Sunday, October 04, 2015


A Disadvantage

Bernard Knox (1914-2010), The Oldest Dead White European Males and Other Reflections on the Classics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993), p. 73:
A love for and knowledge of literature and the arts is of little practical advantage in the modern world and may even, by raising suspicion that its owner considers himself, in Gaisford's phrase, "elevated above the vulgar herd," turn out to be an actual disadvantage.


A Fool

Euripides, fragment 193 (from Antiope; probably Amphion speaking; tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Whoever is very active when he may be inactive,
is a fool, when he may live pleasurably without activity.

ὅστις δὲ πράσσει πολλὰ μὴ πράσσειν παρόν,
μῶρος, παρὸν ζῆν ἡδέως ἀπράγμονα.
Related posts:


At the Gates

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), A Time of Gifts (1977; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2005), p. 230:
And suppose the Sultan, with half the east at heel, had pitched his tents outside Calais? A few years before, the Dutch had burnt a flotilla of men-of-war at Chatham. Might St. Paul's, only half re-built, have ended with minarets instead of its two bell-towers and a different emblem twinkling on the dome? The muezzin's wail over Ludgate Hill?
Today migrants from the Middle East are pitching their tents outside Calais, and the muezzin's wail can be heard at the East London Mosque on Whitechapel Road, just a couple of miles from Ludgate Hill. To paraphrase Juvenal, "Iam pridem Syrus in Thamesin defluxit Orontes."

Friday, October 02, 2015


A Poetical Comparison

Petronius, poem no. 10 (tr. Michael Heseltine, rev. E.H. Warmington):
So, too, the body will shut in the belly's wind, which, when it labours to come forth again from its deep dungeon, prises forth a way by sharp blows: and there is no end to the cold shiver which rules the cramped frame, till a warm sweat bedews and loosens the body.

Sic et membra solent auras includere ventris,
quae penitus mersae cum rursus abire laborant,
verberibus rimantur iter; nec desinit ante
frigidus, adstrictis qui regnat in ossibus, horror
quam tepidus laxo manavit corpore sudor.

1 ventris Riese: ventis V
4 frigidus, adstrictis Reiske: et frigidus strictis V
Edward Courtney, The Poems of Petronius (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991), p. 57:
The point of the poem is the comparison of flatulence to a volcanic eruption, the cause of which (as of earthquakes) was usually thought to be subterranean currents of air...



A Town and a Country Life Compared Together

Of Wisdom. Three Books. Written Originally in French, by the Sieur de Charron. With an Account of the Author. Made English by George Stanhope, 3rd ed., Vol. II (London: J. Walthoe, 1729), pp. 552-554 (I.lxvi = "A Town and a Country Life compared together," divided into shorter paragraphs by me):
This is a Comparison very easie for any Man who is a true Lover of Wisdom, to make; for almost all the Advantages lie on one side. The Pleasures and Conveniences both of Body and Mind, Liberty, Contemplation, Innocence, Health, and Delight. In the Country a Man's Mind is free and easie; discharg'd, and at his own Disposal: But in the City the Persons of Friends and Acquaintance, one's own and other People's Business, foolish Quarrels, ceremonious Visits, impertinent Discourse, and a Thousand other Fopperies and Diversions steal away the greatest part of our Time, and leave no Leisure for better and more necessary Employment.

What infinite Perplexities, Avocations, Distractions of the Mind, and, which is worst of all, what abominable Debaucheries, and Depravation of Manners does such a Life expose Men to? Great Towns are but a larger sort of Prisons to the Soul, like Cages to Birds, or Pounds to Beasts. This Celestial Fire within us will not endure to be shut up, it requires Air to brighten and make it burn clear; which made Columella say, that a Country Life is Cousin-German to Wisdom: for a Man's Thoughts cannot be idle; and when they are set loose from the World, they will range and expatiate freely in noble and profitable Meditations. But how shall a Man hope to command his Thoughts, or pretend to call them his Own, in the midst of all the Clutter, and Business, the Amusements, nay the Confusions of the Town?

A Country Life is infinitely more plain, and innocent, and disposed to Purity and Virtue. In Cities Vice assembles in Troops; the very Commonness of it makes it unobserv'd; it hardens and reconciles us to the Practice, Example, and Custom; and the meeting with it at every Turn, makes the thing familiar; and thus the Disease seizes us strongly and presently, and we are gone all on the sudden, by living in the midst of the Infection. Whereas in the Country, those Things are seen or heard with Abhorrence and Amazement, which the Town sees and does every Day without Remorse or Concern.

As for Pleasure and Health, the clear Air, the Warmth and Brightness of the Sun, not polluted with the Sultry Gleams, and loathsome Stenches of the Town; the Springs and Waters, the Flowers and Groves, and, in short, All Nature is free, and easie, and gay; The Earth unlocks her Treasures, refreshes us with her Fruits, feasts every Sense, and gives us such Entertainment, as Cities know nothing of, in the stifling press of Houses; so that to live there, is to shut one's self up, and be banish'd from the World. Besides all this, a Country Retirement is more active and fit for Exercise; and this creates an Appetite, preserves and restores Health and Vigour, hardens the Body, and makes it lusty and strong.

The greatest Commendation of the Town is, Convenience for Business and Profit. It is indeed the Seat of Trade and private Gain, and therefore fit to be the Darling of Merchants and Artificers: And it is the Place accommodated to Publick Administrations; but this latter but a very small part of Mankind are call'd to, or capable of. And History tells us, that heretofore excellent Persons were fetch'd out of the Country, to undertake Affairs of the greatest Importance; and as soon as they had finish'd these, they retir'd again with wonderful Delight, and made the Town not a Matter of Choice, but Necessity and Constraint: This was the short Scene of Labour and Business to them; but the Country was the Seat of their Pleasure, and more constant Residence.
Related posts:

Thursday, October 01, 2015



Florus 4 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
So Apollo and then Bacchus are fire-bringers, I opine:
Both the gods are flame-created; in their birth the fires take part.
Both confer their heat for guerdon, by the sunbeam or the vine;
One dispels the long night's darkness, one the darkness of the heart.

Sic Apollo, deinde Liber sic videtur ignifer:
ambo sunt flammis creati prosatique ex ignibus;
ambo de donis calorem, vite et radio, conferunt;
noctis hic rumpit tenebras, hic tenebras pectoris.

3 donis Schrader: comis codd.


Imperial Verses?

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), A Time of Gifts (1977; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2005), pp. 232-233:
Prompted by my recent preoccupations, perhaps, the conversation veered to Charles V's grandfather, the first Maximilian: The Last of the Knights, as he was called, half-landsknecht, and, until you looked more carefully at Dürer's drawing, half playing-card monarch. Someone was describing how he used to escape from the business of the Empire now and then by retiring to a remote castle in the Tyrolese or Styrian forests. Scorning muskets and crossbows and armed only with a long spear, he would set out for days after stag and wild boar. It was during one of these holidays that he composed a four-line poem, and inscribed it with chalk, or in lampblack, on the walls of the castle cellar. It was still there, the speaker said.


I must have asked him to write it out, for here it is, transcribed inside the cover of a diary I began a fortnight later — frayed and battered now — with the old Austrian spelling painstakingly intact. There was something talismanic about these lines, I thought:
Leb, waiss nit wie lang,
Und stürb, waiss nit wann
Muess fahren, waiss nit wohin
Mich wundert, das ich so frelich bin.*
They have a more hopeful drift than the comparable five lines by an earlier Caesar, especially the last line. I preferred Maximilian's end to Hadrian's desolating
Nec ut soles dabis jocos.
* Live, don't know how long,
And die, don't know when;
Must go, know not where;
I am astonished I am so cheerful.

Stop press! I've just discovered that the castle is called Schloss Tratzberg. It is near Jenbach, still standing, and not very far from Innsbruck.
The "talismanic lines" are probably not by Maximilian I (1459-1519). See here for a brief discussion with bibliography.

Here in full is the poem attributed to Hadrian:
Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos?
In A. O'Brien-Moore's translation:
O blithe little soul, thou, flitting away,
Guest and comrade of this my clay,
Whither now goest thou, to what place
Bare and ghastly and without grace?
Nor, as thy wont was, joke and play.
Doubt has been cast on Hadrian's authorship of this poem. See, e.g., Timothy D. Barnes, "Hadrian's Farewell to Life," Classical Quarterly 18.2 (Nov., 1968) 384-386. Alan Cameron, "Poetae Novelli," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 84 (1980) 127-175 (at 167-172), defends the attribution to Hadrian.

Practically every paragraph of Leigh Fermor's book cries out for annotation and illustration. Here is Dürer's drawing of Maximilian I:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Pretty Little Girl With a Red Dress On

Carmina Burana 177 (tr. G.F. Whicher):
There stood a girl, in red she was gowned,
Her dress if you touched it made a
Swishing sound.

Like a little rose-tree there she stood —
Her cheeks blown roses
And her mouth a bud.

Stetit puella
rufa tunica;
siquis eam tetigit,
tunica crepuit.

Stetit puella
tamquam rosula:
facie splenduit,
et os eius floruit.
A poem by Ibn al-Ṣābūnī (13th century; tr. A.J. Arberry):
She is coming, coming,
So soft her tread,
A moon in gloaming

As if her glances
My lifeblood shed,
And wiped their lances
In her robe of red.
Arberry's discussion of Ibn al-Ṣābūnī's poem:
This is a very short poem, and at first reading perhaps appears very simple; the simplicity is a delusion. Take the phrase 'a moon in gloaming': this conjures up images which only a familiarity with Arab convention can illuminate. The 'moon' is the accepted metaphor for a beautiful face, pale and glowing; the 'gloaming' is a reference to the dark tresses which throw into relief the brilliance of the 'moon'. In the second stanza the poet elaborates the well-loved comparison of the glances of the beloved with spears aimed at the lover's heart; his heart is pierced by them, and her robe is crimsoned with his lifeblood. The poet, using hackneyed themes, has combined and refined them into a new and satisfying synthesis.


A Beautiful Little Book

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), A Time of Gifts (1977; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2005), pp. 114-115 (ellipses in original):
All these kindnesses were crowned with a dazzling consummation. I had said that my books, after the lost diary, were what I missed most. I ought to have known by now that mention of loss had only one result under this roof ... What books? I had named them; when the time came for farewells, the Baron said: "We can't do much about the others but here's Horace for you." He put a small duodecimo volume in my hand. It was the Odes and Epodes, beautifully printed on thin paper in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century, bound in hard green leather with gilt lettering. The leather on the spine had faded but the sides were as bright as grass after rain and the little book opened and shut as compactly as a Chinese casket. There were gold edges to the pages and a faded marker of scarlet silk slanted across the long S's of the text and the charming engraved vignettes: cornucopias, lyres, pan-pipes, chaplets of olive and bay and myrtle. Small mezzotints showed the Forum and the Capitol and imaginary Sabine landscapes: Tibur, Lucretilis, the Bandusian spring, Soracte, Venusia ... I made a feint at disclaiming a treasure so far beyond the status of the rough travels ahead. But I had been forestalled, I saw with relief, by an inscription: "To our young friend," etc., on the page opposite an emblematic ex libris with the name of their machiolated Baltic home. Here and there between the pages a skeleton leaf conjured up those lost woods.

This book became a fetish. I noticed, during the next few days, that it filled everyone with feelings of wonder akin to my own. On the second evening — Rosenheim was the first — placed alongside the resolutely broached new diary on the inn-table of Hohenaschau, it immediately made me seem more exalted than the tramp that I actually was. "What a beautiful little book!,"awed voices would say. Horny fingers reverently turned the pages. "Lateinisch? Well, well ..." A spurious aura of scholarship and respectability sprang up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Friends and Allies

Ronald A. Knox (1888-1957), Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 292:
In this imperfect world a man cannot stand by himself, armed against criticism by his own honesty of purpose; we creep together for warmth, ally ourselves for mutual defence with other men whose opinions overlap, but do not coincide, with ours.
Cf. his Pastoral Sermons and Occasional Sermons (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), p. 328:
And even with the friendships we make later in life, founded not on accidental association, but on a real community of tastes and interests, how seldom they last a lifetime, or anything like a lifetime! Destiny shuffles our partners for us; one friend or the other gets a different job, goes to live somewhere else; it may only mean changing from one suburb to another, but how easily we make an excuse of distance! More and more as we grow older, we find that the people we see most of are recent acquaintances, not (perhaps) very congenial to us, but chance has thrown them in our way. And meanwhile the people we used to know so well, for whom we once entertained such warm feelings, are now remembered by a card at Christmas, if we can succeed in finding the address. How good we are at making friends, when we are young; how bad at keeping them! How eagerly, as we grow older, we treasure up the friendships that are left to us, like beasts that creep together for warmth!


A Well-Ordered Life

Pliny the Younger, Letters 3.1.2 (to Calvisius Rufus; tr. Betty Radice):
A well-ordered life, especially where the old are concerned, gives me the same pleasure as the fixed course of the planets. A certain amount of irregularity and excitement is not unsuitable for the young, but their elders should lead a quiet and orderly existence; their time of public activity is over, and ambition only brings them into disrepute.

Me autem ut certus siderum cursus ita vita hominum disposita delectat. Senum praesertim: nam iuvenes confusa adhuc quaedam et quasi turbata non indecent, senibus placida omnia et ordinata conveniunt, quibus industria sera turpis ambitio est.

Monday, September 28, 2015


The Antiquary's Retreat

Walter Scott (1771-1832), The Antiquary, chapter III:
It was indeed some time before Lovel could, through the thick atmosphere, perceive in what sort of den his friend had constructed his retreat. It was a lofty room of middling size, obscurely lighted by high narrow latticed windows. One end was entirely occupied by book-shelves, greatly too limited in space for the number of volumes placed upon them, which were, therefore, drawn up in ranks of two or three files deep, while numberless others littered the floor and the tables, amid a chaos of maps, engraving, scraps of parchment, bundles of papers, pieces of old armour, swords, dirks, helmets, and Highland targets. Behind Mr. Oldbuck's seat (which was an ancient leathern-covered easy-chair, worn smooth by constant use) was a huge oaken cabinet, decorated at each corner with Dutch cherubs, having their little duck-wings displayed, and great jolter-headed visages placed between them. The top of this cabinet was covered with busts, and Roman lamps and paterae, intermingled with one or two bronze figures. The walls of the apartment were partly clothed with grim old tapestry, representing the memorable story of Sir Gawaine's wedding, in which full justice was done to the ugliness of the Lothely Lady; although, to judge from his own looks, the gentle knight had less reason to be disgusted with the match on account of disparity of outward favour, than the romancer has given us to understand. The rest of the room was panelled, or wainscotted, with black oak, against which hung two or three portraits in armour, being characters in Scottish history, favourites of Mr. Oldbuck, and as many in tie-wigs and laced coats, staring representatives of his own ancestors. A large old-fashioned oaken table was covered with a profusion of papers, parchments, books, and nondescript trinkets and gewgaws, which seemed to have little to recommend them, besides rust and the antiquity which it indicates. In the midst of this wreck of ancient books and utensils, with a gravity equal to Marius among the ruins of Carthage, sat a large black cat, which, to a superstitious eye, might have presented the genius loci, the tutelar demon of the apartment. The floor, as well as the table and chairs, was overflowed by the same mare magnum of miscellaneous trumpery, where it would have been as impossible to find any individual article wanted, as to put it to any use when discovered.

Edward Cooke, The Antiquary's Cell


Requests for Letters

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.11 (to Fabius Justus; tr. Betty Radice):
I have not heard from you for a long time, and you say you have nothing to write about. Well, you can at least write that—or else simply the phrase our elders used to start a letter with: "If you are well, well and good; I am well." That will do for me—it is all that matters. Don't think I am joking; I mean it. Let me know how you are; if I don't know I can't help worrying a lot.

Olim mihi nullas epistulas mittis. Nihil est, inquis, quod scribam. At hoc ipsum scribe, nihil esse quod scribas, vel solum illud unde incipere priores solebant: "Si vales, bene est; ego valeo." Hoc mihi sufficit; est enim maximum. Ludere me putas? serio peto. Fac sciam quid agas, quod sine sollicitudine summa nescire non possum. Vale.
Id., 1.22.12 (to Catilius Severus):
There you have my fears, hopes, and plans for the future; in return, give me news of your own doings, past, present and intended, but please make your letter more cheerful than mine. It will be a great comfort in my trouble if you have no complaints.

Habes quid timeam, quid optem, quid etiam in posterum destinem: tu quid egeris, quid agas, quid velis agere invicem nobis, sed laetioribus epistulis scribe. Erit confusioni meae non mediocre solacium, si tu nihil quereris.
Id., 2.2.2 (to Valerius Paulinus):
It is so long since I have had a letter from you. The only way to placate me is to write me a lot of letters now, at long last—lengthy ones, too. That is how you can honestly win my forgiveness; I shall not hear of anything else.

A te tam diu litterae nullae. Exorare me potes uno modo, si nunc saltem plurimas et longissimas miseris. Haec mihi sola excusatio vera, ceterae falsae videbuntur.
Id., 2.11.24 (to Maturus Arrianus):
So much for the city. Now give me news of the country—how are your fruit trees and your vines, the harvest and your prize sheep? Unless you answer me in as long a letter as this, you can expect nothing in future but the shortest note.

Habes res urbanas; invicem rusticas scribe. Quid arbusculae tuae, quid vineae, quid segetes agunt, quid oves delicatissimae? In summa, nisi aeque longam epistulam reddis, non est quod postea nisi brevissimam exspectes.


I Want to See How It Ends

Bernard Knox (1914-2010), Essays Ancient and Modern (1989; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), p. 154:
[A] story (apocryphal, no doubt) about [Oscar] Wilde's viva examination at Oxford ... gives a startling impression of the gulf between Christianity and the Hellenic aestheticism of the late seventies. Wilde was given a Greek Testament and told to translate chapter 26 of Luke—the Last Supper; the agony in the garden; the betrayal, arrest, and trial of Christ. He did so with speed and elegance. "Thank you, Mr. Wilde, that will do." "Oh," he said. "Pray let me go on. I want to see how it ends."

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Reading by Smell?

Ronald A. Knox (1888-1957), Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 372 (on miracles supposedly performed by "The Convulsionaries of Saint-Médard"):
[T]hey have read all sorts of writing, with their eyes bandaged, by the smell.2

2 Grégoire, Histoire des sectes religieuses, ii.156.
See Henri Grégoire (1750-1831), Histoire des sectes religieuses, T. II (Paris: Baudouin Frères, 1828), pp. 155-156, who pretends to quote directly from Bernard Lambert (1738-1813), Exposition des prédictions et des promesses faites à l'Église pour les derniers temps de la gentilité (Paris: Ange Clos, 1806):
On a vu tous, dit-il, les élémens maîtrisés par un agent invisible, produire les effets les plus contraires à la nature ... lire toutes sortes d’écritures par l'odorat ayant les yeux bandés.1

1 Voyez tom. I, pag. 66-74.
I can't find the quotation in Lambert's book. The closest I can find is this, on p. 71:
On y a vu ... les yeux, dans une privation totale de lumière, voir distinctement les objets les plus déliés , et lire les plus fines écritures.
So Knox and Grégoire both mention reading by smell, but Lambert apparently does not. It would be a useful skill to have, for those like myself with failing eyesight. I would gladly, however, forego the ability to perform the next miracle mentioned by Lambert (id., pp. 71-72):
On y a vu les matières les plus capables de détruire la santé ou même d'ôter la vie, telles que les plus fétides excrémens, le pus le plus corrompu et le plus infect, loin de nuire aux personnes forcées, par leur état surnaturel, de les avaler et de s'en nourrir, en suçant les ulcères les plus malins, les plaies les plus dégoûtantes, les cancers les plus affreux, se changer, pour elles, en alimens très-salutaires, ainsi que le vinaigre, la suie, le fiel, l'encre et la cendre mêlés et paîtris ensemble.
A disgusting sort of transubstantiation!

From Ian Jackson:
If you type into Google Books
convulsionnaires lire odorat
you'll get a number of interesting references to reading by smell from early 18th C. sources.
Related post: My Old Liddell and Scott.


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