Thursday, July 18, 2019



Cicero, On Invention 2.3.9 (tr. H.M. Hubbell):
But if it shall prove that I have been too rash in passing over some point in an author or have not followed him with sufficient discrimination, I shall, when someone points out my error, readily and gladly change my opinion. For disgrace lies not in imperfect knowledge but in foolish and obstinate continuance in a state of imperfect knowledge; for ignorance is attributed to the infirmity common to the human race, but obstinacy to a man's own fault.

sin autem temere aliquid alicuius praeterisse aut non satis eleganter secuti videbimur, docti ab aliquo facile et libenter sententiam commutabimus. non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati, alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum.



Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter XXXVII:
The fame of the apostles and martyrs was gradually eclipsed by these recent and popular Anachorets; the Christian world fell prostrate before their shrines; and the miracles ascribed to their relics exceeded, at least in number and duration, the spiritual exploits of their lives. But the golden legend of their lives was embellished by the artful credulity of their interested brethren; and a believing age was easily persuaded, that the slightest caprice of an Egyptian or a Syrian monk had been sufficient to interrupt the eternal laws of the universe. The favourites of Heaven were accustomed to cure inveterate diseases with a touch, a word, or a distant message; and to expel the most obstinate demons from the souls, or bodies, which they possessed. They familiarly accosted, or imperiously commanded, the lions and serpents of the desert; infused vegetation into a sapless trunk; suspended iron on the surface of the water; passed the Nile on the back of a crocodile, and refreshed themselves in a fiery furnace. These extravagant tales, which display the fiction, without the genius, of poetry, have seriously affected the reason, the faith, and the morals, of the Christians. Their credulity debased and vitiated the faculties of the mind: they corrupted the evidence of history; and superstition gradually extinguished the hostile light of philosophy and science. Every mode of religious worship which has been practised by the saints, every mysterious doctrine which they believed, was fortified by the sanction of divine revelation, and all the manly virtues were oppressed by the servile and pusillanimous reign of the monks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019



Homer, Odyssey 7.197-198 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
He shall endure all that his destiny and the heavy Spinners
spun for him with the thread at his birth, when his mother bore him.

πείσεται, ἅσσα οἱ αἶσα κατὰ κλῶθές τε βαρεῖαι
γιγνομένῳ νήσαντο λίνῳ, ὅτε μιν τέκε μήτηρ.
J.B. Hainsworth ad loc.:
On this metaphor see B.C. Dietrich, 'The Spinning of Fate in Homer', Phoenix xvi (1962), 86-101. The image is an old one and has a folkloric colour; cf. the 'Norns' of Old Norse, the 'Metten' of Anglo-Saxon, and the 'Gaschepfen' of Middle High German, who bestow skills vel sim. by their spinning at the moment of birth. But the Germanic analogues are not true figures of destiny, and the use of spinning as an image of the decrees of fate seems to be a product of the poetic tradition. The gods also issue their decrees by spinning: Il. xxiv 525, Od. i 17, iii 208, viii 579, xi 139, xx 196 (all θεοί), iv 208 (Zeus), xvi 64 (a δαίμων), though like μοῖρα they can work their will without recourse to the symbolic act. Since male gods are said to spin fate, the literal force of the image cannot be strongly felt, for spinning is a strictly feminine occupation in Homer.


My Political Principles

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Barnaby Rudge, chapter 38:
Down with everybody, down with everything!



Seneca, Thyestes 999-1000 (tr. John G. Fitch):
What is this turmoil that shakes my guts?
What trembles inside me? I feel a restless burden...

quis hic tumultus viscera exagitat mea?
quid tremuit intus? sentio impatiens onus...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Down With the Car!

Donald Keene (1922-2019), Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), p. 83:
I think that if I could un-invent one feature of modern life, it would be the car. How wonderful Kyoto would be if there were no cars! Anyone who has spent time in Venice knows what spiritual succor comes from the quiet of a city without cars, where the only sounds are of people's footsteps. At the risk of being called a reactionary, I will shout, "Down with the car!"
Related posts:



Slow But Sure

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Barnaby Rudge, chapter 1:
It was John Willet's ordinary boast in his more placid moods that if he were slow he was sure; which assertion could, in one sense at least, be by no means gainsaid, seeing that he was in everything unquestionably the reverse of fast, and withal one of the most dogged and positive fellows in existence — always sure that what he thought or said or did was right, and holding it as a thing quite settled and ordained by the laws of nature and Providence, that anybody who said or did or thought otherwise must be inevitably and of necessity wrong.

Monday, July 15, 2019


You Cannot Read Them Too Much

William Pitt, letter to his nephew Thomas Pitt (October 12, 1751):
I rejoice to hear that you have begun Homer's Iliad, and have made so great a progress in Virgil. I hope you taste and love those authors particularly. You cannot read them too much: they are not only the two greatest poets, but they contain the finest lessons for your age to imbibe: lessons of honor, courage, disinterestedness, love of truth, command of temper, gentleness of behavior, humanity, and, in one word, virtue in its true signification. Go on, my dear nephew, and drink as deep as you can of these divine springs: the pleasure of the draught is equal, at least, to the prodigious advantages of it to the heart and morals.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Zeno and Epicurus

Silver cup from a villa at Boscoreale
(1st century B.C.; Paris, Louvre, inv. Bj 1923)

Michael Erler and Malcolm Schofield, "Epicurean ethics," in The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 642-674 (at 642):
On a goblet found in Boscoreale two philosophers are depicted as skeletons: Zeno the Stoic, and Epicurus. According to the inscription on the goblet they are engaged in discussion as to whether pleasure is the goal of all actions (telos).2 It is clear from Zeno’s attitude that he is eagerly trying to persuade Epicurus. Epicurus is depicted in a rather more casual pose. His attention is concentrated less on the person opposite him than on a piece of cake lying on a table in front of him. This scene encapsulates the popular image of the two schools in a mixture of true insight and false understanding. The contrasting attitudes of the two philosophers in fact symbolize a fundamental distinction between Stoa and Garden: Zeno’s tense bearing is appropriate as a representation of the Stoic school, whilst the casual pose suited the Epicureans. The Epicureans believed it was folly to dwell in the mind on evils which might possibly occur or have already occurred. In their view this leads to aggravation of our distress. Alleviation will result if as well as taking our minds off what troubles us (avocatio a cogitanda molestia) we give our attention to what brings pleasure (revocatio ad contemplandas voluptates) (Cic. Tusc. III.32–3). But it is equally interesting to consider the misconception of Epicurean ethics which is suggested by the scene on the goblet. Epicurus allows himself to be distracted by a piece of cake; he is thus presented as honouring physical pleasures. As if to confirm this interpretation, at his feet a piglet is depicted, reminiscent of Horace's ironic description of himself as 'a true hog of Epicurus' herd' (Hor. Ep. i.4.16).

2 Dunbabin 1986, especially 224; Zanker 1995, 200 with plate 109.
References are to Katharine M.D. Dunbabin, "Sic erimus Cuncti ... the Skeleton in Graeco-Roman Art," Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 101 (1986) 185-255 (at 224-229, figs. 37-42, unavailable to me), and Paul Zanker, Die Maske des Sokrates: Das Bild des Intellektuellen in der antiken Kunst (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1995), or in the English translation by Alan Shapiro, The Mask of Socrates: The Image of the Intellectual in Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995 = Sather Classical Lectures, 59), pp. 209-210 with fig. 109.

See also A. Héron de Villefosse, L'argenterie et bijoux d'or du trésor de Boscoreale: Description des pièces conservées au Musée du Louvre (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1903), pp. 41-51 (esp. pp. 47-48).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


I Care for None of These Things

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "Gallio's Song," Complete Poems (New York: Anchor Books, 1989), pp. 542-543:
"And Gallio cared for none of these things." ACTS xviii.7

All day long to the judgment-seat
The crazed Provincials drew—
All day long at their ruler's feet
Howled for the blood of the Jew.
Insurrection with one accord
Banded itself and woke,
And Paul was about to open his mouth
When Achaia's Deputy spoke—

"Whether the God descend from above
Or the man ascend upon high,
Whether this maker of tents be Jove
Or a younger deity—
I will be no judge between your gods
And your godless bickerings.
Lictor, drive them hence with rods—
I care for none of these things!

Were it a question of lawful due
Or Caesar's rule denied,
Reason would I should bear with you
And order it well to be tried;
But this is a question of words and names
And I know the strife it brings,
I will not pass upon any your claims.
I care for none of these things.

One thing only I see most clear,
As I pray you also see.
Claudius Caesar hath set me here
Rome's Deputy to be.
It is Her peace that ye go to break—
Not mine, nor any king's.
But, touching your clamour of 'Conscience sake,'
I care for none of these things.

Whether ye rise for the sake of a creed,
Or riot in hope of spoil,
Equally will I punish the deed,
Equally check the broil;
Nowise permitting injustice at all
From whatever doctrine it springs—
But—whether ye follow Priapus or Paul,
I care for none of these things!"


Keeping a Low Profile

Seneca, Thyestes 533-534 (tr. Frank Justus Miller):
Let it be mine to hide amidst the throng.

                   liceat in media mihi
latere turba.

Friday, July 12, 2019


Parsley and Swine's Snout

Robert Browning (1812-1889), "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," second stanza:
At the meal we sit together;
    Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather,
    Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork crop: scarcely
    Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt;
What's the Latin name for "parsley"?

    What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"?
Richard Wear, "Further Thoughts on Browning's Spanish Cloister," Victorian Poetry 12.1 (Spring, 1974) 67-70 (at 69-70):
Lawrence's nescience is more flagrantly revealed by his question at line fifteen, "What's the Latin name for 'parsley'?" The word he seeks—petroselinum—is one a Latin speaker ought to know. Certainly Lawrence's gusto at table and his dedication to horticulture should have made him familiar with such a popular herb, and if nothing else, the Greek stem, petros (source of Peter), should stick in the mind of an educated Christian. The speaker, conscious of Lawrence's ignorance, follows the question about parsley with the contemptuous gloss: "What's the Greek name for Swine's Snout?"

The speaker's choice of words is additionally revealing. Quite probably his reference to Greek was stimulated by his knowledge of the etymology of the Latin word in question, thus emphasizing his preoccupation with intellectual trivia. Furthermore, his mention of Swine's Snout is more than just a sneer: in keeping with the botanical subject of Lawrence's question, it is a play upon the name of a common weed, the dandelion, called in Latin rostrum porcinum, or Swine's Snout. The pun redounds upon the speaker, for his is the swinish attitude, whereas Lawrence's nature is appropriately reflected in petroselinum, a useful herb the name of which evokes religious memories. On the other hand, the speaker's question does pose a real pedagogical challenge, for indeed there seems to be no Greek equivalent of either rostrum porcinum or dandelion. Even the weed's botanical name, Taraxacum, is not Greek (though it is tempting, considering the speaker's state of mind, to see a connection with ταραχή, the root of several words indicating disorder and psychological disturbance).
To the extent that I understand this, I find it unconvincing. I'd make two points. First, a Latin speaker would probably call parsley apium (Vergil, Eclogues 6.68, etc.), not the Greek borrowing petroselinum (Pliny, Natural History 20.47.118). Second, one could render swine's snout in Greek as ὑὸς ῥύγχος. Compound forms of ὗς usually start with ὑο-, e.g. ὑοβοσκός (swineherd), ὑομουσία (swine's music), ὑοπώλης (dealer in pigs), but cf. ὑοσκύαμος (henbane).

See John Sargeaunt's Latin version (with his note) in Classical Review 20.8 (November, 1906) 414-415:
Cenanti ille mihi cubat ad latus; instat ineptae,
    'Salue' cum dictumst, garrulitatis homo;
Vt contristet hiemps, aestas ut torreat, annum,
    Qua pluuia uento sole sit hora, crepat.
'Suber,' ait, 'uereor tenui ne cortice fallat;
    Horna quidem gallas uix, puto, quercus habet:
Dic, sodes, apium Graece quid dicitur?' — Ohe,
    Dic, quid hyosrhynchus dicitur Hebraice?

Swine's snout finxit poeta: hyosrhynchus, cf. hyoscyamus.

"[T]here seems to be no Greek equivalent of ... dandelion" — thanks to Joel Eidsath for bringing to my attention ἀπάπη, the Greek word for dandelion.


Genitive, Not Dative

From the Wikipedia entry for Elizabeth Johnson (died 1752) (square brackets in original):
She died at 63, and is buried in Bromley Parish Church. Her gravestone inscription says Formosae, cultae, ingeniosae, piae (in Latin: [dedicated to, or for] the beautiful, elegant, talented, dutiful).
Screen capture:

The words "dedicated to, or for" imply that the adjectives are in the dative case, which they aren't. They modify ELIZABETHÆ, which is genitive after the nominative plural Reliquiæ:

Hic conduntur Reliquiæ
Antiqua Jarvisiorum gente
Peatlingae, apud Leicestrienses, ortæ;
Formosæ, cultæ, ingeniosæ, piæ;
Uxoris, primis nuptijs, HENRICI PORTE[R],
Secundis, Samuelis Johnson
Qui multum amatam diuque defletam
Hoc lapide contexit
Obijt Londini, Mense Mart.

In Wikipedia's translation "the" is also otiose. Here is a translation of the inscription by John Wilson Croker, in his edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson, new ed. (London: John Murray, 1866), p. 78:
Here are buried the remains of Elizabeth, of the ancient family of Jervis, of Peatling in Leicestershire. Beautiful, accomplished, ingenious, pious, the wife in a first marriage of Henry Porter; in a second, of Samuel Johnson: who has covered with this stone her whom he much loved and long lamented. She died in London in March, 1752 [sic, the stone says 1753].
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also points out that "Henry Porter probably lost his <R> on the night of 16th April 1941. The church was largely flattened."



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