Saturday, May 02, 2015


Thinking of Holland

Hendrik Marsman (1899-1940), "Thinking of Holland" (tr. James Brockway):
Thinking of Holland
I see broad rivers
languidly winding
through endless fen.

Lines of incredibly
tenuous poplars
like giant plumes
on the polder's rim;

and sunk in tremendous
open expanses,
the farmsteads scattered
across the plain:

coppices, hamlets,
squat towers and churches
and elms composing
a rich domain.

Low leans the sky
and slowly the sun
in mist of mother-
of-pearl grows blurred,

and far and wide
the voice of the water
of endless disaster
is feared and heard.
The Dutch:
Denkend aan Holland
zie ik breede rivieren
traag door oneindig
laagland gaan,

rijen ondenkbaar
ijle populieren
als hooge pluimen
aan den einder staan;

en in de geweldige
ruimte verzonken
de boerderijen
verspreid door het land,

boomgroepen, dorpen,
geknotte torens,
kerken en olmen
in een grootsch verband.

de lucht hangt er laag
en de zon wordt er langzaam
in grijze veelkleurige
dampen gesmoord,

en in alle gewesten
wordt de stem van het water
met zijn eeuwige rampen
gevreesd en gehoord.
You can hear Marco Schuffelen read the poem here.

Andreas Schelfhout (1787–1870),
Rivierenlandschap bij Haarlem met windmolen
en de ruïne van Brederode

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Friday, May 01, 2015



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Marchese Pallavicini and Walter Landor," Imaginary Conversations (Landor speaking):
Let us now reflect again a moment on Athens, which I think will be somewhat more to our satisfaction. A city not larger than Liverpool, and whose inhabitants might almost have been lost in Syracuse, produced, within the short period of two centuries (reckoning from the battle of Marathon), a greater number of exquisite models in war, philosophy, patriotism, oratory, and poetry,—in the semi-mechanical arts which accompany or follow them, sculpture and painting, and in the first of the mechanical, architecture,—than the remainder of Europe in six thousand years.


Old Trees

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Marchese Pallavicini and Walter Landor," Imaginary Conversations (Landor speaking with the Marchese's cousin Don Pepino):
"Stop a moment: how shall we climb over these two enormous pines? Ah, Don Pepino! old trees in their living state are the only things that money cannot command. Rivers leave their beds, run into cities, and traverse mountains for it; obelisks and arches, palaces and temples, amphitheatres and pyramids, rise up like exhalations at its bidding; even the free spirit of Man, the only thing great on earth, crouches and cowers in its presence. It passes away and vanishes before venerable trees. What a sweet odor is here!—whence comes it?—sweeter it appears to me and stronger than of the pine itself."

"I imagine," said he, "from the linden; yes, certainly."

"Is that a linden? It is the largest, and I should imagine the oldest upon earth, if I could perceive that it had lost any of its branches."

"Pity that it hides half the row of yon houses from the palace! It will be carried off with the two pines in the autumn."

"O Don Pepino!" cried I; "the French, who abhor whatever is old and whatever is great, have spared it; the Austrians, who sell their fortresses and their armies, nay, sometimes their daughters, have not sold it: must it fall? Shall the cypress of Soma be without a rival? I hope to have left Lombardy before it happens; for events which you will tell me ought never to interest me at all, not only do interest me, but make me (I confess it) sorrowful."

Who in the world could ever cut down a linden, or dare in his senses to break a twig from off one?



A Latin Word Missing from Dictionaries?

Screen shot of a chapter heading (6.5) in the digital Loeb Classical Library:

The number of misprints in the digital Loeb Classical Library is shocking. Another one from the translation of the same chapter (6.5.ext.3):

Here 16 should be printed superscript, indicating a footnote. You can't click on it to see the footnote (as you can for other footnotes). Why the footnotes couldn't be printed at the foot of each page. as they are in the hard copy, I don't know.

From the Frequently Asked Questions:
9. Can I search by line, book, or chapter number?

You can search by line, book, or chapter number in the Perseus Project's collection of Greek and Roman materials. It would be nice if the digital Loeb Classical Library offered the same capability.

Am I turning into what the Dutch call a Zeurpiet, i.e. someone who nags a lot, who complains about everything? Despite my complaints, it's still an incredible convenience having the entire Loeb Classical Library at one's fingertips.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Some Lines on Tree-Cutting from a Latin Poem by Walter Savage Landor

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), Poemata et Inscriptiones (London: Edward Moxon, 1847), pp. 193-194, no. XXXIX = "Ad Jamesum," lines 18-26 (on p. 193):
Te nec vetustas arbores securibus
Ferire turpis ardor impulit lucri,
Ut triobolarium istum .. at aufer in crucem.        20
Ulmos amatas video quarum murmure
Obrepsit olim dulcis ignavo sopor,
Video revulsa brachia, nudum verticem:
Nec novit aut curavit iste furcifer
Sub iisdem ut olim jacuit (heu flendum diu        25
Utcunque vinctum palmâ) Abercrombî caput.
"Jamesus" was one of Landor's Rugby School masters, Dr. James (d. 1804). A slightly different version of these lines occurs in a letter (postmarked November 1805) from Landor to Walter Birch. For the text of the letter see A. LaVonne Ruoff, ed., "Landor's Letters to the Reverend Walter Birch," and Edwin Burton Levine, tr., "Landor's Latin Poetry," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 51 (1969) 200-261 (at 212-217; the lines, differently numbered, are on p. 213, reproduced here with the editor's notes):
Te nec vetustas arbores securibus
Ferire turpis ardor impulit lucri,
Ut triobolarium istum1—at aufer in crucem—
Ulmos amatas video, quarum murmure        20
Obrepsit olim dulcis ignavo quies;
Video revulsa brachia, nudum verticem!
Nec novit aut curavit iste furcifer
Sub iisdem ut olim jacuit, heu flendum diu
Palmâque vinciendum! Abercrombis caput.2        25

1 Mr. N. C. Kittermaster, Librarian of Rugby School, suggests that the trees to which Landor alludes may have been cut down to make room for four new classrooms for the School House. Neither he nor I can identify the "good-for-nothing" who cut them down.

2 Sir Ralph Abercrombie or Abercromby (1738-1801) entered Rugby in 1748 (Rugby School Register, i. 56). He was noted for his heroism and for his work in restoring discipline and integrity in the British army. Commander of the force sent to drive the French out of Egypt, he died from a wound received in the Battle of Alexandria.
These lines are translated (op. cit., p. 214) as follows:
Not you the ugly greed for gain did drive.
To strike the ancient trees with axe,
Like that good-for-nothing—but may the devil take him!
I see the elms I loved, at whose murmur
Sweet sleep once overcame the idler;
I see the branches torn away, the treetop stripped!
That hangdog neither knew nor cared,
When long ago he lay beneath them, for Abercrombie's head,
Long, alas! to be mourned and wreathed with the palm.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015


The True Religion

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Alfieri and Salomon," Imaginary Conversations (Salomon speaking):
Was there ever a religion in the world that was not the true religion?



Jack Lynch, "Disgraced by Miscarriage: Four and a Half Centuries of Lexicographical Belligerence," Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries 62 (2006–2007) 35–50 (at 40-41):
An even more elaborate fake came in 1975, when the New Columbia Encyclopedia included a long entry on the distinguished American fountain designer Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, who had achieved some fame with Flags Up!, a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes. Ms. Mountweazel, alas, met a premature end, dying in an explosion while she was researching an article for Combustibles magazine. Although Mountweazel was nothing more than an inside joke among the encyclopedia's authors, she is said to have appeared in other encyclopedias and biographical dictionaries—proof that other editors have just pilfered from the New Columbia. The term mountweazel is sometimes used to refer to these mischievous entries inserted in reference books.


The Desire to Know the Future

Statius, Thebaid 3.551-565 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey, with his notes):
Whence first for hapless mortals grew worldwide this sick craving for what is to come? Shall we call it a gift of the gods or do we ourselves, a greedy race never content to rest with what we have, dig out which day is the first37 and where life ends, what that kindly begetter of the gods and what iron Clotho have in view? Hence entrails and the talk of birds in the clouds and the comings and goings of the stars and the counted path of the moon and the abomination of Thessaly. But that earlier golden race of our ancestors and the peoples born of rocks and timber38 used not these skills.39 Their one desire was to tame forest and earth with their hands; what the morrow's years might bring 'twas sin for man to know. We, a perverted and pathetic multitude, peer deep into the High Ones; hence pallor and anger, hence crime and treachery and prayer beyond all moderation.

37 Using a horoscope. But the date of birth would normally be known. Perhaps this is a loose way of saying 'an entire life.' Or it could relate to a child conceived but not yet born (SB2).
38 As the Arcadians were supposed to have been.
39 See SB2.
The Latin (with Shackleton Bailey's apparatus):
                                  Unde iste per orbem
primus venturi miseris animantibus aeger
crevit amor? divumne feras hoc munus, an ipsi,
gens avida et parto non umquam stare quieti,
eruimus quae prima dies, ubi terminus aevi,        555
quid bonus ille deum genitor, quid ferrea Clotho
cogitet? hinc fibrae et volucrum per nubila sermo
astrorumque vices numerataque semita lunae
Thessalicumque nefas. at non prior aureus ille
sanguis avum scopulisque satae vel robore gentes        560
artibus his usae; silvas amor unus humumque
edomuisse manu; quid crastina volveret aetas
scire nefas homini. nos, pravum et flebile vulgus,
scrutati penitus superos: hinc pallor et irae,
hinc scelus insidiaeque et nulla modestia voti.        565

561 mentibus (SB2)
564 scrutati ω: -ari P
SB2 is D.R. Shackleton Bailey, "On Statius' Thebaid," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 100 (2000) 463-476 (this passage discussed on p. 465):
In revision of an earlier note (MH 40 [1983] 53) I would now suggest that Statius may have had in mind an astrologer casting the horoscope of an unborn child. 355 amounts to "we dig out lives from birth to death."


mentibus, referring to the methods of divination (entrails etc.) mentioned in the preceding sentence, is simply a wrong word. The right word is artibus.
On the idea that it's better not to know the future see e.g.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Conjectural Criticism

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), preface to his edition of Shakespeare:
The duty of a collator is indeed dull, yet, like other tedious tasks, is very necessary; but an emendatory critick would ill discharge his duty, without qualities very different from dulness. In perusing a corrupted piece, he must have before him all possibilities of meaning, with all possibilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension of thought, and such his copiousness of language. Out of many readings possible, he must be able to select that which best suits with the state, opinions, and modes of language prevailing in every age, and with his author's particular cast of thought, and turn of expression. Such must be his knowledge, and such his taste. Conjectural criticism demands more than humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with most praise, has very frequent need of indulgence.


A Monument of Probity

D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Doctor Rabelais (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1957), p. 256:
As for his obscenities, I have already ventured to suggest that by and large and relatively they are as devoid of moral obliquity and harm as a manure-heap swept by breezes on a farm. Compared with sly immoralists like Sterne and Anatole France or a corrupter of youth like André Gide, Dr. Rabelais is a monument of probity. Like some of his medieval predecessors, and with a medical training to boot, he sees the comic side of the bodily functions, and no doubt tends to labour the joke overmuch in some aspects; but of itself it has no corruptive influence. Modern delicacy, and the priggish humbug thereto attached, carries a Manichee stink which is far more obnoxious.

Thanks to Logan, who writes:


Your excerpt of D. B. Wyndham Lewis put me in mind of Orwell's contrary opinion, stated in a book review — the reviewed book happens to be "Nailcruncher by Albert Cohen, translated from the French by Vyvyan Holland" — where he, Orwell, writes
What is chiefly remarkable in it is the length and disgustingness of its scatological passages. As soon as I came on the first of these I turned back to the blurb on the dust-jacket, well knowing what adjective I should find, and, sure enough, there it was— "Rabelaisian". It is curious that this word is invariably used as a term of praise. We are forever being told that whereas pornography is reprehensible, "hearty Rabelaisian humour" (meaning a preoccupation with the WC) is perfectly all right. This is partly, perhaps, because Rabelais is nowadays seldom read. So far from being "healthy" as is always alleged, he is an exceptionally perverse, morbid writer, a case for psycho-analysis. But people who lead strict lives have dirty minds, and Rabelais had a considerable underground reputation in Victorian times. Archdeacon Grantly read him on the sly, it will be remembered, and the bachelor in Browning's poem possessed "a little edition of Rabelais". Perhaps the only way of making him respectable was to maintain that there is something "normal" and "hearty" in coprophilia, and the legend has survived into an age when few people have glanced at his dirtier passages.
The review is reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 2 (New York: Harcourt, 1968), pp. 44-46; according to which the original appeared in New Statesman and Nation, 7 December 1940.

There is a slight second connection here, for in two 1932 letters (vol. 1, pp. 82, 101) Orwell refers to D. B. W. Lewis in passing as "the professional RC" and "a stinking RC".

Monday, April 27, 2015


What Are They to Us?

Anonymous, "Ground-Thumping Song," tr. Burton Watson, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 70:
When the sun comes up we work,
when the sun goes down we rest.
We dig a well to drink,
plow the fields to eat —
the Emperor and his might — what are they to us!


Praise of a Garden

Asmenius, "De laude horti" = Anthologia Latina 635 Riese, tr. ‎Allen B. Skei in Jacob Handl, The Moralia of 1596, Part I (Madison: A-R Editions, Inc., 1970 = Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, VII), p. 17:
Be present, Muses, offspring of greatest Jupiter. Let us sing the praises of a fertile little garden. A garden furnishes healthful food for the body and often brings varied tillings to the tiller. It offers pleasant vegetables, many kinds of herbs, shining grapes, and the fruit of trees. Gardens afford greatest pleasure and delight mixed with many rewards. The clear liquid of murmuring water washes them, and a brook led by furrows waters the sown fields. Flowers gleam with the varicolored buds and paint the lands with the sparkling beauty of gems. Grateful bees hum with their light buzzing when they taste the tops of flowers or young roses. The fertile vines weigh down the elms to which they have been wedded or cover the reeds interwoven with their tendrils. Trees offer shaded bowers and ward off the burning sun with their thick foliage. The twittering birds pour forth melodious sounds and always caress the breezes with their songs. A garden delights, calls, nourishes, possesses, and banishes heavy cares from a sad heart. It restores vigor to one's limbs and is a joy to behold; it repays toil with abundant rewards and imparts manifold joy to the tiller.
The Latin:
Adeste Musae, maximi proles Iovis,
Laudes feracis praedicemus hortuli.
Hortus salubres corpori praebet cibos
Variosque fructus saepe culto ri refert:
Holus suave, multiplex herbae genus,
Uvas nitentes atque fetus arborum.
Non defit hortis et voluptas maxima
Multisque mixta commodis iocunditas.
Aquae strepentis vitreus lambit liquor
Sulcoque ductus irrigat rivus sata.
Flores nitescunt discolore germine
Pinguntque terram gemmeis honoribus.
Apes susurro murmurant gratae levi,
Cum summa florum vel novos rores legunt.
Fecunda vitis coniuges ulmos gravat
Textasve inumbrat pampinis harundines.
Opaca praebent arbores umbracula
Prohibentque densis fervidum solem comis.
Aves canorae garrulos fundunt sonos
Et semper aures cantibus mulcent suis.
Oblectat hortus, avocat pascit tenet
Animoque maesto demit angores graves.
Membris vigorem reddit et visus capit.
Refert labori pleniorem gratiam,
Tribuit colenti multiforme gaudium.
Related post: The Garden, Full of Great Delight.


Borrowed Words

Seneca, On Benefits 2.34.2 (tr. John W. Basore):
There is a vast number of things that have no name, and the terms by which we designate them, instead of being their own, belong to other things from which they are borrowed. We say that we ourselves, a couch, a sail, and a poem, have a "foot," and we apply the word "dog" to a hound, to a creature of the sea, and to a constellation; since there are not enough words to make it possible for us to assign a separate one to each separate thing, we borrow whenever it becomes necessary.

ingens copia est rerum sine nomine, quas non propriis appellationibus notamus, sed alienis commodatisque. pedem et nostrum dicimus et lecti et veli et carminis, canem et venaticum et marinum et sidus; quia non sufficimus, ut singulis singula adsignemus, quotiens opus est, mutuamur.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Self-Imposed Rules

James Henry (1798-1876), preface to Aeneidea:
On the contrary, the less the control from without, the stronger has always been the impulse from within, (a) never to speak until I had examined all that had been already said on the subject, nor even then unless I had, or thought I had, something new to say; (b) never to leave my meaning liable to be misunderstood so long as I saw a possibility of making it clear by further explanation, but always to prefer laborious, old-fashioned, and even, as I fear it may sometimes be found, tedious prolixity, to the safe and easy brevity of the modern professorial cortina; (c) never either to take or quote my authorities at second hand, but always directly ex ipso fonte, always from the best editions available to me, always at full, and never putting-off the reader or student hungry for the living bread of the author's own words, with the indigestible stone of signs and ciphers sometimes wholly unintelligible except to the party employing them, sometimes rewarding the pains of the decipherer with cold and dry, too often careless and incorrect, references to works, or editions of works, which, in order to be consulted, must either be brought from distant countries at a great expense of time, trouble, and money, or visited in those countries at a still greater.


The Best Religion

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Alcibiades and Xenophon," Imaginary Conversations (Alcibiades speaking):
It appears to me, O Xenophon, who indeed have thought but little and incuriously about the varieties of religion, that whichever is the least intrusive and dogmatical is the best.



Seneca, On Benefits 1.10.1 (tr. John W. Basore):
The complaint our ancestors made, the complaint we make, the complaint our posterity will make, is that morality is overturned, that wickedness holds sway, and that human affairs and every sin are tending toward the worse.

hoc maiores nostri questi sunt, hoc nos querimur, hoc posteri nostri querentur, eversos mores, regnare nequitiam, in deterius res humanas et omne nefas labi.


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