Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Appreciation of Ancient Religion

Ernest Renan (1823-1892), Studies of Religious History and Criticism, tr. O.B. Frothingham (New York: Carleton, 1864), pp. 63-64:
Religions strike so deeply into the inmost fibres of the human consciousness, that a scientific explanation of them becomes, from a distance, almost impossible. No efforts of the most subtle criticism can correct the false position in which we find ourselves placed with regard to these primitive works. Full of life, of feeling, of truth for the people who have animated them with their breath, they are but dead letters, sealed hieroglyphics to us; created by the simultaneous effort of all the faculties acting in perfect harmony, they are for us but objects of curious analysis. To construct the history of a religion, one need not believe it now, but one must needs have believed it once. We rightly comprehend no worship save that which has stirred in us the first impulse towards the ideal. Who can be just to Catholicism if he has not been cradled in that wondrous legend—if, in the music of its hymns, the ceilings of its temples, the symbols of its devotion, he does not revive the first sensation of his religious life? The most essential condition of a fair appreciation of ancient religion will for ever therefore be missing with us, for one must have lived in the bosom of those religions, or at least be able to reproduce the sentiment they convey, with a depth that the most privileged historical genius can scarcely attain. With all our efforts, we shall never so frankly renounce our modern ideas as to find the tissue of fables which is commonly offered as the belief of Greece and Rome, anything but an absurdity unworthy the attention of a serious man. For persons unfamiliar with historical science, it is an endless subject of astonishment to see men who are presented to them as masters of the human mind, adoring gods, drunken and adulterous, and admitting extravagant stories, and scandalous adventures among their religious dogmas. The simplest thinks he has a right to shrug his shoulders at such prodigious infatuation. We must, however, start from this principle, that the human mind is never absurd on purpose, and that whenever the spontaneous creations of the mind appear to us senseless, it is because we do not understand them.

Les religions tiennent si profondément aux fibres intimes de la conscience humaine, que l'interprétation scientifique en devient à distance presque impossible. Les efforts de la critique la plus subtile ne sauraient redresser la position fausse où nous nous trouvons vis-àvis de ces œuvres primitives. Pleines de vie, de sens, de vérité pour les peuples qui les ont animées de leur souffle, elles ne sont plus à nos yeux que des lettres mortes, des hiéroglyphes scellés; créées par l'effort simultané de toutes les facultés agissant dans la plus parfaite harmonie, elles ne sont plus pour nous qu'un objet de curieuse analyse. Pour faire l'histoire d'une religion, il faut ne plus y croire, mais il faut y avoir cru : on ne comprend bien que le culte qui a provoqué en nous le premier élan vers l'idéal. Qui peut être juste envers le catholicisme s'il n'a été bercé de cette légende admirable, si dans les accents de ses hymnes, dans les voûtes de ses temples, dans les symboles de son culte, il ne retrouve les premières sensations de sa vie religieuse? La condition la plus essentielle pour bien apprécier les religions de l'antiquité nous manquera donc à jamais; car il faudrait avoir vécu dans le sein de ces religions, ou du moins en faire renaître en soi le sentiment avec une profondeur dont le génie historique le plus privilégié serait à peine capable. Quelque effort que nous fassions, nous ne renoncerons jamais assez franchement à toutes nos idées modernes pour ne pas trouver absurde et indigne d'occuper un homme sérieux l'ensemble des fables que l'on présente d'ordinaire comme la croyance de la Grèce et de Rome. C'est pour les personnes peu versées dans les sciences historiques un éternel sujet d'étonnement de voir les peuples qu'on leur présente comme les maîtres de l'esprit humain adorer des dieux ivrognes et adultères, et admettre parmi leurs dogmes religieux des récits extravagants, de scandaleuses aventures. Le plus simple se croit en droit de hausser les épaules sur un aussi prodigieux aveuglement. Il faudrait cependant partir de ce principe, que l'esprit humain n'est jamais absurde à plaisir, et que toutes les fois que les œuvres spontanées de la conscience nous apparaissent comme dénuées de raison, c'est qu'on ne sait pas les comprendre.


A Pleasure in Provocation

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Southey and Landor," Imaginary Conversations (Landor speaking):
It may be boyish and mischievous; but I acknowledge I have sometimes felt a pleasure in irritating, by the cast of a pebble, those who stretch forward to the full extent of the chain their open and frothy mouths against me.



Basil, letter 48 (to Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata; tr. Roy J. Deferrari):
In our land people so shudder at the winter that they cannot bring themselves even to put their heads out of their chambers for a moment. Indeed, we have been overwhelmed with such a mass of snow, that for two months now we have been lurking in our burrows, buried with our very houses.

οἵ γε παρ᾿ ἡμῖν οὕτω κατέπτηξαν τὸν χειμῶνα, ὡς μηδὲ τὸ μικρότατον προκύπτειν τῶν δωματίων ἀνέχεσθαι. καὶ γὰρ τοσούτῳ πλήθει χιόνων κατενίφημεν, ὡς αὐτοῖς οἴκοις καταχωσθέντας δύο μῆνας ἤδη ταῖς καταδύσεσιν ἐμφωλεύειν.

Caspar David Friedrich, Verschneite Hütte,
(Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie, ca. 1827)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Not Very Honest

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), The Way of the World, chapter IV:
"I dare say he hasn't been very honest. When men make so much money, I don't know how they can have been honest."
Related posts:


Little Bits of Learning

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Castle Richmond, chapter V:
He liked little bits of learning, the easy outsides and tags of classical acquirements, which come so easily within the scope of the memory when a man has passed some ten years between a public school and a university. But though he did love to chew the cud of these morsels of Attic grass which he had cropped, certainly without any great or sustained effort, he had no desire to be ostentatious in doing so, or to show off more than he knew. Indeed, now that he was away from his college friends, he was rather ashamed of himself than otherwise when scraps of quotations would break forth from him in his own despite.



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Archdeacon Hare and Walter Landor," Imaginary Conversations (Hare speaking):
Next in criminality to him who violates the laws of his country, is he who violates the language.
Related post: Verbicide.


Bacchus Wept

Gods and goddesses aren't supposed to weep, although some do. See "Jesus Wept" and "Tears of a Goddess" for the rule and a list of exceptions.

To the exceptions can also be added Bacchus, in Nonnus, Dionysiaca 12.171 (tr. W.H.D. Rouse):
Lord Bacchos has wept tears, that he may wipe away man's tears!

Βάκχος ἄναξ δάκρυσε, βροτῶν ἵνα δάκρυα λύσῃ.
I haven't read all 48 books of Nonnus' Dionysiaca. I owe the reference to G.W. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), p. 44, who writes (footnote omitted):
[A]t least one line in the Dionysiaca, from book 12, could never have been written in a Greek pagan poem before the Christian era: "Bacchus our lord shed tears, so that he might bring an end to the tears of mortals." Pagan gods had certainly not traditionally taken upon themselves the tribulations of mortals.
With all due respect to such an eminent scholar, I don't see any Christian influence here. In context, Bacchus was mourning the death of his favorite Ampelos. After Ampelos died, he was transformed into a grape vine (his name means grape vine in Greek). From grapes comes wine, and wine takes away the tears of mortals. All perfectly pagan, as Wolfgang Liebeschuetz, "Pagan Mythology in the Christian Empire," International Journal of the Classical Tradition 2.2 (Fall, 1995) 193-208 (at 207), and Alan Cameron, Wandering Poets and Other Essays on Late Greek Literature and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 84, saw. Robert Shorrock, The Myth of Paganism: Nonnus, Dionysus and the World of Late Antiquity (2011; rpt. London: Bloomsbury, 2013), chapter 4 ("Dionysus and Christ: Nonnus' Dionysiaca"), ingeniously defends the theory of Christian influence on this verse, but I'm not convinced.

Monday, February 08, 2016


The Anxious Pedant

Julian Barnes, Something to Declare: Essays on France (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), pp. 51-52:
Simple? Listen: nothing is simple to the Anxious Pedant. The restaurateur Prue Leith once watched a wretched cookery-school pupil (male, of course) deconstruct the following first line of a recipe: "Separate the eggs." For a thoughtful while he pondered the two eggs placed in front of him, before carefully moving one a few inches to his left and the other a few inches to his right. Satisfied, he went on to the second line of instruction. I feel for this bonehead.


Hard to See

Homeric Hymn to Demeter 111 (tr. M.L. West):
They did not recognize her, for gods are hard for mortals to see.

οὐδ᾿ ἔγνον· χαλεποὶ δὲ θεοὶ θνητοῖσιν ὁρᾶσθαι.

Sunday, February 07, 2016


Wrangling and Dissension

Ernest Renan (1823-1892), Saint Paul, tr. Ingersoll Lockwood (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1869), p. 184:
A man who disputes, resists, speaks of himself, — a man who maintains his opinion and his prerogative, who puts others ill at ease, who apostrophizes them to their face, — such a man is disagreeable to us.

Un homme qui dispute, résiste, parle de lui-même, un homme qui maintient son opinion et sa prérogative, qui fait de la peine aux autres, qui les apostrophe en face, un tel homme nous est antipathique.
Id., p. 203:
Paul is not Jesus. How far removed are we from thee, dear Master! Where is thy mildness, thy poetry? Thou, to whom a flower did bring pleasure and ecstasy, dost thou recognize as thy disciples these wranglers, these men, furious over their prerogatives, and desiring that everything should be held of them? They are men: thou wast a God. Where would we be, wert thou only known to us through the harsh letters of him calling himself thy apostle? Happily, the remembrances of Galilee still live in a few faithful memories.

Paul n'est pas Jésus. Que nous sommes loin de toi, cher maître! Où est ta douceur, ta poésie? Toi qu'une fleur enchantait, et mettait dans l'extase, reconnais-tu bien pour tes disciples ces disputeurs, ces hommes acharnés sur leur prérogative, qui veulent que tout relève d'eux seuls? Ils sont des hommes, tu fus un dieu. Où serions-nous, si tu ne nous étais connu que par les rudes lettres de celui qui s'appelle ton apôtre? Heureusement, les parfums de Galilée vivent encore dans quelques mémoires fidèles.
Id., p. 223:
Among these trivial, brilliant, superficial inhabitants of the borders of the Mediterranean, factions, parties, and divisions constitute a social necessity; without them, life appears tiresome. To procure themselves satisfaction of hating and loving, of being excited, jealous, and triumphant in turn, they often oppose each other in the most trivial things. The object of dissension is insignificant. It is the dissension which they wish, and which they seek for itself alone.

Chez ces populations légères, brillantes, superficielles des bords de la Méditerranée, les factions, les partis, les divisions sont un besoin social. La vie sans cela paraît ennuyeuse. Pour se procurer la satisfaction de haïr et d'aimer, d'être excité, jaloux, triomphant à son heure, on se bute souvent sur les choses les plus puériles. L'objet de la division est insignifiant; c'est la division qu'on veut et qu'on cherche pour elle-même.
Related post: Barking Animals.


Picking and Choosing

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Andrew Marvel and Bishop Parker," Imaginary Conversations:
Parker. We must lay gentle constructions and liberal interpretations on the Scriptures.

Marvel. Then let us never open them. If they are true, we should receive them as they are; if they are false, we should reject them totally. We cannot pick and choose: we cannot say to the Omniscient, "We think you right here; we think you wrong there; however, we will meet you halfway, and talk it over with you."


Rules for Refugees

Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 184-187 (chorus to Oedipus; tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
You are a stranger, poor man, in a strange land; bring yourself to loathe what the city is accustomed to dislike and to respect what it holds dear!

τόλμα ξεῖνος ἐπὶ ξένας,
ὦ τλάμων, ὅ τι καὶ πόλις
τέτροφεν ἄφιλον ἀποστυγεῖν
καὶ τὸ φίλον σέβεσθαι.
Id. 171-172 (Antigone to Oedipus):
Father, we should share the concerns of the citizens, giving way and obeying when we must.

ὦ πάτερ, ἀστοῖς ἴσα χρὴ μελετᾶν,
εἴκοντας ἃ δεῖ κἀκούοντας.
Id. 12-13 (Oedipus to Antigone):
For we have come as strangers, and must learn from the citizens and do as they tell us.

                                μανθάνειν γὰρ ἥκομεν
ξένοι πρὸς ἀστῶν, ἃν δ᾿ ἀκούσωμεν τελεῖν.

Saturday, February 06, 2016


Not All Perfect Athletes

H.W. Parke (1903-1986), Festivals of the Athenians (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 46, with note on p. 193 (bracketed phrase in original):
In Aristophanes we have a sarcastic caricature of what could happen in the torch-race. In the Frogs Aeschylus is represented in the Other World as accusing Euripides of being responsible for producing a generation of Athenians of whom 'no one is able to carry a torch any longer through lack of athletic training.' Dionysus supports this charge with a reminiscence: 'No indeed, by Jove, and at the Panathenaia I split myself laughing when a slow fellow was running, doubled up, white and flabby, left behind and in a terrible state. Then the men from Kerameikos [the workmen's quarter through which the course went] in the gates were butting him on the belly and ribs and flanks and buttocks. When he was beaten on the road he gave a fart, blew out his torch and fled.' The episode is perhaps not all mischievous fantasy and is certainly a corrective to any romantic and sentimental notion of classical Greeks who were all perfect athletes.30

30 Ar. Ra. 1089 ff.
Cf. id., p. 12:
Not only was feasting an appropriate act of worship, but even athletics and play-acting were proper institutions for holy days. The pious psalmist, sure in his knowledge of the nature of Jehovah, might assert: 'He hath no pleasure in the strength of an horse; neither delighteth he in any man's legs.' But the Athenian when he took part in chariot-racing or running at the Panathenaic games believed that Athena was honoured by these exertions.

Torch race on bell krater, Arthur M. Sackler Museum
(Harvard University), object no. 1960.344

Related post: Torch Relays and Races.



Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989), The March of Folly (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), p. 125:
Disregard of the movements and sentiments developing around them was a primary folly. They were deaf to disaffection, blind to the alternative ideas it gave rise to, blandly impervious to challenge, unconcerned by the dismay at their misconduct and the rising wrath at their misgovernment, fixed in refusal to change, almost stupidly stubborn in maintaining a corrupt existing system.
Not politicians in present-day Washington, D.C., but Renaissance Popes from Sixtus IV to Clement VII.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Christ and Christendom

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "William Penn and Lord Peterborough," Imaginary Conversations (Penn speaking):
The religion of Christ is peace and goodwill. The religion of Christendom is war and ill-will.
Id. (Peterborough speaking):
All the rogues that ever lived have brought little misery upon the world, in comparison with those who had too much zeal.


Bare Bones

Voltaire, letter to Charles Pinot Duclos (August 11, 1760):
A dictionary without quotations is a skeleton.

Un dictionnaire sans citations est un squelette.


The Enemy

Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Religio Grammatici. The Religion of a Man of Letters. Presidential Address to the Classical Association, January 8, 1918 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1918), pp. 48-49:
The enemy has no definite name, though in a certain degree we all know him. He who puts always the body before the spirit, the dead before the living, the ἀναγκαῖον before the καλὸν; who makes things only in order to sell them; who has forgotten that there is such a thing as truth, and measures the world by advertisement or by money; who daily defiles the beauty that surrounds him and makes vulgar the tragedy; whose innermost religion is the worship of the lie in his soul. The Philistine, the vulgarian, the great sophist, the passer of base coin for true, he is all about us and, worse, he has his outposts inside us, persecuting our peace, spoiling our sight, confusing our values, making a man's self seem greater than the race and the present thing more important than the eternal. From him and his influence we find our escape by means of the grammata into that calm world of theirs, where stridency and clamour are forgotten in the ancient stillness, where the strong iron is long since rusted, and the rocks of granite broken into dust, but the great things of the human spirit still shine like stars pointing man's way onward to the great triumph or the great tragedy; and even the little things, the beloved and tender and funny and familiar things, beckon across gulfs of death and change with a magic poignancy, the old things that our dead leaders and forefathers loved, viva adhuc et desiderio pulcriora.1

1 "Living still and more beautiful because of our longing."
I can't identify the source of the final Latin quotation.


Brendan's Vision of Hell

Author unknown (Irish, 12th century), excerpt from Life of St. Brendan, tr. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909-1991), A Celtic Miscellany (London: Penguin Books, 1971), pp. 188-189:
However the Devil revealed the gate of Hell to Brénainn then. And Brénainn beheld that rough murky prison, full of stench, full of flame, full of filth, full of encampments of venomous demons, full of the weeping and shrieking and injury and pitiful cries and great wailings and lamentations and beating together of hands, of the tribes of sinners; and a dismal sorrowful life in kernels of torture, in prisons of fire, in streams of waves of everlasting fire, in a cup of eternal sorrow, in black dark sloughs, in chairs of mighty flame, in profusion of sorrow and death and torment and bonds and irresistible heavy combat, with the terrible yelling of the venomous demons; in the eternally dark, eternally cold, eternally stinking, eternally foul, eternally gloomy, eternally rough, eternally long, eternally melancholy, deadly, baneful, severe, fiery-haired dwelling place of the most hideous depths of Hell, on the slopes of mountains of everlasting fire, without stay, without rest; but troops of demons are dragging them in pitiful, grievous, rigid, fiery, dark, deep, hidden, empty, base, black, idle, filthy, antiquated, old and stinking, everlastingly quarrelsome, everlastingly pugnacious, everlastingly wearisome, everlastingly deadly, everlastingly tearful prisons; sharp, fierce, windy, full of wailing, screaming, complaining, and bitter crying; horrible.

There are curly, cruel, bold, big-headed maggots; and yellow, white, great-jawed monsters; fierce ravening lions; red, black, brown, devilish dragons; mighty treacherous tigers; inky hairy scorpions; red high-soaring hawks; rough sharp-beaked griffins; black hump-backed beetles; sharp snouted flies; bent bony-beaked wasps; heavy iron mallets; ancient old rough flails; sharp swords; red spears; black demons; stinking fires; streams of poison; cats scratching; dogs rending; hounds hunting; demons calling; fetid lakes; great sloughs; dark pits; deep gullies; high mountains; hard crags; a mustering of demons; a filthy camp; torture without cease; a ravenous swarm; frequent conflict; endless fighting; demons torturing; torment in abundance; a sorrowful life.

A place in which there are frosty, bitter, everlastingly fetid, eternal, wide-stretched, agitated, grievous, putrid, deliquescent, burning, bare, rapid, full-fiery streams; hard, rocky, sharp-headed, long, cold, deep, swampy little straits of the sea; bare burning plains; peaked rugged hills; hard verminous ravines; rough thorny moors; black fiery forests; filthy monster-infested roads; congealed stinking-billowed seas; huge iron spikes; black bitter waters; many extraordinary places; a dirty everlastingly-gloomy assembly; bitter wintry winds; frosty everlastingly-falling snow; red fiery blades; base dark faces; swift ravening demons; vast unheard-of tortures.
Original in Whitley Stokes (1830-1909), Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Edited with a Translation, Notes and Indices (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1890), pp. 108-109, with his own translation on pp. 254-255.

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


Acts of the Apostles

Ernest Renan (1823-1892), Saint Paul, tr. Ingersoll Lockwood (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1869), p. 53 (footnote omitted):
The gayety, the youthfulness of heart, breathed by these evangelical Odysseys were something new, original, and charming. The Acts of the apostles, an expression of this first transport of the Christian conscience, compose a book of joy, of serene ardor. Since the Homeric Poems, no work had been seen full of such fresh sensations. A breeze of morning, an odor of the sea, if I dare express it so, inspiring something joyful and strong, penetrates the whole book, and makes it an excellent compagnon de voyage, the exquisite breviary for him who is searching for ancient remains on the seas of the south.

La gaieté, la jeunesse de cœur que respirent ces odyssées évangéliques furent quelque chose de nouveau, d'original et de charmant. Les Actes des Apôtres, expression de ce premier élan de la conscience chrétienne, sont un livre de joie, d'ardeur sereine. Depuis les poèmes homériques, on n'avait pas vu d'œuvre pleine de sensations aussi fraîches. Une brise matinale, une odeur de mer, si j'ose le dire, inspirant quelque chose d'allègre et de fort, pénètre tout le livre et en fait un excellent compagnon de voyage, le bréviaire exquis de celui qui poursuit des traces antiques sur les mers du Midi.


Stay Longer

Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Religio Grammatici. The Religion of a Man of Letters. Presidential Address to the Classical Association, January 8, 1918 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1918), p. 10:
One is tempted to think of the end of "Faust": was not the graving of a thing on brass or stone, was not even the painting of a reindeer in the depths of a palaeolithic cave, a practical, though imperfect, method of saying to the moment, "Verweile doch, Du bist so schön" ("Stay longer, thou art so beautiful")?
Id., pp. 14-15:
Both soul and body are preserved, imperfectly of course, in grammata, or letters; in a long series of marks scratched, daubed, engraved, written, or printed, stretching from the inscribed bone implements and painted rocks of prehistoric man through the great literatures of the world down to this morning's newspaper and the manuscript from which I am reading — marks which have their own history also and their own vast varieties. And "the office of the art grammatikê is so to deal with the grammata as to recover from them all that can be recovered of that which they have saved from oblivion, to reinstate as far as possible the spoken word in its first impressiveness and musicalness."1

1 Rutherford, History of Annotation, p. 12.
Id., p. 45:
The traditio, the handing-down of the intellectual acquisitions of the human race from one generation to another, the constant selection of thoughts and discoveries and feelings and events so precious that they must be made into books, and then of books so precious that they must be copied and re-copied and not allowed to die — the traditio itself is a wonderful and august process, full, no doubt, of abysmal gaps and faults, like all things human, but full also of that strange half-baffled and yet not wholly baffled splendour which marks all the characteristic works of man.


A Scottish Glen

Author unknown (Irish, 14th century?), "Deirdre Remembers a Scottish Glen," tr. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909-1991), A Celtic Miscellany (London: Penguin Books, 1971), pp. 72-73:
Glen of fruit and fish and pools, its peaked hills of loveliest wheat, it is distressful for me to think of it — glen of bees, of long-horned wild oxen.

Glen of cuckoos and thrushes and blackbirds, precious in its cover to every fox; glen of wild garlic and watercress, of woods, of shamrock and flowers, leafy and twisting-crested.

Sweet are the cries of the brown-backed dappled deer under the oak-wood above the bare hill-tops, gentle hinds that are timid lying hidden in the great-treed glen.

Glen of the rowans with scarlet berries, with fruit fit for every flock of birds; a slumbrous paradise for the badgers in their quiet burrows with their young.

Glen of the blue-eyed vigorous hawks, glen abounding in every harvest, glen of the ridged and pointed peaks, glen of blackberries and sloes and apples.

Glen of the sleek brown round-faced otters that are pleasant and active in fishing; many are the white-winged stately swans, and salmon breeding along the rocky brink.

Glen of the tangled branching yews, dewy glen with level lawn of kine; chalk-white starry sunny glen, glen of graceful pearl-like high-bred women.
Original in Thomas F. O'Rahilly (1883-1953), ed., Measgra Dánta: Miscellaneous Irish Poems, Part II (Dublin and Cork: Cork University Press, 1927), pp. 122-123 (with notes on pp. 195-196), also available here.


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