Thursday, June 30, 2005


Down on the Farm

It's interesting to read about natural farming, mad cow disease, liquefied waste, and other agricultural topics from the perspective of a genuine family farmer, Dave Haxton. His quirky and stimulating opinions on other subjects are well worth reading as well.


Newbolt and Martial

In the twenty-first century a fondness for Kipling's poetry is the mark of someone with hopelessly jingoistic and antediluvian tastes. I'm fond not only of Kipling but of his near contemporary and soul mate Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), author of these stirring lines:
To set the cause above renown,
  To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
  The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good,
  And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
  That binds the brave of all the earth . . .
Newbolt wrote two paraphrases of the Roman poet Martial, reproduced below with the Latin originals.

Martial 5.20:

Bernard, if to you and me
  Fortune all at once should give
Years to spend secure and free,
  With the choice of how to live,
Tell me, what should we proclaim
Life deserving of the name?

Winning some one else's case?
  Saving some one else's seat?
Hearing with a solemn face
  People of importance bleat?
No, I think we should not still
Waste our time at others' will.

Summer noons beneath the limes,
  Summer rides at evening cool,
Winter's tales and home-made rhymes,
  Figures on the frozen pool---
These would we for labours take,
And of these our business make.

Ah! but neither you nor I
  Dare in earnest venture so;
Still we let the good days die
  And to swell the reckoning go.
What are those that know the way,
Yet to walk therein delay?

Si tecum mihi, care Martialis,
securis liceat frui diebus,
si disponere tempus otiosum
et verae pariter vacare vitae:
nec nos atria nec domos potentum
nec litis tetricas forumque triste
nossemus nec imagines superbas;
sed gestatio, fabulae, libelli,
campus, porticus, umbra, Virgo, thermae,
haec essent loca semper, hi labores.
Nunc vivit necuter sibi, bonosque
soles effugere atque abire sentit,
qui nobis pereunt et inputantur.
Quisquam vivere cum sciat, moratur?

Martial 10.23:

To-day, my friend is seventy-five;
  He tells his tale with no regret;
  His brave old eyes are steadfast yet,
His heart the lightest heart alive.

He sees behind him green and wide
  The pathway of his pilgrim years;
  He sees the shore, and dreadless hears
The whisper of the creeping tide.

For out of all his days, not one
  Has passed and left its unlaid ghost
  To seek a light for ever lost,
Or wail a deed for ever done.

So for reward of life-long truth
  He lives again, as good men can,
  Redoubling his allotted span
With memories of a stainless youth.

Iam numerat placido felix Antonius aevo
  Quindecies actas Primus Olympiadas
praeteritosque dies et tutos respicit annos
  nec metuit Lethes iam propioris aquas.
nulla recordanti lux est ingrata gravisque;
  nulla fuit, cuius non meminisse velit.
Ampliat aetatis spatium sibi vir bonus: hoc est
  vivere bis, vita posse priore frui.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005



On Monday, the Supreme Court decided two cases concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on government property, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky and Van Orden v. Perry. Writing the majority opinion in the latter case, Chief Justice Rehnquist introduced the figure of a pagan god, Janus:
Our cases, Januslike, point in two directions in applying the Establishment Clause. One face looks toward the strong role played by religion and religious traditions throughout our Nation's history . . . . The other face looks toward the principle that governmental intervention in religious matters can itself endanger religious freedom. This case, like all Establishment Clause challenges, presents us with the difficulty of respecting both faces.
Here is a Roman coin showing the two faces of Janus, whom the Romans described as biceps (two-headed) or bifrons (two-faced).

The name of our first month, January, comes from the god Janus. Maybe the name of the month should be changed, because it favors one religion (Roman paganism) over others and might therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The French actually did this, during their Revolution, in an attempt to extirpate all traces of religion from their calendar. Our January spans what used to be the French months of Nivôse and Pluviôse (Snowy and Rainy).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Latin Pronunciation

A.P. Herbert, Uncommon Law (1935), Rex v. Venables and Others (a fictitious case), after Mr. Wick has used the terms neesee of kairtiorahree (nisi of certiorari), ooltrah weerayze (ultra vires), day yooray (de jure), pahree pahsoo (pari passu), preemah fakiay (prima facie), yoos waynahndee et piscahndee (jus venandi et piscandi), soob poynah (sub poena), and noan possoomooss (non possumus) in court:
Mr. Wick: My Lord, I pronounce the Latin tongue as I was taught at school.

The Lord Chief Justice: Exactly. You are not to be blamed, Mr. Wick. But I am bound to make it clear to you, to the rest of your gallant generation and to the generations that come after, that His Majesty's judges will not permit the speaking of the Latin tongue after that fashion in the King's Courts. I cannot hear you, Mr. Wick, for the very good reason that I cannot understand you. We are using different languages. It might be possible to establish communication between us by the use of an interpreter. I see no necessity for that expensive and protracted process, though I am tempted to compel the attendance of one of your pastors and masters to discharge the office of interpreter and witness the unhappy plight to which they have brought you. It is not for me at my time of life to learn a new language; it is not for the King's judges to remodel their diction according to the whims of pedagogues or the habits of the Junior Bar. The bitter conclusion is, Mr. Wick, that you must go away and learn to pronounce the Latin tongue correctly, according to the immemorial practice of your profession.

I hope that these observations will be communicated by you to the particular pedagogues responsible for your predicament and by the newspapers to the general world of education. It may have been hoped in the schools that by catching and corrupting a few generations of the young it would be possible to force this lisping, hybrid, artificial baby-talk upon the learned professions. That hope must have been moribund for many years, and it gives me pleasure now to sign its certificate of death.

In the legal profession, above all others, the Latin tongue is a living force, a priceless aid to precision of thought, to verbal economy and practical efficiency. Any knowing business man who mocks the study of the 'dead' languages has only to sit in our Courts for an hour or two to learn how far from dead the Latin language is; and if he still regards its use as the elegant foible of a number of old fogies I hope that he will try to translate into a few brief businesslike words such common phrases as a priori, de jure, ultra vires, ex parte, status quo and many others. We have taken these words from Rome, as we have taken much of her law, and made them English. I do not believe that the wisest scholars can surely say how Julius Caesar pronounced his name, and I care nothing if they can. For if I had abundant proof that the general answered to Yooliooss Kayzar I should not say that an act of the Chimney Magna justices was ooltrah weerayze. It is safe to prophesy that these hateful sounds will never proceed from the lips of an English judge, however many innocent boys are instructed to make them at school.

The same may be said of all the professions in which the 'dead' languages are not merely the toys of pedagogoes but the constant tools of practical men. I suffer from lumbago; I grow geraniums; I go to the cinema. And when my doctor diagnoses loombahgo, my gardiner cultivates gerahniooms, or my cook enjoys herself at the kyneemah I shall begin to think that the pedagogues are making headway.

As for the political world, the numerous Latin words in current political usage are sufficiently mystifying to the man-in-the-tavern without our attempting to make him pronounce them as some good don believes they may have been pronounced by Cicero or Horace. Even the mocking business man is not ashamed to draw his dividends at so much per centum; but not all the pedants of Arabia will induce him to draw them pair kentoom.

It follows, I think, that a system of teaching Latin which runs contrary to the practical use of Latin wherever Latin is practically employed is wrong and ought to be abandoned. This has been said before; but it is time for it to be said by one of His Majesty's judges. For our profession more than any other employs the naked Latin word as it was written by the Romans; and we alone are in a position to enforce our will upon this matter by guiding the speech of those who practise before us.

Mr. Wick, I am sorry for you. I look forward to seeing you before me again, cured of the horrible habits your professors taught you, and able to take that place in the ranks of your profession which your talents evidently deserve. Meanwhile, through your unhappy person, I issue, in the name of His Majesty's judges, this edict to the educationists ('What', as Mr. Haddock has so ably said, 'a word!'): The New Pronunciation is dead and must be buried.



Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960), Broadmindedness:

How narrow his vision, how cribbed and confined!
    How prejudiced all of his views!
How hard is the shell of his bigoted mind!
    How difficult he to excuse!

His face should be slapped and his head should be banged;
    A person like that ought to die!
I want to be fair, but a man should be hanged
    Who's any less liberal than I.

Monday, June 27, 2005


The Pessimist

Benjamin Franklin King (1857-1894), The Pessimist:
Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air,
Quick as a flash 't is gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to comb but hair,
Nowhere to sleep but in bed,
Nothing to weep but tears,
Nothing to bury but dead.

Nothing to sing but songs,
Ah, well, alas! alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to see but sights,
Nothing to quench but thirst,
Nothing to have but what we've got;
Thus thro' life we are cursed.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Battle of the Bands

Francis Parkman, Pioneers Of France In The New World, part II (Samuel de Champlain and His Associates), chap. VI (Jesuits in Acadia):
The French met six canoes full of warriors descending the Kennebec, and, as neither party trusted the other, the two encamped on opposite banks of the river. In the evening the Indians began to sing and dance. Biard suspected these proceedings to be an invocation of the Devil, and "in order," he says, "to thwart this accursed tyrant, I made our people sing a few church hymns, such as the Salve, the Ave Maris Stella, and others. But being once in train, and getting to the end of their spiritual songs, they fell to singing such others as they knew, and when these gave out they took to mimicking the dancing and singing of the Armouchiquois on the other side of the water; and as Frenchmen are naturally good mimics, they did it so well that the Armouchiquois stopped to listen; at which our people stopped too; and then the Indians began again. You would have laughed to hear them, for they were like two choirs answering each other in concert, and you would hardly have known the real Armouchiquois from the sham ones."


Exclusive Photo of Camp Gitmo

Here is a photograph of the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, taken by my father, who was stationed there in 1941:

Camp Gitmo

Saturday, June 25, 2005


In the Bughouse

In her book Animals on the Other Side, psychic Sylvia Browne shares her insights about animals in the afterlife and answers questions like:To the last question she answers:
All God's creatures exist on the Other Side with only one exception. The only living things I have never seen at Home are insects. I am not sure exactly why that is, but I have never seen a spider, fly, or any other type of insect...
Far be it from me to disparage eyewitness testimony, but frankly I'm surprised. Asked what his scientific studies revealed about the nature of God, J.B.S. Haldane replied, "An inordinate fondness for beetles." There are about 450,000 known species of beetles on earth, but none in heaven, according to Browne.

When she passes over once and for all, let's hope Browne doesn't encounter an afterlife like that described by Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment (part IV, chapter 1):
"I don't believe in a future life," said Raskolnikov.

Svidrigailov sat lost in thought.

"And what if there are only spiders there, or something of that sort," he said suddenly.

"He is a madman," thought Raskolnikov.

"We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it's one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that's all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that."

Friday, June 24, 2005



Donald Fell murdered his mother, Debra Fell, and her friend Charles Conway. Then he kidnapped a stranger, Terry King, took her across the state line, and beat her to death while she prayed. His accomplice, Robert Lee, hanged himself in prison.

Too bad Fell didn't hang himself, was not felo de se. Because he crossed a state line in the commission of his crime, Fell is being tried in U.S. District Court. Vermont doesn't have a death penalty, but the feds do.

Donald Fell has an aptronym, a name that suits his character.

Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1913), s.v. fell as an adjective:
[OE. fel, OF. fel cruel, fierce, perfidious; cf. AS. fel (only in comp.) OF. fel, as a noun also accus. felon, is fr. LL. felo, of unknown origin; cf. Arm. fall evil, Ir. feal, Arm. falloni treachery, Ir. & Gael. feall to betray; or cf. OHG. fillan to flay, torment, akin to E. fell skin. Cf. Felon.]

1. Cruel; barbarous; inhuman; fierce; savage; ravenous.
True to his name, Donald Fell is a cruel, barbarous, inhuman, fierce, savage felon.

Fell has another meaning and another derivation, just as apt in a grisly way. Webster's, s.v. fell as a transitive verb:
[imp. & p. p. Felled (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Felling.] [AS. fellan, a causative verb fr. feallan to fall; akin to D. vellen, G. fällen, Icel. fella, Sw. fälla, Dan. fælde. See Fall, v. i.]

To cause to fall; to prostrate; to bring down or to the ground; to cut down.
True to his name, Donald Fell felled his victims.



Alan Finder, "Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said," New York Times (June 24, 2005):
With a steep rise in the number of foreign graduate students in the last two decades, undergraduates at large research universities often find themselves in classes and laboratories run by graduate teaching assistants whose mastery of English is less than complete.

The issue is particularly acute in subjects like engineering, where 50 percent of graduate students are foreign born, and math and the physical sciences, where 41 percent of graduate students are, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools, an association of 450 schools.
Long ago I took a course on Logic Circuit Design, taught by a gentleman from India. He was a regular faculty member, not a graduate teaching assistant. His English was satisfactory, except that I was puzzled by one word, repeated over and over -- rezpah. He would say "two rezpah five" or "four rezpah two," and I didn't have the foggiest idea what he meant. Finally he started writing on the blackboard, and the fog dissipated -- rezpah meant "raised to the power." "Two rezpah five" was two to the fifth power (thirty-two), "four rezpah two" was four squared (sixteen), etc.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Greek Lexicography

Rick Brannan has a good post about Greek lexicography at ricoblog.

I would just emphasize that you should always be skeptical about what you read, even in standard, authoritative lexica. One of my favorite misleading generalities is a pronouncement by W. Foerster in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel, English translation, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, 1965), p. 287: "The name borne by Jesus is in the first instance an expression of His humanity .... It is by this name that He is discussed among the people. This is the name by which He is addressed." If you read the Gospels in Greek and start collecting examples, you'll soon find that Jesus is hardly ever addressed by his name.

Most of the books Rick mentions have a New Testament slant. I would add two with a classical emphasis, by a gentleman and scholar, Robert Renehan: Greek Lexicographical Notes I (Göttingen, 1975) and II (Göttingen, 1982).

I treasure some signed offprints that Professor Renehan sent me years ago and the encouragement he gave me. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person. The publications listed on his web page are only a small sample of his vast oeuvre.

Rick also doesn't mention another one of my favorite books, Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (1880; rpt. Grand Rapids, 1948), perhaps because it's so old. Despite its age, this is a treasure trove of information about ancient Greek vocabulary. Renehan and Trench actually read the authors they cite. We have it too easy today, with our electronic texts and dictionaries. We spend too much time surfing the Web and too little time sitting at our desks trying to read ancient texts in the original languages.

There are also two very useful English-Greek dictionaries available on the Web:


Goldsmith and Whitman

There's a neat synonym for curmudgeon in Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773) -- grumbletonian. It would be a good blog name, and is still available on Blogger. Goldsmith apparently did not invent the word, though.

Here are some quotable quotes from She Stoops to Conquer:Goldsmith proved himself a bona fide grumbletonian in his poem The Logicians Refuted:

Logicians have but ill defin'd
As rational, the human kind;
Reason, they say, belongs to man,
But let them prove it if they can.
Wise Aristotle and Smiglecius,
By ratiocinations specious,
Have strove to prove with great precision,
With definition and division,
'Homo est ratione praeditum',--
But for my soul I cannot credit 'em;
And must in spite of them maintain,
That man and all his ways are vain;
And that this boasted lord of nature
Is both a weak and erring creature;
That instinct is a surer guide
Than reason-boasting mortals' pride;
And that brute beasts are far before 'em,
'Deus est anima brutorum'.

Who ever knew an honest brute
At law his neighbour prosecute,
Bring action for assault and battery,
Or friend beguile with lies and flattery?

O'er plains they ramble unconfin'd,
No politics disturb their mind;
They eat their meals, and take their sport,
Nor know who's in or out at court;
They never to the levee go
To treat as dearest friend, a foe;
They never importune his grace,
Nor ever cringe to men in place;
Nor undertake a dirty job,
Nor draw the quill to write for B--b.
Fraught with invective they ne'er go
To folks at Pater-Noster-Row;
No judges, fiddlers, dancing-masters,
No pick-pockets, or poetasters,
Are known to honest quadrupeds;
No single brute his fellow leads.
Brutes never meet in bloody fray,
Nor cut each others' throats, for pay.

Of beasts, it is confess'd, the ape
Comes nearest us in human shape;
Like man he imitates each fashion,
And malice is his ruling passion;
But both in malice and grimaces
A courtier any ape surpasses.
Behold him humbly cringing wait
Upon a minister of state;
View him soon after to inferiors,
Aping the conduct of superiors;
He promises with equal air,
And to perform takes equal care.
He in his turn finds imitators;
At court, the porters, lacqueys, waiters,
Their master's manners still contract,
And footmen, lords and dukes can act.
Thus at the court both great and small
Behave alike--for all ape all.

Walt Whitman also viewed animals as superior to humankind, in Song of Myself 32:

I think I could turn and live with animals,
  they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied,
  not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another,
  nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


The Thirsty Dead Again

Edward Cook traces a line from a Bob Dylan song back to Dante, and thence even further back to Vergil.

In Vergil, the tree that bleeds when cut grows out of the body of Trojan King Priam's son Polydorus, murdered by his host Polymestor upon news that Troy had fallen.

Aeneas and his men perform funeral rites for Polydorus (Vergil, Aeneid 3.62-68, tr. Theodore C. Williams):
But fit and solemn funeral rites were paid
to Polydorus. A high mound we reared
of heaped-up earth, and to his honored shade
built a perpetual altar, sadly dressed
in cypress dark and purple pall of woe.
Our Ilian women wailed with loosened hair;
new milk was sprinkled from a foaming cup,
and from the shallow bowl fresh blood out-poured
upon the sacred ground. So in its tomb
we laid his ghost to rest, and loudly sang,
with prayer for peace, the long, the last farewell.

ergo instauramus Polydoro funus, et ingens
aggeritur tumulo tellus; stant Manibus arae
caeruleis maestae vittis atraque cupresso,
et circum Iliades crinem de more solutae;
inferimus tepido spumantia cymbia lacte
sanguinis et sacri pateras, animamque sepulcro
condimus et magna supremum voce ciemus.
See also Vergil, Aeneid 5.75-78 (tr. Williams):
Then in th' attendant throng conspicuous,
with thousands at his side, the hero moved
from place of council to his father's tomb.
There on the ground he poured libation due,
two beakers of good wine, of sweet milk two,
two of the victim's blood.

ille e concilio multis cum milibus ibat
ad tumulum magna medius comitante caterva.
hic duo rite mero libans carchesia Baccho
fundit humi, duo lacte novo, duo sanguine sacro.
Vergil thus traces back to mythological times the custom of offering liquids to the dead. J.M.C. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), pp. 51-52, gives archaeological evidence of the custom:
Graves, whether for inhumation or cremation, with holes or pipes through which food and drink could be poured down directly on to the burial (profusio), so as to reach the remains, are a not uncommon feature of cemeteries in very diverse areas of the Roman world. For example, in the necropolis excavated under St Peter's in Rome, several instances have come to light. In Tomb F, inset into the border of a mosaic pavement, is a series of small, square marble slabs each pierced with a hole for pouring sustenance down to the dead beneath .... Another child's inhumation burial, this time at Syracuse and with the bones laid directly in the earth under tiles set gable-wise, was connected with the surface by a vertical terracotta pipe, closed at the top by a movable stone stopper.
In The Thirsty Dead, I discussed a similar Greek custom.

If you don't placate the dead in this way, they're apt to become restless. George Romero's movie Land of the Dead opens Friday. I hope it's as funny as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. The scene with zombies riding the escalator at the mall in Dawn of the Dead is hilarious. I think of it whenever I'm unlucky enough to find myself among the zombie-like shoppers at Minnesota's own Mall of America.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


The First Christian Emperor?

If someone asked you who was the first Christian emperor, you'd probably say Constantine. Are you sure?

Eugene Ehrlich wrote a book entitled Amo, Amas, and More: How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and the Astonishment of Others (New York: Harper & Row, 1985). Despite its cheesy subtitle, it's not a bad book. I did find one howler in it, though, on p. 106, s.vv. diem perdidi:
Paul's disciple Titus, emperor of Rome, having passed an entire day without performing a good deed, is reported to have said, Diem perdidi, literally, "I have lost a day."
Paul did have a follower named Titus, and there was a Roman emperor named Titus, but they were definitely not one and the same.

The Latin phrase appears in Suetonius' Life of Titus 8.1 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
On another occasion, remembering at dinner that he had done nothing for anybody all that day, he gave utterance to that memorable and praiseworthy remark: "Friends, I have lost a day."

atque etiam recordatus quondam super cenam, quod nihil cuiquam toto die praestitisset, memorabilem illam meritoque laudatam vocem edidit: "Amici, diem perdidi."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005



The Maverick Philosopher explains what sorites is. The name of the rhetorical device I was trying to recall yesterday is klimax (ladder, cf. English climax) in Greek, scala (ladder) or gradatio (series) in Latin.

Here is an example from Demosthenes, On the Crown 179 (tr. C.A. and J.H. Vince):
I did not speak without moving, nor move without serving as ambassador, nor serve without convincing the Thebans.
Quintilian 9.54-57 (tr. H.E. Butler) cites the example from Demosthenes, along with some others:
[54] Gradation, which the Greeks call climax, necessitates a more obvious and less natural application of art and should therefore be more sparingly employed. [55] Moreover, it involves addition, since it repeats what has already been said and, before passing to a new point, dwells on those which precede. I will translate a very famous instance from the Greek. "I did not say this, without making a formal proposal to that effect, I did not make that proposal without undertaking the embassy, nor undertake the embassy without persuading the Thebans." [56] There are, however, examples of the same thing in Latin authors. "It was the energy of Africanus that gave him his peculiar excellence, his excellence that gave him glory, his glory that gave him rivals." Calvus again writes, "Consequently this means the abolition of trials for treason no less than for extortion, for offences covered by the Plautian law no less than for treason, for bribery no less than for those offences, and for all breaches of every allow no less than for bribery," etc. [57] It is also to be found in poets, as in the passage in Homer describing the sceptre which he traces from the hands of Jupiter down to those of Agamemnon, in the following from one of our own tragedians:

"From Jove, so runs the tale, was Tantalus sprung,
From Tantalus Pelops, and of Pelops' seed
Sprang Atreus, who is sire of all our line."

[54] Gradatio, quae dicitur climax, apertiorem habet artem et magis adfectatam, ideoque esse rarior debet. [55] Est autem ipsa quoque adiectionis: repetit enim quae dicta sunt, et priusquam ad aliud descendat in prioribus resistit. cuius exemplum ex Graeco notissimo transferatur: "non enim dixi quidem haec, sed non scripsi, nec scripsi quidem, sed non obii legationem, nec obii quidem legationem, sed non persuasi Thebanis". [56] Sunt tamen tradita et Latina: "Africano virtutem industria, virtus gloriam, gloria aemulos comparavit". Et Calvi: "non ergo magis pecuniarum repetundarum quam maiestatis, neque maiestatis magis quam Plautiae legis, neque Plautiae legis magis quam ambitus, neque ambitus magis quam omnium legum". [57] +Est+ invenitur apud poetas quoque, ut apud Homerum de sceptro, quod a Iove ad Agamemnonem usque deducit, et apud nostrum etiam tragicum: "Iove propagatus est, ut perhibent, Tantalus, ex Tantalo ortus Pelops, ex Pelope autem satus Atreus, qui nostrum porro propagat genus".
[Cicero], Rhetorica ad Herrenium 4.25.34, also defines gradatio. I can't find a translation on the Web, so here's my own tentative translation:
Gradatio is the figure of speech whereby you don't go down to the next word before climbing back up to the previous one, in this manner:

"As for the other things that a hope of freedom entails, if something pleases these men, it is lawful for them; what is lawful, is possible; what is possible, they dare; what they dare, they do; and what they do, is it not troublesome to you?"

Likewise: "I did not share this sentiment, and I did not make this recommendation; I did not make this recommendation, and I myself did not start to do it; I did not start to do it, and I did not finish it; I did not finish it, and I did not approve of it."

Likewise: "It was the energy of Africanus that gave him his peculiar excellence, his excellence that gave him glory, his glory that gave him rivals."

Likewise: "Rule over Greece belonged to the Athenians; the Athenians were overpowered by the Spartans; the Spartans were surpassed by the Thebans; the Thebans were conquered by the Macedonians, who in a short time subdued Asia in war and added it to the Greek empire."

Gradatio est, in qua non ante ad consequens verbum descenditur, quam ad superius ascensum est, hoc modo:

"Nam quae reliqua spes manet libertatis, si illis et quod libet, licet; et quod licet, possunt; et quod possunt, audent; et quod audent, faciunt; et quod faciunt, vobis molestum non est?"

Item: "Non sensi hoc, et non suasi; neque suasi, et non ipse facere coepi; neque facere coepi, et non perfeci; neque perfeci, et non probavi."

Item: "Africano virtutem industria, virtus gloriam, gloria aemulos conparavit."

Item: "Imperium Graeciae fuit penes Athenienses, Atheniensium potiti sunt Spartiatae, Spartiatas superavere Thebani, Thebanos Macedones vicerunt, qui ad imperium Graeciae brevi tempore adiuncxerunt Asiam bello subactam."
There are many Biblical examples of this figure of speech, including:St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 4.7.11 (tr. J.F. Shaw), explicitly attaches the names klimax, scala, and gradatio to Romans 5.3-5:
For who would not see what the apostle meant to say, and how wisely he has said it, in the following passage: "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us"? Now were any man unlearnedly learned (if I may use the expression) to contend that the apostle had here followed the rules of rhetoric, would not every Christian, learned or unlearned, laugh at him? And yet here we find the figure which is called in Greek klimax and by some in Latin gradatio, for they do not care to call it scala (a ladder), when the words and ideas have a connection of dependency the one upon the other, as we see here that patience arises out of tribulation, experience out of patience, and hope out of experience.

Quis enim non videat quid voluerit dicere et quam sapienter dixerit Apostolus: Gloriamur in tribulationibus, scientes quia tribulatio patientiam operatur, patientia autem probationem, probatio vero spem, spes autem non confundit; quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum qui datus est nobis? Hic si quis, ut ita dixerim, imperite peritus artis eloquentiae praecepta Apostolum secutum fuisse contendat, nonne a Christianis doctis indoctisque ridebitur? Et tamen agnoscitur hic figura, quae klimax graece, latine vero a quibusdam est appellata gradatio, quoniam scalam dicere noluerunt, cum verba vel sensa connectuntur alterum ex altero; sicut hic ex tribulatione patientiam, ex patientia probationem, ex probatione spem connexam videmus.
I have not seen the article by Henry Albert Fischel on "The Uses of Sorites (Climax, Gradatio) in the Tannaitic Period," in Hebrew University College Annual 44 (1973) 119-151.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Rhetorical Device

Help! There seems to be one rhetorical device common to the following passages, but I can't think of its name.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.15.43 (tr. J.E. King):
Furthermore too every good thing is joyful; now what is joyful deserves credit and esteem; moreover what can be so described is also glorious; now if glorious it is assuredly praiseworthy; moreover what is praiseworthy is surely also right; what is good therefore is right.

atque etiam omne bonum laetabile est; quod autem laetabile, id praedicandum et prae se ferendum; quod tale autem, id etiam gloriosum; si vero gloriosum, certe laudabile; quod laudabile autem, profecto etiam honestum; quod bonum igitur, id honestum.
Paul, Romans 8.16-17:
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Shepherd of Hermas 16.7 (tr. Lightfoot, Harmer, and Holmes):
Their powers are controlled by one another, and they follow one another, in the order in which they were born. From Faith is born Self-Control; from Self-Control, Sincerity; from Sincerity, Innocence; from Innocence, Reverence; from Reverence, Knowledge; and from Knowledge, Love. Their works, therefore, are pure and reverent and divine.
J.E. King (in his Loeb translation of Tusculan Disputations) says it's an example of sorites, but that's a philosophical term, and I thought there was another name.


Superstition and Skepticism

Some of the ancients were credulous about bird omens, and others were skeptical. Xenophon was notoriously superstitious, and his credulity extended to bird omens. In this passage from his Anabasis (6.1.23, tr. Carleton L. Brownson), he speaks of himself in the third person:
Moreover, he recalled that when he was setting out from Ephesus to be introduced to Cyrus, an eagle screamed upon his right; it was sitting, however, and the soothsayer who was conducting him said that while the omen was one suited to the great rather than to an ordinary person, and while it betokened glory, it nevertheless portended suffering, for the reason that other birds are most apt to attack the eagle when it is sitting; still, he said, the omen did not betoken gain, for it is rather while the eagle is on the wing that it gets its food.
In Homer's Iliad (12.195-250, tr. Samuel Butler), Polydamas is superstitious about a bird omen, and Hector is skeptical:
While they were busy stripping the armour from these heroes, the youths who were led on by Polydamas and Hector (and these were the greater part and the most valiant of those that were trying to break through the wall and fire the ships) were still standing by the trench, uncertain what they should do; for they had seen a sign from heaven when they had essayed to cross it -- a soaring eagle that flew skirting the left wing of their host, with a monstrous blood-red snake in its talons still alive and struggling to escape. The snake was still bent on revenge, wriggling and twisting itself backwards till it struck the bird that held it, on the neck and breast; whereon the bird being in pain, let it fall, dropping it into the middle of the host, and then flew down the wind with a sharp cry.

The Trojans were struck with terror when they saw the snake, portent of aegis-bearing Jove, writhing in the midst of them, and Polydamas went up to Hector and said, "Hector, at our councils of war you are ever given to rebuke me, even when I speak wisely, as though it were not well, forsooth, that one of the people should cross your will either in the field or at the council board; you would have them support you always: nevertheless I will say what I think will be best; let us not now go on to fight the Danaans at their ships, for I know what will happen if this soaring eagle which skirted the left wing of our with a monstrous blood-red snake in its talons (the snake being still alive) was really sent as an omen to the Trojans on their essaying to cross the trench. The eagle let go her hold; she did not succeed in taking it home to her little ones, and so will it be with ourselves; even though by a mighty effort we break through the gates and wall of the Achaeans, and they give way before us, still we shall not return in good order by the way we came, but shall leave many a man behind us whom the Achaeans will do to death in defence of their ships. Thus would any seer who was expert in these matters, and was trusted by the people, read the portent."

Hector looked fiercely at him and said, "Polydamas, I like not of your reading. You can find a better saying than this if you will. If, however, you have spoken in good earnest, then indeed has heaven robbed you of your reason. You would have me pay no heed to the counsels of Jove, nor to the promises he made me -- and he bowed his head in confirmation; you bid me be ruled rather by the flight of wild-fowl. What care I whether they fly towards dawn or dark, and whether they be on my right hand or on my left? Let us put our trust rather in the counsel of great Jove, king of mortals and immortals. There is one omen, and one only -- that a man should fight for his country. Why are you so fearful? Though we be all of us slain at the ships of the Argives you are not likely to be killed yourself, for you are not steadfast nor courageous. If you will not fight, or would talk others over from doing so, you shall fall forthwith before my spear."

The contrast between superstition and skepticism is likewise stark in a pair of passages from Plutarch's Lives, although here it is not a question of bird omens but of eclipses. Nicias, like Xenophon, was superstitious, and delayed withdrawal from Syracuse because he was disturbed by a lunar eclipse (Plutarch, Life of Nicias 23, tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
But just as everything was prepared for this and none of the enemy were on the watch, since they did not expect the move at all, there came an eclipse of the moon by night. This was a great terror to Nicias and all those who were ignorant or superstitious enough to quake at such a sight. The obscuration of the sun towards the end of the month was already understood, even by the common folk as caused somehow or other by the moon; but what what it was that the moon encountered, and how, being at the full, she should on a sudden lose her light and emit all sorts of colors, this was no easy thing to comprehend.

The first man to put in writing the clearest and boldest of all doctrines about the changing phases of the moon was Anaxagoras. But he was no ancient authority, nor was his doctrine in high repute. It was still under seal of secrecy, and made its way slowly among a few only, who received it with a certain caution rather than with implicit confidence.

Men could not abide the natural philosophers and "visionaries," as they were then called, for that they reduced the divine agency down to irrational causes, blind forces, and necessary incidents. Even Protagoras had to go into exile, Anaxagoras was with difficulty rescued from imprisonment by Pericles, and Socrates, though he had nothing whatever to do with such matters, nevertheless lost his life because of philosophy.

It was not until later times that the radiant repute of Plato, because of the life the man led, and because he subjected the compulsions of the physical world to divine and more sovereign principles, took away the obloquy of such doctrines as these, and gave their science free course among all men. At any rate, his friend Dion, although the moon suffered an eclipse at the time when he was about to set out from Zacynthus on his voyage against Dionysius, was in no wise disturbed, but put to sea, landed at Syracuse, and drove out the tyrant.

However, it was the lot of Nicias at this time to be without even a soothsayer who was expert. The one who had been his associate, and who used to set him free from most of his superstition, Stilbides, had died a short time before. For indeed the sign from Heaven, as Philochorus observed, was not an obnoxious one to fugitives, but rather very propitious; concealment is just what deeds of fear need, whereas light is an enemy to them.

And besides, men were wont to be on their guard against portents of sun and moon for three days only, as Autocleides has remarked in his "Exegetics"; but Nicias persuaded the Athenians to wait for another full period of the moon, as if, forsooth, he did not see that the planet was restored to purity and splendor just as soon as she had passed beyond the region which was darkened and obscured by the earth.
When a solar eclipse frightened the men under his command, Pericles (a friend of the philosopher Anaxagoras) was quick to chide their foolishness. Plutarch, Life of Pericles 35.1-2 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin) tells the story:
Desiring to heal these evils, and at the same time to inflict some annoyance upon the enemy, he manned a hundred and fifty ships of war, and, after embarking many brave hoplites and horsemen, was on the point of putting out to sea, affording great hope to the citizens, and no less fear to the enemy in consequence of so great a force. But when the ships were already manned, and Pericles had gone aboard his own trireme, it chanced that the sun was eclipsed and darkness came on, and all were thoroughly frightened, looking upon it as a great portent.

Accordingly, seeing that his steersman was timorous and utterly perplexed, Pericles held up his cloak before the man's eyes, and, thus covering them, asked him if he thought it anything dreadful, or portentous of anything dreadful. "No," said the steersman. "How then," said Pericles, "is yonder event different from this, except that it is something rather larger than my cloak which has caused the obscurity?" At any rate, this tale is told in the schools of philosophy.

Sunday, June 12, 2005



Sauvage Noble reports a bird omen.

Servius (on Vergil's Aeneid 1.398) distinguishes between augurium and auspicium:
Augurium is intentional and is revealed by specific birds, auspicium is accidental and is shown by any bird.

augurium petitur et certis avibus ostenditur, auspicium qualibet avi demonstratur et non petitur.
Since Sauvage Noble didn't set out to find a bird omen and wasn't feeding the sacred chickens, his sighting comes under the heading of auspicium.

English augury is derived from Latin augurium, auspices and auspicious from auspicium. In Latin auspicium (bird divination) comes from auspex (bird seer), itself from avis (bird) and specio (look). Greek equivalents to auspex are oionistes, oionomantis, oionopolos, and oionoskopos, all from oionos (bird), and orneomantis and ornithoskopos, both from ornis (bird, cf. English ornithology = the study of birds).

There is much useful information on bird divination in William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: John Murray, 1875), pp. 174-179, s.v. augurium.

Bird omens fall into two categories, according to Cicero, On Divination 1.53.120 (tr. William Armistead Falconer, an aptronym in this context!):
The Divine Will accomplishes like results in the case of birds, and causes those known as alites, which give omens by their flight, to fly hither and thither and disappear now here and now there, and causes those known as oscines, which give omens by their cries, to sing now on the left and now on the right.

eademque efficit in avibus divina mens, ut tum huc, tum illuc volent alites, tum in hac, tum in illa parte se occultent, tum a dextra, tum a sinistra parte canant oscines.
Eagles and hawks are alites, crows and ravens oscines. What Sauvage Noble saw was one of the alites.

I recently came across a curious misprint for augur, in a translation of the Didache (3.4), from The Apostolic Fathers. Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd edition. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, Editors and Translators. Michael W. Holmes, Editor and Revisor (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 253:
My child, do not be an auger [sic], since it leads to idolatry.
Sauvage Noble has been reading Ennius's Annals. There is a fragment on divination by birds from that poem, preserved in Cicero, On Divination 1.48.107.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Hopes and Dreams

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II, 88:
For the myth of a past golden age, present day humanity substitutes the myth of a future plastic age.


Anatomy of a Curmudgeon

Read Dennis Mangan's excellent essay Curmudgeonry: Toward a Definition.


Newly Discovered Works

Michael Maul has discovered a hitherto unknown Bach aria. Music lovers are excited, and I share the excitement.

But I ask myself why. I haven't heard all of Bach's already extant works, so why should I be so interested in the discovery of a new one?

Years ago there was a flurry of excitement about the discovery of a poem by Archilochus, the so-called Cologne epode, and we graduate students dutifully sat in respectful silence while a visiting lecturer pontificated about it. And now scholars are gaga about the possiblity of new fragments of ancient works revealed in Oxyrhynchus papyri by multispectral imaging.

I haven't read every bit of the ancient Greek literature that's been available on library shelves for centuries, not by a long shot, so I don't understand why the newly discovered bits should exert such fascination over me. Yet they do.

Friday, June 10, 2005



David Meadows at rogueclassicism has started posting sightings of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary on water-stained walls and highway underpasses, including this one.

I just finished reading Carl Hiaasen's novel Lucky You (1997), which has many examples of this sort of thing, including images of Jesus in an oil slick on the road and in an omelette, plus images of the apostles on turtle shells. An amusing summer read.


Greek Text in Blogger

A few days ago, I confessed that I didn't know how to enter Greek text in Blogger. Justin Grunau comes to the rescue with some very useful advice in an email:

It’s actually very easy to enter Greek polytonic text; this site for instance has a very useful tool if you know beta code, which is an incredibly easy way of representing polytonic Greek. This is what I got so far in about one minute’s worth of inputting:

ὤ Γρίπε, Γρίπε, πλεῖστα πάγιδων σχήματα
ἴδοι τις ἄν πεπέγμεν ἐν θνήτων βίῳ,
καὶ πλεῖστ' ἐπ' αὐτοῖς δελέαθ', ὧν ἐπιθύμια
ὀρεγόμενος τις ἔν κακοῖς ἁλίσκεται

(This won’t display for you properly if you don’t have a Unicode font on your system or if yahoo strips out the formatting of this email.)

I don’t know if I got all the breathings and accents correctly; some of the words I don’t know and I didn’t take the time to look them up. The Latin made it look for instance that by “bio” you meant an omega with iota subscript, though in that case I don’t know why thneton isn’t in the same case. But I didn’t take much time to try to understand either the Latin or Greek texts so I may well be wrong.

This is the beta code you would have to enter in that inputter for the first line:

w)/ Gri/pe, Gri/pe, plei=sta pa/gidon sch/meta

The Perseus project has more documentation on beta code.

It’s then trivial to copy/paste the resulting text into your blog.

Now. You have to have a font with the “Greek Extended” codepage included (there are many sites for getting them: here is one) of course, and so would your readers, too. To those who do not have such fonts, the precomposed characters with accents and/or breathings and/or subscripts on them will show up as little boxes.

The other problem is the Blogger template itself. The Blogger template has a stylesheet that picks the fonts. In Firefox or Mozilla this is not a problem as long as you have set up your browser to prefer a fully-loaded Unicode font to one of the ones listed in your Blogger template. Internet Explorer is a harder nut to crack: although I set my “Latin-based” font to be “Arial Unicode MS” which has most Greek polytonic forms, this does not override the setting in the Template style sheet when you display the page. If you want people using MSIE to see your Greek as Greek, you will have to put a font that supports Greek polytonic ahead of the other fonts in your template’s stylesheet. I picked Arial Unicode MS which most people have anyway and since your template already uses a sans-serif font it will work well for you.

Plus, there are LOTS and LOTS of websites about Unicode support for Polytonic Greek. Sites that let you compare different fonts to see whether they cover all the codepoints (e.g. there are lots of unusual ones like lunate sigma and various forms of koppa and so forth). Currently there is no font that covers EVERY single code point properly, but they pretty much all cover the basic polytonic code points (with precomposed characters for all the various combinations of accents and breathings).

A couple of minor clarifications: (1) I didn't transliterate Macaulay's Greek -- the Gutenberg folks did. (2) In the phrase en thneton bio, bio is dative singular and thneton is genitive plural (in the life of mortals). I changed some omicrons to omegas in Justin's Greek, using the tool he suggested -- just click on "Greek Letters" and a keyboard appears, from which you can select the letters you want just by clicking on them.

I haven't yet changed my Blogger template. The Greek looks fine when viewed with the Firefox browser, but I see the funny boxes with Internet Explorer. Yet another reason to renounce forever Bill Gates, his pomps and works.


Modern Liturgical Music

Jim Hicks, in an email:
I was away from the Holy Mother Church for nearly 30 years. I came back on Ash Wednesday 2000. Very quickly I noticed that many of the hymns were difficult to sing and had the most banal lyrics. One Sunday the priest corrected me when I used the term vestibule. "No, Jim," he said, "It's the gathering space." I suppose after Mass it becomes the scattering space. Nowadays I dream and plot to override the PA system and play Gregorian Chant during Mass. I might seal the keyboard cover to the grand piano with Super Glue. Then we would not be subjected to the incessant tinkling of New Age dreck during the Mass. For those who like to play darts, shoot pistols, or practice archery a recent issue of America magazine has a group portrait of the St. Louis Jesuits on the cover. It is well suited for target practice. Pax Vobiscum.


The Ancient Greeks

H.L. Mencken, from a review of volume V of The Cambridge Ancient History in the American Mercury (October 1927):
The Greeks of the palmy days remain the most overestimated people in all history. Ever since the Renaissance it has been a high indecorum to question their genius, and never a month passes that another book does not come out, praising them in loud, astounding terms. More men of the first rank were assembled in the Athens of Pericles, we are told, than any other city, or even any other nation, has ever housed. Going further, we are told that they remain unsurpassed to this day, in quality as in quantity.

Greek science is depicted as the father of all modern science. Greek art as the Ur-art, Greek philosophy as the last word in reason, and the Greek government of Pericles' time as democracy made perfect. In all this, alas, there is mainly only buncombe. The plain facts are that Greek science, even at its best, would be hard to distinguish from the science prevailing among Hottentots, Haitians and Mississippi Baptists today, that Greek art was chiefly only derivative and extremely narrow in range, that Greek philosophy was quite as idiotic as any other philosophy, and that the government of the Greeks, even at its best, was worse than the worst of Tammany.

One discovers plenty of proofs of all this in the present massive volume. It was written by scholars sharing the usual academic prejudice in favor of everything Greek, but nevertheless they manage to tell the truth in it, at least between the lines. They show that the salient Greek philosophers of Pericles's time were almost identical with the chautauqua orators of bucolic America, and that the more enlightened Greeks regarded them as public nuisances. They show that beauty, to the Greeks, was not something for everyday, but a rare luxury and means of display. They show that the Greek government was knavish and incompetent -- that it was constantly engaging in crooked enterprises abroad, and frequently became so corrupt and oppressive at home that the decent people of Athens had to rise up and reform it. And they show that most of the genuinely intelligent Greeks were foreigners, and that such natives as showed sense, e.g., Aristophanes, were commonly thrown out of the country.

The Greek language was the first lost tongue recovered in modern times, and the men who recovered it naturally made as much as they could of the ideas that came with it. Ever since the Renaissance it has been a mark of intellectual distinction to know Greek, though there is no record that knowing it has ever helped any man to think profitable thoughts. That distinction, to be sure, now begins to fade and wear thin, but there was a time, just before the beginning of the current rapid increase of knowledge, when it rose above all other forms of intellectual eminence, and it was during that period that the world was saddled with the exalted view of Greece and the Greeks that still survives.

In so far as it is not a mere sentimentality, it is grounded, I believe, upon the scantiness of our records of other peoples, contemporaneous with the Greeks or preceding them. If the history of Greek philosophy were known accurately, it would probably turn out to be no more than an imitation of some earlier philosophy, now forgotten and maybe abandoned by its inventors as nonsense. In architecture and the other arts, it is certainly absurd to say that the Greeks invented anything. They got the column from the Egyptians, who had perfected it a thousand years before the Parthenon, and they slavishly followed the Egyptians in their neglect of the arch. Their excellent materials were accidental, and in working them they showed no originality.

Was the Greek drama really indigenous? I shall believe it when it is proved that the Sanskrit drama was also indigenous, and not an imitation of some Persian, or maybe even Assyrian prototype. Were the Greeks scientists? Then so are the modern chiropractors. What they had of exact knowledge, in fact, was mainly borrowed, and most of it was spoiled in the borrowing. And the Greek religion? The best that one may say of it is that none of the intelligent foreigners who frequented Athens believed in it, and that many of them were jailed, exiled and even put to death for making fun of it. As for the Greek genius for politics, it revealed its true measure in the fact that no Greek form of government ever lasted for more than a century, and that most of them ended in scandal and disaster.

Here I make no fatuous attempt to read the Greeks out of court altogether. They were, for their time, an enterprising and progressive people, and they left us an immensely rich heritage, partly of sound ideas and partly of pleasant delusions and superstitions. But we probably owe a great deal more to the Egyptians, and quite as much to the lesser peoples who infested the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, notably the Phoenicians, the earlier Minoans, the Jews, and the forerunners of the later Arabs.

The one genuinely solid contribution of the Greeks to human progress lay in their attempt to synthesize and organize whatever knowledge was afloat in the world of their day. This business they achieved with great skill. But out of their own heads they produced little that is valid and important to modern man, save perhaps in the dreams of pedagogues seeking to astonish schoolboys. The Greeks themselves, restored to earth, would laugh at the pretension to the contrary, as they laughed at the Grecomaniac Romans.

If they had any virtue above all others, it was the virtue of skepticism. They were, in that department at least, the first of modern men. The barbaric surges and thunders of the Odyssey, in these twilight days of Christendom, are moving only to professors of Greek -- which is to say, to men whose opinion on any other subject would be rejected even by their fellow professors -- and the enjoyment of Greek tragedy, that unparalleled bore, is confined almost wholly to actresses who have grown too fat for Ibsen; but the ideas of Lucian and Aristophanes still live, and so do those of the Four Hundred.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Portrait of a Teacher

H.L. Mencken, New York Evening Mail (January 23, 1918):
A man who knows a subject thoroughly, a man so soaked in it that he eats it, sleeps it and dreams it -- this man can almost always teach it with success, no matter how little he knows of technical pedagogy. That is because there is enthusiasm in him, and because enthusiasm is as contagious as fear or the barber's itch. An enthusiast is willing to go to any trouble to impart the glad news bubbling within. He thinks that it is important and valuable for to know; given the slightest glow of interest in a pupil to start with, he will fan that glow to a flame. No hollow hocus-pocus cripples him and slows him down. He drags his best pupils along as fast as they can go, and he is so full of the thing that he never tires of expounding its elements to the dullest.


Back Translation

Edward Cook discusses a supposed example of Aramaic wordplay in Matthew 3:9, and approves of the principle that "you can't just translate the Greek backwards into Aramaic to find wordplays and such; you have to imagine how a translator would most likely have rendered any putative Aramaic original."

Back translation of isolated words or sentences is within the power of anyone having a smattering of both languages in question. What is rare, because it's so difficult, are back translations of extended passages or entire works in ancient languages, especially in verse.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) translated a passage from the Rudens of Plautus (lines 1235 to 1253) back into Greek verse. Here is his description of the experiment, from The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay, vol. 3:
The author passed a part of the summer and autumn of 1850 at Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight. He usually, when walking alone, had with him a book. On one occasion, as he was loitering in the landslip near Bonchurch, reading the Rudens of Plautus, it struck him that it might be an interesting experiment to attempt to produce something which might be supposed to resemble passages in the lost Greek drama of Diphilus, from which the Rudens appears to have been taken. He selected one passage in the Rudens, of which he then made the following version, which he afterwards copied out at the request of a friend to whom he had repeated it.
How few scholars today would be capable of such a feat!

I don't know how to enter Greek letters, accents, and breathings with Blogger, and I don't have Macaulay's book. Below I've reproduced from the online Gutenberg edition of Macaulay both the Plautine text in Latin and the transliterated Greek version. I made two changes in the transliterated Greek (larnax = coffer instead of Gutenberg's impossible larvax, and ge instead of ye), and there may be other mistakes I missed. But first I've supplied an English translation of the Latin passage, by Cleveland K. Chase.

DAEMONES: O Gripus, Gripus, we find many pitfalls in this life, and traps to ensnare us; and the bait is so cunningly placed, that while in our greed we reach for it, we are caught. When a man is very careful, and clever, he may enjoy for a long time that which is honestly his. But this appears to be plunder that will soon be plundered from you again, wherein you lose more than you get. Shall I conceal what you have brought here, when I know it belongs to another? Your master will never do that. The wise man will always find it best to have no part in another's wrong. I don't care for wealth gained by deception.

GRIPUS: I've often gone to the play and heard talk like that, with the audience applauding the words of wisdom. But when we went back home, no one acted on the advice he had heard.

O Gripe, Gripe, in aetate hominum plurimae
Fiunt transennae, ubi decipiuntur dolis;
Atque edepol in eas plerumque esca imponitur.
Quam si quis avidus pascit escam avariter,
Decipitur in transenna avaritia sua.
Ille, qui consulte, docte, atque astute cavet,
Diutine uti bene licet partum bene.
Mi istaec videtur praeda praedatum irier:
Ut cum majore dote abeat, quam advenerit.
Egone ut, quod ad me adlatum esse alienum sciam,
Celem? Minime istuc faciet noster Daemones.
Semper cavere hoc sapientes aequissimum est,
Ne conscii sint ipsi maleficiis suis.
Ego, mihi quum lusi, nil moror ullum lucrum.

Spectavi ego pridem Comicos ad istum modum
Sapienter dicta dicere, atque iis plaudier,
Quum illos sapientis mores monstrabant poplo;
Sed quum inde suam quisque ibant diversi domum,
Nullus erat illo pacto, ut illi jusserant.

O Gripe, Gripe, pleista pagidon schemata
idoi tis an pepegmen en thneton bio,
kai pleist ep autois deleath, on epithumia
oregomenos tis en kakois alisketai
ostis d apistei kai sophos phulattetai
kalos apolauei ton kalos peporismenon.
arpagma d ouch arpagm o larnax outosi,
all autos, oimai, mallon arpaxei tina.
tond andra kleptein tallotri--euphemei, talan
tauten ge me mainoito manian Daimones.
tode gar aei sophoisin eulabeteon,
me ti poth eauto tis adikema sunnoe
kerde d emoige panth osois euphrainomai,
kerdos d akerdes o toumon algunei kear.

kago men ede komikon akekoa
semnos legonton toiade, tous de theomenous
krotein, mataiois edomenous sophismasin
eith, os apelth ekastos oikad, oudeni
ouden paremeine ton kalos eiremenon.

Monday, June 06, 2005



An offbeat word to add to your lexicon of invective is the adjective brummagem. The master of invective, H.L. Mencken, was fond of it. Here is an example, from his book In Defense of Women:
Finally, there is his conscience -- the accumulated sediment of ancestral faint-heartedness in countless generations, with vague religious fears and superstitions to leaven and mellow it. What! a conscience? Yes, dear friends, a conscience. That conscience may be imperfect, inept, unintelligent, brummagem. It may be indistinguishable, at times, from the mere fear that some one may be looking. It may be shot through with hypocrisy, stupidity, play-acting. But nevertheless, as consciences go in Christendom, it is genuinely entitled to the name -- and it is always in action.
Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1913) defines brummagem as "counterfeit; gaudy but worthless; sham" and derives it from "Birmingham (formerly Bromwycham), Eng., the great mart and manufactory of gilt toys, cheap jewelry, etc."

The history of gaudy itself is interesting -- it comes ultimately from Latin gaudium (joy, gladness) through Old English gaude (trick, jest). The beads on a rosary that separate the decades were once known as gaudi beads, because they are flashier than the other beads.

Brummagem overlaps somewhat in meaning with tawdry, also derived from a proper name: "Said to be corrupted from Saint Audrey, or Auldrey, meaning Saint Ethelreda, implying therefore, originally, bought at the fair of St. Audrey, where laces and gay toys of all sorts were sold. This fair was held in Isle Ely, and probably at other places, on the day of the saint, which was the 17th of October." (Webster's).

A proper name also lies behind another synonym of brummagem, and that is pinchbeck. Pinchbeck is an alloy of copper and zinc, used as a substitute for gold in cheap jewelry, and named after its inventor, watchmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732). Pinchbeck is sometimes called brummagem gold. It can be both a noun and an adjective.

Sunday, June 05, 2005



Outer Life reveals his quitting fantasy. My fantasy was simple -- I would walk up to my boss and start singing that old Johnny Paycheck song, "Take this job and shove it, I ain't workin' here no more."

I did quit, but I chickened out. No Johnny Paycheck song, no bridges burned. I wrote a diplomatic letter of resignation instead. Quitting was one of the best things I ever did, though. Income is now a fourth of what it was, I eat a lot of peanut butter, beans, and rice, and my book buying is confined to the dollar bin at the bookstore. But I kept my sanity.

Fred Reed has some related thoughts:
When your expenses are few, your susceptibility to economic serfdom is small. You do not need to work miserably in a pointless job for a boss you would gleefully strangle. Yes, you need money. The first principle is never to work in a job that you cannot afford to quit. This means avoiding any job with a retirement, of which you will become a prisoner. The second principle is to work at something portable that you can do independently and, preferably, without capital.



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, I, 268:
Civilization is a poorly fortified encampment in the midst of rebellious tribes.


One Plus One

Ecclesiastes 4.9-10:
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
Homer, Iliad 10.224-226 (tr. Samuel Butler):
When two men are together, one of them may see some opportunity which the other has not caught sight of; if a man is alone he is less full of resource, and his wit is weaker.


Two Urns

Homer, Iliad 24.524-533 (tr. Samuel Butler):
On the floor of Jove's palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Jove the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Jove sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men.
Men receive either a mixture of good and evil, or unmixed evil. They never receive pure good without some evil mixed in.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Before a Statue of Achilles

George Santayana (1863-1952), Before a Statue of Achilles:
I gaze on thee as Phidias of old
Or Polyclitus gazed, when first he saw
These hard and shining limbs, without a flaw,
And cast his wonder in heroic mould.
Unhappy me who only may behold,
Nor make immutable and fix in awe
A fair immortal form no worm shall gnaw,
A tempered mind whose faith was never told!
The godlike mien, the lion's lock and eye,
The well-knit sinew, utter a brave heart
Better than many words that part by part
Spell in strange symbols what serene and whole
In nature lives, nor can in marble die.
The perfect body is itself the soul.
Before what statue was Santayana standing? Polyclitus' Doryphoros (spear carrier), which survives in a Roman copy, is one possibility.

Thursday, June 02, 2005



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II, 175:
It is unjust to reproach the writers of today with bad taste, when the very notion of taste is dead.



From a United Synagogue Youth web page:
Now the group leader should present the concept of "dialogue". That is, "dia" means two and "logue" means conversation, or a conversation between two people.
The trouble is that dia doesn't mean two. It's a Greek preposition meaning through. But what can you expect from a group leader, a facilitator?

We see the same mistake in a paper that pretends to be scholarly -- Paul T. Arveson, "Dialogic: A Systems Approach to Understanding," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 30 (June 1978) 49-59:
I have chosen this term because it includes four useful connotations: 1) dia means two, and -tog [sic, should be -log] means word; two words or statements are involved. 2) Dia + logic = doubling of the dimensions of classical logic. 3) Dialogic is juxtaposed to dialectic and competes with it; the former emphasizes kinship; the latter (in the Marxist sense) emphasizes contradictoriness. 4) Dialog (or dialogue) = a discussion between two people, which commonly results in an agreement in terms of a complementary pair of ideas (or else a standoff).
Balderdash. This is a sore point with me. My seventh grade English teacher told us that the dia in dialogue meant two. Even then I knew this was a mistake, and I told her so. She gave me the standard "Matilda" response: "I'm smart, you're dumb; I'm big, you're little; I'm right, you're wrong." That was the moment when my faith in teachers and grownups as respositories of knowledge and wisdom began to fade.

I also hate the use of dialogue as a verb, as in "I dialogued with my seventh grade English teacher about the etymology of the word dialogue." This is also a favorite locution of group leaders and facilitators. Yes, I know that Shakespeare said "Dost dialogue with thy shadow?" (Timon of Athens 2.2.67). Shakespeare also said "All debts are cleared between you and I" (Merchant of Venice 3.2.326-327). Both expressions -- "to dialogue with" and "between you and I" -- grate on my ear.

While I'm in a cranky mood, here's another pet peeve -- online copies of Shakespeare's plays without line numbers.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The Catholic Worker

When I was in high school, I subscribed to the weekly Catholic Worker newspaper. It was practically the only thread that kept me connected to the church during those years. I'm glad to see that some of Peter Maurin's Easy Essays and Dorothy Day's articles are available online.

Both Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day deserve sainthood.

I also loved the art in the Catholic Worker, especially Fritz Eichenberg's Christ of the Breadlines.


Tell Me Not

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote a poem entitled A Psalm of Life, that starts "Tell me not, in mournful numbers, / Life is but an empty dream!" Franklin P. Adams (1881-1860) wrote a parody entitled A Psalm of Labouring Life, with which every prole can identify. First the parody, then the original.

Franklin P. Adams, A Psalm of Labouring Life:
Tell me not, in doctored numbers,
  Life is but a name for work!
For the labour that encumbers
  Me I wish that I could shirk.

Life is phony! Life is rotten!
  And the wealthy have no soul;
Why should you be picking cotton,
  Why should I be mining coal?

Not employment and not sorrow
  Is my destined end or way;
But to act that each tomorrow
  Finds me idler than today.

Work is long, and plutes are lunching;
  Money is the thing I crave;
But my heart continues punching
  Funeral time-clocks to the grave.

In the world's uneven battle,
  In the swindle known as life,
Be not like the stockyard's cattle --
  Stick your partner with the knife!

Trust no boss, however pleasant!
  Capital is but a curse!
Strike, -- strike in the living present!
  Fill, oh fill the bulging purse!

Lives of strikers all remind us
  We can make our lives a crime,
And, departing, leave behind us
  Bills for double overtime.

Charges that, perhaps another,
  Working for a stingy ten
Bucks a day, some mining brother
  Seeing, shall walk out again.

Let us, then, be up and striking,
  Discontent with all of it;
Still undoing, still disliking,
  Learn to labour -- and to quit.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
  Life is but an empty dream! --
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
  And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
  And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
  Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
  Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
  Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
  And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
  Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
  In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
  Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
  Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, -- act in the living Present!
  Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
  We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
  Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
  Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
  Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
  With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
  Learn to labor and to wait.

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