Saturday, November 16, 2019


A Laconic Message

Xenophon, Hellenica 1.1.24 (dispatch sent by Hippocrates to the Spartans, intercepted by the Athenians; tr. John Marincola):
Ships gone, Mindaros dead, men starving; don't know what to do.

ἔρρει τὰ κᾶλα. Μίνδαρος ἀπεσσύα. πεινῶντι τὤνδρες. ἀπορίομες τί χρὴ δρᾶν.
The translation is more laconic than the original, which has definite articles (the ships, the men) and non-truncated verbs.

Friday, November 15, 2019


In the School Library

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Eton," Experience (London: Putnam, 1935), pp. 149-156 (at 149; footnote omitted):
Books that I have read are like old diaries to me. I find my old self in their pages. Do I want to be back in my School Library I have only to open some book I first read there and as I allow my mind to wander, I see again the long book-lined room; the busts, the model of the Acropolis, the large diamond-paned windows, the leather-topped tables, and the attitudes of the boys sitting at them. I hear the whispers and suppressed giggles. Again I see the look of well-simulated amazement on the face of the precise, tiny Librarian, when someone brings a Greek Lexicon down on the bowed head of a fellow-student.
On books as weapons see Mega Biblion, Mega Kakon.


Source of Misfortunes

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées 139 Brunschvicg (tr. H.F. Stewart):
When I set myself, as I sometimes do, to consider human unrest in its various forms, and the perils and pains to which men expose themselves at court or in the camp (rich source of quarrels and passions, of bold and often unsuccessful ventures), I have often said that man's unhappiness arises from one thing only, namely that he cannot abide quietly in one room.

Quand je m'y suis mis quelquefois à considérer les diverses agitations des hommes et les périls et les peines où ils s'exposent dans la Cour, dans la guerre, d'où naissent tant de querelles, de passions, d'entreprises hardies et souvent mauvaises, etc., j'ai dit souvent que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XI.99 (tr. Henri van Laun):
All men's misfortunes proceed from their aversion to being alone; hence gambling, extravagance, dissipation, wine, women, ignorance, slander, envy, and forgetfulness of what we owe to God and ourselves.

Tout notre mal vient de ne pouvoir être seuls: de là le jeu, le luxe, la dissipation, le vin, les femmes, l'ignorance, la médisance, l'envie, l'oubli de soi-même et de Dieu.


Grading Students

Irvin Ehrenpreis (1920-1985), Swift: The Man, His Works, and the Age, Vol. I: Mr. Swift and His Contemporaries (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 57:
Bene, mediocriter, negligenter, male, pessime represent the range of marks, and haud or vix was available as a kind of minus sign.2

2 Forster, pp. 38-40. See Appendix E.
This seems to correspond to modern day A, B, C, D, F. Forster is John Forster, The Life of Jonathan Swift, Vol. I: 1667-1711 (London: John Murray, 1875), and Ehrenpreis' Appendix E (pp. 279-283) is "Roll of Students' Marks on the Terminal Examinations at Trinity College, Dublin, Easter 1685."

Ehrenpreis, p. 61:
By far the most common mark on this examination was mediocriter; about as many male's appear as bene's, which is not very many, and about the same number of negligenter's.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Deliverance from Anguish

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Paris Spleen, XXII: Evening Twilight (tr. Raymond N. Mackenzie):
O night, O refreshing shadows! For me, you are the signal for an interior holy day, you are deliverance from anguish! In the solitude of the plains, in the stony labyrinths of capital cities, you, the sparkling of stars and bursting forth of street lanterns, are the fireworks of the goddess Liberty!

Ô nuit! ô rafraîchissantes ténèbres! vous êtes pour moi le signal d'une fête intérieure, vous êtes la délivrance d'une angoisse! Dans la solitude des plaines, dans les labyrinthes pierreux d'une capitale, scintillement des étoiles, explosion des lanternes, vous êtes le feu d'artifice de la déesse Liberté!



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Antony and Octavius," Scene 10, lines 39-51, in his Poems, Dialogues in Verse, and Epigrams, Vol. I: Dramatic Scenes (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1902), p. 360:
We can not always swagger, always act
A character the wise will never learn:        40
When Night goes down, and the young Day resumes
His pointed shafts, and chill air breathes around,
Then we put on our own habiliments
And leave the dusty stage we proudly trod.
I have been sitting longer at life's feast        45
Than does me good; I will arise and go.
Philosophy would flatten her thin palm
Outspread upon my sleeve; away with her!
Cuff off, cuff out, that chattering toothless jade:
The brain she puzzles, and she blunts the sword:        50
Even she knows better words than that word live.


The Elizabethan James Joyce

Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 281-282, with notes on p. 348 (on Richard Stanyhurst's translation of Vergil's Aeneid):
Thanks largely to Nashe's attack, Stanyhurst has come to be regarded as a kind of literary-historical bad joke. The Cambridge History of English Literature solemnly asked whether we can plausibly "Imagine Dido Queen of Carthage asking in fury 'Shall a stranger give me the slampam?'" and a more recent guide is characteristically dismissive in suggesting that Stanyhurst "insisted on not being mistaken for an ignoramus" but that his translation "proves, in unconscious burlesque, how bad neo-classical theory was."12 The indecorum of high classical matter being rendered through low verbal coinages is what provokes the derision. Thus the Cambridge History again: "he surpassed in a fantastic eccentricity the vainest of his contemporaries. Never was there a stranger mixture of pedantry and slang than is to be found in his work."13 Wait a minute, though: is not the juxtaposition of high and low, of kings and clowns, of soaring poetry and earthy vernacular, one of the qualities that we so value in the plays of one William Shakespeare? Do we not praise the Stratford grammar school lad to the rafters for the living sound of his lines and the astonishing array of his verbal coinages? Stanyhurst gives us: Chuff chaff, clush clash, crack-rack crashing, hob lob, hurly burly, huf puff, kym kam, muff maff, pell mell, pit pat, rags jags, swish swash, tag rag, tara-tan-tara, thwick thwack, trush trash, wig wag, yolp yalp.

Again, do we not consider the art of creating compound adjectives as one of the marks of all true poets since Homer and the ancient Greek tragedians? Stanyhurst delights in: "Herd-flock," "Frith-cops," "Blustrous huzzing with clush clash buzzing, with drooming clattered humming," "It brayeth in snorting," "The push and poke of lance," "Deep minced, far chopped," "Rapfully frapping," "With belling screech cry she roareth." One almost hears Tony Harrison's acclaimed translation of Aeschylus's Oresteia. Or even the sheer zany word-adoring inventiveness of another Irishman in exile on the continent: could Richard Stanyhurst be not so much a joke as a pioneer? Was he the Elizabethan James Joyce?14

In the Oxford English Dictionary, Stanyhurst is credited with the invention of a rich array of more than one hundred and fifty words, including Bepowdered, Breakvow, Carousing, Disjoincted, Distracted, Flailing, Flounce, Frolic, Gadding, Gutter, Hoblobs, Hoodwink, Makesport, Mopsy, Pertlike, Plashy, Rake, Sea-froth, Smocktoy, Spumy, Unhoused, Wanton (as a verb), and Whizling. OED also gives him nearly two hundred nonce-words, among them Bedgle, Bepurpled, Blastbob, Breedsleep, Crabknob, Garbroils, Gyreful, Hedgebrat, Pack-paunch, Plashbreach, Racebrood, Snarnoise, Sportbreeder, Uddered, Upvomited, and Windblast. Many of his coinages failed to make it into the Oxford English Dictionary at all: Bughag, Birthsoil, Foresnaffled, Hailknob, Hell-swarm, Hotlove, Lustilad, Nightfog, Rapesnatched, Seabelch, and about seventy more. And on about fifty occasions, his usage of a word predates the OED's earliest citation. In the following instances, Shakespeare is cited as the earliest usage but the credit should really go to Stanyhurst: Baggage, Beldam, Eyeball, Huddle, Post-haste, Quillet.

12. Charles Whibley, "Translators," in The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. A.W. Ward and A.R. Waller (Cambridge University Press, 1919), 4. 18; J.W. Saunders, A Biographical Dictionary of Renaissance Poets and Dramatists, 1520-1650 (Harvester, 1983), p. 155.

13. Whibley, "Translators," 4.17.

14. There is a good account of the Irishness of Stanyhurst's language in Patricia Palmer, The Severed Head and the Grafted Tongue: Literature, Translation and Violence in Early Modern Ireland (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 125–32.
A caveat: if Bate means to say that tara-tan-tara is one of Stanyhurst's verbal coinages, then he is mistaken. The word occurs in Ennius, Annals 451 Skutsch (tr. E.H. Warmington):
And the trumpet in terrible tones taratantara blared.

at tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019



Ranulf Higden (1280-1364), Polychronicon, ed. Churchill Babington, Vol. I (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), pp. 386, 388, tr. G.G. Coulton, Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939), pp. 66-67:
Scots be light of heart, strong and wild enough, but by mixing with Englishmen they be much amended. They be cruel upon their enemies, and hate bondage most of anything, and they hold it a foul sloth if any man dieth in his bed, and great worship if he die in the field. They be little of meat and may fast long, and eateth well seldom while the sun is up, and eateth flesh, fish, milk and fruit more than bread, and though they be fair of shape they be defouled and made unseemly enough with their own clothing. They praise fast the usage of their own fathers, and despise other men's doing.

Scoti sunt animo leves, barbari satis et silvestres, sed admixtione cum Anglis in parte emendantur. In hostes saevi, servitutem summe detestantur. In lecto mori reputant segnitiem, in campo interfici arbitrantur gloriam. Parci victu, diutius famem sustinent. Raro ante solis occasum comedunt; carnibus, lacticiniis, piscibus, et fructibus magis quam pane vescuntur. Et cum sint elegantis formae satis tamen ex proprio habitu deformantur. Paternos ritus commendant, alienos aspernantur.


Human History

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Introduction, Chapter I: Anti-Dryasdust, in Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations, 3rd ed., Vol. I (London: Chapman and Hall, 1857), p. 6:
By very nature it is a labyrinth and chaos, this that we call Human History; an abatis of trees and brushwood, a world-wide jungle, at once growing and dying. Under the green foliage and blossoming fruit-trees of Today, there lie, rotting slower or faster, the forests of all other Years and Days. Some have rotted fast, plants of annual growth, and are long since quite gone to inorganic mould; others are like the aloe, growths that last a thousand or three thousand years. You will find them in all stages of decay and preservation; down deep to the beginnings of the History of Man. Think where our Alphabetic Letters came from, where our Speech itself came from; the Cookeries we live by, the Masonries we lodge under! You will find fibrous roots of this day's Occurrences among the dust of Cadmus and Trismegistus, of Tubalcain and Triptolemus; the tap-roots of them are with Father Adam himself and the cinders of Eve's first fire! At bottom, there is no perfect History; there is none such conceivable.


Luther on the Pope and the Bishops

Hartmann Grisar (1845-1932), Luther, Vol. IV, tr. E.M. Lamond (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1915), p. 321:
Of those who awaited the decision of a Council he writes: "Let the devil wait if he chooses.... The members of the body must not wait till the filth says and decrees whether the body is healthy or not. We are determined to learn this from the members themselves and not from the urine, excrement and filth. In the same way we shall not wait for the Pope and bishops in Council to say: This is right. For they are no part of the body, or clean and healthy members, but merely the filth of squiredom, merd spattered on the sleeve and veritable ordure, for they persecute the true Evangel, well knowing it to be the Word of God. Therefore we can see they are but filth, stench and limbs of Satan."10

10 Ibid., Weim. ed., 33, p. 458; Erl. ed., 48, p. 222.



The Battle of Roquecezière

Graham Robb, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), pp. 27-28:
The year is 1884. The priest of Montclar has found an exciting diversion from the monotony of life in a small town. His telescope is trained on a battlefield in the valley below. An army of men, women and children, wielding cudgels and lugging baskets of stones, is advancing on the village of Roquecezière. But scouts have been posted. Another army has already emerged from the village and is preparing to defend its territory.

On the bare rock that towers above the village, turning its back to the battle, is a colossal cast-iron statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue has been funded by public subscription — something of a miracle in this impoverished region — and has recently been placed on the rock to commemorate a successful mission.

Incensed to see the sacred effigy pointing its bottom at their village, the invaders have come to turn it around. The battle rages for hours. Several people are seriously injured. At last, the Roquecezièrain lines are breached and the statue is worked around to face the other village. To prevent a full-scale war, the Church authorities find a compromise. The Virgin is rotated ninety degrees, supposedly so that each village can see half of her face. However, she now looks east-north-east, towards Saint-Crépin, which contributed more than half the cost of the statue, and still has her back turned to the little clutch of houses at her foot.

The Battle of Roquecezière, like thousands of other tiny conflicts, is not mentioned in any history of France. Village wars had no perceptible effect on national security and their causes were often ancient and obscure. Yet they were a normal part of life for many people well into the nineteenth century. A 'very fat file' in the archives of the Lot département describes village brawls between 1816 and 1847: 'bloody scenes, combats, disorders, serious wounds, treaties of peace and rumours of war'. Villagers settled their differences in pitched battles rather than waste their time and money in court. Half-forgotten insults and territorial disputes culminated in raids on neighbouring villages to steal the corn or to carry off the church bells. Sometimes, champions were appointed and their battles entered local legend. Usually, a single battle was not enough. The Limousin villages of Lavignac, Flavignac and Texon were at war for more than forty years.
Related post: Local Chauvinism.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


A Mere Spectator

Robert Burton (1577-1640), "Democritus Junior to the Reader," Anatomy of Melancholy:
A mere spectator of other mens' fortunes and adventures, and how they act their parts, which methinks are diversely presented unto me, as from a common theatre or scene. I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c. daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances, are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes, of all sorts, ;new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villanies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions; now comical then tragical matters. To-day we hear of new Lords and officers created, to-morrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh; he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps &c. Thus I daily hear, and such like, both private and publick news.


The Shadow of an Inkpot

Christopher De Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World (New York: Penguin Press, 2017), pp. 75, 78 (on the Codex Amiatinus, at Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ms. Amiatino 1):
The most famous and strangest of the preliminary pages is the so-called Ezra portrait, already mentioned, now placed as a frontispiece. It shows a haloed man in Jewish priestly garments sitting hunched up on a stool almost in profile, writing in a book half open on his lap. He has his feet on a low pedestal. Scattered around him are the various instruments of a scribe's occupation — stylus, dividers, pen, ink pot and what is probably a dish of pigment on a separate table. Behind him is an open cupboard, with panelled doors hinged back to reveal five sloping shelves on which are arranged nine books bound in decorated dark red covers. A very similar bookcase enclosing the four Gospels on shelves is depicted in a mosaic of Saint Laurence in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, datable to the second half of the fifth century, almost within Cassiodorus's lifetime. The carpentry of the furniture and the ornament carved around the cupboard shown in the Codex Amiatinus are extraordinarily delicate and sophisticated. There is an enlightened attempt at perspective. The ink pot throws a shadow on the ground, worth noting if only because it is usually said that shadows do not appear in European art until the fifteenth century. Simply as an illustration of a scribe drawn in England in the late seventh century, the picture is full of interest, not least in that he has no writing desk and he is working directly into a book on his lap, as scribes still do in Ethiopia today. As I was jotting this down and thinking how different it is from most images of a medieval scriptorium, I realized that I was at that moment taking my notes into a hard-bound exercise book on my own lap, because the Codex Amiatinus filled the entire table before me, leaving no room for anything else. For a moment, the scribe seated writing in front of a book cupboard might have been me beside the microfilm cabinets and reprographic equipment of the Laurenziana.
The Ezra portrait from the Codex Amiatinus (click once or twice to enlarge; the inkpot is at the lower right, with a rust-colored shadow cast on the floor to the right):

But cf. Roberto Casati, "Methodological Issues in the Study of the Depiction of Cast Shadows: A Case Study in the Relationships between Art and Cognition," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62.2 (Spring, 2004) 163–174 (n. 16 on p. 172):
Roman frescoes (such as the ones at Roman Villa of Augustus, first century A.D.) and mosaics (such as the ones at Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily, fourth century A.D.) have survived that show interesting, if contrived, shadows.



Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 2.223-229 (tr. William H. Race):
The Harpies swoop down from some unseen place of destruction and snatch the food from my mouth. I have no strategy to help me. But when I long for a meal, I could more easily escape my own thought than I could escape them, so swiftly do they fly through the air. And if they ever do leave me a morsel of food, it gives off a powerful stench that is putrid and intolerable.

Ἅρπυιαι στόματός μοι ἀφαρπάζουσιν ἐδωδὴν
ἔκποθεν ἀφράστοιο καταΐσσουσαι ὀλέθρου.
ἴσχω δ᾿ οὔ τινα μῆτιν ἐπίρροθον· ἀλλά κε ῥεῖα
αὐτὸς ἑὸν λελάθοιμι νόον δόρποιο μεμηλὼς
ἢ κείνας, ὧδ᾿ αἶψα διηέριαι ποτέονται.
τυτθὸν δ᾿ ἢν ἄρα δή ποτ᾿ ἐδητύος ἄμμι λίπωσιν,
πνεῖ τόδε μυδαλέον τε καὶ οὐ τλητὸν μένος ὀδμῆς.
Vergil, Aeneid 3.214-218 (tr. Allen Mandelbaum):
                                               No monster
is more malevolent than these, no scourge
of gods or pestilence more savage ever
rose from the Stygian waves. These birds may wear
the face of virgins, but their bellies drip
with a disgusting discharge, and their hands
are talons, and their features pale and famished.

tristius haud illis monstrum, nec saevior ulla
pestis et ira deum Stygiis sese extulit undis.
virginei volucrum vultus, foedissima ventris
proluvies, uncaeque manus, et pallida semper
ora fame.
H.W. Stubbs, "Vergil's Harpies: A Study in 'Aeneid' III: (With an addendum on Lycophron, 'Alexander' 1250-2)," Vergilius 44 (1998) 3-12 (at 6):
Here, if I may adapt Gibbon, the bombardier of the Royal Artillery may be of some assistance to the analyst of post-Homeric legend.

In 1941, the present writer was listening to a young sergeant describing his pre-War service in Egypt.

"When we were carrying our dinners from the cookhouse in our mess-tins, the kite-hawks used to swoop down and snatch them away before we could get them back to our barrack-rooms. And what's more, foedissima ventris proluvie omnem epularum apparatum taeterrime inquinabant." (I cannot remember the precise words of a frankly speaking vir militaris, but I feel that in any case they had best be confided to the decent obscurity of a learned language.) "We used to call them Shite-hawks."


I have come across nothing analogous elsewhere, though seagulls in Exmouth and Sidmouth have been known to snatch food almost from the hands of picnickers, and have also exasperated the municipal authorities by their droppings.
Phineus defending himself from the Harpies, on an Attic red figure hydria, at Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum (catalogue number 85.AE.316):

Monday, November 11, 2019



Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Renan," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 219-225 (at 225):
The infection which men caught from his work was a new kind of tolerance; not that cut-and-dry, rule-of-thumb tolerance which commands them to admit that others have a right to differ from them and to hold their own opinions; but a tolerance which is also an act of bonne volonté, springing from a kind of temporary metempsychosis, an imaginative transference of thought and emotion into another's point of view.



Homer, Iliad 13.431-432 (describing Hippodameia; tr. Richmond Lattimore):
...since she surpassed all the girls of her own age
for beauty and accomplishments and wit...

              ...πᾶσαν γὰρ ὁμηλικίην ἐκέκαστο
κάλλεϊ καὶ ἔργοισιν ἰδὲ φρεσί...
This sounds like my daughter.

ἐκέκαστο is pluperfect of καίνυμαι (surpass, excel) — "the pluperfect commonly functions as imperf." according to Middle Liddell s.v. Likewise Richard John Cunliffe, Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (1924; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), p. 207.


The Power of God Is Come Indeed!

John Wesley, Journal (August 25, 1774):
At eleven I preached within the walls of the old church at the Haye. Here and every where I heard the same account of the proceedings at ———. The Jumpers (all who were there informed me) were first in the court, and afterwards in the house. Some of them leaped up many times, men and women, several feet from the ground; they clapped their hands with the utmost violence; they shook their heads; they distorted all their features; they threw their arms and legs to and fro, in all variety of postures. They sung, roared, shouted, screamed with all their might; to the no small terror of those that were near them. One gentlewoman told me, "She had not been herself since, and did not know when she should." Meantime the person of the house was delighted above measure, and said, "Now the power of God is come indeed!"

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Party On

John Milton (1608-1674), Comus 102-110:
Meane while welcome Joy, and Feast,
Midnight shout, and revelrie,
Tipsie dance, and Jollitie.
Braid your Locks with rosie Twine,        105
Dropping odours, dropping Wine.
Rigor now is gone to bed,
And Advice with scrupulous head,
Strict Age, and sowre Severitie
With their graue Sawes in slumber lie.        110


A Barbarous Noise

John Milton (1608-1674), Sonnet 12:
I did but prompt the age to quit their cloggs
    By the known rules of antient libertie,
    When strait a barbarous noise environs me
    Of Owles and Cuckoes, Asses, Apes and Doggs.
As when those Hinds that were transform'd to Froggs        5
    Raild at Latona's twin-born progenie
    Which after held the Sun and Moon in fee.
    But this is got by casting Pearl to Hoggs;
That bawle for freedom in their senceless mood,
    And still revolt when truth would set them free.        10
    Licence they mean when they cry libertie;
For who loves that, must first be wise and good;
    But from that mark how far they roave we see
    For all this wast of wealth, and loss of blood.
1 cloggs = foot shackles

5-7 Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.317-381, tells how Latona transformed peasants into frogs when they refused to give a drink of water to her children Apollo and Diana.

8 Matthew 7.6: Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.

10 John 8.32: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

12 wast = waste

See Nathaniel H. Henry, "Who Meant Licence when They Cried Liberty?" Modern Language Notes 66.8 (December, 1951) 509-513.


The Barest Minimum of Greek

T.R. Glover (1869-1943), From Pericles to Philip, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1918), p. 1:
Goethe and Eckermann were once talking about Schlegel, and his criticisms of Euripides came up, and Goethe, as frequently happened, said something that Eckermann carried home with him and wrote down. "If a modern man like Schlegel," said Goethe, "must pick out faults in so great an ancient, he ought only to do it upon his knees." Goethe is profoundly right; the great vice in criticism of ancient literature is that the critic seems more often anxious to find out what is wrong than what is right. Something must be very right indeed in a man's work if it can hold and delight mankind centuries after he is dead and gone, and not only his fellow-countrymen, but every foreigner also, who can even with a lexicon's aid pick out his meaning and who has, consciously or unconsciously, any idea of what a book is. For it is only to the sympathetic, to those who somehow have the right instinct, that a book will reveal itself. Books are strange things and have strange ways—like certain insects, when they feel themselves in wrong hands, they will sham dead. With the great writers of ancient Greece this often happens, and men say they are dull, and find faults in them; but when they reach the right hands, they change and live and move, and even the barest minimum of Greek will let the right man see that they too are right, and life begins anew with all its gladness and variety.


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