Thursday, July 30, 2015


Pedimental Composition

John L. Myres (1869-1954), Herodotus: The Father of History (1953; rpt. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1971), pp. 81-82:
In a Latin 'period' the subject stands first, conditions, accessions, even subordinate agents, are enunciated next, in order; the principal verb comes at the end, immediately preceded by the object and its attributes and qualifications. In unconstrained Greek, as in English, normal syntax places the verb between subject and object, but a more significant word may be substituted in the central position. In the motto of the Academy
μηδεὶς ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω
the significant word could be central without disturbance of normal syntax. In the English line
All hope abandon, ye who enter here
normal order is inverted to centralize the significant word abandon. But complete the iambic line
μηδεὶς ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω, Κλέον
and it becomes part of a larger composition—a comedian's snub to a rabble-rouser. presuming either a previous question, or a retort such as
ὁ Νικίας δ' ἄπειρὀς ἐστι μουσικῆς
which is the same 'pedimental' form, and balances it in the whole couplet around the significant words Κλέον and Νικίας.

Herodotus was not the inventor of this mode of composition. It is in the genius of the Greek language and of Greek art. In Greek verse the hexameter and the iambic line are balanced about their caesura; in the geometric art of the Early Iron Age, centre-piece and pendant side-panels are fundamental. The structure of the Iliad and Odyssey has similar culminations and counterparts.1 The same design is characteristic of the dithyramb, and fundamental in another archaic survival, the stichomythia of tragedy; not only in Aeschylus2 with whom it is invariable, but, with growing laxity, in Sophocles and Euripides. Aeschylus also employs this structure in his choral odes. It reappears, after Herodotus, throughout the formal prologue of Thucydides.3 In the graphic arts, rhythm and balance dominate vase-painting; their simplest expression, 'heraldic symmetry', goes back indeed into Minoan and into Oriental design; it is frequent on the 'Chest of Cypselus' at Olympia,4 on the engraved bowls known as 'Phoenician',5 and in the Hesiodic 'Shield of Heracles'.6 Its best-known expression is, of course, in the pedimental sculpture of Greek temples; at Aegina it is employed in commemorative designs of Greeks and Barbarians in combat about the central figure of Athena; this was evidently a war-memorial, like the Preface of Herodotus.

1 Myres, J.H.S. lxii (1942), 204 (Iliad); J.H.S. lxxii (Odyssey); lxxiii (Iliad),
2 Myres, Proc. Brit. Acad. xxxv (1949)
3 i.1-23. E. Täubler, Die Archäologia des Thukydides.
4 Myres, J.H.S. lxvi (1946), 122.
5 Myres, J.H.S. liii (1933), 25.
6 Myres, J.H.S. lxi (1941), 33.


Wholesome Fare

Aubrey de Sélincourt (1894-1962), The World of Herodotus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), p. 293:
Odysseus was one type of the Greek ideal, as Achilles was another. Neither was exactly what we should describe as a gentleman; but what matter? Both had a healthy appetite for life, and both lived familiarly with death. On the whole Greek boys were lucky to be brought up on Homer: he was more wholesome fare than much which is provided nowadays.


Humiliating Self-Exposures

David Ellis, Memoirs of a Leavisite: The decline and fall of Cambridge English (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), pp. 23-24:
By the time of my first year with [F.R.] Leavis, his sheets of anonymous texts for analysis and dating included quite a lot of prose. Very early on, I can remember being confronted with a passage of what seemed to me lively polemical writing. After some analysis of its qualities, he asked us to suggest who might have been its author. To this day I have no idea how I managed to come up with the name of Cobbett or in what context I had stumbled upon the Rural Rides, which is still the only text of his I have ever read. Yes, said Leavis, after some hesitation, I can see why you might think that, and he went on to talk at some length about colloquial vigour before revealing that the author of the passage in question was Thomas Nashe. Nashe's best known work appeared in 1592 and Rural Rides was published in 1830 so that, if I had been looking for comfort, I could have said that, as far as dating was concerned, I was only 238 years out.

One method I have for dividing people is to imagine that there are those who, as they look back on their life, remember it chiefly in terms of the happy moments when they were congratulated, received an award, or said some something to which the response was peculiarly gratifying. Set against these are those whose progress is remembered as a series of humiliating self-exposures, occasions when they did or said the wrong thing. As an instance of saying the wrong thing in a public context, my 'Cobbett' must rank pretty high. There is a story told by Stanley Cavell about the time he attended the music theory class given by Ernst Bloch at Berkeley. Bloch would apparently play a piece by Bach, 'with one note altered by a half a step from Bach's rendering', and then play the piece as it was written. After repeating this process, he would challenge the students to hear the difference, tell them that if they could not hear it they could not call themselves musicians, and then remind them that there were after all many 'honourable trades. Shoe-making, for example.' It would have been reasonable of Leavis to suggest that anyone who could not tell the difference between Cobbett and Nashe ought to be thinking of something other than the study of English literature. The enormity of my mistake became more painful with the passage of time as I gained more familiarity with Elizabethan prose writing, its often strange vocabulary and loose grammatical structures trailing off God knows where. The consolation was that at the time I made the error I had no idea how serious it was. There is another consolation which comes from those Proustian moments when a word pronounced in a special way, a chance glimpse of certain features, or the atmosphere in a room suddenly brings back an episode when we behaved in a particularly foolish manner. It strikes me then that the number of humiliating episodes which we remember, and which constitute our private store of psychological pain or discomfort, is as nothing compared to those we have either forgotten or were not even aware of at the time, and that Nature can sometimes be kind after all.

The way Leavis dealt with my mistake was a model for me later when I had to respond to similarly foolish suggestions. The technique is no doubt common as well as considerate, but I once witnessed an uncomfortable reductio of it at a lecture by [H.A.] Mason, whose Oxford classics degree was often adduced as the reason for his being the most urbane of all the Leavisites. At the lecture was someone from my year who had suffered a breakdown and whose behaviour had become mildly psychotic. When Mason had finished speaking he was asked by this student a whole series of increasingly mad questions to each of which he replied with the usual 'I can see why you might say that', 'that would be one way of looking at it' etc. until every other member of the audience was in an agony of embarrassment and silently begging him to cut their pain short with, 'No, I'm afraid what you have just said is complete rubbish'.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


A Prayer to Artemis

Theognis 11-14 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
Artemis, slayer of wild beasts, daughter of Zeus, for whom Agamemnon set up a temple when he was preparing to sail on his swift ships to Troy, give ear to my prayer and ward off the evil death-spirits. For you, goddess, this is a small thing, but for me it is critical.

Ἄρτεμι θηροφόνη, θύγατερ Διός, ἣν Ἀγαμέμνων
    εἵσαθ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἐς Τροίην ἔπλεε νηυσὶ θοῇς,
εὐχομένῳ μοι κλῦθι, κακὰς δ᾿ ἀπὸ κῆρας ἄλαλκε·
    σοὶ μὲν τοῦτο, θεά, σμικρόν, ἐμοὶ δὲ μέγα.
Carolus Ausfeld, "De Graecorum Precationibus Quaestiones," Jahrbüch für classische Philologie, Suppl. 28 (1903) 503-547, recognized three parts of Greek prayers, which he called invocatio, pars epica, and precatio. Theognis' prayer to Artemis is a succinct example of this tripartite form:
See Jules Labarbe, "Une prière de Théognis (11-14)," L'Antiquité Classique 62 (1993) 23-33.


Competition in Demagoguery

Aristophanes, Knights 910-911 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Blow your nose, Demos, and then wipe your hand on my head!
No, on mine!
No, on mine!

ἀπομυξάμενος, ὦ Δῆμέ, μου πρὸς τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀποψῶ.
ἐμοῦ μὲν οὖν.
ἐμοῦ μὲν οὖν.
Aristophanes could be writing about the current crop of presidential candidates, of both political parties. Mutato nomine de te / fabula narratur (Horace, Satires 1.1.69-70).

Monday, July 27, 2015


A Lesson Learned

Donald Richie (1924-2013), Companions of the Holiday (New York, Walker/Weatherhill, 1968), p. 85:
Laying down the pencil, she decided that she had learned one thing, and that this was all the philosophy that she contained: the meaning of work lay in the working, so the meaning of life lay only in the living; one added one day upon the next, and this was sufficient; whether one served oneself or served a master, it was the same; to fill the day was important; what filled it was of small importance.


Death March

Horace, Odes 1.28.15-20 (tr. Niall Rudd, with his note):
But one common night awaits us all, and the road to death can be trodden only once. The Furies hand over some to provide entertainment for grim Mars; to sailors destruction comes from the hungry sea. Young and old alike crowd together in death; merciless Proserpine never shuns a head.51

51 Proserpine was said to cut a lock of hair from each of her victims.

                        sed omnes una manet nox        15
        et calcanda semel via leti.
dant alios Furiae torvo spectacula Marti;
        exitio est avidum mare nautis;
mixta senum ac iuvenum densentur funera; nullum
        saeva caput Proserpina fugit.        20
On the poem as a whole:


What More Could I Want?

Kenneth Burke (1897-1993), "Temporary Wellbeing," Book of Moments: Poems 1915-1954 (Los Altos: Hermes Publications, 1955), p. 36:
The pond is plenteous
The land is lush,
And having turned off the news
I am for the moment mellow.

With my book in one hand
And my drink in the other
What more could I want

But fame,
Better health,
And ten million dollars?
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Tolle Lege

Gore Vidal (1925-2012), Burr (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 69:
Then the Colonel indicated several old books on the table. "I bought these for you, Charlie. Second hand, I fear. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Take them. Read them. Become civilised."



Donald Richie (1924-2013), Journals (Oct. 3, 1988):
I dislike any kind of joining—the Catholic Church, the Soka Gakkai, the Communist Party, or kneeling and praying for HIH. In my ideal world no one would pledge allegiance to anything.
HIH = His Imperial Highness

Related posts:


Punishment for Arboricide

The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (Santa Barbara: Ross-Erikson, Inc., 1977), pp. 247-248 (ellipsis in original)
Ju-chū-gaki. These spirits are born within the wood of trees, and are tormented by the growing of the grain. ... Their condition is the result of having cut down shade-trees for the purpose of selling the timber. Persons who cut down the trees in Buddhist cemeteries or temple-grounds are especially likely to become ju-chū-gaki.2

2The following story of a tree-spirit is typical:
In the garden of a Samurai named Satsuma Shichizaëmon, who lived in the village of Echigawa in the province of Ōmi, there was a very old énoki. (The énoki, or "Celtis chinensis," is commonly thought to be a goblin-tree.) From ancient times the ancestors of the family had been careful never to cut a branch of this tree or to remove any of its leaves. But Shichizaëmon, who was very self-willed, one day announced that he intended to have the tree cut down. During the following night a monstrous being appeared to the mother of Shichizaëmon, in a dream, and told her that if the énoki were cut down, every member of the household should die. But when this warning was communicated to Shichizaëmon, he only laughed; and he then sent a man to cut down the tree. No sooner had it been cut down than Shichizaëmon became violently insane. For several days he remained furiously mad, crying out at intervals, "The tree! the tree! the tree!" He said that the tree put out its branches, like hands, to tear him. In this condition he died. Soon afterward his wife went mad, crying out that the tree was killing her; and she died screaming with fear. One after another, all the people in that house, not excepting the servants, went mad and died. The dwelling long remained unoccupied thereafter, no one daring even to enter the garden. At last it was remembered that before these things happened a daughter of the Satsuma family had become a Buddhist nun, and that she was still living, under the name of Jikun, in a temple at Yamashirō. This nun was sent for; and by request of the villagers she took up her residence in the house, where she continued to live until the time of her death, — daily reciting a special service on behalf of the spirit that had dwelt in the tree. From the time that she began to live in the house the tree-spirit ceased to give trouble. This story is related on the authority of the priest Shungyō, who said that he had heard it from the lips of the nun herself.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Friday, July 24, 2015


You Teach Greek Verbs and Latin Nouns

Padraic Colum (1881-1972), "A Poor Scholar of the Forties," The Oxford Book of Irish Verse. XVIIth Century-XXth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), pp. 198-199:
My eyelids red and heavy are
With bending o'er the smould'ring peat.
I know the Aeneid now by heart,
My Virgil read in cold and heat,
In loneliness and hunger smart.
    And I know Homer, too, I ween,
    As Munster poets know Ossian.

And I must walk this road that winds
'Twixt bog and bog, while east there lies
A city with its men and books;
With treasures open to the wise,
Heart-words from equals, comrade-looks;
    Down here they have but tale and song,
    They talk Repeal the whole night long.

'You teach Greek verbs and Latin nouns,'
The dreamer of Young Ireland said.
'You do not hear the muffled call,
The sword being forged, the far-off tread
Of hosts to meet as Gael and Gall—
    What good to us your wisdom-store,
    Your Latin verse, your Grecian lore?'

And what to me is Gael or Gall?
Less than the Latin or the Greek.
I teach these by the dim rush-light,
In smoky cabins night and week.
But what avail my teaching slight?
    Years hence, in rustic speech, a phrase,
    As in wild earth a Grecian vase!
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Forsaking One's Homeland

Euripides, fragment 347 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
If you were not very bad, you would never be slighting your fatherland and praising this city; because in my eyes at least, a man would be judged wrong-headed who scorns the confines of his ancestral land, to commend another and take pleasure in its ways.

εἰ δ᾿ ἦσθα μὴ κάκιστος, οὔποτ᾿ ἂν πάτραν
τὴν σὴν ἀτίζων τήνδ᾿ ἂν ηὐλόγεις πόλιν·
ὡς ἔν γ᾿ ἐμοὶ κρίνοιτ᾿ ἂν οὐ καλῶς φρονεῖν
ὅστις πατρῴας γῆς ἀτιμάζων ὅρους
ἄλλην ἐπαινεῖ καὶ τρόποισιν ἥδεται.

4 ὅρους codd. Stobaei (3.39.8): νόμους Nauck
Commentary in Ioanna Karamanou, Euripides, Danae and Dictys: Introduction, Text and Commentary (München: K.G. Saur, 2006), pp. 216-218, who notes (p. 217):
Serious accusations are made in oratory against those who disparage (cf. Lys. xxxi 6 and Carey 1989, ad loc., D. xx 110-111, Andoc. i 5) or abandon their homelands for other cities (the subject of Lycurg. i).

Thursday, July 23, 2015



Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 607-615 (Oedipus to Theseus), tr. Bernard M.W. Knox, The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (1964; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 153:
Dearest son of Aegeus, only to the gods comes no old age or death. All else is dissolved by all-powerful time. The earth's strength decays, the body's too, faith dies, mistrust flowers, and the wind of friendship does not blow steady between man and man, city and city. For some now, for others later, sweet turns to bitter, and back again to love.

ὦ φίλτατ᾿ Αἰγέως παῖ, μόνοις οὐ γίγνεται
θεοῖσι γῆρας οὐδὲ κατθανεῖν ποτε,
τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα συγχεῖ πάνθ᾿ ὁ παγκρατὴς χρόνος.
φθίνει μὲν ἰσχὺς γῆς, φθίνει δὲ σώματος,        610
θνῄσκει δὲ πίστις, βλαστάνει δ᾿ ἀπιστία,
καὶ πνεῦμα ταὐτὸν οὔποτ᾿ οὔτ᾿ ἐν ἀνδράσιν
φίλοις βέβηκεν οὔτε πρὸς πόλιν πόλει.
τοῖς μὲν γὰρ ἤδη, τοῖς δ᾿ ἐν ὑστέρῳ χρόνῳ
τὰ τερπνὰ πικρὰ γίγνεται καὖθις φίλα.        615

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


The Disinterested Pursuit of Knowledge

C. Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century: Daily Life, Customs and Learning, tr. J.H. Monahan (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1931), p. 171:
"It is related", we read in Qutb ad-dîn's History of Mekka, "that the first madrasah in the world, that of Nizâm al-Mulk, was founded in Bagdad in the year 457 of the Hijrah (1065 A.D.) When the learned of Transoxania heard of this, they instituted a day of mourning for knowledge, and lamented over the decay of honour and science. Asked for the reason, they said: 'Knowledge is a noble and excellent queen who can only be wooed by noble excellent sons for her native nobility, and by reason of the natural affinity of these souls to her. Now however a reward has been set up and vulgar souls will seek her and use her for gain. So knowledge will be degraded by the vulgarity of these people without their being raised by her nobility....'"
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Alcman, Fragment 26

The Telegraph's obituary of M.L. West mentions his love of puns. Puns depend on the multiple, ambiguous meanings of words, and I wonder if West ever reflected on the fact that his own first name, Martin, is also a word meaning "kingfisher" in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Eric Thomson, who pointed this out to me, remarked that "As a scholar West was a kingfisher, as fearless, darting and brilliant." The adjectives are borrowed from words in Alcman, fragment 26, describing a kingfisher (fearless ~ νηδεὲϲ ἦτορ ἔχων, darting ~ ποτήται, brilliant ~ ἁλιπόρφυροϲ). West translated the fragment in his Greek Lyric Poetry (1993; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 34, as follows:
My legs can support me no longer, young ladies
    with voices of honey and song divine!
Ah, would that I could be a kingfisher, flying
sea-blue, fearless, amid you halcyons
    down to rest on the foaming brine!
Here is the Greek, from Malcolm Davies, ed., Poetarum Melicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 76:
οὔ μ᾿ ἔτι, παρϲενικαὶ μελιγάρυεϲ ἱαρόφωνοι,
γυῖα φέρην δύναται· βάλε δὴ βάλε κηρύλοϲ εἴην,
ὅϲ τ᾿ ἐπὶ κύματοϲ ἄνθοϲ ἅμ᾿ ἀλκυόνεϲϲι ποτήται
νηδεὲϲ ἦτορ ἔχων, ἁλιπόρφυροϲ ἱαρὸϲ ὄρνιϲ.
I've stitched together Davies' text, apparatus, and notes on this fragment (pp. 76-78) into a single image below, omitting page numbers and headings:

For commentary on the fragment see Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Melic Poets (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1900), pp. 190-191, and David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry (1982; rpt. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003), pp. 217-218. A few notes to aid my own comprehension:

2 φέρην = φέρειν.

2 βάλε, see Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v.: "O that! would God! c. opt., Alcm.26, Call.Hec.26.2; cf. ἄβαλε."

2 δὴ, see J.D. Denniston, Greek Particles, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 218 ("in wishes"), and Guy L. Cooper, III, Greek Syntax, Vol. 4: Early Greek Poetic and Herodotean Syntax (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), pp. 2950 ("may also be attached directly to ... optative forms which express ardent wishes") and 2955.

3 ποτήται, "flies to and fro," from ποτάομαι, frequentative of πέτομαι.

4 νηδεὲϲ (Boissonade's conjecture): νηδεής is not to be found in Liddell-Scott-Jones. The adjective would be equivalent to ἀδεής, meaning fearless.


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