Tuesday, July 29, 2014

 

The History of Mankind

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Sermon 12, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 14: Sermons, edd. ‎Jean H. Hagstrum and ‎James Gray (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 130:
The history of mankind is little else than a narrative of designs which have failed, and hopes that have been disappointed. In all matters of emulation and contest, the success of one implies the defeat of another, and at least half the transaction terminates in misery. And in designs not directly contrary to the interest of another, and therefore not opposed either by artifice or violence, it frequently happens, that by negligence or mistake, or unseasonable officiousness, a very hopeful project is brought to nothing.

 

Getting Through the Day

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Nightmare Abbey, chapter V (Mr. Listless speaking):
But I must say, modern books are very consolatory and congenial to my feelings. There is, as it were, a delightful north-east wind, an intellectual blight breathing through them; a delicious misanthropy and discontent, that demonstrates the nullity of virtue and energy, and puts me in good humour with myself and my sofa.
Id., chapter VII:
I contrive to get through my day by sinking the morning in bed, and killing the evening in company; dressing and dining in the intermediate space, and stopping the chinks and crevices of the few vacant moments that remain with a little easy reading.

 

One Good Thing in the World

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Nightmare Abbey, chapter I (on Mr. Glowry):
Disappointed both in love and in friendship, and looking upon human learning as vanity, he had come to a conclusion that there was but one good thing in the world, videlicet, a good dinner...

Monday, July 28, 2014

 

Of One Mind

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Sermon 11, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 14: Sermons, edd. ‎Jean H. Hagstrum and ‎James Gray (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 118 (on 1 Peter 3.8 "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous"):
By the union of minds which the Apostle recommends, it must be supposed that he means not speculative, but practical union; not similitude of opinions, but similitude of virtues. In religious opinions, if there was then any disagreement, they had then living authority, to which they might have recourse; and their business was probably, at that time, more to defend their common faith against the heathen, than to debate any subtilties of opinion among themselves. But there are innumerable questions, in which vanity or interest engages mankind, which have little connection with their eternal interest; and yet often inflame the passions, and produce dislike and malevolence. Sects in philosophy, and factions in the state, easily excite mutual contempt, or mutual hatred. He whose opinions are censured, feels the reputation of his understanding injured; he, whose party is opposed, finds his influence resisted, and perhaps his power, or his profit, in danger of diminution. It could not be the intention of St. Peter, that all men should think alike, either of the operations of nature, or the transactions of the state; but that those who thought differently, should live in peace; that contradiction should not exasperate the disputants, or that the heat should end with the controversy, and that the opposition of party (for such there must sometimes be) should not canker the private thoughts, or raise personal hatred or insidious enmity.
Id., pp. 125-126:
That a precept of courtesy is by no means unworthy of the gravity and dignity of an apostolical mandate, may be gathered from the pernicious effects which all must have observed to have arisen from harsh strictness and sour virtue: such as refuses to mingle in harmless gaiety, or give countenance to innocent amusements, or which transacts the petty business of the day with a gloomy ferociousness that clouds existence. Goodness of this character is more formidable than lovely; it may drive away vice from its presence, but will never persuade it to stay to be amended; it may teach, it may remonstrate, but the hearer will seek for more mild instruction. To those, therefore, by whose conversation the heathens were to be drawn away from errour and wickedness; it is the Apostle's precept, that they be courteous, that they accommodate themselves, as far as innocence allows, to the will of others; that they should practise all the established modes of civility, seize all occasions of cultivating kindness, and live with the rest of the world in an amicable reciprocation of cursory civility, that Christianity might not be accused of making men less chearful as companions, less sociable as neighbours, or less useful as friends.

 

Philoctetes' Treasure

Sophocles, Philoctetes 31-37 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
NEOPTOLEMUS
I see an empty dwelling with no man there.
ODYSSEUS
And are there none of the things that make a home in there?
NEOPTOLEMUS
Yes, a bed of leaves pressed down, as though for someone who camps there.
ODYSSEUS
But is the rest bare, and is there nothing there beneath the roof?
NEOPTOLEMUS
Yes, a cup made from a single piece of wood, the work of a poor craftsman, and with it stones for making a fire.
ODYSSEUS
The treasures that you are describing must be his.

ΝΕΟΠΤΟΛΕΜΟΣ
ὁρῶ κενὴν οἴκησιν ἀνθρώπων δίχα.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
οὐδ᾽ ἔνδον οἰκοποιός ἐστί τις τροφή;
ΝΕΟΠΤΟΛΕΜΟΣ
στιπτή γε φυλλὰς ὡς ἐναυλίζοντί τῳ.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἔρημα, κοὐδέν ἐσθ᾽ ὑπόστεγον;
ΝΕΟΠΤΟΛΕΜΟΣ
αὐτόξυλόν γ᾽ ἔκπωμα, φλαυρουργοῦ τινος        35
τεχνήματ᾽ ἀνδρός, καὶ πυρεῖ᾽ ὁμοῦ τάδε.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
κείνου τὸ θησαύρισμα σημαίνεις τόδε.
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. πυρεῖον:
firesticks, h.Merc. 111, S.Ph. 36, Thphr.HP5.3.4, D.S.5.67, etc.; τάχ' ἂν ..τρίβοντες, ὥσπερ ἐκ πυρείων, ἐκλάμψαι ποιήσαιμεν τὴν δικαιοσύνην Pl.R.435a; πυρεῖά τε χερσὶν ἐνώμων Theoc.22.33; ἀμφὶ πυρήϊα δινεύεσκον A.R.1.1184; πυρεῖα συντρίψαντες Luc.VH1.32; the stationary piece was called ἐσχάρα, the drill τρύπανον, Thphr.Ign.64.
But we know from the same play (lines 295-297) that Philoctetes used stones, not firesticks, to start a fire:
[A]nd then there would be no fire! But by rubbing one stone painfully against another I made the hidden spark flash out, the thing that has always been my preservation.

                             εἶτα πῦρ ἂν οὐ παρῆν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πέτροισι πέτρον ἐκτρίβων μόλις
ἔφην᾽ ἄφαντον φῶς, ὃ καὶ σῴζει μ᾽ ἀεί.
The definition of πυρεῖον in Liddell-Scott-Jones as "firesticks" is probably too restrictive, therefore. Jebb's "means of kindling a fire" (in his commentary on Philoctetes, line 36) would be a better definition.

On various ancient fire-starting techniques see R.J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol. VI (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966) pp. 1-13, with notes on pp. 89-92.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

 

Sweet Content

Barnabe Barnes (1571-1609), Sonnet LXVI, in Parthenophil and Parthenophe: A Critical Edition, ed. Victor A. Doyno (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971), pp. 40-41:
Ah sweet content, where is thy mylde abode?
    Is it with shepheardes and light-harted swaynes?
    Which sing vpon the downes and pype abroade
    Tending their flockes and cattell on the playnes?
Ah sweet content, where doest thou safely rest?
    In heauen, with Angels which the prayses sing
    Of him that made and rules at his behest
    The mindes, and harts of euery liuing thing?
Ah sweet content, where doth thine harbour hold,
    Is it in Churches, with Religious men,
    Which please the goddes with prayers manifold,
    And in their studies meditate it then.
Whether thou doest in heauen, or earth appeare,
    Be where thou wilt, thou wilt not harbour here.
Related post: Sweet Content (by Brian Fairfax).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

 

Learning Greek and Latin, or Not

Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), England and the English (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1833), pp. 170-171:
I see, sir, you yet think Greek and Latin are excellent things, are worth the sacrifice of all else. Well, then, on this ground let us meet you. Your boy will go to Eton to learn Greek and Latin; he will stay there eight years (having previously spent four at a preparatory school), he will come away, at the end of his probation, but what Latin or Greek will he bring with him? Are you a scholar yourself, examine then the average of young men of eighteen; open a page of some author they have not read, have not parrot-like got by heart; open a page in the dialogues of Lucian, in the Thebaid of Statius. Ask the youth, you have selected from the herd, to construe it as you would ask your daughter to construe a page of some French author she has never seen before, a poem of Regnier, or an exposition in the Esprit des Lois. Does he not pause, does he not blush, does he not hesitate, does not his eye wander abroad in search of the accustomed “Crib,” does he not falter out something about lexicons and grammars, and at last throw down the book and tell you he has never learnt that, but as for Virgil or Herodotus, there he is your man! At the end then of eight years, without counting the previous four, your son has not learnt Greek and Latin, and he has learnt nothing else to atone for it.

 

Books Have Become My Life

Yang Hsün-chi (1456-1544), "Inscribed on the Doors of My Bookshelves," tr. John Timothy Wixted, in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 273:
Mine was a trading family
Living in Nan-Hao district for a hundred years.
I was the first to become a scholar,
Our house being without a single book.
Applying myself for a full decade,
I set my heart on building a collection.
Though not fully stocked with minor writings,
Of major works, I have nearly everything:
Classics, history, philosophy, belles-lettres—
Nothing lacking from the heritage of the past.
Binding up the volumes one by one in red covers,
I painstakingly sew them by hand.
When angry, I read and become happy;
When sick, I read and am cured.
Piled helter-skelter in front of me,
Books have become my life.
The people of the past who wrote these tomes,
If not sages, were certainly men of great wisdom.
Even without opening their pages,
Joy comes to me just fondling them.
As for my foolish family, they can't be helped;
Their hearts are set on money alone.
If a book falls on the floor, they don't pick it up;
What do they care if they get dirty or tattered?
I'll do my best by these books all my days,
And die not leaving a single one behind.
There are some readers among my friends—
To them I'll give them all away.
Better that than have my unworthy sons
Haul them off to turn into cash.

 

Homesick for the Present

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Contemporaneousness," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 329-331 (at 329-330):
Theoretically, it should make no difference to our enjoyment of it whether a work of art is new or old. There are standards of goodness and badness by which every work of whatever period may be judged. If it is good, then we admire it whether it was created this morning or three thousand years ago; if it is found to be bad, then we don't like it—and there is, or at any rate there should be, the end of the matter.

But this is true only in theory. When it comes to practice we find that this sublime disregard of time and space is not the obvious and easy thing we supposed it to be. Even when we are familiar and at home with every style and convention of art, we find that the period at which any given work was created does condition our appreciation of it. Literary scholars, and all those who for some reason have ever had to shut themselves up for any length of time in a library of nothing but ancient books, know what it is to be homesick from out of the past for the present. After a few weeks of unintermitted reading in the sixteenth century, what a blissful sensation it is to open a contemporary novel—even if it happens to be not a very good one, and even if our ancient reading has been of the choicest! At moments like these we infinitely prefer H.G. Wells to Shakespeare. He is contemporary, he breathes the same atmosphere as ourselves, his problems are our problems, and though his works may prove, in the words of the old poet, "damnably moldy a hundred years hence," when King Lear will still serenely remain what it is and always has been; though we know very well that, judged by any standard, they compare, to say the least of it, poorly with those of Shakespeare; we are ready, after too long a sojourn in the past, to turn to him with passionate avidity.

Friday, July 25, 2014

 

The Hawking Index

Jordan Ellenberg, "The Summer's Most Unread Book Is...," Wall Street Journal (July 3, 2014):
It's beach time, and you've probably already scanned a hundred lists of summer reads. Sadly overlooked is that other crucial literary category: the summer non-read, the book that you pick up, all full of ambition, at the beginning of June and put away, the bookmark now and forever halfway through chapter 1, on Labor Day. The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," widely called "the most unread book of all time."

How can we find today's greatest non-reads? Amazon's "Popular Highlights" feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book's Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.

Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book's five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we're guessing most people are likely to have read.
Some years ago I bought a good, sturdy copy of William Langland's Piers the Plowman, with notes by W.W. Skeat, for two dollars. The first eighty lines have interlinear and marginal notes in ink. Obviously the original owner didn't read more than three pages of the text before giving up. I find this very often in secondhand school editions of Greek and Latin texts—English definitions of practically every word, scrawled all over the first few pages, then no sign that the rest of the book was read at all.

The Hawking Index could be skewed upwards, however, by selective skimming. See, for example, how a young woman describes her friend, a student at Yale, in William Deresiewicz, "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League," New Republic (July 21, 2014):
No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing.
Related post: Unit of Taciturnity: The Dirac.

 

The Deteriorationist

Here are some speeches of Mr. Escot, "the deteriorationist," in Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Headlong Hall.

Chapter I:
"[T]hese improvements, as you call them, appear to me only so many links in the great chain of corruption, which will soon fetter the whole human race in irreparable slavery and incurable wretchedness: your improvements proceed in a simple ratio, while the factitious wants and unnatural appetites they engender proceed in a compound one; and thus one generation acquires fifty wants, and fifty means of supplying them are invented, which each in its turn engenders two new ones; so that the next generation has a hundred, the next two hundred, the next four hundred, till every human being becomes such a helpless compound of perverted inclinations, that he is altogether at the mercy of external circumstances, loses all independence and singleness of character, and degenerates so rapidly from the primitive dignity of his sylvan origin, that it is scarcely possible to indulge in any other expectation, than that the whole species must at length be exterminated by its own infinite imbecility and vileness."
Chapter II:
"I am certain," said Mr Escot, "that a wild man can travel an immense distance without fatigue; but what is the advantage of locomotion? The wild man is happy in one spot, and there he remains: the civilised man is wretched in every place he happens to be in, and then congratulates himself on being accommodated with a machine, that will whirl him to another, where he will be just as miserable as ever."
Chapter IV:
"Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none."
Chapter VII:
"Profound researches, scientific inventions: to what end? To contract the sum of human wants? to teach the art of living on a little? to disseminate independence, liberty, and health? No; to multiply factitious desires, to stimulate depraved appetites, to invent unnatural wants, to heap up incense on the shrine of luxury, and accumulate expedients of selfish and ruinous profusion. Complicated machinery: behold its blessings. Twenty years ago, at the door of every cottage sate the good woman with her spinning-wheel: the children, if not more profitably employed than in gathering heath and sticks, at least laid in a stock of health and strength to sustain the labours of maturer years. Where is the spinning-wheel now, and every simple and insulated occupation of the industrious cottager? Wherever this boasted machinery is established, the children of the poor are death-doomed from their cradles. Look for one moment at midnight into a cotton-mill, amidst the smell of oil, the smoke of lamps, the rattling of wheels, the dizzy and complicated motions of diabolical mechanism: contemplate the little human machines that keep play with the revolutions of the iron work, robbed at that hour of their natural rest, as of air and exercise by day: observe their pale and ghastly features, more ghastly in that baleful and malignant light, and tell me if you do not fancy yourself on the threshold of Virgil's hell, where
Continuo auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens,
Infantumque animæ flentes, in limine primo,
Quos dulcis vitæ exsortes, et ab ubere raptos,
Abstulit atra dies, et FUNERE MERSIT ACERBO!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

 

Nothing

Greek Anthology 7.339 (by Palladas?, tr. W.R. Paton):
It was not for any sin of mine that I was born of my parents. I was born, poor wretch, and I journey towards Hades. Oh death-dealing union of my parents! Oh for the necessity which will lead me to dismal death! From nothing I was born, and again I shall be nothing as at first. Nothing, nothing is the race of mortals. Therefore make the cup bright, my friend, and give me wine the consoler of sorrow.

Οὐδὲν ἁμαρτήσας γενόμην παρὰ τῶν με τεκόντων·
    γεννηθεὶς δ᾽ ὁ τάλας ἔρχομαι εἰς Ἀΐδην.
ὦ μῖξις γονέων θανατηφόρος· ὤ μοι ἀνάγκης,
    ἥ με προσπελάσει τῷ στυγερῷ θανάτῳ.
οὐδὲν ἐὼν γενόμην· πάλιν ἔσσομαι, ὡς πάρος, οὐδὲν·
    οὐδὲν καὶ μηδὲν τῶν μερόπων τὸ γένος·
λοιπόν μοι τὸ κύπελλον ἀποστίλβωσον, ἑταῖρε,
    καὶ λύπης †ὀδύνην τὸν Βρόμιον πάρεχε.
This is Paton's Greek text, but he provides no apparatus. Here is the apparatus for line 8 from Hugo Stadtmüller's edition:

I don't have access to Pierre Waltz, ed., Anthologie grecque, T. IV (Paris: Les Belles-Lettres, 1938), but I believe that Alexandre-Marie Desrousseaux conjectured Ἅιδην for ὀδύνην therein.

 

Don't Read Books!

Yang Wan-li (1127-1206), "Don't Read Books!", tr. Jonathan Chaves in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 254:
Don't read books!
Don't chant poems!
When you read books your eyeballs wither away,
    leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems your heart leaks out slowly
    with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound
    like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don't turn into a haggard old man,
it's annoying for others to have to hear you.

It's so much better
    to close your eyes, sit in your study,
    lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
    burn incense.
It's beautiful to listen to the wind,
    listen to the rain,
    take a walk when you feel energetic,
    and when you’re tired go to sleep.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

 

An Offering and a Prayer

Greek Anthology 6.31 (by Nicarchus?, tr. W.R. Paton):
I have offered this as a common gift to Pan the goat-treader, to Dionysus the giver of good fruit, and to Demeter the Earth-goddess, and I beg from them fine flocks, good wine and to gather good grain from the ears.

Αἰγιβάτῃ τόδε Πανὶ, καὶ εὐκάρπῳ Διονύσῳ,
    καὶ Δηοῖ Χθονίῃ ξυνὸν ἔθηκα γέρας.
αἰτέομαι δ᾽ αὐτοὺς καλὰ πώεα καὶ καλὸν οἶνον,
    καὶ καλὸν ἀμῆσαι καρπὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀσταχύων.
Goat-treader? See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. αἰγιβάτης:
goat-mounting, epith. of he-goats, etc., Pi. Fr. 201; of Pan, Theoc. Ep. 5.6, AP 6.31.
Likewise Paton translates χιμαιροβάτᾳ as "goat-treader" at Greek Anthology 6.35.1 (also an epithet of Pan), although he does render αἰγοβάταις as "goat-mounting" at Greek Anthology 12.41.4. J.M. Edmonds similarly mis-translates αἰγιβάταν as "goat-foot" at Theocritus, Epigrams 5.6.

I'm reminded of the famous statue of Pan in the ‘"Secret Room" of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples:


The suffix -βάτης is related to βαίνω. See Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Greek Comedy, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 256, index s.v. βαίνειν. Another compound of -βάτης with an obscene meaning is ὀπισθοβάτης (mounting from behind).

On the other hand, cf. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. tread, v., senses 8.a: "Of the male bird: To copulate with (the hen)" and 8.b: "absol. Of birds: To copulate."

Related post: Bowdlerization.

 

A Difficult Task

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Disraeli," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 79-89 (at 88):
It is extremely difficult to discover what one really loves and understands best. Human nature is so impressible and imitative. We meet people, read books, and unconsciously propose to ourselves to like what they like, feel as they feel. Many do not discover to their dying day even what gives them pleasure.

 

The Prince of All Scribaceous Authors

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Robert Burton," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 52-58 (at 54):
He is the Prince of all scribaceous authors, men who read and read and read till learning must find vent, and they have to scribble, scribble, scribble.
Id., pp. 57-58:
There was really no hatred at all in Burton, so that even when he almost bursts himself in Herculean effort to express his abhorrence, he merely sends our spirits up. I believe that is the explanation. If there was any hatred in him, it hardly amounted to more than an endearing cantankerousness which was swamped in a love, not of men, but of words. Words. He lived like a king, a despot in the realm of words. Outside it he was a bewildered, innocent-eyed, single-hearted old scholar understanding little of the world, next to nothing of its wickedness, and only something of its miseries. Thus it comes about that his book, though it is an exposure of men's crimes, delusions, and follies, is a sweet-natured book; grand, absurd, profuse, and sweet.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. scribacious: "Given to, or fond of, writing," marked as rare, with no alternate form scribaceous and only one example, dated 1677. Scribacious can also be found in Carlyle and Emerson. Cf. modern Latin scribax.

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