Tuesday, May 24, 2016


The Cavern of Fear and Sorrow

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), Memoir F:
A school is the cavern of fear and sorrow; the mobility of the captive youths is chained to a book and a desk; an inflexible master commands their attention which every moment is impatient to escape; they labour like the soldiers of Persia under the scourge, and their education is nearly finished before they can apprehend the sense or utility of the harsh lessons which they are forced to repeat. Such blind and absolute dependence may be necessary, but can never be delightful.


City Vices and Country Virtues

Cicero, Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino 27.75 (tr. J.H. Freese):
The city creates luxury, from which avarice inevitably springs, while from avarice audacity breaks forth, the source of all crimes and misdeeds. On the other hand, this country life, which you call boorish, teaches thrift, carefulness, and justice.

in urbe luxuries creatur, ex luxurie existat avaritia necesse est, ex avaritia erumpat audacia, inde omnia scelera ac maleficia gignuntur; vita autem haec rustica, quam tu agrestem vocas, parsimoniae, diligentiae, iustitiae magistra est.


Burning Books Written by Epicurus

Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 47 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Hitting upon the "Established Beliefs" of Epicurus, which is the finest of his books, as you know, and contains in summary the articles of the man's philosophic creed, he brought it into the middle of the market-place, burned it on fagots of fig-wood just as if he were burning the man in person, and threw the ashes into the sea, even adding an oracle also:
"Burn with fire, I command you, the creed of a purblind dotard!"
But the scoundrel had no idea what blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squills and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness.

εὑρὼν γὰρ τὰς Ἐπικούρου κυρίας δόξας, τὸ κάλλιστον, ὡς οἶσθα, τῶν βιβλίων καὶ κεφαλαιώδη περιέχον τῆς τἀνδρὸς σοφίας τὰ δόγματα, κομίσας εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν μέσην ἔκαυσεν ἐπὶ ξύλων συκίνων ὡς δῆθεν αὐτὸν καταφλέγων, καὶ τὴν σποδὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐξέβαλεν, ἔτι καὶ χρησμὸν ἐπιφθεγξάμενος·
Πυρπολέειν κέλομαι δόξας ἀλαοῖο γέροντος·
οὐκ εἰδὼς ὁ κατάρατος ὅσων ἀγαθῶν τὸ βιβλίον ἐκεῖνο τοῖς ἐντυχοῦσιν αἴτιον γίγνεται, καὶ ὅσην αὐτοῖς εἰρήνην καὶ ἀταραξίαν καὶ ἐλευθερίαν ἐνεργάζεται, δειμάτων μὲν καὶ φασμάτων καὶ τεράτων ἀπαλλάττον καὶ ἐλπίδων ματαίων καὶ περιττῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, νοῦν δὲ καὶ ἀλήθειαν ἐντιθὲν καὶ καθαῖρον ὡς ἀληθῶς τὰς γνώμας, οὐχ ὑπὸ δᾳδὶ καὶ σκίλλῃ καὶ ταῖς τοιαύταις φλυαρίαις, ἀλλὰ λόγῳ ὀρθῷ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ καὶ παρρησίᾳ.
Aelian, fragment 89 Hercher, tr. Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (1945; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 201-202 (brackets in original):
The man Euphronius, a wretched creature, took pleasure in the silly talk of Epicurus and acquired two evils from this: being impious and intemperate.

He did not forget, when in such a wicked state, that shameless and impious treatise which the Gargettian [sc., Epicurus], like an offspring of the Titan brood, inflicted as a blot upon the life of men.

Being grievously afflicted with a disease (the sons of the Asclepiads call it pneumonia), he first besought the healing aid of mortals and clung to them.

The disease was stronger than the knowledge of the physicians.

When he was already tottering on the brink of death, his friends brought him to the temple of Asclepius. And as he fell asleep one of the priests seemed to say to him that there was one road to safety for the man, and only one remedy for the evils upon him, namely, if he burned the books of Epicurus, moistened the ashes of the impious, unholy, and effeminate books with melted wax and, spreading the plaster all over his stomach and chest, bound bandages all around them.

What he had heard he communicated to his friends and they were straightway filled with excessive joy because he did not come out, disdained and dishonored by the god.

And having learned a lesson from him, they followed him forthwith in a good and honorable life.
I can't find Aelian's Greek in Unicode format on the Internet, I'm unaware of any reliable and convenient optical character recognition tool for ancient Greek, and I'm too lazy to type it out myself, so faute de mieux here's an image of the Greek from Edelstein and Edelstein, pp. 200-201:

Monday, May 23, 2016


Qualifications Essential to a Traveller

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), Memoir C:
But after supposing the previous and indispensable requisites of age, judgment, a competent knowledge of men and books, and a freedom from domestic prejudices, I will briefly describe the qualifications which I deem most essential to a traveller. He should be endowed with an active, indefatigable vigour of mind and body, which can seize every mode of conveyance, and support with a careless smile every hardship of the road, the weather, or the inn. It must stimulate him with a restless curiosity, impatient of ease, covetous of time and fearless of danger, which drives him forth, at any hour of the day or night, to brave the flood, to climb the mountain, or to fathom the mine on the most doubtful promise of entertainment or instruction. The arts of common life are not studied in the closet; with a copious stock of classical and historical learning, my traveller must blend the practical knowledge of husbandry and manufactures; he should be a Chymist, a botanist, and a master of mechanics. A musical ear will multiply the pleasures of his Italian tour; but a correct and exquisite eye, which commands the landscape of a country, discerns the merit of a picture, and measures the proportions of a building, is more closely connected with the finer feelings of the mind, and the fleeting image shall be fixed and realized by the dexterity of the pencil. I have reserved for the last a virtue which borders on a vice; the flexible temper which can assimilate itself to every tone of society from the court to the cottage; the happy flow of spirits which can amuse and be amused in every company and situation. With the advantage of an independent fortune and the ready use of national and provincial idioms, the traveller should unite the pleasing aspect and decent familiarity which makes every stranger an acquaintance, and the art of conversing with ignorance and dullness on some topic of local or professional information.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


The Royals

Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), p. 66 (footnote omitted):
Spending time with the monarch gave Swift lasting immunity to hero worship, not that he was ever very susceptible to it. He once said in a sermon, "Princes are born with no more advantages of strength or wisdom than other men, and by an unhappy education are usually more defective in both than thousands of their subjects." According to Orrery, "his aversion to kings was invincible," and he was often heard to say that "he should be glad to see half a dozen kings dissected, that he might know what it was that stamped a greater value upon one prince than upon eleven millions of people."
Related posts:


A Rural Retreat

Jerome, Letters 43.3 (to Marcella; tr. F.A. Wright):
Therefore, as to-day we have traversed a great part of life's journey through rough seas, and as our barque has been now shaken by tempestuous winds, now holed upon rugged rocks, let us take this first chance and make for the haven of a rural retreat. Let us live there on coarse bread and on the green-stuff that we water with our own hands, and on milk, country delicacies, cheap and harmless. If thus we spend our days, sleep will not call us away from prayer, nor overfeeding from study. In summer the shade of a tree will give us privacy. In autumn the mild air and the leaves beneath our feet point out a place for rest. In spring the fields are gay with flowers, and the birds' plaintive notes will make our psalms sound all the sweeter. When the cold weather comes with winter's snows, I shall not need to buy wood: whether I keep vigil or lie asleep, I shall be warmer there, and certainly as far as I know, I shall escape the cold at a cheaper rate. Let Rome keep her bustle for herself, the fury of the arena, the madness of the circus, the profligacy of the theatre, and—for I must not forget our Christian friends—the daily meetings of the matrons' senate.

quapropter, quia multum iam vitae spatium transivimus fluctuando et navis nostra nunc procellarum concussa turbine, nunc scopulorum inlisionibus perforata est, quam primum licet, quasi quendam portum secreta ruris intremus. ibi cibarius panis et holus nostris manibus inrigatum, lac, deliciae rusticanae, viles quidem, sed innocentes cibos praebeant. ita viventes non ab oratione somnus, non saturitas a lectione revocabit. si aestas est, secretum arboris umbra praebebit; si autumnus, ipsa aeris temperies et strata subter folia locum quietis ostendit. vere ager floribus depingitur et inter querulas aves psalmi dulcius decantabuntur. si frigus fuerit et brumales nives, ligna non coemam: calidius vigilabo vel dormiam, certe, quod sciam, vilius non algebo. habeat sibi Roma suos tumultus, harena saeviat, circus insaniat, theatra luxurient et, quia de nostris dicendum est, matronarum cotidie visitetur senatus.
I wonder if "de vestris" or "de vostris" might be read for "de nostris," i.e. "your female friends," not "our Christian friends." On the matron's senate see "Aelius Lampridius", Life of Elagabalus 4.3-4 (tr. David Magie):
He also established a senaculum, or women’s senate, on the Quirinal Hill. Before his time, in fact, a congress of matrons had met here, but only on certain festivals, or whenever a matron was presented with the insignia of a "consular marriage"—bestowed by the early emperors on their kinswomen, particularly on those whose husbands were not nobles, in order that they might not lose their noble rank. But now under the influence of Symiamira absurd decrees were enacted concerning rules to be applied to matrons, namely, what kind of clothing each might wear in public, who was to yield precedence and to whom, who was to advance to kiss another, who might ride in a chariot, on a horse, on a pack-animal, or on an ass, who might drive in a carriage drawn by mules or in one drawn by oxen, who might be carried in a litter, and whether the litter might be made of leather, or of bone, or covered with ivory or with silver, and lastly, who might wear gold or jewels on her shoes.

fecit et in colle Quirinali senaculum, id est mulierum senatum, in quo ante fuerat conventus matronalis, sollemnibus dumtaxat diebus et si umquam aliqua matrona consularis coniugii ornamentis esset donata, quod veteres imperatores adfinibus detulerunt et iis maxime quae nobilitatos maritos non habuerant, ne innobilitatae remanerent. sed Symiamira facta sunt senatus consulta ridicula de legibus matronalibus: quae quo vestitu incederet, quae cui cederet, quae ad cuius osculum veniret, quae pilento, quae equo, quae sagmario, quae asino veheretur, quae carpento mulari, quae boum, quae sella veheretur, et utrum pellicia an ossea an eborata an argentata, et quae aurum vel gemmas in calciamentis haberent.


Educational Reform

Camille Paglia, "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf," Arion, 3rd ser., 1.2 (Spring, 1991) 139-212 (at 201):
Attendance at conferences must cease to be defined as professional activity. It should be seen for what it is: prestige-hunting and long-range job-seeking junkets, meat-rack mini-vacations. The phrase "He or she is just a conference-hopper" (cf. "just a gigolo") must enter the academic vocabulary. I look for the day when conference-hopping leads to denial of employment or promotion on the grounds that it is a neglect of professional duties to scholarship and one's institution. Energies have to be reinvested at home. The reform of education will be achieved when we all stay put and cultivate our own garden, instead of gallivanting around the globe like migrating grackles. Furthermore, excessive contact with other academics is toxic to scholarship. Reading and writing academic books and seeing academics every day at work are more than enough exposure to academe. The best thing for scholars is contact with nonacademics, with other ways of thinking and seeing the world. Most of the absurdities of women's studies and French theory would have been prevented by close observation of ordinary life outside the university.
Id. (at 202):
Rushing people into print right after grad school just leads to portentous fakery, which no one reads anyhow. Maynard Mack was already saying in 1969 to our graduate seminar that "95% of what is published in any given year should be ritually burned at the end of that year." The pressure on shaky novices to sound important and authoritative makes for guano mountains of dull rubbish. Good writing and teaching require a creative sense of play. In American academe, as opposed to Great Britain, playfulness and humor, as well I know, are suspect, suggesting you aren't "serious" enough. But comedy is a sign of balanced perspective on life and thought. Humorlessness should be grounds for dismissal. Eccentric individualism, in the style of the old German scholars, must be tolerated.
Id. (at 205-206):
The spiritual vacuum of recent academe is responsible for the popularity of false teachers like the mushy Joseph Campbell, who gives people the long view of traditional mythology, and for the spread of New Age mysticism, whose hoaxer channelers satisfy the craving for ancestral voices. We need back-to-basics reform on every level of education. Old German philology was culture criticism at its learned, comprehensive best.


Four Propositions

Gilbert Highet (1906-1978), The Classical Papers, ed. Robert J. Ball (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), pp. 108-109:
The material of the world is not what it seems to be. A solid, like a rock, or a fluid, like water, is only apparently solid or fluid. Both the rock and the water are composed of myriads of invisible particles which are associated by laws of their own and are in constant movement.

This earth and the sun and moon and planets, all our universe, in fact, is made up of atoms. The atoms came together to form them, as tiny drops of water come together to form a river. In time, the atoms will separate again, and our universe will cease to exist, as a river does when it runs into the desert and evaporates. But the atoms will never cease to exist. They, and they alone, are eternal.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and such disasters are not caused by God's anger. They are natural phenomena and can be explained scientifically.

Sensation and thought are functions of the body. The soul is not immortal, but is born in the body, develops with it, and will cease to exist when the other physical functions, such as respiration, and heartbeat, stop.

Of these four propositions, most civilized people in the Western world nowadays believe the first and the third. Many believe the second. Some believe the fourth. All four were accepted as unquestionable truth by many Greeks and Romans; they became the theme of a magnificent Latin poem; they were maintained for at least five centuries; and thereafter, for a thousand years, they were buried in oblivion. The first and second, if anyone had even thought of them in the Middle Ages, would have been dismissed as ridiculous; the third and fourth as blasphemous. And yet the Latin poem built on these statements somehow survived. That such a book, opposed to all the tenets of medieval Christianity and common sense, should have been laboriously copied out in the ninth century, obviously by monks who understood some of what they read and transcribed, is truly surprising. The poem itself, and the character of its author, are something of a mystery too. But one thing is certain: it is a superb poem and it was written by a great poet. His name was Lucretius. He wrote it about sixty years before the birth of Jesus, and he called it The Nature of Things, i.e., The Nature of the Universe.


The Devils' Cauldron

Arthur Symons (1865-1945), Studies in Seven Arts (New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1907), p. 168 (on the tympanum over the central doorway of Bourges Cathedral):
[T]riumphing devils thrust the sinners, naked, along the road to the bottomless pit. One devil has a second face in his stomach, like the monsters of the Cologne school of painters; another has a tail which ends in a dog's head, reaching forward through his legs and biting the legs of a man in front. Devils with faces full of horrible mirth lift up men and women on their shoulders, and stamp them down into a boiling cauldron; you see the flames underneath, and two devils blowing the bellows. Two toads climb up outside the cauldron; one is in the act of crawling into the mouth of a man, while the other sucks at the breast of a woman. There is a kind of cheerful horror in all these figures in pain; they are rendered calmly, without emotion, without pity.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Duty of a Commentator

Jerome, Letters 37.3.1 (to Marcella; discussing Reticius' commentary on the Song of Songs; my translation):
There are countless things in his commentaries which I thought were paltry. His style, to be sure, is well-ordered and fluent in the high Gallic manner: but what has style to do with a commentator, whose business is not how to make himself appear eloquent, but rather how to make the prospective reader understand the intended meaning of the original writer.

innumerabilia sunt, quae in illius mihi commentariis sordere visa sunt. est sermo quidem conpositus et Gallicano coturno fluens: sed quid ad interpretem, cuius professio est non, quomodo ipse disertus appareat, sed quomodo eum, qui lecturus est, sic faciat intellegere, quomodo intellexit ille, qui scripsit?
Jerome, Letters 49(48).17.7 (to Pammachius; tr. W.H. Fremantle et al.)
A commentator has no business to dilate on his own views; his duty is to make plain the meaning of the author whom he professes to interpret.

commentatoris officium est, non quod ipse velit, sed, quid senitat ille, quem interpretatur, exponere.



Jerome, Letters 22.28.3 (to Eustochium; tr. W.H. Fremantle et al.):
Such men think of nothing but their dress; they use perfumes freely, and see that there are no creases in their leather shoes. Their curling hair shows traces of the tongs; their fingers glisten with rings; they walk on tiptoe across a damp road, not to splash their feet.

omnis his cura de vestibus, si bene oleant, si pes laxa pelle non folleat. crines calamistri vestigio rotantur, digiti de anulis radiant et, ne plantas umidior via spargat, vix imprimunt summa vestigia.


A College Dorm Room

Anonymous, "A Faithful Inventory of the Furniture Belonging to _______ Room in T.C.D. In Imitation of Dr. Swift's Manner. Written in the Year 1725":
—Quaeque ipse miserrima vidi.—VIRG.

Imprimis, there's a table blotted,
A tatter'd hanging all bespotted.
A bed of flocks, as I may rank it,
Reduced to rug and half a blanket.
A tinder-box without a flint,        5
An oaken desk with nothing in't.
A pair of tongs bought from a broker,
A fender and a rusty poker;
A penny pot and basin—this
Design'd for water, that for piss—        10
A broken-winded pair of bellows,
Two knives and forks, but neither fellows;
Item, a surplice, not unmeeting
Either for table cloth or sheeting;
There is likewise a pair of breeches,        15
But patched, and fallen in the stitches,
Hung up in study very little,
Plastered with cobweb and spittle,
An airy prospect all so pleasing,
From my light window without glazing.        20
A trencher and a college bottle,
Piled up on Locke and Aristotle.
A prayer-book which he seldom handles,
A save-all and two farthing candles.
A smutty ballad, musty libel,        25
A Burgersdicius and a Bible.
The C———— Seasons and the Senses
By Overton, to save expenses.
Item, (if I am not much mistaken,)
A mouse-trap with a bit of bacon.        30
A candlestick without a snuffer,
Whereby his fingers often suffer.
Two odd old shoes I should not skip here,
Each strapless serves instead of slippers.
And chairs a couple, I forgot 'em,         35
But each of them without a bottom.
Thus I in rhyme have comprehended
His goods, and so my schedule's ended.
This appears in The Poems of Thomas Sheridan, ed. Robert Hogan (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), pp. 242-243, as part of Appendix III ("Poems of Doubtful Attribution") but I don't own the book and only p. 242 (the first 28 lines) is visible to me on Google Books. It used to be printed among Swift's poems. Some notes:

T.C.D.: Trinity College, Dublin
Quaeque ipse miserrima vidi: Vergil, Aeneid 2.5 (and which most wretched things I myself witnessed)
1 blotted: ink-stained
2 hanging: tapestry
   bespotted: some editions have besnotted
3 flocks: "A material consisting of the coarse tufts and refuse of wool or cotton, or of cloth torn to pieces by machinery, used for quilting garments, and stuffing beds, cushions, mattresses, etc." (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. flock, sense 2.a)
8 fender: "A metal frame placed in front of a fire to keep falling coals from rolling out into the room" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 3.a)
13 unmeeting: unfit, unsuitable
17 study: closet, cupboard
21 trencher: plate
24 save-all: "A holder or fitting in which the last of a candle may be burnt to the end, typically consisting of a small pan with a projecting spike on which to fix the candle" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 1.b)
26 Burgersdicius: Franciscus Burgersdicius (1590-1635), whose Institutionum logicarum libri duo was a college textbook
30 Overton: John Overton (1640-1708), seller of mezzotints


Academic Writing

Camille Paglia, from Sean Salai, "The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia," America (February 25, 2015):
I have always written for a general audience interested in ideas. I believe culture critics should address the reader in a lucid, vivid and engaging manner. In college, I was very drawn to the lively, transparent writing style of early 20th-century British classicists like Gilbert Murray and C.M. Bowra. Academic writing needs to purge itself of its present provincialism, insularity and pseudo-French preciocity and recover the colloquial robustness and earthy rhythms of natural English.
Following my culture-hero, Oscar Wilde, I do not subscribe to the implicitly moralistic assumption that literature or art "teaches" us anything. It simply opens up our vision to a larger world—or allows us to see that world through a different lens. Greco-Roman culture, which is fast receding in American higher education, is one of the two foundational traditions of Western civilization, the other being the Judeo-Christian. These traditions twined about and influenced each other for centuries and produced the titanic complexity of the West, for good and ill. To ignore or minimize the Greco-Roman past is to put intellectual blinders on—but that is exactly what has been happening as colleges are gradually abandoning the big, chronological, two-semester freshman survey courses that once heavily emphasized classical antiquity. The trajectory is toward "presentism," a myopic concentration on society since the Renaissance—a noble, humanistic term, by the way, that is being ruthlessly discarded for the blobby new Marxist entity, "Early Modern."
Hat tip: Daniel Orazio.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Who Is the Apostate?

The Roman Emperor Julian is usually called the Apostate, for rejecting the Christian religion in which he was raised. But in a sly dig, Anatole France (1844-1924), The White Stone, tr. Charles E. Roche (London: John Lane, 1905), p. 136, called the Emperor Constantine the Apostate, because he abandoned the pagan religion of his forefathers in favor of Christianity:
The Emperor Julian, who restored to the Empire its old religion, which had been abolished by Constantine the Apostate, is justly regarded as an opponent of the Galilean.
The French:
L'empereur Julien, qui rétablit la vieille religion de l'Empire abolie par Constantin l'Apostat, passe avec raison pour un adversaire du Galiléen.


Lotism, Lottism, and Lottsism

Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012), The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (1975; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1996), pp. 206-207 (footnote omitted):
It is easy to forget that the majority of the people living on earth still lived and died where they had been born, or, more precisely, that their movements were no greater or no different from what they would have been before the Industrial Revolution. There were certainly more people in the world who resembled the French, 88 per cent of whom in 1861 lived in the département of their birth — in the Lot département 97 per cent in the parish of their birth — than resembled more mobile and migratory populations.
Memoirs of the Life of John Constable Esq. R.A. Composed Chiefly of his Letters by C.R. Leslie, R.A., 2nd ed. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1845) p. 49:
Willy Lott's House is situated on the edge of the river, close to Flatford Mill. It is a principal object in many of Constable's pictures; but the most exact view of it occurs in the one engraved for the 'English Landscape,' with the title of 'A Mill Stream,' and is taken from the front of the mill, the wheel of which occasions the ripple seen on the surface of the water. Willy Lott, its possessor, was born in it; and it is said, has passed more than eighty years without having spent four whole days away from it.
Flora Drury, "Great-grandmother who lived her whole life in the same cottage dies aged 104 in the home she cherished so dearly," Daily Mail (March 9, 2016):
Great-grandmother Ena Brown was born Georgina Lotts in January 1912, in the same small Hampshire cottage where she would live her whole life, and where she died last Thursday, surrounded by her family.


Read Him, Not About Him

Edward Dahlberg (1900-1977), Alms for Oblivion (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964), p. 17:
[Sherwood] Anderson did not have the speculative intellect of a Plato, but he had the natural integrity of a fine elm, or a fertile sow, or a potato; he had a burly, carnal mind which was always very close to his urgent, lustful hands and nose, and his books he begat, rather than wrote.
Id., p. 19:
The way to understand a man like Anderson is not to read about him but to read him. Reading him, you find that all those workinghand words of his are redolent of hay and grass and midwest stables. Get Winesburg, Ohio, or Poor White, or Tar, or the Notebook, or his still unrecognized verse, A New Testament and Mid-American Chants. Anderson's books have the heady pollen of good orchards. Aristotle says that the pleasure we take in smelling apples is good, but that an interest in unguents is a sign of debauchery.
The reference is to Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.10.5 (1118a; tr. W.D. Ross):
We do not call those self-indulgent who delight in the odour of apples or roses or incense, but rather those who delight in the odour of unguents or of dainty dishes.

τοὺς γὰρ χαίροντας μήλων ἢ ῥόδων ἢ θυμιαμάτων ὀσμαῖς οὐ λέγομεν ἀκολάστους, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον τοὺς μύρων ἢ ὄψων.
"The way to understand a man like Anderson is not to read about him but to read him"—excellent counsel! Read Homer, not books about Homer, Plato, not books about Plato, etc.

Related posts:


Food of Demons

Jerome, Letters 21.13.4 (to Damasus; tr. Charles Christopher Mierow):
The food of the demons is the songs of poets, secular wisdom, the display of rhetorical language. These delight all with their sweetness; but while they captivate the ears with fluent verses of charming rhythm, they penetrate the soul as well and bind the inmost affections. But when they have been read with the greatest enthusiasm and effort, they afford their readers nothing more than empty sound and the hubbub of words. No satisfaction of truth, no refreshment of justice is found. They who are zealous for these things continue to hunger for truth, to lack virtue.

daemonum cibus est carmina poetarum, saecularis sapientia, rhetoricorum pompa verborum. haec sua omnes suavitate delectant et, dum aures dulci versibus modulatione currentibus capiunt, animam quoque penetrant et pectoris interna devinciunt. verum ubi cum summo studio fuerint ac labore perlecta, nihil aliud nisi inanem sonum et sermonum strepitum suis lectoribus tribuunt; nulla ibi saturitas veritatis, nulla iustitiae refectio reperitur. studiosi earum in fame veri, in virtutum penuria perseverant.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


A Terrible Decline

Edward Dahlberg (1900-1977), Alms for Oblivion (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964), pp. 28-29:
Many people assume that one age is not worse than another, and that men are not more rigidly ruled by conscience in one generation than in succeeding ones. We have been witnessing a terrible decline in government, scruples, morals, and education. Who can compare the present men in Washington with Jefferson at Monticello, going about in a soiled dressing gown, and in rubbishy house-slippers, maintaining his residence only because his creditors were kind? What rough frontier Seneca can take the place alongside Andrew Jackson who returned to the Hermitage in Tennessee with ninety dollars in his wallet? God bless a humble, democratic indigence, for it is the parent of probity. We look in vain for a Cicero, a much-maligned Andrew Johnson, or even the terrible bigot of the reconstruction period, Thaddeus Stevens, who at least had character if not wisdom. What we require, as Kierkegaard wrote, is not a new form of government, but another Socrates.

The first thought that comes to mind is that a people who are continually demolishing old landmarks — the white farmhouse, the brownstones — where native genius and spirit once dwelt, are more prepared for war than for peace. No country has suffered so much from the ruins of war while being at peace as the American. There are Mexican laws forbidding avaricious and predatory realtors from erecting homes or offices or business places that do not conform with the character of the adobe dwellings in Taxco or in Cuernavaca. In Paris what an ease it is to memory, the heart's honeycomb, to see the many memorial plaques to Heine, to Berlioz, to Balzac, or the building where Strindberg once lived. At 137 Waverly Place, Poe composed some of his works. The rather dilapidated structure is occupied by a Mexican restaurant, and there is nothing on the bricks but grim vacancy. "Lo, the past is prophecy," said Herman Melville.

Students learn more reverence, homage, and courtesy from contemplating a house, a room, or a desk used by a Melville, a Whitman, a Poe, than from a congealed, academic reading of the Iliad, or "Ligeia." A nation that destroys old landmarks and sacral places eradicates love and learning.
Hat tip: Patrick Kurp.



Walt Whitman (1819-1892), "By Blue Ontario's Shore," § 4:
Piety and conformity to them that like,
Peace, obesity, allegiance, to them that like,
I am he who tauntingly compels men, women, nations,
Crying, Leap from your seats and contend for your lives!
Obesity makes little or no sense to me here. Did Whitman mean obeisancy, a rare variant of the noun obeisance? He used the recherché adjective obeisant in "Proud Music of the Storm," § 13.


Wine versus Beer

Greek Anthology 9.368 (by the Emperor Julian; tr. W.R. Paton, with his note):
Who and whence art thou, Dionysus? For, by the true Bacchus,
I know thee not: I know only the son of Zeus.
He smells of nectar, but thou of billy-goat. Did the Celts
for lack of grapes make thee out of corn?
Then thou shouldst be called Demetrius, not Dionysus,        5
being born of corn, rather than of the fire, and Bromus1 rather than Bromius.

1 "Bromus" is the Greek for oats; Bromius is a common title of Dionysus, derived probably from "bromus" = noise. In πῡρογενῆ, "wheat-born," there is a play on πῠρογενῆ, "fire-born."

τίς πόθεν εἶς, Διόνυσε; μὰ γὰρ τὸν ἀληθέα Βάκχον,
    οὔ σ᾿ ἐπιγιγνώσκω· τὸν Διὸς οἶδα μόνον.
κεῖνος νέκταρ ὄδωδε, σὺ δὲ τράγον· ἦ ῥά σε Κελτοὶ
    ἠπανίῃ βοτρύων τεῦξαν ἀπ᾿ ἀσταχύων.
τῷ σε χρὴ καλέειν Δημήτριον, οὐ Διόνυσον,        5
    πυρογενῆ μᾶλλον καὶ Βρόμον, οὐ Βρόμιον.
Text and commentary in D.L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 571-572, who remarks (at 571), "All that is known of beer in antiquity, including a recipe for making it, is assembled and discussed by the learned Olck in RE 3.457-63..." But now we have Max Nelson, The Barbarian's Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe (London: Routledge, 2005), who discusses "The Greek Prejudice against Beer" on pp. 25-37 and also (at 31) points out another pun in line 3 of Julian's epigram: τράγος in Greek can mean not only the foul-smelling billy-goat but also spelt, a grain used in the making of beer.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Hatred of Short Answers

Augustine, Letters 98.7-8 (to Boniface; tr. Marcus Dods):
Thereafter you add this sentence in conclusion: "To these questions I pray you to condescend to give me a short reply, not silencing me by the traditional authority of custom, but satisfying me by arguments addressed to my reason." [8] While reading this letter of yours over and over again, and pondering its contents so far as my limited time permitted, memory recalled to me my friend Nebridius, who, while he was a most diligent and eager student of difficult problems, especially in the department of Christian doctrine, had an extreme aversion to the giving of a short answer to a great question. If any one insisted upon this, he was exceedingly displeased; and if he was not prevented by respect for the age or rank of the person, he indignantly rebuked such a questioner by stern looks and words; for he considered him unworthy to be investigating matters such as these, who did not know how much both might be said and behoved to be said on a subject of great importance.

deinde scripta tua concludens, adiungis et dicis: 'ad istas ergo quaestiones peto breviter respondere digneris, ita ut non mihi de consuetudine praescribas, sed rationem reddas.' [8] his litteris tuis lectis et relectis et, quantum sinebant temporis angustiae, consideratis recordatus sum Nebridium amicum meum, qui cum esset rerum obscurarum ad doctrinam pietatis maxime pertinentium diligentissimus et acerrimus inquisitor, valde oderat de quaestione magna responsionem brevem. et quisquis hoc poposcisset, aegerrime ferebat eumque, si eius persona pateretur, vultu indignabundus et voce cohibebat indignum deputans, qui talia quaereret, cum, de re tanta quam multa dici possent deberentque, nesciret.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Reading List

Erasmus, De Ratione Studii 3, tr. William Harrison Woodward, Desiderius Erasmus Concerning the Aim and Method of Education (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1904), pp. 163-164:
But I must make my conviction clear that, whilst a knowledge of the rules of accidence and syntax is most necessary to every student, still they should be as few, as simple, and as carefully framed as possible. I have no patience with the stupidity of the average teacher of grammar who wastes precious years in hammering rules into children's heads.

For it is not by learning rules that we acquire the power of speaking a language, but by daily intercourse with those accustomed to express themselves with exactness and refinement, and by the copious reading of the best authors. Upon this latter point we do well to choose such works as are not only sound models of style but are instructive by reason of their subject-matter. The Greek prose-writers whom I advise are, in order, Lucian, Demosthenes, Herodotus: the poets, Aristophanes, Homer, Euripides; Menander, if we possessed his works, would take precedence of all three. Amongst Roman writers, in prose and verse, Terence, for pure, terse Latinity has no rival, and his plays are never dull. I see no objection to adding carefully chosen comedies of Plautus. Next, I place Vergil, then Horace; Cicero and Caesar follow closely; and Sallust after these. These authors provide, in my judgment, sufficient reading to enable the young student to acquire a working knowledge of the two great classical tongues.


For I affirm that with slight qualification the whole of attainable knowledge lies enclosed within the literary monuments of ancient Greece. This great inheritance I will compare to a limpid spring of whose undefiled waters it behoves all who truly thirst to drink and be restored.
The Latin, ed. Jean-Claude Margolin, from Erasmus, Opera Omnia, I.2 (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1971), pp. 115-116:
Verum vt huiusmodi praecepta fateor necessaria, ita velim esse, quoad fieri possit, quam paucissima, modo sint optima. Nec vnquam probaui literatorum vulgus qui pueros in his inculcandis complures annos remorantur.

Nam vera emendate loquendi facultas optime paratur, cum ex castigate loquentium colloquio conuictuque, tum ex eloquentium auctorum assidua lectione, e quibus ii primum sunt imbibendi, quorum oratio, praeterquam quod est castigatissima, argumenti quoque illecebra aliqua discentibus blandiatur. Quo quidem in genere primas tribuerim Luciano, alteras Demostheni, tertias Herodoto. Rursum ex poetis primas Aristophani, alteras Homero, tertias Euripidi. Nam Menandrum, cui vel primas daturus eram, desideramus. Rursum inter latinos quis vtilior loquendi auctor quam Terentius? Purus, tersus et quotidiano sermoni proximus, tum ipso quoque argumenti genere iucundus adolescentiae. Huic si quis aliquot selectas Plauti comoedias putet addendas quae vacent obscoenitate, equidem nihil repugno. Proximus locus erit Vergilio, tertius Horatio, quartus Ciceroni, quintus C. Caesari. Salustium si quis adiungendum arbitrabitur, cum hoc non magnopere contenderim, atque hos quidem ad vtriusque linguae cognitionem satis esse duco.


[V]erum ex instituto omnis fere rerum scientia a graecis auctoribus petenda est. Nam vnde tandem haurias vel purius, vel citius, vel iucundius quam ab ipsis fontibus?


Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Augustine, De Utilitate Credendi 16.34 (tr. Charles Lewis Cornish):
For the interchanges of day and night, and the settled order of things in Heaven, the revolution of years divided into four parts, the fall and return of leaves to trees, the boundless power of seeds, the beauty of light, the varieties of colors, sounds, tastes, and scents, let there be some one who shall see and perceive them for the first time, and yet such an one as we may converse with; he is stupified and overwhelmed with miracles: but we contemn all these, not because they are easy to understand, (for what more obscure than the causes of these?) but surely because they constantly meet our senses.

nam diei et noctis, vices, et constantissimum ordinem rerum caelestium, annorum quadrifariam conversionem, decidentes redeuntesque frondes arboribus, infinitam vim seminum, pulchritudinem lucis, colorum, sonorum, odorum, saporumque varietates, da qui primum videat atque sentiat, cum quo tamen loqui possimus; hebescit obruiturque miraculis: nos vero haec omnia, non cognoscendi facilitate — quid enim causis horum obscurius? — sed certe sentiendi assiduitate contemnimus.
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