Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

Hereditary Guilt

John 9.1-3:
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
We see a denial of the notion that guilt is inherited also in:But the very question of Jesus' disciples indicates that the concept of hereditary guilt was common. In Exodus 20.5 we read:
I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
In the first book of Herodotus (tr. George Rawlinson) there is a punishment deferred unto the fifth generation:The same idea occurs elsewhere in Greek literature, e.g.

 

Vinnie the Rogatist

Ralph Platz writes in an email:
In reading a passage from St. Augustine, I was struck by the similarity of one of his phrases to a phrase that is common today in English slang, and I am passing it on to you in case you would want to develop it into an item for your blog.

St. Augustine, rejecting the Donatist arguments, says crisply, "Da veniam. Non credimus" (Epistola 93, 7.23).

Today in English slang, I often hear, "Gimme a break! I don't buy that."

The Latin and the English phrases sound the same to me both in meaning and in emotional tone.
Mr. Platz evidently has a good ear for Latin. "Da veniam" (literally "Grant pardon") can also mean "Excuse me", and the tone of "Gimme a break" is similar in English to the ironical "Excuse me" (with the emphasis on "me"). Likewise "I don't buy that" is a good colloquial translation of "Non credimus" (literally "We don't believe"), assuming that St. Augustine is using the royal we.

St. Augustine's words occur in a letter that deserves closer examination. The letter (dated around 408) is written to Vincentius of Cartennae, aka Vincentius the Rogatist. The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Donatists, says that the Rogatists were one of a number of sects that split off from the Donatists:
Like so many other schisms, this schism bred schisms within itself. In Mauretania and Numidia these separated sects were so numerous that the Donatists themselves could not name them all. We hear of Urbanists; of Claudianists, who were reconciled to the main body by Primianus of Carthage; of Rogatists, a Mauretanian sect, of mild character, because no Circumcellion belonged to it; the Rogatists were severely punished whenever the Donatists could induce the magistrates to do so, and were also persecuted by Optatus of Timgad.
Here is the context (St. Augustine, Letters 93.7.23, tr. J.G. Cunningham) in which the words occur:
In fact, however, this is the whole which you attempt to make us believe, that the Rogatists alone remain worthy of the name Catholics, on the ground of their observing all the Divine precepts and all the sacraments; and that you are the only persons in whom the Son of man when He cometh shall find faith. You must excuse me for saying we do not believe a word of this.

Sed nempe hoc est totum quod nobis persuadere conaris, solos remansisse Rogatistas, qui catholici recte appellandi sint, ex observatione praeceptorum omnium divinorum atque omnium Sacramentorum; et vos esse solos, in quibus inveniat fidem cum venerit Filius hominis. Da veniam, non credimus.
Nothing much has changed in a millennium and a half. There are still groups which claim that they alone are worthy of the name of Catholics or Christians, that they alone observe all the divine precepts and the sacraments, and that the Lord at His Second Coming will find them alone to be the faithful remnant.

With St. Augustine, we should say to those who make such claims: "Da veniam. Non credimus." "Gimme a break! I don't buy that."

Monday, May 30, 2005

 

In Memoriam

Today I remember:
  1. My great-great-grandfather, Philibert Racine (aka Philip Root), who served in the 1st Independent Battery, Vermont Volunteer Light Artillery (also known as Hebard's Battery or the Gray Horse Battery) during the Civil War.
  2. My great-great-grandfather, Robert E. Gilleland, who served as a 2nd lieutenant in Company I of the 99th Illinois Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
  3. My grandfather, Roy Emory Gilleland, who served with the Russian Railway Service Corps (RRSC) in Siberia during World War I. It took a court case, Hoskin v. Resor, 324 F.Supp. 271 (D.D.C. 1971), before veterans of the RRSC were officially recognized as veterans of the U.S. Army.
  4. My father, Vernon Ellis Gilleland, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the destroyer USS Melvin (photos, history) during World War II.

 

A Cultivated Soul

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II, 195:
A cultivated soul is one where the din of the living does not drown out the music of the dead.

 

The Gettysburg Address, In English and Latin

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (tr. James A. Kleist, S.J.):
Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Annus iam octavus et octogesimus est quum maiores nostri novam in hac orbis terra rem publicam pepererunt, quam libertatis in condicione conceptam rationi illi dedicarunt qua omnes homines natura aequales esse censemus. Nunc vero magno suscepto bello civili nos experimur, haecne res publica vel alia, eodem modo concepta eodem dedicata, diu possit permanere.

We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who have given their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Eo in bello acerrime pugnatum est in hoc ipso campo, quo nos convenimus; convenimus autem huc, ut in planitiei parte aliqua tranquillum illis pararemus portum, qui, ut viveret haec res publica, vitam hoc loco profuderunt; quod nos facere et aequum est et iustum.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or to detract. The world will very little note nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here:

Verum hunc locum, si altius rem spectaverimus, nec inaugurare nec dedicare nec consecrare nos possumus; quem illi ipsi viri fortissimi, qui hic dimicarunt, sive mortui sunt sive superstites, tanta consecrarunt sanctitate, ut nos nec addere quicquam nec demere possimus; nos enim quod hic dicimus, neque multum attendet posteritas neque diu recordabitur: illi quod hic gesserunt, nulla unquam obscurabit oblivio.

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Quo magis nostrum, qui vivimus, est ei nos operi perficiendo tradere totos, quod illi tam praeclare propagarunt; nostrum, inquam, est huic tanto muneri, quod reliquum videmus, fungendo nos dedere, ut ab his, quos honoramus mortuos, maiore discamus pietate eam amplecti causam, qua in defendenda illi hic morientes pietatem praestiterunt summam; ut magno id animo statuamus, ne mortem illi frustra oppetiverint; ut beneficio Dei haec natio libertate reviviscat; ut denique res publica popularis, quae et a populo et pro populo administretur, ex orbe terrae ne tollatur.

 

Old Age

Sophocles, Oedipus At Colonus 1211-1248 (tr. Anthony Hecht):

What is unwisdom but the lusting after
Longevity: to be old and full of days!
For the vast and unremitting tide of years
Casts up to view more sorrowful things than joyful;
And as for pleasures, once beyond our prime,
They all drift out of reach, they are washed away.
And the same gaunt bailiff calls upon us all,
Summoning into Darkness, to those wards
Where is no music, dance, or marriage hymn
That soothes or gladdens. To the tenements of Death.

Not to be born is, past all yearning, best.
And second best is, having seen the light,
To return at once to deep oblivion.
When youth has gone, and the baseless dreams of youth,
What misery does not then jostle man's elbow,
Join him as a companion, share his bread?
Betrayal, envy, calumny and bloodshed
Move in on him, and finally Old Age--
Infirm, despised Old Age--joins in his ruin,
The crowning taunt of his indignities.

So is it with that man, not just with me.
He seems like a frail jetty facing North
Whose pilings the waves batter from all quarters;
From where the sun comes up, from where it sets,
From freezing boreal regions, from below,
A whole winter of miseries now assails him,
Thrashes his sides and breaks over his head.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

 

Nights and Days

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II, 468:
History is a series of nights and days. Short days and protracted nights.

 

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1030-1039:
First consider the clear and pure color of the sky, and everything it contains -- the stars wandering here and there, and the moon and the splendor of the sun with its bright light. If all these things were now suddenly and unexpectedly presented to us mortals for the first time, what more wonderful could be named than these, or that mankind could less venture to believe would exist? Nothing, I think. So wonderful to behold would this sight be. But now, bored with seeing it so often, no one bothers to look up at the shining regions of the sky.

principio caeli clarum purumque colorem
quaeque in se cohibet, palantia sidera passim,
lunamque et solis praeclara luce nitorem;
omnia quae nunc si primum mortalibus essent
ex improviso si sint obiecta repente,
quid magis his rebus poterat mirabile dici,
aut minus ante quod auderent fore credere gentes?
nil, ut opinor; ita haec species miranda fuisset.
quam tibi iam nemo fessus satiate videndi,
suspicere in caeli dignatur lucida templa.

Friday, May 27, 2005

 

Books and Toilets

The controversy over whether a Koran was flushed down a toilet at Camp Gitmo is much in the news lately. It would have to be a very small Koran or a very big toilet, I think. However it leads my perverted, scatological mind to reflect on some examples of pages of books used as toilet paper.

Poem 36 of Catullus (tr. F.W. Cornish) is an attack on the poet Volusius:
Chronicle of Volusius, filthy waste-paper, discharge a vow on behalf of my love; for she vowed to holy Venus and to Cupid that if I were restored to her love and ceased to dart fierce iambics, she would give to the lame-footed god [Vulcan, god of fire] the choicest writings of the worst of poets, to be burnt with wood from some accursed tree: and my lady perceived that there were the "worst poems" that she was vowing to the merry gods in pleasant sport. Now therefore, O thou whom the blue sea bare [Venus, goddess of love], who inhabitest holy Idalium and open Urii, who dwellest in Ancona and reedy Cnidus and in Amathus and in Golgi, and in Dyrrhachium the meeting place of all Hadria, record the vow as received and duly paid, so surely as it is not out of taste nor inelegant. Meantime come you here into the fire, you bundle of rusticity and clumsiness, chronicle of Volusius, filthy waste-paper.
What Cornish euphemistically translates as "filthy waste-paper" is in the original Latin "cacata carta," literally "paper that has been defecated upon." In a learned comment on this poem, Professor William Harris claims that the ancients didn't use toilet paper, but rather the xylospongion or xylospongium (my correction for Harris' xylospondium), a little sponge on the end of a wooden stick. But it's not impossible that the ancients also used discarded paper for this mundane purpose. Kenneth Quinn in his commentary on Catullus, 2nd edition (London: St. Martin's Press, 1973), has nothing to say on this fascinating topic.

Horace isn't a holy book, although J.W. Mackail called his Odes a secular psalter. Lord Chesterfield, in a letter to his son (Letter XXI, 11 December 1747 Old Style), tells this delightful tale:
I know a gentleman, who was so good a manager of his time, that he would not even lose that small portion of it, which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments. He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained; and I recommend you to follow his example. It is better than only doing what you cannot help doing at those moments; and it will make any book, which you shall read in that manner, very present in your mind.
The necessary-house is the outhouse, and Cloacina is the Roman goddess of the sewers.

Holbrook Jackson, in his Anatomy of Bibliomania, Part XIX (The Misfortunes of Books), Section III (Neglect and Misusage), touches briefly on the use of pages from books as toilet paper, but he doesn't mention either of the passages I've cited here.



Dennis Mangan adds an apposite quotation from Voltaire.

Edward Cook also has a good post on The Stench of Ancient Cities.



 

Grapes and Cherries

The solecism pour over for pore over is regrettably not uncommon. Once upon a time I did pour over a book. I was an undergraduate, and I borrowed Ernst Robert Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages from one of my professors. I was poring over it while having breakfast, and I poured some grape juice on it by accident. At first I tried first to wipe the juice off while it was still wet, and later I tried to scrape it off with a razor blade when it was dry. But repair was impossible, and I finally had to return the damaged book with an abject apology.

I'm unlucky with other people's possessions. One summer in graduate school I lived in the house of one of my professors, while he was off gallivanting around Greece. I mowed the lawn and did other chores in return for a free place to stay. Before he left, the professor instructed me to take special care of a cherry tree he had planted in his back yard. A week before he returned, things started to go bad. First, I managed to break the seat on his commode (don't ask how). That was easy enough to replace. But then a terrific storm blew through town and destroyed his precious cherry tree. That I couldn't fix.

 

Grammar Lesson

Preston Jones reviews Tore Janson's book A Natural History of Latin. It's an excellent review, but in the middle of it is this sentence:
But if Latin died in our mouths, we'd just stop talking; or, at best, we'd be left mostly with monosyllables bequeathed to us from the Angles and Saxons—requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine.
In Latin, adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in gender, number, and case. The noun requiem is feminine, singular, and accusative, and therefore it requires a feminine, singular, accusative adjective, aeternam (not aeternum).

I see over a thousand Google hits for the incorrect requiem aeternum, and even a few for the impossible requiem aeternem. The sentence comes from the introit of the Mass for the Dead and means "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord."

 

Woolly Knees

In a world full of bad news, here's a bit of good news. Botanist Michael Parks has rediscovered a wild flower, Eriogonum truncatum, the Mount Diablo buckwheat, long thought extinct.

Eriogonum truncatum is from Greek erion (wool), Greek gonu (knee, joint), and Latin truncatum (cut off, shortened, perfect passive participle of trunco).

We see the same element -gonum in polygonum, the knotweed species, so called because its stem has many joints. Cf. polygon. Greek gonu is related to Latin genu, also meaning knee, whence English genuflect (bend the knee).



I'm grateful to James L. Reveal for a correction:
I saw your posting about Eriogonum truncatum ... and thought you might be interested in the meanings of Polygonum versus Eriogonum. The problem is the conversion of the Greek into Latin. In the case of Polygonum this is tricky as the early authors of the name did not always indicate if they were using the Greek gone which means "seed" or gony which is Greek for "knee." The traditional interpretation is that Polygonum means "many knee joints." But, this is gramatically incorrect because we now know that the original use of Polygonum referred to "many seeds." Eriogonum, on the other hand, was clearly given by the French botanist Andre Michaux as "wooly knees," so that he used gony instead of gone.

You will find this mentioned in the just published volume 4 of Flora of North America.

 

Books

George Crabbe, The Library:
But what strange art, what magic can dispose
The troubled mind to change its native woes?
Or lead us willing from ourselves, to see
Others more wretched, more undone than we?
This BOOKS can do;--nor this alone; they give
New views to life, and teach us how to live;
They soothe the grieved, the stubborn they chastise,
Fools they admonish, and confirm the wise:
Their aid they yield to all: they never shun
The man of sorrow, nor the wretch undone:
Unlike the hard, the selfish, and the proud,
They fly not sullen from the suppliant crowd;
Nor tell to various people various things,
But show to subjects what they show to kings.

 

Ph.D.

The Maverick Philosopher points to a study in Men's Health Magazine that ranks United States cities by intelligence, from smartest to stupidest, based partly on the percentage of inhabitants who earned bachelor degrees. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are both in the top four.

If academic degrees were reliable indicators of intelligence, one would expect Ph.D.s and other holders of advanced degrees to be among the most highly intelligent members of the population. The possession of a Ph.D. might be a sign of persistence, but it is no guarantee of intelligence. One could even argue the opposite, that it is a sign of stupidity, at least from an economic point of view.

Many of the Ph.D.s I know (including myself) spent long years in the fruitless pursuit of a will-o'-the-wisp, an ignis fatuus. We foolishly dreamed of prestigious jobs in the groves of academe and ended up with something far less. Once I was so down and out that I applied for a job sweeping floors. On the application form I omitted my Ph.D. (all of my college degrees, in fact).

In an effort to make a career change, I've been taking classes at a community college. At least two of my fellow students also have Ph.D.s but never managed to find permanent teaching positions in colleges or universities. We might have been smarter not to have wasted so many years in graduate school. A wiser course of action would have been to go directly from high school to the community college where we now find ourselves.

Experientia docet stultos.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

 

Stranded Without a Book

Outer Life tells what happened when he found himself stranded out of town at the beginning of the weekend without something to read. I guard against this danger by keeping a couple of books in the trunk of my car, alongside the spare tire.

 

Dead and Living Languages

James Russell Lowell, In Defense of the Study of Greek:
Only those languages can properly be called dead in which nothing living has been written. If the classic languages are dead, they yet speak to us, and with a clearer voice than that of any living tongue.

Graiis ingenium, Graiis dedit ore rotundo
Musa loqui, praeter laudem nullius avaris.

[Horace, Ars Poetica 323-324 (tr. John Conington:
To Greece, fair Greece, ambitious but of praise,
The Muse gave ready wit, and rounded phrase.]

If their language is dead, yet the literature it enshrines is rammed with life as perhaps no other writing, except Shakespeare's, ever was or will be. It is as contemporary with to-day as with the ears it first enraptured, for it appeals not to the man of then or now, but to the entire round of human nature itself. Men are ephemeral or evanescent, but whatever page the authentic soul of man has touched with her immortalizing finger, no matter how long ago, is still young and fair as it was to the world's gray fathers. Oblivion looks in the face of the Grecian Muse only to forget her errand. Plato and Aristotle are not names but things. On a chart that should represent the firm earth and wavering oceans of the human mind, they would be marked as mountain-ranges, forever modifying the temperature, the currents, and the atmosphere of thought, astronomical stations whence the movements of the lamps of heaven might best be observed and predicted.

 

The Most Demeaning Job in the World Is ...

... holding the umbrella over the head of Michael Jackson (aka Jacko the Wacko) as he walks between his limousine and the courthouse. What self-respecting person could do this day after day?

 

Dr. Johnson on the Roman Catholick Religion

James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1769: aetat. 60):
BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, you are no great enemy to the Roman Catholick religion.' JOHNSON. 'No more, Sir, than to the Presbyterian religion.' BOSWELL. 'You are joking.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I really think so. Nay, Sir, of the two, I prefer the Popish.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the Presbyterians have no church, no apostolical ordination.' BOSWELL. 'And do you think that absolutely essential, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as it was an apostolical institution, I think it is dangerous to be without it. And, Sir, the Presbyterians have no public worship: they have no form of prayer in which they know they are to join. They go to hear a man pray, and are to judge whether they will join with him.'

I proceeded: 'What do you think, Sir, of Purgatory, as believed by the Roman Catholicks?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is a very harmless doctrine. They are of opinion that the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment, nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits; and therefore that God is graciously pleased to allow of a middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see, Sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this.'

BOSWELL. 'But then, Sir, their masses for the dead?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if it be once established that there are souls in purgatory, it is as proper to pray for THEM, as for our brethren of mankind who are yet in this life.'

BOSWELL. 'The idolatry of the Mass?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no idolatry in the Mass. They believe God to be there, and they adore him.'

BOSWELL. 'The worship of Saints?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they do not worship saints; they invoke them; they only ask their prayers. I am talking all this time of the DOCTRINES of the Church of Rome. I grant you that in PRACTICE, Purgatory is made a lucrative imposition, and that the people do become idolatrous as they recommend themselves to the tutelary protection of particular saints. I think their giving the sacrament only in one kind is criminal, because it is contrary to the express institution of CHRIST, and I wonder how the Council of Trent admitted it.'

BOSWELL. 'Confession?' JOHNSON. 'Why, I don't know but that is a good thing. The scripture says, "Confess your faults one to another," and the priests confess as well as the laity. Then it must be considered that their absolution is only upon repentance, and often upon penance also. You think your sins may be forgiven without penance, upon repentance alone.'

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

Barratry, Champerty, and Maintenance

Here are definitions of some interesting legal terms from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1913):It is not difficult to find examples of these practices nowadays, in the shysters soliciting bankruptcy, personal injury, or DWI clients on TV; in the contigent fee arrangement so common in personal injury cases; and in the myriad organizations whose names end with the words Defense Fund. In more civilized times, such practices were frowned on.

 

Premise and Premises

When I worked in the telecommunications industry, I would often hear and read the solecism "customer premise equipment". It should be "customer premises equipment".

Here are definitions from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1913).

Premise singular is 1) "a proposition antecedently supposed or proved; something previously stated or assumed as the basis of further argument; a condition; a supposition" or 2) "either of the first two propositions of a syllogism, from which the conclusion is drawn".

Premises plural are 3) "matters previously stated or set forth; esp., that part in the beginning of a deed, the office of which is to express the grantor and grantee, and the land or thing granted or conveyed, and all that precedes the habendum; the thing demised or granted" or 4) "a piece of real estate; a building and its adjuncts".

If the context calls for it, you can use either the singular or plural for senses 1) and 2). But you can never correctly use the singular for senses 3) and 4). The phrase "customer premises equipment" falls under sense 4).

I get 220,000 Google hits for "customer premises equipment", 83,000 for "customer premise equipment". I refuse to consult a modern dictionary to see what the descriptive "laxicographers" say. In these matters I'm an unrepentant prescriptivist.

Monday, May 23, 2005

 

Archimedes

The latest issue of Explorator has several links to news stories about the use of a particle accelerator to decipher pages of a palimpsest containing works of Archimedes. X-rays produced by the accelerator cause iron in the ink to glow.

Plutarch's Life of Marcellus has much information about Archimedes. Here are two selections (tr. Bernadotte Perrin).

17.3-7:
And yet Archimedes possessed such a lofty spirit, so profound a soul, and such a wealth of scientific theory, that although his inventions had won for him a name and fame for superhuman sagacity, he would not consent to leave behind him any treatise on this subject, but regarding the work of an engineer and every art that ministers to the needs of life as ignoble and vulgar, he devoted his earnest efforts only to those studies the subtlety and charm of which are not affected by the claims of necessity. These studies, he thought, are not to be compared with any others; in them the subject matter vies with the demonstration, the former supplying grandeur and beauty, the latter precision and surpassing power.

For it is not possible to find in geometry more profound and difficult questions treated in simpler and purer terms. Some attribute this success to his natural endowments; others think it due to excessive labour that everything he did seemed to have been performed without labour and with ease. For no one could by his own efforts discover the proof, and yet as soon as he learns it from him, he thinks he might have discovered it himself; so smooth and rapid is the path by which he leads one to the desired conclusion.

And therefore we may not disbelieve the stories told about him, how, under the lasting charm of some familiar and domestic Siren, he forgot even his food and neglected the care of his person; and how, when he was dragged by main force, as he often was, to the place for bathing and anointing his body, he would trace geometrical figures in the ashes, and draw lines with his finger in the oil with which his body was anointed, being possessed by a great delight, and in very truth a captive of the Muses.

And although he made many excellent discoveries, he is said to have asked his kinsmen and friends to place over the grave where he should be buried a cylinder enclosing a sphere, with an inscription giving the proportion by which the containing solid exceeds the contained.
19.4-6:
But what most of all afflicted Marcellus was the death of Archimedes. For it chanced that he was by himself, working out some problem with the aid of a diagram, and having fixed his thoughts and his eyes as well upon the matter of his study, he was not aware of the incursion of the Romans or of the capture of the city. Suddenly a soldier came upon him and ordered him to go with him to Marcellus. This Archimedes refused to do until he had worked out his problem and established his demonstration, whereupon the soldier flew into a passion, drew his sword, and dispatched him.

Others, however, say that the Roman came upon him with drawn sword threatening to kill him at once, and that Archimedes, when he saw him, earnestly besought him to wait a little while, that he might not leave the result that he was seeking incomplete and without demonstration; but the soldier paid no heed to him and made an end of him.

There is also a third story, that as Archimedes was carrying to Marcellus some of his mathematical instruments, such as sun-dials and spheres and quadrants, by means of which he made the magnitude of the sun appreciable to the eye, some soldiers fell in with him, and thinking that he was carrying gold in the box, slew him.

However, it is generally agreed that Marcellus was afflicted at his death, and turned away from his slayer as from a polluted person, and sought out the kindred of Archimedes and paid them honour.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

 

Freedom and Slavery

Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762):
Born to be slaves, our fathers freedom sought,
And with their blood the precious treasure bought;
We their mean offspring our own bondage plot,
And, born to freedom, for our chains we vote.

 

World-Ridden

Henry David Thoreau, Journals, May 12, 1857:
How rarely I meet with a man who can be free, even in thought! We live according to rule. Some men are bedridden; all, world-ridden. I take my neighbor, an intellectual man, out into the woods and invite him to take a new and absolute view of things, to empty clean out of his thoughts all institutions of men and start again; but he can’t do it, he sticks to his traditions and his crochets. He thinks that governments, colleges, newspapers, etc., are from everlasting to everlasting.

 

Religion

Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words (1954; rpt. Baltimore: Penguin Books, n.d.), p. 128, s.v. ideology:
This word offends some purists, but I do not see why it should, provided that its mesmeric influence is kept in check; the old-fashioned creed or faith may sometimes serve. But now that people no longer care enough about religion to fight, massacre, and enslave one another to secure the form of its observance, we need a word for what has taken its place as an excitant of those forms of human activity, and I know of none better.
If Gowers were alive today, he might change his mind about religion, what people think about it, and what they do in its name.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

 

Bibliobibuli

Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks (New York: Knopf, 1956), p. 71:
There are people who read too much: bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.
Bibliobibuli is a neat coinage, a masculine plural adjective from the Greek noun biblion (book) and the Latin adjective bibulus (fond of drinking), i.e. drunk on books.

Bibliobibulus (masculine singular) or Bibliobibula (feminine singular) would be a good name for a blog devoted to books and reading. Someone already laid claim to Bibliobibuli as a blog name, but the blog has only a single post, and the claim should be revoked.

Cf. Apuleius, Florida 4.20:
The wise man's saying at table is well-known: The first cup [of wine] belongs to thirst, the second to mirth, the third to pleasure, the fourth to madness. But on the other hand, the more often you drink the cup of the Muses and the purer it is, the nearer it approaches to health of mind. The first cup, that of the elementary teacher, frees us from ignorance; the second cup, that of the grammar teacher, instructs us in learning; the third cup, that of the rhetoric teacher, equips us with eloquence. Thus far and no further is drinking done by most people. But I have also drunk other cups at Athens: the imaginative cup of poetry, the clear cup of geometry, the sweet cup of music, the somewhat sour cup of dialectic, and now the cup of universal philosophy, inexhaustible and sweet as nectar.

sapientis viri super mensam celebre dictum est: 'prima,' inquit, 'cratera ad sitim pertinet, secunda ad hilaritatem, tertia ad voluptatem, quarta ad insaniam.' verum enimvero Musarum cratera versa vice quanto crebrior quantoque meracior, tanto propior ad animi sanitatem. prima cratera litteratoris rudimento eximit, secunda grammatici doctrina instruit, tertia rhetoris eloquentia armat. hactenus a plerisque potatur. ego et alias crateras Athenis bibi: poeticae commentam, geometriae limpidam, musicae dulcem, dialecticae austerulam, iam vero universae philosophiae inexplebilem scilicet et nectaream.
For more on this subject see Holbrook Jackson, Anatomy of Bibliomania (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1950), Part X (Of Book-Drinkers).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

 

Kindness to Animals

Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder 5.2-5 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
And yet we know that kindness has a wider scope than justice. Law and justice we naturally apply to men alone; but when it comes to beneficence and charity, these often flow in streams from the gentle heart, like water from a copious spring, even down to dumb beasts. A kindly man will take good care of his horses even when they are worn out with age, and of his dogs, too, not only in their puppyhood, but when their old age needs nursing.

While the Athenians were building the Parthenon, they turned loose for free and unrestricted pasturage such mules as were seen to be most persistently laborious. One of these, they say, came back to the works of its own accord, trotted along by the side of its fellows under the yoke, which were dragging the waggons up to the Acropolis, and even led the way for them, as though exhorting and inciting them on. The Athenians passed a decree that the animal be maintained at the public cost as long as it lived.

Then there were the mares of Cimon, with which he won three victories at Olympia; their graves are near the tombs of his family. Dogs also that have been close and constant companions of men, have often been buried with honour. Xanthippus, of olden time, gave the dog which swam along by the side of his trireme to Salamis, when the people were abandoning their city, honourable burial on the promontory which is called to this day Cynossema, or Dog's Mound.

We should not treat living creatures like shoes or pots and pans, casting them aside when they are bruised and worn out with service, but, if for no other reason, for the sake of practice in kindness to our fellow men, we should accustom ourselves to mildness and gentleness in our dealings with other creatures.

 

Pet Peeves

Here are a few things that have irritated me lately:
  1. Letters to the editor that start "As xxx, I..." Here's a recent example from the New York Times:
    As a former journalist who is now a public relations professional, I think that...
    Forget about your credentials and qualifications and academic degrees and self-importance. Just speak your mind.
  2. Incidences as the plural of incident. The correct plural is incidents. The incidence in spoken language of incidences seems to be higher than that of incidents, even among those who should know better.
  3. The phrase nuclear option, when applied to a proposed change in the Senate's filibuster rule. Or, as our President might pronounce it, the nucular option. According to Jeffrey Toobin, we have Trent Lott to blame for first using the phrase in this way. It is a sign of the megalomania that afflicts our leaders, who view their preoccupations in cosmic terms.

Monday, May 16, 2005

 

A Head on a Platter

Mark 6.17-29 (cf. Matthew 14.3-12):
For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.

And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.

And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
A charger (Greek pinax) is a platter or dish.

Although not mentioned in the commentaries available to me (Henry Barclay Swete on Mark, Vincent Taylor on Mark, William Barclay on Mark and Matthew, Alan Hugh McNeile on Matthew), there is a remarkably similar episode from the life of Lucius Quinctius Flaminius, consul in 192 B.C., expelled from the Senate by Cato the Censor in 184 B.C.

Like Herod, Lucius ordered a prisoner beheaded at a dinner party to gratify the whim of a favorite. The story appears in Cicero, Livy, and Plutarch.



Cicero, On Old Age 12.42 (tr. William Armistead Falconer, Cato is speaking):
It was a disagreeable duty that I performed in expelling Lucius Flaminius from the senate, for he was a brother of that most valiant man, Titus Flaminius, and had been consul seven years before; but I thought that lust merited the brand of infamy. For, when in Gaul during his consulship, at the solicitation of a courtesan at a banquet, he beheaded a prisoner then under condemnaton for some capital offence.

While his brother, my immediate predecessor, was censor, Lucius escaped punishment, but Flaccus and I could by no means approve of conduct so flagrant and abandoned, especially when to his crime against an individual he added dishonour to the state.


Livy 39.42-43 (tr. Henry Bettenson):
But from Cato's censorship there are extant a number of bitter speeches against those whom he removed from their seat in the Senate, or whom he deprived of their horses, and among these the most impressive by far is the attack on Lucius Quinctius; indeed, if he had delivered this speech as an accuser before the passing of censure instead of as a censor after it had been passed, not even his brother Titus Quinctius, had he been censor, would have been able to retain Lucius in the Senate.

Among other charges, he reproached him for his connection with Philippus the Carthaginian, an expensive and notorious prostitute whom he had induced, by holding out the promise of enormous gifts, to leave Rome, and join him in his province of Gaul. This boy, according to Cato, used often to upbraid the consul, in the course of playful raillery, because he had been taken away from Rome just before the gladitorial games, to display his compliance with his lover's demands.

Now it so happened that when they were having a dinner party, that a Boian notable, accompanied by his sons, had come to the Romans as a deserter; and that he wished for an interview with the consul so as to obtain his protection in person. He was brought into the tent, where he began to address the consul through an interpreter.

While the Boian was speaking. Quinctius said to his catamite: 'Since you missed the gladitorial show, would you like now to see this Gaul dying?' When the boy nodded, not really taking him seriously, the consul, at the nod of his prostitute, drew his sword, which was hanging above his head; and first he struck the head of the Gaul while he was still speaking, and then, as he tried to escape, imploring the protection of the Roman people and of those present, he ran him through.

Valerius Antias, not having read Cato's speech, gave credence to a tale circulated anonymously; he relates another version of the incident, which is, however, a similar story of lust and cruelty. Antias describes a dinner party at Placentia, to which Flaminius had invited a notorious woman whom he loved to distraction. At this party at Placentia, the consul was boasting to the harlot, telling her, among other things, about his severity in the administration of criminal justice and recounting how many people he had in custody, under sentence of death, whom he was going to behead.

The woman, reclining below him, then remarked that she had never seen anyone beheaded and she would very much like to witness an execution. On this the indulgent lover, we are told, ordered one of the unfortunates to be hauled before him, and chopped off his head.

Whether the act was performed as the censor described in his accusation, or as Valerius reports it, it was certainly a savage atrocity -- the sacrifice of a human victim as an amusement for a wanton harlot reclining on the bosom of a consul, with the victim's blood bespattering the table; and this in the midst of drinking and feasting, where, by custom, libations should be poured to the gods, and prayers offered for their blessing!


Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder 17.2-4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
There was a youth who, ever since his boyhood, had been the favourite of Lucius. This youth Lucius kept ever about him, and took with him on his campaigns in greater honour and power than any one of his nearest friends and kinsmen had. He was once administering the affairs of his consular province, and at a certain banquet this youth, as was his wont, reclined at his side, and began to pay his flatteries to a man who, in his cups, was too easily led about.

"I love you so much," he said, "that once, when there was a gladiatorial show at home, a thing which I had never seen, I rushed away from it to join you, although my heart was set on seeing a man slaughtered." "Well, for that matter," said Lucius, "don't lie there with any grudge against me, for I will cure it."

Thereupon he commanded that one of the men who were lying under sentence of death be brought to the banquet, and that a lictor with an axe stand by his side. Then he asked his beloved if he wished to see the man smitten. The youth said he did, and Lucius ordered the man's head to be cut off.

This is the version which most writers give of the affair, and so Cicero has represented Cato himself as telling the story in his dialogue "On Old Age." But Livy says the victim was a Gallic deserter, and that Lucius did not have the man slain by a lictor, but smote him with his own hand, and that this is the version of the story in a speech of Cato's.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

 

Flaubert and the Study of Greek

The French novelist Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was expelled from the Collège de Rouen at the age of eighteen, for protesting against the dismissal of a favorite teacher, the philosophy master Mallet. Two years later (January 22, 1842) we find him writing these words to another former teacher, the literature master Gourgaud-Dugazon:
I continue to keep myself busy with Greek and Latin, and perhaps I'll always keep myself busy with them. I love the perfume of those beautiful languages; Tacitus is for me like bronze bas-reliefs, and Homer is beautiful like the Mediterranean: both have the same pure blue waves, the same sun, and the same horizon.

Je continue à m'occuper de grec et de latin, et je m'en occuperai peut-être toujours. J'aime le parfum de ces belles langues-là; Tacite est pour moi comme des bas-reliefs de bronze, et Homère est beau comme la Méditerranée: ce sont les mêmes flots purs et bleus, c'est le même soleil et le même horizon.
In someone else's mouth, this might have been mere youthful braggadocio, but in fact Flaubert did continue to study the classics throughout his life, and his letters are filled with references to his reading.

On December 31, 1841, he told Ernest Chevalier that he planned to get up at four in the morning on New Year's Day, read Homer, and smoke his pipe while looking at the moon over the roofs of neighboring houses.

In the summer of 1845, he wrote to his closest friend, Alfred Le Poittevin, that he was reading a little Greek every day, had finished the second book of Herodotus, and was hoping to understand Sophocles in a year, with perseverance. His progress with Sophocles was slow -- on September 30, 1853, he wrote to his mistress Louise Colet that he was at last beginning to understand Sophocles a little.

He complained to Louise Colet on September 13, 1846:
At the moment I'm reading an Indian play, Sakountala, and I'm doing some Greek. It's not going well, my poor Greek -- your face always intrudes itself between the book and my eyes.

Je lis maintenant un drame indien, Sakountala, et je fais du grec; il ne va pas fort, mon pauvre grec, ta figure vient toujours se placer entre le livre et mes yeux.
In the middle of a trip to Egypt with Maxime DuCamp (March 13, 1850), Flaubert wrote to Louis Bouilhet that he was reading Homer's Odyssey every day in Greek and had completed four books of it since they had been on the Nile.

Later in the same trip the travellers spent six weeks in Greece, including a visit to Thermopylae on January 8, 1851. According to DuCamp, Souvenirs Littéraires (Paris: Balland, 1984), p. 168, Flaubert went into raptures, quoted the famous epigram on the Spartans who died there defending Greece against the Persian invasion, and said the battle would be a good subject for a novel. Flaubert's own account in his travel notes was much more restrained. He compared the topography with Herodotus' description of the battle and even expressed doubt that the guides had taken them to the right spot!

During their stay in Greece, the travellers were plagued by heavy rain, lack of funds, and general fatigue, but these minor irritations did not adversely color Flaubert's perception of the country or dim his enthusiasm for ancient Greek literature. A couple of years later, in letters written during the composition of Madame Bovary, Flaubert occasionally mentioned with regret that he was temporarily suspending his study of Greek, because of ill health or because the novel was giving him so much trouble and claiming all of his attention (1853 letters to Louise Colet, on January 12 and 15, April 16, and October 12).

After his masterpiece was completed, however, Flaubert gave himself up the study of Greek once again with undiminished zeal. In a letter to Ernest Feydeau (December 19, 1858), he described his reading during the past eighteen days, which included Xenophon's Anabasis, six treatises of Plutarch, and the Homeric hymn to Demeter.

Flaubert's historical novel Salammbô was the subject of a hostile review by the orientalist Guillaume Froehner. In an open letter, dated January 21, 1863, Flaubert struck back and blasted the pedantic Froehner with a flurry of citations from relatively obscure Greek authors, among them Aelian, Athenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Diodorus Siculus, Eusebius, Pausanias, Philostratus, Polybius, Strabo, and Theophrastus. Flaubert admitted that he often relied on translations rather than on original texts, but the display of learning in this letter is nevertheless impressive testimony to his close study of Greek literature. Enid Starkie, Flaubert: The Making of the Master (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967), p. 338, said that Flaubert could have been a great scholar, had he not devoted himself to art instead, and Flaubert's counter-attack on Froehner confirms the truth of Starkie's observation.

Towards the end of his life Flaubert was still planning to write the novel on the battle of Thermopylae that he had mentioned years earlier to DuCamp, according to letters to Mme. Roger des Genettes (November 10, 1877) and to his niece Caroline (December 20, 1878, and June 19, 1879). He even talked about another trip to Greece, to do research on the spot. Concerning this proposed trip he wrote to his niece (November 19, 1879):
Yesterday I spent a pleasant afternoon alone with [Georges] Pouchet, who's a fine fellow, so intelligent and so unpretentious! We daydreamed together about our trip to Thermopylae, when I've finished with Bouvard and Pécuchet. But by then, that is in eighteen months, do you think your old man will be too old?

Hier j'ai passé un excellent après-midi, seul avec Pouchet, qui est un charmant homme, si instruit et si simple! Nous avons rêvé ensemble le voyage aux Thermopyles, quand je serai quitte de Bouvard et Pécuchet. Mais à cette époque-là, c'est-à-dire dans dix-huit mois, Vieux ne sera-t-il pas trop vieux?
Flaubert was too old. He died less than six months after writing these words, without finishing Bouvard and Pécuchet and without starting The Battle of Thermopylae.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

 

Cicero's De Senectute

What follows is a modest contribution to the Rezeptionsgeschichte of Cicero's De Senectute (On Old Age) in the New World.



Andrew Dickson White, Autobiography (New York: Century Book. Co., 1905), chapter II (Yale and Europe--1850-1857):
Nor was it any better in Latin. We were reading, during that term the "De Senectute" of Cicero,--a beautiful book; but to our tutor it was neither more nor less than a series of pegs on which to hang Zumpt's rules for the subjunctive mood. The translation was hurried through, as of little account. Then came questions regarding the subjunctives;--questions to which very few members of the class gave any real attention. The best Latin scholar in the class, G. W. S----, since so distinguished as the London correspondent of the "New York Tribune," and, at present, as the New York correspondent of the London "Times," having one day announced to some of us,--with a very round expletive,--that he would answer no more such foolish questions, the tutor soon discovered his recalcitrancy, and thenceforward plied him with such questions and nothing else. S---- always answered that he was not prepared on them; with the result that at the Junior Exhibition he received no place on the programme.
Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918) was the first president of Cornell. He graduated from Yale in 1853. GWS was George Washburn Smalley (1833-1916). The Latin grammar of Carl Gottlob Zumpt (1792-1894) first appeared in 1818. It went through many editions and was translated into English by John Kenrick. I don't know who White's Latin tutor at Yale was.



Oiver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858), VII:
But in the mean time I have been reading the treatise, "De Senectute." It is not long, but a leisurely performance. The old gentleman was sixty-three years of age when he addressed it to his friend T. Pomponius Atticus, Eq., a person of distinction, some two or three years older. We read it when we are schoolboys, forget all about it for thirty years, and then take it up again by a natural instinct,--provided always that we read Latin as we drink water, without stopping to taste it, as all of us who ever learned it at school or college ought to do.

Cato is the chief speaker in the dialogue. A good deal of it is what would be called in vulgar phrase "slow." It unpacks and unfolds incidental illustrations which a modern writer would look at the back of, and toss each to its pigeon-hole. I think ancient classics and ancient people are alike in the tendency to this kind of expansion.

....

It is not generally understood that Cicero's essay was delivered as a lyceum lecture, (concio popularis,) at the Temple of Mercury. The journals (papyri) of the day ("Tempora Quotidiana,"--"Tribuinus Quirinalis,"--"Praeco Romanus," and the rest) gave abstracts of it, one of which I have translated and modernized, as being a substitute for the analysis I intended to make.

IV. Kal. Mart. . . . .

The lecture at the Temple of Mercury, last evening, was well attended by the elite of our great city. Two hundred thousand sestertia were thought to have been represented in the house. The doors were besieged by a mob of shabby fellows, (illotum vulgus,) who were at length quieted after two or three had been somewhat roughly handled (gladio jugulati). The speaker was the well-known Mark Tully, Eq.,--the subject Old Age. Mr. T. has a lean and scraggy person, with a very unpleasant excrescence upon his nasal feature, from which his nickname of CHICK-PEA (Cicero) is said by some to be derived. As a lecturer is public property, we may remark, that his outer garment (toga) was of cheap stuff and somewhat worn, and that his general style and appearance of dress and manner (habitus, vestitusque) were somewhat provincial.

The lecture consisted of an imaginary dialogue between Cato and Laelius. We found the first portion rather heavy, and retired a few moments for refreshment (pocula quaedam vini).--All want to reach old age, says Cato, and grumble when they get it; therefore they are donkeys.--The lecturer will allow us to say that he is the donkey; we know we shall grumble at old age, but we want to live through youth and manhood, IN SPITE of the troubles we shall groan over.--There was considerable prosing as to what old age can do and can't.--True, but not new. Certainly, old folks can't jump,--break the necks of their thigh-bones, (femorum cervices,) if they do; can't crack nuts with their teeth; can't climb a greased pole (malum inunctum scandere non possunt); but they can tell old stories and give you good advice; if they know what you have made up your mind to do when you ask them.--All this is well enough, but won't set the Tiber on fire (Tiberim accendere nequaquam potest.)

There were some clever things enough, (dicta hand inepta,) a few of which are worth reporting.--Old people are accused of being forgetful; but they never forget where they have put their money.--Nobody is so old he doesn't think he can live a year.--The lecturer quoted an ancient maxim,--Grow old early, if you would be old long,--but disputed it.--Authority, he thought, was the chief privilege of age.--It is not great to have money, but fine to govern those that have it.--Old age begins at FORTY-SIX years, according to the common opinion.--It is not every kind of old age or of wine that grows sour with time.--Some excellent remarks were made on immortality, but mainly borrowed from and credited to Plato.--Several pleasing anecdotes were told.--Old Milo, champion of the heavy weights in his day, looked at his arms and whimpered, "They are dead." Not so dead as you, you old fool,--says Cato;--you never were good for anything but for your shoulders and flanks.--Pisistratus asked Solon what made him dare to be so obstinate. Old age, said Solon.

The lecture was on the whole acceptable, and a credit to our culture and civilization.--The reporter goes on to state that there will be no lecture next week, on account of the expected combat between the bear and the barbarian. Betting (sponsio) two to one (duo ad unum) on the bear.


The prefaces to volumes of the Loeb Classical Library are usually dry, no-nonsense affairs. Rarely does a personal note creep in. A charming exception to this rule is the introduction to the translation of Cicero's treatises De Senectute, De Amicitia, De Divinatione (On Old Age, On Friendship, On Divination) by William Armistead Falconer, Judge of the Tenth Chancery Circuit in Arkansas, first published in 1923. Judge Falconer, who lived from 1869 to 1927, wrote:
When my uncle, then in his eighty-first year, was confined to his room by a serious illness, he received a letter of consolation from a friend, who quoted from Shuckburgh's translation of the De senectute. This quotation, though short, brought solace and cheer to the invalid and made him eager to hear more of Cicero's views on old age, and, as a result, he asked me to bring him the essay in the Latin and read it to him. Twenty years had passed since I had read the tractate at the University of Virginia under my revered old professor, Dr. Wm. E. Peters, and hence my rendering at first sight must have done violence to the original in many places; but just as 'honour peereth in the meanest habit,' so the light of Cicero's genius was not wholly obscured by the medium through which it passed. At any rate, when I had finished, my uncle begged me -- more, I think, for my good than for his own pleasure -- to write out a translation of the entire treatise. I pleaded that my Latin was too rusty and that my judicial duties did not leave me leisure for such a task. He replied that my Latin would brighten with use and that an hour or half-hour spent upon it now and then would not be missed and would afford me needed recreation. In his earnestness he exacted a promise which his death a few months later made only the more sacred. And so, on the trains as I went about the circuit, in hotels at night after trying cases all day, I strove to redeem that promise.
I don't know of any better refutation of Mencken's slanders against the South (in The Sahara of the Bozarks and elsewhere) than Falconer's modest words. They are evidence of a genteel and civilized way of life now lost forever.

Things in Falconer's preface that strike me as uncommon in our day include:
  1. The letter of consolation to an invalid.
  2. The quotation of a classical author in such a letter.
  3. The visit to a sick uncle.
  4. The ability of a judge to read and translate Latin literature.
  5. The determination to fulfil a sacred vow.


John Gould, Tales from Rhapsody Home. Or, What They Don't Tell You About Senior Living (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2000), pp. 179-180:
Summing things up, as we should do about now, calls for a reference to De Senectute, in English, Old Age, the essay of Marcus Tullius Cicero written in 44 B.C. I, and numerous others, read it when we were young, perhaps in high school Latin class, in the blithe days when growing old wasn't important. The year I was fifty, I began making it a practice of re-reading De Senectute every October 22, my birthday and also my anniversary. Each year I find something in it I had not appreciated the previous year. I recommend reading it before moving to your own Rhapsody Home. It will tell you how to be young when you are old.

Friday, May 13, 2005

 

Guest Worker Program

Aeschylus, Suppliant Maidens 401 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
Thou didst honour aliens and hast wrought the ruin of thine own land.

 

Journalistic Accuracy

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, chapter 25:
Correspondents of the press were ever on hand to hear every word dropped, and were not always disposed to report correctly what did not confirm their preconceived notions, either about the conduct of the war or the individuals concerned in it.

 

Blogging

Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, August 14, 1947:
Imperfection is the penalty of rushing into print. And people who rush into print too often do so not because they really have anything to say, but because they think it is important for something by them to be in print.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

Cult of Personality

Sickening and blasphemous.

 

Censorship

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese has been forced to resign as editor of America magazine. What's next, the return of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?

 

Geraldo Rivera and Socrates

Geraldo (né Gerald) Rivera, speaking of his past sexual infidelities, quoted by Sridhar Pappu, Atlantic Monthly, vol. 295, no. 5 (June, 2005), p. 96:
That certainly has been my story. But not now. I've been clean and sober [sexually speaking] for four years, and I've had a million opportunities, obviously, being on the road, especially in Asia. But I've been studious about it. I figure, I've got a thirty-year-old wife -- why am I going to be greedy about it? I've finally given it up. Socrates was free of it at eighty. I was free of it before Socrates.
Socrates was free of "it" and everything else at eighty, since he died at age seventy. Perhaps Rivera meant Sophocles. Cephalus in Plato's Republic (329 b-d, tr. Benjamin Jowett) says:
How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles — are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

 

Modern Art

Read Joy of Knitting's amusing comments (scroll down to Sunday, May 8, 2005) about modern art.

 

The Fungus Among Us

Tom Volk's fungus of the month for May 2005 is the black tulip fungus.

 

Epitaphs

Here is the epitaph of the Greek tragedian Aeschylus, perhaps written by himself (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
This tomb hideth the dust of Aeschylus, an Athenian, Euphorion's son, who died in wheat-bearing Gela; his glorious valour the precinct of Marathon may proclaim, and the long-haired Medes, who knew it well.
The epitaph refers to the Athenian victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C., but makes no mention of Aeschylus' plays.

Similarly Thomas Jefferson's epitaph, also written by himself, makes no mention of the fact that he served as President of the United States:
HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE
DECLARATION
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
FOR
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
BORN APRIL 2. 1743. O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826

 

Pteridological Humor

Different species of ferns sometimes unite to produce sterile offspring, known as hybrids. John T. Mickel, How to Know the Ferns and Fern Allies (Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown, 1979), p. 15, has this caption beneath a cartoon of ferns joining in marriage:
Do you Asplenium platyneuron take this Camptosorus rhizophyllus to be your unlawful hybridizing pteridophyte?
I corrected a couple of misprints -- the original has Camptosovus and ptevidophyte. I suspect that Mickel's handwritten r looks like v.

 

Unclean Spirits and Cockroaches

Mark Goodacre at NT Gateway Weblog adds another parallel (Matthew 12.43-45, cf. Luke 11.24-26) to my collection of passages from ancient literature expressing the idea that evil things are never destroyed but only move about from place to place:
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
I just came across another example from modern folklore to put alongside my Tom Sawyer parallel. In the chapter on cockroaches in Life on a Little-Known Planet (Philadephia: E.P. Dutton, 1968), p. 62, entomologist Howard Ensign Evans reports an odd method of roach control, quoted from Frank Cowan, Curious Facts in the History of Insects (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1865):
It is none other than to address these pests a written letter containing the following words, or to this effect: 'O, Roaches, you have troubled me long enough, go now and trouble my neighbors.' This letter must be put where they most swarm, after sealing and going through with other customary forms of letter writing. It is well, too, to write legibly and punctuate according to rule.
Evans' book is a gem. He closes the cockroach chapter with these words:
When a scientist is asked what good his research is, the classic answer (and a good one) is a shrug of the shoulders. A more thorough knowledge of roaches may or may not help us to reach a "peaceful coexistence" with them. But to a student of roaches, it is self-evident that any creature so beautifully adapted and adaptable for lo these millions of years is worth lifetimes of study. Not that we should all emulate roaches (though it might be exciting for a while if we could do so without selling our souls for a whiff of pheromone); but if there are any underlying principles of long-term survival, surely they are evidenced by the roaches. The study of roaches may lack the aesthetic values of bird-watching and the glamour of space flight, but nonetheless it would seem to be one of the more worthwhile of human activities. In fact, as I scan the evening paper, I wonder if it may not be more worthwhile than most of them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

 

The Cup of Diogenes

Diogenes Laertius 6.37 (on Diogenes the Cynic, tr. R.D. Hicks):
One day, observing a child drinking out of his hands, he cast away the cup from his wallet with the words, "A child has beaten me in plainness of living."
Ausonius versified the episode in his Epigrams (49):
Satchel, barley-meal, cloak, staff, cup -- this was the scanty kit of the Cynic. But he thought it was excessive. For seeing a rustic drinking with cupped hands, he said, "Why, cup, do I carry you, a superfluous thing?"

Pera, polenta, tribon, baculus, scyphus, arta supellex
    ista fuit Cynici, set putat hanc nimiam.
Namque cavis manibus cernens potare bubulcum
    'cur, scyphe, te', dixit, 'gesto supervacuum?'

Monday, May 09, 2005

 

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Michael McCarthy, The vanishing flowers of Britain.

 

Latin and Greek

Robert Burns, Epistle To J. Lapraik, An Old Scottish Bard (April 1, 1785):
What's a' your jargon o' your schools--
Your Latin names for horns an' stools?
If honest Nature made you fools,
What sairs your grammars?
Ye'd better taen up spades and shools,
Or knappin-hammers.

A set o' dull, conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in college classes!
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An' syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o' Greek!
a' = all
sairs = serves
taen = taken
shools = shovels
knappin-hammers = hammers for breaking stones
hashes = oafs
gang = go
stirks = young bullocks
syne = then

 

Dr. Johnson on Bloggers

Samuel Johnson, quoted by James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (Thursday, August 19, 1773):
I wonder, however, that so many people have written, who might have let it alone.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

 

Dalrymple Watch

Recent essays by Theodore Dalrymple:

Saturday, May 07, 2005

 

More on Religion and Politics

A church in North Carolina, East Waynesville Baptist Church, has just kicked out members of its congregation who supported Kerry.

 

The Gadarene Swine

In all exorcisms except one, Jesus simply expelled the demons. But at Gadara (or Gerasa or Gergesa), Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs. Matthew 8.30-32 (cf. Mark 5.11-13 and Luke 8.32-33) wrote:
And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
Jesus performed this miracle in pagan territory, the Decapolis.

There are passages from Greek and Latin literature in which petitioners beg the gods to transfer an evil from one place to another, or from one person to another. It's almost as if the amount of evil in the world is constant, and evil cannot be destroyed but can only change location. Clytemnestra in Aeschylus' Agamemnon (lines 1568-1573, tr. Herbert Weir Smyth) says:
As for me, however, I am willing to make a sworn compact with the Fiend of the house of Pleisthenes that I will be content with what is done, hard to endure though it is. Henceforth he [the Fiend] shall leave this house and bring tribulation upon some other race by murder of kin.
In Aeschylus' original Greek, the fiend is a daimon.

Similarly, in one of Horace's Odes (1.21), the poet instructs maidens to pray to Diana, boys to pray to Diana's brother Apollo. The final stanza (lines 13-16) runs thus:
Moved by your prayer, he [Apollo] will drive tearful war and wretched hunger and pestilence away from our people and from our leader Caesar to the inhabitants of Persia and Britain.

hic bellum lacrimosum, hic miseram famem
pestemque a populo et principe Caesare in
    Persas atque Britannos
    vestra motus aget prece.
Apollo in his role as Averter of Evil (Latin averruncus, Greek alexeterios, alexikakos, aleximoros, apotropaios) won't do away with war, famine, and plague -- he will simply transfer them elsewhere.

Also in Horace, Epodes 5.51-54, the witch Canidia prays:
Night and Diana, who rule the silent time when secret rites are performed, now, now be present, now transfer your anger and power to the houses of my enemies.

Nox et Diana, quae silentium regis,
    arcana cum fiunt sacra,
nunc, nunc adeste, nunc in hostilis domos
    iram atque numen vertite.
Livy 5.18.12 records prayers of this sort invoking destruction on Rome's arch enemy, the Etruscan city Veii:
Supplications were made in the temples, and with prayers the gods were asked to ward off destruction from Rome's houses, temples, and walls and to turn that panic against Veii.

obsecrationes in templis factae, precibusque ab dis petitum ut exitium ab urbis tectis templisque ac moenibus Romanis arcerent Veiosque eum averterent terrorem.
The prayers were answered when Rome destroyed Veii in 396 B.C.

In Horace's Ode 4.1, the poet asks the goddess of love, Venus, to stop tormenting him, and to bother his friend Paullus Fabius Maximus instead. Discussing this ode, Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), pp. 410-411, wrote:
This type of prayer is based on a widespread and very ancient belief. If a daemon or god is bent on harming you -- and in the early days, before the gods became humanized, that seems to have been their favorite occupation -- it will do you little good if you just cry out 'spare me' (pheidou, parce). You have to do that as a matter of form, but if you are wise you will add some more effective bait. If you are able to point to a really attractive substitute, then, perhaps, you may succeed in diverting the god from his original object, from you and yours. An obvious candidate for such a substitute is an enemy, either your country's or a personal one; but if you do not want to be so specific, you may be content with asking the daemon to prey on 'others'.
In Euripides' Alcestis, it is time for Admetus to die, unless he can find a substitute to take his place. His parents refuse, but his wife Alcestis volunteers.

Huck Finn's cure for warts, in Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, chap. 6, reflects this same folk belief that you can never really destroy an evil, but only transfer it someplace else:
"But say--how do you cure 'em with dead cats?"

"Why, you take your cat and go and get in the graveyard 'long about midnight when somebody that was wicked has been buried; and when it's midnight a devil will come, or maybe two or three, but you can't see 'em, you can only hear something like the wind, or maybe hear 'em talk; and when they're taking that feller away, you heave your cat after 'em and say, 'Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow cat, I'm done with ye!' That'll fetch ANY wart."

"Sounds right. D'you ever try it, Huck?"

"No, but old Mother Hopkins told me."

"Well, I reckon it's so, then. Becuz they say she's a witch."

Friday, May 06, 2005

 

The Presentation of Electronic Texts

Thanks to Sauvage Noble for drawing my attention to a very interesting collection of Latin texts, under the name Bibliotheca Latinitatis Romana, which includes some off-beat things I have not seen elsewhere, such as Ilias Latina, Testamentum Porcelli, and Dares Phrygius.

Grateful as I am, I cannot resist a few quibbles about the presentation of these texts.
  1. You have to click through at least three links to get from the table of contents to an actual text.
  2. Many texts, even very short ones like Contra Haereticos, are split up into multiple pages, which is a pain when you want to download a complete text to your own computer, as I often do. I always like to see a single text on a single web page (although it's OK to split up something like Vergil's Aeneid into books). The presentation of the texts at Perseus is frustrating, for the same reason -- they're all chopped up into little pieces.
  3. Line numbers are missing, at least for the couple of plays of Plautus I spot checked, which is a major hindrance if you're starting from a citation with a line number and want to find the passage where it occurs. Some texts at The Latin Library also lack line numbers, e.g. Ovid's Heroides.
Bibliotheca Latinitatis Romana allows you to obtain statistics concerning texts, but here is a sample:
Frequency - Word Form
1 habent
1 haec
2 homines
2 html
The word html isn't in any Latin lexicon I've ever seen!

I once wrote a quick and dirty computer program, for my own use, to extract word frequencies from texts. One useful form of output was a complete list of all words arranged by frequency, from the most frequent words to the hapax legomena. You can get statistics like this from Bibliotheca Latinitatis Romana, but they're split over several pages. It would also be a real boon if someone would make available a similar program that grouped together related Latin words regardless of their inflections (e.g. statistics for ferre and tulit under fero).

Despite my quibbles, I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to have ancient texts freely available online. Scholars with university affiliations have access to corpora of ancient texts in digital form (such as TLG and PHI), but these collections are too expensive for independent scholars on limited budgets.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

 

Turtles

Horace, Odes 1.32.13-14:
O decus Phoebi et dapibus supremi
  grata testudo Iovis!

O glory of Phoebus, turtle welcome even at the feasts of highest Jove!
When I read these lines I sometimes imagine that Horace is talking about turtle soup, which of course he's not. But I'm not the only one who has made this connection. Thackeray in his Burlesques writes:
'Twas noon in Chepe. The ware-rooms were thronged. The flaunting windows of the mercers attracted many a purchaser: the glittering panes behind which Birmingham had glazed its simulated silver, induced rustics to pause: although only noon, the savory odors of the Cook Shops tempted the over hungry citizen to the bun of Bath, or to the fragrant potage that mocks the turtle's flavor--the turtle! O dapibus supremi grata testudo Jovis! I am an Alderman when I think of thee! Well: it was noon in Chepe.
It was thought that London alderman were especially fond of turtle soup and dined on it at their banquets. The Oxford English Dictionary defines turtledom as "a collective name for those who eat turtle (i.e. spec. London aldermen)." Thackeray's circumlocution "the fragrant potage that mocks the turtle's flavor" refers to mock turtle soup, actually made from the head of a calf.

Horace was thinking not of turtle soup, but of the lyre, invented by Hermes and first made from the shell of a tortoise (Latin testudo, Greek chelys). The Homeric Hymn to Hermes (22-56, tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White) tells the story:
But as he stepped over the threshold of the high-roofed cave, he found a tortoise there and gained endless delight. For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. When he saw it, the luck-bringing son of Zeus [Hermes] laughed and said:

"An omen of great luck for me so soon! I do not slight it. Hail, comrade of the feast, lovely in shape, sounding at the dance! With joy I meet you! Where got you that rich gaud for covering, that spangled shell --a tortoise living in the mountains? But I will take and carry you within: you shall help me and I will do you no disgrace, though first of all you must profit me. It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors. Living, you shall be a spell against mischievous witchcraft; but if you die, then you shall make sweetest song."

Thus speaking, he took up the tortoise in both hands and went back into the house carrying his charming toy. Then he cut off its limbs and scooped out the marrow of the mountain-tortoise with a scoop of grey iron. As a swift thought darts through the heart of a man when thronging cares haunt him, or as bright glances flash from the eye, so glorious Hermes planned both thought and deed at once. He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening their ends across the back and through the shell of the tortoise, and then stretched ox hide all over it by his skill. Also he put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece upon the two of them, and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut. But when he had made it he proved each string in turn with the key, as he held the lovely thing. At the touch of his hand it sounded marvelously; and, as he tried it, the god sang sweet random snatches, even as youths bandy taunts at festivals.
Testudo has another unusual meaning in Latin. Roman soldiers sometimes held their shields flat over their heads, in such a way that the shields overlapped, to protect themselves from enemy missiles. This formation was known as a testudo, a tortoise. Dio Cassius 49.30 (tr. E. Cary) has a good description of the military testudo:
This testudo and the way in which it is formed are as follows. The baggage animals, the light-armed troops, and the cavalry are placed in the centre of the army. The heavy-armed troops who use the oblong, curved, and cylindrical shields are drawn up around the outside, making a rectangular figure; and, facing outward and holding their arms at the ready, they enclose the rest. The others, who have flat shields, form a compact body in the centre and raise their shields over the heads of all the others, so that nothing but shields can be seen in every part of the phalanx alike and all the men by the density of the formation are under shelter from missiles. Indeed, it is so marvellously strong that men can walk upon it, and whenever they come to a narrow ravine, even horses and vehicles can be driven over it. Such is the plan of this formation, and for this reason it has received the name testudo, with reference both to its strength and to the excellent shelter it affords. They use it in two ways: either they approach some fort to assault it, often even enabling men to scale the very walls, or sometimes, when they are surrounded by archers, they all crouch together — even the horses being taught to kneel or lie down — and thereby cause the foe to think that they are exhausted; then, when the enemy draws near, they suddenly rise and throw them into consternation.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

 

The Jury System

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, chap. 4:
"Juries," said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was his wont when working into a passion, "Juries is ineddicated, vulgar, grovelling wretches."

"So they are," said the undertaker.

"They haven't no more philosophy nor political economy about 'em than that," said the beadle, snapping his fingers contemptuously.

"No more they have," acquiesced the undertaker.

"I despise 'em," said the beadle, growing very red in the face.

"So do I," rejoined the undertaker.

 

No Escape

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chap. 8 (The Village):
But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

 

Job Opportunity

This is how one computer programmer whose job was outsourced is coping. Maybe his new job is not all that different from his old one. As a programmer colleague of mine once said about our efforts to refurbish some crappy software: "No matter how much whipped cream you put on top of a pile of excrement, it still smells like excrement."

 

A Modest Proposal

Demosthenes, Against Timocrates 139-140 (tr. J.H. Vince):
I should like, gentlemen of the jury, to give you a description of the method of legislation among the Locrians. It will do you no harm to hear an example, especially one set by a well-governed community. In that country the people are so strongly of the opinion that it is right to observe old-established laws, to preserve the institutions of their forefathers, and never to legislate for the gratification of whims, or for a compromise with transgression, that if a man wishes to propose a new law, he legislates with a halter around his neck. If the law is accepted as good and beneficial, the proposer departs with his life, but, if not, the halter is drawn tight, and he is a dead man.

In very truth they are not bold enough to propose new laws, but punctually obey the old ones. And, during quite a long series of years, we are told, gentlemen, that they have enacted only one new statute.
It might be worth trying, here and now.

 

The Angels and Mozart

A few days ago I quoted George Weigel on the new pope:
Benedict XVI is a Mozart man, who knows that Mozart is what the angels play when they perform for the sheer joy of it.
I have since happened across a similar remark by Protestant theologian Karl Barth, quoted in his New York Times obituary:
Whether the angels play only Bach praising God I am not quite sure; I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart.
Source: Derek Watson, Dictionary of Musical Quotations (1991; rpt. Ware: Wordsworth, 1994), p. 168.

Monday, May 02, 2005

 

Religion and Politics

I am grateful to Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things for posting his Sunday sermons, especially last Sunday's.

The sermon I sat through yesterday at Sunday Mass was a disappointment. The priest urged parishioners to contact legislators and the governor about reductions in a state-sponsored health insurance program. There were even postcards, pre-printed with the party line, available for the faithful to sign and put in the collection plate. The parish supplied the postage. The priest was only following the lead of his bishop by pontificating on this issue.

My distaste for this clerical meddling in politics has nothing to do with the merits of the health insurance program. I have searched the Gospels diligently and failed to find even one passage where Jesus advised his followers what to think about political issues of the day. Indeed, He went out of his way to avoid doing so, if I read Matthew 22:15-22 correctly. If Catholics want to influence health care in the state of Minnesota, the way to do it is to build hospitals to serve the sick and needy, not to browbeat parishioners into taking partisan political positions.

This political advice from the pulpit is just as disgusting as Senator Bill Frist's remarks on "Justice Sunday" to a rally sponsored by the Family Research Council. The Democrats' threatened filibuster against Bush's judicial nominees is not an attack on people of faith.

Politicians on both the left and the right need to stop claiming divine approval for their positions.

 

Fame

Cicero, In Defense of Archias 26:
Philosophers themselves, even in the books which they write about despising fame, sign their own names.

ipsi illi philosophi, etiam in iis libellis quos de contemnenda gloria scribunt, nomen suum inscribunt.
Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.14.34:
Do not our philosophers, in the very books which they write about despising fame, sign their own names?

nostri philosophi nonne in iis libris ipsis, quos scribunt de contemnenda gloria, sua nomina inscribunt?
Tacitus, Histories 4.6:
Even by wise men the desire for fame is laid aside last of all.

etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

 

Forms of Address

Mr. Dennis Mangan has some interesting observations on forms of address. He concludes:
It seems to me that the old style of denominating everyone as Mister, Missus, or Miss gave dignity to all, no matter what their station in life. Maybe we ought to bring it back.
Being the reactionary that he is, Mr. Mangan may be pleased to learn that St. Benedict, in his rule for monks (chapter 63), arrived at exactly the same solution to the problem of how we should address one another. Always use titles rather than bare names:
Let the juniors, therefore, respect the seniors, and the seniors love the juniors. Moreover, even in the form of address, let no one call another by the bare name [puro nomine]; but let the seniors call their juniors brothers [fratres] and the juniors address their seniors as fathers [nonnos]. In this way, paternal respect is signified. Let the Abbot, however, because he is thought to act in Christ's stead, be called Lord and Abbot [Domnus et Abbas]; not from any claim on his own part, but out of honor and love for Christ.
I have written an essay on the antecedents of this rule in ancient Greek, Latin, and Jewish sources.

 

A Mangled Quotation

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 243, discusses the origins of e pluribus unum and gives as one (unlikely) possibility
an essay by Richard Steele in The Spectator (August 20, 1711), which opens with the Latin phrase Exempta juvat spiris e pluribus unus ("Better one thorn plucked than all remain").
Hendrickson erred with spiris and unus, which should be spinis and una. Steele quoted the phrase correctly from Horace, Epistles 2.2.212:
Exempta juvat spinis e pluribus una.
But even Steele left out a couple of words. Horace wrote:
quid te exempta juvat spinis e pluribus una?
When we add back the missing words, the phrase means "How does one thorn removed out of so many help you?" which is very different from "Better one thorn plucked than all remain."

The only critical edition of Horace on my bookshelf (by Wickham and Garrod for the Oxford Classical Texts series) gives a slightly different version of the line:
quid te exempta iuvat spinis de pluribus una?
Note the substitution of the preposition de for e (with no variant mentioned in the critical apparatus).

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