Monday, June 29, 2015


Thinking about Horace

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Horace," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 130-134 (at 132-133):
I like thinking about Horace. He was a true Epicurean and gave to friendship the prominent place it ought to occupy in a life regulated by that philosophy. I never could regard Lucretius as an Epicurean, though his work is an exposition in verse of that doctrine; partly because among the good things of life which the philosophy of Epicurus leaves intact—perhaps, indeed, throws into brighter relief—which Lucretius dilates upon, he does not celebrate friendship; and partly because the spirit of his work is too tragic, cosmic, momentous, and filled also with a proselytising ardour almost as sombre as the fears it is the poet's object to destroy. Cosmic vision is not for the Epicurean. He should neither love nor hate Nature, nor trouble much to understand her; but like Horace himself enjoy her when he can, and supplement her pleasures or run away from her when they fail him. He cannot run away from death and old age, of course, and the butt-end of the Epicurean life may be seedy, and even rather ridiculous—if its hey-day has been expressively buoyant and chirpy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Vernacchio in Petronius' Satyricon?

Andrea de Jorio (1769-1851), Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity, tr. Adam Kendon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), pp. 118-119:
10. Vernacchio.111 The mouth is inflated with air and held tightly closed; the hand, open, with palm facing downwards, is brought to the upper lip so that it is enclosed between the index finger and the thumb. With the fingers thus arranged on the upper lip, the mouth, already completely full of air, is compressed by a series of repeated blows. This forces the air out of the mouth with a series of noises which are given the name Vernacchio.

In particular, this gesture is used to make fun of those who sing, or who hold forth in some loud discourse of self interest or seriousness, or who talk boastfully, threatening now one, now the other (see Plate IV). Such behaviour is so insulting that it is scarcely used in Naples except by those who belong to the lowest classes of the population.

The idea of mockery, of offense, or rather of insult that is attached to it, derives from the similarity that the noises produced by this movement have with that which nature causes in expelling air closed in our viscera.(a) Since this sound has always been an affront, even if it is not directed to anyone, it is not surprising that a simple imitation of it, produced on purpose, is understood by anybody as an insult.

Was not this the Curtis Judaeis oppedere of Horace? 1.Sat.9.v.70.112 This rude gesture also has a diminutive form. This is done by simply placing the upper lip between the index and the thumb in the manner described, but without producing any noise with the mouth, even if it is full of air. With somewhat more difficulty and diligence, the same gesture in its complete form can be done in the following way.

11. Palm of the hand placed under the armpit of the opposite arm (see Plate IV). The hand is arranged so that, when compressed with violent blows given to it by the arm, because the air trapped them is pushed out by the force of the blows, it produces the same sound as that obtained by the mouth, but even more stridently. More emphasis is given to this gesture by lifting a little the leg corresponding to the arm that presses the hand. Even if just the first phase of this gesture is performed, it has the same meaning. This may be done simply by bringing a hand under the opposite armpit, and lifting the corresponding leg a little and adding, further, an ironic expression on the face. We have proof that the ancients knew of the present gesture (the original form is understood) in Petronius [Satyricon]. c. 117. Nec contentus maledictis (Encolpius), tollebat subinde altius pedem, et strepitu obscoeno simul atque odore viam implebat. (Not content with cursing, every so often he [Encolpius] lifted his right leg up and filled the road with obscene sounds and smells.' Trans. Sullivan 1986: 128).

111 Or 'Pernacchio' (D'Ascoli 1990).

(a) Vernacchio: sound that is made with the mouth similar to breaking wind in order to insult someone. Vocabolario Napoletano [Galiani 1789b, Tomo II, p. 184].

112 Vin tu curtis Iudais oppedere? "Would you affront the circumcised Jews?' (Fairclough 1926: 111). This is said by Aristius Fuscus, a friend who Horace happens to meet while he, Horace, is in the company of someone he wishes to be rid of. He hopes that Fuscus will save him by saying he has some private business with him. Fuscus says he does have something to tell him in private, but will not do it today, for it is the "thirtieth sabbath."
Plate IV, from the original La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire napoletano (Napoli: Dalla Stamperia e Cartiera del Fibreno, 1832):

De Jorio's comment on Plate IV (in Adam Kendon's translation, p. 418):
Two rash youths of the class of those who are often known as lazzaroni, wishing to make fun of the clothes of the two country people, old-fashioned to their way of thinking, make use of their usual rather indecent means of doing so, which they call vernacchio (see Beffegiare 'Joking, teasing' n. 10).

Both accompany the said insult with lifting a leg. This serves to make a closer imitation of the action that commonly is associated with the Vernacchio, and it is a sign of what, in the natural case, is discharged through the usual channel.
De Jorio's interpretation of the passage from Petronius is accepted by M.L. Wagner, "Über die Unterlagen der romanischen Phraseologie (im Anschluss an des Petronius' Satyricon)," Volkstum und Kultur der Romanen 6 (1933) 1-26 (at 7-8), and by Leo Spitzer, "Neapolitan pernacchia," Language 14.4 (October-December, 1938) 289 (where "Andrea de Torio" should be corrected to "Andrea de Jorio").

But I would raise two points in connection with the passage from Petronius. First (a minor point), Corax, not Encolpius, is the subject of the sentence "Nec contentus maledictis tollebat subinde altius pedem, et strepitu obscoeno simul atque odore viam implebat." Second, the words "atque odore" make it clear that Petronius is describing not an imitation of farting (the vernacchio), but actual farting. On the other hand, Giton's reaction to Corax's farting may in fact be an example of vernacchio:
ridebat contumaciam Giton et singulos crepitus eius pari clamore prosequebatur.
In Michael Heseltine's translation:
Giton laughed at his impudence and matched every noise he made.
The phrase "pari clamore" indicates that Giton, with his mouth, is imitating the actual farts of Corax.

In the movie L'Oro di Napoli, there is an amusing scene that features the vernacchio:
Thanks very much to Ian Jackson (and his wife Ann) for help with this post.


Friday, June 26, 2015


Rather Useless Individuals

George Santayana, letter to Henry Ward Abbot (August 16, 1886):
But there are always a few men whose main interest is to note the aspects of things in an artistic or philosophical way. They are rather useless individuals, but as I happen to belong to the class, I think them much superior to the rest of mankind.


A Sort of Intemperance

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 88.36-37 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
This desire to know more than is sufficient is a sort of intemperance. Why? Because this unseemly pursuit of the liberal arts makes men troublesome, wordy, tactless, self-satisfied bores, who fail to learn the essentials just because they have learned the non-essentials. Didymus the scholar wrote four thousand books. I should feel pity for him if he had only read the same number of superfluous volumes. In these books he investigates Homer's birthplace, who was really the mother of Aeneas, whether Anacreon was more of a rake or more of a drunkard, whether Sappho was a bad lot, and other problems the answers to which, if found, were forthwith to be forgotten. Come now, do not tell me that life is long!

Plus scire velle quam sit satis, intemperantiae genus est. Quid? Quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria, quia supervacua didicerunt. Quattuor milia librorum Didymus grammaticus scripsit. Misererer si tam multa supervacua legisset. In his libris de patria Homeri quaeritur, in his de Aeneae matre vera, in his libidinosior Anacreon an ebriosior vixerit, in his an Sappho publica fuerit, et alia quae erant dediscenda, si scires. I nunc et longam esse vitam nega!
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Thursday, June 25, 2015



Sophocles, Ajax 668-677 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
They are commanders, so that we must bow to them, how else? Why, the most formidable and the most powerful of things bow to office; winter's snowy storms make way before summer with its fruits, and night's dread circle moves aside for day drawn by white horses to make her lights blaze; and the blast of fearful winds lulls to rest the groaning sea, and all-powerful Sleep releases those whom he has bound, nor does he hold his prisoners forever. And how shall we not come to know how to be sensible?
The same, tr. R.C. Jebb:
They are rulers, so we must submit. How else? Dread things and things most potent bow to office; thus it is that snow-strewn winter gives place to fruitful summer; and thus night's weary round makes room for day with her white steeds to kindle light; and the breath of dreadful winds can allow the groaning sea to slumber; and, like the rest, almighty Sleep looses whom he has bound, nor holds with a perpetual grasp. And we—must we not learn discretion?
The Greek:
ἄρχοντές εἰσιν, ὥσθ᾿ ὑπεικτέον. τί μήν;
καὶ γὰρ τὰ δεινὰ καὶ τὰ καρτερώτατα
τιμαῖς ὑπείκει· τοῦτο μὲν νιφοστιβεῖς        670
χειμῶνες ἐκχωροῦσιν εὐκάρπῳ θέρει·
ἐξίσταται δὲ νυκτὸς αἰανὴς κύκλος
τῇ λευκοπώλῳ φέγγος ἡμέρᾳ φλέγειν·
δεινῶν δ᾿ ἄημα πνευμάτων ἐκοίμισε
στένοντα πόντον· ἐν δ᾿ ὁ παγκρατὴς Ὕπνος        675
λύει πεδήσας, οὐδ᾿ ἀεὶ λαβὼν ἔχει·
ἡμεῖς δὲ πῶς οὐ γνωσόμεσθα σωφρονεῖν;

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Pliny the Elder

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Parerga und Paralipomena, Bd. II: Vereinzelte, jedoch systematisch geordnete Gedanken über vielerlei Gegenstände, Kap. XXI ("Ueber Gelehrsamkeit und Gelehrte"), § 251 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
Even when it is reported of the elder Pliny that he was always reading or being read to, at table, when travelling, or in his bath, the question suggests itself to me whether the man was so lacking in ideas of his own that those of others had to be incessantly imparted to him, just as a consommé is given to a man suffering from consumption in order to keep him alive. Neither his undiscerning gullibility, nor his inexpressibly repulsive, almost unintelligible, paper-saving, notebook style is calculated to give me a high opinion of his ability to think for himself.

Sogar wenn vom ältern Plinius berichtet wird, daß er beständig las, oder sich vorlesen ließ, bei Tische, auf Reisen, im Bade, so dringt sich mir die Frage auf, ob denn der Mann so großen Mangel an eigenen Gedanken gehabt habe, daß ihm ohne Unterlaß fremde eingeflößt werden mußten, wie dem an der Auszehrung Leidenden ein consommé, ihn am Leben zu erhalten. Und von seinem Selbstdenken mir hohe Begriffe zu geben ist weder seine urtheilslose Leichtgläubigkeit, noch sein unaussprechlich widerwärtiger, schwer verständlicher, papiersparender Kollektaneenstil geeignet.


A Heap of Rubbish

Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Letter on the Deaf and Dumb (tr. Margaret Jourdain):
A mind stored with a huge variety of things is like a library of odd volumes; it is like one of these German compilations bristling with Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, or Latin quotations put together without judgment or taste; which are ponderous as it is, and which will grow more and more ponderous, and grow none the better; a store full of analyses and appreciations and ill-digested works, and shops of mixed goods where the memorandum alone is in order; a commentary where we scarcely ever find what we want, but often what we don't want, and almost always what we want is lost in a heap of rubbish.

Une tête meublée d'un grand nombre de choses disparates est assez semblable à une bibliothèque de volumes dépareillés. C'est une de ces compilations germaniques, hérissées, sans raison et sans goût, d'hébreu, d'arabe, de grec et de latin, qui sont déjà. fort grosses, qui grossissent encore, qui grossiront toujours, et qui n'en seront que plus mauvaises. C'est un de ces magasins remplis d'analyses et de jugements d'ouvrages que l'analyse n'a point entendus; magasins de marchandises mêlées, dont il n'y a proprement que le bordereau qui lui appartienne; c'est un commentaire où l'on rencontre souvent ce qu'on ne cherche point, rarement ce qu'on cherche, et presque toujours les choses dont on a besoin égarées dans la foule des inutiles.


He Never Loses a Moment

Lewis R. Farnell (1856-1934), An Oxonian Looks Back (London: Martin Hopkinson, 1934), p. 88:
But apart from any actual learning, the deepest impression that I carried away from my first Semester in Berlin was a sense of the pervading enthusiasm for Wissenschaft. I was also astonished at the high standard of industry both among the Seniors and the Juniors whom I mixed up with. And I could not help feeling that our steadiest workers among my Oxford undergraduate friends were only casual 'half-timers' by comparison. What was still more stimulating was the whole-hearted and unquestioning reverence for learning broadcast through the academic circles and extending even to the outside public. I had a striking proof of this: as an illustration of national character, the anecdote is worth recording. Living in Berlin at some distance from the university, I used to go in every morning by the same early tram: and at last noting that I was a foreigner of regular habits, the affable and chatty tramway conductor used to point out to me the objects worthy of interest by the way (Sehenswürdigkeiten—a crisp Teutonic word). One morning as we approached a halting-place, I saw a little old gentleman with silvery hair leaning against a lamp-post and holding a large open volume near to his short-sighted eyes, oblivious of the uproar around: the conductor sprang down towards him, and tapping him reverentially on the shoulder conducted him gently to the tram and settled him in his place. Immediately the old gentleman buried himself again up to the eyes in his tome. The conductor, proud of this new Sehenswürdigkeit, whispered to me in an awed voice: 'Da ist der berühmte Herr Professor Mommsen; er verliert kein Moment!' ('There is the famous Professor Mr Mommsen; he never loses a moment!' referring to his absorption in his book). I felt thrilled, not by Mommsen, but by this deep revelation of the national soul, an illiterate conductor knowing of Mommsen at all, knowing that he was academically famous, being proud of having him in his tram, and proud that he 'never lost a moment' for study.
I almost put [sic, read keinen] after kein, because my German dictionary says that Moment meaning "moment, instant" is masculine, while Moment meaning "element, factor" is neuter. But perhaps the masculine accusative ending is dropped in colloquial speech. My knowledge of German is feeble.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Greek Moulding

Lewis R. Farnell (1856-1934), An Oxonian Looks Back (London: Martin Hopkinson, 1934), pp. 182-183:
It was, I think, through her [the sister of Charilaos Trikoupes] that I got to know [Heinrich] Schliemann and his family; and Pelham and I received an invitation to lunch with him written in modern Greek; as I did not feel quite happy in that language I replied in the purest Demosthenic Greek that I could find handy. The distinguished excavator was deeply impressed, for he was full of reverence for the classical education that he had not received; and he entertained us royally. His house, upon which he was said to have spent £40,000, was a magnificent structure, with colonnades along the upper stories and the walls frescoed in the Pompeian style. Its best feature was the wonderful view of the Akropolis from the library window. We were delighted with the Homeric names of his ménage and family. His door was opened to us by Bellerophon, Talthubios and Pelops waited on us at table, every servant whom he engaged being rechristened out of Homer by Madame Schliemann. His daughter of twelve was Nausikaa and throve under the name; his son Agamemnon was a bright boy with a Greek profile that did not look altogether natural; and we were told that it was the result of much twisting and manipulation of his infant-features.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Champagne and Caviar

Joseph Epstein, "Educated by Novels," A Literary Education (Edinburg: Axios, 2014), pp. 263-277 (at 264):
My reading life began in earnest at the University of Chicago, where—in the most sensible of radical curricular reforms—no textbooks were used in the College and few books by living writers were taught, and so the intellectual diet was for the most part champagne and caviar. I can recall the deep pleasure of reading Herodotus, the intellectual provocation set in motion by Thucydides. Plato and Aristotle, both of whom were offered in plentiful supply, gave an unformed mind a good workout; and although I knew I had not the least chance of attaining anything like mastery here, I did come to adore Socrates, as Plato intended.
Related post: A College Education.

Monday, June 22, 2015



Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Pensées philosophiques XV (tr. Margaret Jourdain):
People only take refuge in invective when they run short of proofs. Of two engaged in argument, it is a hundred to one that the man in the wrong will become angry. "You thunder instead of answering," says Menippus to Jupiter; "are you then in the wrong?"

On n'a recours aux invectives que quand on manque de preuves. Entre deux controversistes, il y a cent à parier contre un que celui qui aura tort se fâchera. "Tu prends ton tonnerre au lieu de répondre," dit Ménippe à Jupiter; "tu as donc tort?"


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