Tuesday, September 17, 2019


The Thought of Our Non-Existence

Raymond Tallis, The Black Mirror: Looking at Life Through Death (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), p. 3 with note on p. 5:
What is to be discussed is life. Lucem demonstrat umbra – 'The shadow reveals the light' — says it all. The unspeakable Nothing italicizes at least some of the Everything that is life. While death destroys us in fact, the thought of our non-existence may save us from triviality, from entrapment in secondary things — only temporally of course, but then life itself is a temporary matter. To be oblivious of death is to be only half-awake.

This is an implicit rejoinder to Spinoza's assertion that 'The free man thinks about nothing less often than about death, and his wisdom is the preparation not for death but for life.'4 The free man (and woman) who is preparing for life may think more deeply and, indeed, more freely by thinking about death. In order to live like a philosopher, it is necessary to die like one — that is to die in thought and in imagination before you die in body. Few, if any, can philosophize while panting for breath, or vomiting, and none while confused, or comatose. No argument or revelation will save me when, as will surely happen, I shall be utterly broken and my body will embark on a one-way journey to extinction. No sentence will reach to the bottom of my grief, my pain, or my nausea. And this is why Montaigne enjoined us to 'banish the strangeness of death' and 'always keep the image of death in our minds and in our imagination'.

4. Spinoza, Ethics, 4, Prop 67.
Spinoza, Ethics 4.67:
PROPOSITIO LXVII. Homo liber de nulla re minus, quam de morte cogitat, et eius sapientia non mortis, sed vitae meditatio est.

DEMONSTRATIO. Homo liber, hoc est, qui ex solo rationis dictamine vivit, mortis metu non ducitur (per prop. 63. huius), sed bonum directe cupit (per coroll. eiusdem prop.), hoc est (per prop. 24. huius) agere, vivere, suum esse conservare ex fundamento proprium utile quaerendi. Atque adeo nihil minus, quam de morte cogitat, sed eius sapientia vitae est meditatio. Q.E.D.

Sundial, York Minster

Monday, September 16, 2019


Accusatives of Exclamation

Dear Mike,

Terence's 'hancin vitam! hoscin mores! hanc dementiam!' is a useful addition to the arsenal, but I suspect that curmudgeons might be loath to part with the spleen-venting interjection 'o' before their accusatives of exclamation. If they tire of hackneyed "o tempora! o mores!", they can always try out:
O miseras mentes! o pectora caeca! Lucretius On the Nature of Things 2.14

O curas hominum! o quantum est in rebus inane! Persius Satires 1.1

O rem totam odiosam! Cicero Letters to Atticus 6.4.1

O fallacem hominum spem fragilemque fortunam et inanes nostras contentiones! Cicero On the Orator 3.2.7
But then it must be back to Terence's The Brothers (302-304) for the final howl from the bunker:
Tot res repente circumvallant se unde emergi non potest:
Vis, egestas, iniustitia, solitudo, infamia.
Hocine saeclum! O scelera, o genera sacrilega, o hominem inpium!
Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]


Posterior Analytics

[Lucian], Love Affairs 14 (on the statue of Aphrodite by Praxiteles at Cnidus; tr. M.D. Macleod):
"Heracles!" he exclaimed, "what a well-proportioned back! What generous flanks she has! How satisfying an armful to embrace! How delicately moulded the flesh on the buttocks, neither too thin and close to the bone, nor yet revealing too great an expanse of fat! And as for those precious parts sealed in on either side by the hips, how inexpressibly sweetly they smile! How perfect the proportions of the thighs and the shins as they stretch down in a straight line to the feet!"

Ἡράκλεις, ὅση μὲν τῶν μεταφρένων εὐρυθμία, πῶς δ᾿ ἀμφιλαφεῖς αἱ λαγόνες, ἀγκάλισμα χειροπληθές· ὡς δ᾿ εὐπερίγραφοι τῶν γλουτῶν αἱ σάρκες ἐπικυρτοῦνται μήτ᾿ ἄγαν ἐλλιπεῖς αὐτοῖς ὀστέοις προσεσταλμέναι μήτε εἰς ὑπέρογκον ἐκκεχυμέναι πιότητα. τῶν δὲ τοῖς ἰσχίοις ἐνεσφραγισμένων ἐξ ἑκατέρων τύπων οὐκ ἂν εἴποι τις ὡς ἡδὺς ὁ γέλως· μηροῦ τε καὶ κνήμης ἐπ᾿ εὐθὺ τεταμένης ἄχρι ποδὸς ἠκριβωμένοι ῥυθμοί.
I owe the Aristotle joke to William Vallicella.


Small of Brain

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida 5.1.51-52 (Thersites speaking about Agamemnon):
...he has not so much brain as ear-wax...


The Span of Time

John Ford (1586-1639), The Lover's Melancholy 4.3.57-64:
Minutes are numbred by the fall of Sands;
As by an houre-glasse, the span of time
Doth waste vs to our graves, and we looke on it.
An age of pleasures reuel'd out, comes home
At last, and ends in sorrow, but the life
Weary of ryot, numbers every Sand,
Wayling in sighes, vntill the last drop downe,
So to conclude calamity in rest.

Sunday, September 15, 2019



[Lucian], Love Affairs 25 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
How I wish that stingy fate had allotted us long terms of life and it consisted entirely of unbroken good health with no grief preying on our minds. For then we should spend all our days in feasting and holiday.

ὡς εἴθε καὶ βίου μακρὰς προθεσμίας ἡ μικρολόγος ἡμῖν ἐπέκλωσεν Μοῖρα καὶ τὸ πᾶν ἦν διηνεκὴς ὑγίεια μηδεμιᾶς λύπης τὴν διάνοιαν ἐκνεμομένης· ἑορτὴν γὰρ ἂν καὶ πανήγυριν τὸν ὅλον χρόνον ἤγομεν.



William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida 5.5.28 (Thersites speaking):
I am a rascal; a scurvy, railing knave; a very filthy rogue.

Saturday, September 14, 2019


Reading Slowly and Rereading

Quintilian 10.1.19-20 (tr. H.E. Butler):
[19] Reading, however, is free, and does not hurry past us with the speed of oral delivery; we can reread a passage again and again if we are in doubt about it or wish to fix it in the memory. We must return to what we have read and reconsider it with care, while, just as we do not swallow our food till we have chewed it and reduced it almost to a state of liquefaction to assist the process of digestion, so what we read must not be committed to the memory for subsequent imitation while it is still in a crude state, but must be softened and, if I may use the phrase, reduced to a pulp by frequent re-perusal.

[20] For a long time also we should read none save the best authors and such as are least likely to betray our trust in then, while our reading must be almost as thorough as if we were actually transcribing what we read. Nor must we study it merely in parts, but must read through the whole work from cover to cover and then read it afresh...

[19] lectio libera est nec ut actionis impetu transcurrit, sed repetere saepius licet, sive dubites sive memoriae penitus adfigere velis. repetamus autem et tractemus et, ut cibos mansos ac prope liquefactos demittimus quo facilius digerantur, ita lectio non cruda sed multa iteratione mollita et velut confecta memoriae imitationique tradatur.

[20] ac diu non nisi optimus quisque et qui credentem sibi minime fallat legendus est, sed diligenter ac paene ad scribendi sollicitudinem nec per partes modo scrutanda omnia, sed perlectus liber utique ex integro resumendus...

Albert Anker (1831-1910), Lesender alter Bauer

Related posts:


License to Jest

[Lucian], Love Affairs 53 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
Nothing said on a festive day is unseemly, and any jesting, even if carried to excess, is thought in keeping with the holiday spirit.

οὐδὲν γὰρ ἀπρεπὲς ἐν ἑορτῇ λέγεσθαι, πᾶς δὲ γέλως, κἂν περίεργος ᾖ, πανηγυρίζειν δοκεῖ.

Friday, September 13, 2019


Servius Mangled in Translation

Servius on Vergil, Aeneid 1.448 (from Georg Thilo's edition, p. 146, because I don't have access to the editio Harvardiana):
AEREA vel quod aes magis veteres in usu habebant, vel quod religioni apta est haec materies, denique flamen Dialis aereis cultris tondebatur: [aut quia vocalius ceteris metallis, aut quia medici aere quaedam vulnera curant, aut dicit quia veteres magis aere usi sunt] aut certe aerea saecula significantur: nam ut Hesiodus dicit, tempore quo haec gesta sunt aereum saeculum fuit.    NEXAEQVE AERE TRABES multi 'nixae' legunt, non 'nexae', iuxta Varronem qui ait trisulcae fores, pessulis libratae, dehiscunt, graves atque innixae in cardinum tardos turbines. quidam trabes aeneas putant ipsum templum χαλκίοικον significari. versus sane ipse hypermetros est.
A "translation" of this passage recently appeared on the World Wide Web (reproduced here with the translator's note):
BRONZE, or rather what was used as money by the ancients, or what was appropriate for religion, and then the Flamen Dialias was trimmed with a bronze knife: [or because more tuneful than other metals, or because doctors cured some wounds with bronze, or he says (this) because the ancients were more used to bronze] or at least the ages of bronze are signified: for, as Hesiod says, the time that this happened was the age of bronze.    AND ITS ROOF-BEAMS WERE LINKED WITH BRONZE. Many read "heavy", not "linked", according to Varro who said, "The three-fold doors, from bolts released, they open, and in pushing on the hinge the slow heavy rotation."[2] Which beam Aeneas thought meant the temple itself was that "made of bronze" (i.e. of Athena). The verse obviously is in hypermeter.

[2] I really couldn't construe this correctly.
Screen image:

The worst of the several howlers in this translation is the confusion of the adjective aeneas (brazen, of bronze) with the proper name Aeneas.

A friend of mine kindly offered the following accurate version:
AEREA, either because the ancients used bronze more widely, or because this material is appropriate for religious purposes; thus the hair of the Flamen Dialis was cut with bronze knives [or because it was more sonorous than other metals, or because doctors tended certain wounds with bronze, or he says that the ancients made more use of bronze] or at any rate the Bronze Ages are denoted: for, as Hesiod says, the time at which these events occurred was the Age of Bronze.    NEXAEQVE AERE TRABES: Many read "resting upon" [nixae], not "plated with" [nexae], with Varro, who said, "The triple doors, released by bolts, open wide, heavy and resting upon slowly revolving pivots". Some think that the "bronze lintel" means that the temple itself was a "shrine of bronze". The line is obviously hypermetric.
On the passage itself see Arthur F. Stocker, "Servius Servus Magistrorum," Vergilius 9 (1963) 9-15 (at 12). Stocker said of Servius in general:
The Latin is easy, well within the capabilities of anyone who can read Vergil himself.
The quotation from Varro is fragment 577 of his Menippean Satires (in Raymond Astbury's Teubner edition). For Hesiod, cf. Works and Days 150-151.



Some People

Song by Giraut de Borneil (?), stanzas I-II (tr. Linda M. Paterson):
I. Some people preach and sermonise when their heart is false and vicious, and some accuse others without blaming themselves, and some strike worse than a snake while they keep their thoughts under lock and key; some wear humble clothes and intend treachery.

II. Some refuse to forgive another's wrong but fail to expose their own; some make claims and demands when they have no rights to defend; some act foolishly while they speak and reason well; some sow their corn well but fail to reap it.
Tals gen prezich'e sermona
q'a cor fals e maltalen,
e tals autrui ochaisona
qi sa colpa no repren,
e tals fer a peiz de serpen
qi son corag'enpreisona,
tals port'humil vestimen
q'a volontat felona.

Tals l'autrui tort no perdona
qi sa part no·n get'al ven,
e tals clama e tensona
qi non a de dreig nien,
e tals sos faigz fai follamen
qi parla gent e rasona,
tals semena ben e gen
son blat qi no·l meixona.


Suggestive Adverbs: Here and There

William Shakespeare (?), The Passionate Pilgrim 4, lines 7-8:
To win his heart, she toucht him here and there;
Touches so soft still conquer chastity.
Related post: Suggestive Pronouns: This and That.


Small or Large?

Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), p. 12 with note on p. 291:
There could be no better example of the rhetorical figure of litotes—understatement by way of ironizing negative—than to say that Shakespeare was not unfamiliar with the classics, whatever the formidably learned Ben Jonson might have been implying when he joked that his friend and rival was worthy to be named alongside the great dramatists of antiquity "Though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek."45 As has often been remarked, the "small Latin" of a provincial grammar-school boy in the age of the first Queen Elizabeth would have been large by the standards of many a university Classics graduate in the age of the second.

45. Dedicatory poem in the Shakespeare First Folio. In his elegant and concise Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2013), Colin Burrow points out the ambiguity of Jonson’s "though": the line is usually interpreted as "despite the fact that you only had a smattering of Latin and less Greek," it could alternatively mean "even supposing (counterfactually) that you only had a smattering of Latin and less Greek, the major classical dramatists would still admire you" (p. 2).
Thanks very much to the anonymous benefactor who sent me a copy of Bate's book.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Sicut Parvuli

Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 12.60 (tr. J.W. Cohoon):
For precisely as infant children when torn away from father or mother are filled with terrible longing and desire, and stretch out their hands to their absent parents often in their dreams, so also do men to the gods, rightly loving them for their beneficence and kinship, and being eager in every possible way to be with them and to hold converse with them.

ἀτεχνῶς γὰρ ὥσπερ νήπιοι παῖδες πατρὸς ἢ μητρὸς ἀπεσπασμένοι δεινὸν ἵμερον ἔχοντες καὶ πόθον ὀρέγουσι χεῖρας οὐ παροῦσι πολλάκις ὀνειρώττοντες, οὕτω καὶ θεοῖς ἄνθρωποι ἀγαπῶντες δικαίως διά τε εὐεργεσίαν καὶ συγγένειαν, προθυμούμενοι πάντα τρόπον συνεῖναί τε καὶ ὁμιλεῖν.

θεοῖς Emperius: θεοὺς codd.



Ramsay MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), p. 63 with note on p. 176:
This is the kind of mixed bag of facts that renders general statements about religious life so hard to frame or so easily criticized if they are framed too narrowly. What, for instance, can one make of the assertion that oracles, "it is true, enjoyed a recovery in popularity in the second century"—for which a single inscription is cited, recording help sought by a city in Sardinia from Apollo in Claros?9 Such characterizing of the feelings and thoughts of fifty million people on any day out of thirty-six thousand has something ludicrous about it, as if one were to measure the pulse of the western world on the basis of a single headline in the St. Albans Sentinel. Worse than that, perhaps: since religious feelings are not something to talk about in public, in some of their aspects, they must prove all the harder to assess from the outside. The more need for care.

9. Cumont (1929) 285, quoting Taramelli. Taramelli in fact ventures no indication of date for the inscription, and it is actually not of the second century. Cumont goes on to claim, here adducing no facts at all, that oracles "in the 3rd century fell under complete disbelief."
Cumont (1929) = Franz Cumont, Les religions orientales dans le paganisme romain, 4th ed. (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1929).

Taramelli = Antonio Taramelli, "Inscrizione romana dell'antica Nora, ricordante l'oracolo di Apollo Clario," Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità, ser. 6, IV (1928) 254-255 (Dis deabusque / secundum interpreta/tionem oraculi Clari / Apollinis).

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Prayer for Victory

Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1085-1095 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
Hear, all-ruling lord of heaven, all-seeing Zeus! Enable the guardians of this land, in might triumphant, to achieve the capture that gives the prize to their hands! So grant thy daughter also, our dread Lady, Pallas Athena! And Apollo, the hunter, and his sister, who follows the dappled, swift-footed deer—fain am I that they should come, a twofold strength, to this land and to her people.

ἰὼ θεῶν πάνταρχε, παντ-        1085
όπτα Ζεῦ, πόροις
γᾶς τᾶσδε δαμούχοις
σθένει ᾽πινικείῳ τὸν εὔ-
αγρον τελειῶσαι λόχον,
σεμνά τε παῖς Παλλὰς Ἀθάνα,        1090
καὶ τὸν ἀγρευτὰν Ἀπόλλω
καὶ κασιγνήταν πυκνοστίκτων ὀπαδὸν
ὠκυπόδων ἐλάφων στέργω διπλᾶς ἀρωγὰς
μολεῖν γᾷ τᾷδε καὶ πολίταις.        1095


Yet the Trees Grow

Unpublished essay by Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), quoted in Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), p. 421 with note on p. 576:
Empires spread over the continents, destroying the soils, the floras and faunas, and each other. Yet the trees grow.

Philosophies spread over the empires, teaching the good life with tank and bomb. Machines crawl over the empires, hauling goods. Goods are plowed under, or burned. Goods are hawked over the ether, and along lanes where Whitman smelled locust blooms morning and evening. Quarrels over goods are planted thick as trees along all the rivers of America. The offal of goods floats down the rivers, settles in the swimming holes. Fish choked with goods float belly-up in the shallows. Dykes to grow goods dry up the waterfowl. Dams to make goods block the salmon runs, but not the barges carrying goods. Railroads carrying goods race the barges. Trucks carrying goods race the railroads. Cars carrying consumers of goods race the trucks. Yet the trees grow.

A folklore of goods fills the curricula. Farmers learn the farm is a factory. Chemists and physicists harness power, biology harnesses plants and animals, all for goods. Politics is the redistribution of goods. Literature and the arts portray the drama of the haves and have-nots. Research is not to decipher the universe, but to step up production. Yet the trees grow.

The rains which fall on the just and unjust wash silt from the factory-farms. The brooks that make the meadows green feed silt to the rivers. The vales, lying in pensive quietness between, feed silt to the brooks. The hills, rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun, feed silt to the vales. Yet the trees grow.68

68 "Yet Come June," 23 December 1941, LP 10-6, 16. Leopold's manuscript of this unpublished essay shows extensive revision. This version follows as closely as possible Leopold's last editorial remarks.
Cf. Walt Whitman, "We Two, How Long We Were Fool'd," line 9:
We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes mornings and evenings.


Pure in Their Own Eyes

Proverbs 30.12 (KJV):
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.


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