Friday, May 29, 2015


The Table in Latin

Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 12:
So as Germany collapsed, and the bitter armistice began, Alan was set to work on copy-books and Latin primers. He later told a joke against his own first exercise, in which he translated 'the table' as omit mensa because of the cryptic footnote 'omit' attached to the word 'the'.


The Best Thing for a Man

Pindar, fragment 126 (tr. William H. Race):
and do not diminish enjoyment in life, since by far
the best thing for a man is an enjoyable lifetime.

μηδ' ἀμαύρου τέρψιν ἐν βίῳ· πολύ τοι
φέριστον ἀνδρὶ τερπνὸς αἰών.


Evidence of Wasted Time and Effort

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912), pp. 395-397:
Owing to the circumstance that this knowledge has become part of the elementary requirements in our system of education, the ability to use and to understand certain of the dead languages of southern Europe is not only gratifying to the person who finds occasion to parade his accomplishments in this respect, but the evidence of such knowledge serves at the same time to recommend any savant to his audience, both lay and learned. It is currently expected that a certain number of years shall have been spent in acquiring this substantially useless information, and its absence creates a presumption of hasty and precarious learning, as well as of a vulgar practicality that is equally obnoxious to the conventional standards of sound scholarship and intellectual force.

The case is analogous to what happens in the purchase of any article of consumption by a purchaser who is not an expert judge of materials or of workmanship. He makes his estimate of the value of the article chiefly on the ground of the apparent expensiveness of the finish of those decorative parts and features which have no immediate relation to the intrinsic usefulness of the article; the presumption being that some sort of illdefined proportion subsists between the substantial value of the article and the expense of adornment added in order to sell it. The presumption that there can ordinarily be no sound scholarship where a knowledge of the classics and humanities is wanting leads to a conspicuous waste of time and labour on the part of the general body of students in acquiring such knowledge. The conventional insistence on a modicum of conspicuous waste as an incident of all reputable scholarship has affected our canons of taste and of serviceability in matters of scholarship in much the same way as the same principle has influenced our judgment of the serviceability of manufactured goods.

It is true, since conspicuous consumption has gained more and more on conspicuous leisure as a means of repute, the acquisition of the dead languages is no longer so imperative a requirement as it once was, and its talismanic virtue as a voucher of scholarship has suffered a concomitant impairment. But while this is true, it is also true that the classics have scarcely lost in absolute value as a voucher of scholastic respectability, since for this purpose it is only necessary that the scholar should be able to put in evidence some learning which is conventionally recognised as evidence of wasted time; and the classics lend themselves with great facility to this use. Indeed, there can be little doubt that it is their utility as evidence of wasted time and effort, and hence of the pecuniary strength necessary in order to afford this waste, that has secured to the classics their position of prerogative in the scheme of the higher learning, and has led to their being esteemed the most honorific of all learning. They serve the decorative ends of leisure-class learning better than any other body of knowledge, and hence they are an effective means of reputability.

Thursday, May 28, 2015



Henry Channon (1897-1958), quoted in Ted Morgan, Maugham (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980), pp. 386-387:
I have put my whole life's work into my anglicization. The more I know of American civilization, the more I despise it. It is a menace to the peace and future of the world. If it triumphs, the old civilizations, which love beauty and peace and the arts and rank and privilege will pass from the picture. And all we will have left will be Fords and cinemas. Ugh!


Noli Me Tangere

Ted Morgan, Maugham (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980), p. 307:
It was here that Maugham greeted his guests, coming forward with arms outstretched in welcome, then dropping them to his sides to avoid contact.


Worrying About Other People

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.4.1 (tr. Gregory Hays):
Don't waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You'll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they're saying, and what they're thinking, and what they're up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.

μὴ κατατρίψῃς τὸ ὑπολειπόμενον τοῦ βίου μέρος ἐν ταῖς περὶ ἑτέρων φαντασίαις, ὁπόταν μὴ τὴν ἀναφορὰν ἐπί τι κοινωφελὲς ποιῇ. ἤτοι γὰρ ἄλλου ἔργου στέρῃ, τουτέστι φανταζόμενος τί ὁ δεῖνα πράσσει καὶ τίνος ἕνεκεν καὶ τί λέγει καὶ τί ἐνθυμεῖται καὶ τί τεχνάζεται καὶ ὅσα τοιαῦτα ποιεῖ ἀπορρέμβεσθαι τῆς τοῦ ἰδίου ἡγεμονικοῦ παρατηρήσεως.
Related post: Foolish.

Monday, May 25, 2015


A Fine Thing

Tyrtaeus, fragment 10, lines 1-2 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
It is a fine thing for a brave man to die when he has fallen among the front ranks while fighting for his homeland.

τεθνάμεναι γὰρ καλὸν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι πεσόντα
    ἄνδρ' ἀγαθὸν περὶ ᾗ πατρίδι μαρνάμενον.


Best Sellers

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), "The Voice of the Turtle" (1935):
I have learnt by experience that when a book makes a sensation it is just as well to wait a year before you read it. It is astonishing how many books then you need not read at all.


John B. Wagner

[Warning: This Memorial Day post about my great-great-great-grandfather, John B. Wagner, will probably interest only members of my family.]

Debbi Lehr and Brenda Marble, Cass County, Missouri Cemeteries. Researched Edition (Harrisonville, 2003), Gunn City Cemetery section, p. 21:
WAGNER, JOHN B.........................................N/S
s/o Jacob C & Elizabeth A (Moore) Waggoner
@ 1820, Pike Co, IL
m1: Eliza Ann Hudson (03/13/1837, Greene Co, IL)
m2: Carthetly ____
*Stone missing (1999)
The last name of his second wife Carthetly was Kennedy. I don't think the stone is missing (see below).

Id., p. 7:
GILLELAND PLOT.........................................E4
(Cannot read names)
d. 08/17/1863, 43 yrs 4 m 15 d
These two entries, I think, refer to the same grave, that of John B. Wagner. If his date of death is August 17, 1862, subtract 43 years, 4 months, and 15 days, and his birth date is April 2, 1819. If his date of death is August 17, 1863, his birth date is April 2, 1820. In the census record of 1850 (Pike County, Illinois, enumeration on October 24), his age is 30. In the census record of 1860 (Cass County, Missouri, enumeration date left blank), his age is 40.

It makes sense for John B. Wagner to be buried in the Gilleland family plot, because two of his daughters are also buried there—Elizabeth A. (Wagner) Gilleland (1839-1857) and Emily M. (Wagner) Gilleland (1842-1913). These daughters were the wives of my great-great-grandfather Robert E. Gilleland (1832-1912), who married Emily the year after her sister Elizabeth (his first wife) died.

The headstone in question, located in the northwest corner of the Gilleland family plot, is weather-beaten and covered with lichen, to the point that the inscription is now practically illegible. I can, however, just barely read the letters "AG" (part of "WAGNER"), near the top, above the life span "43 Yrs. 4 Ms. 15 Ds." (click to enlarge):

John B. Wagner and his brother George T. Wagner both fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, in the same regiment—10th Regiment, Missouri Cavalry State Guard. John was captain and regimental commissary; his younger brother George was a private in Company E. They enlisted on the same day (September 1, 1861) and were discharged on the same day (April 22, 1862).

If John B. Wagner died on August 17, 1862 (not 1863), then the date may reveal the cause of his death. August 17, 1862, was one day after the Battle of Lone Jack. The town of Lone Jack is located about ten miles north of the site of John B. Wagner's farm. I suspect that, despite his official discharge from the 10th Regiment, Missouri Cavalry State Guard, he fought in the Battle of Lone Jack, was wounded, and died the next day.

In the movie True Grit, Rooster Cogburn (played by John Wayne) tells Mattie Ross that he lost an eye at the Battle of Lone Jack, calling it "a scrap outside of Kansas City."

Friday, May 22, 2015


Ass and Arse

Jerry Useem, "Why It Pays to Be a Jerk," Atlantic (June 2015):
What separates the asshole from the psychopath is that he engages in moral reasoning (he understands that people have rights; his entitlement simply leads him to believe his rights should take precedence). That this reasoning is systematically, and not just occasionally, flawed is what separates him from merely being an ass. (Linguistics backs up the distinction: ass comes from the Latin assinus, for "donkey," while the hole is in the arras, the Hittite word for "buttocks.")
Screen shot:

The Latin word is asinus, not assinus. English arse is cognate with Hittite arra-, arri-, arru-, on which see Jaan Puhvel, Hittite Etymological Dictionary, Vol. I: Words Beginning with A (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1984), p. 122.



In Doubt

Tacitus, Annals 6.22 (tr. John Jackson):
For myself, when I listen to this and similar narratives, my judgement wavers. Is the revolution of human things governed by fate and changeless necessity, or by accident? You will find the wisest of the ancients, and the disciples attached to their tenets, at complete variance; in many of them a fixed belief that Heaven concerns itself neither with our origins, nor with our ending, nor, in fine, with mankind, and that so adversity continually assails the good, while prosperity dwells among the evil.

Others hold, on the contrary, that, though there is certainly a fate in harmony with events, it does not emanate from wandering stars, but must be sought in the principles and processes of natural causation. Still, they leave us free to choose our life: that choice made, however, the order of the future is certain. Nor, they maintain, are evil and good what the crowd imagines: many who appear to be the sport of adverse circumstances are happy; numbers are wholly wretched though in the midst of great possessions—provided only that the former endure the strokes of fortunes with firmness, while the latter employ her favours with unwisdom.

sed mihi haec ac talia audienti in incerto iudicium est, fatone res mortalium et necessitate immutabili an forte volvantur. quippe sapientissimos veterum quique sectas eorum aemulantur diversos reperies, ac multis insitam opinionem non initia nostri, non finem, non denique homines dis curae; ideo creberrime tristia in bonos, laeta apud deteriores esse.

contra alii fatum quidem congruere rebus putant, sed non e vagis stellis, verum apud principia et nexus naturalium causarum; ac tamen electionem vitae nobis relinquunt, quam ubi elegeris, certum imminentium ordinem. neque mala vel bona, quae vulgus putet: multos, qui conflictari adversis videantur, beatos, at plerosque quamquam magnas per opes miserrimos. si illi gravem fortunam constanter tolerent, hi prospera inconsulte utantur.


What Would Plato Do?

Plutarch, How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue 15 = Moralia 85a-b (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, with his note):
With men of this sort it has already become a constant practice, on proceeding to any business, or on taking office, or on encountering any dispensation of Fortune, to set before their eyes good men of the present or of the past,a and to reflect: "What would Plato have done in this case? What would Epameinondas have said? How would Lycurgus have conducted himself, or Agesilaus?" And before such mirrors as these, figuratively speaking, they array themselves or readjust their habit, and either repress some of their more ignoble utterances, or resist the onset of some emotion.

aSeneca (Epistulae Moral. ad Lucilium, i.11.8) says that this idea comes from Epicurus.

ἤδη δὲ τοῖς τοιούτοις παρέπεται τὸ βαδίζουσιν ἐπὶ πράξεις τινὰς ἢ λαβοῦσιν ἀρχὴν ἢ χρησαμένοις τύχῃ τίθεσθαι πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν τοὺς ὄντας ἀγαθοὺς ἢ γενομένους, καὶ διανοεῖσθαι "τί δ᾿ ἂν ἔπραξεν ἐν τούτῳ Πλάτων, τί δ᾿ ἂν εἶπεν Ἐπαμεινώνδας, ποῖος δ᾿ ἂν ὤφθη Λυκοῦργος ἢ Ἀγησίλαος," οἷόν τι πρὸς ἔσοπτρα κοσμοῦντας ἑαυτοὺς ἢ μεταρρυθμίζοντας ἢ φωνῆς ἀγεννεστέρας αὑτῶν ἐπιλαμβανομένους ἢ πρός τι πάθος ἀντιβαίνοντας.
Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 1.11.8-10 (tr. Richard M. Gummere, with his note):
But my letter calls for its closing sentence. Hear and take to heart this useful and wholesome mottoa: "Cherish some man of high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as if he were watching you, and ordering all your actions as if he beheld them." Such, my dear Lucilius, is the counsel of Epicurus; he has quite properly given us a guardian and an attendant. We can get rid of most sins, if we have a witness who stands near us when we are likely to go wrong. The soul should have someone whom it can respect,—one by whose authority it may make even its inner shrine more hallowed. Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely when he is in their company, but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy also is he who can so revere a man as to calm and regulate himself by calling him to mind! One who can so revere another, will soon be himself worthy of reverence. Choose therefore a Cato; or, if Cato seems too severe a model, choose some Laelius, a gentler spirit. Choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you; picture him always to yourself as your protector or your pattern. For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.

a Epicurus, Frag. 210 Usener.

Iam clausulam epistula poscit. Accipe, et quidem utilem ac salutarem, quam te affigere animo volo: "aliquis vir bonus nobis diligendus est ac semper ante oculos habendus, ut sic tamquam illo spectante vivamus et omnia tamquam illo vidente faciamus." Hoc, mi Lucili, Epicurus praecepit; custodem nobis et paedagogum dedit, nec immerito. Magna pars peccatorum tollitur, si peccaturis testis assistit. Aliquem habeat animus quem vereatur, cuius auctoritate etiam secretum suum sanctius faciat. O felicem illum qui non praesens tantum sed etiam cogitatus emendat! O felicem qui sic aliquem vereri potest ut ad memoriam quoque eius se conponat atque ordinet! Qui sic aliquem vereri potest cito erit verendus. Elige itaque Catonem; si hic tibi videtur nimis rigidus, elige remissioris animi virum Laelium. Elige eum cuius tibi placuit et vita et oratio et ipse animum ante se ferens vultus; illum tibi semper ostende vel custodem vel exemplum. Opus est, inquam, aliquo ad quem mores nostri se ipsi exigant: nisi ad regulam prava non corriges.
Related post: WWJD.


The Simple Pleasures of Sense

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia (London: William Heinemann, 1905), p. 32:
And the thought impressed itself upon me while I lingered in that peaceful spot, that there was far more to be said for the simple pleasures of sense than northern folk would have us believe. The English have still much of that ancient puritanism which finds a vague sinfulness in the uncostly delights of sunshine, and colour, and ease of mind. It is well occasionally to leave the eager turmoil of great cities for such a place as this, where one may learn that there are other, more natural ways of living, that it is possible still to spend long days, undisturbed by restless passion, without regret or longing, content in the various show that nature offers, asking only that the sun should shine and the happy seasons run their course.
Related post: A Talisman Against Many Ills.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


The Graces and Something Graceless

Pindar, Olympian Odes 14.5-7 (addressing the three Graces; tr. William H. Race):
For with your help all things pleasant
and sweet come about for mortals,
whether a man be wise, handsome, or illustrious.

σὺν γὰρ ὑμῖν τά <τε> τερπνὰ καί
τὰ γλυκέ' ἄνεται πάντα βροτοῖς,
εἰ σοφός, εἰ καλός, εἴ τις ἀγλαὸς ἀνήρ.
Note the misprint disfiguring line 5 (Greek text and apparatus) in the digital Loeb Classical Library:




W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), "The Sanatorium" (1938):
There are people who say that suffering ennobles. It is not true. As a general rule it makes man petty, querulous and selfish...


A Day at the Beach

Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), p. 16:
Swarming around the loriciferans and cycliophorans, and deep into the soil of shallow marine waters, are other Alice-in-Wonderland creatures, the meiofauna, most of them barely visible to the naked eye. The strange creatures include gastrotrichs, gnathostomulids, kinorhynchs, tardigrades, chaetognaths, placozoans, and orthonectids, along with nematodes and worm-shaped ciliate protozoans. They can be found in buckets of sand drawn from the intertidal surf and offshore shallow water around the world. So, for those seeking a new form of recreation, plan a day at the nearest beach. Take an umbrella, bucket, trowel, microscope, and illustrated textbook on invertebrate zoology.
Hat tip: my daughter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


The Devil Made Me Do It

Jerry Toner, Popular Culture in Ancient Rome (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), p. 126, with endnote on p. 217:
Flatulence was thought by some to be caused by demons.19

19 Euseb. Praep. Evang. 4.22.
The passage in question is actually 4.23 of Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, in which Porphyry (fragment 326F Smith; tr. E.H. Gifford) is quoted:
Our bodies also are full of them [i.e. demons], for they especially delight in certain kinds of food. So when we are eating they approach and sit close to our body; and this is the reason of the purifications, not chiefly on account of the gods, but in order that these evil daemons may depart. But most of all they delight in blood and in impure meats, and enjoy these by entering into those who use them.

For universally the vehemence of the desire towards anything, and the impulse of the lust of the spirit, is intensified from no other cause than their presence: and they also force men to fall into inarticulate noises and flatulence by sharing the same enjoyment with them.

καὶ τὰ σώματα τοίνυν μεστὰ ἀπὸ τούτων· καὶ γὰρ μάλιστα ταῖς ποιαῖς τροφαῖς χαίρουσιν. σιτουμένων γὰρ ἡμῶν προσίασι καὶ προσιζάνουσι τῷ σώματι, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αἱ ἁγνεῖαι, οὐ διὰ τοὺς θεοὺς προηγουμένως, ἀλλ' ἵν' οὗτοι ἀποστῶσιν. μάλιστα δὲ αἵματι χαίρουσι καὶ ταῖς ἀκαθαρσίαις καὶ ἀπολαύουσι τούτων εἰσδύνοντες τοῖς χρωμένοις.

ὅλως γὰρ ἡ ἐπίτασις τῆς πρός τι ἐπιθυμίας καὶ ἡ τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ὀρέξεως ὁρμὴ ἀλλαχόθεν οὐ σφοδρύνεται ἢ ἐκ τῆς τούτων παρουσίας· οἳ καὶ εἰς ἀσήμους φθόγγους καὶ φύσας ἀναγκάζουσι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐμπίπτειν διὰ τῆς συναπολαύσεως τῆς μετ' αὐτῶν γιγνομένης.




Livy 31.29.12 (tr. Evan T. Sage):
It is madness to hope that anything will remain in the same condition if foreigners, separated from us more by language, manners and laws than by the space of land and sea, shall gain control.

furor est si alienigenae homines, plus lingua et moribus et legibus quam maris terrarumque spatio discreti, haec tenuerint, sperare quicquam eodem statu mansurum.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Interruptions During Lectures

In my many years as a student, I always resented those fellow students who wasted valuable class time with their stupid questions and comments. I paid my tuition money to listen to the professor lecture, I thought to myself, not to hear some half-baked student spout off. Plutarch criticizes those who interrupt lectures in his treatise On Listening to Lectures 18 (= Moralia 47f-48b; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
On the other hand, however, we certainly must not neglect the mistake that leads to the opposite extreme, which some persons are led to commit by laziness, thus making themselves unpleasant and irksome. For when they are by themselves they are not willing to give themselves any trouble, but they give trouble to the speaker by repeatedly asking questions about the same things, like unfledged nestlings always agape toward the mouth of another, and desirous of receiving everything ready prepared and predigested.

There is another class, who, eager to be thought astute and attentive out of due place, wear out the speakers with loquacity and officiousness, by continually propounding some extraneous and unessential difficulty and asking for demonstrations of matters that need no demonstration, and so, as Sophoclesa puts it,
Much time it takes to go a little way,
not only for themselves but for the rest of the company too. For holding back the speaker on every possible occasion by their inane and superfluous questions, as in a company of persons travelling together, they impede the regular course of the lecture, which has to put up with halts and delays.

a Sophocles, Antigone 237.

οὐ μὴν οὐδὲ τῆς πρὸς τοὐναντίον ἁμαρτίας ἀμελητέον, ἣν ἁμαρτάνουσιν οἱ μὲν ὑπὸ νωθείας, ἀηδεῖς καὶ κοπώδεις ὄντες· οὐ γὰρ ἐθέλουσι γενόμενοι καθ᾿ αὑτοὺς πράγματα ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ παρέχουσι τῷ λέγοντι, πολλάκις ἐκπυνθανόμενοι περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν, ὥσπερ ἀπτῆνες νεοσσοὶ κεχηνότες ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀλλότριον στόμα καὶ πᾶν ἕτοιμον ἤδη καὶ διαπεπονημένον ὑπ᾿ ἄλλων ἐκλαμβάνειν ἐθέλοντες.

ἕτεροι δὲ προσοχῆς καὶ δριμύτητος ἐν οὐ δέοντι θηρώμενοι δόξαν ἀποκναίουσι λαλιᾷ καὶ περιεργίᾳ τοὺς λέγοντας, ἀεί τι προσδιαποροῦντες τῶν οὐκ ἀναγκαίων καὶ ζητοῦντες ἀποδείξεις τῶν οὐ δεομένων·

οὕτως ὁδὸς βραχεῖα γίγνεται μακρά,
ὥς φησι Σοφοκλῆς, οὐκ αὐτοῖς μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις. ἀντιλαμβανόμενοι γὰρ ἑκάστοτε κεναῖς καὶ περιτταῖς ἐρωτήσεσι τοῦ διδάσκοντος, ὥσπερ ἐν συνοδίᾳ, τὸ ἐνδελεχὲς ἐμποδίζουσι τῆς μαθήσεως, ἐπιστάσεις καὶ διατριβὰς λαμβανούσης.


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