Sunday, July 22, 2018


The Monkey Man

Heraclitus, fragment 83 (from Plato, Greater Hippias 289 b; tr. W.H.S. Jones):
The wisest human being will seem to be a monkey compared to a god in wisdom, beauty, and everything else.

ἀνθρώπων ὁ σοφώτατος πρὸς θεὸν πίθηκος φανεῖται καὶ σοφίᾳ καὶ κάλλει καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις πᾶσιν.


The Fragrance of Life Past

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), "Reception Address to the French Academy," Collected Works, Vol. 11: Occasions, tr. Roger Shattuck and Frederick Brown (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), pp. 3-37 (at 21-22, on Anatole France):
He had long inhaled from books the fragrance of life past, pervaded with an odor of death, and his spirit, redistilling what history had distilled of itself, became gradually imbued with this refined essence of past centuries.

Il avait longuement respiré dans les livres les essences de la vie passée qui s'y mêlent à l'odeur de mort, et sa substance s'était imprégnée peu à peu du meilleur de ce que les siècles avaient déjà distillé de plus excellent.


I Don't Like These Improvements

Horace Kephart (1862-1931), Our Southern Highlanders (New York: Outing Publishing Company, 1913), pp. 380-382:
Here, then, is Appalachia: one of the great land-locked areas of the globe, more English in speech than Britain itself, more American by blood than any other part of America, encompassed by a high-tensioned civilization, yet less affected to-day by modern ideas, less cognizant of modern progress, than any other part of the English-speaking world.

Of course, such an anomaly cannot continue. Commercialism has discovered the mountains at last, and no sentiment, however honest, however hallowed, can keep it out. The transformation is swift. Suddenly the mountaineer is awakened from his eighteenth-century bed by the blare of steam whistles and the boom of dynamite. He sees his forests leveled and whisked away; his rivers dammed by concrete walls and shot into turbines that outpower all the horses in Appalachia. He is dazed by electric lights, nonplussed by speaking wires, awed by vast transfers of property, incensed by rude demands. Aroused, now, and wide-eyed, he realizes with sinking heart that here is a sudden end of that Old Dispensation under which he and his ancestors were born, the beginning of a New Order that heeds him and his neighbors not a whit.

All this insults his conservatism. The old way was the established order of the universe: to change it is fairly impious. What is the good of all this fuss and fury? That fifty-story building they tell about, in their big city—what is it but another Tower of Babel? And these silly, stuck-up strangers who brag and brag about "modern improvements"—what are they, under their fine manners and fine clothes? Hirelings all. Shrewdly he observes them in their relations to each other.—
"Each man is some man's servant; every soul
    Is by some other's presence quite discrowned."
Proudly he contrasts his ragged self: he who never has acknowledged a superior, never has taken an order from living man, save as a patriot in time of war. And he turns upon his heel. Yet, before he can fairly credit it as a reality, the lands around his own home are bought up by corporations. All about him, slash, crash, go the devastating forces. His old neighbors vanish. New and unwelcome ones swarm in. He is crowded, but ignored. His hard-earned patrimony is robbed of all that made it precious: its home-like seclusion, independence, dignity. He sells out, and moves away to some uninvaded place where he "will not be bothered."

"I don't like these improvements," said an old mountaineer to me. "Some calls them 'progress,' and says they put money to circulatin'. So they do; but who gits it?"
The quotation is from James Russell Lowell's poem "The Pioneer."

Saturday, July 21, 2018


A Decrease in Population, Divinely Willed

Euripides, Helen 36-40 (tr. David Kovacs):
Joined to these woes were further woes in turn, the plan of Zeus. He brought war upon the Greeks and the poor Trojans to relieve Mother Earth of the throng and press of humankind ...

                                                       τὰ δ᾿ αὖ Διὸς
βουλεύματ᾿ ἄλλα τοῖσδε συμβαίνει κακοῖς·
πόλεμον γὰρ εἰσήνεγκεν Ἑλλήνων χθονὶ
καὶ Φρυξὶ δυστήνοισιν, ὡς ὄχλου βροτῶν
πλήθους τε κουφίσειε μητέρα χθόνα ...


Barking Dogs

Heraclitus, fragment 97 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
Dogs bark at whomever they do not know.

κύνες γὰρ καταβαύζουσιν ὧν ἂν μὴ γινώσκωσι.


Mighty Men of State

Roger Shattuck, Introduction to Collected Works of Paul Valéry, Vol. 11: Occasions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. xi:
François Valéry relates how his father at the family dinner table liked to refer to himself as a "government anarchist" and had blunt words for the mighty men of state he began to see more and more often: "They don't know any more than anyone else. They're all buffoons."

Friday, July 20, 2018


Our National Language

Thomas Davis (1814-1845), "Our National Language," Literary and Historical Essays (Dublin: James Duffy, 1865), pp. 173-182 (at 174-175):
A people without a language of its own is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories—'tis a surer barrier, and more important frontier, than fortress or river.
Id. (at 175):
To lose your native tongue, and learn that of an alien, is the worst badge of conquest—it is the chain on the soul. To have lost entirely the national language is death; the fetter has worn through.
Id. (at 177-178):
Nothing can make us believe that it is natural or honourable for the Irish to speak the speech of the alien, the invader, the Sassenagh tyrant, and to abandon the language of our kings and heroes. What! give up the tongue of Ollamh Fodhla and Brian Boru, the tongue of M'Carty, and the O'Nials, the tongue of Sarsfield's, Curran's, Mathew's, and O'Connell's boyhood, for that of Strafford and Poynings, Sussex, Kirk, and Cromwell!

No, oh! no! "the brighter days shall surely come," and the green flag shall wave on our towers, and the sweet old language be heard once more in college, mart, and senate.

But, even should the effort to save it as the national language fail, by the attempt we will rescue its old literature, and hand down to our descendants proofs that we had a language as fit for love, and war, and business, and pleasure, as the world ever knew, and that we had not the spirit and nationality to preserve it!

Thursday, July 19, 2018


My Natural Inclination

Ovid, Amores 1.9.41 (tr. Grant Showerman):
For myself, my bent was all to dally in ungirt idleness.

ipse ego segnis eram discinctaque in otia natus.
Somewhat more literally:
I myself was lazy and born for careless leisure.
Alan Crease writes:
It's a pity that you don't include images because the recent Ovid extract could be perfectly illustrated by the great male role model, Al Bundy.

Related post: My True Nature.


The Fight

Heraclitus, fragment 44 (from Diogenes Laertius 9.2; tr. W.H.S. Jones):
The people must fight for their law just as for their city wall.

μάχεσθαι χρὴ τὸν δῆμον ὑπὲρ τοῦ νόμου ὅκωσπερ τείχεος.
See M. Marcovich, Heraclitus: Greek Text with a Short Commentary. Editio Maior (Merida: The Los Andes University Press, 1967), pp. 533-535.


A Love of Knowledge Is Gone

The Guy Davenport Reader, ed. Erik Reece (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2013), p. 399 (from Journal II):
Our problem now is that nobody knows anything to begin with. A love of knowledge is gone, and with it curiosity and a critical eye. We have theory instead of perception, contentiousness instead of discussion, dogma instead of inquiry.
Id. (p. 401):
The emptier a room the smaller it seems. The same is true of minds as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Alter Ego

Editor's "Afterword: Remembering Guy Davenport," in Erik Reece, ed., The Guy Davenport Reader (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2013), pp. 405-423 (at 416):
Friendship is really the dominant theme winding throughout his fiction. Heraclitus said that a friend is another self, and I think Guy was always looking for that elusive true friend, that other self.
But Heraclitus didn't say that a friend is another self, as least so far as I can tell. The expression doesn't occur in Davenport's own translation of the fragments of Heraclitus, in 7 Greeks (New York: New Directions, 1995), pp. 158-171. It seems to occur first in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 9.4.5 (1066 a 32):
ἔστι γὰρ ὁ φίλος ἄλλος αὐτός.
See Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), #471, pp. 382-384 (Alter ego).

Update from a learned reader:
That a friend is another self is a dictum Guy Davenport attributed to Pythagoras, a traditional attribution — Erasmus repeats it in Adages 1.1.2 — that suited his purposes in fiction. He translated it first in a list of Pythagorean dicta in "The Dawn in Erewhon" (Tatlin, p. 209). It turns up in other stories too (in "Badger" and "Wo es war, soll ich werden," The Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire Fusiliers, pp. 23 and 136), and as a theme it organizes many more. He mentions it in his criticism once that I recall (The Geography of the Imagination, p. 71).

I'd never thought to trace the citation before your post. There's at least one ancient source that makes the attribution: Porphyry's Life of Pythagoras 33. Porphyry writes that Pythagoras loved his friends to excess and that he was the first to declare that a friend is another self (τοὺς δὲ φίλους ὑπερηγάπα, κοινὰ μὲν τὰ τῶν φίλων εἶναι πρῶτος ἀποφηνάμενος, τὸν δὲ φίλον ἄλλον ἑαυτόν.) On the other hand, Diogenes Laertius attributes it to Zeno (ἐρωτηθεὶς τίς ἐστι φίλος, "ἄλλος," ἔφη, "ἐγώ" 7.23), and Aristotle seems to derive it from a proverb (Eudemian Ethics 1245a). Plutarch, On Having Many Friends 2 [93e] quotes the phrase but doesn't attribute it to anyone.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, best friend and alter ego.



Classics at Shrewsbury School

Henry W. Nevinson (1856-1941), Between the Acts (London: John Murray, 1904), pp. 18-21:
The others were content to teach what they had learnt, and in the same manner. Most of them were Shrewsbury boys themselves, and because Greek had been taught there for more than three centuries, they taught Greek. Of course, we had Latin too, and up to the sixth form our time was equally divided between the two languages; but Latin, as being easier and rather more connected with modern life, never ranked so high, and we turned to it with the relief which most men feel when the ladies rise from the dinner-table. Latin prose, it is true, was thought more of than Greek prose, and no doubt there was some instinctive reason why. I suspect that in reality it is the more difficult; for it was the unconscious rule of our ancient tradition, that of two subjects the more difficult was the better worth learning, provided always that both were entirely useless.

Of Greek our knowledge was both peculiar and limited. We were allowed no devices to make the language in the least interesting, no designs, or pictures, or explanations. We had no idea what the Greek plays looked like on the stage, or why Demosthenes uttered those longwinded sentences. We knew nothing of the Dantesque pride underlying the tortured prose of Thucydides, and when a sixth-form master told us that the stupendous myth at the end of the Phaedo appeared to him singularly childish, we took no notice of the remark one way or the other. We only knew the passage was easy, just as Homer was easy, and the choruses hard. The greater part of the school believed that Greek literature was written as a graduated series of problems for Shrewsbury boys to solve, and when a sixth-form boy was asked by a new master whether he did not consider the Prometheus a very beautiful play, he replied that he thought it contained too many weak caesuras.

So there was nothing in the least artistic about our knowledge. No one expected to find either beauty or pleasure in what we read, and we found none. Nor were we scientific; we neither knew nor cared how the Greek words arose, or how the aorists grew, and why there were two of them, like Castor and Pollux. After all these things do the Germans seek, but us they never troubled. Our sole duty was to convert, with absolute precision, so much Greek into so much English. No possible shade of meaning or delicate inflection on the page was allowed to slide unnoticed. The phases of every mood with all its accompanying satellites were traced with the exactitude of astronomy. No one cared much about beauty of language provided the definite meaning was secure. Yet beauty sometimes came by accident, just as happiness comes, and I first learnt what style is from the renderings of the head-boy when he mounted the "rostrum." He was himself an antique Roman; his eagle nose, wide mouth, and massive chin, the low, broad brow, with black curls growing close to the square-backed head, were made to rule nations. But not long since he died in the serviceable obscurity of a mastership, for which his knowledge of Greek was his only qualification. It is true he was our captain of football, but he owed that position to his Greek rather than his play.

When as a new boy I was first taken for a walk out of bounds on a Sunday afternoon by one of the upper sixth, who is now an earthly saint, we went to a hillside with a long blue vision of western mountains, and while I had no thought or eyes for anything but them, he continued to talk quietly of Greek—the significance of various forms, the most telling way of turning this meaning or that, especially, I remember, the cunning idioms by which the idea of "self" might be rendered in verse, either with emphasis or modesty. So it was. The school breathed Greek, and through its ancient buildings a Greek wind blew. To enter head-room—a dim, panelled chamber which the upper sixth used as a study —was to become a scholar. I doubt if good Greek verse could be written anywhere else. Winged iambics fluttered through the air; they hung like bats along the shelves, and the dust fell in Greek particles.
Hat tip: Alan Crease.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


The Present Age

Acts of the Apostles 2.40 (from Peter's Pentecost sermon; tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Be saved from this crooked generation.

Σώθητε ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς τῆς σκολιᾶς ταύτης.


Lacrimae Rerum

Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba, quoted in Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), Medieval Essays (1954; rpt. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), p. 114, with his note (accents added):
Thou weepest for the dead. Let him be. He is at peace. Weep rather for the living. He is more worthy of your tears. The dead man rests in his tomb: there is no need to mourn over his lot. But as for the living, who perishes every day at the hands of injustice, there is none to comfort him.9

9 Á. González Palencia, Historia de la Literatura Arábigo-Española, p. 58 (1928).


Root of All Good

Aristophanes, Wealth 144-145 (Chremylus speaking to Wealth; tr. Jeffery Henderson):
And what's more, it's through you that people have anything radiant, fine, or charming.

καὶ νὴ Δί᾿ εἴ τί γ᾿ ἐστὶ λαμπρὸν καὶ καλὸν
ἢ χαρίεν ἀνθρώποισι, διὰ σὲ γίγνεται.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Proposed Papal Powers

Selections from the Dictatus Papae attributed to Pope Gregory VII (tr. G.A. Loud):
IX. All princes shall kiss the feet of the Pope alone.

IX. Quod solius papae pedes omnes principes deosculentur.

XII. It may be permitted to him to depose emperors.

XII. Quod illi liceat imperatores deponere.

XIX. He himself may be judged by no one.

XIX. Quod a nemine ipse iudicari debeat.

XXVII. He may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.

XXVII. Quod a fidelitate iniquorum subiectos potest absolvere.


A Greek Hexameter Consisting of Adjectives in Asyndeton

Homeric Hymn to Pan 37 consists entirely of a series of adjectives in asyndeton (my translation):
goat-footed, two-horned, loudly-ringing, sweetly-laughing

αἰγοπόδην δικέρωτα πολύκροτον ἡδυγέλωτα
For similar hexameter lines in Greek and Latin see:


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