he had the notes on the first half of Tertullian's Apology and she had the notes on the second half, and he wanted to have the complete set.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Whatever Comes, Content Makes Sweet

Robert Herrick (1591-1674), "His content in the Country," The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, edd. Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly, Vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 189:
Here, here I live with what my Board,
Can with the smallest cost afford.
Though ne'er so mean the Viands be,
They well content my Prew and me.
Or Pea, or Bean, or Wort, or Beet,                5
What ever comes, content makes sweet:
Here we rejoyce, because no Rent
We pay for our poore Tenement:
Wherein we rest, and never feare
The Landlord or the Usurer.                10
The Quarter-day do's ne'er affright
Our Peacefull slumbers in the night.
We eate our own, and batten more,
Because we feed on no mans score:
But pitie those, whose flanks grow great,                15
Swel'd with the Lard of others meat.
We blesse our Fortunes, when we see
Our own beloved privacie:
And like our living, where w'are known
To very few, or else to none.                20
4 Prew: his housekeeper, Prudence Baldwin
11 Quarter-day: when rent is due
13 our own: what we produce
13 batten: "To grow better or improve in condition; esp. (of animals) to improve in bodily condition by feeding, to feed to advantage, thrive, grow fat" (Oxford English Dictionary)
14: score: "debt due to a tradesman for goods obtained on credit" (Oxford English Dictionary, sense 11.a)
19-20: in accordance with Epicurus' maxim (fragment 551 Usener) "Live unknown"

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Praise of Melite

Greek Anthology 5.94 (by Rufinus; tr. W.R. Paton):
Thou hast Hera's eyes, Melite, and Athene's hands, the breasts of Aphrodite, and the feet of Thetis. Blessed is he who looks on thee, thrice blessed he who hears thee talk, a demigod he who kisses thee, and a god he who takes thee to wife.

ὄμματ᾽ ἔχεις Ἥρης, Μελίτη, τὰς χεῖρας Ἀθήνης,
    τοὺς μαζοὺς Παφίης, τὰ σφυρὰ τῆς Θέτιδος.
εὐδαίμων ὁ βλέπων σε· τρισόλβιος ὅστις ἀκούει·
    ἡμίθεος δ᾽ ὁ φιλῶν· ἀθάνατος δ᾽ ὁ γαμῶν.
τὰ σφυρὰ are ankles rather than feet: cf. εὔσφυρος, καλλίσφυρος, τανίσφυρος. Lines 3-4 recall Sappho, fragment 31.

It would be OK to substitute "honey" for Melite when you recite this to your girlfriend.



M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992; rpt. 1994), pp. 1-2:
The most pervasive sign of the average classicist's unconcern with the realities of music is the ubiquitous rendering of aulos, a reed-blown instrument, by 'flute'. There was a time when it was legitimate, because the classification of instruments had not been thought out scientifically and it was quite customary to speak of a 'flute family' that included the reed-blown instruments.2 But that tolerant era is long past, and now the only excuse for calling an aulos a flute is that given by Dr Johnson when asked why he defined 'pastern' as the knee of a horse: 'Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.' Yet countless literary scholars and even archaeologists persist in this deplorable habit, deaf to all protests from the enlightened. One might as well call the sȳrinx a mouth organ. Those who rely on the standard Greek-English lexicon are not well served in this matter: 'flute' appears erroneously in at least seventy articles.

2 See Becker, 36-8.
Id., p. 81:
Aulos is a native word meaning basically 'tube' or 'duct'. The musical aulos was a pipe with finger-holes and a reed mouthpiece. The player almost always played two of them at once, one with each hand, so we shall often refer to auloi in the plural.2

2 It is curious that Greek writers never seem to use the dual form aulō, as might be expected in the Attic dialect with objects so obviously making a pair.
Id., pp. 84-85:
Under the Hornbostel-Sachs system, therefore, the aulos should be classified as an oboe. Those who regard the form of the bore as the decisive criterion will seek a different term.19

It must be admitted that 'oboe-girl' is less evocative than the 'flute-girl' to which classicists have been accustomed, and that when it is a question of translating Greek poetry 'oboe' is likely to sound odd. For the latter case I favour 'pipe' or 'shawm'.20 I have found no very satisfactory solution to the girl problem.

19 Becker's 'euthyphone' (cylindrical) and 'enclinophone' (conical) cannot be called felicitous.

20 Some musicologists do use 'shawm' in the generic sense of double-reed pipe, while others reserve it for particular species (see NG XV. 665). The word derives from calamus.
Becker is Heinz Becker, Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der antiken und mittelalterlichen Rohrblattinstrumente (Hamburg: H. Sikorski, 1966), and NG is The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980).


Sunday, November 23, 2014


Perhaps Not Altogether Good for Us

Timothy Fuller, "The Poetics of the Civil Life," in Jesse Norman, ed., The Achievement of Michael Oakeshott (London: Duckworth, 1993), pp. 67-81 (at 69):
His cottage had no central heating or television and only recently a telephone. The advantages of these amenities he thought exaggerated, perhaps not altogether good for us. To the last, he corresponded in a tiny, rather elegant script, disdaining the typewriter, much less the word-processor.
Dom Adrian Morey, David Knowles: A Memoir (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1979), p. 115:
He did not travel abroad, read novels, smoke, attend the theatre or the cinema. He had watched television only twice in his life and then only for ten minutes.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related posts:



A Stirrer-Up of Strife

Bertran de Born, tr. Alan R. Press, Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971), pp. 159, 161, 163:
Well am I pleased by gay Eastertide which makes leaves and flowers come, and I'm pleased when I hear the birds' blitheness as they make their song ring through the woodland; and I'm pleased when I see tents and pavilions pitched, and I'm greatly cheered when I see lined up on the plain horsemen and horses, armed.

And I'm pleased when I see the skirmishers put people and riches to flight, and it pleases me when I see after them a great mass of armed men come together; and I'm pleased in my heart when I see strong castles besieged, and the ramparts breached and crumbled, and I see the defending host on the bank which is enclosed all round by moats protected by strong palissades.

And I'm likewise pleased by the lord when he's foremost in the attack, on horseback, armed, and fearless; for thus does he make his men grow bold in valiant vassal-service; and then when battle's joined each should be ready to follow him with good heart, for no man's esteemed at all until he's taken and dealt many blows.

Maces and swords, coloured helmets and shields being holed and smashed we shall see when battle is first joined, and many vassals clashing together, from which steeds of the dead and wounded will go riderless. And once he has entered the fray let each man of high birth think of naught but splitting heads and arms, for better it is to be dead than alive and overcome.

I tell you that for me there's no such pleasure in eating or drinking or sleeping as there is when I hear shout 'Get at them!' from all sides, and when I hear riderless horses whinny in the shade, and I hear shout 'Help! Help!' and I see falling alongside the moats both humble and mighty in the grass, and I see the dead who through their ribs have bits of lance with the silk pennons.

Barons! put into pawn your castles and towns and cities sooner than not wage war among yourselves!

Papiol, with good heart go quickly to my Lord Yes-and-No, and tell him that he stands too long in peace.
Ezra Pound, "Sestina: Altaforte," Exultations (London: Elkin Matthews, 1909), pp. 14-15:
LOQUITUR: En Bertrans de Born.
    Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a stirrer-up of strife.
    Judge ye!
    Have I dug him up again?
The scene is at his castle, Altaforte. "Papiols" is his jongleur. "The Leopard," the device of Richard (Coeur de Lion).


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let's to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth's foul peace,
And the light'nings from black heav'n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God's swords clash.


Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour's stour than a year's peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there's no wine like the blood's crimson!


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might 'gainst all darkness opposing.


The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth's won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There's no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle's rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges 'gainst "The Leopard's" rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry "Peace!"


And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace”!

Friday, November 21, 2014


We Have Gone Astray

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Gay Science, Book III, § 224 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
Animals as critics.—I fear that the animals consider man as a being like themselves that has lost in a most dangerous way its sound animal common sense. They consider him the insane animal, the laughing animal, the weeping animal, and the miserable animal.

Kritik der Thiere.—Ich fürchte, die Thiere betrachten den Menschen als ein Wesen Ihresgleichen, das in höchst gefährlicher Weise den gesunden Thierverstand verloren hat,—als das wahnwitzige Thier, als das lachende Thier, als das weinende Thier, als das unglückselige Thier.
Related post: Lessons from Animals.


Talking Trees

Thanks very much to Karl Maurer for permission to print what follows.

Prince Charles is often mocked for believing that trees can communicate with one another (see e.g. Charles Booth, 'What kind of King will Charles III be?' in The Guardian for 19 Nov. 2014); but scientists have recently verified the fact (see e.g.; and it will not come as any surprise to poets, especially Latin poets. For example:

CLAUDIAN, Epithalamium 65-8 (quoted by Jacob Balde in his Interpretatio Somnii, p. 60):
vivunt in Venerem frondes omnisque vicissim
felix arbor amat: nutant ad mutua palmae
foedera; populeo suspirat populus ictu,
Et platani platanis, alnoque assilibat alnus.

The leaves but live for love; each happy tree
loves its own kind: a palm nods at another,
a poplar sighs, love-smitten for a poplar;
plane-trees to plane-trees, alder to alder whispers.
CASIMIR SARBIEWSKI, Epode 1.127 ff. (the 'maestae aves' are turtledoves and nightingales):
Quaecumque maestae vocibus dicunt aves,
    Respondet argutum nemus.
Affatur alnum quercus, ornum populus,
    Affatur ilex ilicem,                130
Et se vicissim collocuta redditis
    Arbusta solantur sonis.

And to whatever sounds the sad birds sing
    the shapely grove responds.
Oak speaks to alder, poplar to the ash,
    a holm-oak to a holm-oak,
and in responsive whispered conversations
    orchards console themselves.
JACOB BALDE, Lyrica 3.45.37 ff. (echoing Claudian and Sarbiewski):
                              ... Clarius interim
Ventis loquuntur flantibus arbores.
    Quercum salutat prona quercus,
        Contiguam soror alnus alnum.

                               ... Meanwhile brightlier,
as the winds blow, the trees speak: a steep oak
    salutes an oak; an alder,
        a nearby sister alder.
As for plants communing with humans, I suppose that science has not yet 'discovered' this; but of course poetry has; e.g. famously in Horace's enchanting description of Orpheus at c. 1.12.7-12. That is echoed by Balde in Lyr. 2.20.29-40; and I will end with this, because it also describes the 'marriages' among plants, with which I began:
At non et arbor nulla canentibus
Demittit aureis. Vidi ego sibilo
    Crispante ramos, colla ramos
        Flectere, et alloquio moveri.                10
Sentit Poëtas mitius arborum
Genus, sacri non immemor Orphei.
    Agnoscit ex illo Camoenas
        Nutibus, et foliorum acuto
Susurrat imbri. connubialia                15
Vidi Lyaeum tendere brachia:
    Vitesque desponsas, ad ulmum
        Viminibus viduam ligari.

And there are even trees that prick their ears
at singers. I have seen boughs curl, and hiss,
    and bend their necks, excited
    at being spoken to.
The race of trees thinks tenderly of Poets.
They all remember sacred Orpheus.
    When they hear verse they nod
    and sigh, or make a noise
like hissing rain. I have seen Bacchus stretching
a husband's arms; seen vine-sprays, all betrothed,
    clinging tight by their tendrils
    to the unmarried elm-tree.

Thursday, November 20, 2014



Ramsay MacMullen, Changes in the Roman Empire: Essays in the Ordinary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 136 (end-notes omitted):
What Christianity put forward was the fearful novelty of a God who would burn them alive in perpetuity for their very manner of life, spying out their transgressions wherever committed, as he would correspondingly reward the virtuous. Beginning with John the Baptist's and Jesus' preaching, on through Paul's acknowledgment of "the wrath to come," the flames of hell illuminated the lessons of Christianity quite as much as the light of Grace. Actual scenes of speeches delivered to non-believing crowds show that the message was made plain, for example, by Paul at Iconium very much as Jesus had told His disciples to do; and we know that it got through, at least to Celsus. He remarks that Christians "believe in eternal punishments" and "threaten others with these punishments." Clearest of all is the scene in the amphitheater at Carthage where the martyrs, referring to their coming torment, tell the crowd by sign language, "You, us; but God, you"; but Pionius had elaborated on similar comparisons and warnings of condemnation and suffering, in the city square of Smyrna. It is likely that this particular article of faith was as widely known as any outside the Church. Despite the Apologists' attempts, however, to make eternal hell-fire credible by reference to Tartarus or to Stoic predictions of universal conflagration, non-believers found it novel and hard to accept.


An Unheroic Death

M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 65:
Having praised his patron in life, and having in many cases, no doubt, become bound to him by real ties of affection, the poet would lament him also in death. Jordanes (Getica 257) gives a Latin paraphrase of the praise-song performed at Attila’s funeral. It recalled his achievements, and dealt diplomatically with the fact that he died ignobly of a nosebleed while slumbering in a drunken stupor. It was easier if the man died heroically in battle.



M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 8:
The first speakers of Greek—or rather of the language that was to develop into Greek; I will call them mello-Greeks20—arrived in Greece, on the most widely accepted view, at the beginning of Early Helladic III, that is, around 2300.21

20 From Greek μέλλω, ‘I am going to be’.
21 Cf. West (1997), 1 with n. 2.
One could adapt the term to refer to beginning Greek students.


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