Monday, November 30, 2015


The Existence and the Power of the Gods

Bruno Snell (1896-1986), The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), pp. 24-25 (tr. T.G. Rosenmeyer):
Our notion of faith or belief always allows for the possibility of disbelief; this is true in the world of ghosts, but is especially valid on a higher religious plane. 'Faith', the credo, requires as its opposite a false belief, a heresy; it is tied to a dogma which people must either attack or defend with their very lives. All this was foreign to the Greeks; they looked upon their gods as so natural and self-evident that they could not even conceive of other nations acknowledging a different faith or other gods.

To the Christians who landed in America the gods of the the Indians were of course idols and devils; to the Jews the gods of their neighbours were enemies of Yahweh. But when Herodotus visited Egypt and encountered the native deities, it never occurred to him that he might not find Apollo, Dionysus and Artemis there too. Bupastis translated into Greek is none other than Artemis (2.137), Horus is called Apollo, and Osiris is Dionysus (2.144). Just as the Egyptian name of the king sounds different in Greek, as his insignia deviate from those of a Greek or a Persian king, as a ship or a street does not have one and the same name or appearance in Egypt and in Greece, so also the Egyptian gods are not identical with those of the Greeks, but they are easily 'translated' into the Greek tongue and into Greek ideology. Not every nation calls all the gods its own; Herodotus found some barbarian gods for whom he was unable to cite a Greek name; those gods were to be regarded as barbarian par excellence. The Greeks, then, did not think along the same lines as the Jews or the Christians or the Mohammedans who know but one true god, their own, a god who demands conversion of those who would not recognize him. The Greek attitude springs in part from the circumstance that, dispersed as they were over various lands, they worshipped their gods in many shapes and under many names. The Artemis of Ephesus, the goddess with a hundred breasts, scarcely resembles her namesake, the huntress of Sparta. What wonder that in Egypt she exists in yet another guise, and under another name? The gods of the Greeks are a necessary part of the world, and that is reason enough why they should not be linked exclusively with national boundaries or privileged groups. How could there be any gods but those whose existence is self-evident, inherent in nature itself? Who, for instance, would gainsay that Aphrodite exists? Everybody knows that she is as active among all other peoples as she is among the Greeks; even the animals are subject to her rule. It would be downright absurd to maintain that one does not 'believe' in Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It is possible to neglect her, to pay no respect to her, as was done by the huntsman Hippolytus, but Aphrodite is present, and active, none the less. The same is true of Athena and Ares. And could anyone deny that, when all is said and done, Zeus upholds the sacred order of the world? The existence and the power of the gods are no less certain than the reality of laughter and tears, the living pulse of nature around us, the plain fact of our doings whether they be sublime and solemn, or bold and hard, or bright and serene. Every human act betrays the vitality of the ultimate cause behind it.



Callimachus, fragment 714 (tr. C.A. Trypanis):
Worries then weigh less on a man, and of thirty parts one is removed, when he blurts out his troubles to a friend, or a fellow-traveller, or even finally to the deaf gusts of wind.

κουφοτέρως τότε φῶτα διαθλίβουσιν ἀνῖαι,
    ἐκ δὲ τριηκόντων μοῖραν ἀφεῖλε μίαν,
ἢ φίλον ἢ ὅτ᾿ ἐς ἄνδρα συνέμπορον ἢ ὅτε κωφαῖς
    ἄλγεα μαψαύραις ἔσχατον ἐξερύγῃ.
In general, however, the Greeks considered complaining like this unmanly. See, e.g., K.J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality (1974; rpt. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994), p. 101 (on differences between men and women).

Related posts:


Stick to the Greeks

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), Der Glaube der Hellenen, I (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1931), p. 10 (tr. W.K.C. Guthrie):
I don't understand the languages from which are borrowed the words so beloved by the present day, tabu and totem, mana and orenda, but I consider it a safe procedure to stick to the Greeks, and in what concerns Greece to think in Greek.

Ich verstehe die Sprachen nicht, aus denen die zurzeit beliebten Wörter, Tabu und Totem, Mana und Orenda, entlehnt sind, halte es aber auch für einen zulässigen Weg, mich an die Griechen zu halten und über Griechisches griechisch zu denken.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I Should Try It More Often

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, L 672 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Nothing cheers me up so much as when I have succeeded in understanding something difficult, and yet I try so little to learn to understand difficult things. I ought to try to more often.

Nichts muntert mich mehr auf, als wenn ich etwas Schweres verstanden habe, und doch suche ich so wenig Schweres verstehen zu lernen. Ich sollte es öfter versuchen.


Mania for the New

Luigi Meneghello, diaries, entry for July 15, 1968 (tr. Ian Jackson):
Mania for the new. They say that the new is better than the non-new: why on earth? I take my stand with what is evolved, with the new that is also old; I am darwinian. I draw from the store of an old master as from a fountain. That wise prose is a solace, that slow, slow thought, that boldness without arrogance . . . I re-read it all every two or three years.
The Italian, from Luigi Meneghello, Le Carte, vol. 1 (Milan: Rizzoli, 1999), p. 396:
Mania del nuovo. Dice che il nuovo è meglio del non-nuovo: e perché mai? Io sto con ciò che è evolutivo cioè nuovo e anche vecchio; sono darwiniano. Attingo nella roba del maestro delle origini come a una fontana. È un balsamo quella prosa prudente, quel pensare lento lento, quel coraggio senza iattanza . . . Rileggo tutto ogni due o tre anni.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related posts:

Saturday, November 28, 2015



Thoreau, Journal (May 9, 1853; on Bronson Alcott):
He has no creed. He is not pledged to any institution. The sanest man I ever knew...


School Prayer

Callimachus, fragment 221 (tr. C.A. Trypanis):
We ask for zeal for learning, the gift of Hermes.

αἰτοῦμεν εὐμάθειαν Ἑρμᾶνος δόσιν.
Liddell-Scott-Jones define εὐμάθεια as "readiness in learning, docility," εὐμαθής as "ready or quick at learning."

Friday, November 27, 2015


Opposing Voices

Robert Francis (1901-1987), Travelling in Amherst: A Poet's Journal, 1931-1954 (Boston: Rowan Tree Press, 1986), p. 22 (from 1933):
Something in me says, "You should read this book word for word from cover to cover." Something else contradicts with: "You know from experience that you have almost never found a book that was worth reading entire. Don't waste your time with this one whatever its pretensions. Bite into it the way the Children of Israel bolted their Pentacostal [sic] meal, or the way a traveling salesman consumes a piece of apple pie at the stand-up counter of the Bingville Junction Depot where the train waits five minutes to take in water."
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Reading from Inclination or Duty.


Something Must Go

Donald Richie, journal (June 27, 1993):
I look at my bookcases. Bulging. Something must go. But what? I look more closely. The shelves are lined with those I love. There is Morandi, all the books I have been able to find on him, almost one solid foot of them—his small, still, perfect world of bottles and paint. No I will not let him go. There is Jean Cocteau, sometimes irritating but always fresh, new, irrepressible. So full of himself that he makes you full of him. I have over two feet of him. I could let part of him go, but never the novels. No, I will keep him. Ah, there is Madame Yourcenar. Everything she wrote. Sententious, wise, a bit ponderous, but always honest. How could I ever let Memoirs d'Hadrien go? Or the woman who wrote it. No, she stays. Borges, all of him in English. My companion for years now. Am I not tired of him? In a way—his donnishness tires. But to throw out Labyrinths—and the man who wrote it? Never. Jane Austen? Of course not. She is part of me. What to do, then? Well, Shakespeare, whom I really do not much like. But it is only one volume and tossing him out would not save much space.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


The Search for Truth

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, L 419 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Motto: to desire to discover the truth is meritorious, even if we go astray on the way.

Motto: die Wahrheit finden wollen ist Verdienst, wenn man auch auf dem Wege irrt.


A Good Observation

"LSJ and Aeolica," Farrago (26 October 2015):
[A]n instance of a phenomenon in an Aeolic text does not make that phenomenon Aeolic, any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.


Holiday Festivities

Homer, Odyssey 9.5-11 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
For I think there is no occasion accomplished that is more pleasant        5
than when festivity holds sway among all the populace,
and the feasters up and down the houses are sitting in order
and listening to the singer, and beside them the tables are loaded
with bread and meats, and from the mixing bowl the wine steward
draws the wine and carries it about and fills the cups. This        10
seems to my own mind to be the best of occasions.

οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι τέλος χαριέστερον εἶναι        5
ἢ ὅτ᾽ ἐυφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κάτα δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ᾽ ἀνὰ δώματ᾽ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ᾽ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσι·        10
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.
Alfred Heubeck ad loc.:
'There is no fulfilment (τέλος; cf. P. Ambrose, Glotta, xliii (1965), 38-62, esp. 59-61), which brings greater joy (J. Latacz, Zum Wortfeld "Freude" in der Sprache Homers (Heidelberg, 1966), 100-1) than when ...' Odysseus praises as ideal the situation of a people filled (ἔχῃ κάτα = κατέχῃ) with joy as they listen to a bard while feasting and drinking (μέθυ = οἶνος) to their hearts' content: the joyful, lavish banquet is an outward and visible sign of a stable and peacefully ordered community as exemplified by the Phaeacian utopia.
Plato, party-pooper and spoil-sport, throws a turd into the punch-bowl (κρατήρ) when he quotes Odyssey 9.8-10 and asks (Republic 3.4 = 390 b, tr. Paul Shorey):
Do you think the hearing of that sort of thing will conduce to a young man's temperance or self-control?

δοκεῖ σοι ἐπιτήδειον εἶναι πρὸς ἐγκράτειαν ἑαυτοῦ ἀκούειν νέῳ;

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Ubi Sunt?

The Wanderer, lines 92-110 (tr. Michael Alexander):
Where is that horse now? Where are those men? Where is the hoard-sharer?
Where is the house of the feast? Where is the hall's uproar?
Alas, bright cup! Alas, burnished fighter!
Alas, proud prince! How that time has passed,        95
dark under night's helm, as though it never had been!
There stands in the stead of staunch thanes
a towering wall wrought with worm-shapes;
the earls are off-taken by the ash-spear's point,
— that thirsty weapon. Their Wierd is glorious.        100
Storms break on the stone hillside,
the ground bound by driving sleet,
winter's wrath. Then wanness cometh,
night's shade spreadeth, sendeth from north
the rough hail to harry mankind.        105
In the earth-realm all is crossed;
Wierd's will changeth the world.
Wealth is lent us, friends are lent us,
Man is lent, kin is lent;
All this earth's frame shall stand empty.        110

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?    Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu?    Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune!    Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym!    Hu seo þrag gewat,        95
genap under nihthelm,    swa heo no wære.
Stondeð nu on laste    leofre duguþe
weal wundrum heah,    wyrmlicum fah.
Eorlas fornoman    asca þryþe,
wæpen wælgifru,    wyrd seo mære,        100
ond þas stanhleoþu    stormas cnyssað,
hrið hreosende    hrusan bindeð,
wintres woma,    þonne won cymeð,
nipeð nihtscua,    norþan onsendeð
hreo hæglfare    hæleþum on andan.        105
Eall is earfoðic    eorthan rice,
onwendeth wyrda gesceaft    weoruld under heofonum.
Her bið feoh læne,    her bið freond læne,
her bið mon læne,    her bið mæg læne,
eal þis eorþan gesteal    idel weorþeð!        110


The Future

Pindar, Olympian Odes 12.6-12 (tr. G.S. Conway):
For no man born of earth has ever yet
    Found a trustworthy sign
From heaven above, what future days may bring.
Blind are the eyes of our imagination
Of times to come. How often is man's thought
Thwarted by the event, now disappointing
Expected joy, now when a man has met
    The surge of sorrow's pain,
  In a brief hour of time changing
His bitter grief to profound happiness.

σύμβολον δ᾿ οὔ πώ τις ἐπιχθονίων
πιστὸν ἀμφὶ πράξιος ἐσσομένας εὗρεν θεόθεν,
τῶν δὲ μελλόντων τετύφλωνται φραδαί·
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις παρὰ γνώμαν ἔπεσεν,
ἔμπαλιν μὲν τέρψιος, οἱ δ᾿ ἀνιαραῖς
ἀντικύρσαντες ζάλαις
ἐσλὸν βαθὺ πήματος ἐν μικρῷ πεδάμειψαν χρόνῳ.
There is an error in the Greek text of the Digital Loeb Classical Library edition of this ode, where the nonsensical τέφψιος appears for τέρψιος in line 11 (screen shot taken today):

This error doesn't appear in the printed book.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015


The Threefold Way

At the beginning of Thoreau's Cape Cod he quotes, but doesn't translate, the following three Latin sentences:
"Principium erit mirari omnia, etiam tritissima.
Medium est calamo committere visa et utilia.
Finis erit naturam adcuratius delineare, quam alius"
[si possumus.]

                       LINNAEUS DE PEREGRINATIONE.
In English:
The beginning will be to wonder at all things, even the most commonplace ones.
The middle is to commit to writing things seen and useful things.
The end will be to depict nature more carefully than another does
[if we can.]

                      LINNAEUS ON TRAVEL.
The source is Linnaeus' Philosophia Botanica (Stockholm: Godofr. Kiesewetter, 1751), p. 297:


Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin

Isaiah Berlin, letter to Norman O. Brown (May 6, 1991):
Never mind, we are both quite old, we shan't live to see the worst, let us cultivate our gardens as best we can — tell me what plants you want from mine, and which you would like to offer me from yours, and we shall remain contented and affectionate.
A graceful variation on a famous phrase from Voltaire's Candide: "Il faut cultiver notre jardin."

Hat tip: Ian Jackson, who has offered me so many plants from his garden.


Out of Town

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Cape Cod, III ("The Plains of Nauset"):
These were the "Plains of Nauset," once covered with wood, where in winter the winds howl and the snow blows right merrily in the face of the traveller. I was glad to have got out of the towns, where I am wont to feel unspeakably mean and disgraced, — to have left behind me for a season the bar-rooms of Massachusetts, where the full-grown are not weaned from savage and filthy habits, — still sucking a cigar. My spirits rose in proportion to the outward dreariness. The towns need to be ventilated. The gods would be pleased to see some pure flames from their altars. They are not to be appeased with cigar-smoke.

Thanks to the generous benefactor who gave me several volumes from the works of Thoreau published by Princeton University Press.

Monday, November 23, 2015



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, K 172 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
There can hardly be stranger wares in the world than books: printed by people who do not understand them; sold by people who do not understand them; bound, reviewed and read by people who do not understand them; and now even written by people who do not understand them.

Eine seltsamere Ware, als Bücher, gibt es wohl schwerlich in der Welt. Von Leuten gedruckt, die sie nicht verstehen; von Leuten verkauft, die sie nicht verstehen; gebunden, rezensiert und gelesen von Leuten, die sie nicht verstehen; und nun gar geschrieben von Leuten, die sie nicht verstehen.


Live for Today

Philetaerus, fragment 7 (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
Because what, I ask you, should a mortal do
except enjoy his life from one day to the next,
if he's got the wherewithal? This is what you
need to consider when you look at human affairs,
instead of worrying about what's going to happen
tomorrow. It's very strange that money gets stored up
for tomorrow inside one's house.
The same (tr. J.E. Edmonds):
What else should human beings do then, pray,
Than live delightfully from day to day
If they've the wherewithal? Considering
What mortal life is, that's the only thing
We need to count; next day's another tale;
It's futile to store money to go stale.
The Greek:
τί δεῖ γὰρ ὄντα θνητόν, ἱκετεύω, ποεῖν
πλὴν ἡδέως ζῆν τὸν βίον καθ᾿ ἡμέραν,
ἐὰν ἔχῃ τις ὁπόθεν; ἀλλὰ δεῖ σκοπεῖν
τοῦτ᾿ αὐτό, τἀνθρώπει᾿ ὁρῶντα πράγματα,
εἰς αὔριον δὲ <μηδὲ> φροντίζειν ὅ τι
ἔσται· περίεργόν ἐστιν ἀποκεῖσθαι πάνυ
ἕωλον ἔνδον τἀργύριον.
Commentary in Athina Papachrysostomou, Six Comic Poets: A Commentary on Selected Fragments of Middle Comedy (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2008), pp. 224-227.


Words to Live By

Theognis 1047-1048 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
Now let's delight in drink and fine talk.
   What will happen afterwards is up to the gods.
The same (tr. M.L. West):
For now, let's talk of good things, drink, enjoy ourselves:
   what comes afterwards is the gods' affair.
The Greek:
νῦν μὲν πίνοντες τερπώμεθα, καλὰ λέγοντες·
   ἅσσα δ᾿ ἔπειτ᾿ ἔσται, ταῦτα θεοῖσι μέλει.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


A Hermit

Euripides, fragment 421 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
... in a hollow cave, without a lamp, like a beast, alone ...

κοίλοις ἐν ἄντροις ἄλυχνος, ὥστε θήρ, μόνος
According to an ancient biography, Euripides was a part-time cave-dweller. See David Kovacs, Euripidea (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp. 6-7:
They say that he fitted out a cave on Salamis opening on the sea and that he passed his days there avoiding the crowd; and that is the reason he takes most of his similes from the sea.

φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐν Σαλαμῖνι σπήλαιον κατασκευάσαντα ἀναπνοὴν ἔχον εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐκεῖσε διημερεύειν φεύγοντα τὸν ὄχλον· ὅθεν καὶ ἐκ θαλάσσης λαμβάνει τὰς πλείους τῶν ὁμοιώσεων.
Likewise Aulus Gellius 15.20.5 (tr. Kovacs, pp. 28-29):
Philochorus reports that there is a foul and horrible cave on the island of Salamis, which I have seen, in which Euripides used to write his tragedies.

Philochorus [FGrH 328 F 219] refert in insula Salamine speluncam esse taetram et horridam, quam nos vidimus, in qua Euripides tragoedias scriptitarit.
On ὥστε θήρ, μόνος in the fragment of Euripides cf. Aristotle, Politics 1.1253a29 (tr. H. Rackham):
A man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god.

ὁ δὲ μὴ δυνάμενος κοινωνεῖν ἢ μηδὲν δεόμενος δι' αὐτάρκειαν οὐθὲν μέρος πόλεως, ὥστε ἢ θηρίον ἢ θεός.
What Rackham translates as "a lower animal" is really "a wild beast" (θηρίον). See also Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (Maxims and Arrows 3, tr. Walter Kaufmann):
To live alone one must be a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both — a philosopher.

Um allein zu leben, muss man ein Thier oder ein Gott sein — sagt Aristoteles. Fehlt der dritte Fall: man muss Beides sein — Philosoph.


Forest Music

Georges Perros (1923-1978), Paper Collage: Selected Aphorisms and Short Prose, tr. John Taylor (London: Seagull Books, 2015), p. 55:
Is it by chance that what's essential in music comes from Central Europe, far from the sea? I don't think so. The sea engenders no echoes. And echoes constitute all of classical music—the forest, Salzburg. You can't imagine either Mozart or Beethoven without a forest. Especially Beethoven. His sonatas run through woods, with sudden clearings, shadowy spots, streams, flights, twilights.

Caspar David Friedrich,
Waldinneres bei Mondschein

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Forest Murmurs.


Beatus Vir

Euripides, Cyclops 495-502 (tr. David Kovacs):
Happy the man who shouts the Bacchic cry, off to the revel, the well-beloved juice of the vine putting the wind in his sails. His arm is around his trusty friend, and he has waiting for him the fresh, young body of his voluptuous mistress upon her bed, and with his locks gleaming with myrrh he says, "Who will open the door for me?"

μάκαρ ὅστις εὐιάζει        495
βοτρύων φίλαισι πηγαῖς
ἐπὶ κῶμον ἐκπετασθεὶς
φίλον ἄνδρ᾿ ὑπαγκαλίζων
ἐπὶ δεμνίοισί τ᾿ ἄνθος
χλιδανᾶς ἔχων ἑταίρας,        500
μυρόχριστον λιπαρὸς βό-
στρυχον, αὐδᾷ δέ· θύραν τίς οἴξει μοι;

495 μάκαρ Hermann: μακάριος L
497 ἐπὶ κῶμον L: ἐπίκωμος Wilamowitz
499 δεμνίοισί τ᾿ ἄνθος Meineke: δεμνίοις τε ξανθὸν L
500 χλιδανᾶς Diggle: χλιδανῆς L
501 μυρόχριστον Musgrave: μυρόχριστος L, λιπαρὸς L: λιπαρὸν Scaliger
I don't have access to Richard Seaford's commentary. Notes to myself:

497 ἐκπετασθεὶς: aorist passive participle of ἐκπετάννυμι = spread out, e.g. of a sail, scatter, here "wholly given up to the revel" (Liddell-Scott-Jones). Eric Thomson (via email) remarks on the nautical turn of phrase, "It reminded me of the idiom 'three sheets to the wind'."

501 μυρόχριστον: a hapax legomenon

502 θύραν: understood sensu obsceno by some, e.g. Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Greek Comedy, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 245, but I think the exclusus amator is just asking the doorkeeper for admittance to the beloved's house. For commands to slaves expressed with the use of an indefinite or interrogative pronoun see Nisbet and Hubbard, commentary on Horace, Odes 2.11.18-20 (where this line from Euripides is cited).

Related posts:

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Exclamation Marks

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, L 147 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Whether the amount of distress in Germany has increased I do not know, but the number of exclamation marks certainly has. Where we formerly had merely! we now have!!!

Ob das Elend in Deutschland zugenommen hat, weiß ich nicht. Die Interpunktion-Zeichen haben gewiß zugenommen. Wo man sonst bloß! setzte, da steht jetzt!!!


The Epigrapher

E.J. Pratt (1882-1964), "The Epigrapher," Complete Poems, I (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), pp. 91-92:
His head was like his lore — antique,
His face was thin and sallow-sick,
With god-like accent he could speak
Of Egypt's reeds or Babylon's brick
Or sheep-skin codes in Arabic.

To justify the ways divine,
He had travelled Southern Asia through —
Gezir down in Palestine,
Lagash, Ur and Eridu,
The banks of Nile and Tigris too.

And every occult Hebrew tale
He could expound with learned ease,
From Aaron's rod to Jonah's whale.
He had held the skull of Rameses —
The one who died from boils and fleas.

Could tell how — saving Israel's peace —
The mighty Gabriel of the Lord
Put sand within the axle-grease
Of Pharaoh's chariots; and his horde
O'erwhelmed with water, fire and sword.

And he had tried Behistun Rock,
That Persian peak, and nearly clomb it;
His head had suffered from the shock
Of somersaulting from its summit —
Nor had he quite recovered from it.

From that time onward to the end,
His mind had had a touch of gloom;
His hours with jars and coins he'd spend,
And ashes looted from a tomb, —
Within his spare and narrow room.

His day's work done, with the last rune
Of a Hammurabi fragment read,
He took some water spiced with prune
And soda, which imbibed, he said
A Syrian prayer, and went to bed.


And thus he trod life's narrow way, —
   His soul as peaceful as a river —
His understanding heart all day
   Kept faithful to a stagnant liver.

When at last his stomach went by default,
   His graduate students bore him afar
To the East where the Dead Sea waters are,
   And pickled his bones in Eternal Salt.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Love, Not War

Northrop Frye, notebook (October 12, 1932), from Northrop Frye's Uncollected Prose, ed. Robert D. Denham (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), pp. 51-52 (endnotes omitted; bracketed reference in book):
I shall not attempt to solve the difficult problem of classical education in the public schools. But why not give Latin and Greek a fair trial, if willing to grant that they are magnificent languages. "All the Latin I construe is amo, I love," says Lippo Lippi [Browning, Fra Lippo Lippi, ll. 111-12]. Well, I too started with amo, a very good verb, I thought obviously only a decoy. The next one I learned was neco, I kill, and all the time I spent on Latin grammar from that time forth was spent in laboriously acquiring a language which talked about nothing else in the world but fighting. Every sentence I wrote in Latin or translated, concerned war, and every word I learned had some military context. It does not take a very fanatical pacifist to see that this method deliberately aims at encouraging the idea that Latin is a very dead language, there being few things deader about a language than those words which deal with violent death. If Latin really was a dead language, therefore, it would be of no use. The excuse is, of course, that we read Caesar first in Latin, Xenophon in Greek, but the excuse is a pitifully inadequate one. The method is obviously that of a crabbed pedant bent on killing the language and stamping on the corpse. Catullus and Horace are eternal. Caesar is not only dead but always was, falling stillborn upon publication like any other journal. The next step is Livy, Cicero, Thucydides. Like learning English by starting with the Duke of Marlborough's memoirs, if he wrote any, and proceeding through Pater or Burke or Gibbon. We do not make such an approach to any modern language. We do not start German by learning all about their weapons, their armies, the histories of their wars, even if we still think of them as a race of barbarian Huns, intent on conquering the world by force of arms. If I could respond to them fluently, which I regret to say I cannot, I should regard it as one of my primary accomplishments, but I should see the entire Teutonic race in hell before, etc. I would wade through a barrage of military terminology in order to read the war correspondence of Blücher, Moltke, Gneisenau, or von Kluck. There is a good deal of truth in the famous remark that Caesar was a very inferior writer who wrote for the public schools.
I would delete ", etc." in "I should see the entire Teutonic race in hell before, etc. I would wade through...," so that it reads "I should see the entire Teutonic race in hell before I would wade through..."

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related posts:


A Strange and Enigmatic Breed

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986), How the World Began: Man in the First Chapters of the Bible, tr. John W. Doberstein (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), p. 4:
What a strange and enigmatic breed we are! Presently we shall be flying in space, but at the same time we are threatening to blow up the base of this voyage into space, namely our own planet. We conquer space and time with our machines, but these machines also appear to be conquering us. We change the face of the earth, but on our own faces are the same old runes of guilt, suffering, and death. Despite everything we have created, we are still the same as the men of old: Cain and Abel, Achilles and Thersites, Siegfried and Hagen.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


A Fool

Euripides, fragment 92 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
A man who is merely human yet disdains the people and prides himself on his wealth should understand that he is a fool.

ἴστω τ᾿ ἄφρων ὢν ὅστις ἄνθρωπος γεγὼς
δῆμον κολούει χρήμασιν γαυρούμενος.
This (ἴστω τ᾿ ἄφρων ὢν) is a good example of a nominative participle with a verb of perception. For other examples of this Greek idiom see:


Bad, Worse, Worst

Gottfried Benn (1886-1956), "What's Bad" (tr. Michael Hofmann):
Not reading English,
and hearing about a new English thriller
that hasn't been translated.

Seeing a cold beer when it's hot out,
and not being able to afford it.

Having an idea
that you can't encapsulate in a line of Hölderlin,
the way the professors do.

Hearing the waves beat against the shore on holiday at night,
and telling yourself it's what they always do.

Very bad: being invited out,
when your own room at home is quieter,
the coffee is better,
and you don't have to make small talk.

And worst of all:
not to die in summer,
when the days are long
and the earth yields easily to the spade.
The German (title "Was schlimm ist"):
Wenn man kein Englisch kann,
von einem guten Kriminalroman zu hören, der nicht ins
Deutsche übersetzt ist.

Bei Hitze ein Bier sehn,
das man nicht bezahlen kann.

Einen neuen Gedanken haben,
den man nicht in einen Hölderlinvers einwickeln kann,
wie es die Professoren tun.

Nacht auf Reisen Wellen schlagen hören
und sich sagen, daß sie das immer tun.

Sehr schlimm: eingeladen sein,
wenn zu Hause die Räume stiller,
der Café besser
und keine Unterhaltung nötig ist.

Am schlimmsten:
nicht im Sommer sterben,
wenn alles hell ist
und die Erde für Spaten leicht.
Benn escaped the worst—he died in summer.


Gordan, Ingordin, and Ingordan Again

Thanks very much to Jens Bilgrav for an email about Gordan, Ingordin, and Ingordan:
It may interest you to know that another lead amulet was found in Svendborg, Denmark, with the same three names/incantations on it:

Translated from Danish, the remaining part of the inscription reads:

"I conjure you elven men and elven women and all demons in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and all of God’s saints, lest you harm God’s handmaiden, Margareta, neither in eyes nor in other limbs. Amen. You are great in eternity, Lord."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The Trim Gardens of a Polished Past

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), "The Place of Science in a Liberal Education," Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1919), pp. 33-45 (at 35-36):
One defect, however, does seem inherent in a purely classical education—namely, a too exclusive emphasis on the past. By the study of what is absolutely ended and can never be renewed, a habit of criticism towards the present and the future is engendered. The qualities in which the present excels are qualities to which the study of the past does not direct attention, and to which, therefore, the student of Greek civilisation may easily become blind. In what is new and growing there is apt to be something crude, insolent, even a little vulgar, which is shocking to the man of sensitive taste; quivering from the rough contact, he retires to the trim gardens of a polished past, forgetting that they were reclaimed from the wilderness by men as rough and earth-soiled as those from whom he shrinks in his own day. The habit of being unable to recognise merit until it is dead is too apt to be the result of a purely bookish life, and a culture based wholly on the past will seldom be able to pierce through everyday surroundings to the essential splendour of contemporary things, or to the hope of still greater splendour in the future.
"My eyes saw not the men of old;
And now their age away has rolled.
I weep—to think I shall not see
The heroes of posterity."
So says the Chinese poet; but such impartiality is rare in the more pugnacious atmosphere of the West, where the champions of past and future fight a never-ending battle, instead of combining to seek out the merits of both.


A Profusion of Parrots

A.E. Housman (1859-1936), ed., M. Manilii Astronomicon Liber Primus (London: Grant Richards, 1903), p. xxxii:
This planet is largely inhabited by parrots...


A Walk in the Woods

A poem by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), tr. Louis Untermeyer:
I shall go and walk in the woods a space,
Where flowers are gay and birds are singing;
For when I am once laid six feet under,
With eyes and ears that are closed to wonder,
I shall not see one flower lift its face
Nor hear one bird's song set the silence ringing.
The same, tr. Hal Draper:
I will to the greening woods away
Where flowers are blooming and birds are singing;
For once the grave becomes my berth,
My eyes and ears are stopped with earth,
I'll see no flowers blooming gay,
Nor hear a bird's song sweetly ringing.
The German:
Ich will mich im grünen Wald ergehn,
Wo Blumen sprießen und Vögel singen;
Denn wenn ich im Grabe einst liegen werde,
Ist Aug und Ohr bedeckt mit Erde,
Die Blumen kann ich nicht sprießen sehn,
Und Vögelgesänge hör ich nicht klingen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Devotion to the Dead Letter

Maurice de Guérin, Journal (February 6, 1833), tr. Edward Thornton Fisher:
I have spent ten years in the colleges, and I have come out, bringing, together with some scraps of Latin and Greek, an enormous mass of weariness. That is about the result of all college education in France. They put into the hands of young men the ancient authors; that is well. But do they teach them to know, to appreciate antiquity? Have they ever developed for them the relations of those magnificent literatures with the Nature, with the religious dogmas, the systems of philosophy, the fine arts, the civilizations ot the ancient nations? Has their intelligence ever been led by those beautiful links which bind all parts of the civilization of a people, and make of it a superb whole, all whose details touch, reflect, and mutually explain each other? What professor, reading Homer or Virgil to his pupils, has developed the poetry of the Iliad or the Aeneid by the poetry of Nature under the sky of Greece or Italy? Who has dreamed of annotating reciprocally the poets by the philosophers, the philosophers by the poets, the latter by the artists, Plato by Homer, Homer by Phidias? They isolate these great geniuses, they disjoint a literature, and they fling you its scattered limbs, without taking the trouble to tell you what place they occupy, what relations they mutually sustain in the great organization whence they have been detached.

Children take a special delight in cutting out the pictures which fall into their hands; they separate with great skill the figures one from the other; their scissors follow exactly all their outlines, and the group thus divided is portioned out among the little company, because each one wants an image. The labor of our professors bears no slight resemblance to that of the children; and an author, thus cut off from his surroundings, is as difficult to understand as the figure cut out by the children and separated from the grouping and the background of the picture. After that, need we be astonished that the studies are so empty, so insufficient? What can remain from a long devotion to the dead letter, stripped, as it were, of meaning, except disgust, and an almost entire hatred of study?


Unfit Matter for Art?

C.S. Lewis, diary (January 30, 1923):
[Edgar Frederick] Carritt, [Cyril William] Emmet and I fell into a conversation on the expressionist theory of art. I contended that two persons might be equally expressive, but in practice one preferred the one who had the better content. Emmett [sic] agreed with me. [Carleton Kemp] Allen was brought in on the question of whether any emotions were unfit for art and a lot of jokes wh. I did not understand passed between him and Carritt.

Carritt followed me out and asked me to come up to his room. We talked about books chiefly. He explained to me his mysterious conversation with Allen. Nearly a year ago there had been an argument on the same subject and Allen had said, as an example, that the emotions of a man going to the ————— could not be matter for art: Carritt had taken up the challenge and written a poem on that subject. He said it was not very good, but he thought it had proved his point.
I'd like to read Carritt's poem, but I don't know if it has survived.

Photograph of Edgar Frederick Carritt



One Big Heap of Books

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), "Red," The Trembling of a Leaf (Garden City: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1921), pp. 115-147 (at 120-121):
The skipper followed his host into the little bungalow and sat down heavily in the chair which the other motioned him to take. While Neilson went out to fetch whisky and glasses he took a look round the room. It filled him with amazement. He had never seen so many books. The shelves reached from floor to ceiling on all four walls, and they were closely packed. There was a grand piano littered with music, and a large table on which books and magazines lay in disorder. The room made him feel embarrassed. He remembered that Neilson was a queer fellow. No one knew very much about him, although he had been in the islands for so many years, but those who knew him agreed that he was queer. He was a Swede.

"You've got one big heap of books here," he said, when Neilson returned.

"They do no harm," answered Neilson with a smile.

"Have you read them all?" asked the skipper.

"Most of them."

"I'm a bit of a reader myself. I have the Saturday Evening Post sent me regler."

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Edmond Duranty

Monday, November 16, 2015


The Two Devils

I like this early (1903) painting by Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), not in his usual vein, with the title The Two Devils:

At the bottom is written "Riddle — Which is the worse one?" I think Munnings is suggesting that the worse one is the clergyman.


The Tang of Cider

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), The Land ("Making Cider," from the "Autumn" section):
I saw within the wheelwright's shed
The big round cartwheels, blue and red;
A plough with blunted share;
A blue tin jug; a broken chair;
And paint in trial patchwork square
Slapped up against the wall;
The lumber of the wheelwright's trade,
And tools on benches neatly laid,
The brace, the adze, the awl;

And, framed within the latticed-panes,
Above the cluttered sill,
Saw rooks upon the stubble hill
Seeking forgotten grains;

And all the air was sweet and shrill
With juice of apples heaped in skips,
Fermenting, rotten, soft with bruise,
And all the yard was strewn with pips,
Discarded pulp, and wrung-out ooze
That ducks with rummaging flat bill
Searched through beside the cider-press
To gobble in their greediness.

The young men strained upon the crank
To wring the last reluctant inch.
They laughed together, fair and frank,
And threw their loins across the winch.
A holiday from field and dung,
From plough and harrow, scythe and spade,
To dabble in another trade,
To crush the pippins in the slats,
And see that in the little vats
An extra pint was wrung;
While round about the worthies stood,
Profuse in comment, praise or blame,
Content the press should be of wood,
Advising rum, decrying wheat,
And black strong sugar makes it sweet,
But still resolved, with maundering tongue,
That cider could not be the same
As once when they were young;
But still the young contemptuous men
Laughed kindly at their old conceit,
And strained upon the crank again.

Now barrels ranged in portly line
Mature through winter's sleep,
Aping the leisured sloth of wine
That dreams by Tiber or by Rhine,
Mellowing slow and deep;
But keen and cold the northern nights
Sharpen the quiet yard,
And sharp like no rich southern wine
The tang of cider bites;
For here the splintered stars and hard
Hold England in a frosty guard,
Orion and the Pleiades
Above the wheelwright's shed,
And Sirius resting on the trees
While all the village snores abed.

Henry Herbert La Thangue (1859-1929), Cider Apples

Related posts:

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The Best of All Possible Worlds?

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 59 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
If, finally, we were to bring to the sight of everyone the terrible sufferings and afflictions to which his life is constantly exposed, he would be seized with horror. If we were to conduct the most hardened and callous optimist through hospitals, infirmaries, operating theatres, through prisons, torture-chambers, and slave-hovels, over battlefields and to places of execution; if we were to open to him all the dark abodes of misery, where it shuns the gaze of cold curiosity, and finally were to allow him to glance into the dungeon of Ugolino where prisoners starved to death, he too would certainly see in the end what kind of a world is this meilleur des mondes possibles. For whence did Dante get the material for his hell, if not from this actual world of ours? And indeed he made a downright hell of it. On the other hand, when he came to the task of describing heaven and its delights, he had an insuperable difficulty before him, just because our world affords absolutely no material for anything of the kind.

Wenn man nun endlich noch Jedem die entsetzlichen Schmerzen und Quaalen, denen sein Leben beständig offen steht, vor die Augen bringen wollte, so würde ihn Grausen ergreifen: und wenn man den verstocktesten Optimisten durch die Krankenhospitäler, Lazarethe und chirurgische Marterkammern, durch die Gefängnisse, Folterkammern und Sklavenställe, über Schlachtfelder und Gerichtsstätten führen, dann alle die finstern Behausungen des Elends, wo es sich vor den Blicken kalter Neugier verkriecht, ihm öffnen und zum Schluß ihn in den Hungerthurm des Ugolino blicken lassen wollte; so würde sicherlich auch er zuletzt einsehn, welcher Art dieser meilleur des mondes possibles ist. Woher denn anders hat Dante den Stoff zu seiner Hölle genommen, als aus dieser unserer wirklichen Welt? Und doch ist es eine recht ordentliche Hölle geworden. Hingegen als er an die Aufgabe kam, den Himmel und seine Freuden zu schildern, da hatte er eine unüberwindliche Schwierigkeit vor sich; weil eben unsere Welt gar keine Materialien zu so etwas darbietet.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


The Seasons

Alcman, fragment 30 (tr. David A. Campbell):
and he created three seasons, summer
and winter and the third, autumn,
and spring as a fourth, when
things grow but there is not enough to eat.

ὥρας δ᾿ ἔσηκε τρεῖς, θέρος
καὶ χεῖμα κὠπώραν τρίταν
καὶ τέτρατον τὸ ϝῆρ, ὅκα
σάλλει μέν, ἐσθίην δ᾿ ἄδαν
οὐκ ἔστι.
David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry (1967; rpt. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1998), p. 216 (on this fragment):
Homer generally recognises three seasons, ἔαρ, θέρος, χεῖμα. At Od. 11.192 θέρος τεθαλυῖά τ᾽ ὀπώρη there is no distinction between θέρος and ὀπώρη, but the two are distinct at Od. 12.76 οὔτ᾽ ἐν θέρει οὔτ᾽ ἐν ὀπώρῃ. Hesiod refers to three seasons only: the first clear appearance of four seasons is in Hippocrates, Aph. 1.18, E. fr. 990N2.


The Collective Singular

R.G.M. Nisbet and Margaret Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book I (1970; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), pp. 241-242 (on 1.19.12):
Parthum: the collective singular is an old construction in Latin; Varro mentions that 'Romanus sedendo vincit' was a 'vetus proverbium' (rust. 1.2.2). It seems to have been both archaic and colloquial, and is consequently affected by the historians (except Sallust) and avoided by Cicero (except in his letters); cf. K.-S. 1.67f, K.-G. 1.14, H.-Sz. 13f., Norden on Virg. Aen. 6.851, and especially Löfstedt, Syntactica I2.12ff. It is particularly common in military contexts, where it is convenient to think of a mass rather than a collection of individuals. A refusal to individualize is especially useful when thinking of enemies, and hostis and the names of hostile peoples are consequently very often employed in the singular. Cf. also Rose Macaulay, Staying with Relations, p. 19 'Squealings and tramplings came from the forest on the left. Isie said, "Plenty of pig in there." And Catherine surmised, from her use of the singular number, that she would fain pursue these animals and take their lives.'


Aux Armes, Citoyens

La Marseillaise, 4th stanza:
Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfides!
L'opprobre de tous les partis!
Tremblez! vos projets parricides
Vont enfin recevoir leurs prix!
Tout est soldat pour vous combattre,
S'ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,
La France en produit de nouveaux,
Contre vous tout prêts à se battre.

Friday, November 13, 2015


Earthly Happiness

A paraphrase of Martial 10.47, by Josiah Relph (1712-1743), in his Poems (Carlisle: J. Mitchell, 1798), pp. 51-52:
These earthly happiness complete:
A snug hereditary seat;
Fields free to give what ease requires;
Hearths ever warm'd with heartsome fires;
Calm quietness from clamour loud;
No business with the peevish proud;
A vigour active, yet refin'd;
Simplicity with prudence join'd;
Sweet converse seasoning wholesome fare;
Evenings without excess or care;
Short nights, by unsought slumber blest;
And, what gives relish to the rest,
An easy acquiescent mind,
To the wise will of heaven resign'd.
The Latin:
Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
res non parta labore sed relicta;
non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
nox non ebria sed soluta curis;
non tristis torus et tamen pudicus;
somnus qui faciat breves tenebras:
quod sis esse velis nihilque malis;
summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
Other translations and paraphrases of Martial 10.47:



Edith Hall, The Theatrical Cast of Athens: Interactions between Ancient Greek Drama and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 5:
The ancient literary critics were nevertheless surely correct in emphasizing that one of the two great goals of art, along with usefulness to humankind (to ōphelimon) is pleasure (hēdonē); as an avid consumer of theatre, movies, and TV drama, always shamelessly motivated by the desire for pleasure rather than for moral or political instruction, I have long felt that Marxist theory, and all the schools of socially contextualizing literary criticism that derive from Marxism (New Historicism, Gender Studies, Postcolonial theory), have tended to underplay people's need for sheer enjoyment. No genre or medium of art will ever last for long—certainly not the hundreds of years for which tragedy, comedy and mythological pantomime were enjoyed on the stages of antiquity—if people don't actually like it.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Bane or Boon?

Theognis 509-510 (tr. M.L. West):
Wine drunk too copious is a bane, but if it's drunk
   with prudence, then no bane, but sheerest boon.

οἶνος πινόμενος πουλὺς κακόν· ἢν δέ τις αὐτόν
   πίνῃ ἐπισταμένως, οὐ κακόν ἀλλ' ἀγαθόν.

Eric Thomson offers this variation on West's bane and boon:
Wine drunk by the pailful is baleful, but if quaffed
   with prudence, there's much less piss ... more bliss.


A False Voice

Boswell: The Ominous Years, 1774-1776, edd. Charles Ryskamp and Frederick A. Pottle (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1963), pp. 124-125 (April 6, 1775):
I maintained a strange proposition to Burke: that it was better for a Scotsman and an Irishman to preserve so much of their native accent and not to be quite perfect in English, because it was unnatural. I would have all the birds of the air to retain somewhat of their own notes: a blackbird to sing like a blackbird, and a thrush like a thrush, and not a blackbird and other birds to sing all like some other bird. Burke agreed with me. Englishmen would laugh heartily, and say, "Here an Irishman and a Scotsman, each with his own country tone strong, attempt to prove that it is better to have it." I said it was unnatural to hear a Scotsman speaking perfect English. He appeared a machine. I instanced Wedderburn. "A man of wood," said I, "or a man of brass." "Ay, a man of brass," cried Burke. Lord Lisburne and I had afterwards a dispute on this subject. My metaphor of the birds he opposed by saying, "A Scotsman may do very well with his own tone in Coll; but if he comes into the House of Commons, it will be better if he speaks English. A bagpipe may do very well in the Highlands, but I would not introduce it into Bach's concert." "This," said I, "shows what it is to argue in metaphors. One is just as good as another." But I maintained to my Lord that it put me in a passion to hear a Scotsman speaking in a perfect English tone. It was a false voice. He speaks as if he had some pipe or speaking instrument in his mouth. And I thought always, "Can't he take this confounded pipe out, and let us hear him speak with his own organs?" I do still think I am right.
For more on the subject see Pat Rogers, "Boswell and the Scotticism," in George Clingham, ed., New Light on Boswell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 56-71.


Never Mind the Use

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (aetat. 60, i.e. 1769):
On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his house. He advised me to complete a Dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of which I shewed him a specimen. 'Sir, (said he,) Ray has made a collection of north-country words. By collecting those of your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the language.' He bade me also go on with collections which I was making upon the antiquities of Scotland. 'Make a large book; a folio.' BOSWELL. 'But of what use will it be, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Never mind the use; do it.'

Dear Mike,

Boswell's draft materials ('specimen'), which he had begun to compile in Utrecht in 1764, were long assumed to be lost, until rediscovered serendipitously in 2008, bound together with the 1802 Prospectus for John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808) kept in the Bodleian Library. Thirty-seven of the forty-four leaves of the Prospectus are Boswell's. More information and photographs of the manuscript can be found here:

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Related posts:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


It Is Thus That We Should Live

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 83.1 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
At any rate, it is thus that we should live,—as if we lived in plain sight of all men; and it is thus that we should think,—as if there were someone who could look into our inmost souls; and there is one who can so look. For what avails it that something is hidden from man? Nothing is shut off from the sight of God.

sic certe vivendum est, tamquam in conspectu vivamus; sic cogitandum, tamquam aliquis in pectus intimum introspicere possit; et potest. quid enim prodest ab homine aliquid esse secretum? nihil deo clusum est.


Intimidated by the Printed Page

Theodore Dalrymple "A Quick Word," Taki's Magazine (November 7, 2015):
A whole page of print now intimidates many people, and not just the type of people whom a page of print has always intimidated; at a Paris airport there was, until two or three years ago, a very good bookshop, but it has now been replaced by a pharmacy. It is not that passengers read books that they have downloaded on their electronic devices; on the contrary, they play games or watch films on them, or leaf through glossy magazines in a desultory way. And literary pages in French newspapers and magazines now review comic-strip books with as much seriousness as any other type of book. Adults are the new children.



Euripides, Suppliant Women 312-313 (tr. David Kovacs):
It is the decent observance of the laws that holds together all human communities.

           τὸ γάρ τοι συνέχον ἀνθρώπων πόλεις
τοῦτ' ἔσθ', ὅταν τις τοὺς νόμους σῴζῃ καλῶς.
Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 2.31 (tr. R.G. Bury):
For the laws are what bind cities together.

οἱ γὰρ νόμοι πόλεών εἰσι σύνδεσμοι.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



Jim Dobson, "Inside The World's Largest Private Apocalypse Shelter, The Oppidum," Forbes (November 5, 2015), p. 3:
The Oppidum was created by Jakub Zamrazil, a Czech entrepreneur with a successful track record in real estate development, sales and marketing. When Mr Zamrazil first toured the unique former military facility, he was impressed by its massive scale. He saw its potential to be transformed into the ultimate life-assurance solution and named it The Oppidum, from the Latin word meaning the main settlement in an administrative area of ancient Rome. The word was derived from the earlier Latin op-pedum, an "enclosed space", used to describe fortresses that were constructed in Europe as early as the Iron Age.
Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. oppidum, says that the etymology of the word is "[dub.]," i.e. dubium, uncertain, and gives alternate spellings from the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum:
I haven't seen Homenaje a Antonio Tovar. Ofrecido por sus discípulos, colegas y amigos (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1972), but a review by Christian Devos, L'Antiquité Classique 47.1 (1978), pp. 400-401 (at 400) summarizes one of the essays in the Festschrift as follows:
Pour E. PERUZZI, lat. oppidum vient de *oppedum, à rapprocher de pedus ou pedum (Virg., Buc., V, 88), bâton fourchu destiné à entraver les animaux, notion assez voisine de celle du «box» qui retient les chevaux avant le départ de la course. Lat. *pedulum que suppose it. pieglio (à comprendre comme un «pieu, muni de branches latérales, auquel les bergers suspendent leurs ustensiles»), manifestement diminutif de pedus ou pedum serait une survivance de la même racine.
I don't have access to Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008). See Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Latine. Histoire des Mots, 4th ed. (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 463:

Thanks to a dear friend for letting me see the entry on oppidum in de Vaan's dictionary (pp. 430-431):


November Morning

Edmund Blunden (1896-1974), "November Morning," The Shepherd and Other Poems of Peace and War (London: R. Cobden-Sanderson, 1922), p. 23 (line numbers added):
From the night storm sad wakes the winter day
With sobbings round the yew, and far-off surge
Of broadcast rain; the old house cries dismay,
And rising floods gleam silver on the verge
Of sackclothed skies and melancholy grounds.        5
On the black hop-pole slats the weazen bine,
The rooks with terror's tumult take their rounds,
Under the eaves the chattering sparrows pine.

Waked by the bald light from his bed of straw,
The beggar shudders out to steal and gnaw        10
Sheeps' locusts: leaves the last of many homes—
Where mouldered apples and black shoddy lie,
Hop-shovels spluttered, wickered flasks flung by,
And sharded pots and rusty curry combs.
My notes:
6 slats: flaps, beats (as intransitive verb)? (cf. OED, s.v. slat, v.2, sense 3)
weazen: wizened, i.e. dried up, shrivelled
bine: "the climbing stem of the hop" (OED, sense 1.b)

11 sheeps' locusts: pods of the locust tree, used as fodder for sheep. Cf. Luke 15.16 (the prodigal son): And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.

12 shoddy: coal? (OED, s.v. shoddy, n., sense 4.b)

13 spluttered: scattered



Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 58 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
The life of every individual, viewed as a whole and in general, and when only its most significant features are emphasized, is really a tragedy; but gone through in detail it has the character of a comedy. For the doings and worries of the day, the restless mockeries of the moment, the desires and fears of the week, the mishaps of every hour, are all brought about by chance that is always bent on some mischievous trick; they are nothing but scenes from a comedy. The never-fulfilled wishes, the frustrated efforts, the hopes mercilessly blighted by fate, the unfortunate mistakes of the whole life, with increasing suffering and death at the end, always gives us a tragedy. Thus, as if fate wished to add mockery to the misery of our existence, our life must contain all the woes of tragedy, and yet we cannot even assert the dignity of tragic characters, but, in the broad detail of life, are inevitably the foolish characters of a comedy.

Das Leben jedes Einzelnen ist, wenn man es im Ganzen und Allgemeinen übersieht und nur die bedeutsamsten Züge heraushebt, eigentlich immer ein Trauerspiel; aber im Einzelnen durchgegangen, hat es den Charakter des Lustspiels. Denn das Treiben und die Plage des Tages, die rastlose Neckerei des Augenblicks, das Wünschen und Fürchtender Woche, die Unfälle jeder Stunde, mittelst des stets auf Schabernack bedachten Zufalls, sind lauter Komödienscenen. Aber die nie erfüllten Wünsche, das vereitelte Streben, die vom Schicksal unbarmherzig zertretenen Hoffnungen, die unsäligen Irrthümer des ganzen Lebens, mit dem steigenden Leiden und Tode am Schlüsse, geben immer ein Trauerspiel. So muß, als ob das Schicksal zum Jammer unsers Daseyns noch den Spott fügen gewollt, unser Leben alle Wehen des Trauerspiels enthalten, und wir dabei doch nicht ein Mal die Würde tragischer Personen behaupten können, sondern, im breiten Detail des Lebens, unumgänglich läppische Lustspielcharaktere seyn.

Monday, November 09, 2015


A Man in the Know

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), Life of Galileo, 4 (Mrs. Sarti speaking; tr. John Willett):
If there was anything to all these discoveries the clergy would be the first to know. I spent four years in service with Monsignor Filippo without ever managing to get all his library dusted. Leather bound books up to the ceiling — and no slim volumes of poetry either. And that good Monsignor had a whole cluster of sores on his bottom from sitting and poring over all that learning; d'you imagine a man like that doesn't know the answers?

Wenn was dran wäre an diesen Entdeckungen, würden das doch die geistlichen Herren am ehesten wissen. Ich war vier Jahre bei Monsignore Filippo im Dienst und habe seine Bibliothek nie ganz abstauben können. Lederbände bis zur Decke und keine Gedichtchen! Und der gute Monsignore hatte zwei Pfund Geschwüre am Hintern vom vielen Sitzen über all der Wissenschaft, und ein solcher Mann soll nicht Bescheid wissen?

Édouard John Mentha (1858-1915),
Maid Reading in a Library

Sunday, November 08, 2015


New Book of the Bible?

From "Ben Carson's house: a homage to himself – in pictures," The Guardian (November 7, 2015):


Cure for Low Spirits

James Boswell, Journal (May 6, 1763):
I awaked as usual heavy, confused, and splenetic. Every morning this is the case with me. Dempster prescribed to me to cut two or three brisk capers round the room, which I did, and found attended with most agreeable effects. It expelled the phlegm from my heart, gave my blood a free circulation, and my spirits a brisk flow; so that I was all at once made happy. I must remember this and practice it. Though indeed when one is in low spirits he generally is so indolent and careless that rather than take a little trouble he will just sink under the load.
Id. (June 27, 1763):
At night Temple, Claxton, Bob, and I went to Vauxhall by water. Somehow or another, I was very low-spirited and melancholy, and could not relish a gay entertainment, and was very discontent. I left my company and mounting on the back of a hackney-coach, rattled away to town in the attitude of a footman. The whimsical oddity of this, the jolting of the machine, and the soft breeze of the evening made me very well again.

Saturday, November 07, 2015


The Winds Now Are Cold

Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "Nouember," Fantasticks (London: Printed for Francis Williams, 1626):
It is now Nouember, and according to the old Prouerbe, Let the Thresher take his flayle, and the ship no more sayle: for the high winds and the rough seas will try the ribs of the Shippe, and the hearts of the Sailers: Now come the Countrey people all wet to the Market, and the toyling Carriers are pittifully moyled: The yong Herne and the Shoulerd are now fat for the great Feast, and the Woodcocke begins to make toward the Cockeshoot: the Warriners now beginne to plie their haruest, and the Butcher, after a good bargaine, drinks a health to the Grasier: the Cooke and the Comfitmaker, make ready for Christmas, and the Minstrels in the Countrey, beat their boyes for false fingring: Schollers before breakefast haue a cold stomacke to their bookes, and a Master without Art is fit for an A.B.C. A red herring and a cup of Sacke, make warre in a weake stomacke, and the poore mans fast, is better then the Gluttons surfet: Trenchers and dishes are now necessary seruants, and a locke to the Cubboord keepes a bit for a neede: Now beginnes the Goshauke to weede the wood of the Phesant, and the Mallard loues not to heare the belles of the Faulcon: The winds now are cold, and the Ayre chill, and the poore die through want of Charitie: Butter and Cheese beginne to rayse their prices, and Kitchen stuffe is a commoditie, that euery man is not acquainted with. In summe, with a conceit of the chilling cold of it, I thus conclude in it: I hold it the discomfort of Nature, and Reasons patience. Farewell.


An Inscription from Phlius

Richard Wünsch (1869-1915) first used the terms apopompē ( ἀποπομπή) and epipompē (ἐπιπομπή) to describe two different ways of banishing evil. See his "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13/14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else or to some other specific location.

There is an example of epipompē in lines 2-4 of an inscription from Phlius (Inscriptiones Graecae IV 444). Perhaps the inscription is an imprecation against tomb violators. I can't find a discussion or a translation of the inscription anywhere, so here is my own tentative translation (omitting the first, fragmentary line):
And whatever you do to this one [or, in this place], may it be turned against you; this is our prayer for you. If [you do] something willingly, it is not mine to invoke requital; but the avenging, unyielding judgement of Nemesis hangs over you even as you depart. [— — — — — — —] Aristomenes [— —] always and everywhere strength to [your] mind or heart.
Here is the entire inscription, from the Packard Humanities Institute's Searchable Greek Inscriptions:

[— — — — —] τ̣ις Ι[— —]
καὶ ὅτι ἂν ποιῇς τῶ[ιδε],
εἰς σεαυτὸν τρεπέ[σθω]·
ταῦτά σοι εὐχόμεθ[α].
εἰ δέ τι ἑκών, ἐξαμ[οιβὴν]        5
οὐκ ἐμὸν ἐπαράσα[σθαι]·
δίκη δὲ ἐπικρέματα[ί σοι]
τιμωρὸς ἀπελθόντ̣[ι περ]
ἀπειθὴς Νεμέσε[ως].
          {²vacat 0,07}²
[— — — — — — —]        10
Ἀριστ̣ομ[ε]ν[— —]
ἀεὶ κα<ὶ> <π>ανταχοῦ̣
μέ[ν]ο[ς θ]υμῷ ἢ κα[ρδίᾳ(?)]
I don't find ἐξαμοιβή (line 5) in Liddell-Scott-Jones, but ἀμοιβή means recompense, requital.

Thursday, November 05, 2015


Mediocre Poets

James Boswell, Journal (January 18, 1763):
We disputed about poems. Sheridan said that a man should not be a poet except he was very excellent; for that to be a mediocris poeta was but a poor thing. I said I differed from him. For the greatest part of those who read poetry have a mediocre taste; consequently one may please a great many. Besides, to write poems is very agreeable, and one always has enough people to call them good; so a man of a tolerable genius rather gains than loses.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 51 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
It goes without saying that everywhere I speak exclusively of the great and genuine poet, who is rare. I mean no one else; least of all that dull and shallow race of mediocre poets, rhymesters and devisers of fables which flourishes so luxuriantly, especially in Germany at the present time; but we ought to shout incessantly in their ears from all side:
                                    Mediocribus esse poetis
Non homines, non Di, non concessere columnae.
["Neither gods, nor men, nor even advertising pillars permit the poet to be a mediocrity." Horace, Ars Poetica, 372-3. Tr.] It is worth serious consideration how great an amount of time—their own and other people's—and of paper is wasted by this swarm of mediocre poets, and how injurious their influence is. For the public always seizes on what is new, and shows even more inclination to what is perverse and dull, as being akin to its own nature. These works of the mediocre, therefore, draw the public away and hold it back from genuine masterpieces, and from the education they afford. Thus they work directly against the benign influence of genius, ruin taste more and more, and so arrest the progress of the age. Therefore criticism and satire should scourge mediocre poets without pity or sympathy, until they are induced for their own good to apply their muse rather to read what is good than to write what is bad. For if the bungling of the meddlers put even the god of the Muses in such a rage that he could flay Marsyas, I do not see on what mediocre poetry would base its claims to tolerance.


Feeling Low

Lu Yu (1125-1210), "In the Boat," no. 2 (tr. Burton Watson, with his note):
Rain pelts the lone boat's awning, wine slowly wears off;
the fading lamp and I—both of us feeling low.
Fortune and fame never were things to be counted on,
not like the cold river's two tides each day.

The "cold river" of the last line is probably the Ch'ien-t'ang, near Shao-hsing, which is subject to the ocean's tides.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


An Attack of Melancholy

James Boswell, Journal (March 12, 1763):
This was one of the blackest days that I ever passed. I was most miserably melancholy. I thought I would get no commission, and thought that a grievous misfortune, and that I was very ill used in life. I ruminated of hiding myself from the world. I thought of going to Spain and living there as a silent morose Don. Or of retiring to the sweeter climes of France and Italy. But then I considered that I wanted money. I then thought of having obscure lodgings, and actually looked up and down the bottom of Holborn and towards Fleet Ditch for an out-of-the-way place. How very absurd are such conceits! Yet they are common. When a man is out of humour, he thinks he will vex the world by keeping away from it, and that he will be greatly pitied; whereas in truth the world are too busy about themselves to think of him, and "out of sight, out of mind."



James Boswell, Journal (February 13, 1763):
Well, the human mind is really curious: I can answer for my own. For here now in the space of a few hours I was a dull and a miserable, a clever and a happy mortal, and all without the intervention of any external cause, except a dish of green tea, which indeed is a most kind remedy in cases of this kind. Often have I found relief from it. I am so fond of tea that I could write a whole dissertation on its virtues. It comforts and enlivens without the risks attendant on spirituous liquors. Gentle herb! let the florid grape yield to thee. Thy soft influence is a more safe inspirer of social joy.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


The Same Old Tune

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 58 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
It is really incredible how meaningless and insignificant when seen from without, and how dull and senseless when felt from within, is the course of life of the great majority of men. It is weary longing and worrying, a dreamlike staggering through the four ages of life to death, accompanied by a series of trivial thoughts. They are like clockwork that is wound up and goes without knowing why. Every time a man is begotten and born the clock of human life is wound up anew, to repeat once more its same old tune that has already been played innumerable times, movement by movement and measure by measure, with insignificant variations.

Es ist wirklich unglaublich, wie nichtssagend und bedeutungsleer, von außen gesehn, und wie dumpf und besinnungslos, von innen empfunden, das Leben der allermeisten Menschen dahinfließt. Es ist ein mattes Sehnen und Quälen, ein träumerisches Taumeln durch die vier Lebensalter hindurch zum Tode, unter Begleitung einer Reihe trivialer Gedanken. Sie gleichen Uhrwerken, welche aufgezogen werden und gehn, ohne zu wissen warum; und jedesmal, daß ein Mensch gezeugt und geboren worden, ist die Uhr des Menschenlebens aufs Neue aufgezogen, um jetzt ihr schon zahllose Male abgespieltes Leierstück abermals zu wiederholen, Satz vor Satz und Takt vor Takt, mit unbedeutenden Variationen.



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 90.18 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
All things were ready for us at our birth; it is we that have made everything difficult for ourselves, through our disdain for what is easy. Houses, shelter, creature comforts, food, and all that has now become the source of vast trouble, were ready at hand, free to all, and obtainable for trifling pains.

ad parata nati sumus; nos omnia nobis difficilia facilium fastidio fecimus. tecta tegimentaque et fomenta corporum et cibi et quae nunc ingens negotium facta sunt, obvia erant et gratuita et opera levi parabilia.



Euripides, Bacchae 201-203 (tr. E.R. Dodds):
The traditions which we have received from our fathers, old as time itself, no argument shall overthrow them, whatever subtleties have been invented by deep wits.

πατρίους παραδοχάς, ἅς θ' ὁμήλικας χρόνῳ
κεκτήμεθ', οὐδεὶς αὐτὰ καταβαλεῖ λόγος,
οὐδ' εἰ δι' ἄκρων τὸ σοφὸν ηὕρηται φρενῶν.

Monday, November 02, 2015


The Talk of Ignorant Men

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 91.19 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Our friend Demetrius is wont to put it cleverly when he says: "For me the talk of ignorant men is like the rumblings which issue from the belly. For," he adds, "what difference does it make to me whether such rumblings come from above or from below?"

eleganter Demetrius noster solet dicere eodem loco sibi esse voces inperitorum, quo ventre redditos crepitus. "quid enim," inquit, "mea, susum isti an deosum sonent?"


The Idea of a University

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), speech delivered at the inauguration of Bryn Mawr College, reported in Pennsylvania School Journal 34.5 (November 1885) 203:
When it was first proposed to change Harvard from a college to a university, the opinions of several were asked. I said that my notion was that a university was a place where nothing that was useful was taught. I thought America would never be capable of sustaining a university until a man could get a living by the digging of Sanskrit roots. I meant it was a reaction in my own mind against the theory that a university education is to help a man as a bread-winner. The better part would be the life-long sweetener of all the bread he ever gets.

Sunday, November 01, 2015


Deferring the Inevitable

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 57 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
And if we look at it also from the physical side, it is evident that, just as we know our walking to be only a constantly prevented falling, so is the life of our body only a constantly prevented dying, an ever-deferred death. Finally, the alertness and activity of our mind are also a continuously postponed boredom. Every breath we draw wards off the death that constantly impinges on us. In this way, we struggle with it every second, and again at longer intervals through every meal we eat, every sleep we take, every time we warm ourselves, and so on. Ultimately death must triumph, for by birth it has already become our lot, and it plays with its prey only for a short while before swallowing it up. However, we continue our life with great interest and much solicitude as long as possible, just as we blow out a soap-bubble as long and as large as possible, although with the perfect certainty that it will burst.

Sehn wir es nun aber auch von der physischen Seite an; so ist offenbar, daß wie bekanntlich unser Gehn nur ein stets gehemmtes Fallen ist, das Leben unsers Leibes nur ein fortdauernd gehemmtes Sterben, ein immer aufgeschobener Tod ist: endlich ist eben so die Regsamkeit unsers Geistes eine fortdauernd zurückgeschobene Langeweile. Jeder Athemzug wehrt den beständig eindringenden Tod ab, mit welchem wir auf diese Weise in jeder Sekunde kämpfen, und dann wieder, in großem Zwischenräumen, durch jede Mahlzeit, jeden Schlaf, jede Erwärmung u.s.w. Zuletzt muß er siegen: denn ihm sind wir schon durch die Geburt anheimgefallen, und er spielt nur eine Weile mit seiner Beute, bevor er sie verschlingt. Wir setzen indessen unser Leben mit großem Antheil und vieler Sorgfalt fort, so lange als möglich, wie man eine Seifenblase so lange und so groß als möglich aufbläst, wiewohl mit der festen Gewißheit, daß sie platzen wird.

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