Friday, October 21, 2016



The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries, edd. Curt Meine and Richard L. Knight (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), p. 41:
A gadget industry pads the bumps against nature-in-the-raw; woodcraft becomes the art of using gadgets.
Id., pp. 42-43:
The recreationist arrives in the wilds draped and festooned with gadgets, each tending to destroy the contrast value of his vacation. I am not such a purist as to disdain all of them, but I do claim that the presence or absence of gadget inhibitions is a delicate test of any man's outdoor education. Most tourists have no gadget inhibitions whatever.
Id., p. 43:
Then came the gadgeteer, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer. He has draped the American outdoorsman with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them. Gadgets fill the pockets, they dangle from neck and belt. The overflow fills the auto-trunk, and also the trailer. Each item of outdoor equipment grows lighter and often better, but the aggregate poundage becomes tonnage.


Earthly Paradise

[Lactantius,] Phoenix 15-24 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
Hither no bloodless Diseases come, no sickly Eld,        15
nor cruel Death nor desperate Fear
nor nameless Crime nor maddened Lust for wealth
or Wrath or Frenzy afire with the love of murder;
bitter Grief is absent and Beggary beset with rags
and sleepless Cares and violent Hunger.        20
No tempest raveth there nor savage force of wind:
nor does the hoar-frost shroud the ground in chilly damp.
Above the plains no cloud stretches its fleece,
nor falleth from on high the stormy moisture of rain.

non huc exsangues Morbi, non aegra Senectus        15
   nec Mors crudelis nec Metus asper adest
nec Scelus infandum nec opum vesana Cupido
   aut Ira aut ardens caedis amore Furor;
Luctus acerbus abest et Egestas obsita pannis
   et Curae insomnes et violenta Fames.        20
non ibi tempestas nec vis furit horrida venti
   nec gelido terram rore pruina tegit;
nulla super campos tendit sua vellera nubes
   nec cadit ex alto turbidus umor aquae.

Thursday, October 20, 2016



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "The Evening of Holiday," lines 33-39 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Where is the clamor of those ancient peoples?
Where is the renown
of our famed ancestors, and the great empire
of their Rome, her armies,
and the din she made on land and sea?
Everything is peace and quiet now,
the world is calm, and speaks no more of them.

                                   Or dov'è il suono
Di que' popoli antichi? or dov'è il grido
De' nostri avi famosi, e il grande impero
Di quella Roma, e l'armi, e il fragorio
Che n'andò per la terra e l'oceano?
Tutto è pace e silenzio, e tutto posa
Il mondo, e più di lor non si ragiona.
The same, tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
                                                   Where is now
The noise of those old nations? Where is now
The fame of our great ancestors, the might
of that imperial Rome, the arms, the clash
Wherewith the round earth and the ocean rang?
All is repose and silence, and all hushed
The world is; and of them we speak no more.


Survivor's Guilt

Aeschylus, Persians 915-917 (Xerxes speaking; tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Would to Zeus that the fate of death
had covered me over too
together with the men who are departed!

εἴθ᾿ ὄφελε, Ζεῦ, κἀμὲ μετ᾿ ἀνδρῶν
τῶν οἰχομένων
θανάτου κατὰ μοῖρα καλύψαι.
Euripides, Suppliant Women 769 (Adrastus speaking; tr. David Kovacs):
Ah me! How much better for me to have died with them!

οἴμοι· πόσῳ σφιν συνθανεῖν ἂν ἤθελον.
Id. 821 (Adrastus speaking again):
Would that the Cadmean ranks had felled me in the dust!

εἴθε με Καδμείων ἔναρον στίχες ἐν κονίαισιν.


The Punisher

Aeschylus, Persians 827-828 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Zeus, I tell you, stands over all as a chastiser of pride that boasts itself to excess, calling it to stern account.

Ζεύς τοι κολαστὴς τῶν ὑπερκόμπων ἄγαν
φρονημάτων ἔπεστιν, εὔθυνος βαρύς.
Euripides, Children of Heracles 387-388 (tr. David Kovacs):
But Zeus, you may be sure, is the punisher of thoughts that are too high and mighty.

                                 ἀλλά τοι φρονημάτων
ὁ Ζεὺς κολαστὴς τῶν ἄγαν ὑπερφρόνων.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Precision and Reliability

Myron Bement Smith (1897-1970), "Rejoinder to Arthur Upham Pope's Comment," Journal of the American Oriental Society 77.3 (July-September, 1957) 217-219 (at 219):
To me, precision and reliability are of the very essence if scholarship is to be thought of as a way of life.

"Le Dieu est dans les details:" in these words are exposed the heart of every conscientious architect and every honest builder, no less than of every worthy scholar.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


No Atheists in Foxholes

Aeschylus, Persians 497-499 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Those who had never before paid any regard to the gods now addressed them with prayers, making obeisance to earth and heaven.

                                              θεοὺς δέ τις
τὸ πρὶν νομίζων οὐδαμοῦ τότ᾿ ηὔχετο
λιταῖσι, γαῖαν οὐρανόν τε προσκυνῶν.



Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "On the Monument to Dante Being Erected in Florence," lines 190-200 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
I, while I'm alive, shall keep exhorting,        190
Turn back to your ancestors, corrupted sons.
Look at these ruins,
these pages, canvases, these stones and temples.
Think what earth you walk on. And if the light
of these examples fails to inspire you,        195
what are you waiting for? Arise and go.
Such low behavior is unworthy
of this nurse and teacher of great spirits.
If she is the home of cowards,
better she be a widow and alone.        200

Io mentre viva andrò sclamando intorno,        190
Volgiti agli avi tuoi, guasto legnaggio;
Mira queste ruine
E le carte e le tele e i marmi e i templi;
Pensa qual terra premi; e se destarti
Non può la luce di cotanti esempli,        195
Che stai? levati e parti.
Non si conviene a sì corrotta usanza
Questa d'animi eccelsi altrice e scola:
Se di codardi è stanza,
Meglio l'è rimaner vedova e sola.        200
The same, tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
I, while I live, will cease not to proclaim:        190
Turn, corrupt stock, turn to your ancestors;
Mark what these ruins tell,
These scrolls and paintings, marbles and temple-shrines;
Think on what soil ye tread; and if, even so,
Ye still are blind to the light that round you shines,        195
Why stay? Rise up and go.
This nurse and school of heroes doth refuse
To brook a custom so degenerate:
If cowards the land abuse,
Better it still lie widowed and desolate.        200


Defiance of the Contemporary

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), Round River (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 3-4:
The text of this sermon is taken from the gospel according to Ariosto. I do not know the chapter and verse, but this is what he says: 'How miserable are the idle hours of the ignorant man!' There are not many texts that I am able to accept as gospel truths, but this is one of them. I am willing to rise up and declare my belief that this text is literally true; true forward, true backward, true even before breakfast. The man who cannot enjoy his leisure is ignorant, though his degrees exhaust the alphabet, and the man who does enjoy his leisure is to some extent educated, though he has never seen the inside of a school. I cannot easily imagine a greater fallacy than for one who has several hobbies to speak on the subject to those who may have none. For this implies prescription of avocation by one person for another, which is the antithesis of whatever virtue may inhere in having any at all. You do not annex a hobby, the hobby annexes you. To prescribe a hobby would be dangerously akin to prescribing a wife—with about the same probability of a happy outcome.

Let it be understood, then, that this is merely an exchange of reflections among those already obsessed—for better or for worse—with the need of doing something queer. Let others listen if they will, and profit by our behavior if they can.

What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant. Certainly many of our most satisfying avocations today consist of making something by hand which machines can usually make more quickly and cheaply, and sometimes better. Nevertheless I must in fairness admit that in a different age the mere fashioning of a machine might have been an excellent hobby. Galileo, I fancy, derived a real and personal satisfaction when he set the ecclesiastical world on its ear by embodying in a new catapult some natural law that St. Peter had inadvertently omitted to catalogue. Today the invention of a new machine, however noteworthy to industry, would, as a hobby, be trite stuff. Perhaps we have here the real inwardness of our question: A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary. It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked. If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that his tribe is inherently a minority.

Thanks to Ian Jackson for identifying the source of the quotation from Ariosto—Orlando Furioso, canto 34, stanza 75, line 3. Here is the stanza from the Valgrisi 1580 edition (also courtesy of Ian Jackson), followed by a transcription and my rough translation:

Le lacrime, e i sospiri de gli amanti,
L'inutil tempo, che si perde à gioco,
E l'otio lungo d'huomini ignoranti,
Vani disegni, che non han mai loco,
I vani desiderii sono tanti,
Che la più parte ingombran di quel loco.
Ciò che in somma qua giù perdesti mai,
Là sù salendo ritrouar potrai.

The tears and sighs of lovers,
The useless time wasted in gambling,
The interminable leisure of ignorant men,
Idle plans, which never come to fruition,
Unfulfilled longings—these are so plentiful
That they almost fill that place.
In short, whatever you've lost down here,
You can find again by climbing up there.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Our Innate Misanthropy

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 1078 (Z 2582-2583; July 25, 1822):
The pleasure that we feel in Satire, in satiric comedy, in raillerie [banter], in gossip, etc., in either speaking it or hearing it, comes purely from the feeling or the conviction of superiority to others which is roused in us by those things, that is, in short, by our innate hatred of others, a consequence of self-love that causes us to take pleasure in the humiliation and debasement even of those who are in no way opposed or can be opposed to our self-love, our interests, etc., who have never harmed us, displeased us, brought us discomfort—and even of the human species itself, the humiliation of which, as it is mocked in comedies or satires, etc., in the abstract, and without specificity of real individuals, itself flatters our innate misanthropy. And I say innate because self-love, which is innate, cannot exist without it.

Il piacere che noi proviamo della Satira, della commedia satirica, della raillerie, della maldicenza ec. o nel farla o nel sentirla, non viene da altro se non dal sentimento o dall'opinione della nostra superiorità sopra gli altri, che si desta in noi per le dette cose, cioè in somma dall'odio nostro innato verso gli altri, conseguenza dell'amor proprio che ci fa compiacere dello scorno e dell'abbassamento anche di quelli che in niun modo si sono opposti o si possono opporre al nostro amor proprio, a' nostri interessi ec., che niun danno, niun dispiacere, niuno incomodo ci hanno mai recato, e fino anche della stessa specie umana; l'abbassamento della quale, derisa nelle commedie o nelle satire ec. in astratto, e senza specificazione d'individui reali, lusinga esso medesimo la nostra innata misantropia. E dico innata, perché l'amor proprio, ch'è innato, non può star senza di lei.


The Land of No Return

M.L. West (1937-2015), The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1997; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), pp. 154-155:
An aspect of the soul's journey below that is frequently emphasized is that it is to a place from which there is no returning. 'The Land of No Return', Kur-nu-gi4, was already established by the Sumerians as a common name of the underworld. It was taken over by the Akkadians, either as Kurnugi or translated as erṣet (or qaqqar) lā târi. Ishtar determines to go down
To Kurnugi, the land [of no return]...
to the house whose entrants do not go out,
on the road whose travelling is of no returning.225
The same idea is expressed in the Book of Job: ‘before I go, not to return, to the land of dark and blackness'; 'I shall be going the road I shall not return'.226 In Greek we may refer once again to Patroclus' ghost's visit to Achilles. Give me your hand, it says, 'for I shall not come back again after this, once you have given me my due of the fire'. Hesiod describes how the fierce hound at the entrance to Hades' house wags its tail at those who arrive but will not let any of them out again.227

The theme that there is no return from Hades recurs quite frequently in later Greek and Latin poetry. Anacreon makes use of it in lamenting his old age. Hades is a fearful hole, he says, καὶ γὰρ ἑτοῖμον καταβάντι μὴ ἀναβῆναι, 'for one who goes down there is likely not to come up'. The formulation is closely matched in another passage in the Book of Job, yôrēd Šeɔôl lōɔ yacāleh, 'one who goes down to Sheol will not come up'.228 It occurs much earlier in the Hittite ritual text which I quoted above, where the anger of the god Telibinu is sent by spells to the underworld: 'what goes in does not come out again'. The ghost of Darius is summoned up by incantations, but he observes that it was difficult to get leave:
It is not easy of exit
by any means; the gods below the earth
are better at taking than at letting go.
The Sumero-Akkadian 'land of no return' finds a later echo in an epitaph by Antipater of Sidon: 'you have gone to the no-turn, no-return region of those below'. When Catullus pictured Lesbia’s sparrow going per iter tenebricosum, illuc unde negant redire quemquam, he was no doubt aware that he was using a traditional motif, but he surely had no idea that it could be traced back through oriental literatures for some two thousand years before his time.229

225 Descent of Ishtar 1.5 f., cf. Gilg. VII 176 f., Nergal and Ereshkigal (SBV) iii 1; Tallqvist (1934), 15 f.
226 Job 10.21, 16.22; cf. 2 Sam. 12.23.
227 Il. 23.75 f., Hes. Th. 769-73.
228 Anacr. PMG 395.10-12 ~ Job 7.9.
229 Aesch. Pers. 688-90, Antip. Sid. Anth. Pal. 7.467 (Gow-Page, Hellenistic Epigrams, 536 f.), Catull. 3.12; cf. Eur. H.F. 431, fr. 868, etc.; my Studies in Aeschylus, Stuttgart 1990, 121.
See also M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 388-389.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Happy the Man

Lucan, The Civil War 4.393-399 (tr. J.D. Duff):
When the whole world is nodding to its fall, happy the man who has been able to learn already the lowly place appointed for him. No battles call them from where they rest; no trumpet-call breaks their sound slumbers. They are welcomed now by their wives and innocent babes, by their simple dwellings and their native soil, nor are they settled there as colonists. Of another burden too Fortune relieves them: their minds are rid of the trouble of partisanship...

felix, qui potuit mundi nutante ruina
quo iaceat iam scire loco. non proelia fessos        395
ulla vocant, certos non rumpunt classica somnos.
iam coniunx natique rudes et sordida tecta
et non deductos recipit sua terra colonos.
hoc quoque securis oneris fortuna remisit,
sollicitus menti quod abest favor...

399 favor Ωa: pavor VC

Friday, October 14, 2016


Damned for the Glory of God

George Santayana (1863-1952), Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1922), pp. 114-116:
Dante, however, was not merely a simple lover of excellence: he was also a keen hater of wickedness, one that took the moral world tragically and wished to heighten the distinctions he felt into something absolute and infinite. Now any man who is enragé in his preferences will probably say, with Mohammed, Tertullian, and Calvin, that good is dishonoured if those who contemn it can go scot-free, and never repent of their negligence; that the more horrible the consequences of evil-doing, the more tolerable the presence of evil-doing is in the world; and that the everlasting shrieks and contortions of the damned alone will make it possible for the saints to sit quiet, and be convinced that there is perfect harmony in the universe. On this principle, in the famous inscription which Dante places over the gate of hell, we read that primal love, as well as justice and power, established that torture-house; primal love, that is, of that good which, by the extreme punishment of those who scorn it, is honoured, vindicated, and made to shine like the sun. The damned are damned for the glory of God.

This doctrine, I cannot help thinking, is a great disgrace to human nature. It shows how desperate, at heart, is the folly of an egotistic or anthropocentric philosophy. This philosophy begins by assuring us that everything is obviously created to serve our needs; it then maintains that everything serves our ideals; and in the end, it reveals that everything serves our blind hatreds and superstitious qualms. Because my instinct taboos something, the whole universe, with insane intensity, shall taboo it for ever.
Related post: Heavenly Bliss.


What Is Life?

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 1809 (Z 4162-4163; January 17, 1826):
What is life? The journey of a crippled and sick man walking with a heavy load on his back up steep mountains and through wild, rugged, arduous places, in snow, ice, rain, wind, burning sun, for many days without ever resting night and day to end up at a precipice or a ditch, in which inevitably he falls.

Che cosa è la vita? Il viaggio di un zoppo e infermo che con un gravissimo carico in sul dosso, per montagne ertissime e luoghi sommamente aspri, faticosi e difficili, alla neve, al gelo, alla pioggia, al vento, all'ardore del sole, cammina senza mai riposarsi dí e notte uno spazio di molte giornate per arrivare a un cotal precipizio o un fosso e quivi inevitabilmente cadere.



D.S. Carne-Ross (1921-2010), Instaurations: Essays in and out of Literature, Pindar to Pound (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 240-241:
Suppose further that, first from choice and then from necessity (our new, frightening friend), we had to stay put in one spot, vagrants no longer since the gas that whisked us over the face of the earth had run out and the highways had buckled and half vanished as grass returned to cover the scars of that self-inflicted wound. Suppose that our lives were spent in homes where the mysteries of birth and death had occurred, instead of being handed over to sterilized non-places called hospitals, and that our work was done near the hallowed ground where our dead lay. Suppose that we had to live according to the rhythms of day and night, the magic juice that disrupted those rhythms having long since been priced off the market by the utilities companies. Might not the symbolisms of the sacred which have withered in the regnum hominis start to take hold again? None of these changes is impossible to conceive, unless we are so mesmerized by the size and noise of the man-locked set all around us that we think it indestructible. Is it impossible or illicit to imagine the change of heart and mind which might in time go with these material changes?



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