Tuesday, March 21, 2017


New Enterprises

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 152 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Take heed how you involve yourself in new enterprises or engagements; for once in, you are forced to go on. Whence it results that men are often found labouring through tasks which being embarked in they cannot withdraw from, though had they foreseen a tenth part of their difficulty they would have gone a thousand miles to avoid them. This rule holds most of all in feuds, factions, and wars, before taking part in which, or in anything of a like nature, no amount of careful and cautious consideration will be excessive.

Abbiate grandissima circumspezione innanzi entriate in imprese o faccende nuove, perché doppo el principio bisogna andare per necessità; e però interviene spesso che gli uomini si conducono a camminare per difficultà, che se prima n'avessino immaginato la ottava parte, se ne sarebbono alienati mille miglia; ma come sono imbarcati, non è in potestà loro ritirarsi. Accade questo massime nelle inimicizie, nelle parzialità, nelle guerre; nelle quali cose e in tutte l'altre, innanzi si piglino, non è considerazione o diligenzia sì esatta che sia superflua.


A Musical Instrument

Aristophanes, Clouds 165 (my translation):
The anus is a trumpet...

σάλπιγξ ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν...
Related post: Rectal Music.



Death with Dignity

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
On this estate dedicated, like its manor house, to the crackbrained enterprises of charity, everywhere one looks there are old women kept alive by virtue of surgical operations. There was a time when one died at home, in the dignity of solitude and desertion; now the moribund are collected, crammed, and their indecent throes extended as long as possible.

Dans ce parc affecté, comme le manoir, aux entreprises loufoques de la charité, partout des vieilles qu'on maintient en vie à coup d'opérations. Avant, on agonisait chez soi, dans la dignité de la solitude et de l'abandon, maintenant on rassemble les moribonds, on les gave et on prolonge le plus longtemps possible leur indécente crevaison.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Man's Worst Enemy

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 361 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Man has no worse enemy than himself, for almost all the many troubles, dangers, and afflictions he has to endure have no other source than his own excessive desires.

Non ha maggiore inimico l'uomo che sé medesimo; perché quasi tutti e mali, pericoli e travagli superflui che ha, non procedono da altro che dalla sua troppa cupidità.


An Old Fogey

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 10 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
That is what this man will say, the impostor, the absolute old fogey, the antediluvian, who displays dead men of a bygone age to serve as patterns, and expects you to dig up long-buried speeches as if they were something tremendously helpful...

ὁ μὲν ταῦτα φήσει, ἀλαζὼν καὶ ἀρχαῖος ὡς ἀληθῶς καὶ Κρονικὸς ἄνθρωπος, νεκροὺς εἰς μίμησιν παλαιοὺς προτιθεὶς καὶ ἀνορύττειν ἀξιῶν λόγους πάλαι κατορωρυγμένους ὥς τι μεγιστον ἀγαθόν...
Related posts:

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Youth and Old Age

Mimnermus, fragment 2 (tr. M.L. West):
But we are like the leaves that flowery spring
    puts forth, quick spreading in the sun's warm light:
for a brief span of time we take our joy
    in our youth's bloom, the future, good or ill,
kept from us, while the twin dark Dooms stand by,        5
    one bringing to fulfillment harsh old age,
the other, death. The ripeness of youth's fruit
    is short, short as the sunlight on the earth,
and once this season of perfection's past,
    it's better to be dead than stay alive.        10
All kinds of worry come. One man's estate
    is failing, and there's painful poverty;
another has no sons—the keenest need
    one feels as one goes down below the earth;
sickness wears down another's heart. There's none        15
    Zeus does not give a multitude of ills.

ἡμεῖς δ᾿, οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
    ἔαρος, ὅτ᾿ αἶψ᾿ αὐγῇς αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν ἥβης
    τερπόμεθα, πρὸς θεῶν εἰδότες οὔτε κακὸν
οὔτ᾿ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,        5
    ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ᾿ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
    καρπός, ὅσον τ᾿ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
    αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἢ βίοτος·        10
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
    τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ὀδυνηρὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ᾿ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
    ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν        15
    ἀνθρώπων ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Our Ignorance

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 141 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
No wonder that we are ignorant of what has happened in past ages, or of what is happening now in distant countries and remote cities. For if you note it well, you will perceive that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town. Nay, often between the palace and the marketplace there lies so dense a mist or is built a wall so thick that no eye can penetrate it; so that the people know as much of what their rulers are doing, or their reasons for doing it, as they know of what is being done in China. And for this reason the world is readily filled with empty and idle beliefs.

Non vi maravigliate che non si sappino le cose delle età passate, non quelle che si fanno nelle provincie o luoghi lontani; perché se considerate bene, non s'ha vera notizia delle presenti, non di quelle che giornalmente si fanno in una medesima città; e spesso tra il palazzo e la piazza è una nebbia sì folta, o uno muro sì grosso, che non vi penetrando l'occhio degli uomini, tanto sa el popolo di quello che fa chi governa, o della ragione per che lo fa, quanto delle cose che fanno in India; e però si empie facilmente el mondo di opinione erronee e vane.
Related post: Difficulty of Ascertaining Historical Truth.

Thanks to the reader who sent me the following via email:
Guicciardini's claim "that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town" reminded me of an anecdote given by Orwell — I have no idea where he got it — in his column 'As I please' in the London Tribune, 4 Feb. 1944:
When Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he occupied himself with writing a history of the world. He had finished the first volume and was at work on the second when there was a scuffle between some workmen beneath the window of his cell, and one of the men was killed. In spite of diligent enquiries, and in spite of the fact that he had actually seen the thing happen, Sir Walter was never able to discover what the quarrel was about; whereupon, so it is said — and if the story is not true it certainly ought to be — he burned what he had written and abandoned his project.


Offensive Behavior

Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999), Thy Hand, Great Anarch! India 1921-1952 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1987), pp. 189-190:
My brothers never made any insulting remarks to me. But I could see how they disapproved of me. I also saw, rightly or wrongly, looks of cold contempt when they met me. What distressed me most then was the alienation from my elder brother, who had led me into jaunts of buying books and pictures. Even late in 1924 we had come triumphantly home with a porter behind us carrying many volumes of the Arden edition of Shakespeare, and though he himself did not read French he had abetted me in buying a very pretty edition of Molière in eight volumes which had once belonged to Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury). But he had become not only wholly unco-operative but also hostile, so much so that after buying a Medici print of the Mona Lisa in 1926 I hid the print for some weeks to avoid giving offence to his eyes.

More distant relatives were vocally abusive. Although they were not supporting me, they were making very insulting remarks, even going to the point of saying that I should be whipped. And these remarks were always brought to me by those to whom they were made. What exasperated them was in the first place my giving up a Government post. That was bad enough, but not satisfied with that offence I went just then on a wild spree of spending on books and pictures. I might say I went berserk. This was not the kind of extravagance which they could disapprove silently. If in my desperation I had begun to visit brothels or taken to drugs or drink, nobody woud have said a word, for in our society it was not decorous to be open about such failings. But what I did was not so clearly immoral as to become unmentionable, but was offensive enough as behaviour to be condemned.
Id., p. 193:
Besides, books were to me mental nourishment, as much as they were material adjuncts of mental life at a civilized level. Therefore I did not think I could give up buying books and artistic objects simply because I had no money or very little money. In any case, though I bought things on credit I finally paid for them with my own money or at its worst with my father's. But, of course, in our society as it had become even spending one's own money on such things was not approved of. An elderly relative of mine said to me one day: 'I do not ask you to give up buying books, but at present you should lay by something, and when you have enough buy books.' I could not tell him to his face that he might as well have told me to put off eating until I had enough in the bank. I might add here that even at the end of my life, I have not gone back on my conviction that our beautiful material possessions are only the outward signs of an inward grace, or in plain words material symbols of a full and active mental life. I have always held the saying 'Plain living and high thinking' in contempt. Plain living (which is not simple living) results in very poor thinking.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Friday, March 17, 2017



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Vacillating instincts, corroded beliefs, obsessions, and anility: everywhere conquerors in retreat, rentiers of heroism confronting the young Alarics who lie in wait for Rome and Athens; everywhere paradoxes of the lymphatic. There was a time when salon sallies traversed whole countries, foiled stupidity or refined it. Europe, coquettish and intractable, was in the flower of her age; — decrepit today, Europe excites no one. Even so, certain barbarians await their chance to inherit the finery, impatient at her long agony.

Instincts vacillants, croyances avariées, marottes et radotages. Partout des conquérants à la retraite, des rentiers de l'héroïsme, en face de jeunes Alaric qui guettent les Rome et les Athènes, partout des paradoxes de lymphatiques. Autrefois les boutades de salon traversaient les pays, déroutaient la sottise ou l'affinaient. L'Europe, coquette et intraitable, était dans la fleur de l'âge; — décrépite aujourd'hui, elle n'excite plus personne. Des barbares cependant attendent d'en hériter les dentelles et s'irritent de sa longue agonie.


We the People

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 140 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
To speak of the people is in truth to speak of a beast, mad, mistaken, perplexed, without taste, discernment, or stability.

Chi disse uno popolo disse veramente uno animale pazzo, pieno di mille errori, di mille confusione, sanza gusto, sanza diletto, sanza stabilità.
Id., number 345:
To speak of the people is to speak of a madman; of a monster stuffed with inconsistencies and errors; whose empty judgments lie as far from truth, as Spain, according to Ptolemy, from India.

Chi disse uno populo, disse veramente uno pazzo; perché è uno mostro pieno di confusione e di errori, e le sue vane opinione sono tanto lontane dalla verità, quanto è, secondo Ptolomeo, la Spagna dalla India.


Glory and Loveliness Have Passed Away

John Keats (1795-1821), "Dedication. To Leigh Hunt, Esq.," Poems (London: C. and J. Ollier, 1817):
Glory and loveliness have passed away;
   For if we wander out in early morn,
   No wreathed incense do we see upborne
Into the east, to meet the smiling day:
No crowd of nymphs soft voic'd and young, and gay,
   In woven baskets bringing ears of corn,
   Roses, and pinks, and violets, to adorn
The shrine of Flora in her early May.
But there are left delights as high as these,
   And I shall ever bless my destiny,
That in a time, when under pleasant trees
   Pan is no longer sought, I feel a free
A leafy luxury, seeing I could please
   With these poor offerings, a man like thee.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


The Afterlife

Robert Browning (1812-1889), "The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's," lines 80-84:
And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long,
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!



Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 12 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
The same or similar proverbs, though differently expressed, are found among all nations. And this because these spring from experience or from the observation of things, which are everywhere the same or similar.

Quasi tutti e medesimi proverbi o simili, benché con diverse parole, si truovono in ogni nazione; e la ragione è che e proverbii nascono dalla esperienzia o vero osservazione delle cose, le quali in ogni luogo sono le medesime o simili.


Latin Ash and Greek Dust

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), "La Voix," lines 1-4 (tr. Francis Scarfe):
My cradle had its back to the book-case,
a gloomy Babel in which novels, works of science, medieval tales,
everything including Latin ash and Greek dust,
was jumbled together. I was no taller than a folio.

Mon berceau s'adossait à la bibliothèque,
Babel sombre, où roman, science, fabliau,
Tout, la cendre latine et la poussière grecque,
Se mêlaient. J'était haut comme un in-folio.

The contents of the book-case in my parents' house, so far as I can remember:

Monday, March 13, 2017


Historical Recurrence

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 76 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Whatsoever has been in the past or is now will repeat itself in the future; but the names and surfaces of things will be so altered, that he who has not a quick eye will not recognise them, or know to guide himself accordingly, or to form a judgment on what he sees.

Tutto quello che è stato per el passato è al presente, sarà ancora in futuro; ma si mutano e nomi e le superficie delle cose in modo, che chi non ha buono occhio non le ricognosce, né sa pigliare regola, o fare giudicio per mezzo di quella osservazione.
Cf. id., number 336:
Past events throw light on future, because the world has always been the same as it now is, and all that is now, or shall be hereafter, has been in time past. Things accordingly repeat themselves, but under changed names and colours, so that it is not every one who can recognise them, but only he who is discerning and who notes and considers them diligently.

Le cose passate fanno lume alle future, perché el mondo fu sempre di una medesima sorte; e tutto quello che è e sarà, è stato in altro tempo, e le cose medesime ritornano, ma sotto diversi nomi e colori; però ognuno non le ricognosce, ma solo chi è savio, e le osserva e considera diligentemente.


National Differences

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), "An Examination of Certain Abuses, Corruptions, and Enormities in the City of Dublin," Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, Vol. VII: Historical and Political Tracts—Irish (London: George Bell and Sons, 1905), pp. 267-282 (at 270):
But, to proceed to other enormities: Every person who walks the streets, must needs observe the immense number of human excrements at the doors and steps of waste houses, and at the sides of every dead wall; for which the disaffected party have assigned a very false and malicious cause. They would have it, that these heaps were laid there privately by British fundaments, to make the world believe, that our Irish vulgar do daily eat and drink; and, consequently, that the clamour of poverty among us, must be false, proceeding only from Jacobites and Papists. They would confirm this, by pretending to observe, that a British anus being more narrowly perforated than one of our own country; and many of these excrements upon a strict view appearing copple crowned, with a point like a cone or pyramid, are easily distinguished from the Hibernian, which lie much flatter, and with less continuity. I communicated this conjecture to an eminent physician, who is well versed in such profound speculations; and at my request was pleased to make trial with each of his fingers, by thrusting them into the anus of several persons of both nations, and professed he could find no such difference between them as those ill-disposed people allege. On the contrary, he assured me, that much the greater number of narrow cavities were of Hibernian origin. This I only mention to shew how ready the Jacobites are to lay hold of any handle to express their malice against the government. I had almost forgot to add, that my friend the physician could, by smelling each finger, distinguish the Hibernian excrement from the British, and was not above twice mistaken in an hundred experiments; upon which he intends very soon to publish a learned dissertation.



Finger Names in Greek

Erasmus, Adages II iv 91, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 33: Adages II i 1 to II vi 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 234-235, with notes on p. 419:
Plutarch5 in the essay he called 'How a man may become aware of his Progress,' writes that it was an old custom to learn by heart the names of the fingers, and use these when frightened as though they would help. I will copy his actual words: 'Some people get by heart the names of their own fingers and use them as a protection against terrors, quietly repeating each one in turn, as if it were a remedy against ills.' The names of the fingers in Greek are given by Gellius in his Attic Nights.6

5 Plutarch] Moralia 85B. Erasmus has been misled here, as in Parabolae col 583 (CWE 23:188), by an error in the Aldine Plutarch; it should be 'the names,' not 'of one's own fingers' (idiôn daktylôn) but 'of the Idaean Dactyls' (Idaiôn Daktylôn), mythical gnomes who lived on Mount Ida in Crete...

6 The Greek names of the fingers are not in Aulus Gellius; they can be found in Pollux, Gnomasticon 2.145.
Gnomasticon is a misprint for Onomasticon.

Donald C. Swanson, "Modern Greek Corrections to Buck's Dictionary," American Journal of Philology 78.4 (1957) 401-413 (at 403-404):
4.34 (FINGER) Modern Greek shows some dialectal and individual differences in the names of the fingers. A dialect atlas of Greece would have to include these terms on its list. It is unfortunate that Buck did not give the other finger names; he lists only THUMB. A few days' research on this semantic area revealed a preliminary conclusion that in many European languages the 'ring finger' has no name, or no common name, or only an artificial name. Likewise the middle finger, for which French for example has the obviously learned Latinism médius. The little finger seems to be so called in most European languages. There is much complication in this whole area, and very likely a sizable dissertation could be written on the subject. The modern Greek equivalents, so far as I have been able to determine them, are the following:

a. 'forefinger' δείχτης from the verb δείχνω (ancient δείκνυμι) 'point out,' but the ancient noun is λιχανός from the zero grade of the verb λείχω 'lick,' plus suffix. Is the modern word a recent coinage? Unlikely. Andriotis3 does not list the word.

b. 'middle finger' μεσαῖος. The ancient is μέσος, as found in Plato and Aristotle. (See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v.)

c. 'ring finger' παράμεσος, also not listed in Andriotis. It seems to be a post-classical coinage, since it is first found in Apuleius (II A.D.), and in three contemporary Greek technical writers.4

d. 'little finger' μικρό δάχτυλο (as in ancient Gk.: Aristotle has μικρὸς δάκτυλος).

In leaving this subject I should mention that many foreign-language-to-English dictionaries which I have consulted lacked names for several of the fingers, giving chiefly or only thumb and forefinger. Is this because of the apparent triviality of the subject, or were the compilers culture-bound to English, this language using only phrases for the last three fingers? This may be an unexplored lexicographical problem.

3 For this reference and others see bibliographical remarks at end. [pp. 412-413: N.P. Andriotis, Etymologiko Lexiko tis Koinis Neoellinikis (Athens, 1951)]

4 Apuleius, Metam., X, 21 (ed. R. Halm [1913], p. 252 note; Adlington-Gaselee in the Loeb [1915], p. 596). These two editors excise the passage from their texts, but regard it as authentic since two MSS carry it in the margin. The pertinent words are: 'Ac dein digitis, hypate, lichano, mese, paramese, et nete' (sic Gaselee). The passage is defective and difficult but the names of fingers, and/or of tones (of a five-stringed instrument) named from the fingers, are clearly intended.

The Greek references (Liddell-Scott-Jones) are as follows: Pollux, II, 145, Rufus Medicus, Onom., 83, Galen, II, 264. By a curious coincidence all these authors, including Apuleius, are of the 2nd century A.D.
Pollux, Onomasticon, ed. Erich Bethe, Fasc. I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1900), pp. 127-128 (2.145):
ὀνομάζονται δὲ οἱ δάκτυλοι μικρόc, παράμεcοc, μέcοc, λιχανόc, ἀντίχειρ ἢ μέγαc.
All of these are adjectives modifying δάκτυλος (finger) understood.


Sunday, March 12, 2017


A Thousand Follies

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 125 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Philosophers, theologians, and all others who write of things unseen and supernatural, give utterance to a thousand follies. For the fact is that men are in the dark as to such matters, and the search into them has served and serves rather to exercise the intellect than to discover truth.

E filosofi e teologi e tutti gli altri che scrivono le cose sopra natura o che non si veggono, dicono mille pazzie; perché in effetto gli uomini sono al bujo delle cose, e questa indagazione ha servito e serve piú a esercitare gli ingegni che a trovare la verità.


Excerpts from a Library Catalogue

Bibliotheca Fanatica: or, The Phanatique Library: Being a Catalogue of Such Books as have been lately made and by the Authors presented to the Colledge of Bedlam (London, 1660), pp. 3-4:
Lucri bonus est odor ex re qualibet; a Treatise written in defence of his seizing on the Boie's Close-stool-pan, and reserving the contents for his own profit, because the Lad was so profane to carry it on a Sunday; by Alderman Atkins, Shit-breeches.
Id., p. 5:
Animadversions and Corrections of St. Paul's Epistles, and specially of that sentence, Godliness is great gain; whereas it should be, Gain is great Godliness; as is clearly proved by William Kiffin, Broaker of the Word.
Diva Pecunia, a brief Discourse to prove that there neither is, nor can be any other God which should be adored by the Saints, but the omnipotent Lady Money: by Marchamond Needham, the Devil's half Crown News-Monger.
Id., p. 7 (i.e. 6):
The Saints shall possess the Earth; proving, That it is lawful for the brethren to stab, cut the throats of, or any way make an end of the Wicked of this World, if so be there will thereby any profit accrue to themselves. By the Congregations at Pauls and elsewhere.


Man's Fruits

George Gascoigne (1535-1577), "The Droome of Doomes Day," Complete Works, Vol. II, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1910), p. 221:
O vile unworthinesse of mans estate and condicion, & O unworthy estate of mans vilenesse. Search the trees & the herbes of the Earth, they bringe forthe boughes, leaves, flowers, & fruits. A man bringeth forth nitts, lyse & worms. They distill & powre out, Oyle, Wyne, and Balmes, and a man maketh excrements of spettle, pisse, and ordure. They smell & breathe all swetenesse of smell and pleasauntnesse, whereas man belcheth, breaketh wynde and stincketh, for such as the tree is, such fruites it bringeth forth, and an evil tree can not bring out good fruit.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Dive In

Chrysogonus Waddell (1930-2008), "An Old Man's Tale: My Many Years with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux," A Companion to Bernard of Clairvaux, ed. Brian Patrick McGuire (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 347-368 (at 349):
In point of fact, even now when I'm asked how to begin reading Saint Bernard, I usually say something like this: Dive in somewhere and flounder around a bit; and, with perseverance, you just might latch onto a bit of driftwood that will carry you by degrees to terra firma; and then the great adventure with Saint Bernard can begin.



Thesaurus Aenigmaticus: or, A Collection of the Most Ingenious and Diverting Aenigma's or Riddles (London: John Wilford, 1725), p. 35 (Aenigma XXXVIII):
To all around me Mirth I make, tho seldom spend my Pelf;
And whatso'ere I chance to say, I always shame my self.
I'm usher'd into Company of those of best Degree,
Who all congratulating Bow, when'ere they know 'tis me.
Yet whoso'ere me entertains, turns usually a Sneaker,
Tho' of the Commons House ('tis true) I once was Mr. Speaker.
And tho I'm chose no Member now, I often fill the Chair
But very seldom come into't if th' Speaker be not there.
I live to so great length of Age, I die for want of Breath,
And yet when'ere I hap to die, I sing before my Death.
Answer on p. 70:
A F——t.



Prayers for Peace

Euripides, fragment 453, lines 15-26 (from Cresphontes; tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Peace, with your depths of wealth, fairest of the blessed gods, I pine for you, so long you are in coming; I fear old age may overwhelm me with hardships before I can look upon your graceful beauty, your songs adorned with dancing, your garland-loving revels. Come, mistress, to my city! Ban from our homes the hateful Discord, and raging Strife that delights in whetted iron.

Εἰρήνα βαθύπλουτε καὶ        15
καλλίστα μακάρων θεῶν,
ζῆλός μοι σέθεν ὡς χρονίζεις.
δέδοικα δὲ μὴ πρὶν πόνοις
ὑπερβάλῃ με γῆρας,
πρὶν σὰν χαρίεσσαν προσιδεῖν ὥραν        20
καὶ καλλιχόρους ἀοιδὰς
φιλοστεφάνους τε κώμους.
ἴθι μοι, πότνια, πόλιν.
τὰν δ᾿ ἐχθρὰν Στάσιν εἶργ᾿ ἀπ᾿ οἴ-
κων τὰν μαινομέναν τ᾿ Ἔριν        25
θηκτῷ τερπομέναν σιδάρῳ.
Commentary in Annette Harder, Euripides' Kresphontes and Archelaos: Introduction, Text, and Commentary (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985), pp. 102-110. Maria Chiara Martinelli, "Osservazioni metrico-testuali sul Fr. 453 N.2 (= 71 Austin) del Cresfonte di Euripide," Studi Classici e Orientali 37 (May 1988) 165-175, is unavailable to me.

Aristophanes, fragment 111 (from Farmers; tr. Jeffrey Henderson)
Peace deep in wealth and little team of oxen, would it were mine to have an end of the war, and delve and dress the vines, and after a bath to take a pull of the new wine, after a meal of fatted bread and cabbage.

Εἰρήνη βαθύπλουτε καὶ ζευγάριον βοεικόν,
εἰ γὰρ ἐμοὶ παυσαμένῳ τοῦ πολέμου γένοιτο
σκάψαι τ᾿ ἀποκλάσαι τε καὶ λουσαμένῳ διελκύσαι
τῆς τρυγός, ἄρτον λιπαρὸν καὶ ῥάφανον φαγόντι.

Friday, March 10, 2017


Philological Method

William M. Calder III, "How Did Ulrich Von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Read a Text?" Classical Journal 86.4 (April-May, 1991) 344-352 (at 350):
In revolt against the stifling methodology of the Ritschl School Wilamowitz was reluctant to discuss method. His student, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, records that in 1919 he once remarked on philological method:26
Then colleagues Harnack and Roethe come to me and say; "You are in good shape; you have the 'Philological Method.'" Why, this prized "philological method"? There simply isn't any—any more than a method to catch fish. The whale is harpooned; the herring caught in a net; flounders are stomped upon; the salmon speared; the trout caught on a fly. Where do you find the method to catch fish? And hunting? I suppose there is something like method there? Why, ladies and gentlemen, there is a difference between hunting lions and catching fleas.
The famous remark was part in fun. He imitates Ovid on the lack of method in love (AA 1.763-64). But he reveals his practical disgust with endless talk on method. Rather, with Aristotle, sit down and get on with it. One may adduce A.E. Housman's famous comparison of philological method to a dog hunting fleas.27

26 See Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Hellas und Hesperien: Gesammelte Schriften zur Antike und zur neueren Literatur in zwei Bänden, edd. Klaus Bartels, Reinhard Thurow and Ernst Zinn II (Zürich 19702) 606-7, with my note at Rheinisches Museum NF 126 (1983) 191. The simile well reveals Wilamowitz' impatience with tiresome blithering about method.

27 The Classical Papers of A.E. Housman: III 1915-1936, collected and edited by J. Diggle and F.R.D. Goodyear (Cambridge 1972) 1059.

Thursday, March 09, 2017



Aristophanes, Birds 685-687 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Now then, ye men by nature just faintly alive, like to the race of leaves,
do-littles, artefacts of clay, tribes shadowy and feeble,
wingless ephemerals, suffering mortals, dreamlike people...

ἄγε δὴ φύσιν ἄνδρες ἀμαυρόβιοι, φύλλων γενεᾷ προσόμοιοι,
ὀλιγοδρανέες, πλάσματα πηλοῦ, σκιοειδέα φῦλ᾿ ἀμενηνά,
ἀπτῆνες ἐφημέριοι, ταλαοὶ βροτοί, ἀνέρες εἰκελόνειροι...
Nan Dunbar's abridged commentary ad loc.:


The Professors

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
We cannot sufficiently blame the nineteenth century for having favored that breed of glossators, those reading machines, that deformation of the mind incarnated by the Professor — symbol of a civilization's decline, of the corruption of taste, of the supremacy of labor over whim.

To see everything from the outside, to systematize the ineffable, to consider nothing straight on, to inventory the views of others! ... All commentary on a work is bad or futile, for whatever is not direct is null.

There was a time when the professors chose to pursue theology. At least they had the excuse then of professing the absolute, of limiting themselves to God, whereas in our century nothing escapes their lethal competence.

On ne saurait trop blâmer le XIXe siècle d'avoir favorisé cette engeance de glossateurs, ces machines à lire, cette malformation de l'esprit qu'incarne le Professeur, — symbole du déclin d'une civilisation, de l'avilissement du goût, de la suprématie du labeur sur le caprice.

Voir tout de l'extérieur, systématiser l'ineffable, ne regarder rien en face, faire l'inventaire des vues des autres! ... Tout commentaire d'une oeuvre est mauvais ou inutile, car tout ce qui n'est pas direct est nul.

Jadis, les professeurs s'acharnaient de préférence sur la théologie. Du moins avaient-ils l'excuse d'enseigner l'absolu, de s'être limités à Dieu, alors qu'à notre époque, rien n'échappe à leur compétence meurtrière.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017


Blessings of Peace

Aristophanes, fragment 402 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
You fool, you fool! All of it's in this life of peace:
to live in the country on his small plot of land,
free of the rat-race of the market,
owning his very own yoke of oxen,
and hearing the bleating of his flocks        5
and the sound of new wine being bottled up,
snacking on little finches and thrushes,
no hanging around the market waiting for smallfry
days old, overpriced, weighed out for him
by a crooked fishmonger with a thumb on the scales.        10

ὦ μῶρε, μῶρε, ταῦτα πάντ᾿ ἐν τῇδ᾿ ἔνι·
οἰκεῖν μὲν ἐν ἀγρῷ τοῦτον ἐν τῷ γηδίῳ
ἀπαλλαγέντα τῶν κατ᾿ ἀγορὰν πραγμάτων,
κεκτημένον ζευγάριον οἰκεῖον βοοῖν,
ἔπειτ᾿ ἀκούειν προβατίων βληχωμένων        5
τρυγός τε φωνὴν εἰς λεκάνην ὠθουμένης,
ὄψῳ δὲ χρῆσθαι σπινιδίοις τε καὶ κίχλαις,
καὶ μὴ περιμένειν ἐξ ἀγορᾶς ἰχθύδια
τριταῖα, πολυτίμητα, βεβασανισμένα
ἐπ᾿ ἰχθυοπώλου χειρὶ παρανομωτάτῃ.        10
Thanks to Joel Eidsath for pointing out a mistake in the Digital Loeb Classical Library version of line 7 (πσινιδίοις for σπινιδίοις):

Poetae Comici Graeci, edd. R. Kassel and C. Austin, Vol. III 2: Aristophanes, Testimonia et Fragmenta (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), pp. 220-221:


Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Songs Sung by Gods

Homeric Hymn to Apollo 189-193 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
All the Muses together, voice sweetly answering voice, hymn the unending gifts the gods enjoy and the sufferings of men, all that they endure at the hands of the deathless gods, and how they live witless and helpless and cannot find healing for death or defence against old age.

Μοῦσαι μέν θ' ἅμα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ
ὑμνεῦσίν ῥα θεῶν δῶρ' ἄμβροτα ἠδ' ἀνθρώπων
τλημοσύνας, ὅσ' ἔχοντες ὑπ' ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι
ζώουσ' ἀφραδέες καὶ ἀμήχανοι, οὐδὲ δύνανται
εὑρέμεναι θανάτοιό τ' ἄκος καὶ γήραος ἄλκαρ.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 420-433 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
And Phoebus Apollo laughed for joy; for the sweet throb of the marvellous music went to his heart, and a soft longing took hold on his soul as he listened. Then the son of Maia, harping sweetly upon his lyre, took courage and stood at the left hand of Phoebus Apollo; and soon, while he played shrilly on his lyre, he lifted up his voice and sang, and lovely was the sound of his voice that followed. He sang the story of the deathless gods and of the dark earth, how at the first they came to be, and how each one received his portion. First among the gods he honored Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, in his song; for the son of Maia was of her following. And next the goodly son of Zeus hymned the rest of the immortals according to their order in age, and told how each was born, mentioning all in order as he struck the lyre upon his arm.

                      γέλασσε δὲ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων        420
γηθήσας, ἐρατὴ δὲ διὰ φρένας ἤλυθ᾽ ἰωὴ
θεσπεσίης ἐνοπῆς, καὶ μιν γλυκὺς ἵμερος ᾕρει
θυμῷ ἀκουάζοντα. λύρῃ δ᾽ ἐρατὸν κιθαρίζων
στῆ ῥ᾽ ὅ γε θαρσήσας ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ Μαιάδος υἱὸς
Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος, τάχα δὲ λιγέως κιθαρίζων        425
γηρύετ᾽ ἀμβολάδην, ἐρατὴ δέ οἱ ἕσπετο φωνή,
κραίνων ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς καὶ γαῖαν ἐρεμνήν,
ὡς τὰ πρῶτα γένοντο καὶ ὡς λάχε μοῖραν ἕκαστος.
Μνημοσύνην μὲν πρῶτα θεῶν ἐγέραιρεν ἀοιδῇ
μητέρα Μουσάων, ἣ γὰρ λάχε Μαιάδος υἱόν·        430
τοὺς δὲ κατὰ πρέσβιν τε καὶ ὡς γεγάασιν ἕκαστος
ἀθανάτους ἐγέραιρε θεοὺς Διὸς ἀγλαὸς υἱός,
πάντ᾽ ἐνέπων κατὰ κόσμον, ἐπωλένιον κιθαρίζων.


The New Völkerwanderung

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Écartèlement (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
In the Métro, one evening, I looked closely around me: everyone had come from somewhere else ... Among us, though, two or three faces from here, embarrassed silhouettes that seemed to be apologizing for their presence. The same spectacle in London.

Today's migrations are no longer made by compact displacements but by successive infiltrations: little by little, individuals insinuate themselves among the "natives," too anemic and too distinguished to stoop to the notion of a "territory." After a thousand years of vigilance, we open the gates ...

When one thinks of the long rivalries between the French and the English, then between the French and the Germans, it seems as if each nation, by weakening one another, had as its task to speed the hour of the common downfall so that other specimens of humanity may relay them. Like its predecessor, the new Völkerwanderung will provoke an ethnic confusion whose phases cannot be distinctly foreseen. Confronted with these disparate profiles, the notion of a community homogeneous to whatever degree is inconceivable. The very possibility of so heteroclite a crowd suggests that in the space it occupies there no longer existed, among the indigenous, any desire to safeguard even the shadow of an identity. At Rome, in the third century of our era, out of a million inhabitants, only sixty thousand were of Latin stock. Once a people has fulfilled the historical idea which was its mission to incarnate, it no longer has any excuse to preserve its difference, to cherish its singularity, to safeguard its features amid a chaos of faces.

Having governed two hemispheres, the West is now becoming their laughingstock: subtle specters, end of the line in the literal sense, doomed to the status of pariahs, of flabby and faltering slaves, a status which perhaps the Russians will escape, those last White Men. Because they still have some pride, that motor, no, that cause of history. When a nation runs out of pride, when it ceases to regard itself as the reason or excuse for the universe, it excludes itself from becoming.

Dans le métro, un soir, je regardais attentivement autour de moi, nous étions tous venus d'ailleurs ... Parmi nous pourtant, deux ou trois figures d'ici, silhouettes embarrassées qui avaient l'air de demander pardon d'être là. Le même spectacle à Londres.

Les migrations, aujourd'hui, ne se font plus par déplacements compacts mais par infiltrations successives: on s'insinue petit à petit parmi les «indigènes», trop exsangues et trop distingués pour s'abaisser à l'idée d'un «territoire». Après mille ans de vigilance, on ouvre les portes ...

Quand on songe aux longues rivalités entre Français et Anglais, puis entre Français et Allemands, on dirait qu'eux tous, en s'affaiblissement réciproquement, n'avaient pour tâche que de hâter l'heure de la déconfiture commune afin que d'autres spécimens d'humanité viennent prendre la relève. De même que l'ancienne, la nouvelle Völkerwanderung suscitera une confusion ethnique dont on ne peut prévoir nettement les phases. Devant ces gueules si disparates, l'idée d'une communauté tant soit peu homogène est inconcevable. La possibilité même d'une multitude si hétéroclite suggère que dans l'espace qu'elle occupe n'existait plus, chez les autochtones, le désir de sauvegarder ne fût-ce que l'ombre d'une identité. A Rome, au IIIeme siècle de notre ère, sur un million d'habitants, soixante mille seulement auraient été des Latins de souche. Dès qu'un peuple a mené à bien l'idée historique qu'il avait la mission d'incarner, il n'a plus aucun motif de préserver sa différence, de soigner sa singularité, de sauvegarder ses traits au milieu d'un chaos de visages.

Après avoir régenté les deux hémisphères, les Occidentaux sont en passe d'en devenir la risée: des spectres subtils, des fin de race au sens propre du terme, voués à une condition de parias, d'esclaves défaillants et flasques, à laquelle échapperont peut-être les Russes, ces derniers Blancs. C'est qu'ils ont encore de l'orgueil, ce moteur, non, cette cause de l'histoire. Quand une nation n'en possède plus, et qu'elle cesse de s'estimer la raison ou l'excuse de l'univers, elle s'exclut elle-même du devenir.



S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon (New York: Scribner, 2010), p. 51:
The Comanche male was thus gloriously, astoundingly free. He was subject to no church, no organized religion, no priest class, no military societies, no state, no police, no public law, no domineering clans or powerful families, no strict rules of personal behavior, nothing telling him he could not leave his band and join another one, nothing even telling him he could not abscond with his friend's wife, though he certainly would end up paying somewhere between one and ten horses for that indulgence, assuming he was caught. He was free to organize his own military raids; free to come and go as he pleased.

Some observations on Comanche naming practices, from the same book, the first on p. 92:
Buffalo Hump had one of those Comanche names—there were a large number of them—that the prudish whites could not quite bring themselves to translate. His Nermernuh name, properly transliterated, was Po-cha-na-quar-hip, which meant "erection that won't go down."
Id., p. 104:
She [the captive Bianca "Banc" Babb] lost control of her bowels while on the back of the horse, and thus acquired her unfortunate Indian name: “Smells Bad When You Walk."

On books used as protection against gunshots (id., p. 175, with endnote on p. 333):
According to [Charles] Goodnight, Comanche shields, made of two layers of the toughest rawhide from the neck of a buffalo and hardened in fire, were almost invulnerable to bullets when stuffed with paper. When Comanches robbed houses, they invariably took all the books they could find.8

8 Marshall Doyle, A Cry Unheard, p. 35; see also Haley, p. 53.
The references are to the following:
Related posts:
These stories of protection against bullets interest me—my uncle was saved by his mess-kit in this way.

Monday, March 06, 2017


The Epoch When Men Hated the Most

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Le mauvais démiurge (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
A man interested in the procession of ideas and of irreducible beliefs will find it worth his while to pause over the spectacle afforded by the first centuries of our era: here he will discover the very model of all the forms of conflict to be met with, in attenuated form, at any moment of history. Quite understandably: this is the epoch when men hated the most. For which the credit goes to the Christians, feverish, intractable, from the start expert in the art of detestation; whereas the pagans could no longer manage anything but scorn. Aggression is a trait common to men and new gods.

If some monster of amenity, ignorant of spleen, nonetheless wanted to become versed in that subject, or at least to learn what it is worth, the simplest method would be for him to read some ecclesiastical authors, beginning with Tertullian, the most brilliant of all, and ending, say, with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, rancorous yet insipid, whose oration against Julian the Apostate makes you feel like converting then and there to paganism. The emperor is conceded no virtues whatever; with unconcealed satisfaction, his heroic death in the Persian War is contested, for Gregory claims he was despatched by "a barbarian who was a buffoon by trade, following the armies in order to divert the soldiers from the hardships of war by his gibes and witticisms." No elegance, no concern to appear worthy of such an adversary. What is unforgivable in the saint's case is that he had known Julian at Athens, in the days when the two young men had frequented the philosophical schools there.

Nothing more odious than the tone of those who are defending a cause, one compromised in appearance, winning in fact; who cannot contain their delight at the idea of their triumph nor help turning their very terrors into so many threats. When Tertullian, sardonic and trembling, describes the Last Judgment, "the greatest of spectacles," as he calls it, he imagines the laugh he will have contemplating so many monarchs and gods "uttering dreadful groans in the depths of the abyss...." This insistence upon reminding the pagans that they were lost, they and their idols, was liable to exasperate even the most temperate. A series of libels camouflaged as treatises, Christian apologetics represents the acme of the bilious genre.

Qui s'intéresse au défilé d'idées et de croyances irréductibles, devrait bien s'arrêter au spectacle qu'offrent les premiers siècles de notre ère: il y trouverait le modèle même de toutes les formes de conflit que l'on rencontre, sous une forme atténuée, à n'importe quel moment de l'histoire. Cela se comprend: c'est l'époque où l'on a haï le plus. Le mérite en revient aux chrétiens, fébriles, intraitables, d'emblée experts dans l'art de la détestation, alors que les païens ne savaient plus manier que le mépris. L'agressivité est un trait commun aux hommes et aux dieux nouveaux.

Si un monstre d'aménité, ignorant la hargne, voulait cependant l'apprendre, ou savoir tout au moins ce qu'elle vaut, le plus simple pour lui serait de lire quelques auteurs ecclésiastiques, en commençant par Tertullien, le plus brillant de tous et en finissant, mettons, par saint Grégoire de Nazianze, fielleux et cependant insipide, et dont le discours contre Julien l'Apostat vous donne l'envie de vous convertir sur-le-champ au paganisme. Aucune qualité n'y est reconnue à l'empereur; avec une satisfaction non dissimulée on y conteste sa mort héroïque dans la guerre contre les Perses, où il aurait été tué par «un barbare qui faisait le métier de bouffon et qui suivait l'armée pour faire oublier aux soldats les fatigues de la guerre par ses saillies et ses bons mots». Nulle élégance, nul souci de paraître digne d'un tel adversaire. Ce qui est impardonnable dans le cas du saint, c'est qu'il avait connu Julien à Athènes, du temps que, jeunes, ils y fréquentaient les écoles philosophiques.

Rien de plus odieux que le ton de ceux qui défendent une cause, compromise en apparence, gagnante en fait, qui ne peuvent contenir leur joie à l'idée de leur triomphe ni s'empêcher de tourner leurs effrois mêmes en autant de menaces. Quand Tertullien, sardonique et tremblant, décrit le Jugement dernier, le plus grand des spectacles, comme il l'appelle, il imagine le rire qu'il aura en contemplant tant de monarques et de dieux «poussant d'affreux gémissements dans le plus profond de l'abîme....» Cette insistance à rappeler aux païens qu'ils étaient perdus, eux et leurs idoles, avait de quoi exaspérer même les esprits les plus modérés. Suite de libelles camouflés en traités, l'apologétique chrétienne représente le summum du genre bilieux.


Investing Trees with Human Attributes

Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), pp. 220-223 (endnotes omitted):
So close was the relationship of trees to human society that their treatment, like that of horses or children, fluctuated according to changing educational fashion. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries infants were swaddled; and it was widely held that most children would need to be beaten and repressed. Timber trees, correspondingly, were to be pollarded (i.e. beheaded), lopped or shredded (by cutting off the side branches). Hedges had to be regularly laid and trimmed; each county had its own distinctive way of doing so. The trees preserved for ornament were brought severely under human control by gardeners who clipped, pruned and manicured them, even working them into artificial shapes. Yews and privet, particularly in the later seventeenth century, were trimmed into cones, pyramids, birds, animals and human figures. Limes were pleached to form long walls of interlocking branches. In avenues it was customary to lop all the branches off, leaving only a tuft or crown at the top. Fruit trees were splayed out, espalier-fashion, against the garden wall. There were utilitarian reasons for many of these practices, but they were also seen as a kind of moral discipline: 'The luxuriancy and vigour of most healthful trees,' declared John Laurence in 1726, 'is like the extravagant sallies of youth, who are apt to live too fast, if not kept within due bounds and restrained by seasonable corrections.' Regular pruning kept 'all in order, which would otherwise be perfect anarchy and confusion'.

In the eighteenth century, when educational theories became less repressive, the cultivation of trees moved from regimentation to spontaneity. There was a reaction against 'mutilating' trees or carving them into 'unnatural' shapes. Topiary went out of fashion in the reign of Anne. Pollarding was attacked by Moses Cook in 1675: 'I wish there were as strict a law as could be made to punish those that presume to behead an oak, the king of woods, though it be on their own land.' Such mutilation did not merely harm the timber, it was also a distasteful form of violation; and the practice went into decline during the eighteenth century. In the same period the East Anglian habit of shaving trees to leave only a tuft on the top was strongly condemned by Arthur Young, while in 1808 William Mavor denounced the 'vile custom' of lopping or shredding hedgerow elms. In 1790 John Byng attacked what he called the 'savage' Midland practice of barking oaks before they were felled; he compared it to flaying the tree alive. To the aesthete William Gilpin even clipped hedges were unpicturesque. A certain irregularity and wildness of appearance in a hedge, agreed the Scottish poet James Grahame, was more pleasing than a uniform trimness. The tree's free growth symbolized the Englishman's freedom more generally. 'Everyone who has the least pretension to taste,' wrote Alexander Hunter in 1776, 'must always prefer a tree in its natural growth.' In Russia the first action of Catherine II on reading an English book on the 'natural' style of gardening was to forbid any more clipping of trees in the imperial gardens. This was the spirit which would, in due course, lead to the abandonment of swaddling clothes for infants, wigs for men and, for a time, corsets for women, on the grounds that they were unnatural and unspontaneous. In England it even became temporarily unfashionable to remove the bark from felled timber. From the 1750s there was a vogue for the so-called 'rustic' style, with huts, seats and gates made out of undressed branches (like names of modern suburban houses painted on slices of imitation tree-trunk).

Finally, there were people who alleged, as Thomas Tryon reported in 1691, that 'Trees suffer pains when cut down, even as the beasts and animals do when they are killed'. There had always been a good deal of anthropomorphic talk in the gardening books about what conditions trees 'loved' or 'hated'; and in fruit-growing areas it was common to wassail trees by singing, firing guns and offering libations. 'Men must learn to discourse with fruit trees, having learned to understand their language,' thought Ralph Austen, a leading seventeenth-century authority on the subject. In 1653 Margaret Cavendish published a dialogue in which an oak complains to the woodman of being tortured: 'You do peel my bark, and flay my skin, chop off my limbs.' When an oak was felled, reported John Aubrey, it gave 'a kind of shriek or groan that may be heard a mile off, as if it were the genius of the oak lamenting. E. Wyld, Esq., hath heard it several times.' And if that be thought typical of the credulous Aubrey, here, over a hundred years later, is John Constable commenting on a drawing of an ash tree:
"Many of my Hampstead friends may remember this young lady at the entrance to the village. Her fate was distressing, for it is scarcely too much to say that she died of a broken heart. I made this drawing when she was in full health and beauty; on passing some time afterwards, I saw, to my grief, that a wretched board had been nailed to her side, on which was written in large letters, ‘All vagrants and beggars will be dealt with according to law’. The tree seemed to have felt the disgrace, for even then some of the top branches had withered. Two long spike nails had been driven far into her side. In another year one half became paralysed, and not long after the other shared the same fate, and this beautiful creature was cut down into a stump, just high enough to hold the board."
It is not a long step from this to placing conservation orders on trees, in accordance with the view proclaimed by William Morris in 1884 that no one should be allowed 'to cut down for mere profit trees whose loss would spoil a landscape'. Indeed John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, a prominent Scottish landlord (1736-1814), had already declared that 'a noble tree is in some measure a matter of public concern; nor ought its proprietor to be allowed wantonly to strip his country of its fairest ornament.' In 1821 Wordsworth's friend Sir George Beaumont, when travelling in Italy, even bought a pine tree on the skyline at Monte Mario, so as to prevent the local Italians from felling it.

In this now familiar movement to preserve trees, regardless of the economic consequences, we can see many ingredients: planning considerations, a desire for amenity and a feeling that trees were intrinsically beautiful played an obvious part. But people also wanted trees preserved not just for the sake of their appearance, but because of what they stood for. They cherished their associations, their antiquity, their link with the past. A hankering for continuity, a bid for family immortality and a tendency to invest trees with human attributes were all important. Just as men cherished household pets because they were projections of themselves, so they preserved domestic trees, because they represented individuals, families and, in the case of the British oak, the nation itself. Durkheim may have been wrong when he suggested that when men worshipped God they were really worshipping society. But he would have been very near the truth if he had said it about the worship of trees.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Worship with Fist-Fights

Homeric Hymn to Apollo 143-155 (tr. Martin L. West):
Many are your temples and wooded groves, and all the peaks find favor with you, and the upper ridges of the high mountains, and the rivers flowing on to the sea. But it is in Delos, Phoibos, that your heart most delights, where the Ionians with trailing robes assemble with their children and wives on your avenue, and when they have seated the gathering they think of you and entertain you with boxing, dancing, and singing. A man might think they were the unaging immortals if he came along then when the Ionians are all together: he would take in the beauty of the whole scene, and be delighted at the spectacle of the men and the fair-girt women, the swift ships and the people's piles of belongings.

πολλοί τοι νηοί τε καὶ ἄλσεα δενδρήεντα,
πᾶσαι δὲ σκοπιαί τε φίλαι καὶ πρώονες ἄκροι
ὑψηλῶν ὀρέων ποταμοί θ᾿ ἅλαδε προρέοντες·        145
ἀλλὰ σὺ Δήλωι, Φοῖβε, μάλιστ᾿ ἐπιτέρπεαι ἦτορ,
ἔνθά τοι ἑλκεχίτωνες Ἰάονες ἠγερέθονται
αὐτοῖς σὺν παίδεσσι γυναιξί τε σὴν ἐς ἄγυιαν·
οἳ δέ σε πυγμαχίηι τε καὶ ὀρχηστυῖ καὶ ἀοιδῆι
μνησάμενοι τέρπουσιν, ὅταν καθέσωσιν ἀγῶνα.        150
φαίη κ᾿ ἀθανάτους καὶ ἀγήρως ἔμμεναι ἀνήρ,
ὃς τότ᾿ ἐπαντιάσει᾿, ὅτ᾿ Ἰάονες ἁθρόοι εἶεν·
πάντων γάρ κεν ἴδοιτο χάριν, τέρψαιτο δὲ θυμόν
ἄνδράς τ᾿ εἰσορόων καλλιζώνους τε γυναῖκας
νῆάς τ᾿ ὠκείας ἠδ᾿ αὐτῶν κτήματα πολλά.        155

Sunday, March 05, 2017



Plato, Laws 4.708 C (tr. R.G. Bury):
In the case where the race is one, with the same language and laws, this unity makes for friendliness, since it shares also in sacred rites and all matters of religion...

τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἕν τι εἶναι γένος ὁμόφωνον καὶ ὁμόνομον ἔχει τινὰ φιλίαν, κοινωνὸν ἱερῶν ὂν καὶ τῶν τοιούτων πάντων...
Related post: One United People.

Saturday, March 04, 2017


Men of Few Words

J.J. Thomson (1856-1940), Recollections and Reflections (London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1936), p. 49:
Though [George] Stokes was such an accomplished lecturer, his power of keeping silent was equally remarkable. He, like Newton, represented Cambridge University in Parliament: he was member for four years and attended the House with great regularity, but never spoke. It is reported of Newton, who was member for two years, that the only time he addressed the House was to move that a window be opened, and Sir Joseph Larmor, another Lucasian Professor, was member for about eleven years and only spoke once, so that the Lucasian Professors cannot be accused of having wasted the time of the House. Stokes certainly had not much small-talk. A story is current in Cambridge that a visitor, who did not know that it was Lady Stokes she was speaking to, said, "There are two men in Cambridge whom it is positively painful to sit next at dinner: they never say a word". Lady Stokes said, "Yes, George is one, but who is the other?" He was, however, quite ready to talk on subjects on which he felt he had something to say. I once saw an amusing instance of this. He was sitting at lunch next a very charming American lady who started one subject after another without getting any reply but yes or no. At last in desperation, she asked him which did he like best, arithmetic or algebra? The change was marvellous; he became quite fluent and talked freely for the rest of the lunch.
Related posts:


Advice to a Student of Philology

"Letter from Niebuhr to a Young Man Who Wished to Devote Himself to Philology," tr. J[ulius] C[harles] H[are], Educational Magazine 1 (1840) 12-22 (at 15-16):
I must frankly beg you to examine your Latin, and to convince yourself that in this respect much is wanting. I will not lay a stress on certain grammatical blunders: on this point I agree entirely with my dear friend Spalding, whom such blunders in his scholars did not provoke, provided his pointing them out availed by degrees to get rid of them. A worse fault is, that you have more than once broken down in a sentence; that you employ words in an incorrect sense; that your style is turgid and without uniformity; that you use your metaphors illogically. You do not write simply enough to express a thought unpretendingly, when it stands clearly before your mind. That your style is not rich and polished is no ground for blame: for although there have been some, especially in former times, who by a peculiarly happy management of a peculiar talent have gained such a style at your age, yet in ordinary cases such perfection is quite unattainable. Copiousness and nicety of expression imply a maturity of intellect, which can only be the result of a progressive development. But what everyone can and ought to do, is, not to aim at an appearance of more than he really understands; but to think and express himself simply and correctly. Here, therefore, take a useful rule. When you are writing a Latin essay, think what you mean to say with the utmost distinctness you are capable of, and put it into the plainest words. Study the structure of the sentences in great writers; and exercise yourself frequently in imitating some of them: translate passages so as to break up the sentences; and when you translate them back again, try to restore the sentences. In this exercise you will not need the superintendence of your teacher; do it, however, as a preparation for the practice of riper years. When you are writing, examine carefully whether your language be of one colour. It matters not to my mind, whether you attach yourself to that of Cicero and Livy, or to that of Tacitus and Quintilian: but one period you must choose: else the result is a motley style, which is as offensive to a sound philologer, as if one were to mix up German of 1650 and of 1800. Try to acquire the art of connecting sentences, without which all attempts at writing Latin are downright torture to the reader; and most especially look carefully to your metaphors: whatever is not quite faultless in them, is intolerable. Hence writing Latin is such an excellent discipline for a good style; and next to Latin, French, which also will not tolerate any absurdities; whereas we Germans in our own language are lamentably indifferent about such matters.
Id. (at 16-17):
You must know enough of antiquity to be aware that the philosophy of young men, down to a much riper age than yours, consisted in silent listening, in endeavouring to understand and to learn. You cannot even have an acquaintance with the facts, much less carry on general reflections,—to let pass the word philosophical,—on questions of minute detail, mostly problematical. To learn, my dear friend, to learn conscientiously,—to go on sifting and increasing our knowledge,—this is our speculative calling through life: and it is so most especially in youth, which has the happiness that it may give itself up without hinderance to the charms of the new intellectual world opened to it by books. He who writes a dissertation,—let him say what he will,—pretends to teach: and one cannot teach without some degree of wisdom; which is the amends that, if we strive after it, God will give us for the departing bliss of youth. A wise young man is a monster.
Id. (at 17):
Antiquity may be compared to an immense city in ruins, of which we have not even a ground-plan; which everyone must make out for himself, and learn to understand, the whole from the parts, the parts from a careful comparison and study of each, and from their relation to the whole. If a person who had only a smattering of architectural knowledge, were totally ignorant of hydrostatics, had scarcely seen the chief ruins of Rome, and never anything beyond it, were to write about the remains of the aqueducts, he would be in much the same case as a student who should write a treatise on some branch of philology.
Id. (at 19-20):
In this matter I am so strict, that I utterly disapprove of the common practice of adopting references, after verifying them, without naming the source whence they are taken; and tedious as the double reference is, I never allow myself to dispense with it. When I cite a passage simply, I have found it out myself. He who does otherwise, assumes the appearance of more extensive reading than belongs to him.

Others may be less strict; nor should I blame them for it, if I can imagine that it is really altogether indifferent to them, whether they are believed to have engaged in more profound researches than they have done; or if, like some persons, they suppose it taken for granted that references are mostly borrowed. But from a young man, were it merely as an exercise of honesty, I demand the most scrupulous truth in literature, as in all other things, absolutely and without exception; so that it may become an integral part of his nature; or rather, that the truth, which God planted in his nature, may abide there. By it alone can we fight our way through the world.
Id. (at 20-21):
I wish you were not so fond of satires, even of Horace's. Turn to those works which elevate the heart, in which you see great men and great events, and live in a higher world: turn away from those which represent the mean and contemptible side of ordinary relations and degenerate ages. They are not fitted for the young; and the ancients would not have let them fall into your hands. Homer, Eschylus, Sophocles, Pindar,—these are the poets for youth, the poets with whom the great men of antiquity nourished themselves; and as long as literature shall give light to the world, they will ennoble the youthful souls, that are filled with them, for life. Horace's Odes, as copies of Greek models, are also good reading for the young; and I regret that it is become the practice to depreciate them, which only a few masters are entitled to do, or can do without arrogance. In his Epistles, Horace is original, and more genial; but he who reads them intelligently, reads them with sorrow; they cannot do good to anyone. We see a man of noble disposition, but who, from inclination and reflection, tries to adapt himself to an evil age, and who has given himself up to a vile philosophy, which does not prevent his continuing noble, but lowers all his views. His morality rests on the principle of suitableness, decorum, reasonableness: he declares expediency (to take the most favourable expression) to be the source of the idea of right (Sat. I.iii.98). Baseness discomposes him, and excites him, not to anger, but to a slight chastisement. That admiration for virtue, which constrains us to scourge vice, and which we see not only in Tacitus, but also in Juvenal,—in the latter disgustingly,—is not found in Horace. Juvenal however you must not read yet, with the exception of a few pieces: nor is this any loss; for even if you might be allowed to read him, it would not be wholesome at your age, to dwell on the contemplation of vice, instead of enriching your mind with great thoughts.

To these poets, and among prose writers to Herodotus, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Cicero, Livy, Caesar, Sallust, Tacitus, I earnestly entreat you to turn, and to keep exclusively to them. Do not read them to make esthetical remarks on them, but to read yourself into them, and to fill your soul with their thoughts, that you may gain by their reading, as you would gain by listening reverently to the discourses of great men. This is the philology which does one's soul good: learned investigations, when one has attained to the capacity of carrying them on, still are only of secondary value. We must be accurately acquainted with grammar, according to the ancient, wide acceptation of that term: we must acquire all branches of archaeology, so far as lies in our power. But even though we were to make the most brilliant emendations, and could explain the most difficult passages offhand, this is nothing but mere trickery, unless we imbibe the wisdom and the magnanimity of the great ancients, feel like them, and think like them.
Id. (at 21):
Leave the commentators and emenders for the present unread. The time will come, when you may study them to advantage.

Friday, March 03, 2017


A Nest of Latin Misprints

Paul Johnson, "Dirty rotten scholars," The Spectator (February 26, 2011), on physicist Joseph Thomson (1856-1940):
Even Thomson's entry in the old Dictionary of National Biography, which is solemn and strait-laced to a fault, hints there was something amiss. Alongside his awards and honours, it found space to notice his 'peculiar grin' and the fact that he was 'most careless in his attire and appearance, and behaved as though it were a matter of no interest either to himself or others'. The obituary in Country Life said he had 'the appearance of a grocer’s errand boy'. However it was left to one of his Trinity colleagues, A.S.F. Gow, to administer the sharpest rebuke, though he couched it 'in the decent obscurity of a learned language':

In memoriam Josephi Thomson, qui, propter minimarum particularum scientiam maximo utriusque universitatio collegio praepositus, alteram officii partem omnino neglexit, altera ita functus est ut neglectam maluisses. Raucus, edentulous, ipexus, urorem duxit non amabileum, cuius ope et auxilio suffultus, heredibus LXXX milia librarum sterling-arum, collegio domicilium hara immundius, posteri exemplum memorabile avaritiae reliquit.

George Lyttelton, who had been a master at Eton alongside Gow, before he moved to Trinity, copied this into his commonplace book, providing a translation:

In memory of Joseph Thomson who, by virtue of his knowledge of the smallest particles, attained the mastership of the greatest college in either university. He totally neglected the one part of his duties and discharged the other in such a way that it would have been better if he had neglected that also. Loud-mouthed, toothless and unkempt, he married an unpleasant wife, thanks to whose money he was able to leave £80,000 sterling to his heirs, a house filthier than a pigsty to the college, and to posterity a model of avarice never to be forgotten.
The Latin as quoted here is full of mistakes:
For universitatio read universitatis.
For edentulous read edentulus.
For ipexus read impexus.
For urorem read uxorem.
For amabileum read amabilem.
For sterling-arum read sterlingarum.
For posteri read posteris.
Here is a screen capture of the Latin, taken this morning, in case you think I'm making this up:

For a mostly correct Latin version see George Lyttelton's Commonplace Book, 2nd ed. (Settrington: Stone Trough Books, 2003), p. 102, although even there you'll find an additional misprint (memorablile, should be memorabile). Here is the Latin purged of mistakes:
In memoriam Josephi Thomson, qui, propter minimarum particularum scientiam maximo utriusque universitatis collegio praepositus, alteram officii partem omnino neglexit, altera ita functus est ut neglectam maluisses. Raucus, edentulus, impexus, uxorem duxit non amabilem, cuius ope et auxilio suffultus, heredibus LXXX milia librarum sterlingarum, collegio domicilium hara immundius, posteris exemplum memorabile avaritiae reliquit.



Prayer for Peace

Theocritus, Idylls 16.88-97 (tr. Neil Hopkinson):
May all those towns utterly ravaged by the hands of the enemy be settled once more by their former citizens. May they cultivate fields that flourish; may countless thousands of sheep, fattened on their pastures, bleat over the plain; may oxen heading for their byres hasten on his way the man traveling at dusk; may the fallow land be made ready for sowing, while high in the trees the cicada, keeping watch over the shepherds in the heat of the day, chirps up in the branches; may spiders stretch their fine-spun webs over armor; and may the battle cry no longer exist even in name.

ἄστεα δὲ προτέροισι πάλιν ναίοιτο πολίταις,
δυσμενέων ὅσα χεῖρες ἐλωβήσαντο κατ' ἄκρας·
ἀγροὺς δ' ἐργάζοιντο τεθαλότας· αἱ δ' ἀνάριθμοι        90
μήλων χιλιάδες βοτάνᾳ διαπιανθεῖσαι
ἂμ πεδίον βληχῷντο, βόες δ' ἀγεληδὸν ἐς αὖλιν
ἐρχόμεναι σκνιφαῖον ἐπισπεύδοιεν ὁδίταν·
νειοὶ δ' ἐκπονέοιντο ποτὶ σπόρον, ἁνίκα τέττιξ
ποιμένας ἐνδίους πεφυλαγμένος ὑψόθι δένδρων        95
ἀχεῖ ἐν ἀκρεμόνεσσιν· ἀράχνια δ' εἰς ὅπλ' ἀράχναι
λεπτὰ διαστήσαιντο, βοᾶς δ' ἔτι μηδ' ὄνομ' εἴη.
A.S.F. Gow's commentary on these lines (with Google Chrome, click and then click again to enlarge):


Literary Modesty

John Hill Burton (1809-1881), The Book-Hunter etc. (London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1862), pp. 103-104:
There are those terrible folios of the scholastic divines, the civilians, and the canonists, their majestic stream of central print overflowing into rivulets of marginal notes sedgy with citations. Compared with these, all the intellectual efforts of our recent degenerate days seem the work of pigmies; and for any of us even to profess to read all that some of those indomitable giants wrote, would seem an audacious undertaking. But, in fact, they were to a great extent solemn shams, since the bulk of their work was merely that of the clerk who copies page after page from other people's writings.

Surely these laborious old writers exhibited in this matter the perfection of literary modesty. Far from secretly pilfering, like the modern plagiarist, it was their great boast that they themselves had not suggested the great thought or struck out the brilliant metaphor, but that it had been done by some one of old, and was found in its legitimate place — a book. I believe that if one of these laborious persons hatched a good idea of his own, he could experience no peace of mind until he found it legitimated by having passed through an earlier brain, and that the author who failed thus to establish a paternity for his thought would sometimes audaciously set down some great name in his crowded margin, in the hope that the imposition might pass undiscovered. Authorities, of course, enjoy priority according to their rank in literature. First come Aristotle and Plato, with the other great classical ancients; next the primitive fathers; then Abailard, Erigena, Peter Lombard, Ramus, Major, and the like. If the matter be jurisprudence, we shall have Marcianus, Papinianus, Ulpianus, Hermogenianus, and Tryphonius to begin with; and shall then pass through the straits of Bartolus and Baldus, on to Zuichemus, Sanchez, Brissonius, Ritterhusius, and Gothofridus. If all these say the same thing, each of the others copying it from the first who uttered it, so much the more valuable to the literary world is deemed the idea that has been so amply backed — it is like a vote by a great majority, or a strongly-signed petition.

Thursday, March 02, 2017


St. Mark

Note the halo:

From https://img.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_960w/2010-2019/Wires/Images/2017-02-01/Getty/118313234.jpg (where the halo is even more prominent).

I don't believe in the Gospel according to St. Mark.


Dry Bohns

D.S. Carne-Ross (1921-2010), "A Modest Proposal: To Whom It May Concern," Arion 4.3 (Autumn, 1965) 358-360 (at 358):
The Greekless public asks for bread and it is given—what? Not even dry Bohns (which at least never claimed to be anything else), but harlot shapes pretending to a virtue they do not own, their rumps stamped with the impudent claim that they "give you the spirit" of the original.
Related posts:


Food for Thought

Serlo of Wilton (1105-1181), poem 28 in Serlon de Wilton, Poèmes latins. Texte critique avec une introduction et des tables, ed. Jan Öberg (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1965 = Studia Latina Stockholmiensia, 14), p. 105 (tr. Peter Dronke):
As I go alone, full of thoughts, I behold three girls.
I marvel, and receive new matter for my thoughts.

Dum studeo, dum solus eo, tres cerno puellas:
Opstupeo studioque meo res addo novellas.
Related post: Pretty Little Girl With a Red Dress On.


Mole and Beaver

Leonard Woolf (1880-1969), Beginning Again: An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918 (London: Hogarth Press, 1964; rpt. 1972), p. 185:
I have often irritated people by saying that an intelligent person can become what is called an 'authority' on most 'questions', 'problems', or 'subjects' by intensive study for two or three months. They thought me arrogant for saying so, or, if not arrogant, not serious. But it is true. The number and volume of relevant facts on any subject are not many or great and the number of good books on it are few. If you have a nose for relevant facts and the trails which lead to them—this is essential and half the battle—and if you know how to work with the laborious pertinacity of the mole and beaver, you can acquire in a few months all the knowledge necessary for a thorough understanding of the subject.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


The Historical Sense

D.S. Carne-Ross (1921-2010), "T.S. Eliot: Tropheia," Arion 4.1 (Spring, 1965) 5-20 (at 17):
If the study of literature is a moral activity (and if it isn't, we are all spending far too much time on it), a means of getting at those regions of consciousness out of which we live but which mostly remain half hidden from us, the regions where motives take shape and character and ideas are formed, then this study should mean a naked confrontation of the text, undertaken with all the sincerity that we possess. There is no room here for posturing in borrowed clothes, in borrowed beliefs. With a modern writer, inhabiting the same moral universe as ourselves, we need only be equipped with intelligence and sincerity. But if our curiosity takes us to the literatures of the past, we must bring more to the texts, we must acquire the historical sense. We need simply to know certain things about Dante's or Shakespeare's universe before we can, in any real sense, read their poetry.


Build Up the Stones Again

Julia Budenz (1934-2010), "Learning Latin," Vergilius 37 (1991) 20-21 (lines 31-56):
                                                The glow
Of Rome will fade if teachers do not stress
(I turn prosaic and pedestrian)
Latin's immutable eternal law:
To read one must be a grammarian.
Rome will have fallen if one fatal flaw
Enters and penetrates and undermines
Its adamantine everlastingness,
The Latin language. When no one declines
And conjugates the rubble is a mess.
Build up the stones again as they must be
Constructed and construed eternally.

But read. Read as the Romans read, aloud,
Word after word. This is not really rubble.
The Roman stones already are inscribed
In order. This is not a game of scrabble.
The Latin that one loves was once hard work.
The Latin that one loves is subtlest play.
Happy are they who somehow did not shirk
The one. They see the other's blessed day.
Like Daphnis they will marvel as they stand
Upon the threshold of Olympus, where
They look down on the clouds and planets and
The traffic of the stars and, breathing air
Azure, celestial, pass through the facades
And learn they are conversant with the gods.
The final sentence refers to Vergil, Eclogues 5.56-57 (quoted at the beginning of the poem):
candidus insuetum miratur limen Olympi
sub pedibusque videt nubes et sidera Daphnis.


Second Amendment Restrictions

Lucian, Anacharsis 34 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
But to bear arms always and carry a dirk at one's belt is, we think, superfluous in time of peace; in fact, there is a penalty prescribed for anyone who carries weapons unnecessarily within the city limits or brings armour out into a public place.

τὸ μέντοι ὁπλοφορεῖν ἀεὶ καὶ ἀκινάκην παρεζῶσθαι περιττὸν ἐν εἰρήνῃ οἰόμεθα εἶναι, καὶ πρόστιμόν γ᾿ ἔστιν, ὅστις ἐν ἄστει σιδηροφοροίη μηδὲν δέον ἢ ὅπλα ἐξενέγκοι εἰς τὸ δημόσιον.
Related post: Gun Control.

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