Sunday, January 19, 2020


A Great Cultural Achievement

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 143-144:
In fact the practice of buying rounds in the pub is one of the great cultural achievements of the English. It enables people with little money of their own to make generous gestures, without the risk of being ruined by them. It enables each person to distinguish himself from his neighbours and to portray his individuality in his choice of drink, and it causes affection progressively to mount in the circle of drinkers, by giving each in turn the character of a warm and hospitable friend. In a way it is a moral improvement on the Greek symposium, where the host alone appeared in the character of the giver, and also on the common room and the country house. The round of drinks enables even the speechless and the downtrodden briefly to receive the thanks, the appreciation and the honour of their neighbours. It is a paradigm case of 'social inclusion', to use the jargon of our rulers, and it is hardly surprising that everything is now being done to ensure that the practice dies out.


He Is An Enemy

Boccaccio (1313-1375), De casibus virorum illustrium 2.5 (tr. Louis B. Hall):
I see him rely on the worst of counsels and admire the worst deeds, but regarding the public welfare he is sluggish, torpid, and dull. Shall I call him king? Shall I venerate him as a prince? Shall I keep faith as if he were the Lord? Hardly. He is an enemy. To conspire against this kind of ruler, to take up arms, to deceive, to oppose this man is an act of greatness and, even more, of necessity. Scarcely any offering is more acceptable to God than the blood of a tyrant.

cum videam eum ... in consilium niti pessimum, et pessimis operibus delectari, ac circa salutem publicam segnem torpentem desidemque videro, regem dicam? principem colam? tanquam domino fidem servabo? absit: hostis est. in hunc coniurare, arma capessere, insidias tendere, vires opponere magnanimi est, sanctissimum est et omnino necessarium, cum nulla fere sit Deo acceptior hostia tyranni sanguine.



E. Badian, review of Matthias Gelzer, Kleine Schriften, 3 vols. (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1962-1964), in Journal of Roman Studies 57.1/2 (1967) 216-222 (at 217):
In Ancient History, as in other disciplines, we are being urged, nowadays, to plunge headlong into large and exciting problems, and to leave the dead minutiae of scholarship. Against this (if the demagogue will stay for an answer) it must be firmly pointed out that great advances from within historical studies (as opposed to those brought about by the discovery of major new evidence) have usually come about through patient and methodical attention to the minutiae by a mind capable of seeing their bearing on a major problem.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


Where Angels Fear to Tread

The Enlarged Rule of Chrodegang XII, lines 12-21, in Arthur S. Napier, The Old English Version of the Enlarged Rule of Chrodegang Together with the Latin Original. An Old English Version of the Capitula of Theodulf Together with the Latin Original. An Interlinear Old English Rendering of the Epitome of Benedict of Aniane (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1916), pp. 22-23:
Et tunc omnes sint preparati stantes in loco suo in choro per ordinem, ut cum nouissimum signum cessauerit, cum summa humilitate et honestate referant laudes Deo, in conspectu angelorum eius. Et si alicui frequens tussis aut flegma ex pectore aut naribus excrescit, post dorsum proiciat, aut iuxta latus, caute tamen et curiose, ut infirmis mentibus non uertatur in nausiam; et semper quod proicitur pede conculcetur, ut cum ad orationem curuantur, uestimenta eorum non sordidentur; et infra ecclesiam, et in omni conuentu, seu et in porticu, hoc obseruandum est, ut quod spuitur semper pedibus conculcetur.

⁊ syn ealle gearwe ⁊ standon on chore be endebyrdnysse, þæt swa se(o) æftemyste stund geendige, þæt hi sona mid miclere eadmodnysse ⁊ wynsumnysse herigeon heora Drihten on his engla gesihþe. ⁊ gif heora ænegum for unhæle hraca of breoste oððe snyflung of nosa derige, hræce ⁊ snyte bæftan him oððe adun be his sidan, ⁊ þæt fortrede, þe læs hit seocmodum broþrum ⁊ cisum wyrðe to wlættan; ⁊ wærlice tredon þæt, þe læs heora reaf wurðon þærof fule, þonne hi on gebedum licgeað. ⁊ on cyrcan ⁊ on portice ⁊ on ælcre stowe, swa hwæt swa ma him fram hræce oððe snyte, fortrede hit mid his fotum.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who translates the Old English thus:
Then let them all prepare themselves and stand in the choir in order so that at the last signal they might with humility and delight praise God in the sight of his angels. If any of them is infirm and has phlegm in his chest or is snivelling, let him hawk up or blow his nose behind himself or down by his side, and tread upon it, lest the sight of such things nauseate weak-minded or squeamish brethren. And they should tread upon it carefully so that their clothing is not befouled when they go to prayer. Inside the church, in the porch, and in all places, whatever anyone coughs up or sneezes must be trodden under foot.


A Sea of Red

T. Corey Brennan, "Ernst Badian's Methodological Maxims," in The Legacy of Ernst Badian, ed. Carol G. Thomas (Association of Ancient Historians, 2013), pp. 9-26 (at 12):
One of his teaching techniques was to take the first written work of a student who had newly signed on to his supervision, and then spend many hours checking every single reference, ancient or modern, in addition to offering copious annotations on the thought and style of the paper. I remember sitting at a desk in Harvard’s Smyth Classics Library and quaking in fear as Ernst shuffled around the room's bookcases with my own paper in hand for what seemed to be two full days. You can guess the final result: a sea of red. But Ernst only checked quite so thoroughly on the first occasion. The pedagogical—or one might say psychological—effect was such that he didn't ever need to repeat the process for his students, at least at that excruciating level.
Id. (at 16):
As for the perpetrators of scholarly outrages, Ernst's harshest face-to-face critique was the simple phrase, very rarely employed, and only then when confronted with what seemed to be invincible ignorance, "I pity your students."
Id. (at 20):
The story is perhaps apocryphal, but legend has it that at a Cambridge cocktail party sometime in the 1980s a woman turned to Ernst's Harvard colleague, the great Latinist Dr. Shackleton Bailey, and asked him "so what do you do?" His answer: "I look things up." Whatever the veracity of the anecdote, Ernst certainly put a premium on "looking things up," starting of course with the ancient sources, then Pauly-Wissowa, and proceeding from there. Badian had little time for books written from books, that show (in his words) a "perverse refusal to look at what it is all ultimately derived from."


Useful Knowledge

Thucydides, Book II. Edited by E.C. Marchant (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1931), pp. x-xi:
To sharpen the intellect, to purify the taste, and to humanise the character — these are the true ends of education. At least, such was the opinion of Milton, beyond doubt the greatest scholar, and probably the greatest man, of his age. For what else did he intend, though he clothed his thought in the language most congenial to him? 'The end of learning,' he says, 'is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.'

To-day quite other views of the end of learning are making way; according to which views, if I understand them, education ought to teach one kind of thing, and one only, that is to say, that kind of thing which will help the learner to make money. The supporters of these views hold that literature may be advantageously neglected, and something called 'useful knowledge' substituted for it. It is unlikely that any one who shares the new views on education will read these pages, because Greek is not placed by the apostles of this New Learning in the category of 'useful knowledge,' the omission seeming to involve the conclusion that the Renaissance, the former revival of learning, and especially of Greek learning, was a great mistake, a delusion of foolish men who did not understand what was 'useful knowledge.' But if any who use this book are drifting about in uncertainty, and asking themselves, 'To what end?' they will do well to ponder those words of Milton.

Friday, January 17, 2020


Etymology of Diversity

Oxford English Dictionary on the etymology of diversity, n.:
< Old French diverseté, diversité (12th cent. in Hatzfeld & Darmesteter) difference, oddness, wickedness, perversity < Latin dīversitāt-em contrariety, disagreement, difference, < dīversus DIVERSE adj.
I'm a firm believer in the etymological fallacy.

But cf. the Mayor of London:
Diversity makes us stronger.
Diversity makes us smarter.
Diversity makes us who we are.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Proboscis Probing

John Allen Paulos, Beyond Numeracy (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p. 108 (discussing Eli Halberstam's novel Rucker: A Life Fractal):
Rucker idly picks his nose while thinking about his theorems, and if the reader chooses to follow up on this, he is directed to a page (on the disk version the alternatives are listed on a menu which appears at the bottom of the monitor) where Rucker's keen interest in proboscis probing is discussed at length. What percentage of people pick their noses? Why do so few people do it in public; yet, in the false privacy of their automobiles why do so many indulge? If you push even further in this direction, there is the memory from a few weeks previous when Rucker, stopped at a red light, saw the elegantly coiffed Mrs. Samaras seated in the BMW across from him, her index finger seemingly deep into her frontal cortex.
Related posts:


How to Be an Imbecile

José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), Toward a Philosophy of History, tr. Helene Weyl (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1941), p. 70:
The job of the so-called intellectual is in a certain sense opposed to that of the politician, the former aiming, often in vain, to clarify things a little whereas the politician usually adds to the confusion. Aligning oneself with the left, as with the right, is only one of the numberless ways open to man of being an imbecile: both are forms of moral hemiplegia.


The Divine Right To Be Where You Are

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 85-86:
Wine has become one of the most important products of the Southern hemisphere. Countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Chile which a century ago were importing wine in small quantities from Europe, are now drinking large quantities of the home-grown product, and exporting the surplus around the globe. The reason for this change is less economic than cultural. During the twentieth century these countries have increasingly understood themselves, not as exiles from Europe, but as historic settlements, with a right to the soil and an identity that is shaped by it. The most important way of expressing this sentiment is by planting vines, symbol of the divine right to be where you are and to enjoy the god's protection. That is how the vine is seen in the Old Testament, in the legends of Dionysus, in the Homeric literature and in the literature of Rome. It is why, in the days of Augustus, Italy was called Oenotria — wine land — and why nobody has ever been able to persuade an Italian, however far from the homeland he may have wandered, that he belongs anywhere else than on the vine-clad hillside where his ancestors were born.

Italian culture celebrates family, city and region; village ceremonies and village saints; local virtues, local vices and the local dishes that produce them. The root assumption of this culture is that it is best to be where you are, and hurrying onwards is dangerous. Maybe it all began as a reaction to Roman imperialism. It was Horace who wrote that caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt, which is another way of saying that travel narrows the mind.



Eileen Power (1889-1940), Medieval People, 10th ed. (London: Methuen, 1963; rpt. 1966), pp. 155-156:
It is the greatest error to suppose that history must needs be something written down; for it may just as well be something built up, and churches, houses, bridges, or amphitheatres can tell their story as plainly as print for those who have eyes to read. The Roman villa, excavated after lying lost for centuries beneath the heel of the unwitting ploughboy—that villa with its spacious ground-plan, its floors rich with mosaic patterns, its elaborate heating apparatus, and its shattered vases—brings home more clearly than any textbook the real meaning of the Roman Empire, whose citizens lived like this in a foggy island at the uttermost edge of its world. The Norman castle, with moat and drawbridge, gatehouse and bailey and keep, arrow slits instead of windows, is more eloquent than a hundred chronicles of the perils of life in the twelfth century; not thus dwelt the private gentleman in the days of Rome. The country manor-house of the fourteenth century, with courtyard and chapel and hall and dovecote, speaks of an age of peace once more, when life on a thousand little manors revolved round the lord, and the great mass of Englishmen went unscathed by the Hundred Years' War which seamed the fair face of France. Then begin the merchants' elaborate Perpendicular houses in the towns and villages of the fifteenth century, standing on the road, with gardens behind them, and carved beams, great fire-places, and a general air of comfort; they mark the advent of a new class in English history—the middle class, thrust between lord and peasant and coming to its own. How the spacious days of great Elizabeth are mirrored in the beautiful Elizabethan houses, with their wide wings and large rooms, their chimneys, their glass windows, looking outwards on to open parks and spreading trees, instead of inwards on to the closed courtyard. Or go into a house built or redecorated in the eighteenth century, where you will see Chippendale chairs and lacquer tables and Chinese wall-papers covered with pagodas and mandarins; and surely there will come to your mind the age of the nabobs, the age which John Company had familiarized with the products of the Far East, the age in which tea ousted coffee as the drink for a gentleman of fashion, in which Horace Walpole collected porcelain, Oliver Goldsmith idealized China in 'The Citizen of the World', and Dr Johnson was called the Great Cham of Literature. Look here upon this picture and on this: look at that row of jerry-built houses, a hundred in a row and all exactly alike, of that new-art villa, all roof and hardly any window, with false bottle glass in its panes; here is the twentieth century for you.

Thursday, January 16, 2020



K.J. Dover (1920-2010), Thucydides (1973; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979 = Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics, 7), p. 3:
In respect of any author we have to begin with the questions, 'What did he say?' and 'What did he mean?' The procedures designed to answer the first question are subsumed under 'textual criticism', those concerned with the second under 'translation' and 'interpretation'. The division of labour is necessarily inexact, since difficulties in translation often make us ask, 'Did he really write that?', and, conversely, suspicion of the text or choice between variants can seldom claim to be rational unless the meaning is treated as the vital consideration. 'Interpretation', taking 'What did he mean?' beyond the point to which the translator has taken it, investigates the associations which words and ideas had for the writer and his audience, and it merges into the question, 'Why did he write that, in that connection, at that time?' In the case of a historian we can ask—indeed, we cannot help asking, unless we are sadly lacking in curiosity—the further, and separate question, 'Is it true?'

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Low Be It Spoken

Eileen Power (1889-1940), Medieval People, 10th ed. (London: Methuen, 1963; rpt. 1966), pp. 74-75:
Every one knows Chaucer's description of the Prioress, Madame Eglentyne, who rode with that very motley and talkative company on the way to Canterbury. There is no portrait in his gallery which has given rise to more diverse comment among critics. One interprets it as a cutting attack on the worldliness of the Church; another thinks that Chaucer meant to draw a charming and sympathetic picture of womanly gentleness; one says that it is a caricature, another an ideal; and an American professor even finds in it a psychological study of thwarted maternal instinct, apparently because Madame Eglentyne was fond of little dogs and told a story about a schoolboy. The mere historian may be excused from following these vagaries. To him Chaucer's Prioress, like Chaucer's monk and Chaucer's friar, will simply be one more instance of the almost photographic accuracy of the poet's observation. The rippling undercurrent of satire is always there; but it is Chaucer’s own peculiar satire — mellow, amused, uncondemning, the most subtle kind of satire, which does not depend upon exaggeration. The literary critic has only Chaucer's words and his own heart, or sometimes (low be it spoken) his own desire to be original, by which to guide his judgment. But the historian knows; he has all sorts of historical sources in which to study nunneries, and there he meets Chaucer's Prioress at every turn. Above all, he has the bishops' registers.

For a long time historians foolishly imagined that kings and wars and parliaments and the jury system alone were history; they liked chronicles and Acts of Parliament, and it did not strike them to go and look in dusty episcopal archives for the big books in which medieval bishops entered up the letters which they wrote and all the complicated business of running their dioceses. But when historians did think of looking there, they found a mine of priceless information about almost every side of social and ecclesiastical life. They had to dig for it of course, for almost all that is worth knowing has to be mined like precious metals out of a rock; and for one nugget the miner often has to grub for days underground in a mass of dullness; and when he has got it he has to grub in his own heart, or else he will not understand it. The historians found fine gold in the bishops' registers, when once they persuaded themselves that it was not beneath their dignity to grub there.


A Waste of Time

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 149 (February 27, 1858):
Felton told of Agassiz, that when some one applied to him to read lectures, or some other paying employment, he answered, "I can't waste my time in earning money." Dr. Holmes told a story of John Hunter, that, being interrupted by a professional call, when he was dissecting a tiger, he said, "Do you think I can leave my work for your damned guinea?"


Fellow Pariahs

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 22-23:
At the end of my first year there arrived among the Fellows another pariah called David Watkin, an architectural historian notorious for his habit of wearing a collar and tie. He had been described to me as an evil reactionary, an enemy of social progress and enlightenment, who would do his best to thwart the ambitions of those Fellows who were striving to meet the educational challenges of the twentieth century. This description so warmed me to the unknown Dr Watkin that I immediately went to call on him in the rooms which he had been assigned in St Peter's Terrace, on the staircase next to mine.


Poverty and Wealth

Menander, fragment 843 Kassel and Austin (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
For 'tis better, if one considers in the light of reason,
not to possess much with discomfort, but little with a relish,
and painless poverty is preferable to embittered wealth.

κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν, ἂν σκοπῇ τις κατὰ λόγον,
μὴ πόλλ' ἀηδῶς, ὀλίγα δ' ἡδέως ἔχειν,
πενίαν <τ'> ἄλυπον μᾶλλον ἢ πλοῦτον πικρόν.

add. Gesner

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


Public Affairs

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (March 23, 1783, aetat. 74):
I mentioned politicks. JOHNSON. "Sir, I'd as soon have a man to break my bones as talk to me of public affairs, internal or external. I have lived to see things all as bad as they can be."



John Burnet (1863-1928), Ignorance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), pp. 11-12:
When I was at school we certainly thought it 'beastly', as we called it, that we should have to learn such things as irregular verbs by heart. On the other hand, it was not particularly laborious for us at that age, and we could more or less see the use of it. It was clearly the way to get the power of reading Homer and Virgil without constant interruption, and I honestly believe that most of us enjoyed that. Of course we should not have dreamed of confessing it to one another, and still less of admitting it to 'old so-and-so', our master, who was doing the best he could for us with scant hope of reward and no expectation of gratitude. To do so would have violated that mysterious schoolboy code, which is not only a beneficent provision of nature to protect society from juvenile prigs, but springs from a native instinct of the young Soul to preserve the solitude so needful for the growth of its inner life. Of course the time came later when we were ready to admit, very shyly at first, to one another that we did like Homer and Virgil, but at first we were quite content to learn our irregular verbs. There is no great mystery in that. Mere memorizing comes natural to the young, and it does not matter at all whether they understand what they memorize or not. Children have always invented things—counting-out rhymes and the like—the main purpose of which is to be memorized. Think of the undying popularity of The House that Jack Built. We may say, indeed, that they have a passion for rigmarole, and small boys retain a great deal of this. One would think that our educational system would take advantage of that, and so it does in matters of absolute necessity like the multiplication table.
Id., pp. 14-15:
For the grown man, of course, grammar may be one of the most dangerously fascinating studies, but for the boy it is just what I have called the sediment of dead knowledge, to be acquired as speedily as may be for the sake of its results and not for itself. This is quite understood in many other branches of training. It is really a good deal easier to read Homer than it is to play the piano, and yet the proportion of people who learn to play the piano, at least to their own satisfaction, is far greater than that of those who learn to read Homer. In this case every one can see that the first thing to be done is to acquire the necessary automatism, and the methods of acquiring it have been more or less systematized. If you had to think of every chord, you would never play anything. On the other hand, no one imagines that the traditional scales and exercises are music. They are simply practice, directed to the acquisition of automatic power, and that is how grammar should be treated at school. It is an historical fact that, when this method was followed, a large number of people did acquire the power of reading Homer, and that a very considerable number continued to read him all their days.



Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), p. 21:
His attitude to learning was the very opposite of that which has come to dominate the schools and universities today. He did not believe that the purpose of knowledge is to help the student. On the contrary. For Dr Picken, the purpose of the student is to help knowledge. He was throughout his life the willing and self-sacrificing trustee of an intellectual inheritance. Young people mattered to him because they had the brains into which his reservoir of learning could be poured, along with the wine. He looked at us students sceptically, but always with that underlying hope that, in this or that undisciplined young face, there was yet the outward sign of a brain large enough and dispassionate enough to capture some of the accumulated knowledge of mankind, and which could carry that knowledge through life without spilling it, until finding another brain into which it might be discharged.

Monday, January 13, 2020


The Writing of Commentaries

Nicholas Horsfall (1946-2019), Virgil, Aeneid 6: A Commentary (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), vol. II, p. 628:
The writing of commentaries is a natural retreat for intellectual conservatives: those who cannot get their brains round modern theoretical approaches are left pretty much free to devote themselves to their favourite uses of the genitive, and, to be fair, of other cases too.
Id., p. 639:
Of theory I have no love, of new terminology, a positive dislike and of new techniques which seem to enable any young Virgilian to publish bold, bright pages which prove beyond doubt Virgil's debt to, let us say, Petronius (I jest) at some unlikely point, I cannot speak enough ill.
Readers of my commentaries will notice that I cite some younger Virgilians and not others: I like a page largely jargon-free, I admire accuracy, and good English prose, and I love a fat, well-constructed footnote.
Id., p. 643:
You can only begin to become a competent Virgilian by reading more Greek; one of the great benefits of working on Aen. 6 is the need for immersion in the Myth of Er. And of course, German. Norden's Aeneid 6 is mercifully easy, most of the time...


The Right Way to Live

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 4-5:
The right way to live is by enjoying one's faculties, striving to like and if possible to love one's fellows, and also to accept that death is both necessary in itself and a blessed relief to those whom you would otherwise burden. The health fanatics who have poisoned all our natural enjoyments ought, in my view, to be rounded up and locked together in a place where they can bore each other rigid with their futile nostrums for eternal life. The rest of us should live out our days in a chain of linked symposia, in which the catalyst is wine, the means conversation, the goal a serene acceptance of our lot and a determination not to outstay our welcome.


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