Friday, December 31, 2004


The Power of Negativism

Chamfort (1741-1794):
Almost all men are slaves, for the reason the Spartans gave to explain the servitude of the Persians, the inability to pronounce the syllable "No." Knowing how to pronounce this word and knowing how to live by oneself are the only two ways to preserve one's freedom and individuality.

Presque tous les hommes sont esclaves par la raison que les Spartiates donnaient de la servitude des Perses, faute de savoir prononcer la syllabe non. Savoir prononcer ce mot et savoir vivre seul sont les deux seuls moyens de conserver sa liberté et son caractère.
I can't locate any ancient source for Chamfort's assertion about the Spartans and Persians, although I vaguely remember reading it elsewhere. Thoreau made a similar point about the ancient Egyptians in the first chapter of Walden:
As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.


Google Enhancement

I would like to see, at least on the Google Advanced Search page, a way to specify regular expressions.


A Thousand Years

I often see the incorrect spelling millenium instead of millennium. One way to remember the proper spelling is to keep in mind the derivation, from Latin mille (thousand) plus annus (year). Note the double n in annus (as in annual), which matches the double n in millennium. Latin anus means something quite different (old woman with a short a, fundament with a long a). Another way to remember how to spell millennium is to recall the similarly formed biennium, which is hardly ever misspelled.

Perhaps people misspell millennium as millenium because they're misled by the single n in millenary, centenary, and similar words. But the original Latin words are built from the distributive adjectives centeni (a hundred each) and milleni (a thousand each) plus the suffix -arius. There is no annus lurking in centenary or millenary.

Double letters are a snare. While composing this post, I realized that I had initially misspelled misspell as mispell.

I hardly ever use computerized spelling checkers, even the one provided by this blog's word processor. When I write, I usually keep an old-fashioned dictionary within arm's reach and consult it often. I also rely on the kindness of friendly readers, who are quick to point out my sins against orthography.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Pet Peeve

My pet peeve for this month is the word "re-gifting," which means taking a gift one has received, wrapping it again, and giving it to someone else. I heard it on the telly last night and dismissed it as a local aberration. But today I see that this ugly word actually appears in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, without apology. It affects my ear like a sharp fingernail drawn slowly and agonizingly across a chalkboard. "Gift" as a verb is bad enough; "re-gift" is ten times worse.



Hesiod, Works and Days 182-201, tr. Hugh Evelyn-White:
The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost of their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis, with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.

[Translator's note: Aidos, as a quality, is that feeling of reverence or shame which restrains men from wrong: Nemesis is the feeling of righteous indignation aroused especially by the sight of the wicked in undeserved prosperity.]


The Profession of Classics

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben), from Untimely Meditations (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen), tr. R.J. Hollingdale.

Foreword (Vorwort):
I do not know what meaning classical studies would have for our time if they were not untimely -- that is to say, acting counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come.

Ich wüsste nicht, was die classische Philologie in unserer Zeit für einen Sinn hätte, wenn nicht den, in ihr unzeitgemäss -- das heisst gegen die Zeit und dadurch auf die Zeit und hoffentlich zu Gunsten einer kommenden Zeit -- zu wirken.
This is frequently the relationship between classicists and the Greeks they study: they mean nothing to one another -- a state of affairs called 'objectivity'!

So verhalten sich häufig Philologen und Griechen zu einander: sie gehen sich gar nichts an -- das nennt man dann wohl auch "Objectivität"!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004



Ambrose Bierce, A Hasty Settlement, from Fantastic Fables (1899):
"Your Honour," said an Attorney, rising, "what is the present status of this case -- as far as it has gone?"

"I have given a judgment for the residuary legatee under the will," said the Court, "put the costs upon the contestants, decided all questions relating to fees and other charges; and, in short, the estate in litigation has been settled, with all controversies, disputes, misunderstandings, and differences of opinion thereunto appertaining."

"Ah, yes, I see," said the Attorney, thoughtfully, "we are making progress -- we are getting on famously."

"Progress?" echoed the Judge -- "progress? Why, sir, the matter is concluded!"

"Exactly, exactly; it had to be concluded in order to give relevancy to the motion that I am about to make. Your Honour, I move that the judgment of the Court be set aside and the case reopened."

"Upon what ground, sir?" the Judge asked in surprise.

"Upon the ground," said the Attorney, "that after paying all fees and expenses of litigation and all charges against the estate there will still be something left."

"There may have been an error," said His Honour, thoughtfully -- "the Court may have underestimated the value of the estate. The motion is taken under advisement."


Lay of Ancient Rome

Thomas Russell Ybarra (1880-1971), Lay of Ancient Rome:
Oh, the Roman was a rogue,
  He erat was, you bettum;
He ran his automobilis
  And smoked his cigarettum;
He wore a diamond studibus
  And elegant cravattum,
A maxima cum laude shirt,
  And a stylish hattum!

He loved the luscious hic-haec-hoc,
  And bet on games and equi;
At times he won, at others, though,
  He got it in the necqui;
He winked (quo usque tandem?)
  At puellas on the Forum,
And sometimes even made
  Those goo-goo oculorum!

He frequently was seen
  At combats gladiatorial,
And ate enough to feed
  Ten boarders at Memorial;
He often went on sprees
  And said, on starting homus,
"Hic labor -- opus est,
  Oh, where's my hic--hic--domus?"

Although he lived in Rome --
  Of all the arts the middle --
He was (excuse the phrase)
  A horrid individ'l;
Ah! what a diff'rent thing
  Was the homo (dative, hominy)
Of far-away B.C.
  From us of Anno Domini.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Mangan on Pop Culture

Dennis Mangan delivers a knock-out punch against the filth that passes for popular culture these days.


Pegasus Impounded

I have just made available on my web site W.G. Hale's amusing criticism of Ezra Pound's adaptations of some Latin poems by Sextus Propertius. Even if you don't know any Latin, it's fun to read Hale's devastating attack on Pound. Here's a sample:
In II of the translations, Propertius makes Calliope bid him to refrain from writing epic poetry, and to sing only of love. Mr. Pound mistakes the verb canes, "thou shalt sing," for the noun canes (in the nominative plural masculine) and translates by "dogs." Looking around then for something to tack this to, he fixes upon nocturnae (genitive singular feminine) and gives us "night dogs"! I allow myself an exclamation point.

Monday, December 27, 2004


Death Wish

Anatole France, Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard (1881, tr. Lafcadio Hearn):
My world is wholly formed of words -- so much of a philologist I have become! Each one dreams the dream of life in his own way. I have dreamed it in my library; and when the hour shall come in which I must leave this world, may it please God to take me from my ladder -- from before my shelves of books!

Il n'y a pour moi dans le monde que des mots, tant je suis philologue! Chacun fait à sa manière le rêve de sa vie. J'ai fait ce rêve dans ma bibliothèque, et, quand mon heure sera venue de quitter ce monde, Dieu veuille me prendre sur mon échelle, devant mes tablettes chargées de livres!


Advice to a Ruler

Sophocles, Antigone 705-717 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
Wear not, then, one mood only in thyself; think not that thy word, and thine alone, must be right. For if any man thinks that he alone is wise, -- that in speech, or in mind, he hath no peer, -- such a soul, when laid open, is ever found empty.

No, though a man be wise, 'tis no shame for him to learn many things, and to bend in season. Seest thou, beside the wintry torrent's course, how the trees that yield to it save every twig, while the stiff-necked perish root and branch? And even thus he who keeps the sheet of his sail taut, and never slackens it, upsets his boat, and finishes his voyage with keel uppermost.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


Otium Cum Dignitate

Ogden Nash, Introspective Reflection:
I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.


Society for HandHeld Hushing (SHHH!)

Print out this .pdf file, snip away with your scissors, and start spreading the word. I wish someone would sell them as wallet-sized cards.


Rexroth on the Classics

American poet Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) wrote a series of short essays on great books for the Saturday Review. Some of these were collected in Classics Revisited (1968) and More Classics Revisited (1989). A few are available on the World Wide Web, including these on ancient Greek and Latin literature:Rexroth was not a professional scholar. Despite (or rather because of) that, he had some fascinating insights into the classics.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


Gloria in Altissimis Deo

Evangelium secundum Lucam, 2.1-14:
Factum est autem in diebus illis, exiit edictum a Caesare Augusto ut describeretur universus orbis. Haec descriptio prima facta est praeside Syriae Cyrino: et ibant omnes ut profiterentur singuli in suam civitatem. Ascendit autem et Ioseph a Galilaea de civitate Nazareth, in Iudaeam civitatem David, quae vocatur Bethlehem: eo quod esset de domo et familia David, ut profiteretur cum Maria desponsata sibi uxore praegnate. Factum est autem cum essent ibi impleti sunt dies ut pareret. Et peperit filium suum primogenitum, et pannis eum involvit, et reclinavit eum in praesepio: quia non erat eis locus in diversorio.

Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes et custodientes vigilias noctis supra gregem suum. Et ecce angelus Domini stetit iuxta illos, et claritas Dei circumfulsit illos, et timuerunt timore magno. Et dixit illis angelus: Nolite timere: ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum, quod erit omni populo: quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David. Et hoc vobis signum: Invenietis infantem pannis involutum, et positum in praesepio. Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiae caelestis laudantium Deum, et dicentium:

Gloria in altissimis Deo,
Et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis.

Friday, December 24, 2004



Chamfort (1741-1794):
Qualities too far above average often make a man unsuitable for society. One doesn't go to the market with ingots; one goes there with cash or change.

Des qualités trop supérieures rendent souvent un homme moins propre à la société. On ne va pas au marché avec des lingots; on y va avec de l'argent ou de la petite monnaie.

Physical infirmities and the calamities of human nature made society necessary. Society added to nature's ills. The drawbacks of society brought the need for government, and government adds to society's ills. There you have the history of human nature.

Les fléaux physiques et les calamités de la nature humaine ont rendu la société nécessaire. La société a ajouté aux malheurs de la nature. Les inconvénients de la société ont amené la nécessité du gouvernement, et le gouvernement ajoute aux malheurs de la société. Voilà l'histoire de la nature humaine.


Scrooge 2004 Award

Laudator's Scrooge Award for the Year of Our Lord 2004 goes to Fred Muscara, principal of Hampton Academy Junior High School in Hampton, New Hampshire, who turned a student dressed as Santa Claus away from a school dance. In Principal Muscara's words:
It was a holiday party. It was not a Christmas party. There is a separation of church and state. We have a lot of students that go to Hampton Academy Junior High that have different religions. We have to be sensitive to that.
You might want to "share your feelings" with Principal Muscara (

Runners-up for the award are Superintendant James Gaylord ( and school board chair Nancy Serpis (, who both defended Muscara's despicable action.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


Merry Christmas

There is an excellent series of Christmas quotations and art at Pontifications. Here is one of the quotations, from St. Maximus the Confessor:
The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him.

Those who would remove Christ from the celebration of Christmas are flourishing in Italy as well as here in the United States, alas. Scroll down to the paragraph that starts with the words "The Festival of Multi-Ethnic Joy."

American poet Eugene Field (1850-1895) is unfashionable these days, and for that reason dear to my heart. He wrote a baker's dozen of poems about Christmas.

Stephen C. Carlson offers an interesting and plausible new interpretation of Luke 2.2.


Guess Who

What eighteenth century writer is Thomas Babington Macaulay describing in these words?
In the foreground is that strange figure which is as familiar to us as the figures among whom we have been brought up, the gigantic body, the huge massy face, seamed with the scars of disease, the brown coat, the black worsted stockings, the grey wig with the scorched foretop, the dirty hands, the nails bitten and pared to the quick.
Guess before you google. If you still can't figure out the answer, here are more clues, from the same essay by Macaulay:
Everything about him, his coat, his wig, his figure, his face, his scrofula, his St. Vitus's dance, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked his approbation of his dinner, his insatiable appetite for fish-sauce and veal-pie with plums, his inextinguishable thirst for tea, his trick of touching the posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orange-peel, his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence, his sarcastic wit, his vehemence, his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage, his queer inmates, old Mr. Levett and blind Mrs. Williams, the cat Hodge and the negro Frank, all are as familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded from childhood.



Numerous misprints and typographical errors disfigure Robert C. Berring and Elizabeth A. Edinger, Finding the Law, 11th edition (St. Paul: West Group, 1999). But a repeated error on p. 301 cannot be ascribed to the typesetter, if typesetters exist anymore. (Proofreaders are also evidently a near extinct species.) Berring and Edinger are under the curious misapprehension that the word encyclopedia in English is both singular and plural:The singular is encyclopedia, the plural encyclopedias.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


The New Barbarians

The new barbarians have decreed that ancient Greek will no longer be taught at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Any university that doesn't offer ancient Greek and Latin as a central part of its curriculum doesn't deserve to be called a university.


Where Is Enoch Soames?

When last heard of (on December 6), Enoch Soames of The Charlock's Shade was in Chicago. I hope he won't disappear for another century, as he did once before. I have a mental picture of him chasing his bowler hat down the streets of the Windy City.


Interior Decorating

Sydney Smith (1771-1845):
No furniture is as charming as books.


Penelope and Ulysses

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), Penelope:
In the pathway of the sun,
In the footsteps of the breeze,
Where the world and sky are one,
He shall ride the silver seas,
He shall cut the glittering wave.
I shall sit at home, and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbor's knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
They will call him brave.
"He" is of course Odysseus, Penelope's husband, who spent twenty years away from home (ten fighting the Trojans, ten trying to get back to Penelope). The Latin form of Odysseus' name is Ulixes, whence English Ulysses.

Ovid wrote a series of poems called Heroides, which are supposed to be letters from mythological heroines whose lovers have abandoned them. The first is from Penelope to Ulysses. The Latin original and English translations by James M. Hunter and A.S. Kline of Penelope's letter to Ulysses are available on the World Wide Web.

Fr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957) composed a Latin poem in the form of a letter from Ulysses to Penelope, written when Ulysses was hidden inside the Trojan horse. It first appeared in 1921 in the Salopian, a magazine from Shrewsbury School, where Knox had previously taught. Here's a rough translation of this clever bit of donnish humor:
This letter I send to you from the Trojan shore. A patched-up engine of war holds me, wife. The crooked writing, the line that wavers rather often, are due to the fact that my elbow was pressing against Demophoon. Don't fear that the ink was made from my blood. His leg, not mine, produced this liquid. To be sure, I'm hidden in a big horse (Epeus recently made it, weaving its frame from oak). We chose by lot selected bodies of men and placed them in here. Would that the bodies selected were less hard than these! Not otherwise do Sardinian fishes, a scaly tribe, hide crammed together in the confines of a pot. The crest of Thoas' helmet is tickling the nose of poor me. Thessander's whole quiver of arrows is pinching my side. The Trojans from this place and that rolled the horse into the middle of the city. I was always a bad sailor, alas, as you well know. Now the Trojans are testing the sides of the horse with their spears. I'm afraid the spears will any minute now stick in my breeches! Farewell, Penelope. If the kindly Fates carry me out of here, I'll travel on foot from now on.

Hanc tibi Troiano chartam de litore mitto:
  machina me belli sutilis, uxor, habet.
Quod prave scribo, quod linea saepius errat,
  urgebat cubitus Demophoonta meus:
neve atramentum timeas de sanguine factum,
  hunc laticem illius, non mea, crura dabant.
Scilicet in magno (nuper fabricavit Epeus
  intexens costas ilice) condor equo:
corpora lecta virum sortiti immisimus illuc;
  lecta utinam minus his corpora dura forent!
Haud secus angustae conferti in finibus ollae
  Sardinii pisces, squamea turba, latent.
Titillat nasum misero mihi crista Thoantis,
  Thessandri pungit tota pharetra latus:
hinc illinc mediam volverunt Troes in urbem;
  pessimus, heu, semper (scis bene) nauta fui;
nunc etiam missis tentant hastilibus alvum:
  haesura in bracis iam puto iamque meis!
Penelope, valeas; hinc me si fata benigna
  protulerint, ibo tempus in omne pedes.
Much could be written about this specimen of modern Latin verse, but I'll confine myself to a few observations. Line 9 (corpora lecta virum sortiti) recalls Vergil, Aeneid 2.18 (delecta virum sortiti corpora). The Sardinian fishes in lines 11-12 are of course sardines. One of the spears thrown at the Trojan horse (line 17) was cast by Laocoon (Vergil, Aeneid 2.50-53). All of the names mentioned by Knox (Demophoon, Epeus, Thessander, Thoas) appear in ancient accounts of the Trojan horse.

Petri Liukkonen is the author of a good short biography of Knox on the World Wide Web, which contains however the odd sentence "He never married." Certainly not, since celibacy is a requirement for the Roman Catholic priesthood!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Fickle Fame

In an Agence France-Presse story from Harar, Ethiopia:
French and African writers met in Harar to celebrate the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who spent more than a decade of his life in the eastern Ethiopian town after turning his back on writing .... There are few remaining traces of Rimbaud in the town, and many of the town's residents confuse the poet with the American film character "Rambo".
Many of the world's residents, too, I'd wager.



Chamfort (1741-1794):
There are more lunatics than wise men, and even within the wise man there is more lunacy than wisdom.

Il y a plus de fous que de sages, et dans le sage même il y a plus de folie que de sagesse.


Deceptive Appearances

Chamfort (1741-1794):
There are some foolish notions that are well tricked out, just as there are some fools who are very well dressed.

Il y a des sottises bien habillées, comme il y a des sots très bien vêtus.


Grandpa's Eyepatch

Pharyngula wonders why little Susy's Grandpa in Jack Chick's religious tracts (e.g. this one) wears an eyepatch. It's obvious to me. Grandpa, like Jack Chick himself, interprets the Bible literally, and what happened to his eye is explained by Matthew 5.29:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Note that it's over his right eye socket that Grandpa wears the patch.

I can't explain the bow tie.

Monday, December 20, 2004



In a recent article, Mark Shields contrasted the production of armaments by the United States during the first three years of World War II with our seeming inability now to protect Humvees and trucks in Iraq with sufficient armor.

Part of it is simple lack of will. We aren't half the men our fathers were. Those of us on the home front just don't have the spirit of sacrifice our forebears exhibited sixty years ago.

Some of it can perhaps also be explained by the intentional gutting and eroding of the manufacturing expertise and capacity of the United States by the enthusiastic proponents of globalization and outsourcing. We can't produce enough flu vaccine for our own citizens, and we can't equip our own soldiers properly.

The ancient Greeks had a useful word, autarkeia, usually transliterated in English as autarky. It means self-sufficiency. Pericles in his funeral oration praised Athens for its possession of this quality (Thucydides 2.36.3, tr. Benjamin Jowett):
And we ourselves assembled here to-day, who are still most of us in the vigour of life, have carried the work of improvement further, and have richly endowed our city with all things, so that she is sufficient for herself both in peace and war.
Aristotle (Politics 1.2, tr. Benjamin Jowett) goes further and says that self-sufficiency should be the goal or end of the state:
When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.
Autarky is an ideal and can never be fully attained. But it is an ideal worth striving for.


Emerson On This Blog

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Journal (May 1849):
I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
Plato, Apology of Socrates 21 d (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
I am better off than he is -- for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.


Wilderness and Civilization

Francis Parkman (1823-1893), The Conspiracy of Pontiac:
To him who has once tasted the reckless independence, the haughty self-reliance, the sense of irresponsible freedom, which the forest life engenders, civilization thenceforth seems flat and stale. Its pleasures are insipid, its pursuits wearisome, its conventialities, duties, and mutual dependence alike tedious and disgusting. The entrapped wanderer grows fierce and restless, and pants for breathing-room. His path, it is true, was choked with difficulties, but his body and soul were hardened to meet them; it was beset with dangers, but these were the very spice of his life, gladdening his heart with exulting self-confidence, and sending the blood through his veins with a livelier current. The wilderness, rough, harsh, and inexorable, has charms more potent in their seductive influence than all the lures of luxury and sloth. And often he on whom it has cast its magic finds no heart to dissolve the spell, and remains a wanderer and an Ishmaelite to the hour of his death.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


A Precious, Mouldering Pleasure

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), In a Library:
A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.


Doing Good

Chamfort (1741-1794):
Evil men sometimes perform good deeds. One might say that they want to see if it's true that it's as pleasurable as honest folk claim it is.

Les méchants font quelquefois de bonnes actions. On dirait qu'ils veulent voir s'il est vrai que cela fasse autant de plaisir que le prétendent les honnêtes gens.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


O Sapientia

Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things has an audio post of himself singing the antiphon O Sapientia in a fine baritone voice with excellent Latin pronunciation. Here are the words of the antiphon:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.
If you're unlucky and music at your parish runs more to the banal ditties of Haugen and Haas, you might welcome, as I did, this chance to hear some real chant. Let's hope that Fr. Tucker favors us with some more now and then.


Yeats and Propertius

William Butler Yeats, A Thought From Propertius:
She might, so noble from head
To great shapely knees
The long flowing line,
Have walked to the altar
Through the holy images
At Pallas Athene's side,
Or been fit spoil for a Centaur
Drunk with the unmixed wine.
The mythologically dense poem by Propertius that inspired Yeats is 2.2 (tr. A.S. Kline), in which the poet says that a certain pretty girl is more beautiful than any goddess he can imagine:
I was free, and thought to enjoy an empty bed: but though I arranged my peace, Amor betrayed me. Why does such human beauty linger on Earth? Jupiter I forgive you your rapes of old. Yellow is her hair, and slender are her hands, her whole figure is sublime, and her walk as noble as Jupiter's sister, or Pallas Athene, going to Dulichian altars, her breasts covered by the Gorgon's snaky locks.

She is lovely as Ischomache, the Lapith's demi-goddess, sweet plunder for the Centaurs amidst the marriage feast, or Hecate by the sacred waters of Boebeis, lying down, a virgin goddess, it is said, by Mercury's side. And you Goddesses, yield, whom shepherd Paris saw once, laying your clothes aside for him, on the slopes of Ida's mountain! I wish that the years might never touch that beauty, yet that she might live the ages of the Sibyl of Cumae.
Kline's translation is good, although what he translates as "though I arranged my peace," I would render as "despite the truce," and I would change "amidst the marriage feast" to "amidst the drunken feast." It would require too much space to explain all of Propertius' abstruse mythological references, so I'll only explain the oddest one -- "her breasts covered by the Gorgon's snaky locks." Athena didn't have living snakes crawling over her breasts, or hairy breasts. In her martial aspect she was wearing the aegis, adorned with a representation of the Gorgon Medusa, whose hair consisted of snakes.

Here is the Latin original of Propertius' poem:
Liber eram et vacuo meditabar vivere lecto;
  at me composita pace fefellit Amor.
cur haec in terris facies humana moratur?
  Iuppiter, ignosco pristina furta tua.
fulva coma est longaeque manus, et maxima toto
  corpore, et incedit vel Iove digna soror,
aut cum Dulichias Pallas spatiatur ad aras,
  Gorgonis anguiferae pectus operta comis;
qualis et Ischomache Lapithae genus heroine,
  Centauris medio grata rapina mero;
†Mercurio satis† fertur Boebeidos undis
  virgineum Brimo composuisse latus.
cedite iam, divae, quas pastor viderat olim
  Idaeis tunicas ponere verticibus!
hanc utinam faciem nolit mutare senectus,
  etsi Cumaeae saecula vatis aget!
You might try quoting Yeats' poem to that beautiful blonde at your office Christmas party, between sips of your unmixed wine. It would be a more original pickup line than "What's your sign, baby?"

Friday, December 17, 2004


Schopenhauer on Solitude

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.

The less necessity there is for you to come into contact with mankind in general, in the relations whether of business or of personal intimacy, the better off you are.

As a general rule, it may be said that a man's sociability stands very nearly in inverse ratio to his intellectual value: to say that "so and so" is very unsociable, is almost tantamount to saying that he is a man of great capacity.

Though the world contains many things which are thoroughly bad, the worst thing in it is society.

From long experience of men, we cease to expect much from them; we find that, on the whole, people do not gain by a nearer acquaintance; and that -- apart from a few rare and fortunate exceptions -- we have come across none but defective specimens of human nature which it is advisable to leave in peace.

Rascals are always sociable -- more's the pity! and the chief sign that a man has any nobility in his character is the little pleasure he takes in others' company. He prefers solitude more and more, and, in course of time, comes to see that, with few exceptions, the world offers no choice beyond solitude on one side and vulgarity on the other.


Me Too

Outer Life writes:
I could happily while away my days in a public library, never changing my clothes, eating out of a brown paper bag, bathing irregularly, and, in short, being a homeless man, except that I'd like a modest little home to return to after the library closed at night.
His Graffitto, which could be sub-titled A Blogger's Lament, is also a gem.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


On a Senator

Ambrose Bierce penned this epigram on George Clement Perkins (1839-1923), who served as senator from California between 1893 and 1915, but it seems applicable to other members of that august body, even some current ones, of both parties. If the shoe fits...
Running for Senator with clumsy pace,
He stooped so low to win the foremost place
That Fortune, tempted by a mark so droll,
Sprang in and kicked him to the winning pole.


Take Care

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, chapter 33:
We need be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so much omitted, so little done -- of so many things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired! There is no remorse so deep, as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The Green Zone

Thucydides 7.11.4 (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
We, who are supposed to be the besiegers, are really the besieged.


Sentry Duty

W.H. Auden, Roman Wall Blues:
Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.

Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
There'd be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.


Pretty Little Girl With the Red Dress On

Carmina Burana 177 (tr. G.F. Whicher):
Stetit puella
rufa tunica;
siquis eam tetigit,
tunica crepuit.

Stetit puella
tamquam rosula:
facie splenduit,
et os eius floruit.

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.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Men and Beasts

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 4 pr. 3 (tr. W.V. Cooper):
Then, from the other point of view of the good, see what a punishment ever goes with the wicked. You have learnt a little while past that all that exists is one, and that the good itself is one; it follows therefrom that all that exists must appear to be good. In this way, therefore, all that falls away from the good, ceases also to exist, wherefore evil men cease to be what they were. The form of their human bodies still proves that they have been men; wherefore they must have lost their human nature when they turned to evil-doing. But as goodness alone can lead men forward beyond their humanity, so evil of necessity will thrust down below the honourable estate of humanity those whom it casts down from their first position. The result is that you cannot hold him to be a man who has been, so to say, transformed by his vices.

If a violent man and a robber burns with greed of other men's possessions, you say he is like a wolf. Another fierce man is always working his restless tongue at lawsuits, and you will compare him to a hound. Does another delight to spring upon men from ambushes with hidden guile? He is as a fox. Does one man roar and not restrain his rage? He would be reckoned as having the heart of a lion. Does another flee and tremble in terror where there is no cause of fear? He would be held to be as deer. If another is dull and lazy, does he not live the life of an ass? One whose aims are inconstant and ever changed at his whims, is in no wise different from the birds. If another is in a slough of foul and filthy lusts, he is kept down by the lusts of an unclean swine. Thus then a man who loses his goodness, ceases to be a man, and since he cannot change his condition for that of a god, he turns into a beast.

Vide autem ex adversa parte bonorum quae improbos poena comitetur; omne namque quod sit unum esse ipsumque unum bonum esse paulo ante didicisti; cui consequens est ut omne quod sit id etiam bonum esse uideatur. Hoc igitur modo quicquid a bono deficit esse desistit. Quo fit ut mali desinant esse quod fuerant. -- Sed fuisse homines adhuc ipsa humani corporis reliqua species ostentat -- Quare versi in malitiam humanam quoque amisere naturam. Sed cum ultra homines quemque provehere sola probitas possit, necesse est ut quos ab humana condicione deiecit infra homines meritum detrudat improbitas; evenit igitur ut quem transformatum vitiis videas hominem aestimare non possis.

Avaritia fervet alienarum opum violentus ereptor: Lupis similem dixeris. Ferox atque inquies linguam litigiis exercet: Cani comparabis. Insidiator occultus subripuisse fraudibus gaudet: Vulpeculis exaequetur. Irae intemperans fremit: Leonis animum gestare credatur. Pavidus ac fugax non metuenda formidat: Cervis similis habeatur. Segnis ac stupidus torpet: Asinum vivit. Levis atque inconstans studia permutat: Nihil avibus differt. Foedis immundisque libidinibus immergitur: Sordidae suis voluptate detinetur. Ita fit ut qui probitate deserta homo esse desierit, cum in divinam condicionem transire non possit, vertatur in beluam.


Another Dirge

Anent yesterday's post on Catullus 3, Sauvage Noble writes in an email:

S. Nobilis Laudatori T. A. sal. dat

I hope this message finds you well. In case you did not already know of it, I thought you might find interesting W.A. Mozart's dirge for his departed pet starling, in a letter to his sister:

A little fool lies here
Whom I held dear -
A starling in the prime
Of his brief time,
Whose doom it was to drain
Death's bitter pain.
Thinking of this, my heart
Is riven apart.
Oh, reader! Shed a tear,
You also, here.
He was not naughty, quite,
But gay and bright,
And under all his brag
A foolish wag.
This no one can gainsay
And I will lay
That he is now on high,
And from the sky,
Praises me without pay
In his friendly way.
Yet unaware that death
Has choked his breath,
And thoughtless of the one
Whose rime is thus well done.

June the 4th, 1787 Mozart.

Trans. by Martha Davenport, Mozart (New York 1932/1956) p.273.

Quoted in Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Mozart, trans. Marion Faber (Frankfurt 1977/New York 1982) pp.206-207.


Sunday, December 12, 2004


Catullus' Dirge for a Pet Sparrow

Below are three modern poems inspired by Catullus' dirge for his girlfriend's pet sparrow. But first here is Catullus' original poem (3) with a translation by F.W. Cornish:
Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum est hominum venustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.
nam mellitus erat suamque norat
ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,
nec sese a gremio illius movebat,
sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.
qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.
at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae
Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis:
tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis.
o factum male! o miselle passer!
tua nunc opera meae puellae
flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

Mourn, ye Graces and Loves, and all you whom the Graces love. My lady's sparrow is dead, the sparrow my lady's pet, whom she loved more than her very eyes; for honey-sweet he was, and knew his mistress as well as a girl knows her own mother. Nor would he stir from her lap, but hopping now here, now there, would still chirp to his mistress alone. Now he goes along the dark road, thither whence they say no one returns. But curse upon you, cursed shades of Orcus, which devour all pretty things! My pretty sparrow, you have taken away. Ah, cruel! Ah, poor little bird! All because of you my lady's darling eyes are heavy and red with weeping.

Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925), The Sparrow:
O pertest, most self-satisfied
  Of aught that breathes or moves,
See where you sit, with head aside,
  To chirp your vulgar loves:
Or raking in the uncleanly street
  You bolt your ugly meal,
Undaunted by the approaching feet,
  The heedless splashing wheel.

Old poets in your praise were stirred --
  I fear you must forget --
Catullus loved you, shameless bird,
  You were his lady's pet.
You heard her dainty breathing, perched
  Beside her when she slept;
You died: -- her pretty cheeks were smirched; --
  And 'twas for you she wept.

The imperious Bustard strides no more
  Across the grassy waste;
The gallant Ruff deserts the shore
  He trampled into paste;
The Oriole falls, a flaming sprite,
  Before the unsparing gun;
Whilst thou by some diviner right
  Dost wanton in the sun.

When prey is scarce, when tempests fret
  And freeze the stiffening loam,
The worm has tunnelled deeper yet,
  The beetle sits at home,
You shake your chilly limbs, and puff
  Your crest in mild surprise,
And peep, a ball of downy fluff,
  With bright and beaded eyes.

No secret raptures thrill your throat
  On fragrant moonlit nights;
You never had the mind to note
  Indignities or slights;
The soul that craves, but rarely finds
  The vague, the high, the true,
The weaknesses of noble minds, --
  They never troubled you.

Your selfish purpose never swerves
  From its appointed end;
Your sturdy bonhomie deserves
  Success, but ne'er a friend.
Where sweetness languishes, and grace,
  You multiply and thrive; --
It proves you, of the feathered race,
  The fittest to survive.

Contentment and equality
  Are pleasing names enough;
But we prefer, we know not why,
  A more ethereal stuff.
Ignoble welfare, -- doubtful good --
  We see with clouded eyes;
We did not make the world, -- yet would
  To God 'twere otherwise!

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), Passer Mortuus Est:
Death devours all lovely things;
Lesbia with her sparrow
Shares the darkness, -- presently
Every bed is narrow.

Unremembered as old rain
Dries the sheer libation,
And the little petulant hand
Is an annotation.

After all, my erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was not love,
Now that love is perished?

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), From A Letter From Lesbia:
... So, praise the gods, Catullus is away!
And let me tend you this advice, my dear:
Take any lover that you will, or may,
Except a poet. All of them are queer.

It's just the same -- a quarrel or a kiss
Is but a tune to play upon his pipe.
He's always hymning that or wailing this;
Myself, I much prefer the business type.

That thing he wrote, the time the sparrow died --
(Oh, most unpleasant -- gloomy, tedious words!)
I called it sweet, and made believe I cried;
The stupid fool! I've always hated birds ...



I imagined that googlolatry, meaning "uncritical faith in or reliance on information found via Internet search engines," was my own coinage, but I googled the word and found that someone else had anticipated me. Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt! The nomen agentis googlolator did not turn up on Google, though.



American journalist and radio personality Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960) invented the term aptronym to mean a name that suits the nature or occupation of the bearer. I would have expected aptonym, but the epenthetic r was supposedly influenced by patronym. You get aptronym from patronym by switching the first two letters. There are many lists of aptronyms, but it is sometimes difficult to determine which names on these lists are genuine and which are made up. Here are two genuine aptronyms:

Friday, December 10, 2004


Props in Times of Trouble

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), To a Friend:
Who prop, thou ask'st in these bad days, my mind? --
He much, the old man, who, clearest-souled of men,
Saw The Wide Prospect, and the Asian Fen,
And Tmolus hill, and Smyrna bay, though blind.

Much he, whose friendship I not long since won,
That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him. But be his

My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;

Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole;
The mellow glory of the Attic stage,
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child.
The three ancient Greek writers in whom Arnold found support in bad days are not named directly, but he gives ample clues to their identity:

Thursday, December 09, 2004


The Modern World

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Succesivos Escolios a un Texto Implícito (1992), II, 226:
The modern world seems invincible. Like the extinct dinosaurs.


The Tomb of Vergil

Robert Cameron Rogers (1862-1912), Virgil's Tomb:
On an olive-crested steep
  Hanging o'er the dusty road,
  Lieth in his last abode,
Wrapped in everlasting sleep,

He who in the days of yore
  Sang of pastures, sang of farms,
  Sang of heroes and their arms,
Sang of passion, sang of war.

When the lark at dawning tells,
  Herald like, the coming day,
  And along the dusty way
Comes the sound of tinkling bells,

Rising to the tomb aloft,
  While some modern Corydon
  Drives his bleating cattle on
From the stable to the croft:

Then the soul of Virgil seems
To awaken from its dreams,
To sing again the melodies
Of which he often tells, --
  The music of the birds,
  The lowing of the herds,
The tinkling of the bells.
Vergil "sang of pastures" in his Eclogues, "sang of farms" in his Georgics, and "sang of heroes and their arms" in his Aeneid. These lines by Rogers recall the epitaph which Vergil supposedly wrote for himself (Suetonius, Life of Vergil 36, tr. J.C. Rolfe):
ossa eius Neapolim translata sunt tumuloque condita qui est via Puteolana intra lapidem secundum, in quo distichon fecit tale:

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
  Parthenope. cecini pascua, rura, duces.

His ashes were taken to Naples and laid to rest on the Via Puteolana less than two miles from the city, in a tomb for which he himself composed this couplet:

Mantua gave me the light, Calabria slew me; now holds me
  Parthenope; I have sung shepherds, the country, and wars.
A medieval legend has St. Paul visiting the tomb of Vergil:
Ad Maronis mausoleum
Ductus, fudit super eum
  Piae rorem lacrimae:
'Quem te' inquit 'reddidissem,
Si te vivum invenissem,
  Poetarum maxime!'

Brought to the tomb of Vergil, he shed over it the dew of a reverent tear: he said, "What would I have made of thee, greatest of poets, if I had found thee alive!"


The Lure of Evil

Paul Theroux, The Kingdom by the Sea (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), p. 140:
No one knows more inner turmoil or is so susceptible to the romance of wrong-doing than the law-abiding person.


The Child Is Father to the Man

Jean de la Bruyère (1645-1696), Caractères XI, 50:
Children are arrogant, scornful, prone to anger, jealous, nosy, selfish, lazy, fickle, timid, intemperate, they say what is false and hide what is true; they laugh and cry at the drop of a hat; they have excessive joys and bitter sorrows arising from very insignificant causes; they are totally unwilling to undergo pain, and enjoy inflicting it on others: they are already adults.

Les enfants sont hautains, dédaigneux, colères, envieux, curieux, intéressés, paresseux, volages, timides, intempérants, menteurs, dissimulés; ils rient et pleurent facilement; ils ont des joies immodérées et des afflictions amères sur de très petits sujets; ils ne veulent point souffrir de mal, et aiment à en faire: ils sont déjà des hommes.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Latin at St. Gelasius Church

From an Associated Press story about the restoration of a church in Chicago:
When St. Gelasius is restored, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, headquartered in Italy, will use it to celebrate the Tridentine mass, which is spoken in Latin. The services will be a stark contrast to the guitar music, drumming and sacred dance many churches use to reach out to their communities.

"I believe it gives people a sense of the mystery of God," said Monsignor Michael Schmitz. "They try to pray, and the Latin and chants and the beautiful music and the vestments -- all the details of the Latin mass gives them the feeling that God is greater than our human heart can think of."


Helen Keller on the Classics

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, chapter 21:
My mind opened naturally and joyously to a conception of antiquity. Greece, ancient Greece, exercised a mysterious fascination over me. In my fancy the pagan gods and goddesses still walked on earth and talked face to face with men, and in my heart I secretly built shrines to those I loved best. I knew and loved the whole tribe of nymphs and heroes and demigods--no, not quite all, for the cruelty and greed of Medea and Jason were too monstrous to be forgiven, and I used to wonder why the gods permitted them to do wrong and then punished them for their wickedness. And the mystery is still unsolved. I often wonder how

   God can dumbness keep
   While Sin creeps grinning through His house of Time.
   [Sidney Lanier, Acknowledgment, III]

It was the Iliad that made Greece my paradise. I was familiar with the story of Troy before I read it in the original, and consequently I had little difficulty in making the Greek words surrender their treasures after I had passed the borderland of grammar. Great poetry, whether written in Greek or in English, needs no other interpreter than a responsive heart. Would that the host of those who make the great works of the poets odious by their analysis, impositions and laborious comments might learn this simple truth! It is not necessary that one should be able to define every word and give it its principal parts and its grammatical position in the sentence in order to understand and appreciate a fine poem. I know my learned professors have found greater riches in the Iliad than I shall ever find; but I am not avaricious. I am content that others should be wiser than I. But with all their wide and comprehensive knowledge, they cannot measure their enjoyment of that splendid epic, nor can I. When I read the finest passages of the Iliad, I am conscious of a soul-sense that lifts me above the narrow, cramping circumstances of my life. My physical limitations are forgotten -- my world lies upward, the length and the breadth and the sweep of the heavens are mine!

My admiration for the Aeneid is not so great, but it is none the less real. I read it as much as possible without the help of notes or dictionary, and I always like to translate the episodes that please me especially. The word-painting of Virgil is wonderful sometimes; but his gods and men move through the scenes of passion and strife and pity and love like the graceful figures in an Elizabethan mask, whereas in the Iliad they give three leaps and go on singing. Virgil is serene and lovely like a marble Apollo in the moonlight; Homer is a beautiful, animated youth in the full sunlight with the wind in his hair.

How easy it is to fly on paper wings! From "Greek Heroes" to the Iliad was no day's journey, nor was it altogether pleasant. One could have traveled round the word many times while I trudged my weary way through the labyrinthine mazes of grammars and dictionaries, or fell into those dreadful pitfalls called examinations, set by schools and colleges for the confusion of those who seek after knowledge. I suppose this sort of Pilgrim's Progress was justified by the end; but it seemed interminable to me, in spite of the pleasant surprises that met me now and then at a turn in the road.


Lang on Herodotus

Andrew Lang, Herodotus in Egypt:
He left the land of youth, he left the young,
The smiling gods of Greece; he passed the isle
Where Jason loitered, and where Sappho sung,
He sought the secret-founted wave of Nile,
And of their old world, dead a weary while,
Heard the priests murmur in their mystic tongue,
And through the fanes went voyaging, among
Dark tribes that worshipped Cat and Crocodile.

He learned the tales of death Divine and birth,
Strange loves of Hawk and Serpent, Sky and Earth,
The marriage, and the slaying of the Sun.
The shrines of gods and beasts he wandered through,
And mocked not at their godhead, for he knew
Behind all creeds the Spirit that is One.
The second book of Herodotus' histories is devoted to Egypt, which Herodotus visited in person. The "isle where Jason loitered, and where Sappho sung" is Lesbos.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Overseas Adventures

Thucydides 6.11.1 (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
Sicily is a populous and distant country; over which, even if we are victorious, we shall hardly be able to maintain our dominion. And how foolish it is to select for attack a land which no conquest can secure, while he who fails to conquer will not be where he was before!


Books I Wish I Owned

J.D. Denniston, The Greek Particles
E. Fraenkel, Elementi Plautini in Plauto
A.W. Gomme & F.H. Sandbach, Menander: A Commentary
W.K.C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy (Volumes 1 to 6)
A.E. Housman, The Classical Papers (Volumes I to III)
R.G.M. Nisbet & Margaret Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace, Odes Book II
W. Kendrick Pritchett, The Greek State at War (Parts III to V)
William Smith, English-Latin Dictionary
S. C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary

Monday, December 06, 2004


Welcome Back, Dennis

Dennis Mangan is back, with posts on Christmas and Fernando Alvarez de Toledo. Dennis is on my must-read list, and I'm glad to see that he has returned.



Yesterday I criticized the solecistic "macroglossius lunarius abundantia fectum comedo" as a translation of "long-tongued poo eating moonbat." Today I'll give my translation of the phrase.

Let's start with "long-tongued." It should be macroglossus, from Greek makros (long) and glossa (tongue), not macroglossius. The adjective macroglossus can be found in botanical nomenclature, e.g. Macroglossus minimus, otherwise known as the dagger-toothed flower bat.

For "poo eating," I'd suggest coprophagus, from Greek kopros (dung) and phageo (eat). My ancient (1872) copy of Liddell and Scott has the verb koprophageo (with no citations), but not the adjective koprophagos. However, the word formation is proper, and in English we have coprophagous.

The Latin adjective meaning "pertaining to the moon" is lunaris, not lunarius.

Finally, the ancient Latin word for bat is vespertilio, from vesper (evening).

Putting these all together, we get "macroglossus coprophagus lunaris vespertilio" for "long-tongued poo eating moonbat."


A Holy Spirit

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 41.1-2 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a holy spirit dwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to rise? He it is that gives noble and upright counsel. In each good man "a god doth dwell, but what god know we not."

prope est a te deus, tecum est, intus est. ita dico, Lucili: sacer intra nos spiritus sedet, malorum bonorumque nostrorum observator et custos; hic prout a nobis tractatus est, ita nos ipse tractat. bonus vero vir sine deo nemo est: an potest aliquis supra fortunam nisi ab illo adiutus exsurgere? ille dat consilia magnifica et erecta. in unoquoque virorum bonorum '(quis deus incertum est) habitat deus' [Verg. Aen. 8.352].


Hatred and Envy

Friedrich Nietzsche, Homer's Contest (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
Not only Aristotle but the whole of Greek antiquity thinks differently from us about hatred and envy, and judges with Hesiod, who in one place calls one Eris evil -- namely, the one that leads men into hostile fights of annihilation against one another -- while praising another Eris as good -- the one that, as jealousy, hatred, and envy, spurs men to activity: not to the activity of fights of annihilation, but to the activity of fights which are contests. The Greek is envious, and he does not consider this quality a blemish but the gift of a beneficent godhead. What a gulf of ethical judgment lies between us and him!

Und nicht Aristoteles allein, sondern das gesammte griechische Alterthum denkt anders über Groll und Neid als wir und urtheilt wie Hesiod, der einmal eine Eris als böse bezeichnet, diejenige nämlich, welche die Menschen zum feindseligen Vernichtungskampfe gegen einander führt, und dann wieder eine andre Eris als gute preist, die als Eifersucht Groll Nied die Menschen zur That reizt, aber nicht zur That des Vernichtungskampfes, sondern zur That des Wettkampfes. Der Grieche ist neidisch und empfindet diese Eigenschaft nicht als Makel, sondern als Wirkung einer wohlthätigen Gottheit: welche Kluft des ethischen Urtheils zwischen uns und ihm!
Eris is the Greek word for Strife.


Dalrymple Watch

Read Theodore Dalrymple on evil, sex, and forgiveness.


Letters to Dead Authors

Among Andrew Lang's Letters to Dead Authors (1886) are letters to Herodotus, Theocritus, Horace, Lucian, and Eusebius. Here's a sample, from the letter to Lucian:
Ah, Lucian, we have need of you, of your sense and of your mockery! Here, where faith is sick and superstition is waking afresh; where gods come rarely, and spectres appear at five shillings an interview; where science is popular, and philosophy cries aloud in the market-place, and clamour does duty for government, and Thais and Lais are names of power -- here, Lucian, is room and scope for you.
Lucian redivivus could start with mockery of our modern Lais, "Princess" Diana.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Butchering the Latin Language

Here are some recent specimens of "Latin" on the Internet.I know they're trying to be funny, but they still flunk Latin.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Dancing in Church

This icon from Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco is hilarious. Among the dancing "saints" are Malcolm X and Queen Elizabeth I, holding hands while tripping the light fantastic. The list of dancing saints who will eventually adorn the rotunda of the church is equally bizarre.

Thanks to A Saintly Salmagundi.

Friday, December 03, 2004



David Warren writes: "Dostoevsky is a moral, not a psychological writer." To Nietzsche, Dostoevsky was a master of psychological insight. In Twilight of the Idols (45, tr. Walter Kaufmann), Nietzsche wrote that Dostoevsky was "the only psychologist from which I had something to learn; he ranks among the most beautiful strokes of fortune in my life." Nietzsche gives more details about this stroke of fortune in a letter to Franz Overbeck (February 23, 1887, tr. Kaufmann):
I did not even know the name of Dostoevski just a few weeks ago -- uneducated person that I am, not reading any journals. An accidental reach of the arm in a bookstore brought to my attention L'esprit souterrain [Notes from Underground], a work just translated into French. (It was a similar accident with Schopenhauer in my 21st year and with Stendhal in my 35th.) The instinct of kinship (or how should I name it?) spoke up immediately; my joy was extraordinary.
Contra Warren, Nietzsche might have written, "Dostoevsky is a psychological, not a moral writer." The dichotomy is a false one. Dostoevsky is both a psychological and a moral writer.



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 10.5:
A statement which I found in Athenodorus is true: "Then know that you are free from all desires when you come to the point that you ask God for nothing except what you could ask for openly." For now how great is the folly of men! They whisper the most shameful prayers to the gods; if someone tries to listen, they fall silent, and they tell to God what they don't want a fellow human to know. Therefore consider whether this advice might not be profitably given: live with men as though God were watching, speak with God as though men were listening.

verum est quod apud Athenodorum inveni: 'tunc scito esse te omnibus cupiditatibus solutum, cum eo perveneris ut nihil deum roges nisi quod rogare possis palam'. nunc enim quanta dementia est hominum! turpissima vota dis insusurrant; si quis admoverit aurem, conticiscent, et quod scire hominem nolunt deo narrant. vide ergo ne hoc praecipi salubriter possit: sic vive cum hominibus tamquam deus videat, sic loquere cum deo tamquam homines audiant.
In his tenth Satire, Juvenal reviews things men commonly pray for, such as political power (lines 54-113), eloquence (114-132), military glory (133-187), long life (188-288), beauty (289-345), and pours scorn on them all. Likewise in Lucian's Navigium, three friends say what they would like if they could have anything in the world. Adimantus wants wealth, Samippus desires kingship, and Timolaus wishes for magic rings which would give him various powers, including the power to be invisible and the power to fly over the earth. A fourth friend, Lycinus, criticizes all these wishes.

There is also an interesting passage in Lucian's Icaromenippus (25, tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler) dealing with prayers:
So talking, we reached the spot where he was to sit and listen to the prayers. There was a row of openings with lids like well-covers, and a chair of gold by each. Zeus took his seat at the first, lifted off the lid and inclined his ear. From every quarter of Earth were coming the most various and contradictory petitions; for I too bent down my head and listened. Here are specimens. 'O Zeus, that I might be king!' 'O Zeus, that my onions and garlic might thrive!' 'Ye Gods, a speedy death for my father!' Or again, 'Would that I might succeed to my wife's property!' 'Grant that my plot against my brother be not detected.' 'Let me win my suit.' 'Give me an Olympic garland.' Of those at sea, one prayed for a north, another for a south wind; the farmer asked for rain, the fuller for sun. Zeus listened, and gave each prayer careful consideration, but without promising to grant them all;

    Our Father this bestowed, and that withheld. [Iliad 16.250]

Righteous prayers he allowed to come up through the hole, received and laid them down at his right, while he sent the unholy ones packing with a downward puff of breath, that Heaven might not be defiled by their entrance. In one case I saw him puzzled; two men praying for opposite things and promising the same sacrifices, he could not tell which of them to favour, and experienced a truly Academic suspense of judgement, showing a reserve and equilibrium worthy of Pyrrho himself.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Faint Praise

Thucydides 4.84.2 (on the Spartan Brasidas, tr. Benjamin Jowett):
For a Lacedaemonian he was not a bad speaker.


Love of Country

Thucydides 2.43.1 (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonour always present to them, and who, if ever they failed in an enterprise, would not allow their virtues to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feast.


The United States and Canada

Thucydides 3.10.1 (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
We know that no friendship between man and man, no league between city and city, can ever be permanent unless the friends or allies have a good opinion of each other's honesty, and are similar in general character. For the diversity in men's minds makes the difference in their actions.


Effects of a Two-Party System

Thucydides (tr. Benjamin Jowett):

For the leaders on either side used specious names, the one party professing to uphold the constitutional equality of the many, the other the wisdom of an aristocracy, while they made the public interests, to which in name they were devoted, in reality their prize. Striving in every way to overcome each other, they committed the most monstrous crimes; yet even these were surpassed by the magnitude of their revenges which they pursued to the very utmost, neither party observing any definite limits either of justice or public expediency, but both alike making the caprice of the moment their law. Either by the help of an unrighteous sentence, or grasping power with the strong hand, they were eager to satiate the impatience of party-spirit. Neither faction cared for religion; but any fair pretence which succeeded in effecting some odious purpose was greatly lauded. And the citizens who were of neither party fell a prey to both.
An attitude of perfidious antagonism everywhere prevailed; for there was no word binding enough, nor oath terrible enough to reconcile enemies. Each man was strong only in the conviction that nothing was secure; he must look to his own safety, and could not afford to trust others. Inferior intellects generally succeeded best.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Thucydides on Googling

Thucydides 1.20.3 (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
So little trouble do men take in the search after truth; so readily do they accept whatever comes first to hand.



These mysterious letters are carved on the Shepherd's Monument at the Shugborough estate in Staffordshire. Since every other crackpot in the world has weighed in with a theory about their meaning, here's my crackpot idea. The letters are not a code, but rather the initial letters of some quotation from literature. If I were so minded, I would start searching with the King James version of the Bible, although all those V's suggest Latin. Of course such a search would be more efficient with a computer program.

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