Tuesday, December 01, 2015


A Hermit's Dwelling

King and Hermit: A Colloquy Between King Guaire of Aidne and His Brother Marban, Being an Irish Poem of the Tenth Century, Edited and Translated by Kuno Meyer (London: David Nutt, 1901), pp. 13 ff. (translation of stanzas 8-32; Marban the hermit speaking; footnotes and the Old Irish original omitted):
I have a shieling in the wood,
None knows it save my God:
An ash tree on the hither side, a hazelbush beyond,
A huge old tree encompasses it.

Two heath-clad doorposts for support,
And a lintel of honeysuckle:
The forest round its narrowness sheds
Its mast upon fat swine.

The size of my shieling tiny, not too tiny,
Many are its familiar paths:
From its gable a sweet strain sings
My lady in her cloak of the ousel's hue.

The stags of Oakridge leap
Into the river of clear banks:
Thence red Roigne can be seen,
Glorious Mucraime and Maenmag.

Hidden, lowly little abode,
Which has possession of ...,
To behold it will not be granted me,
Yet I shall be able to find its ...

A hiding mane of a green-barked yew-tree
    Which supports the sky:
Beautiful spot! the large green of an oak
    Fronting the storm.

A tree of apples — great its bounty!
    Like a hostel, vast:
A pretty bush, thick as a fist, of tiny hazelnuts,
    Branching, green.

A choice pure spring and princely water
    To drink:
There spring watercresses, yew-berries,
    Ivy-bushes of a man's thickness.

Around it tame swine lie down,
    Goats, pigs,
Wild swine, grazing deer,
    A badger's brood.

A peaceful troop, a heavy host of denizens of the soil,
    Atrysting at my house:
To meet them foxes come,
    How delightful!

18. Fairest princes come to my house.
    A ready gathering!
Pure water, perennial bushes,
    Salmon, trout.

A bush of rowan, black sloes,
    Dusky blackthorns,
Plenty of food, acorns, pure berries,
    Bare flags.

A clutch of eggs, honey, delicious mast,
    God has sent it:
Sweet apples, red whortle-berries,
    Berries of the heath.

Ale with herbs, a dish of strawberries,
    Of good taste and colour,
Haws, berries of the yew,
    Sloes, nuts.

A cup with mead of hazelnut, blue-bells,
    Quick-growing rushes,
Dun oaklets, manes of briar,
    Goodly sweet tangle.

When pleasant summertime spreads its coloured mantle,
    Sweet-tasting fragrance!
Pignuts, wild marjoram, green leeks,
    Verdant pureness!

The music of the bright redbreasted men,
    A lovely movement!
The strain of the thrush, familiar cuckoos
    Above my house.

Swarms of bees and chafers, the little musicians of the world,
    A gentle chorus:
Wild geese and ducks, shortly before summer's end,
    The music of the dark torrent.

An active songster, a lively wren
    From the hazelbough,
Beautiful hooded birds, woodpeckers,
    A vast multitude!

Fair white birds come, herons, seagulls,
    The cuckoo sings in between, —
No mournful music! — dun heathpoults
    Out of the russet heath.

The lowing of heifers in summer,
    Brightest of seasons!
Not bitter, toilsome over the fertile plain,
    Beautiful, smooth!

The voice of the wind against the branchy wood
    Upon the deep-blue sky:
Cascades of the river, the note of the swan,
    Delightful music!

The bravest band makes music to me,
    Who have not been hired:
In the eyes of Christ the ever-young I am no worse off
    Than thou art.

Though thou rejoicest in thy own pleasures,
    Greater than any wealth,
I am grateful for what is given me
    From my good Christ.

Without an hour of fighting, without the din of strife
    In my house,
Grateful to the Prince who giveth every good
    To me in my bower.


Verbal Music

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), "Feeling into Words," Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978 (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1980), pp. 41-60 (at 45):
I was getting my first sense of crafting words and for one reason or another, words as bearers of history and mystery began to invite me. Maybe it began very early when my mother used to recite lists of affixes and suffixes, and Latin roots, with their English meanings, rhymes that formed part of her schooling in the early part of the century. Maybe it began with the exotic listing on the wireless dial: Stuttgart, Leipzig, Oslo, Hilversum. Maybe it was stirred by the beautiful sprung rhythms of the old BBC weather forecast: Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Shetland, Faroes, Finisterre; or with the gorgeous and inane phraseology of the catechism; or with the litany of the Blessed Virgin that was part of the enforced poetry in our household: Tower of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Comforter of the Afflicted. None of these things were consciously savoured at the time but I think the fact that I still recall them with ease, and can delight in them as verbal music, means that they were bedding the ear with a kind of linguistic hardcore that could be built on some day.

Monday, November 30, 2015


The Existence and the Power of the Gods

Bruno Snell (1896-1986), The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), pp. 24-25 (tr. T.G. Rosenmeyer):
Our notion of faith or belief always allows for the possibility of disbelief; this is true in the world of ghosts, but is especially valid on a higher religious plane. 'Faith', the credo, requires as its opposite a false belief, a heresy; it is tied to a dogma which people must either attack or defend with their very lives. All this was foreign to the Greeks; they looked upon their gods as so natural and self-evident that they could not even conceive of other nations acknowledging a different faith or other gods.

To the Christians who landed in America the gods of the the Indians were of course idols and devils; to the Jews the gods of their neighbours were enemies of Yahweh. But when Herodotus visited Egypt and encountered the native deities, it never occurred to him that he might not find Apollo, Dionysus and Artemis there too. Bupastis translated into Greek is none other than Artemis (2.137), Horus is called Apollo, and Osiris is Dionysus (2.144). Just as the Egyptian name of the king sounds different in Greek, as his insignia deviate from those of a Greek or a Persian king, as a ship or a street does not have one and the same name or appearance in Egypt and in Greece, so also the Egyptian gods are not identical with those of the Greeks, but they are easily 'translated' into the Greek tongue and into Greek ideology. Not every nation calls all the gods its own; Herodotus found some barbarian gods for whom he was unable to cite a Greek name; those gods were to be regarded as barbarian par excellence. The Greeks, then, did not think along the same lines as the Jews or the Christians or the Mohammedans who know but one true god, their own, a god who demands conversion of those who would not recognize him. The Greek attitude springs in part from the circumstance that, dispersed as they were over various lands, they worshipped their gods in many shapes and under many names. The Artemis of Ephesus, the goddess with a hundred breasts, scarcely resembles her namesake, the huntress of Sparta. What wonder that in Egypt she exists in yet another guise, and under another name? The gods of the Greeks are a necessary part of the world, and that is reason enough why they should not be linked exclusively with national boundaries or privileged groups. How could there be any gods but those whose existence is self-evident, inherent in nature itself? Who, for instance, would gainsay that Aphrodite exists? Everybody knows that she is as active among all other peoples as she is among the Greeks; even the animals are subject to her rule. It would be downright absurd to maintain that one does not 'believe' in Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It is possible to neglect her, to pay no respect to her, as was done by the huntsman Hippolytus, but Aphrodite is present, and active, none the less. The same is true of Athena and Ares. And could anyone deny that, when all is said and done, Zeus upholds the sacred order of the world? The existence and the power of the gods are no less certain than the reality of laughter and tears, the living pulse of nature around us, the plain fact of our doings whether they be sublime and solemn, or bold and hard, or bright and serene. Every human act betrays the vitality of the ultimate cause behind it.



Callimachus, fragment 714 (tr. C.A. Trypanis):
Worries then weigh less on a man, and of thirty parts one is removed, when he blurts out his troubles to a friend, or a fellow-traveller, or even finally to the deaf gusts of wind.

κουφοτέρως τότε φῶτα διαθλίβουσιν ἀνῖαι,
    ἐκ δὲ τριηκόντων μοῖραν ἀφεῖλε μίαν,
ἢ φίλον ἢ ὅτ᾿ ἐς ἄνδρα συνέμπορον ἢ ὅτε κωφαῖς
    ἄλγεα μαψαύραις ἔσχατον ἐξερύγῃ.
In general, however, the Greeks considered complaining like this unmanly. See, e.g., K.J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality (1974; rpt. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994), p. 101 (on differences between men and women).

Related posts:


Stick to the Greeks

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), Der Glaube der Hellenen, I (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1931), p. 10 (tr. W.K.C. Guthrie):
I don't understand the languages from which are borrowed the words so beloved by the present day, tabu and totem, mana and orenda, but I consider it a safe procedure to stick to the Greeks, and in what concerns Greece to think in Greek.

Ich verstehe die Sprachen nicht, aus denen die zurzeit beliebten Wörter, Tabu und Totem, Mana und Orenda, entlehnt sind, halte es aber auch für einen zulässigen Weg, mich an die Griechen zu halten und über Griechisches griechisch zu denken.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I Should Try It More Often

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, L 672 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Nothing cheers me up so much as when I have succeeded in understanding something difficult, and yet I try so little to learn to understand difficult things. I ought to try to more often.

Nichts muntert mich mehr auf, als wenn ich etwas Schweres verstanden habe, und doch suche ich so wenig Schweres verstehen zu lernen. Ich sollte es öfter versuchen.


Mania for the New

Luigi Meneghello, diaries, entry for July 15, 1968 (tr. Ian Jackson):
Mania for the new. They say that the new is better than the non-new: why on earth? I take my stand with what is evolved, with the new that is also old; I am darwinian. I draw from the store of an old master as from a fountain. That wise prose is a solace, that slow, slow thought, that boldness without arrogance . . . I re-read it all every two or three years.
The Italian, from Luigi Meneghello, Le Carte, vol. 1 (Milan: Rizzoli, 1999), p. 396:
Mania del nuovo. Dice che il nuovo è meglio del non-nuovo: e perché mai? Io sto con ciò che è evolutivo cioè nuovo e anche vecchio; sono darwiniano. Attingo nella roba del maestro delle origini come a una fontana. È un balsamo quella prosa prudente, quel pensare lento lento, quel coraggio senza iattanza . . . Rileggo tutto ogni due o tre anni.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related posts:

Saturday, November 28, 2015



Thoreau, Journal (May 9, 1853; on Bronson Alcott):
He has no creed. He is not pledged to any institution. The sanest man I ever knew...


School Prayer

Callimachus, fragment 221 (tr. C.A. Trypanis):
We ask for zeal for learning, the gift of Hermes.

αἰτοῦμεν εὐμάθειαν Ἑρμᾶνος δόσιν.
Liddell-Scott-Jones define εὐμάθεια as "readiness in learning, docility," εὐμαθής as "ready or quick at learning."

Friday, November 27, 2015


Opposing Voices

Robert Francis (1901-1987), Travelling in Amherst: A Poet's Journal, 1931-1954 (Boston: Rowan Tree Press, 1986), p. 22 (from 1933):
Something in me says, "You should read this book word for word from cover to cover." Something else contradicts with: "You know from experience that you have almost never found a book that was worth reading entire. Don't waste your time with this one whatever its pretensions. Bite into it the way the Children of Israel bolted their Pentacostal [sic] meal, or the way a traveling salesman consumes a piece of apple pie at the stand-up counter of the Bingville Junction Depot where the train waits five minutes to take in water."
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: Reading from Inclination or Duty.


Something Must Go

Donald Richie, journal (June 27, 1993):
I look at my bookcases. Bulging. Something must go. But what? I look more closely. The shelves are lined with those I love. There is Morandi, all the books I have been able to find on him, almost one solid foot of them—his small, still, perfect world of bottles and paint. No I will not let him go. There is Jean Cocteau, sometimes irritating but always fresh, new, irrepressible. So full of himself that he makes you full of him. I have over two feet of him. I could let part of him go, but never the novels. No, I will keep him. Ah, there is Madame Yourcenar. Everything she wrote. Sententious, wise, a bit ponderous, but always honest. How could I ever let Memoirs d'Hadrien go? Or the woman who wrote it. No, she stays. Borges, all of him in English. My companion for years now. Am I not tired of him? In a way—his donnishness tires. But to throw out Labyrinths—and the man who wrote it? Never. Jane Austen? Of course not. She is part of me. What to do, then? Well, Shakespeare, whom I really do not much like. But it is only one volume and tossing him out would not save much space.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


The Search for Truth

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, L 419 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Motto: to desire to discover the truth is meritorious, even if we go astray on the way.

Motto: die Wahrheit finden wollen ist Verdienst, wenn man auch auf dem Wege irrt.


A Good Observation

"LSJ and Aeolica," Farrago (26 October 2015):
[A]n instance of a phenomenon in an Aeolic text does not make that phenomenon Aeolic, any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.


Holiday Festivities

Homer, Odyssey 9.5-11 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
For I think there is no occasion accomplished that is more pleasant        5
than when festivity holds sway among all the populace,
and the feasters up and down the houses are sitting in order
and listening to the singer, and beside them the tables are loaded
with bread and meats, and from the mixing bowl the wine steward
draws the wine and carries it about and fills the cups. This        10
seems to my own mind to be the best of occasions.

οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι τέλος χαριέστερον εἶναι        5
ἢ ὅτ᾽ ἐυφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κάτα δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ᾽ ἀνὰ δώματ᾽ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ᾽ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσι·        10
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.
Alfred Heubeck ad loc.:
'There is no fulfilment (τέλος; cf. P. Ambrose, Glotta, xliii (1965), 38-62, esp. 59-61), which brings greater joy (J. Latacz, Zum Wortfeld "Freude" in der Sprache Homers (Heidelberg, 1966), 100-1) than when ...' Odysseus praises as ideal the situation of a people filled (ἔχῃ κάτα = κατέχῃ) with joy as they listen to a bard while feasting and drinking (μέθυ = οἶνος) to their hearts' content: the joyful, lavish banquet is an outward and visible sign of a stable and peacefully ordered community as exemplified by the Phaeacian utopia.
Plato, party-pooper and spoil-sport, throws a turd into the punch-bowl (κρατήρ) when he quotes Odyssey 9.8-10 and asks (Republic 3.4 = 390 b, tr. Paul Shorey):
Do you think the hearing of that sort of thing will conduce to a young man's temperance or self-control?

δοκεῖ σοι ἐπιτήδειον εἶναι πρὸς ἐγκράτειαν ἑαυτοῦ ἀκούειν νέῳ;

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Ubi Sunt?

The Wanderer, lines 92-110 (tr. Michael Alexander):
Where is that horse now? Where are those men? Where is the hoard-sharer?
Where is the house of the feast? Where is the hall's uproar?
Alas, bright cup! Alas, burnished fighter!
Alas, proud prince! How that time has passed,        95
dark under night's helm, as though it never had been!
There stands in the stead of staunch thanes
a towering wall wrought with worm-shapes;
the earls are off-taken by the ash-spear's point,
— that thirsty weapon. Their Wierd is glorious.        100
Storms break on the stone hillside,
the ground bound by driving sleet,
winter's wrath. Then wanness cometh,
night's shade spreadeth, sendeth from north
the rough hail to harry mankind.        105
In the earth-realm all is crossed;
Wierd's will changeth the world.
Wealth is lent us, friends are lent us,
Man is lent, kin is lent;
All this earth's frame shall stand empty.        110

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?    Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu?    Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune!    Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym!    Hu seo þrag gewat,        95
genap under nihthelm,    swa heo no wære.
Stondeð nu on laste    leofre duguþe
weal wundrum heah,    wyrmlicum fah.
Eorlas fornoman    asca þryþe,
wæpen wælgifru,    wyrd seo mære,        100
ond þas stanhleoþu    stormas cnyssað,
hrið hreosende    hrusan bindeð,
wintres woma,    þonne won cymeð,
nipeð nihtscua,    norþan onsendeð
hreo hæglfare    hæleþum on andan.        105
Eall is earfoðic    eorthan rice,
onwendeth wyrda gesceaft    weoruld under heofonum.
Her bið feoh læne,    her bið freond læne,
her bið mon læne,    her bið mæg læne,
eal þis eorþan gesteal    idel weorþeð!        110


The Future

Pindar, Olympian Odes 12.6-12 (tr. G.S. Conway):
For no man born of earth has ever yet
    Found a trustworthy sign
From heaven above, what future days may bring.
Blind are the eyes of our imagination
Of times to come. How often is man's thought
Thwarted by the event, now disappointing
Expected joy, now when a man has met
    The surge of sorrow's pain,
  In a brief hour of time changing
His bitter grief to profound happiness.

σύμβολον δ᾿ οὔ πώ τις ἐπιχθονίων
πιστὸν ἀμφὶ πράξιος ἐσσομένας εὗρεν θεόθεν,
τῶν δὲ μελλόντων τετύφλωνται φραδαί·
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις παρὰ γνώμαν ἔπεσεν,
ἔμπαλιν μὲν τέρψιος, οἱ δ᾿ ἀνιαραῖς
ἀντικύρσαντες ζάλαις
ἐσλὸν βαθὺ πήματος ἐν μικρῷ πεδάμειψαν χρόνῳ.
There is an error in the Greek text of the Digital Loeb Classical Library edition of this ode, where the nonsensical τέφψιος appears for τέρψιος in line 11 (screen shot taken today):

This error doesn't appear in the printed book.



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