Tuesday, March 21, 2006


The Loeb Classical Library

There's a nice essay by A.N. Wilson, entitled Wrestling with Latin and Greek, about the Loeb Classical Library series, which has now reached volume 500 (hat tip: Sauvage Noble).

I'm reminded of a neat poem by Charles Larcom Graves (1844-1956), written when the 100th Loeb volume was published. Graves' poem appeared in his collection of verse New Times and Old Rhymes (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1921), pp. 35-36:

(The Loeb Classical Library, founded by a munificent
American millionaire, Mr. James Loeb (prononcez "Lobe"),
and edited by Dr. E. Capps, Mr. T.E. Page and Dr.
W.H.D. Rouse, has now reached its hundredth volume.)

When ways are foul and days are damp,
When agitators rage and ramp,
And Smillie, with the aid of Cramp,
  Threatens to rend the globe;
When margarine is scarce, or beef,
And drinks are dear and few and brief,
I find refreshment and relief
  And comfort in my Loeb.

Good print, good company, a text
By no vain annotations vexed
Which call from students sore perplexed
  The patience of a Job;
And, page by page, a first-rate crib,
Neither too faithful nor too glib --
That, without fulsomeness or fib,
  Is what we get in Loeb.

Let scientists on various fronts
Indulge in their atomic stunts,
Or harness to our prams and punts
  The puissant radiobe;
Me rather it delights to roam
Across the salt Aegean foam
With old Odysseus, far from home,
  And bless the name of Loeb.

To soar with Plato to the heights;
To find in Plutarch's kings and knights
The human touch that more delights
  Than crown or regal robe;
To taste the fresh Pierian springs,
To see Catullus scorch his wings
With the fierce flame that sears and stings --
  For this I thank thee, Loeb.

I've made no fortune out of beer;
I'm not a plutocrat or peer,
Nor yet a bloated profiteer,
  An OM or e'en an OBE;
But if I'd thirty pounds to spare
I'd go and blow them then and there
Upon the Hundred Books that bear
  The sign and seal of Loeb.
Robert Smillie (1857-1940) was a labor leader and politician opposed to Britain's involvement in the First World War, while Cramp was the name of a famous Philadelphia family of shipbuilders. In real life, pacifist Smillie would never have asked for aid from arms dealer Cramp.

The word "radiobe" isn't in my dictionary. Is it a hapax legomenon, coined to rhyme with Loeb?

An OM is one who has been awarded the Order of Merit (established by King Edward VII in 1902), and an OBE is an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (established by King George V in 1917).

I own close to a hundred Loebs, I reckon, more of the green Greek volumes than the red Latin ones, almost all purchased in used book stores. But if I had ten thousand dollars to spare, "I'd go and blow them then and there / Upon four hundred books that bear / The sign and seal of Loeb."

Maybe I should also buy an Oxford English Dictionary. Mike Webb comes to the rescue, with the OED's definition of "radiobe:"
A cell-like body observed to form in large numbers in gelatin solutions in the presence of radium salts, which was formerly claimed to be a living organism owing its existence to radioactivity.
Mark Ynys-Mon sent me all of the OED citations, from which I learned that J.B. Burke coined the word:
1905 J.B. Burke in Nature 25 May 79/2: As these bodies cannot be identified with microbes, on the one hand, nor with crystals on the other, I have ventured to give them a new name, Radiobes, which might be more appropriate as indicating their resemblance to microbes, as well as their distinct nature and origin.

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