Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Who Knows Latin?

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, chap. 2:
Mr Vladimir, arranging his cravat, observed him in the glass over the mantelpiece.

"I daresay you have the social revolutionary jargon by heart well enough," he said contemptuously. "Vox et. . . You haven't ever studied Latin -- have you?"

"No," growled Mr Verloc. "You did not expect me to know it. I belong to the million. Who knows Latin? Only a few hundred imbeciles who aren't fit to take care of themselves."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006



From the Wikipedia article on The Omen movie (1976):
An original score for the film was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, for which he received the only Oscar of his long career. The score features a strong choral segment, with a foreboding Latin chant. The refrain to the chant is, "Sanguis bebimus, corpus edimus" (Latin, "We drink the blood, we eat the flesh"), interspersed with cries of "Ave Satani!" (Latin, "Hail, Satan!").
I don't know if those really are the words to the Latin chant in the movie. But if they are, half of the words are incorrect. Sanguis is nominative and cannot be the object of "we drink". It should be accusative sanguinem instead. There is no Latin verb bebo, from which bebimus would come. Read bibimus. Because ave is imperative singular, we need the vocative singular of Satanas to go with it, which is Satana, not Satani (see the Vulgate of Matthew 16.23).

Lionel Johnson (1867-1902) wrote a Latin hymn to Satan and dedicated it to Jorge Santayana. Whether he wrote it before or after his conversion to Catholicism, I don't know. I don't find it on the World Wide Web, so here it is:
Ecce! Princeps infernorum,
Rex veneficus amorum
Vilium et mortiferorum,
   Ecce! regnat Lucifer:
Animis qui dominatur,
Quibus coelum spoliatur;
Qui malignus bona fatur,
  Cor corrumpens suaviter.

Fructus profert; inest cinis:
Profert flores plenos spinis:
Vitae eius mors est finis:
  Crux est eius requies.
Qualis illic apparebit
Cruciatus, et manebit!
Quantas ista quot habebit
  Mors amaritudines!

Iuventutis quam formosa
Floret inter rosas rosa!
Venit autem vitiosa
  Species infamiae:
Veniunt crudeles visus,
Voces simulati risus;
Et inutilis fit nisus
  Flebilis laetitae.

Quanto vitium splendescit,
Tanto anima nigrescit;
Tanto tandem cor marcescit,
  Per peccata dulcia.
Gaudens mundi Princeps mali
Utitur veneno tali,
Voluptate Avernali;
  0 mellita vitia!

Gaudet Princeps huius mundi
Videns animam confundi;
Cordis amat moribundi
  Aspectare proelium.
Vana tentat, vana quaerens,
Cor anhelum, frustra moerens;
Angit animae inhaerens
  Flamma cor miserrimum.

Gaudet Rector tenebrarum
Immolare cor amarum;
Satiare furiarum
  Rex sorores avidas.
Vae! non stabit in aeternum
ait Rex, infernum:
Sed, dum veniat Supernum,
  Dabo vobis victimas.
Sorry, no translation -- this sort of thing gives me the creeps.

A remake of the movie The Omen is scheduled for release on June 6, 2006 (6/6/6), which gives me an excuse to link to my essay on The Number of the Beast, where you will learn that 666 really refers to former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler J. Ventura.

Fr. Gerard Deighan writes:
Were you aware that 666 is the sum of the numbers from 1 to 36, and that 36 is, of course, the square of 6? Hence 666 is an essentially 'sixy' number. And since 6 is the number of imperfection, falling one short of 7, 666 is a cumulatively imperfect, and therefore evil, number.
Max Nelson writes:
It seems often overlooked that Irenaeus suggested that 666 stood for the names Evanthas, Lateinos, or Teitan (Adv. haer. 5.30.3; see also Hipp., Antichr. 50). The problem, I think, with most modern interpretations is that they do not work from principles of Greek numerology. For more on the standard interpretation of 666 as Nero (of which I remain highly sceptical), see W. C. Watt. "666." Semiotica 77 (1989) 369-392. Note that Jesus's name in Greek (Ἰησοῦς) is equivalent to 888 (as seen in the riddle in Syb. Orac. 1.395-399).

Related post: Latin in Buffy and Angel.


Physician, Heal Thyself

To the collection of classical parallels to "Physician, heal thyself," add this fable attributed to Aesop (Chambry 69, tr. Olivia and Ronald Temple):
One day, a frog in a marsh cried out to all the animals: 'I am a doctor and I know all the remedies!' A fox, hearing this, called back: 'How could you save others when you can't even cure your own limp?'

This fable shows that if one isn't initiated into a science one ought not to instruct others.

Ὄντος ποτὲ βατράχου ἐν τῇ λίμνῃ καὶ τοῖς ζώοις πᾶσιν ἀναβοήσαντος· Ἐγὼ ἰατρός εἰμι φαρμάκων ἐπιστήμων, ἀλώπηξ ἀκούσασα ἔφη· Πῶς σὺ ἄλλους σώσεις, σαυτὸν χωλὸν ὄντα μὴ θεραπεύων; Ὁ μῦθος δηλοῖ ὅτι ὁ παιδείας ἀμύητος ὑπάρχων, πῶς ἄλλους παιδεῦσαι δυνήσεται;
Babrius versified this as follows (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
That denizen of the swamps who likes the shade, the frog, who lives beside the ditches, once came forth on dry land and bragged to all the creatures: "I'm a physician, skilled in the use of drugs such as no one, doubtless, knows, not even Paean who lives on Olympus, physician to the gods." "And how, said a fox, "can you cure someone else, when you can't save yourself from being so deadly pale?"

Ὁ τελμάτων ἔνοικος ὁ σκιῇ χαίρων,
ὁ ζῶν ὀρυκτοῖς βάτραχος παρ' αὐρίποις,
εἰς γῆν παρελθὼν ἔλεγε πᾶσι τοῖς ζώοις·
"ἰατρός εἰμι φαρμάκων ἐπιστήμων,
οἵων ταχ' οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδ' ὁ Παιήων,
ὃς Ὄλυμπον οἰκεῖ καὶ θεοὺς ἰατρεύει."
"καὶ πῶς" ἀλώπηξ εἶπεν "ἄλλον ἰήσῃ,
ὃς σαυτὸν οὕτω χλωρὸν ὄντα μὴ σώζεις;"
Babrius followed a variant of Aesop's fable where the frog was χλωρὸν (green, pallid), not χωλὸν (lame). Aphthonius 24 and Avianus 6 likewise refer to the frog's color, not its gait. Cf. Genesis Rabbah 23 [15c]: "Physician, heal your own lameness."

Monday, May 29, 2006


Old Men

Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.13 (tr. John Henry Freese):
[1] Older men and those who have passed their prime have in most cases characters opposite to those of the young. For, owing to their having lived many years and having been more often deceived by others or made more mistakes themselves, and since most human things turn out badly, they are positive about nothing, and in everything they show an excessive lack of energy.

[2] They always "think," but "know" nothing; and in their hesitation they always add "perhaps," or "maybe"; all their statements are of this kind, never unqualified.

[3] They are malicious; for malice consists in looking upon the worse side of everything. Further, they are always suspicious owing to mistrust, and mistrustful owing to experience.

[4] And neither their love nor their hatred is strong for the same reasons; but, according to the precept of Bias, they love as if they would one day hate, and hate as if they would one day love.

[5] And they are little-minded, because they have been humbled by life; for they desire nothing great or uncommon, but only the necessaries of life.

[6] They are not generous, for property is one of these necessaries, and at the same time, they know from experience how hard it is to get and how easy to lose.

[7] And they are cowardly and inclined to anticipate evil, for their state of mind is the opposite of that of the young; they are chilled, whereas the young are hot, so that old age paves the way for cowardice, for fear is a kind of chill.

[8] And they are fond of life, especially in their last days, because desire is directed towards that which is absent and men especially desire what they lack.

[9] And they are unduly selfish, for this also is littleness of mind. And they live not for the noble, but for the useful, more than they ought, because they are selfish; for the useful is a good for the individual, whereas the noble is good absolutely.

[10] And they are rather shameless than modest; for since they do not care for the noble so much as for the useful, they pay little attention to what people think.

[11] And they are little given to hope owing to their experience, for things that happen are mostly bad and at all events generally turn out for the worse, and also owing to their cowardice.

[12] They live in memory rather than in hope; for the life that remains to them is short, but that which is past is long, and hope belongs to the future, memory to the past. This is the reason of their loquacity; for they are incessantly talking of the past, because they take pleasure in recollection.

[13] Their outbursts of anger are violent, but feeble; of their desires some have ceased, while others are weak, so that they neither feel them nor act in accordance with them, but only from motives of gain. Hence men of this age are regarded as self-controlled, for their desires have slackened, and they are slaves to gain.

[14] In their manner of life there is more calculation than moral character, for calculation is concerned with that which is useful, moral character with virtue. If they commit acts of injustice it is due to vice rather than to insolence.

[15] The old, like the young, are inclined to pity, but not for the same reason; the latter show pity from humanity, the former from weakness, because they think that they are on the point of suffering all kinds of misfortunes, and this is one of the reasons that incline men to pity. That is why the old are querulous, and neither witty nor fond of laughter; for a querulous disposition is the opposite of a love of laughter.


Sunday, May 28, 2006


But What of That?

Emily Dickinson:
I reason, earth is short,
And anguish absolute,
And many hurt;
But what of that?

I reason, we could die:
The best vitality
Cannot excel decay;
But what of that?

I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?


Translations of Horace, Ode 2.10

First the original, Horace, Ode 2.10:
Rectius vives, Licini, neque altum
  semper urgendo neque, dum procellas
  cautus horrescis, nimium premendo
    litus iniquum.

Auream quisquis mediocritatem
  diligit, tutus caret obsoleti
  sordibus tecti, caret invidenda
    sobrius aula.

Saepius ventis agitatur ingens
  pinus et celsae graviore casu
  decidunt turres feriuntque summos
    fulgura montis.

Sperat infestis, metuit secundis
  alteram sortem bene praeparatum
  pectus. Informis hiemes reducit
    Iuppiter, idem

summovet. Non, si male nunc, et olim
  sic erit: quondam cithara tacentem
  suscitat Musam neque semper arcum
    tendit Apollo.

Rebus angustis animosus atque
  fortis appare; sapienter idem
  contrahes vento nimium secundo
    turgida vela.
William Cowper:
Receive, dear friend, the truths I teach,
So shalt thou live beyond the reach
  Of adverse Fortune's pow’r;
Not always tempt the distant deep,
Nor always timorously creep
  Along the treach'rous shore.

He, that holds fast the golden mean,
And lives contentedly between
  The little and the great,
Feels not the wants that pinch the poor,
Nor plagues that haunt the rich man's door,
  Imbitt'ring all his state.

The tallest pines feel most the pow'r
Of wintry blasts; the loftiest tow'r
  Comes heaviest to the ground;
The bolts, that spare the mountain's side,
His cloud-capt eminence divide,
  And spread the ruin round.

The well-inform'd philosopher
Rejoices with an wholesome fear,
  And hopes, in spite of pain;
If winter bellow from the north,
Soon the sweet spring comes dancing forth,
  And nature laughs again.

What if thine heav'n be overcast,
The dark appearance will not last;
  Expect a brighter sky;
The God that strings the silver bow
Awakes sometimes the muses too,
  And lays his arrows by.

If hindrances obstruct thy way,
Thy magnanimity display
  And let thy strength be seen;
But oh! if Fortune fill thy sail
With more than a propitious gale,
  Take half thy canvass in.
John Conington:
Licinius, trust a seaman's lore:
Steer not too boldly to the deep,
Nor, fearing storms, by treacherous shore
Too closely creep.

Who makes the golden mean his guide,
Shuns miser's cabin, foul and dark,
Shuns gilded roofs, where pomp and pride
Are envy's mark.

With fiercer blasts the pine's dim height
Is rock'd; proud towers with heavier fall
Crash to the ground; and thunders smite
The mountains tall.

In sadness hope, in gladness fear
'Gainst coming change will fortify
Your breast. The storms that Jupiter
Sweeps o'er the sky

He chases. Why should rain to-day
Bring rain to-morrow? Python's foe
Is pleased sometimes his lyre to play,
Nor bends his bow.

Be brave in trouble; meet distress
With dauntless front; but when the gale
Too prosperous blows, be wise no less,
And shorten sail.
Franklin P. Adams:
Sail not too far to be safe, O Licinius!
  Neither too close to the shore should you steer.
Rashness is foolish, and how ignominious
    Cowardly fear!

He who possesses neither palace nor hovel
  (My little flat would be half way between)
Hasn't a house at which paupers must grovel
    Yet it is clean.

Shaken by winds is the pine that is tallest;
  Ever the summit is bared to the flash;
The bigger thou art, so the harder thou fallest --
    Cracketty crash!

He who in famine can hope for the manna,
  He who in plenty fears poverty's chafe --
He is the proper, the true Pollyanna,
    Playing it safe.

Jupiter, bringing the bleak, bitter, raw gust,
  Also remembers to take it away;
He is the god of December ... but August --
    April ... but May.

When you have creditors suing to pay them,
  Four-to-an-ace is the way to invest;
But when you win every pot, you should play them
    Close to your chest.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Sins of the Tongue, III(a): Jesting

Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (London, 1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), § xxxiv. μωρολογία, αἰσχρολογία, εὐτραπελία:
Εὐτραπελία, a finely selected word of the world's use, which, however, St. Paul uses not in the world's sense, like its synonyms, occurs only once in the N.T. (Ephes. v.4). Derived from εὖ and τρέπεσθαι (εὐτράπελοι, οἷον εὔτροποι, Aristotle, Eth. Nic. iv.8.4; cf. Pott, Etym. Forsch. vol. v p. 136), that which easily turns, and in this way adapts, itself to the shifting circumstances of the hour, to the moods and conditions of those with whom at the instant it may deal;1 it had very slightly and rarely, in classical use, that evil signification which, as used by St. Paul and the Greek Fathers, is the only one which it knows.

That St. Paul could be himself εὐτράπελος in the better sense of the word, he has given illustrious proof (Acts xxvi.29). Thucydides, in that panegyric of the Athenians which he puts into the mouth of Pericles, employs εὐτράπέλως (ii.41) as = εὐκινήτως, to characterize the 'versatile ingenium' of his countrymen; while Plato (Rep. viii.563 a) joins εὐτραπελία with χαριεντισμός, as do also Plutarch (De Adul. et Am. 7) and Josephus (Antt. xii.4.3); Isocrates (Or. xv.316) with φιλολογία; Philo (Leg. ad Cai. 45) with χάρις.

For Aristotle, also, the εὐτράπελος or ἐπιδέξιος (Ethic. Nic. ii.7; iv.8; compare Brandis, Aristoteles, p. 1415) is one who keeps the happy mean between the βωμολόχος and the ἄγριος, ἀγροῖκος, or σκληρός. He is no mere γελωτοποιός or buffoon; but, in whatever pleasantry or banter he may allow himself, still χαρίεις or refined, always restraining himself within the limits of becoming mirth (ἐμμελῶς παίζειν), never ceasing to be the gentleman.

Thus P. Volumnius, the friend or acquaintance of Cicero and of Atticus, bore the name 'Eutrapelus,' on the score of his festive wit and talent of society: though certainly there is nothing particularly amiable in the story which Horace (Epp. i.18.31-36) tells about him.

1Chrysostom, who, like most great teachers, often turns etymology into the materials of exhortation, does not fail to do so here. To other reasons why the Christians should renounce εὐτραπελία he adds this (Hom. 17 in Ephes.): Ὅρα καὶ τοὔναμα· εὐτράπελος λέγεται ὁ ποικίλος, ὁ παντοδαπὸς, ὁ ἄστατος, ὁ εὔκολος, ὁ πάντα γινόμενος· τοῦτο δὲ πόρρω τῶν τῇ Πέτρᾳ δουλευόντων. Ταχέως τρέπεται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ μεθίσταται. [tr. in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series: Look too at the very name. It means the versatile man, the man of all complexions, the unstable, the pliable, the man that can be anything and everything. But far is this from those who are servants to the Rock. Such a character quickly turns and changes.]

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.7.13 (tr. H. Rackham):
In respect of pleasantness in social amusement, the middle character is witty and the middle disposition Wittiness; the excess is Buffoonery and its possessor a buffoon; the deficient man may be called boorish, and his disposition Boorishness.

περὶ δὲ τὸ ἡδὺ τὸ μὲν ἐν παιδιᾷ ὁ μὲν μέσος εὐτράπελος καὶ ἡ διάθεσις εὐτραπελία, ἡ δ᾽ ὑπερβολὴ βωμολοχία καὶ ὁ ἔχων αὐτὴν βωμολόχος, ὁ δ᾽ ἐλλείπων ἄγροικός τις καὶ ἡ ἕξις ἀγροικία.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 4.8.3 (tr. H. Rackham):
Those then who go to excess in ridicule are thought to be buffoons and vulgar fellows, who itch to have their joke at all costs, and are more concerned to raise a laugh than to keep within the bounds of decorum and avoid giving pain to the object of their raillery. Those on the other hand who never by any chance say anything funny themselves and take offence at those who do, are considered boorish and morose. Those who jest with good taste are called witty or versatile -- that is to say, full of good turns; for such sallies seem to spring from the character, and we judge men's characters, like their bodies, by their movements.

οἱ μὲν οὖν τῷ γελοίῳ ὑπερβάλλοντες βωμολόχοι δοκοῦσιν εἶναι καὶ φορτικοί, γλιχόμενοι πάντως τοῦ γελοίου, καὶ μᾶλλον στοχαζόμενοι τοῦ γέλωτα ποιῆσαι ἢ τοῦ λέγειν εὐσχήμονα καὶ μὴ λυπεῖν τὸν σκωπτόμενον· οἱ δὲ μήτ᾽ αὐτοὶ ἂν εἰπόντες μηδὲν γελοῖον τοῖς τε λέγουσι δυσχεραίνοντες ἄγροικοι καὶ σκληροὶ δοκοῦσιν εἶναι. οἱ δ᾽ ἐμμελῶς παίζοντες εὐτράπελοι προσαγορεύονται, οἷον εὔτροποι· τοῦ γὰρ ἤθους αἱ τοιαῦται δοκοῦσι κινήσεις εἶναι, ὥσπερ δὲ τὰ σώματα ἐκ τῶν κινήσεων κρίνεται, οὕτω καὶ τὰ ἤθη.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Ploughing the Sand

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 32:
The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him; and . . . all economics, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save insofar as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing of the sand and sowing of the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of the spirit.
Quoted by Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), p. 129.



On Pelikan and the pelican, see the remarks of Laura Gibbs at Bestiaria Latina Blog.

Michael Hendry at Curculio translates an aphorism of Nicolás Gómez Dávila:
Paganism is the other Old Testament of the Church.

Deogolwulf at the Joy of Curmudgeonry translates an aphorism by Lichtenberg:
Most teachers of a faith defend their propositions, not because they are convinced of their truth, but because they have once asserted their truth.

Dennis Mangan at Mangan's Miscellany translates a sonnet by Francisco de Quevedo.

Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence quotes a poem by Zbigniew Herbert, "Why the Classics," which is based on a passage from the Greek historian Thucydides.

Emendations in the text of Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960):

P. 69 (from Mount Athos):
Some of the monasteries have telephone connections with each other. Only one has electric lights, and in consequence is devised by the others.
For devised, read despised.

P. 89 (from The Spirituality of Sinai):
At his best, Climacus sometimes suggests Theocritus and La-Bruyère.
For Theocritus, read Theophrastus.

My son recently went camping with friends in a swamp in eastern North Carolina. His account of the trip includes this anecdote:
On our midnight canoe run, Ken and I disturbed a great blue heron nesting in the canopy above us: as it flew away, loudly protesting, it discharged its copious cloacal contents in our direction, which splashed loudly around the canoe nearly hitting us. I shone the light upwards through the canopy and I remember quite clearly the sight of the fecal salvo descending rapidly towards us.
This fulfills the prophecy in Aeschylus, fragment 275 Nauck, lines 1-2 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
For a heron, in its flight on high, shall smite thee with its dung, its belly's emptyings.

ἐρῳδιὸς γὰρ ὑψόθεν ποτώμενος
ὄνθῳ σε πλήξει νηδύος κενώμασιν.
Another scene from the same camping trip, entitled Shootin' tequila and shootin' the bull:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Pious Pelicans

Ecclesiastical historian Jaroslav Pelikan died recently, and I've been reading some tributes by bloggers, e.g. at The Bourgeois Burglars and Quid nomen illius?.

Pelikan was of Slovak origin, and I don't know what his last name meant in the Slovak language, but I'm reminded that the pelican is a symbol of Christ. Pelikan is thus an apt name, an aptronym, for a historian of Christianity. Pelikan apparently had a painting of a pelican on the wall of his office at Yale University.

It was thought that the pelican fed its young with its own blood, as Christ feeds the faithful with His flesh and blood. The hymn Adoro Te Devote refers to this belief in the following stanza (tr. Gerard Manley Hopkins):
Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran –
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Pie Pelicane, Iesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
See here for a picture from a medieval bestiary of a pelican feeding its young.

Other posts on aptronyms:


Ineffectual Prayers

Sophocles, Antigone 773-780 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
I will take her where the path is loneliest, and hide her, living, in rocky vault, with so much food set forth as piety prescribes, that the city may avoid a public stain. And there, praying to Hades, the only god whom she worships, perchance she will obtain release from death; or else will learn, at last, though late, that it is lost labour to revere the dead.
But it is well-known that you cannot obtain release from death, on your own behalf or on behalf of another, by prayer or sacrifice to Hades.

Aeschylus, fragment 161 (from the play Niobe):
For alone of gods Death does not love gifts, nor by sacrificing or by pouring libations could you accomplish anything. He has no altar and the paean is not sung to him; of the gods, from him alone Persuasion stands apart.
Sophocles, Electra 137-139 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
But you will never raise up your father from the lake of Hades, to which all must come, by weeping or by prayers.
Euripides, Alcestis 953-975 (ode to Necessity):
It is impossible to come to the altars and statues of that goddess alone, and she does not heed sacrifices.
Vergil, Georgics 2.491:
Fate which cannot be moved by entreaty (inexorabile fatum).
Horace, Odes 2.14.1-8:
Alas, Postumus, Postumus, the fleeting years are slipping by, and devotion will not delay wrinkles, the onslaught of old age, and unconquered death, not even, friend, if you try each day to please dry-eyed Pluto with three hundred bulls.
Propertius 4.11.1-8 (supposedly spoken by Cornelia, who died in 16 B.C. leaving her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus a widower):
Paullus, stop bothering my tomb with your tears: the black gate is not opened in response to any prayers; as soon as the dead have entered hell's dominions, the ways are fixed with adamantine which cannot be moved by entreaty. Although the god of the dark halls hears your voice as you pray, deaf shores will surely absorb your tears. Prayers impress the gods who live above: but when the ferryman has pocketed the fare, the pale gate bars the grassy funeral pyres.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Brekekekex Koax Koax

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, chapter Water:
Rain and puddles bring out other amphibia, even in the desert. It's a strange, stirring, but not uncommon thing to come on a pool at night, after an evening of thunder and lightning and a bit of rainfall, and see the frogs clinging to the edge of their impermanent pond, bodies immersed in water but heads out, all croaking away in tricky counterpoint. They are windbags: with each croak the pouch under the frog's chin swells like a bubble, then collapses.

Why do they sing? What do they have to sing about? Somewhat apart from one another, separated by roughly equal distances, facing outward from the water, they clank and croak through the night with tireless perseverance. To human ears their music has a bleak, dismal, tragic quality, dirgelike rather than jubilant. It may nevertheless be the case that these small beings are singing not only to claim their stake in the pond, not only to attract a mate, but also out of spontaneous love and joy, a contrapuntal choral celebration of the coolness and wetness after weeks of desert fire, for love of their own existence, however brief it may be, and for joy in the common life.

Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don't, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snakes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness.

What then? A few of the little amphibians will continue their metamorphosis by way of the nerves and tissues of one of the higher animals, in which process the joy of one becomes the contentment of the second. Nothing is lost, except an individual consciousness here and there, a trivial perhaps even illusory phenomenon. The rest survive, mate, multiply, burrow, estivate, dream, and rise again. The rains will come, the potholes shall be filled. Again. And again. And again.

Monday, May 22, 2006


More on the God Fart

Thanks to Dr. Max Nelson, who responds in a series of three emails to my query about the ancient god Fart. He even uncovers what seems to be the ultimate source, the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions.

1. Voltaire seems to be influenced here by the early Church Fathers (see particularly Tert., Ad nat. 2.11, Arn., Adv. gent. 4.6-13, and August., Civ. Dei 4.8, 11, 6.9, 7.2-3, and 18.15) but perhaps to have misremembered his source(s). Augustine, for instance, mentions Pertunda, Priapus, and Stercutius, but speaks of Rumina (not Rumilia) as goddess of lactation (not nipples). As far as I can tell, none of these authors mention a god of the fart though Arnobius almost says that there should be one (Adv. gent. 4.10.2-3):
Cur sola meruerint ossa tutelam, non meruerint ungues pili ceteraque alia locis posita in obscuris et verecundioribus partibus? Et sunt casibus obnoxia plurimis et curam magis deorum diligentiamque desiderant. Aut si et has dicitis partes suis agere sub tutelatoribus divis, incipient totidem dii esse quot res sunt: nec explicabitur ratio, cur non rebus omnibus divinae praesideant curae, si certas res esse quibus praesint numina et provideant dixeritis.

Why should the bones alone have found protection, and not the nails, hair, and all the other things which are placed in the hidden parts and members of which we feel ashamed, and are exposed to very many accidents, and stand more in need of the care and attention of the gods? Or if you say that these parts, too, act under the care of their own tutelar deities, there will begin to be as many gods as there are things; nor will the cause be stated why the divine care does not protect all things, if you say that there are certain things over which the deities preside, and for which they care. [Translation from]
2. We should not imagine that Voltaire invented the god Crepitus. He is already mentioned in Abbé Banier's The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients Explained from History (London 1739-1740; translated from the French), vol. 1, p. 199 and vol. 3, p. 196. In the latter place he says that the god is depicted as a young child farting and claims to have gotten his information from Father Pierre-Nicolas Desmolets' continuation of Albert-Henri de Sallengre's Mémoires d'histoire et de littérature which appeared in numerous volumes in Paris in 1730 and 1731 (and which I have not been able to consult).

3. In the Recognitions attributed to Clement of Rome the following is found about Egyptian worship (5.20): alii ... crepitus ventris pro numinibus habendos esse docuerunt. Other similar passages are cited by J. W. Crombie. "A Curious Superstition." The Folk-Lore Journal 2.6 (June 1884) 172-173.

Here is a translation of the passage from the Recognitions cited by Dr. Nelson:
Others ... taught that farts should be regarded as gods.


What Are You?

Jacob Neusner, Invitation to the Talmud (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 46:
You are what you do, not merely what you claim to be or say about yourself.


The Pedestrian

John Burroughs, The Exhilarations of the Road, from Winter Sunshine:
I think if I could walk through a country, I should not only see many things and have adventures that I should otherwise miss, but that I should come into relations with that country at first hand, and with the men and women in it, in a way that would afford the deepest satisfaction. Hence I envy the good fortune of all walkers, and feel like joining myself to every tramp that comes along. I am jealous of the clergyman I read about the other day, who footed it from Edinburgh to London, as poor Effie Deans did, carrying her shoes in her hand most of the way, and over the ground that rugged Ben Jonson strode, larking it to Scotland, so long ago. I read with longing of the pedestrian feats of college youths, so gay and light-hearted, with their coarse shoes on their feet and their knapsacks on their backs. It would have been a good draught of the rugged cup to have walked with Wilson the ornithologist, deserted by his companions, from Niagara to Philadelphia through the snows of winter. I almost wish that I had been born to the career of a German mechanic, that I might have had that delicious adventurous year of wandering over my country before I settled down to work. I think how much richer and firmer-grained life would be to me if I could journey afoot through Florida and Texas, or follow the windings of the Platte or the Yellowstone, or stroll through Oregon, or browse for a season about Canada. In the bright, inspiring days of autumn I only want the time and the companion to walk back to the natal spot, the family nest, across two States and into the mountains of a third. What adventures we would have by the way, what hard pulls, what prospects from hills, what spectacles we would behold of night and day, what passages with dogs, what glances, what peeps into windows, what characters we should fall in with, and how seasoned and hardy we should arrive at our destination!
Anyone foolish enough to try this in the year of our Lord 2006 would either be (1) arrested for trespassing, or (2) mowed down by a speeding car, long before he arrived at his destination.



The ancient Latin poet Naevius (quoted by Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 4.31.67) represented the Trojan hero Hector saying to his father Priam:
I am glad, father, to be praised by you, who are a praiseworthy man (laetus sum laudari me abs te, pater, a laudato viro).
A character in Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley (chapter 30) varies this:
On abuse, on reproach, on calumny, it is easy to smile; but painful indeed is the panegyric of those we contemn.
See also C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967), p. 44:
Fatuous praise from a manifest fool may hurt more than any depreciation.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


The God Fart

Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, s.vv. Idole, Idolâtre, Idolâtrie (tr. Theodore Besterman):
Then came the gods minorum gentium: the local deities, the heroes, like Bacchus, Hercules, Aesculapius; the infernal gods, Pluto, Proserpine; those of the sea, like Thetis, Amphitrite, the Nereids, Glaucus; then the Dryads, the Naiads; the gods of the garden, those of the shepherds. There was a god for every profession, for every activity, for children, for nubile girls, for married women, for women in childbed. They had the god Fart. Finally they deified the emperors. But in fact neither these emperors, nor the god Fart, nor the goddess Pertunda, nor Priapus, nor Rumilia the goddess of tits, nor Stercutius the god of the privy, were regarded as the masters of heaven and earth. The emperors sometimes had temples, the minor household gods had none; but all had their images, their idols. These were little figurines with which a man decorated his study. They were the amusements of old women and children, not authorized by any public worship. The superstition of every private person was indulged. These little idols are still found in the ruins of ancient cities.

Ensuite venaient les dieux minorum gentium, les dieux indigètes, les héros, comme Bacchus, Hercule, Esculape; les dieux infernaux Pluton, Proserpine; ceux de la mer, comme Téthys, Amphitrite, les Néréides, Glaucus: puis les Dryades, les Naïades, les dieux des jardins, ceux des bergers: il y en avait pour chaque profession, pour chaque action de la vie, pour les enfants, pour les filles nubiles, pour les mariées, pour les accouchées; on eut le dieu Pet. On divinisa enfin les empereurs. Ni ces empereurs, ni le dieu Pet, ni la déesse Pertunda, ni Rumilia, la déesse des tetons, ni Stercutius, le dieu de la garde-robe, ne furent à la vérité regardés comme les maîtres du ciel et de la terre. Les empereurs eurent quelquefois des temples, les petit dieux pénates n'en eurent point; mais tous eurent leur figure, leur idole. C'étaient de petits magots dont on ornait son cabinet; c'étaient les amusements des vieilles femmes et des enfants, qui n'étaient autorisés par aucun culte public. On laissait agir à son gré la superstition de chaque particulier. On retrouve encore ces petites idoles dans les ruines des anciennes villes.
I have heard about most of the gods Voltaire mentions, but not the god Fart, and I solicit information from the erudite readers of this blog. What ancient authors mention the god Fart? Please supply chapter and verse. How was he represented? Have any idols of the god Fart been found in the ruins of ancient cities? I would like to have a little figurine of the god Fart to decorate my study.


Walking Alone

Robert Louis Stevenson, Walking Tours:
A walking tour should be gone upon alone, because freedom is of the essence; because you should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you; and because you must have your own pace, and neither trot alongside a champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl. And then you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take colour from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon. "I cannot see the wit," says Hazlitt, "of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country," - which is the gist of all that can be said upon the matter. There should be no cackle of voices at your elbow, to jar on the meditative silence of the morning.


Portrait of a Scholar

Robert Louis Stevenson, An Apology for Idlers:
Many who have "plied their book diligently," and know all about some one branch or another of accepted lore, come out of the study with an ancient and owl-like demeanour, and prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all the better and brighter parts of life.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Sins of the Tongue, II: Filthy Communication

Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (London, 1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), § xxxiv. μωρολογία, αἰσχρολογία, εὐτραπελία:
Αἰσχρολογία [aischrología], which also is of solitary use in the N.T. (Col. iii.8), must not be confounded with αἰσχρότης (Ephes. v.4). By it the Greek Fathers (see Suicer, Thes. s.v.), whom most expositors follow, have understood obscene discourse, 'turpiloquium,' 'filthy communication' (E.V.), such as ministers to wantonness, ὄχημα πορνείας, as Chrysostom explains it. Clement of Alexandria, in a chapter of his Paedagogus, περὶ αἰσχρολογίας (ii.6), recognizes no other meaning than this. Now, beyond a doubt, αἰσχρολογία has sometimes this sense predominantly, or even exclusively (Xenophon, De Rep. Lac. v.6; Aristotle, Pol. vii.15; Epictetus, Man. xxxiii.16; see, too, Becker, Charikles, 1st ed. vol. ii p. 264).

But more often it indicates all foul-mouthed abusiveness of every kind, not excluding this, one of the most obvious kinds, readiest to hand, and most offensive, but including, as in the well-known phrase, αἰσχρολογία ἐφ᾽ ἱεροῖς [foul language against holy things], other kinds as well. Thus, too, Polybius (viii.13.8; xii.13.3; xxxi.10.4): αἰσχρολογία καὶ λοιδορία κατὰ τοῦ βασιλέως [foul and abusive language against the king]: while the author of a treatise which passes under Plutarch's name (De Lib. Ed. 14), denouncing all αἰσχρολογία as unbecoming to youth ingenuously brought up, includes therein every license of the ungoverned tongue employing itself in the abuse of others, all the wicked condiments of saucy speech (ἡδύσματα πονηρὰ τῆς παρρησίας); nor can I doubt that St. Paul intends to forbid the same, the context and company in which the word is used by him going far to prove as much; seeing that all other sins against which he is here warning are outbreaks of a loveless spirit toward our neighbour.

What is the source of Trench's "well-known phrase," αἰσχρολογία ἐφ᾽ ἱεροῖς? Trench's citations of Polybius don't all seem to align with modern texts. xii.13.3 is OK, but viii.13.8 and xxxi.10.4 should perhaps be viii.11.8 and xxxi.6.4. Here is the chapter from Clement of Alexandria cited by Trench (tr. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson):
From filthy speaking we ourselves must entirely abstain, and stop the mouths of those who practise it by stern looks and averting the face, and by what we call making a mock of one: often also by a harsher mode of speech. "For what proceedeth out of the mouth," He says, "defileth a man," - shows him to be unclean, and heathenish, and untrained, and licentious, and not select, and proper, and honourable, and temperate.

And as a similar rule holds with regard to hearing and seeing in the case of what is obscene, the divine Instructor, following the same course with both, arrays those children who are engaged in the struggle in words of modesty, as ear-guards, so that the pulsation of fornication may not penetrate to the bruising of the soul; and He directs the eyes to the sight of what is honourable, saying that it is better to make a slip with the feet than with the eyes. This filthy speaking the apostle beats off, saying, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good." And again, "As becometh saints, let not filthiness be named among you, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which things are not seemly, but rather giving of thanks." And if "he that calls his brother a fool be in danger of the judgment," what shall we pronounce regarding him who speaks what is foolish? Is it not written respecting such: "Whosoever shall speak an idle word, shall give an account to the Lord in the day of judgment?" And again, "By thy speech thou shalt be justified," He says, "and by thy speech thou shalt be condemned." What, then, are the salutary ear-guards, and what the regulations for slippery eyes? Conversations with the righteous, preoccupying and forearming the ears against those that would lead away from the truth.

"Evil communications corrupt good manners,"

says Poetry. More nobly the apostle says, "Be haters of the evil; cleave to the good." For he who associates with the saints shall be sanctified. From shameful things addressed to the ears, and words and sights, we must entirely abstain. And much more must we keep pure from shameful deeds: on the one hand, from exhibiting and exposing parts of the body which we ought not; and on the other, from beholding what is forbidden. For the modest son could not bear to look on the shameful exposure of the righteous man; and modesty covered what intoxication exposed-the spectacle of the transgression of ignorance. No less ought we to keep pure from calumnious reports, to which the ears of those who have believed in Christ ought to be inaccessible.

It is on this account, as appears to me, that the Instructor does not permit us to give utterance to aught unseemly, fortifying us at an early stage against licentiousness. For He is admirable always at cutting out the roots of sins, such as, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," by "Thou shalt not lust." For adultery is the fruit of lust, which is the evil root. And so likewise also in this instance the Instructor censures licence in names, and thus cuts off the licentious intercourse of excess. For licence in names produces the desire of being indecorous in conduct; and the observance of modesty in names is a training in resistance to lasciviousness. We have shown in a more exhaustive treatise, that neither in the names nor in the members to which appellations not in common use are applied, is there the designation of what is really obscene.

For neither are knee and leg, and such other members, nor are the names applied to them, and the activity put forth by them, obscene. And even the pudenda are to be regarded as objects suggestive of modesty, not shame. It is their unlawful activity that is shameful, and deserving ignominy, and reproach, and punishment. For the only thing that is in reality shameful is wickedness, and what is done through it. In accordance with these remarks, conversation about deeds of wickedness is appropriately, termed filthy [shameful] speaking, as talk about adultery and paederasty and the like. Frivolous prating, too, is to be put to silence. "For," it is said, "in much speaking thou shalt not escape sin." "Sins of the tongue, therefore, shall be punished." "There is he who is silent, and is found wise; and there is that is hated for much speech." But still more, the prater makes himself the object of disgust. "For he that multiplieth speech abominates his own soul."

Friday, May 19, 2006


A Howler

Tonight at a secondhand bookstore I picked up Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, by Terry Lindvall, Ph.D. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), for one dollar. I've read a few chapters, and it's not a bad book. It quotes extensively from Lewis, which alone guarantees that there will be much worth reading in it. The title is a takeoff on Lewis' own book Surprised by Joy.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines howler as "an amusing or ridiculous blunder." So it happened that I was amused (surprised by laughter, as it were) when I read the dedication of Surprised by Laughter, which ends with a howler, the supposedly Latin sentence "Soli Deus Gloria."

If you're a Latin teacher, it might be a good extra credit exercise for your students to correct this mistake. I won't give away the answer by correcting it here.

Hint: I assume Lindvall meant "To God alone be glory." As Fr. Deighan points out, it is possible to translate "Soli Deus gloria" as "To a loner, God is glory." But it is clear from the rest of the dedication that Lindvall did not have this in mind.

Two more howlers from the pen of Terry Lindvall, Ph.D., on p. 223 of the same work:
Man is homo risens, the zoion gelastikon -- the animal that laughs.
How about homo cachinnans, or ridens, or risor? But not risens, which implies the existence of a non-existent Latin verb riso or riseo. And there is no Greek word zoion, which should be zōon (ζῶον).

Matt Carter correctly points out that ζῷον is the preferred orthography, and that zoion is therefore an acceptable transliteration. I wrongly relied on the lemma in my old (1872) Liddell and Scott, which has ζῶον, without the iota subscript. The title of this post describes my own mistake, and I hereby eat humble pie.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Sins of the Tongue, I: Foolish Talking

Ephesians 5.3-4:
[3] But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; [4] Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking [μωρολογία, mōrología], nor jesting [εὐτραπελία, eutrapelía], which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

[3] πορνεία δὲ καὶ ἀκαθαρσία πᾶσα ἢ πλεονεξία μηδὲ ὀνομαζέσθω ἐν ὑμῖν, καθὼς πρέπει ἁγίοις, [4] καὶ αἰσχρότης καὶ ἢ εὐτραπελία, ἃ οὐκ ἀνῆκεν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον εὐχαριστία.
Colossians 3.8:
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication [αἰσχρολογία, aischrología] out of your mouth.

νυνὶ δὲ ἀπόθεσθε καὶ ὑμεῖς τὰ πάντα, ὀργήν, θυμόν, κακίαν, βλασφημίαν, αἰσχρολογίαν ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ὑμῶν.

Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (London, 1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), § xxxiv. μωρολογία, αἰσχρολογία, εὐτραπελία:
All these designate sins of the tongue, but with a difference.

Μωρολογία, employed by Aristotle (Hist. Anim. i.11), but of rare use till the later Greek, is rendered well in the Vulgate, on the one occasion of its occurrence (Ephes. v.4), by 'stultiloquium,' a word which Plautus may have coined (Mil. Glor. ii.3.5); although one which did not find more favour and currency in the after language of Rome, than did the 'stultiloquy' which Jeremy Taylor sought to introduce among ourselves.

Not merely the πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν [every idle word] of our Lord (Matt. xii.36), but in good part also the πᾶς λόγος σαπρός [every corrupt communication] of his Apostle (Ephes. iv.29), will be included in it; discourse, as everything else in the Christian, needing to be seasoned with the salt of grace, and being in danger of growing first insipid, and then corrupt, without it.

Those who stop short with the ἀργὰ ῥήματα [idle words], as though μωρολογία reached no further, fail to exhaust the fulness of its meaning. Thus Calvin too weakly: 'Sermones inepti ac inanes, nulliusque frugis;' and even Jeremy Taylor (On the Good and Evil Tongue, Serm. xxxii. pt. 2) fails to reproduce the full force of the word. 'That,' he says, 'which is here meant by stultiloquy or foolish speaking is the "lubricum verbi," as St. Ambrose calls it, the "slipping with the tongue" which prating people often suffer, whose discourses betray the vanity of their spirit, and discover "the hidden man of the heart."'

In heathen writings μωρολογία may very well pass as equivalent to ἀδολεσχία, 'random talk,' and μωρολογεῖν to ληρεῖν (Plutarch, De Garr. 4); but words obtain a new earnestness when assumed into the ethical terminology of Christ's school. Nor, in seeking to enter fully into the meaning of this one, ought we to leave out of sight the greater emphasis which the words 'fool,' 'foolish,' 'folly,' obtain in Scripture, than elsewhere they have, or can have. There is the positive of folly as well as the negative to be taken account of, when we are weighing the force of μωρολογία: it is that 'talk of fools,' which is foolishness and sin together.

I broke Trench's prose into shorter paragraphs and inserted extra matter in square brackets.

The Greek noun μωρολογία [mōrología] is a compound formed from μωρός (mōrós = foolish) and λόγος (lógos = word). We see mōrós in English sophomore = wise fool and moron. Lógos is an element of many English words (theology, trilogy, etc.). The title of Erasmus' Praise of Folly (Encomium Moriae) was a pun on the Greek word μωρία (mōría = folly) and the surname of Erasmus' friend Thomas More.

With the Plautine stultiloquium in the Vulgate of Ephesians 5.4, compare turpis lucri cupidum at Titus 1.7, where I once half seriously suggested emending the text to turpilucricupidum, after the Plautine compound turpilucricupidus (Trinummus 100). St. Jerome was an avid reader of Plautus.

The next installment will be Sins of the Tongue, II: Filthy Communication, on the Greek word αἰσχρολογία, aischrología.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


The Root of All Evil

Sophocles, Antigone 295-301 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
There is no institution so ruinous for men as money; money sacks cities, money drives men from their homes! Money by its teaching perverts men's good minds so that they take to evil actions! Money has shown men how to practise villainy, and taught them impiousness in every action!

οὐδὲν γὰρ ἀνθρώποισιν οἷον ἄργυρος
κακὸν νόμισμ᾽ ἔβλαστε. τοῦτο καὶ πόλεις
πορθεῖ, τόδ᾽ ἄνδρας ἐξανίστησιν δόμων·
τόδ᾽ ἐκδιδάσκει καὶ παραλλάσσει φρένας
χρηστὰς πρὸς αἰσχρὰ πράγμαθ᾽ ἵστασθαι βροτῶν·
πανουργίας δ᾽ ἔδειξεν ἀνθρώποις ἔχειν
καὶ παντὸς ἔργου δυσσέβειαν εἰδέναι.
By the way, I noticed that Hugh Lloyd-Jones, in his Loeb translation of Sophocles' Antigone, for some reason skipped the beginning of line 76. I see no translation of the words ἐκεῖ γὰρ αἰεὶ κείσομαι, which mean "For there shall I always lie."

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Excuses for Not Writing

William Cowper, To His Cousin Lady Hesketh, Reasons Why He Could Not Write Her a Good Letter:
My pens are all split, and my ink-glass is dry;
Neither wit, common sense, nor ideas have I.
William Cowper, To Rev. Walter Bagot, Excuse for Delay in Writing to Him:
It is a maxim of much weight,
  Worth conning o'er and o'er,
He who has Homer to translate,
  Had need do nothing more.
My excuse is that I'm going out of town for a few days and probably won't have access to a computer.

In the meantime, try reading some of the blogs on the sidebar. Samples:


Can't We All Just Get Along?

La Bruyère, Les Caractères XI, 16:
The question arises why all men don't join together as one single nation, why they have been unwilling to speak one identical language, live under the same laws, agree among themselves as to the same customs and the same religion. As for me, when I consider the difference among personalities, tastes, and feelings, I'm surprised to see even seven or eight people join themselves together under the same roof, within the same enclosure, and form a single family.

L'on demande pourquoi tous les hommes ensemble ne composent pas comme une seule nation, et n'ont point voulu parler une même langue, vivre sous les mêmes lois, convenir entre eux des mêmes usages et d'un même culte; et moi, pensant à la contrariété des esprits, des goûts et des sentiments, je suis étonné de voir jusques à sept ou huit personnes se rassembler sous un même toit, dans une même enceinte, et composer une seule famille.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


A Modern Epitaph on a Dog

William Cowper's Epitaph on "Fop," a Dog Belonging to Lady Throckmorton, doesn't seem to be available elsewhere on the World Wide Web:
Though once a puppy, and though Fop by name,
Here moulders one whose bones some honour claim;
No sycophant, although of spaniel race,
And though no hound, a martyr to the chase.
Ye squirrels, rabbits, leverets, rejoice!
Your haunts no longer echo to his voice;
This record of his fate exulting view,
He died worn out with vain pursuit of you.
"Yes" -- the indignant shade of Fop replies --
"And worn with vain pursuit man also dies."
I guess it's a sign of my perspective on things, that I call a poem composed in August 1792 modern.

For a similar twist at the tail end of an epitaph on a dog, compare the final verses of John Gay's An Elegy on a Lap-dog:
He's dead. Oh lay him gently in the ground!
And may his tomb be by this verse renown'd.
Here Shock, the pride of all his kind, is laid;
Who fawn'd like man, but ne'er like man betray'd.


Adages, Aphorisms, and Platitudes

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary:
ADAGE, n. Boned wisdom for weak teeth.

APHORISM, n. Predigested wisdom.
The flabby wine-skin of his brain
Yields to some pathologic strain,
And voids from its unstored abysm
The driblet of an aphorism.
"The Mad Philosopher," 1697

PLATITUDE, n. The fundamental element and special glory of popular literature. A thought that snores in words that smoke. The wisdom of a million fools in the diction of a dullard. A fossil sentiment in artificial rock. A moral without the fable. All that is mortal of a departed truth. A demi-tasse of milk-and-mortality. The Pope's-nose of a featherless peacock. A jelly-fish withering on the shore of the sea of thought. The cackle surviving the egg. A desiccated epigram.


Hercules and Lichas Playing at Dice

Eric at Campus Mawrtius wonders if there are any classical parallels to Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice 2.1.32-38:
If Hercules and Lichas play at dice
Which is the better man, the greater throw
May turn by fortune from the weaker hand:
So is Alcides beaten by his rage,
And so may I, blind Fortune leading me,
Miss that which one unworthier may attain,
And die with grieving.

rage: page Pope
I love a puzzle like this, but I can't find any passages in classical literature where Hercules and Lichas play at dice. Hercules seems to have become fond of dice only after his death and apotheosis. Plutarch, Life of Romulus 5 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin), writes:
They pay honours also to another Larentia, for the following reason. The keeper of the temple of Hercules, being at a loss for something to do, as it seems, proposed to the god a game of dice, with the understanding that if he won it himself, he should get some valuable present from the god; but if he lost, he would furnish the god with a bounteous repast and a lovely woman to keep him company for the night.

On these terms the dice were thrown, first for the god, then for himself, when it appeared that he had lost. Wishing to keep faith, and thinking it right to abide by the contract, he prepared a banquet for the god, and engaging Larentia, who was then in the bloom of her beauty, but not yet famous, he feasted her in the temple, where he had spread a couch, and after the supper locked her in, assured of course that the god would take possession of her.

And verily it is said that the god did visit the woman, and bade her go early in the morning to the forum, salute the first man who met her, and make him her friend. She was met, accordingly, by one of the citizens who was well on in years and possessed of a considerable property, but childless, and unmarried all his life, by name Tarrutius.

This man took Larentia to his bed and loved her well, and at his death left her heir to many and fair possessions, most of which she bequeathed to the people. And it is said that when she was now famous and regarded as the beloved of a god, she disappeared at the spot where the former Larentia also lies buried.

This spot is now called Velabrum, because when the river overflowed, as it often did, they used to cross it at about this point in ferry-boats, to go to the forum, and their word for ferry is "velatura." But some say that it is so called because from that point on, the street leading to the Hippodrome from the forum is covered over with sails by the givers of a public spectacle, and the Roman word for sail is "velum." It is for these reasons that honours are paid to this second Larentia amongst the Romans.
The same story is told by Plutarch, Roman Questions 35; Tertullian, Ad Nationes 2.10; and Augustine, City of God 6.7.

But this can have nothing to do with Shakespeare. The keeper of Hercules' temple cannot be Lichas, because before his own death Hercules killed Lichas. Also, Hercules wins at dice in Plutarch, but loses in Shakespeare. Finally, the contest in Shakespeare is over "which is the better man," and Hercules is god, not man, in Plutarch.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Ancient Dog Epitaphs

In response to the last post, E.J. Moncada (via email) adduces Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Roman Epitaphs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), p. 107: μή, δέομαι, γελάσῃς εἰ κυνός ἐστι τάφος (Please do not laugh because this is a dog's grave.) = Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca 627, 2 (near Florence).

This seems similar to an epigram translated by J. W. Mackail, as LIV in his collection Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology (1890):
Thou who passest on this path,
If haply thou dost mark this monument,
Laugh not, I pray thee, though it is a dog's grave.
Tears fell for me, and the dust was heaped above me
By a master's hand.
Also in Mackail's collection are LV (by Tymnes):
Here the stone says it holds the white dog from Melita, the most faithful guardian of Eumelus; Bull they called him while he was yet alive; but now his voice is prisoned in the silent pathways of night.
and LVII (by Simonides):
Surely even as thou liest dead in this tomb I deem the wild beasts yet fear thy white bones, huntress Lycas; and thy valour great Pelion knows, and splendid Ossa and the lonely peaks of Cithaeron.
Mackail's LV is number 7.211 in the Greek Anthology:
Τῇδε τὸν ἐκ Μελίτης ἀργὸν κύνα φησὶν ὁ πέτρος
  ἴσχειν, Εὐμήλου πιστότατον φύλακα.
Ταῦρόν μιν καλέεσκον, ὅτ᾽ ἦν ἔτι· νῦν δὲ τὸ κείνου
  φθέγμα σιωπηραὶ νυκτὸς ἔχουσιν ὁδοί.
I have not yet tracked down the standard citations of Mackail's LIV and LVII.

Julia Lougovaya-Ast, in a review of Reinhold Merkelbach and Josef Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten. Band 4: Die Südküste Kleinasiens, Syrien und Palaestina (München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2002), writes:
18/01/28, from Termessos, is a very interesting inscription on a small sarcophagus of a dog named Stephanos. The epitaph seems to have comprised three epigrams, of which the first is largely lost, but the following two survive intact:

This is the tomb of the dog, Stephanos, who perished,
Whom Rhodope shed tears for and buried like a human (vv. 4-5).
I am the dog Stephanos, and Rhodope set up a tomb for me (v. 6).
The small sarcophagus was found near the inscribed sarcophagus of Rhodope herself.
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 6.29896 is an epitaph for a dog named Margarita (Pearl):
Gallia me genuit nomen mihi divitis undae /
concha dedit formae nominis aptus honos /
docta per incertas audax discurrere silvas /
collibus hirsutas atque agitare feras /
non gravibus vinc(u)lis unquam consueta teneri /
verbera nec niveo corpore saeva pati /
molli namque sinu domini dominaeque iacebam /
et noram in strato lassa cubare toro /
et plus quam licuit muto canis ore loquebar /
nulli latratus pertimuere meos /
sed iam fata subii partu iactata sinistro /
quam nunc sub parvo marmore terra tegit /
It should be noted that Sauvage Noble's second example is a variation on Catullus' dirge for Lesbia's sparrow (3, Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque).

I don't have access to Courtney's Musa Lapidaria, but if I recall correctly, it has extensive notes, and probably cites everything above and more.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006



Sauvage Noble posts two very interesting epitaphs for dogs from E. Courtney's Musa Lapidaria: A Selection of Latin Verse Inscriptions (1995). This is a subject much on my mind lately, at a time when my sister's dog is near death.

A poem that captures well the bond between man and dog, not dissolved even by death, is Robinson Jeffers' The House Dog's Grave, in which Jeffers' dead English bulldog Haig speaks:

I've changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read - and I fear often grieving for me -
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying

Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been.

And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided...
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.


Cure for Blogger's Block

James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Monday, 16th August:
Somebody talked of happy moments for composition; and how a man can write at one time, and not at another. -- "Nay (said Dr. Johnson) a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it."
Wednesday, 25th August:
Dr. Johnson wrote a long letter to Mrs Thrale. I wondered to see him write so much so easily. He verified his own doctrine that "a man may always write when he will set himself doggedly to it."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Modest Wishes

Greek Anthology 9.110 (Alpheius of Mitylene, tr. W.R. Paton):
I crave not for deep-soiled fields nor wealth of gold such as was Gyges.' I love a self-sufficient life, Macrinus. The saying "naught in excess" pleaseth me exceedingly.

Οὐ στέργω βαθυληίους ἀρούρας,
οὐκ ὄλβον πολύχρυσον, οἷα Γύγης.
αὐτάρκους ἔραμαι βίου, Μακρῖνε·
τὸ Μηθὲν γὰρ ἄγαν ἄγαν με τέρπει.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Fraenkel on Asyndetic Privative Adjectives

Aeschylus, Agamemnon. Edited with a Commentary by Eduard Fraenkel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), vol. 2, p. 217 (on line 412):
The use of the privative τρίκωλον is very old and widespread, and perhaps we can find one of the roots of it in phrases such as ἀφρήτωρ, ἀθέμιστος, ἀνέστιός (I 63), of which the form and content are associated with solemn imprecations.1 It will suffice here to quote from Aeschylus Ag. 769 ἄμαχον ἀπόλεμον ἀνίερον, Cho. 54 ἄμαχον ἀδάματον ἀπόλεμον, as well as S. Ant. 876 ἄκλαυτος ἄφιλος ἀνυμέναιος, 1071 ἄμοιρον ἀκτέριστον ἀνόσιον, Oed. C. 130 f. παραμειβόμεσθ᾽ ἀδέρκτως ἀφώνως ἀλόγως τὸ ... στόμα ... ἱέντες, 1236 f. ἀκρατὲς ἀπροσόμιλον γῆρας ἄφιλον, Eur. Andr. 491 ἄθεος ἄνομος ἄχαρις ὁ φόνος, Ar. Frogs 838 ἀχάλινον ἀκρατὲς ἀπύλωτον, and in more comic form ibid. 204 ἄπειρος ἀθαλάττωτος ἀσαλαμίνιος, Phyrinichus Com. ap. Phot. Berol. p. 118.25 ἄσιτος ἄποτος ἀναπόνιππος. The figure is one which invites imitation: in tragic language, e.g. Paradise Lost, ii.185 unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved (ibid. v.895 f. in quadruplet form, unmoved, Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified), in comic (with παρατραγωιδεῖν of Shakespeare's line in Hamlet, i.5.77 unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled), L. Stern, Tristram Shandy, chap. 35 unwiped, unappointed, unannealed.

1 There is a much later instance (IV/III cent. B.C.), but conceived in the same spirit, in the curse recorded on the Attic lead tablet, Dittenberger, Syll. 1175 l. 10 ἄχωρα καὶ ἄμοιρα καὶ ἀφανῆ αὐτῶι ἅπαντα γένοιτο. Cf. ibid. l. 28 f. R. Hirzel, 'Die Strafe der Steinigung', Abh. Sächs. Ges. d. Wiss., phil.-hist. Kl. xxvii, 1908, 253 n. 7, observes: 'In Hom. Il. 9.63 in the words spoken against the man who stirs up civil discord, ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος, I cannot help recognizing an ancient formula of proscription or of permanent and complete banishment, only, as happens elsewhere too, it is proleptically transformed from a wish or a curse into an affirmation. "He is tribeless, hearthless", instead of "he deserves to be...."' This coincides exactly with my own assumption. For the asyndetic tricolon in general cf. F. Leo, Analecta Plautina, iii (Göttinger Univ.-Programm, 1906), 6 ff.
On my next trip to the library, I'll try to find the discussions of Hirzel and Leo.

Earlier posts on this subject:It's encouraging to see that we (I include my correspondents) uncovered some examples not mentioned by Fraenkel.

Sunday, May 07, 2006



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 28.1-2 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil remarks,
Lands and cities are left astern,
your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel. Socrates made the same remark to one who complained; he said: "Why do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing that you always take yourself with you? The reason which set you wandering is ever at your heels." What pleasure is there in seeing new lands? Or in surveying cities and spots of interest? All your bustle is useless. Do you ask why such flight does not help you? It is because you flee along with yourself. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.

Hoc tibi soli putas accidisse et admiraris quasi rem novam quod peregrinatione tam longa et tot locorum varietatibus non discussisti tristitiam gravitatemque mentis? Animum debes mutare, non caelum. Licet vastum traieceris mare, licet, ut ait Vergilius noster,
terraeque urbesque recedant,
sequentur te quocumque perveneris vitia. Hoc idem querenti cuidam Socrates ait, 'quid miraris nihil tibi peregrinationes prodesse, cum te circumferas? premit te eadem causa quae expulit'. Quid terrarum iuvare novitas potest? quid cognitio urbium aut locorum? in irritum cedit ista iactatio. Quaeris quare te fuga ista non adiuvet? tecum fugis. Onus animi deponendum est: non ante tibi ullus placebit locus.



Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Poet:
For though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


On Swearing

Daniel Defoe, An Essay upon Projects (1697):
Swearing, that lewdness of the tongue, that scum and excrement of the mouth, is of all vices the most foolish and senseless; it makes a man's conversation unpleasant, his discourse fruitless, and his language nonsense.

It makes conversation unpleasant, at least to those who do not use the same foolish way of discourse; and indeed, is an affront to all the company who swear not as he does; for if I swear and curse in company, I either presume all the company likes it, or affront them who do not.

Then 'tis fruitless; for no man is believed a jot the more for all the asseverations, damnings, and swearings he makes; those who are used to it themselves, do not believe a man the more, because they know they are so customary, that they signify little to bind a man's intention; and they who practise them not, have so mean an opinion of those that do, as makes them think they deserve no belief.

Then, they are the spoilers and destroyers of a man's discourse, and turn it into perfect nonsense; and to make it out, I must descend a little to particulars, and desire the reader a little to foul his mouth with the brutish, sordid, senseless expressions, which some gentlemen call polite English, and speaking with a grace.

Some part of them indeed, though they are foolish enough, as effects of a mad, inconsiderate rage, are yet English; as when a man swears he will do this or, that, and it may be adds, God damn him he will; that is, God damn him if he don't: this, though it be horrid in another sense, yet may be read in writing, and is English: but what language is this?

Jack, God damn me Jack, how dost do, thou little dear son of a whore? How hast thou done this long time, by God? — And then they kiss; and the other, as lewd as himself, goes on:

Dear Tom, I am glad to see thee with all my heart, let me die. Come, let us go take a bottle, we must not part so; prithee let's go and be drunk by God. —

This is some of our new florid language, and the graces and delicacies of style, which if it were put into Latin, I would fain know which is the principal verb.

But for a little further remembrance of this impertinence, go among the gamesters, and there nothing is more frequent than, God damn the dice, or God damn the bowls.

Among the sportsmen 'tis, God damn the hounds, when they are at a fault; or, God damn the horse, if he balks a leap. They call men sons of bitches, and dogs sons of whores: and innumerable instances may be given of the like gallantry of language, grown now so much a custom.


The grace of swearing has not obtained to be a mode yet among the women; God damn ye does not sit well upon a female tongue; it seems to be a masculine vice, which the women are not arrived to yet; and I would only desire those gentlemen who practice it themselves, to hear a woman swear: it has no music at all there, I am sure; and just as little does it become any gentleman, if he would suffer himself to be judged by all the laws of sense or good manners in the world.

'Tis a senseless, foolish, ridiculous practice; 'tis a mean to no manner of end; 'tis words spoken which signify nothing; 'tis folly acted for the sake of folly, which is a thing even the Devil himself don't practice. The Devil does evil, we say, but it is for some design, either to seduce others, or, as some divines say, from a principle of enmity to his maker: men steal for gain, and murther to gratify their avarice or revenge; whoredoms and ravishments, adulteries and sodomy, are committed to please a vicious appetite, and have always alluring objects; and generally all vices have some previous cause, and some visible tendency; but this, of all vicious practices, seems the most nonsensical and ridiculous, there is neither pleasure nor profit, no design pursued, no lust gratified, but is a mere frenzy of the tongue, a vomit of the brain, which works by putting a contrary upon the course of nature.

Again, other vices men find some reason or other to give for, or excuses to palliate; men plead want to extenuate theft; and strong provocations to excuse murthers; and many a lame excuse they will bring for whoring; but this sordid habit, even those that practise it will own to be a crime, and make no excuse for it; and the most I could ever hear a man say for it was that he could not help it.

Besides, as 'tis an inexcusable impertinence, so 'tis a breach upon good manners and conversation, for a man to impose the clamour of his oaths upon the company he converses with; if there be any one person in the company that does not approve the way, 'tis an imposing upon him with a freedom beyond civility; as if a man should fart before a Justice, or talk Bawdy before the Queen, or the like.


The Study of Trifles

Dr. Johnson, in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, A.D 1763 (aetat. 54):
There is nothing, Sir, too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


How To Pick Up Women

Read Galfridus Chauceres Lynes of Picke-uppe, at Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog. The pick-up lines are about halfway through the post. Here are a couple of examples:With the second example, compare Dante, Inferno 5.127-138 (Paolo and Francesca, tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow):
One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
Alone we were and without any fear.

Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o'ercame us.

When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein.

Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.

Per più fiate li occhi ci sospinse
quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.

Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
esser basciato da cotanto amante,
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,

la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.
Cf. Chaucer, Nun's Priest's Tale 3211-3213:
This storie is also trewe, I undertake,
As is the book of Launcelot de Lake,
That wommen holde in ful greet reverence.
In my opinion, Dante's Quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante (That day no farther did we read therein) is the most erotic line in all of world literature.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006



Mark Ynys-Mon has some good photographs of bedesmen from the 15th century tomb of John Anne and his wife Alice, North Aston church, Oxfordshire. See here and here.

Dennis Mangan draws our attention to a neat musical aptronym, the name of Sir Simon Rattle, percussionist turned conductor.

E.J. Moncada writes:
Re: "Standing on one foot," cit. Hor. Sat. I.IV.9, Bennett and Rolfe remark: "Stans pede in uno: easily without effort, apparently proverbial though it does not occur elsewhere. Cf. the opposite expression in Quint. xii.9.18, in iis actionibus omni, ut agricolae dicunt, pede standum est." This last, Erasmus lists as a proverb (Adag. III.1.34) meaning 'with all one's might,' and notes that it is recorded by Suidas (O 190). I found it curious that the expression is (reportedly) not found elsewhere, since it seems not too farfetched a metaphorical application. I do recall that Strabo speaks of a sophist who would stand on one leg all day holding a heavy piece of wood (when one leg was fatigued he would support it with the other) but of course this was not meant to suggest an easy task; quite the opposite.
Here is a translation of Quintilian 12.9.18, by H.E. Butler:
Therefore, in such pleadings we must, as the rustic adage says, "stand on all our feet."
Suidas O 190 reads Ὅλῳ ποδί: ὅλῃ δυνάμει = with the whole foot: with all one's power. See also Apostolius 12.63 = Leutsch, Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum, vol. II, p. 557, with many parallels in the notes.

And here is the passage from Strabo (15.1.61, tr. Horace Leonard Jones):
Aristobulus says that he saw two of the sophists at Taxila, both Brachmanes; and that the elder had had his head shaved but that the younger had long hair, and that both were followed by disciples; and that when not otherwise engaged they spent their time in the market-place, being honoured as counsellors and being authorized to take as a gift any merchandise they wished; and that anyone whom they accosted poured over them sesame oil, in such profusion that it flowed down over their eyes; and that since quantities of honey and sesame were put out for sale, they made cakes of it and subsisted free of charge; and that they came up to the table of Alexander, ate dinner standing, and taught him a lesson in endurance by retiring to a place near by, where the elder fell to the ground on his back and endured the sun's rays and the rains (for it was now raining, since the spring of the year had begun); and that the younger stood on one leg holding aloft in both hands a log about three cubits in length, and when one leg tired he changed the support to the other and kept this up all day long; and that the younger showed a far greater self-mastery than the elder; for although the younger followed the king a short distance, he soon turned back again towards home, and when the king went after him, the man bade him to come himself if he wanted anything of him; but that the elder accompanied the king to the end, and when he was with him changed his dress and mode of life; and that he said, when reproached by some, that he had completed the forty years of discipline which he had promised to observe; and that Alexander gave his children a present.

Siris has a draft of a nice poem entitled Thalassa, based on the famous episode described by Xenophon, Anabasis 4.7.23-25 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
But as the shout became louder and nearer, as the successive ranks that came up all began to run at full speed toward the ranks ahead that were one after another joining in the shout, and as the shout kept growing far louder as the number of men grew steadily greater, it became quite clear to Xenophon that here was something of unusual importance; so he mounted a horse, took with him Lycius and the cavalry, and pushed ahead to lend aid; and in a moment they heard the soldiers shouting, "The Sea! The Sea!" and passing the word along. Then all the troops of the rearguard likewise broke into a run, and the pack animals began racing ahead and the horses. And when all had reached the summit, then indeed they fell to embracing one another, and generals and captains as well, with tears in their eyes.

From Matthew Gervais and David Sloan Wilson, "The Evolution and Functions of Laughter and Humor: A Synthetic Approach," The Quarterly Review of Biology 80.4 (December 2005) 395-430 (at 414):
The broadening of the laughter trigger thereby converted some stimuli — such as near accidents, flatulence and excretion, and sexual mischief — from potential sources of social stress to elicitors of social play and positive emotion.
Some of us are apparently throwbacks to the early days of the species, when the laughter trigger was broadening.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Cruelty to Animals

John Woolman, Journal, chapter 1 (1720-1742):
I may here mention a remarkable circumstance that occurred in my childhood. On going to a neighbour's house, I saw on the way a robin sitting on her nest, and as I came near she went off; but having young ones, she flew about, and with many cries expressed her concern for them. I stood and threw stones at her, and one striking her, she fell down dead.

At first I was pleased with the exploit, but after a few minutes was seized with horror, at having, in a sportive way, killed an innocent creature while she was careful for her young. I beheld her lying dead, and thought those young ones, for which she was so careful, must now perish for want of their dam to nourish them.

After some painful considerations on the subject, I climbed up the tree, took all the young birds, and killed them, supposing that better than to leave them to pine away and die miserably. In this case I believed that Scripture proverb was fulfilled, "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."

I then went on my errand, and for some hours could think of little else but the cruelties I had committed, and was much troubled. Thus He whose tender mercies are over all His works hath placed a principle in the human mind, which incites to exercise goodness towards every living creature; and this being singly attended to, people become tender-hearted and sympathizing; but when frequently and totally rejected, the mind becomes shut up in a contrary disposition.
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (1968), chapter Cliffrose and Bayonets:
As I am returning to the campground and the truck I see a young cottontail jump from the brush, scamper across the trail and freeze under a second bush. The rabbit huddles there, panting, ears back, one bright eye on me.

I am taken by the notion to experiment -- on the rabbit. Suppose, I say to myself, you were out here hungry, starving, no weapon but your bare hands. What would you do? What could you do?

There are a few stones scattered along the trail. I pick up one that fits well in the hand, that seems to have the optimum feel and heft. I stare at the cottontail hunched in his illusory shelter under the bush. Blackbrush, I observe, the common variety, sprinkled with tightly rolled little green buds, ready to burst into bloom on short notice. Should I give the rabbit a sporting chance, that is, jump it again, try to hit it on the run? Or brain the little bastard where he is?

Notice the terminology. A sportsman is one who gives his quarry a chance to escape with its life. This is known as fair play, or sportsmanship. Animals have no sense of sportsmanship. Some, like the mountain lion, are vicious -- if attacked they defend themselves. Others, like the rabbit, run away, which is cowardly.

Well, I'm a scientist not a sportsman, and we've got an important experiment under way here, for which the rabbit has been volunteered. I rear back and throw the stone with all I've got straight at his furry head.

To my amazement the stone flies true (as if guided by a Higher Power) and knocks the cottontail head over tincups, clear out from under the budding blackbush [sic, should be blackbrush]. He crumples, there's the usual gushing of blood, etc., a brief spasm, and then no more. The wicked rabbit is dead.

For a moment I am shocked by my deed; I stare at the quiet rabbit, his glazed eyes, his blood drying in the dust. Something vital is lacking. But shock is succeeded by a mild elation. Leaving my victim to the vultures and maggots who will appreciate him more than I could -- the flesh is probably infected with tularemia -- I continue my walk with a new, augmented cheerfulness which is hard to understand but unmistakable. What the rabbit has lost in energy and spirit seems added, by processes too subtle to fathom, to my own soul. I try but cannot feel any sense of guilt. I examine my soul: white as snow. Check my hands: not a trace of blood.
Not exactly Abbey's finest moment. At least Woolman felt remorse. Schopenhauer hit the nail on the head:
One might say with truth, Mankind are the devils of the earth, and the animals the souls they torment.
An excellent book on this subject is Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin's, 2002).

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