Thursday, September 21, 2017


The Incubus of Research

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), "Interim Report," Present Concerns, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., c1986), pp. 92-99 (at 98-99):
The other evil (in my view) is the incubus of "Research". The system was, I believe, first devised to attract the Americans and to emulate the scientists. But the wisest Americans are themselves already sick of it; as one of them said to me "I guess we got to come to giving every citizen a Ph.D shortly after birth, same as baptism and vaccination." And it is surely clear by now that the needs of the humanities are different from those of the sciences. In science, I gather, a young man fresh from his First in the Tripos can really share in the work of one of his seniors in a way that is useful to himself and even to the subject. But this is not true of the man who has just got his First in English or Modern Languages. Such a man, far from being able or anxious (he is by definition no fool) to add to the sum of human knowledge, wants to acquire a good deal more of the knowledge we already have. He has lately begun to discover how many more things he needs to know in order to follow up his budding interests; that he needs economics, or theology, or philosophy, or archaeology (and always a few more languages). To head him off from these studies, to pinfold him in some small inquiry whose chief claim often is that no one has ever made it before, is cruel and frustrating. It wastes such years as he will never have again; for an old proverb says that "All the speed is in the morning". What keeps the system going is the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to get an academic job without a "research degree". Can the two ancient universities do anything by combining to break down this bad usage?
I'm reminded of William M. Calder III, "Benedict Einarson," Gnomon 51 (1979) 207-208 (at 207):
He told me aged 25 that I must write nothing until 40 for I would not know enough. Sound advice and true but I should be a schoolteacher today had I followed it.
Hat tip: George Gaiennie.


Read and Reread

Leo Spitzer (1887-1960), "Linguistics and Literary History," Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948; rpt. 2015), pp. 1-39 (at 27):
[H]ow often, with all the theoretical experience of method accumulated in me over the years, have I stared blankly, quite similar to one of my beginning students, at a page that would not yield its magic. The only way leading out of this state of unproductivity is to read and reread, patiently and confidently, in an endeavor to become, as it were, soaked through and through with the atmosphere of the work. And suddenly one word, one line, stands out, and we realize that, now, a relationship has been established between the poem and us. From this point, I have usually found that, what with other observations adding themselves to the first, and with previous experiences of the circles intervening, and with associations given by previous education building up before me (all of this quickened, in my own case, by a quasi-metaphysical urge toward solution) it does not seem long until the characteristic "click" occurs, which is the indication that detail and whole have found a common denominator — which gives the etymology of the writing. And looking back on this process (whose end, of course, marks only the conclusion of the preliminary stage of analysis), how can we say when exactly it began? (Even the "first step" was preconditioned.) We see, indeed, that to read is to have read, to understand is equivalent to having understood.
Ian Jackson (per litteras), in response to my query about Spitzer's unusual use of the word etymology:
Spitzer's usage certainly seems rare, as he seems to realize by putting the word in quotation marks in the appended footnote (no.19 on p.38), but is consistent with his usage of "etymon" on page 11 ("the common spiritual etymon, the psychological root"). The OED does, however, give one or two citations not linked to words — see 2a (a), where the quotation from 1604 simply says "true expounding" and from 1681, "true explanation of interpretation of a thing". Using the latter gloss, the relevant phrase could be re-written as "detail and whole have found a common denominator — which gives the true interpretation of the writing".

Wednesday, September 20, 2017



Petronius, Satyricon 108.10, text and translation from the Loeb Classical Library edition by Michael Heseltine, rev. E.H Warmington (1969; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 260-261:
Tunc fortissimus Giton ad virilia sua admovit novaculam infestam, minatus se abscisurum tot miseriarum causam...

Then the gallant Giton turned a razor against his genitals and threatened to put an end to our troubles by self-mutilation...
The translation has suffered some mutilation. It omits infestam (= harmful, dangerous, modifying razor), which is Pithoeus' correction for the infertam or insertam of the manuscripts.

There was even more mutilation in Heseltine's original 1922 translation, which cut out genitals (virilia) altogether:
Then the gallant Giton turned a razor on himself and threatened to put an end to our troubles by self-mutilation...


Term of Abuse

Michael Holquist, "Forgetting Our Name, Remembering Our Mother," PMLA 115.7 (December, 2000) 1975-1977 (at 1976):
Philology is widely thought to be dead. Moreover, her corpse, like that of Father Zosima, gives off an unpleasant odor. Her name has become a term of abuse. "Philologist" is what you call the dull boys and girls of the profession.
The American Philological Association, a few years ago, changed its name to The Society for Classical Studies.


Near-Death Experience

Emilio Segrè (1905-1989), A Mind Always in Motion: The Autobiography of Emilio Segrè (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 121-122:
While at Civitavecchia, in the deep of night, I received a telephone call with the news that my father, who was at Tivoli with my mother, had been taken gravely ill. Shortly thereafter Bindo Rimini arrived by car and took me to Tivoli, where I found my mother, Riccardo Rimini, and Marco. My father was in a coma, and according to Riccardo, an excellent doctor whom we all trusted, there was little hope of his surviving. A few hours passed, and the situation was unchanged. Somehow rumors of my father's state spread, and people from the paper mill and city authorities made discreet, concerned inquiries. Somebody even started thinking about funeral arrangements.

No signs of improvement appeared. In the afternoon, the patient, still in a coma, passed a lot of wind, and then loudly and clearly spoke some famous lines from Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (my translation):
The raucous sound of the Tartarean bugle
Calls the inhabitants of the eternal shadows.
My mother, who was at her husband's bedside, almost fainted. We all rushed in, and to everybody's amazement, my father regained consciousness. In a few hours he was greatly improved. For about a week he slightly dragged one leg in walking, but soon he totally recovered, without visible trace of what had happened in either body or mind. We had been terribly scared. My father's comment was: "Now I know what there is in the beyond: nothing."
Tasso in the Italian (Canto IV, 3:1-2):
Chiama gli abitator de l'ombre eterne
il rauco suon de la tartarea tromba.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Death Knell.



Joy Over the Captured Worm

Friedrich Nietzsche, letter to Erwin Rohde (November 20, 1868; tr. Christopher Middleton):
To see again from close at hand the seething brood of the philologists of our time, and every day having to observe all their moleish pullulating, the baggy cheeks and the blind eyes, their joy at capturing worms and their indifference to the true problems, the urgent problems of life — not only the young ones doing it, but also the old, full-grown ones — all this makes me see more and more clearly that the two of us, if this is to be our only means of remaining true to the spirit in us, shall not go our way in life without a variety of offenses and intrigues.

Jetzt wo ich wieder das wimmelnde Philologengezücht unserer Tage aus der Nähe sehe, wo ich das ganze Maulwurfstreiben, die vollen Backentaschen und die blinden Augen, die Freude ob des erbeuteten Wurms und die Gleichgültigkeit gegen die wahren, ja aufdringlichen Probleme des Lebens täglich beobachten muß und nicht nur an der jungen Brut, sondern an den ausgewachsenen Alten: da kommt es mir immer begreiflicher vor, daß wir beide, falls wir nur sonst unserm Genius treu bleiben, nicht ohne mannichfache Anstöße und Quertreibereien unsern Lebensweg gehen werden.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Wise Counsel

Persius 5.151 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with her note):
Enjoy yourself,35 let's grab our pleasures.

35 Lit. "give your Genius (i.e. appetites) free play."

indulge genio, carpamus dulcia.
R.A. Harvey ad loc.:

As preserved in Montpellier, Bibliothèque universitaire de médecine, ms. 125 (9th century, aka Codex Pithoeanus), fol. 11r (click twice with Chrome browser to enlarge):


Aversion to Bird Song

Obituary of Francis Jacox (1825-1897), in The Eagle: A Magazine Supported by Members of St. John's College 20 (1898) 90-91 (at 90):
He was of somewhat eccentric habits, living almost altogether by himself and avoiding those who lived with him. Latterly his household consisted of but one old housekeeper who often did not see him for days, leaving his meals outside his study or bedroom door. Oddly enough although otherwise fond of country life he detested the song and sounds of birds. He kept a long pole in his bedroom with which he used to frighten away the starlings, which gathered about the eaves and gutters of his cottage, by protruding it through the open window as he lay in bed in the morning.
In the same magazine, there are some verses "Ad Poetas Aquilinos" by "The Wollerer's Ghost" (pp. 22-24), with the following good advice:
At least avoid one subject: 'tis the curse
Of modern, and especially minor verse,—
Yourself: pray don't indecently expose
Your naked soul, with all its passion-throes,
Its chance abrasions, and its foolish fears,
Its whines, its wrigglings, and its sloppy tears.
If passion's pains press potent on your chest,
Sing of your supper: we'll infer the rest.

Then be more private; show not every eye
Your heart's uncouth ill-oiled machinery.
'A human document'? Come, take the hint:
It doesn't follow that it's fit to print.
Joel Eidsath (per litteras) thinks that Robert Henry Forster (1867-1923) wrote these verses, and I think he's right.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Must and Mould

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Untimely Meditations (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen), II: "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life" ("Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben"), § 3 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Antiquarian history itself degenerates from the moment it is no longer animated and inspired by the fresh life of the present. Its piety withers away, the habit of scholarliness continues without it and rotates in egoistic self-satisfaction around its own axis. Then there appears the repulsive spectacle of a blind rage for collecting, a restless raking together of everything that has ever existed. Man is encased in the stench of must and mould; through the antiquarian approach he succeeds in reducing even a more creative disposition, a nobler desire, to an insatiable thirst for novelty, or rather for antiquity and for all and everything; often he sinks so low that in the end he is content to gobble down any food whatever, even the dust of bibliographical minutiae.

Die antiquarische Historie entartet selbst in dem Augenblicke, in dem das frische Leben der Gegenwart sie nicht mehr beseelt und begeistert. Jetzt dorrt die Pietät ab, die gelehrtenhafte Gewöhnung besteht ohne sie fort und dreht sich egoistisch—selbstgefällig um ihren eignen Mittelpunkt. Dann erblickt man wohl das widrige Schauspiel einer blinden Sammelwuth, eines rastlosen Zusammenscharrens alles einmal Dagewesenen. Der Mensch hüllt sich in Moderduft; es gelingt ihm selbst eine bedeutendere Anlage, ein edleres Bedürfniss durch die antiquarische Manier zu unersättlicher Neubegier, richtiger Alt- und Allbegier herabzustimmen; oftmals sinkt er so tief, dass er zuletzt mit jeder Kost zufrieden ist und mit Lust selbst den Staub bibliographischer Quisquilien frisst.


Either This or Upon This

Plutarch, Moralia 241 F (Sayings of Spartan Women; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt with his note):
Another, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, "Either this or upon this."b

b Referred to Gorgo as the author by Aristotle in his Aphorisms, as quoted by Stobaeus, Florilegium, vii.31, but it is often spoken of as a regular Spartan custom. Cf., for example, the scholium on Thucydides, ii.39.

Ancient writers were not agreed whether the second half meant to fall upon the shield (dead or wounded) or to be brought home dead upon it. In support of the second (traditional) interpretation cf. Moralia, 235A, and Valerius Maximus, II.7, ext. 2.

ἄλλη προσαναδιδοῦσα τῷ παιδὶ τὴν ἀσπίδα καὶ παρακελευομένη, "τέκνον," ἔφη, "ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς."
Items confiscated by St. Louis police from rioter:

Valerius Maximus 2.7 ext. 2 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
They were not surprised at the general's precept, remembering the maternal coaxing whereby those going forth to battle were told to come back to their mothers' sight alive with their shields or be brought back upon them dead. That was the watchword the Spartan warriors received within the walls of their homes before they fought.

idque a duce praecipi non mirabantur, maternarum blanditiarum memores quibus exituri ad proeliandum monebantur ut aut vivi cum armis in conspectum earum venirent aut mortui in armis referrentur. hoc intra domesticos parietes accepto signo Spartanae acies dimicabant.
See Mason Hammond, "A Famous Exemplum of Spartan Toughness," Classical Journal 75.2 (December 1979-January 1980) 97-109.

Dear Mr. Gilleland,

With regard to your recent post on Spartan women, you might be interested in this monument on the campus of Penn State, commemorating a fallen graduate. It’s a beautiful monument. I pass it 3 times a week on my way to class. It represents a shield, surmounted by the motto.

John Repsher

The fallen graduate is Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN (1976-2005):


A House Full of Books

Saraband: The Memoirs of E.L. Mascall (Leominster: Gracewing, 1992; rpt. 1995), pp. 219-220 (on Claude Jenkins, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford):
His sole extravagance was the purchase of books, of which at his death he had, I believe, thirty thousand. He spent his vacations at either Malvern or Tunbridge Wells, in both of which towns there were secondhand bookshops of which he must have been one of the principal customers. Shortly after his return at the beginning of each term several crates full of spoils would be delivered at his lodging; many of these remained unpacked to the time of his death, for they had simply overwhelmed him. Many of them were the kind of books — Victorian parish histories and the like — which one can hardly imagine anyone wanting but which, if anyone did want them, it might be impossible to find. In spite of its size the house was inadequate to accommodate them; in the corners of each room piles of books were thrown down anyhow like sand in the corner of a builder's yard, and the bath, which was not used for its normal purpose, was a kind of dump for odd printed scraps. It was only just possible to push one's way up the staircase, for on every step there were piles of books extending high out of reach; in fact the view of the staircase-wall reminded me of a sectional diagram of geological strata in an atlas, and one could see how the conformation had readjusted itself after a cataclysm had occurred through a removal of the book from one of its lower levels. He was very indignant at the suggestion that books were ever stolen from libraries and insisted that apparent thefts were in fact cases of absent-mindedness; this may be true to some extent, for it would be absurd to give any other explanation for the books which were found in his house after his death. He once showed me a book which contained the plate of a well-known library and in which he had inserted a signed declaration that he had bought it in a shop and not stolen it from the library; otherwise, he said, someone doing research would defame him posthumously. I remarked that I thought this a very poor safeguard, since anyone suspecting him of theft would be equally ready to accuse him of perjury.
Hat tip: Nigel Preston-Jones.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Aftermath of Hurricane Irma


A Petronian Tobspruch

Petronius, Satyricon 92.11:
tanto magis expedit inguina quam ingenia fricare.

expedit Dousa: impedit codd.: impendit: Erhard
In Michael Heseltine's original translation of Petronius for the Loeb Classical Library series (1913), this was left untranslated. In E.H. Warmington's revision (1969), it was translated (with footnote) thus:
So much the greater gain is it to rub groins than geniuses.1

1 The meaning seems to be that it is more important to stir up one's sexual than one's mental powers.
Some have attempted to reproduce the word-play, e.g. J.P. Sullivan:
A polished wick is much more profitable than a polished wit.
Cf. Erich Segal, "Arbitrary Satyricon: Petronius & Fellini," Diacritics 1.1 (Autumn, 1971) 54-57 (at 55):
In life you make it better with a stroke of "penius" than a stroke of genius.
On fricare see J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982; rpt. 1993), p. 184.

Related posts:


A Dying Art

Jonathan Barnes, "Bagpipe music," Topoi 25 (2006) 17–20 (at 17-18; TLG = Thesaurus Linguae Graecae):
You can't do anything at all in ancient philosophy unless you know a bit of Greek and Latin, and you can't do anything worthwhile in ancient philosophy unless you are a semi-decent classical scholar. But classical scholarship is a dying art: there aren't as many scholars as there used to be, and their grasp of the ancient languages and the ancient world weakens and trembles. What's more, fewer and fewer of them care to take up the philosophy of Greece and Rome.

This state of affairs is exacerbated by a device known as the TLG. Load it into your laptop, and you have instant access to virtually the whole of Greek literature. You cut and paste snippets from authors whose very names mean nothing to you. You affirm—and you're right—that a particular word used here by Plato occurs 43 times elsewhere in Greek literature. And you can write an article—or a book—stuffed with prodigious learning. (There are similar things available for Latin.)

The TLG is a lovely little resource (I think that's the word), and I use her all the time. But she's strumpet-tongued: she flatters and she deceives. "What an enormous knowledge you have, my young cock—why not let me make a real scholar of you?" And the young cock crows on his dung-hill: he can cite anything and construe nothing.

"Come, Terence, this is sorry guff ... Exactly a century ago Ingram Bywater wrote this: 'I see the handwriting on the wall everywhere—even in Germany, and am not hopeful as to the future of the old humanities.' How wrong he was. And as for today, see what the editors say in the latest fascicule of the Classical Review: 'for the first time since 2000, the number of items in an issue has topped 200; as usual, the multitude and range testify to the vitality of the discipline.' You see mildew and aphids everywhere; and all the while the roses are blooming in the rose-garden."

Bywater was indeed wrong. (What convinced him that the end was nigh was the fact that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge no longer required students of physics and chemistry to have a firm grounding in Greek.) But today—today things are different. The editors of the Review are whistling in the dark. True, unnumbered slabs of matter are unloaded at the bookshop doors; true, the slabs come in an unprecedentedly broad range of colours. But numbers are no proof of vitality; and the new colours are those of narratology, and metatextuality, and gender studies, and God knows what else.

"Come come, Terence, you're over-egging it. I'll allow that 90% of the books and articles published in ancient philosophy are worthless. But wasn't it always so? I'll allow that there is little which is epoch-making or path-breaking. But epochs aren't made every year nor paths broken once a month. Regard things with a judicious eye: doesn't every year see one or even two thoroughly decent new books, and two or even four thoroughly decent new articles? And were things ever really much better than that?"

Yes, they were. As far as philologically informed work on ancient philosophy is concerned, things were better fifty years ago.

Saturday, September 16, 2017



Robert Byron (1905-1941), The Station: Travels to the Holy Mountain of Greece (1928; rpt. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2011), p. 111:
He was a typical Greek of the middle class, enthralled by politics, religious believer in the Hellenic destiny. Anglophil, anxious to be of assistance, boundlessly conceited, yet, save when enlarging on a favourite subject, unobtrusive. During a conversation, I mistook the meaning of a word for another outside the context in which he had used it. This led him to a new field.

"Every word in Greek," he said, "has ten meanings, and every meaning ten words. You need to know each one. Greek is the most beautiful of all languages. The Bible and all the holy works were written in it."

"The Gospels, for instance," I interpolated, wishing to seem intelligent.

"Yes, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the Theologian all used it. Yet they were not Greeks. But the Holy Ghost descended with the gift of tongues——"

"Ah! Of course, the Holy Ghost was Greek."

Whereat Father Methodius, handing a dish of stuffed tomatoes, exploded into giggles; and the guest, his peroration marred, groaned, protesting and reiterative, that this was not the case. I recount the anecdote with pride, as it is not easy to hoist a Greek neatly on his own petard.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Modern Education

Petronius, Satyricon 88.6 (tr. Michael Heseltine, rev. E.H. Warmington):
We slander the past, and learn and teach nothing but vices.

accusatores antiquitatis vitia tantum docemus et discimus.


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