Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Pretty Little Girl With a Red Dress On

Carmina Burana 177 (tr. G.F. Whicher):
There stood a girl, in red she was gowned,
Her dress if you touched it made a
Swishing sound.

Like a little rose-tree there she stood —
Her cheeks blown roses
And her mouth a bud.

Stetit puella
rufa tunica;
siquis eam tetigit,
tunica crepuit.

Stetit puella
tamquam rosula:
facie splenduit,
et os eius floruit.
A poem by Ibn al-Ṣābūnī (13th century; tr. A.J. Arberry):
She is coming, coming,
So soft her tread,
A moon in gloaming

As if her glances
My lifeblood shed,
And wiped their lances
In her robe of red.
Arberry's discussion of Ibn al-Ṣābūnī's poem:
This is a very short poem, and at first reading perhaps appears very simple; the simplicity is a delusion. Take the phrase 'a moon in gloaming': this conjures up images which only a familiarity with Arab convention can illuminate. The 'moon' is the accepted metaphor for a beautiful face, pale and glowing; the 'gloaming' is a reference to the dark tresses which throw into relief the brilliance of the 'moon'. In the second stanza the poet elaborates the well-loved comparison of the glances of the beloved with spears aimed at the lover's heart; his heart is pierced by them, and her robe is crimsoned with his lifeblood. The poet, using hackneyed themes, has combined and refined them into a new and satisfying synthesis.


A Beautiful Little Book

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), A Time of Gifts (1977; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2005), pp. 114-115 (ellipses in original):
All these kindnesses were crowned with a dazzling consummation. I had said that my books, after the lost diary, were what I missed most. I ought to have known by now that mention of loss had only one result under this roof ... What books? I had named them; when the time came for farewells, the Baron said: "We can't do much about the others but here's Horace for you." He put a small duodecimo volume in my hand. It was the Odes and Epodes, beautifully printed on thin paper in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century, bound in hard green leather with gilt lettering. The leather on the spine had faded but the sides were as bright as grass after rain and the little book opened and shut as compactly as a Chinese casket. There were gold edges to the pages and a faded marker of scarlet silk slanted across the long S's of the text and the charming engraved vignettes: cornucopias, lyres, pan-pipes, chaplets of olive and bay and myrtle. Small mezzotints showed the Forum and the Capitol and imaginary Sabine landscapes: Tibur, Lucretilis, the Bandusian spring, Soracte, Venusia ... I made a feint at disclaiming a treasure so far beyond the status of the rough travels ahead. But I had been forestalled, I saw with relief, by an inscription: "To our young friend," etc., on the page opposite an emblematic ex libris with the name of their machiolated Baltic home. Here and there between the pages a skeleton leaf conjured up those lost woods.

This book became a fetish. I noticed, during the next few days, that it filled everyone with feelings of wonder akin to my own. On the second evening — Rosenheim was the first — placed alongside the resolutely broached new diary on the inn-table of Hohenaschau, it immediately made me seem more exalted than the tramp that I actually was. "What a beautiful little book!,"awed voices would say. Horny fingers reverently turned the pages. "Lateinisch? Well, well ..." A spurious aura of scholarship and respectability sprang up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Friends and Allies

Ronald A. Knox (1888-1957), Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 292:
In this imperfect world a man cannot stand by himself, armed against criticism by his own honesty of purpose; we creep together for warmth, ally ourselves for mutual defence with other men whose opinions overlap, but do not coincide, with ours.
Cf. his Pastoral Sermons and Occasional Sermons (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), p. 328:
And even with the friendships we make later in life, founded not on accidental association, but on a real community of tastes and interests, how seldom they last a lifetime, or anything like a lifetime! Destiny shuffles our partners for us; one friend or the other gets a different job, goes to live somewhere else; it may only mean changing from one suburb to another, but how easily we make an excuse of distance! More and more as we grow older, we find that the people we see most of are recent acquaintances, not (perhaps) very congenial to us, but chance has thrown them in our way. And meanwhile the people we used to know so well, for whom we once entertained such warm feelings, are now remembered by a card at Christmas, if we can succeed in finding the address. How good we are at making friends, when we are young; how bad at keeping them! How eagerly, as we grow older, we treasure up the friendships that are left to us, like beasts that creep together for warmth!


A Well-Ordered Life

Pliny the Younger, Letters 3.1.2 (to Calvisius Rufus; tr. Betty Radice):
A well-ordered life, especially where the old are concerned, gives me the same pleasure as the fixed course of the planets. A certain amount of irregularity and excitement is not unsuitable for the young, but their elders should lead a quiet and orderly existence; their time of public activity is over, and ambition only brings them into disrepute.

Me autem ut certus siderum cursus ita vita hominum disposita delectat. Senum praesertim: nam iuvenes confusa adhuc quaedam et quasi turbata non indecent, senibus placida omnia et ordinata conveniunt, quibus industria sera turpis ambitio est.

Monday, September 28, 2015


The Antiquary's Retreat

Walter Scott (1771-1832), The Antiquary, chapter III:
It was indeed some time before Lovel could, through the thick atmosphere, perceive in what sort of den his friend had constructed his retreat. It was a lofty room of middling size, obscurely lighted by high narrow latticed windows. One end was entirely occupied by book-shelves, greatly too limited in space for the number of volumes placed upon them, which were, therefore, drawn up in ranks of two or three files deep, while numberless others littered the floor and the tables, amid a chaos of maps, engraving, scraps of parchment, bundles of papers, pieces of old armour, swords, dirks, helmets, and Highland targets. Behind Mr. Oldbuck's seat (which was an ancient leathern-covered easy-chair, worn smooth by constant use) was a huge oaken cabinet, decorated at each corner with Dutch cherubs, having their little duck-wings displayed, and great jolter-headed visages placed between them. The top of this cabinet was covered with busts, and Roman lamps and paterae, intermingled with one or two bronze figures. The walls of the apartment were partly clothed with grim old tapestry, representing the memorable story of Sir Gawaine's wedding, in which full justice was done to the ugliness of the Lothely Lady; although, to judge from his own looks, the gentle knight had less reason to be disgusted with the match on account of disparity of outward favour, than the romancer has given us to understand. The rest of the room was panelled, or wainscotted, with black oak, against which hung two or three portraits in armour, being characters in Scottish history, favourites of Mr. Oldbuck, and as many in tie-wigs and laced coats, staring representatives of his own ancestors. A large old-fashioned oaken table was covered with a profusion of papers, parchments, books, and nondescript trinkets and gewgaws, which seemed to have little to recommend them, besides rust and the antiquity which it indicates. In the midst of this wreck of ancient books and utensils, with a gravity equal to Marius among the ruins of Carthage, sat a large black cat, which, to a superstitious eye, might have presented the genius loci, the tutelar demon of the apartment. The floor, as well as the table and chairs, was overflowed by the same mare magnum of miscellaneous trumpery, where it would have been as impossible to find any individual article wanted, as to put it to any use when discovered.

Edward Cooke, The Antiquary's Cell


Requests for Letters

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.11 (to Fabius Justus; tr. Betty Radice):
I have not heard from you for a long time, and you say you have nothing to write about. Well, you can at least write that—or else simply the phrase our elders used to start a letter with: "If you are well, well and good; I am well." That will do for me—it is all that matters. Don't think I am joking; I mean it. Let me know how you are; if I don't know I can't help worrying a lot.

Olim mihi nullas epistulas mittis. Nihil est, inquis, quod scribam. At hoc ipsum scribe, nihil esse quod scribas, vel solum illud unde incipere priores solebant: "Si vales, bene est; ego valeo." Hoc mihi sufficit; est enim maximum. Ludere me putas? serio peto. Fac sciam quid agas, quod sine sollicitudine summa nescire non possum. Vale.
Id., 1.22.12 (to Catilius Severus):
There you have my fears, hopes, and plans for the future; in return, give me news of your own doings, past, present and intended, but please make your letter more cheerful than mine. It will be a great comfort in my trouble if you have no complaints.

Habes quid timeam, quid optem, quid etiam in posterum destinem: tu quid egeris, quid agas, quid velis agere invicem nobis, sed laetioribus epistulis scribe. Erit confusioni meae non mediocre solacium, si tu nihil quereris.
Id., 2.2.2 (to Valerius Paulinus):
It is so long since I have had a letter from you. The only way to placate me is to write me a lot of letters now, at long last—lengthy ones, too. That is how you can honestly win my forgiveness; I shall not hear of anything else.

A te tam diu litterae nullae. Exorare me potes uno modo, si nunc saltem plurimas et longissimas miseris. Haec mihi sola excusatio vera, ceterae falsae videbuntur.
Id., 2.11.24 (to Maturus Arrianus):
So much for the city. Now give me news of the country—how are your fruit trees and your vines, the harvest and your prize sheep? Unless you answer me in as long a letter as this, you can expect nothing in future but the shortest note.

Habes res urbanas; invicem rusticas scribe. Quid arbusculae tuae, quid vineae, quid segetes agunt, quid oves delicatissimae? In summa, nisi aeque longam epistulam reddis, non est quod postea nisi brevissimam exspectes.


I Want to See How It Ends

Bernard Knox (1914-2010), Essays Ancient and Modern (1989; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), p. 154:
[A] story (apocryphal, no doubt) about [Oscar] Wilde's viva examination at Oxford ... gives a startling impression of the gulf between Christianity and the Hellenic aestheticism of the late seventies. Wilde was given a Greek Testament and told to translate chapter 26 of Luke—the Last Supper; the agony in the garden; the betrayal, arrest, and trial of Christ. He did so with speed and elegance. "Thank you, Mr. Wilde, that will do." "Oh," he said. "Pray let me go on. I want to see how it ends."

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Reading by Smell?

Ronald A. Knox (1888-1957), Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 372 (on miracles supposedly performed by "The Convulsionaries of Saint-Médard"):
[T]hey have read all sorts of writing, with their eyes bandaged, by the smell.2

2 Grégoire, Histoire des sectes religieuses, ii.156.
See Henri Grégoire (1750-1831), Histoire des sectes religieuses, T. II (Paris: Baudouin Frères, 1828), pp. 155-156, who pretends to quote directly from Bernard Lambert (1738-1813), Exposition des prédictions et des promesses faites à l'Église pour les derniers temps de la gentilité (Paris: Ange Clos, 1806):
On a vu tous, dit-il, les élémens maîtrisés par un agent invisible, produire les effets les plus contraires à la nature ... lire toutes sortes d’écritures par l'odorat ayant les yeux bandés.1

1 Voyez tom. I, pag. 66-74.
I can't find the quotation in Lambert's book. The closest I can find is this, on p. 71:
On y a vu ... les yeux, dans une privation totale de lumière, voir distinctement les objets les plus déliés , et lire les plus fines écritures.
So Knox and Grégoire both mention reading by smell, but Lambert apparently does not. It would be a useful skill to have, for those like myself with failing eyesight. I would gladly, however, forego the ability to perform the next miracle mentioned by Lambert (id., pp. 71-72):
On y a vu les matières les plus capables de détruire la santé ou même d'ôter la vie, telles que les plus fétides excrémens, le pus le plus corrompu et le plus infect, loin de nuire aux personnes forcées, par leur état surnaturel, de les avaler et de s'en nourrir, en suçant les ulcères les plus malins, les plaies les plus dégoûtantes, les cancers les plus affreux, se changer, pour elles, en alimens très-salutaires, ainsi que le vinaigre, la suie, le fiel, l'encre et la cendre mêlés et paîtris ensemble.
A disgusting sort of transubstantiation!

From Ian Jackson:
If you type into Google Books
convulsionnaires lire odorat
you'll get a number of interesting references to reading by smell from early 18th C. sources.
Related post: My Old Liddell and Scott.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Motto for a School

Pindar, fragment 227 (tr. Richard Stoneman):
The interests of the young
pursued with dedication
lead to glory; their deeds in time
shine on high.
The same, tr. William H. Race:
The ambitions of the young, when exercised with toil,
gain fame. And in time deeds shine forth,
lifted up to heaven.
The Greek:
νέων δὲ μέριμναι σὺν πόνοις εἱλισσόμεναι
δόξαν εὑρίσκοντι· λάμπει δὲ χρόνῳ
ἔργα μετ᾿ αἰθέρ᾿ <ἀερ>θέντα.

αἰθέρ᾿ <ἀερ>θέντα Boeckh: αἰθέρα λαμπευθέντα codd.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


No Life?

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6.2.2 (tr. Christopher P. Jones):
Apollonius said, "Yet the honorable Greeks think they have no life unless an obol breeds an obol, and they can sell their goods at high prices to one another by huckstering and hoarding."

"οἱ δὲ χρηστοὶ" ἔφη "Ἕλληνες, ἢν μὴ ὀβολὸς ὀβολὸν τέκῃ καὶ τὰ ὤνια αὑτοῖς ἐπιτιμήσωσι καπηλεύοντες ἢ καθειργνύντες, οὔ φασι ζῆν."
Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v. ἐπιτιμέω: "lay a value upon: hence ... raise in price"

Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v. καθείργνυμι: "shut in, confine, usu. of animals or persons ... rarely of things"


No More Enmity

Moses Ibn Ezra (1055-1135), "I Behold Ancient Graves" (tr. Solomon Solis-Cohen):
I behold graves of ancient time, of days long past,
    Wherein a people sleeps the eternal sleep.
There is no enmity among these folk — no envy;
    No loving of neighbor and no hating;
And my thought, envisioning them, cannot discern
    Master from slave!
Related posts:


Intellectual Inbreeding

Ronald A. Knox (1888-1957), Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 196:
A kind of intellectual inbreeding was the inevitable result of shutting up so many like-minded people in the same enclosure. An indefinable spirit of 'Here's tae us, and wha's like us?' dominates their interminable biographies of one another.
Id., pp. 229-230:
The enthusiast wants to see results; he is not content to let the wheat and the tares grow side by side until the harvest. It must be made possible somehow, even in this world, to draw a line between the sheep and the goats. Thus a little group of devout souls isolates itself from the rest of society, to form a nucleus for the New Jerusalem; and in doing so it loses touch with the currents of thought that flow outside, grows partisan in its attitude, sterile of new ideas.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Ubi Sunt?

Samuel Hanagid (993-1056), "The Ruined Citadel" (tr. T. Carmi):
I billeted a strong force overnight in a citadel laid waste in former days by other generals. There we slept upon its back and flanks, while under us its landlords slept. And I said to my heart: Where are the many people who once lived here? Where are the builders and vandals, the rulers and paupers, the slaves and masters? Where are the begetters and the bereaved, the fathers and the sons, the mourners and the bridegrooms? And where are the many people born after the others had died, in days gone by, after other days and years? Once they lodged upon the earth; now they are lodged within it. They passed from their palaces to the grave, from pleasant courts to dust.


A Riddle

Naser Khosrow (1004-1088), "A Riddle" (tr. Dick Davis):
I have a friend who, when I'm all alone,
Sits with me — and how intimate we've grown!
He talks, but what he says he never hears,
He is unfeeling, but he dries my tears.
He has one back, he has a hundred faces
As lovely as the spring in desert places
(Sometimes I thump him on the back — I must,
He gets half-smothered in thick, choking dust).
He talks, but soundlessly; he has to find
A clever man before he'll speak his mind.
Whenever I encounter him, his eyes
Recall the precepts of the good and wise,
And yet he's quiet till I look his way
Unlike some fools, who blather on all day.
In darkness he falls silent — which is right,
He is a Prince who glories in the Light.


Apollonius of Tyana Meets a Fat Man

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5.23 (tr. Christopher P. Jones):
Seeing a fat young man who prided himself on eating more food and drinking more wine than anyone on earth, he said, "Would you be the glutton, by any chance?" "Yes," was the reply, "and I thank the gods that I am." "And what advantage," asked Apollonius, "have you gotten from this ravenousness?" "Admiration and celebrity," was the reply, "for doubtless you have heard of Heracles, and how his dinners were recorded in song no less than his labors." "He was Heracles," said Apollonius, "but what good is there in you, you scum? The only celebrity left for you is to explode."

νεανίαν δὲ ἰδὼν πίονα καὶ φρονοῦντα ἐπὶ τῷ πλεῖστα μὲν ἀνθρώπων ἐσθίειν, πλεῖστον δὲ οἶνον πίνειν "ἀλλ᾿ ἦ σὺ" ἔφη "τυγχάνεις ὢν ὁ γαστριζόμενος;" "καὶ θύω γε" εἶπεν "ὑπὲρ τούτου." "τί οὖν" ἔφη "ἀπολέλαυκας τῆς βορᾶς ταύτης;" "τὸ θαυμάζεσθαί με καὶ ἀποβλέπεσθαι· καὶ γὰρ τὸν Ἡρακλέα ἴσως ἀκούεις, ὡς καὶ τὰ σιτία αὐτοῦ παραπλησίως τοῖς ἄθλοις ᾔδετο." "Ἡρακλέους" ἔφη "ὄντος· σοῦ δὲ τίς, ὦ κάθαρμα, ἀρετή; τὸ γὰρ περίβλεπτον ἐν μόνῳ λείπεταί σοι τῷ ῥαγῆναι."
Related posts:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


European Poetry Grows Up

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 37:
Vicit iter durum pietas; with this conception Virgil has added a new dimension to poetry. I have read that his Aeneas, so guided by dreams and omens, is hardly the shadow of a man beside Homer's Achilles. But a man, an adult, is precisely what he is: Achilles had been little more than a passionate boy. You may, of course, prefer the poetry of spontaneous passion to the poetry of passion at war with vocation, and finally reconciled. Every man to his taste. But we must not blame the second for not being the first. With Virgil European poetry grows up.
Id., p. 39:
'Twixt miserable longing for the present land
And the far realms that call them by the fates' command.
                                                                            (v, 656.)
It will be seen that in these two lines Virgil, with no intention of allegory, has described once and for all the very quality of most human life as it is experienced by any one who has not yet risen to holiness or sunk to animality. It is not thanks to the Fourth Eclogue alone that he has become almost a great Christian poet. In making his one legend symbolical of the destiny of Rome, he has, willy-nilly, symbolized the destiny of Man. His poem is 'great' in a sense in which no poem of the same type as the Iliad can ever be great.


Motto for a 65th Birthday Card

David Hume (1711-1776), "My Own Life":
I consider besides, that a Man of sixty five, by dying, cuts off only a few Years of Infirmities.
Related posts:

Monday, September 21, 2015


Pleasure and Pain

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), "Sonnet XXVI," Amoretti and Epithalamion (London: William Ponsonby, 1595):
Sweet is the Rose, but growes vpon a brere;
    Sweet is the Iunipere, but sharpe his bough;
    sweet is the Eglantine, but pricketh nere;
    sweet is the firbloome, but his braunches rough.
Sweet is the Cypresse, but his rynd is tough,        5
    sweet is the nut, but bitter is his pill;
    sweet is the broome-flowre, but yet sowre enough;
    and sweet is Moly, but his root is ill.
So euery sweet with soure is tempred still,
    that maketh it be coueted the more:        10
    for easie things that may be got at will,
    most sorts of men doe set but little store.
Why then should I accoumpt of little paine,
    that endlesse pleasure shall vnto me gaine.
4 firbloome: flower or fruit of the fir tree? (doesn't seem to be in the Oxford English Dictionary, either as is or s.vv. fir or bloom)

6 pill: "A covering or outer layer of a fruit or vegetable; a skin, husk, rind, or shell; the bark of a tree, or a layer of bark; spec. (a piece of) the thin rind or peel of a fruit or a tuberous or bulbous root" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. pill, n.2; cf. peel)

Thanks to Dave Lull for elucidating firbloome. He adduces:

1) Ernest de Sélincourt, ed., Spenser's Minor Poems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), note on p. 521:
Mr. W.W. Greg makes the interesting suggestion that 'firbloome' is possibly a misprint for 'firsbloom' (i.e. furze bloom).
2) G.C. Macaulay, review of 1) in Modern Language Review 7.1 (Jan., 1912) 114-117 (at 117):
Mr Greg's suggestion is right enough as regards the meaning, but there is no misprint: 'firbloome' is quite an admissible form. See N.E.D. under 'fur' and 'furze.'


The Moralist

John Williams (1922-1994), Augustus (1971; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2014), p. 123:
And it seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgements rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgement is easy and knowledge difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgements reflect a vision of himself that he would impose upon the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Here's a List

A translation by James Michie (1927-2007) of one of my favorite poems, Martial 10.47:
Of what does the happy life consist,
My dear friend Julius? Here's a list:
Inherited wealth, no need to earn,
Fires that continually burn,
And fields that give a fair return,
No lawsuits, formal togas worn
Seldom, a calm mind, the freeborn
Gentleman's health and good physique,
Tact with the readiness to speak
Openly, friends of your own mind,
Guests of an easy-going kind,
Plain food, a table simply set,
Nights sober but wine-freed from fret,
A wife who's true to you and yet
No prude in bed, and sleep so sound
It makes the dawn come quickly round.
Be pleased with what you are, keep hope
Within that self-appointed scope;
Neither uneasily apprehend
Nor morbidly desire the end.

Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
res non parta labore sed relicta;
non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
nox non ebria sed soluta curis;
non tristis torus et tamen pudicus;
somnus qui faciat breves tenebras:
quod sis esse velis nihilque malis;
summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
Other translations and paraphrases of Martial 10.47:
Hat tip: Ian Jackson, a "friend of my own mind" (line 10 of the translation, line 7 of the Latin).

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Ability to Do Harm

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 7.6.7 (1150 a 7; tr. H. Rackham):
For a bad man can do ten thousand times more harm than an animal.

μυριοπλάσια γὰρ ἂν κακὰ ποιήσειεν ἄνθρωπος κακὸς θηρίου.

Friday, September 18, 2015



Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1.39.2 (tr. Christopher P. Jones):
When much money had once come to the king from his subjects, he opened his treasury to show the Master his money and to tempt him with love of wealth. But he admired nothing he was shown, saying only, "This is money to you, Majesty, but rubbish to me."

χρημάτων δὲ ἐκ τῆς ὑπηκόου φοιτησάντων ποτὲ ἀθρόων, ἀνοίξας τοὺς θησαυροὺς ἐδείκνυ τῷ ἀνδρὶ τὰ χρήματα, ὑπαγόμενος αὐτὸν ἐς ἐπιθυμίαν πλούτου. ὁ δὲ οὐδὲν ὧν εἶδε θαυμάσας "σοὶ ταῦτα," ἔφη "ὦ βασιλεῦ, χρήματα, ἐμοὶ δὲ ἄχυρα."
ἄχυρα = "chaff, bran, husks left after threshing or grinding" (Liddell-Scott-Jones).


A Prayer of Apollonius of Tyana

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1.33.2 (tr. Christopher P. Jones):
Gods, grant that I have little and need nothing.

ὦ θεοί, δοίητε μοι μικρὰ ἔχειν καὶ δεῖσθαι μηδενός.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


What's in the Books

Mark Twain (1835-1910), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter 2:
"Why, blame it all, we've got to do it. Don't I tell you it's in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what's in the books, and get things all muddled up?"


"Because it ain't in the books so — that's why. Now, Ben Rogers, do you want to do things regular, or don't you? — that's the idea. Don't you reckon that the people that made the books knows what's the correct thing to do? Do you reckon you can learn 'em anything? Not by a good deal."


The Gregariousness of Men

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (April 3, 1858):
The gregariousness of men is their most contemptible and discouraging aspect. See how they follow each other like sheep, not knowing why. Day & Martin's blacking was preferred by the last generation, and also is by this. They have not so good a reason for preferring this or that religion as in this case even. Apparently in ancient times several parties were nearly equally matched. They appointed a committee and made a compromise, agreeing to vote or believe so and so, and they still helplessly abide by that. Men are the inveterate foes of all improvement. Generally speaking, they think more of their hen-houses than of any desirable heaven. If you aspire to anything better than politics, expect no cooperation from men. They will not further anything good. You must prevail of your own force, as a plant springs and grows by its own vitality.


Man's Conception of Himself

Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays 1965-1980 (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), p. 52:
I began to see how little of the beauty and the richness of the world is of human origin, and how superficial and crude and destructive — even self-destructive — is man's conception of himself as the owner of the land and the master of nature and the center of the universe.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


A Saying of Simonides

Plutarch, On Preserving One's Health 7 = Moralia 125 D (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
Simonides used to say that he had never been sorry for having kept silent, but many a time for having spoken.

ὁ Σιμωνίδης ἔλεγε μηδέποτ᾿ αὐτῷ μεταμελῆσαι σιγήσαντι, φθεγξαμένῳ δὲ πολλάκις.
Plutarch, On Talkativeness 23 = Moralia 514 F (tr. W.C. Helmbold):
And over and above all else we must keep at hand and in our minds the saying of Simonides, that he had often repented of speaking, but never of holding his tongue.

ἐπὶ πᾶσι δὲ καὶ παρὰ ταῦτα πάντα δεῖ πρόχειρον ἔχειν καὶ μνημονεύειν τὸ Σιμωνίδειον ὅτι λαλήσας μὲν πολλάκις μετενόησε, σιωπήσας δ᾿ οὐδέποτε.
Cf. Plutarch, On the Education of Children 10 = Moralia 10 F (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
For, again, nobody was ever sorry because he kept silent, but hundreds because they talked.

καὶ γὰρ αὖ σιωπήσας μὲν οὐδεὶς μετενόησε, λαλήσαντες δὲ παμπληθεῖς.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


A Full Harvest of Pleasures

Wilson Flagg (1805-1884), A Year Among the Trees; or, The Woods and By-Ways of New England (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1881), p. viii:
Few men save those who from religious motives have renounced the world have lived so little in communication with it as I have. I am not a member of any society or club, of any church or institution, trade, profession, or organization. Though once a student of Harvard College, I am not a graduate; and though in my early manhood for many years a contributor to the political press, I have never been an editor nor a politician. I have lived entirely without honors, and have never rejected any. And if, possibly, I have on any occasion manifested an appreciable amount of boldness or independence in speaking my thoughts and avowing my opinions, any such eccentricity may be attributed to this circumstance; for every honor a man receives from the community is a fetter upon his freedom of speech and action. I have not been drawn into society by a taste for its amusements or its vices; I have not joined the crowd either of its saints or its sinners; I have pursued my tasks alone, except as I have read and conversed with my wife and children. She and they have been the only companions of my studies and recreations during all the prime of my life. But, perhaps from this cause alone, I have been very happy. The study of nature and my domestic avocations have yielded me a full harvest of pleasures, though it was barren of honors.



Hippolyte Taine, letter to Guillaume Guizot (June 1854; on Stendhal; my translation):
But I have read his novels sixty to eighty times each, and I keep on rereading them.

Mais j'ai lu les romans soixante à quatre-vingts fois chacun et je les relis.


To Enjoy Our Full Humanity

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 64:
To enjoy our full humanity, we ought, as far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times and, on occasion, to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth-century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work 'in the same spirit that its author writ' and to avoid chimerical criticism.

Saturday, September 12, 2015



Joseph Addison, The Spectator, no. 86 (June 8, 1711):
It is an irreparable Injustice we are guilty of towards one another, when we are prejudiced by the Looks and Features of those whom we do not know. How often do we conceive Hatred against a Person of Worth, or fancy a Man to be proud or ill-natured by his Aspect, whom we think we cannot esteem too much when we are acquainted with his real Character? Dr. Moore, in his admirable System of Ethicks, reckons this particular Inclination to take a Prejudice against a Man for his Looks, among the smaller Vices in Morality, and, if I remember, gives it the Name of a Prosopolepsia.
Greek προσωποληψία (respect of persons) occurs in the New Testament (Romans 2.11, Colossians 3.25, James 2.1; προσωπολήπτης in Acts 10.34, προσωποληπτέω in James 2.9).

Dear Michael Gilleland,

It is worth noting that the primary meaning of πρόσωπον (whence προσωποληψία, "respect of persons") is "face, countenance", and by extension "person". πρόσωπον is also used of an actor's mask, which is the original meaning of the Latin persona. Likewise, in Russian лицо means "face" and by extension "person". In modern Greek, προσόψιο (towel, napkin) is derived from πρόσωπο (face, person etc.) in the sense of "mask"; cf. Romanian față de masă (tablecloth, literally "table face"), față de pernă (pillowcase, literally "pillow face").

Yours sincerely,

Alistair Ian Blyth


Two Types of Gods

Isocrates 5.117 (tr. George Norlin):
Nay, in the case of the gods also we invoke as the "Heavenly Ones" those who bless us with good things, while to those who are agents of calamities and punishments we apply more hateful epithets; in honour of the former, both private persons and states erect temples and altars, whereas we honour the latter neither in our prayers nor in our sacrifices, but practise rites to drive away their evil presence.

ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν θεῶν τοὺς μὲν τῶν ἀγαθῶν αἰτίους ἡμῖν ὄντας Ὀλυμπίους προσαγορευομένους, τοὺς δ᾿ ἐπὶ ταῖς συμφοραῖς καὶ ταῖς τιμωρίαις τεταγμένους δυσχερεστέρας τὰς ἐπωνυμίας ἔχοντας, καὶ τῶν μὲν καὶ τοὺς ἰδιώτας καὶ τὰς πόλεις καὶ νεὼς καὶ βωμοὺς ἱδρυμένους, τοὺς δ᾿ οὔτ᾿ ἐν ταῖς εὐχαῖς οὔτ᾿ ἐν ταῖς θυσίαις τιμωμένους, ἀλλ᾿ ἀποπομπὰς αὐτῶν ἡμᾶς ποιουμένους.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Scraps of Greek

Richard Steele, The Spectator, no. 278 (January 18, 1712; a supposed letter to "Mr. Spectator"):
I am a Shop-keeper, and tho' but a young Man, I find by Experience that nothing but the utmost Diligence both of Husband and Wife (among trading People) can keep Affairs in any tolerable Order. My Wife at the Beginning of our Establishment shewed herself very assisting to me in my Business as much as could lie in her Way, and I have Reason to believe 'twas with her Inclination: But of late she has got acquainted with a Schoolman, who values himself for his great Knowledge in the Greek Tongue. He entertains her frequently in the Shop with Discourses of the Beauties and Excellencies of that Language, and repeats to her several Passages out of the Greek Poets, wherein he tells her there is unspeakable Harmony and agreeable Sounds, that all other Languages are wholly unacquainted with. He has so infatuated her with this Jargon, that instead of using her former Diligence in the Shop, she now neglects the Affairs of the House, and is wholly taken up with her Tutor in Learning by Heart Scraps of Greek, which she vents upon all Occasions. She told me some Days ago, that whereas I use some Latin Inscriptions in my Shop, she advised me with a great deal of Concern to have them changed into Greek; it being a Language less understood, would be more conformable to the Mistery of my Profession; that our good Friend would be assisting to us in this Work; and that a certain Faculty of Gentlemen would find themselves so much obliged to me, that they would infallibly make my Fortune: In short, her frequent Importunities upon this and other Impertinences of the like Nature make me very uneasy; and if your Remonstrances have no more effect upon her than mine, I am afraid I shall be obliged to ruin my self to procure her a Settlement at Oxford with her Tutor, for she's already too mad for Bedlam. Now, Sir, you see the Danger my Family is exposed to, and the Likelihood of my Wife's becoming both troublesome and useless, unless her reading her self, in your Paper, may make her reflect. She is so very learned, that I cannot pretend by Word of Mouth to argue with her: She laughed out at your ending a Paper in Greek, and said 'twas a Hint to Women of Literature, and very civil not to translate it to expose them to the Vulgar.


Don't Cry

Sophocles, fragment 557 (from Men of Scyros; Achilles' son Neoptolemus speaking; tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Why, if it were possible to heal troubles by weeping,
and to raise up the dead by tears,
gold would be a less precious possession than lamentation!
But as things are, aged man, it is impossible
to bring up to the light him who is hidden in the tomb.
Why, if tears could have done it, my father
would have been brought up to the light!

ἀλλ᾿ εἰ μὲν ἦν κλαίουσιν ἰᾶσθαι κακὰ
καὶ τὸν θανόντα δακρύοις ἀνιστάναι,
ὁ χρυσὸς ἧσσον κτῆμα τοῦ κλαίειν ἂν ἦν.
νῦν δ᾿, ὦ γεραιέ, τοῦτ᾿ ἀνηνύτως ἔχει,
τὸν ἐν τάφῳ κρυφθέντα πρὸς τὸ φῶς ἄγειν·
κἀμοὶ γὰρ ἂν χάριν γε δακρύων πατὴρ
ἀνῆκτ᾿ ἂν εἰς φῶς.
Philemon, fragment 73 Kock = Comicorum Atticorum Fragmenta, vol. II, pp. 497-498 (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
If only tears were remedy for ills,
And he who weeps obtained surcease of woe,
Then we should purchase tears by giving gold.
But as it is, events that come to pass,
My master, do not mind nor heed these things,
But, whether you shed tears or not, pursue
The even tenor of their way. What then
Do we accomplish by our weeping? Naught.
But as the trees have fruit, grief has these tears.

εἰ τὰ δάκρυ᾿ ἡμῖν τῶν κακῶν ἦν φάρμακον,
ἀεί θ᾿ ὁ κλαύσας τοῦ πονεῖν ἐπαύετο,
ἠλλαττόμεσθ᾿ ἂν δάκρυα, δόντες χρυσίον.
νῦν δ᾿ οὐ προσέχει τὰ πράγματ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀποβλέπει
εἰς ταῦτα, δέσποτ᾿, ἀλλὰ τὴν αὐτὴν ὁδόν,
ἐάν τε κλάῃς ἄν τε μή, πορεύεται.
τί οὖν πλέον ποιοῦμεν; οὐδέν· ἡ λύπη δ᾿ ἔχει
ὥσπερ τὰ δένδρα ταῦτα καρπὸν τὰ δάκρυα.
I don't have access to Poetae Comici Graeci, edd. Rudolf Kassel and Colin Austin, vol. VII (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1989).

Thursday, September 10, 2015


A Tree Simile

M.L. West (1937-2015), Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 495:
As a tree can be felled, either by a woodcutter or by a stroke of lightning, so can a warrior. Simoeisios, struck down by Ajax, falls like a poplar cut down by a joiner (Il. 4.482–7, cf. 13.178, 389). Indra struck down Vṛtra 'as an axe (does) the woods' (RV 10.89.7, cf. 1.32.5). Rāma, on hearing of his father's death, falls down in a swoon like a tree in the forest cut down by the axe (Rm. 2.95.9). Then again, Indra felled Vṛtra like a tree struck by a thunderbolt (RV 2.14.2, cf. 6.33.3; MBh. 2.42.21; 3.271.17), while Hector, laid out by a stone from Ajax’s hand, falls like an oak under Zeus' thunderbolt (Il. 14.414).141

141 Cf. Durante (1976), 121. The tree simile could also be used of others besides warriors struck down by a god. In the preface to the Hittite story of Appu (§1; Hoffner (1998), 83) a deity is said to 'chop down evil men like trees'. In a hymn to Agni he is asked to 'bring the wicked one down as with the blade, O unageing king, like a tree of the forest with the cutting edge' (RV 6.8.5).
"Durante (1976)" is Marcello Durante, Sulla preistoria della tradizione poetica greca, vol. 2 (Rome, 1976).

Related post: Some Homeric Similes.


Thou Hast Finished Joy and Moan

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Cymbeline 4.2.258-281:
Fear no more the heat o' th' sun
    Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,        260
    Home art gone and ta'en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o' th' great;
    Thou art past the tyrant's stroke.        265
Care no more to clothe and eat;
    To thee the reed is as the oak.
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,        270
    Nor th' all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear no slander, censure rash;
    Thou hast finish'd joy and moan.
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee and come to dust.        275

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have,        280
And renownèd be thy grave!
271 thunder-stone: thunderbolt
275 consign: "To submit to the same terms with another" (Samuel Johnson, Dictionary)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Highly Specialized, Fanciful, Stylish Riddles

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Speak, Memory (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1966), p. 288:
A certain position is elaborated on the board, and the problem to be solved is how to mate Black in a given number of moves, generally two or three. It is a beautiful, complex and sterile art related to the ordinary form of the game only insofar as, say, the properties of a sphere are made use of by a tennis player in winning a tournament. Most chess players, in fact amateurs and masters alike, are only mildly interested in these highly specialized, fanciful, stylish riddles, and though appreciative of a catchy problem would be utterly baffled if asked to compose one.
For the past three years I've tried to solve the daily chess problems at I can usually solve the easy ones, rarely the hard ones.


Irreconcilable Differences

Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics 7 (tr. Peter Holmes):
What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians?

Quid ergo Athenis et Hierosolymis? quid Academiae et ecclesiae? quid haereticis et Christianis?

Jerome, Letter 22.29 (tr. F. A. Wright):
What communion hath light with darkness? What concord hath Christ with Belial? What has Horace to do with the Psalter, Virgil with the Gospels and Cicero with Paul?

Quae enim communicatio luci ad tenebras, qui consensus Christo et Belial? Quid facit cum psalterio Horatius? cum evangeliis Maro? cum apostolo Cicero?

Alcuin, Letter 124, tr. Donald A. Bullough,"What has Ingeld to do with Lindisfarne?" Anglo-Saxon England 22 (1993) 93-125 (at 124):
Let God's words be read at the episcopal dinner-table. It is right that a reader should be heard, not a harpist, patristic discourse, not pagan song. What has Hinield to do with Christ? The house is narrow and has no room for both. The Heavenly King does not wish to have communion with pagan and forgotten kings listed name by name: for the eternal King reigns in Heaven, while the forgotten pagan king wails in Hell.
Epistolae Karolini Aevi, Tomus II, ed. Ernestus Duemmler (Berlin: Weidmann, 1895), p. 183:
Verba Dei legantur in sacerdotali convivio. Ibi decet lectorem audiri, non citharistam; sermones patrum, non carmina gentium. Quid Hinieldus cum Christo? Angusta est domus: utrosque tenere non poterit. Non vult rex celestis cum paganis et perditis nominetenus regibus communionem habere; quia rex ille aeternus regnat in caelis, ille paganus perditus plangit in inferno.


Pilgrims and Strangers

Norman Ault, ed., Elizabethan Lyrics from the Original Texts (1949; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), p. 222 (anonymous, from Christ Church Library, Mus. 740, fols. 25v-26r, and 742, fols. 27v-28r):
Like flowers we spring up fair but soon decaying;
Our days and years are in their prime declining;
Man's life on such uncertainties is founded:
The wheel of fickle fate is never staying;
Time every hour our thread of life untwining:
He that ere now with store of wealth abounded,
Anon through want is wounded.
Wayfaring men we are, pilgrims and strangers,
On earth we have no certain habitation,
Nor keep one constant station;
But, through a multitude of fears and dangers,
We travel up and down towards our ending,
Unto our silent graves mournfully wending.

Monday, September 07, 2015


The Summer's Farewell

Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "September," Fantasticks (London: Printed for Francis Williams, 1626):
It is now September, and the Sunne begins to fall much from his height, the medowes are left bare, by the mouthes of hungry Cattell, and the Hogges are turned into the Corne fields: the windes begin to knocke the Apples heads together on the trees, and the fallings are gathered to fill the Pyes for the Houshold: the Saylers fall to worke to get afore the winde, and if they spy a storme, it puts them to prayer: the Souldier now begins to shrug at the weather, and the Campe dissolued, the Companies are put to Garison: the Lawyer now begins his Haruest, and the Client payes for words by waight: the Innes now begin to prouide for ghests, and the night-eaters in the stable, pinch the Trauailer in his bed: Paper, pen, and inke are much in request, and the quarter Sessions take order with the way-layers: Coales and wood make toward the Chimney, and Ale and Sacke are in account with good fellowes: the Butcher now knocks downe the great Beeues, and the Poulters feathers make toward the Upholster: Walflet Oysters are the Fish wiues wealth, and Pippins fine are the Costermongers rich merchandise: the flayle and the fan fall to worke in the Barne, and the Corne market is full of the Bakers: the Porkets now are driuen to the Woods, and the home-fed Pigges make porke for the market. In briefe, I thus conclude of it, I hold it the Winters forewarning, and the Summers farewell.


Latin and Greek

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), Ideen: Das Buch Le Grand, chapter 7 (tr. William Stigand):
Oh, as for Latin, Madam, you can have no idea how complicated it is. The Romans would certainly never have had sufficient spare time for the conquest of the world if they had had first to learn Latin. These fortunate people must have known in their cradles what nouns formed their accusatives in im. I, however, had to learn them by heart in the sweat of my brow. But it is a happy thing for me now that I knew them; since, for example, when I had to hold my moot disputation publicly in Latin, on July 20, 1825, in the Senate House at Göttingen — Madam, it would have done you good to hear it — if I had said sinapem instead of sinapim, my college friends there would most likely have remarked it, which would have been for me an everlasting shame. Vis, buris, sitis, tussis, cucumis, amussis, cannabis, sinapis — these words have made a deal of noise in the world, and therefore I paid them every attention so as to have them at hand, if I should want them in a hurry; and that gives me in many a sorrowful hour of my life much inward calm and consolation. But, Madam, the irregular verbs, verba irregularia, they distinguish themselves from the regular verbs, verbis regularibus, in this — that they are accompanied in the learning with a greater number of floggings, for they are horribly hard. In the gloomy cloisters of the Franciscan convent, close to the school-room, there used to hang a crucifix of grey wood, and on it a desolate figure, which even now haunts me in my dreams and looks at me with fixed, bleeding eyes. Before this figure I used to stand and pray: "O thou poor, once persecuted God, do help me, if possible, to keep the irregular verbs in my head."

Of Greek I will not speak at all; I should vex myself too much. The monks in the middle ages were not so far wrong when they asserted that Greek was an invention of the devil. God alone knows the sorrows I had with it.

Was aber das Lateinische betrifft, so haben Sie gar keine Idee davon, Madame, wie das verwickelt ist. Den Römern würde gewiß nicht Zeit genug übriggeblieben sein, die Welt zu erobern, wenn sie das Latein erst hätten lernen sollen. Diese glücklichen Leute wußten schon in der Wiege, welche Nomina den Akkusativ auf im haben. Ich hingegen mußte sie im Schweiße meines Angesichts auswendig lernen; aber es ist doch immer gut, daß ich sie weiß. Denn hätte ich z. B. den 20sten Juli 1825, als ich öffentlich in der Aula zu Göttingen lateinisch disputierte — Madame, es war der Mühe wert zuzuhören — hätte ich da sinapem statt sinapim gesagt, so würden es vielleicht die anwesenden Füchse gemerkt haben, und das wäre für mich eine ewige Schande gewesen. Vis, buris, sitis, tussis, cucumis, amussis, cannabis, sinapis — Diese Wörter, die soviel Aufsehen in der Welt gemacht haben, bewirkten dieses, indem sie sich zu einer bestimmten Klasse schlugen und dennoch eine Ausnahme blieben; deshalb achte ich sie sehr, und daß ich sie bei der Hand habe, wenn ich sie etwa plötzlich brauchen sollte, das gibt mir in manchen trüben Stunden des Lebens viel innere Beruhigung und Trost. Aber, Madame, die verba irregularia — sie unterscheiden sich von den verbis regularibus dadurch, daß man bei ihnen noch mehr Prügel bekömmt — sie sind gar entsetzlich schwer. In den dumpfen Bogengängen des Franziskanerklosters, unfern der Schulstube, hing damals ein großer, gekreuzigter Christus von grauem Holze, ein wüstes Bild, das noch jetzt zuweilen des Nachts durch meine Träume schreitet, und mich traurig ansieht mit starren, blutigen Augen — vor diesem Bilde stand ich oft und betete: O du armer, ebenfalls gequälter Gott, wenn es dir nur irgend möglich ist, so sieh doch zu, daß ich die verba irregularia im Kopfe behalte.

Vom Griechischen will ich gar nicht sprechen; ich ärgere mich sonst zu viel. Die Mönche im Mittelalter hatten so ganz unrecht nicht, wenn sie behaupteten, daß das Griechische eine Erfindung des Teufels sei. Gott kennt die Leiden, die ich dabei ausgestanden.


Two Types of Philologists

Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), "Rede auf Lachmann," Kleinere Schriften, Bd. I: Reden und Abhandlungen (Berlin: Ferd. Dümmler, 1864), pp. 145-162 (at 150; my translation):
One can divide all philologists, who have been successful, into those who pursue words for the sake of things, or things for the sake of words.

Man kann alle philologen, die es zu etwas gebracht haben, in solche theilen, welche die worte um der sachen, oder die sachen um der worte treiben.

Sunday, September 06, 2015


You and Your Pity

Excerpts from Jean Raspail, The Camp of the Saints (1973), chapter 6 (tr. Norman Shapiro; ellipses in original):
"You and your pity!" the Consul shouted. "Your damned, obnoxious, detestable pity! Call it what you please: world brotherhood, charity, conscience ... I take one look at you, each and every one of you, and all I see is contempt for yourselves and all you stand for. Do you know what it means? Can't you see where it's leading? You've got to be crazy. Crazy or desperate. You've got to be out of your minds just to sit back and let it all happen, little by little. All because of your pity. Your insipid, insufferable pity!"

La pitié! dit le Consul. La déplorable, l'exécrable, la haïssable pitié! Vous l'appelez: charité, solidarité, conscience universelle, mais lorsque je vous regarde, je ne distingue en chacun de vous que mépris de vous-même et de ce que vous représentez. Et d'ailleurs, qu’est-ce que cela veut dire et où cela nous mène-t-il? Il faut être fou, ou désespéré, il faut être dévoyé pour admettre, comme vous le faites, toutes les conséquences en chaîne de votre complaisante pitié!


"You've been 'bearing witness.' Isn't that what you call it? Bearing witness to what? To your faith? Your religion? To your Christian civilization? Oh no, none of that! Bearing witness against yourselves, like the anti-Western cynics you've all become. Do you think the poor devils that flock to your side aren't any the wiser? Nonsense! They see right through you."

Et pendant ce temps-là, vous témoignez: c'est bien là l'expression que vous employez, n'est-ce pas? Vous témoignez quoi? Votre foi? Votre religion? Votre civilisation chrétienne? Rien de tout cela. Vous témoignez contre vous-mêmes, comme des désabusés de l'Occident que vous êtes. Croyez-vous que les miséreux qui vous entourent ne s'en doutent pas?


"After all your help—all the seeds, and drugs, and technology—they found it so much simpler just to say, 'Here's my son, here's my daughter. Take them. Take me. Take us all to your country.' And the idea caught on. You thought it was fine. You encouraged it, organized it. But now it's too big, now it's out of your hands. It's a flood. A deluge. And it's out of control."

Après les semences, les soins, les médicaments, les conseils techniques, on a trouvé plus simple de vous demander: «Prends mon fils, prends ma fille, prends-moi et emmène-nous là-bas, dans ton pays.» L’idée a fait son chemin et la voici qui vous échappe. C’est maintenant un torrent, un ruissellement de torrents incontrôlés.


"You know," the Consul went on, "there's a very old word that describes the kind of men you are. It's 'traitor.' That’s all, you’re nothing new. There have been all kinds. We’ve had bishop traitors, knight traitors, general traitors, statesman traitors, scholar traitors, and just plain traitors. It's a species the West abounds in, and it seems to get richer and richer the smaller it grows. Funny, you would think it should be the other way around. But the mind decays, the spirit warps. And the traitors keep coming. Since that day in 1522, the twelfth of October, when that noble knight Andrea d'Amaral, your patron saint, threw open the gates of Rhodes to the Turks ... Well, that's how it is, and no one can change it."

Il existe un vieux mot, dit encore le Consul, qui s'applique très bien au genre d'homme que vous êtes: félons. Le cas n'est pas nouveau. On a connu des évêques-félons, des généraux-félons, des ministres-félons, des intellectuels-félons et des félons tout court. C'est une espèce d'homme dont l'Occident se fait de plus en plus prodigue au fur et à mesure qu'il se rétrécit. Il me semble que ç'aurait dû être le contraire mais l'esprit se pourrit et le coeur se dévoie. On n'y peut rien, sans doute.
In the 3rd French edition (Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 1985), p. 45, I don't see the sentence about Andrea d'Amaral.


Minoan Porcelain

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Minoan Porcelain," Jonah (Oxford: Holywell Press, 1917), p. 3 (line numbers added):
Her eyes of bright unwinking glaze
All imperturbable do not
Even make pretences to regard
The jutting absence of her stays
Where many a Tyrian gallipot        5
Excites desire with spilth of nard.
The bistred rims above the fard
Of cheeks as red as bergamot
Attest that no shamefaced delays
Will clog fulfilment nor retard        10
Full payment of the Cyprian's praise
Down to the last remorseful jot.
    Hail! priestess of we know not what
    Strange cult of Mycenean days.
My notes (quoted definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary):

4 jutting: misprinted as justing in The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems (Oxford: Blackwell, 1918), p. 34, an error that persists in many copies of this poem on the Internet.

4 stays: underbodice.

5 gallipot: "A small earthen glazed pot, esp. one used by apothecaries for ointments and medicines."

6 spilth: "That which is spilled."

7 bistred: "Stained with or as with bistre," i.e. "A brown pigment prepared from common soot."

7 fard: "Paint (esp. white paint) for the face."

8 bergamot: " A fine kind of pear."

11 the Cyprian: the goddess of love.

Dear Mike,

Thanks for 'Minoan Porcelain'. I'll refrain from branding you a prude for not including buxom visual aids. I don't know quite which statuette Huxley had in mind but of a jutting absence of Minoan stays there's no dearth. I happened to look up the poem and found a version in a bilingual collection from the Spanish University of Almeria where 'jutting absence of stays' was translated 'prolongada ausencia de estancias'. Retranslated this cannot mean anything other than 'prolonged absence of sojourns' or 'stays' but only in the sense of 'spending a length of time in a place'. The 'Cyprian's praise' has been translated 'del elogio de los chipriotas', which may be either subjective or objective, 'the praise of the Cypriots' or 'the Cypriots' praise' but in any case the translator seems blissfully ignorant of the difference between Cyprian and an inhabitant of Cyprus. Someone must have baulked at 'bistred' in the English text as it appears as 'blistered', but is correctly if loosely translated as 'pigmentada'. I have half a mind to write to the University Press to urge them to employ an at least half-educated native speaker reader to vet the guff that comes their way. A woeful performance.

I like your arch (?) note 'stays: underbodice': not so obscurum per obscurius. It's been a while since I last came across the word 'underbodice' and have never so much as had a glimpse of the article itself. It must have been quite exciting in sinu/situ.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]


Book Lovers

Julian, Letter 23 (To Ecdicius, Prefect of Egypt, 362 A.D., tr. Wilmer C. Wright):
Some men have a passion for horses, others for birds, others, again, for wild beasts; but I, from childhood, have been penetrated by a passionate longing to acquire books.

Ἄλλοι μὲν ἵππων, ἄλλοι δὲ ὀρνέων, ἄλλοι δὲ θηρίων ἐρῶσιν· ἐμοὶ δὲ βιβλίων κτήσεως ἐκ παιδαρίου δεινὸς ἐντέτηκε πόθος.
The sentence is a neat, concise example of a priamel. Julian doesn't seem to be mentioned in William H. Race, The Classical Priamel from Homer to Boethius (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1982).

Here is a picture of a book-loving wild beast, in this case a monkey, from Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, ms. 1581, fol. 349v:

Saturday, September 05, 2015


No Hidden Wisdom

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), Harz Journey (describing Göttingen; my translation):
In such a university town there is a constant coming and going. Every three years one finds there a new generation of students, that is, a never-ending stream of humanity, where one semester's wave pushes another one forward, and only the old professors remain unmoved amidst this universal motion, steadfastly fixed like the pyramids of Egypt, except that in these University pyramids no wisdom is hidden.

In solch einer Universitätsstadt ist ein beständiges Kommen und Abgehen, alle drei Jahre findet man dort eine neue Studentengeneration, das ist ein ewiger Menschenstrom, wo eine Semesterwelle die andere fortdrängt, und nur die alten Professoren bleiben stehen in dieser allgemeinen Bewegung, unerschütterlich fest, gleich den Pyramiden Ägyptens — nur daß in diesen Universitätspyramiden keine Weisheit verborgen ist.


The Gods Did Not Die

Ricardo Reis [Fernando Pessoa] (1888-1935), "O regresso dos Deuses," Prosa (Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 2003), pp.179-187 (at 181 and 187, tr. Eric Thomson):
The gods did not die: what died was our sight of them. They did not leave. We ceased to see them. Either we closed our eyes, or some mist intervened. They endure, still live as they lived, with the same divinity and in the same tranquillity.


I believe in the Gods as in a truth or a salvation. Their presence soothes and simplifies. No logic leads me to prefer any other god, more ancient or more recent, to them. To see the springs and woods truly inhabited by real living beings of a different kind seems to me no more absurd than to accept that all this derives from nothing, and that God is the essence of all this. And I have had the good fortune to be born such that I sense naturally the presence of real creatures in the woods and springs; without any classical preconceptions, Neptune is for me a real and distinct person, Venus an authentic being, Jupiter the terrifying and living father of all the serene gods.

Nothing makes greater sense of nature to me, or makes me love it more. The presence of a Nereid delights me when I happen to be near a spring. And the Sileni make pleasant company when in my human solitude I traverse the shady tranquillity of the cool woods.

The loves of the gods, their distant humanity, neither pains nor repels me. What repels me is the death of a God, Christ on the cross, victim of his own father in a religion that aspires to be compassionate.

Os deuses não morreram: o que morreu foi a nossa visão deles. Não se foram: deixámos de os ver. Ou fechámos os olhos, ou entre eles e nós uma névoa qualquer se entremeteu. Subsistem, vivem como viveram, com a mesma divindade e a mesma calma.


Creio nos Deuses como numa verdade e numa salvação. A sua presença adoça e simplifica. Nada lógico me leva a preferir-lhes qualquer outro deus, mais antigo ou mais recente. Ver as fontes e os bosques habitados realmente por entes reais de outra espécie não me parece mais absurdo do que acreditar que tudo isto derivou do nada, que Deus é a essência disto tudo. E eu tive a felicidade de tal nascer que naturalmente sinto a presença de entes reais nos bosques e nas fontes, que, sem preconceitos clássicos, Neptuno é para mim uma personalidade real, Vénus um ente verdadeiro e Júpiter o pai terrível e existente dos calmos deuses todos.

Nada me interpreta a natureza melhor, nem me faz amá-la mais. A presença de uma nereida alegra-me quando me encontro ao lado de uma fonte. E é grata companhia a dos silenos quando atravesso, humanamente sozinho, o sossego sóbrio dos bosques frescos.

Os amores dos deuses, a sua humanidade afastada não me dói nem me repugna. Repugna-me a morte de um Deus, Cristo na cruz, vítima de seu próprio pai numa religião que pretende ser enternecida.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Friday, September 04, 2015



Maurice Baring (1874-1945), Have You Anything to Declare? A Note Book with Commentaries (1936; rpt. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1951), p. 70:
Virgil was spoilt for me once for all at school; I cannot think of him save through a mist of dreary "after-fours" on hot summer or cold winter afternoons, tedious combats between Turnus and some other Latin, and "saying lessons", which meant long and difficult passages to be learnt by heart.

Albert Anker, Schreibender Knabe


Essential Work with Grammar and Glossary

Excerpts from J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), "Prefatory Remarks," Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment: A Translation into Modern English Prose, by J.R. Clark Hall, revised by C.L. Wrenn (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1940), pp. ix-xliii (I haven't seen the original):
But you may be engaged in the more laudable labour of trying actually to read the original poem. In that case the use of this translation need not be disdained. It need not become a 'crib'. For a good translation is a good companion of honest labour, while a 'crib' is a (vain) substitute for the essential work with grammar and glossary, by which alone can be won genuine appreciation of a noble idiom and a lofty art.


The primary poetic object of the use of compounds was compression, the force of brevity, the packing of the pictorial and emotional colour tight within a slow sonorous metre made of short balanced word-groups. But familiarity with this manner does not come all at once. In the early stages — as some to whom this old verse now seems natural enough can doubtless well remember — one's nose is ground close to the text: both story and poetry may be hard to see for the words. The grinding process is good for the noses of scholars, of any age or degree; but the aid of a translation may be a welcome relief.


But no translation, whatever its objects — a student's companion (the main purpose of this book), or a verse-rendering that seeks to transplant what can be transplanted of the old poetry — should be used or followed slavishly, in detail or general principle, by those who have access to the original text. Perhaps the most important function of any translation used by a student is to provide not a model for imitation, but an exercise for correction. The publisher of a translation cannot often hedge, or show all the variations that have occurred to him; but the presentation of one solution should suggest other and (perhaps) better ones. The effort to translate, or to improve a translation, is valuable, not so much for the version it produces, as for the understanding of the original which it awakes. If writing in (one's own) books is ever proper or useful, the emendation or refinement of a translation used in close comparison with a well-studied text is a good case for the use of a careful pencil. The making of notes of this sort is at any rate more profitable than the process more popular (especially with those reading for examinations): the inter-linear glosses in the text itself, which as a rule only disfigure the page without aiding the diffident memory.


Master of Glomerye

Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), p. 52 (discussing the word glamour):
Further, the word was evidently by origin a corruption of 'grammar', and paralleled in sense by 'gramarye' = 'occult learning, magic, necromancy', says the OED, 'revived in literary use by Scott'. Cambridge University had indeed preserved for centuries the office of 'Master of Glomerye', whose job it was to teach the younger undergraduates Latin.

Thursday, September 03, 2015


The Gods of Ancient Greece

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), "Die Götter Griechenlands," lines 67-84 (tr. Peter Branscombe, slightly altered; the Greek gods are imagined as clouds seen at night):
But holy compassion and awful pity
flow into my heart
when I see you up there now,
abandoned Gods,        70
dead shades, wandering at night
as insubstantial as mists which the wind disperses —
and when I reflect how cowardly and heedless
the gods are who defeated you,
the new, ruling, sad gods —        75
malicious ones in the sheep's skin of humility —
ah, then dark resentment comes over me,
and I should like to break the new temples
and fight for you, old Gods,
for you and your good, ambrosial rights;        80
and before your high altars,
rebuilt and steaming with sacrificial offerings,
I myself should like to kneel and pray,
and raise my arms in supplication...

Doch heil'ges Erbarmen und schauriges Mitleid
Durchströmt mein Herz,
Wenn ich Euch jetzt da droben schaue,
Verlassene Götter,        70
Todte, nachtwandelnde Schatten,
Nebelschwache, die der Wind verscheucht —
Und wenn ich bedenke, wie feig und windig
Die Götter sind, die Euch besiegten,
Die neuen, herrschenden, tristen Götter,        75
Die schadenfrohen im Schafspelz der Demuth —
O, da faßt mich ein düsterer Groll,
Und brechen möcht' ich die neuen Tempel,
Und kämpfen für Euch, Ihr alten Götter,
Für Euch und Eu'r gutes, ambrosisches Recht,        80
Und vor Euren hohen Altären,
Den wiedergebauten, den opferdampfenden,
Möcht' ich selber knieen und beten,
Und flehend die Arme erheben...
Another translation, by Charles G. Leland:
But holy compassion and shuddering pity
Stream through my soul
As I now gaze upon ye, yonder,
Gods long neglected,        70
Death-like, night-wandering shadows,
Weak and fading, scattered by the wind;
And when I remember how weak and windy
The gods now are who o'er you triumphed, —
The new and the sorrowful gods now ruling,        75
The joy-destroyers in lamb-robes of meekness, —
Then there comes o'er me gloomiest rage;
Fain would I shatter the modern temples,
And battle for ye, ye ancient immortals,
For ye and your good old ambrosial right,        80
And before your lofty altars,
Once more erected, with incense sweet smoking,
Would I once more, kneeling, adoring,
Raise up my arms to you in prayer...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Men of Taste versus Barbarians

All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis, 1922-1927, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1991), pp. 444-445 (diary entry for February 1, 1927; footnote omitted):
Went to Peacock's room at Oriel afterwards to the Mermaids. I don't know why I am in this society. They are all (except Brett-Smith) rather vulgar and strident young men, who guffawed so at every suggestion of obscenity in the White Divel wh. we were reading as to ruin the tragic scene. There's no doubt at all when one passes from the Greats to the English crowd, one leaves the χαριέντες for the τυχουτες, the men of taste and wit and humanity for a mere collection of barbarians.
I doubt that Lewis wrote the nonsensical τυχουτες, and if the manuscript of his diary shows that he did, the editor should have corrected it. Surely what Lewis wrote or meant to write was τυχόντες (Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. τυγχάνω, sense A.2.b: "everyday men, the vulgar").



A Monstrosity

Montaigne, Essays 3.11 (tr. E.J. Trechmann):
I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself. By use and time one becomes familiar with all things strange; but the more I associate with and know myself the more does my deformity astonish me and the less do I understand myself.

Je n'ay veu monstre et miracle au monde plus expres que moy-mesme. On s'apprivoise à toute estrangeté par l'usage et le temps; mais plus je me hante et me connois, plus ma difformité m'estonne, moins je m'entens en moy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


No Shit

April D. DeConick, "The Great Mystery of Marriage: Sex and Conception in Ancient Valentinian Traditions," Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003) 307-342 (at 313, quoting Valentinus ap. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata):
"Enduring all things, Jesus was self-controlled (ἐγκρατὴς ἦν); Jesus worked for a divine nature; he ate and drank in a unique way, without excreting his solids. Such was the power of his self-control (ἐγκρατείας) that food was not corrupted within him; for he himself did not experience corruption" (Valentinus, Letter to Agathopus, in Strom. 3.59)23
It appears from this fragment that, like Clement, Valentinus had an inclusive notion of enkrateia. For Valentinus, Jesus was the epitomy [sic] of self-control because his body did not defecate normally. In some way, his enkrateia had worked to physically transform his body so that food did not pass out of him as excrement.

23 Stählin, p. 223.
Id. (at 314-315):
Certainly this view of physiology was influential in the theological discussions about the nature of "perfect" primordial body of Adam and living the life of angels.28 Some sources suggest that this body was understood to be the human body on idle, a body not fueled by indulging the passions, gluttony at the top of the list (cf. Tert., De Ieiunio 5). It was a body that had no need for food or defecation since it was characterized by a passionless state.29

28 For this theme in early monasticism, refer to P. Suso Frank, Angelikos Bios, Beiträge zur Geschichte des alten Mönchtums und des Benediktinerordens 26 (Munich: Aschendorff, 1964); Shaw, Burden, pp. 161-219.

29It is interesting that Dicaearchus refers to Hesiod's golden race when humans were like the gods as a time when no one suffered disease nor defecated because their bodies were always kept pure (Porphyry, De abst. 4.2).
Id. (at 315)
This type of understanding of physiology not only makes Valentinus' statement about Jesus sensible, but also the stories of certain medieval women like the one mentioned by James of Vitry. He refers to a woman recluse who for many years "ate and drank nothing, nor from her mouth nor from any of the other natural organs did anything go out."30 Roger Bacon tells about a woman who
did not eat for twenty years; and she was fat and of good stature, emitting no excretion from her body, as the bishop proved by careful examination. Nor was this miraculous but, rather, a work of nature, for some balance [constellatio] was at that time able to reduce to a state of almost complete equilibrium the elements that were before that in her body; and because their mixture was from their proper nature suitable to a balance not found in other makeups, their alteration happened in her body as it does not in others.31
30 Historia occidentalis, ed., Hinnebusch, pp. 87-88.

31 Opus minus, in Fr. Rogeri Bacon opera quaedam hactenus inedita, J.S. Brewer (ed.), vol. 1 (London: Longman, Green and Roberts, 1859) pp. 373-374.



A Latin Hexameter Consisting of Adjectives in Asyndeton

Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art (London: Nelson, 1964; rpt. Nendeln: Kraus, 1979), p. 193, quotes the beginning of a medieval Latin poem on the planets:
Annis viginti currit bis quinque Saturnus,
et homo, qui nascitur, dum Saturnus dominatur,
audax, urbanus, malus, antiquus, fur, avarus,
perfidus, ignarus, iracundus, nequitiosus.
The fourth line is a hexameter consisting entirely of adjectives in asyndeton. Since the third line contains a noun (fur) mixed in with adjectives, I don't include it in my collecton of examples of this phenomenon:
Other versions of this poem don't seem to include the first or fourth lines. See e.g. Marijke Gumbert-Hepp, Computus Magistri Jacobi: Een schoolboek voor tijdrekenkunde uit 1436 (Hilversum: Verloren, 1987), pp. 170, 172, and Josep Perarnau i Espelt, "Nous autors i textos catalans antics: Pere de Puigdorfila, Fogatges, Guillem Aldomar, Pere Ramon," Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics 17 (1998) 540-569 (at 569).

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