Friday, February 23, 2018


We Are Not Smart Enough

Wendell Berry, What Are People For? (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), p. 209:
For a long time now we have understood ourselves as traveling toward some sort of industrial paradise, some new Eden conceived and constructed entirely by human ingenuity. And we have thought ourselves free to use and abuse nature in any way that might further this enterprise. Now we face overwhelming evidence that we are not smart enough to recover Eden by assault, and that nature does not tolerate or excuse our abuses.


Pater Noster

Erasmus, Complaint of Peace 18 (tr. Betty Radice):
Tell me, how can the soldier during divine worship pray in the words 'Our Father'? What impudence, to dare call on God as Father, when you are making for your brother's throat! 'Hallowed be thy name.' How could the name of God be less hallowed than by your violence towards each other? 'Thy kingdom come.' Is this how you pray, when you are planning so much bloodshed to get a kingdom for yourself? 'Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.' But God's will is for peace, and you are preparing for war. Do you ask for daily bread from our common Father when you burn your brother's crops and would prefer them to be lost to you rather than to benefit him? And then, how can you say 'Forgive us the debts we owe, as we forgive those who are indebted to us,' you who are hurrying to murder your kin? You pray to be spared the danger of being put to the test, but you risk danger to yourself so that you can endanger your brother. Do you beg to be delivered from the evil one while you are plotting the worst of evils against your brother at his prompting?

Quaeso, quid in hisce sacris orat miles, Pater noster? Os durum, audes eum appellare Patrem, qui fratris tui iugulum petis? Sanctificetur nomen tuum. Qui magis dehonestari poterat nomen Dei, quam istiusmodi inter vos tumultibus? Adveniat regnum tuum. Sic oras, qui tanto sanguine tyrannidem tuam moliris? Fiat voluntas tua, quemadmodum in coelo, ita et in terra. Pacem vult ille, et tu bellum paras? Panem quotidianum a communi Patre petis, qui fraternas exuris segetes, et tibi quoque mavis perire, quam illi prodesse? Iam quonam ore dices illud? Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris, qui ad parricidium festinas? Deprecaris periculum tentationis, qui tuo periculo fratrem in periculum pertrahis? A malo liberari postulas, cuius instinctu summum malum fratri machinaris?


The Byunskis

Peter Gay (1923-2015), My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 179-180:
My father did his best, in fact, to be a good citizen-to-be. When he encountered complaining refugees, whom he disdainfully called "the Byunskis," he was pitiless with them. This unlovely epithet was loosely based on an invidious comparison popular with a number of German Jews who had not adjusted to the United States: Bei uns in Deutschland war alles besser, they would say, "At home in Germany everything was better." Though not normally a preacher, my father would give little sermons on the text of gratitude. Emigrés ought to be glad to be alive and to have landed in the hospitable, democratic United States.


Odium Theologicum

Erasmus, letter to Leonardus Priccardus (July 1, 1519; tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
I know quite well, my learned friend Leonardus, that men of this kidney are never idle; their chief resource lies in fluent falsehoods and brazen innuendo. For my part, I am already hardened to all that; I can only marvel that persons who are distinguished by their profession of the religious life should feel themselves free to do something which conflicts above all with true religion. They wish it to be thought an unpardonable sin if they eat meat; and yet it is virtuous to rain the poisoned arrows of their hellish language on a fellow Christian, even on one who has done them some service, although no sort of venom could be more utterly abominable.

Sciebam, eruditissime Leonarde, genus hoc hominum nusquam cessare: summum illis praesidium in mendacibus linguis atque impudentissimis sycophantiis positum est. Ego vero iam ad ista occallui: tantum admiror homines professione pietatis insignes id sibi permittere quod omnium maxime cum vera pietate pugnat. Inexpiabile scelus haberi volunt, si carnibus vescantur; et sanctum est fratrem, etiam de ipsis bene merentem, linguae spiculis Tartareo veneno tinctis confodere, cum nullum sit veneficii genus execrabilius.
Related posts:

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Tante Hede's Motto

Peter Gay (1923-2015), My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 27 (on his maternal aunt):
Her motto was, "Unfortunately, I am always right," and she meant it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


National Divisions

Erasmus (1466-1536), Complaint of Peace 22-23 (tr. Betty Radice):
The English are hostile to the French, for no other reason than that they are French. The Scots are disliked by the British, solely for being Scots. Germans don't agree with French, Spaniards don't agree with either. What perversity — for the mere name of a place to divide people when there is so much which could bring them together! If you are British you are ill-disposed to a Frenchman. Why don't you wish him well as another man and a fellow-Christian? How can something so trivial weigh more with people than so many natural ties, and so many bonds in Christ? Places divide bodies, not minds. In times past the Rhine separated the French from the Germans, but the Rhine does not divide Christian from Christian. The Pyrenees are the mountain-barrier between the Spaniards and the French, but they do not destroy the communion of the church. The English are cut off from the French by the sea, but this does not break up the unity of faith.

Anglus hostis est Gallo, nec ob aliud, nisi quod Gallus est. Scoto Britannus infensus est, nec aliam ob rem, nisi quod Scotus est. Germanus cum Franco dissidet, Hispanus cum utroque. O pravitatem, disiungit inane loci vocabulum. Cur non potius tot res conciliant? Male vis Britannus Gallo, cur non potius bene vis homo homini, Christianus Christiano? Cur res frivola plus apud istos potest, quam tot naturae nexus, tot Christi vincula? Locus corpora dirimit, non animos. Separabat olim Rhenus Gallum a Germano, at Rhenus non separat Christianum a Christiano. Pyrenaei montes Hispanos a Gallis seiungunt, at iidem non dirimunt ecclesiae communionem. Mare dirimit Anglos a Gallis, at non dirimit religionis societatem.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Fragrant Belches

Theophrastus, On Odors 12.59 (tr. Arthur Hort):
It is to be expected that perfumes should have medicinal properties in view of the virtues of spices: for these too have such virtues. The effects of plasters and of what some call 'poultices' prove what virtues they display, since they disperse tumours and abscesses and produce a distinct effect on various other parts of the body, on its surface, but also on the interior parts: for instance, if one lays a plaster on his abdomen and breast, the patient forthwith produces fragrant odours along with his eructations.

Εὐλόγως δὲ τὰ μύρα φαρμακώδη διὰ τὴν τῶν ἀρωμάτων δύναμιν· καὶ γὰρ τὰ ἀρώματα τοιαῦτα. δηλοῖ δὲ τά τε καταπλάσματα καὶ ἃ δή τινες μαλάγματα καλοῦσιν οἵας ἀποδείκνυται δυνάμεις τά τε φύματα καὶ τὰ ἀποστήματα διαχέοντα καὶ ἄλλα πλείω τῶν κατὰ τὸ σῶμα διαλλοιοῦντα, ἐπιπολῆς μὲν ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ ἐν βάθει, οἷον, ἄν τις καταπλάσῃ τὰ ὑποχόνδρια καὶ τὸ στῆθος, εὐθὺς σὺν τοῖς ἐρυγμοῖς ἀποδίδωσιν εὐώδεις τὰς ὀσμάς.


Bar Codes

Ian Jackson, "The aesthetic bane of bar coding," a review of Mécènes et collectionneurs, 2 vols. (Paris: Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1999), in Taxon 49.2 (May, 2000) 355-356 (at 356):
No director of an art museum would dream of attaching a bar code to the blank margin of a Rembrandt etching, however convenient it might be for regulating the supply of study material to art historians in the print room. Yet many an herbarium custodian has done just that, even to historic specimens, so that they may be checked in and out in bulk, like tins of soup at a grocery store. These administrative barbarians have not even the taste to place the discordant label on the backs of sheets, presumably so that they may be copied with all essential data present, like a police mug shot.

This may seem to be a small thing to complain of, but the bar code is insidious. It is perhaps the greatest failure in industrial design of the 20th century. Someday (when the last taxonomist is dead?) expensive teams of archivists may spend years in removing bar codes, as art restorers now remove grotesque over-paintings.


The Greatest Cheat

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.7.5 (tr. ‎Amy L. Bonnette):
And he called no small cheat anyone who would deprive another of money or equipment, taking it by persuasion, but he called by far the greatest cheat the one who, although not worthy, deceives others through persuasion that he is competent to lead the city.

ἀπατεῶνα δ᾽ ἐκάλει οὐ μικρὸν μὲν οὐδ᾽ εἴ τις ἀργύριον ἢ σκεῦος παρά του πειθοῖ λαβὼν ἀποστεροίη, πολὺ δὲ μέγιστον ὅστις μηδενὸς ἄξιος ὢν ἐξηπατήκοι πείθων ὡς ἱκανὸς εἴη τῆς πόλεως ἡγεῖσθαι.

Monday, February 19, 2018


The Two Most Fascinating Subjects in the Universe

Brigid Brophy (1929-1995), New Statesman (November 15, 1963):
The two most fascinating subjects in the universe are sex and the eighteenth century.


Latin Intoxication

André Crépin, "Bede and the Vernacular," in Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, ed. Gerald Bonner (London: S.P.C.K., 1976), pp. 170-192 (at 171):
Latin was all the more easily learnt as children entered the monastery quite young—Bede at seven (HE v.24)—and henceforward were submitted to a kind of Latin intoxication. They had to learn Latin by heart, read Latin, chant Latin, speak Latin, write Latin, think Latin, dream Latin.


A Useless Burden on the Earth

Homer, Odyssey 20.377-379 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Here, for one, somebody brought you in this vagabond
who wants his food and his wine, who does not know how to do any
work, who has no strength, but is just a weight on the good land.

οἷον μέν τινα τοῦτον ἔχεις ἐπίμαστον ἀλήτην,
σίτου καὶ οἴνου κεχρημένον, οὐδέ τι ἔργων
ἔμπαιον οὐδὲ βίης, ἀλλ᾽ αὔτως ἄχθος ἀρούρης.
Cf. ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης = a useless burden on the earth (Iliad 18.104), a favorite phrase of mine to describe certain people.


All Flesh

1 Peter 1.24 (KJV):
All flesh is as grass,
    and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
The grass withereth,
    and the flower thereof falleth away.

πᾶσα σὰρξ ὡς χόρτος,
    καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου·
ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος,
    καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν.

αὐτῆς: ἀνθρώπου
Textus Receptus, LXX Isaiah 40.6

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Between the Thighs

[Warning: X-rated.]

Konstantinos Kapparis, Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2018), p. 198:
The absurd concept of intercrural sex initially developed by Dover on the basis of a few vase paintings and scarce references to the term διαμηρίζειν has found an unexpected amount of support.135 It is astonishing that such weak and unsafe evidence has been considered sufficient to declare intercrural sex to be universal practice and the ideal form of Greek homosexual love. At the same time it is noteworthy that the only instance in which "taking apart the thighs" (διαμηρίζειν) appears in classical Greek literature it refers to heterosexual sex, and may simply imply intercourse in the missionary position.136 Several references in a male-to-male context come from authors of later antiquity, and even in those instances "taking the thights [sic, read thighs] apart" does not inevitably indicate intercrural intercourse.137 These scant and problematic references suggest that intercrural contact on occasion might have been one possible hypotonic and somewhat unsatisfactory avenue of sexual gratification, but it certainly would not have been worth a long pursuit, lavish gifts, and the fuss which ancient sources make over same sex relations. If anything, Athenian men were never that desperate for sex, having a large and diverse prostitutional market at their disposal, and slaves to satisfy their whims. Moreover, if intercrural sex had been this universal and morally superior practice in homosexual love, the one associated with the Uranian Aphrodite, as Kenneth Dover, Harald Patzer and others have suggested, we should have expected to hear a lot more about it in classical sources. This forced interpretation of such scanty evidence is fueled by modern taboos about anal intercourse, domination, penetration and shame, which the ancient world obviously did not share.

135 Dover 1978: 100-109; Halperin 88-112.

136 Ar. Av. 1254, where Pisthetairos is threatening to give Iris a demonstration of how stiff his penis can get despite his old age.

137 Some of these references are reported as quotes from classical authors like Zenon and Kleanthes: Zenon fr. 250-252 von Arnim = S.E.M. 190; Kleanthes fr. 613 von Arnim = D.L. 7.172.
Evidence might be scanty, but that is all the more reason to make the most of what little there is. For example, Kapparis' "only instance" of διαμηρίζειν in classical Greek literature actually turns out to be three instances, all in Aristophanes' Birds. Two of the examples refer to girls (669, 1274) and one to boys (706), a fact noticed by Hesychius of Alexandria, who in his Lexicon, s.v. διαμηρίσαι, says τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ παίδων ἀρρένων καὶ θηλείων ἔλεγον, i.e. they used to say this about both boys and girls.

As for Kapparis' contention that intercrural sex would not have been worth "lavish gifts," it so happens that gifts are mentioned in one of the aforementioned passages from Aristophanes' Birds (lines 705-707, the chorus of birds speaking, tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Many are the fair boys who swore they wouldn't, and almost made it to the end of their eligible bloom, but thanks to our power men in love did get between their thighs, one with the gift of a quail, another with a porphyrion, a goose, or a Persian bird.

πολλοὺς δὲ καλοὺς ἀπομωμοκότας παῖδας πρὸς τέρμασιν ὥρας
διὰ τὴν ἰσχὺν τὴν ἡμετέραν διεμήρισαν ἄνδρες ἐρασταί,
ὁ μὲν ὄρτυγα δούς, ὁ δὲ πορφυρίων᾿, ὁ δὲ χῆν᾿, ὁ δὲ Περσικὸν ὄρνιν.
I have read only one page of Kapparis' book, the page quoted above, and my remarks are just nit-picking,

References to most of the relevant ancient linguistic evidence can be found in Diccionario Griego-Español, Vol. V (1997; rpt. Madrid: Instituto de Filología, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 2008), p. 1007, col. 3:
διαμηρίδιον, -ου, τό sent. dud., quizá coito intercrural (cf. διαμήριον) o tal vez un tipo de tanga o taparrabos ζῶστρα καὶ διαμηρίδια ἐπὶ τῶν τὰ ἰσχυρὰ (prob. l. τὰ αἰσχρὰ) παιζόντων Hdn.Philet.207.

διαμηρίζω tr. abrir los muslos, abrir de piernas rel. relaciones sexuales ἐγὼ διαμηρίζοιμ' ἂν αὐτὴν ἡδέως Ar.Au.669, cf. 1254, ref. tb. al amor efébico (cf. διαμήριον): πολλοὺς δὲ καλοὺς ... παῖδας διεμήρισαν ἄνδρες ἐρασταί Ar.Au.706, παιδικά Zeno Stoic.1.59, τὸν ἐρώμενον Zeno Stoic.1.59, cf. Phld.Sto.15.8, Hsch.

διαμήριον prob. coito intercrural ἀπόδος τὸ διαμήριον déjame masturbarme entre tus muslos en un vaso, en boca de un hombre que se dirige a un jovencito ABV 664 (arc.).

διαμηρισμός, -οῦ, ὁ práctica del coito intercrural plu., como tema de una parte de la Πολιτεία de Zenón, Zeno Stoic.1.59, σὺ μὲν τοὺς διαμηρισμοὺς ἔχε, μειράκιον Cleanth.Stoic.1.137.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related post: Diogenes Laertius 7.172.


The America of Antiquity

Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1896-1957), The Leopard (tr. Archibald Colquhoun), part 3:
The term "countryside" implies soil transformed by labor; but the scrub clinging to the slopes was still in the very same state of scented tangle in which it had been found by Phoenicians, Dorians, and Ionians when they disembarked in Sicily, that America of antiquity.

Nel termine "campagna" è implicito un senso di terra trasformata dal lavoro: la boscaglia invece, aggrappata alle pendici di un colle, si trovava nell'identico stato d'intrico aromatico nel quale la avevano trovata Fenici, Dori e Ioni quando sbarcarono in Sicilia, quest'America dell'antichità.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Xenocrates, Phryne, and Lais

Diogenes Laertius 4.2.7 (on Xenocrates; tr. R.D. Hicks):
He spent most of his time in the Academy; and whenever he was going to betake himself to the city, it is said that all the noisy rabble and hired porters made way for him as he passed. And that once the notorious Phryne tried to make his acquaintance and, as if she were being chased by some people, took refuge under his roof; that he admitted her out of ordinary humanity and, there being but one small couch in the room, permitted her to share it with him, and at last, after many importunities, she retired without success, telling those who inquired that he whom she quitted was not a man but a statue. Another version of the story is that his pupils induced Lais to invade his couch; and that so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to amputation and cautery.

διῆγέ τ᾿ ἐν Ἀκαδημείᾳ τὰ πλεῖστα· καὶ εἴ ποτε μέλλοι εἰς ἄστυ ἀνιέναι, φασὶ τοὺς θορυβώδεις πάντας καὶ προυνίκους ὑποστέλλειν αὐτοῦ τῇ παρόδῳ. καί ποτε καὶ Φρύνην τὴν ἑταίραν ἐθελῆσαι πειρᾶσαι αὐτόν, καὶ δῆθεν διωκομένην ὑπό τινων καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ οἰκίδιον. τὸν δὲ ἕνεκα τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου εἰσδέξασθαι, καὶ ἑνὸς ὄντος κλινιδίου δεομένῃ μεταδοῦναι τῆς κατακλίσεως· καὶ τέλος πολλὰ ἐκλιπαροῦσαν ἄπρακτον ἀναστῆναι. λέγειν τε πρὸς τοὺς πυνθανομένους ὡς οὐκ ἀπ᾿ ἀνδρός, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἀνδριάντος ἀνασταίη. ἔνιοι δὲ Λαΐδα φασὶ παρακατακλῖναι αὐτῷ τοὺς μαθητάς· τὸν δὲ οὕτως εἶναι ἐγκρατῆ, ὥστε καὶ τομὰς καὶ καύσεις πολλάκις ὑπομεῖναι περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον.
Bill Thayer pointed out to me that this translation omits περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον (around the private parts). Bill also rightly questioned "many times" (πολλάκις) in conjunction with "amputation" (τομὰς). How many times, after all, can someone's private parts be amputated? I wonder if the cuttings might have been far less than amputation, e.g. nicks with a knife in order to subdue the sexual impulse. Of course the story, at least as far as Lais is concerned, is apocryphal, because chronology makes it impossible. I might translate as follows:
... so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to cuttings and burnings around his private parts.
Valerius Maximus 4.3 ext. 3a (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey) tells only the anecdote about Phryne:
We are told that Xenocrates' old age was equally abstemious, and the following story will be no small argument in support of that opinion. Phryne, a celebrated courtesan in Athens, lay at an all-night revel by his side when he was heavy with wine, having made a wager with some young men that she would be able to seduce his temperance. He did not rebuff her either with touch or words, but let her stay in his arms as long as she wished and then let her go foiled of her purpose. An abstemious act of a mind steeped in wisdom, but the little whore's comment too was really amusing. For when the young men jeered at her because for all her beauty and chic she had not been able to cajole a drunken old man with her enticements and demanded the agreed price of their victory, she answered that she had made the bet with them about a man, not a statue. Can anyone put this continence on Xenocrates' part more truly and more aptly on view than the little whore expressed it herself?

aeque abstinentis senectae Xenocraten fuisse accepimus. cuius opinionis non parva fides erit narratio quae sequetur. in pervigilio Phryne, nobile Athenis scortum, iuxta eum vino gravem accubuit, pignore cum quibusdam iuvenibus posito an temperantiam eius corrumpere posset. quam nec tactu nec sermone aspernatus, quoad voluerat in sinu suo moratam, propositi irritam dimisit. factum sapientia imbuti animi abstinens, sed meretriculae quoque dictum perquam facetum: deridentibus enim se adulescentibus, quod tam formosa tamque elegans poti senis animum illecebris pellicere non potuisset, pactumque victoriae pretium flagitantibus, de homine se cum iis, non de statua pignus posuisse respondit. potestne haec Xenocratis continentia a quoquam magis vere magisque proprie demonstrari quam ab ipsa meretricula expressa est?
Here are some artistic representations of Xenocrates resisting temptation:

Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), The Steadfast Philosopher

Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), Phryne Tempting Xenocrates

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Phryne Seduces Xenocrates

Carl Russ (1779-1843), Xenocrates and Phryne

Related posts:


Surveillance by Big Brother

Cicero, Against Catiline 1.1 (tr. C. Macdonald):
Do you think that there is a man among us who does not know what you did last night or the night before last, where you were, whom you summoned to your meeting, what decision you reached?

quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, ubi fueris, quos convocaveris, quid consili ceperis quem nostrum ignorare arbitraris?
Id. 1.6:
Furthermore, although you will not be aware of them, there will be, as there have been in the past, many eyes and ears observing you and keeping watch upon you.

multorum te etiam oculi et aures non sentientem, sicut adhuc fecerunt, speculabuntur atque custodient.
Id. 1.8:
Nothing you do, no attempt you make, no plan you form, but I hear of it, see it, and know it all.

nihil agis, nihil moliris, nihil cogitas quod non ego non modo audiam sed etiam videam planeque sentiam.

Related post: The Surveillance State.


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