Monday, July 31, 2006


Asyndetic, Privative Adjectives in 1 Timothy

There is an example of asyndetic, privative adjectives in 1 Timothy 1.17:
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only [wise] God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ, ἀοράτῳ, μόνῳ θεῷ, τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
I have Fr. Gerard Deighan to thank for the only other New Testament examples in my collection, Hebrews 7.3 (ἀπάτωρ ἀμήτωρ ἀγενεαλόγητος) and 7.26 (ἄκακος ἀμίαντος).


Ears to Hear and Eyes to See

David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Dallas: Word Books, 1997), p. 123, on Rev. 2.7 (ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις = He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches):
Placed at the conclusion of each of the seven proclamations, this formula functions as a proclamation formula, i.e., as an injunction to an audience to pay very close attention to the message that it accompanies. Dibelius coined the term Weckformel, "alertness formula," for the parallels found in the synoptic gospels (Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums, 6th ed., ed. G. Bornkamm [Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1971] 248). This formula has no close verbal parallels in ancient literature with the exception of the parable tradition found in the synoptic Gospels and in some apocryphal gospels.
There are a number of parallels from ancient pagan literature, although they lack the characteristic third person imperative of the Weckformel. See, e.g., Heraclitus fragment 34 Diels (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
Not understanding, although they have heard, they are like the deaf.

ἀξύνετοι ἀκούσαντες κωφοῖσιν ἐοίκασι.
and Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 447-448 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
First of all, though they had eyes to see, they saw to no avail; they had ears, but understood not.

οἳ πρῶτα μὲν βλέποντες ἔβλεπον μάτην,
κλύοντες οὐκ ἤκουον.
According to [Demosthenes] 25.89 (tr. J.H. Vince), the expression was proverbial:
As the saying runs, "seeing, they see not; hearing, do not hear."

τὸ τῆς παροιμίας, ὁρῶντας μὴ ὁρᾶν καὶ ἀκούοντας μὴ ἀκούειν.
For more, see here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


A Safe Investment

Thoreau, Journals (January 3, 1861):
It is safest to invest in knowledge, for the probability is that you can carry that with you wherever you go.


Small Things

Thoreau, Journals (October 7, 1860):
Many people have a fooish way of talking about small things, and apologize for themselves or another having attended to a small thing, having neglected their ordinary business and amused or instructed themselves by attending to a small thing; when, if the truth were known, their ordinary business was the small thing, and almost their whole lives were misspent, but they were such fools as not to know it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Saturday Salmagundi

Peter Head at Evangelical Textual Criticism takes a humorous look at the computer-generated index of Wayne C. Kannaday, Apologetic Discourse and the Scribal Tradition: Evidence of the Influence of Apologetic Interests on the Text of the Canonical Gospels (Text-Critical Studies 5; Atlanta GA: SBL, 2004). I'm reminded of the words of F.R.D. Goodyear, The Annals of Tacitus. Books 1-6 edited with a commentary, vol. 1 (Cambridge, 1972), p. 15, n. 1:
There is much in Gerber-Greef with which one may disagree. Naturally so, for it is a scholarly work and full of controversial opinions. I esteem it the more every time I look at the wretched computerized products which now masquerade as lexica and concordances.

From the Associated Press:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have crept into the language, such as "pizzas" which will now be known as "elastic loaves," state media reported Saturday.

On the subject of philosophers and beards, here is Thomas More, Epigram 139:
If a long beard makes one wise, what prevents a bearded goat from being able to be a Plato?

Si promissa facit sapientem barba, quid obstat
  barbatus possit quin caper esse Plato?
This is a translation of a poem from the Greek Anthology (11.430, by Lucian):
Εἰ τὸ τρέφειν πώγωνα δοκεῖς σοφίαν περιποιεῖν,
  καὶ τράγος εὐπώγων αἶψ᾽ ὅλος ἐστὶ Πλάτων.

In the last post, I quoted G.G. Ramsay's translation of a passage from Juvenal. The translation contained the words "against whose statue more than one kind of nuisance may be committed!" The Latin is "cuius ad effigiem non tantum meiere fas est." Ramsay euphemistically conceals Juvenal's crude language. A more literal translation is "against whose statue it is permitted not only to urinate." Juvenal implies "non tantum meiere fas est, sed etiam cacare," that is, "it is permitted not only to urinate, but also to defecate" on the statue.

Of the two Juvenal editions with commentaries on my bookshelf, E.G. Hardy's school edition omits this line altogether, and J.D. Duff's edition includes the line in the text, but does not comment on it. There is a parallel in Horace, Satires 1.8.37-39, where a statue of the god Priapus swears this oath:
But if I am telling a lie in any respect, may I be fouled on my head with the white turds of crows, and may Julius and frail Pediatia and the thief Voranus come to urinate and defecate on me.

mentior at siquid, merdis caput inquiner albis
corvorum atque in me veniat mictum atque cacatum
Iulius et fragilis Pediatia furque Voranus.
Arthur Palmer's edition with commentary of Horace's satires omits these lines.

There is a likewise a parallel to Priapus' oath in Aristophanes' Wasps, at the end of a prayer to the hero Lycus, where Philocleon promises (393-394, tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
O take pity now on me who dwell close to thee, and save me, and I vow never to piss or fart beside your wicker fence.

ἐλέησον καὶ σῶσον νυνὶ τὸν σαυτοῦ πλησιόχωρον·
κοὐ μή ποτέ σου παρὰ τὰς κάννας οὐρήσω μηδ᾽ ἀποπάρδω.
This is a parody of the do ut des ("I give so that you may give") type of prayer. What Philocleon gives is a promise not to defile the fence around the hero's shrine, in return for which he wants the hero to pity and save him.

Philocleon is actually making a considerable sacrifice. The beneficial health effects of urinating and breaking wind simultaneously are well known. As the jingle goes,
Mingere cum bumbis,
Res saluberrima est lumbis.
Meio and mingo are synonyms in Latin, both meaning urinate. There is a small town in Iowa named Mingo.

G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered:
I believe firmly in the value of all vulgar notions, especially of vulgar jokes. When once you have got hold of a vulgar joke, you may be certain that you have got hold of a subtle and spiritual idea. The men who made the joke saw something deep which they could not express except by something silly and emphatic. They saw something delicate which they could only express by something indelicate. I remember that Mr. Max Beerbohm (who has every merit except democracy) attempted to analyse the jokes at which the mob laughs. He divided them into three sections: jokes about bodily humiliation, jokes about things alien, such as foreigners, and jokes about bad cheese. Mr. Max Beerbohn thought he understood the first two forms; but I am not sure that he did. In order to understand vulgar humour it is not enough to be humorous. One must also be vulgar, as I am.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Solitary Eating

4 Maccabees 1.25-27:
In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency, which is the most complex of all the emotions. In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice; in the body, indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing.

ἐν τῇ ἡδονῇ δὲ ἔνεστιν καὶ ἡ κακοήθης διάθεσις, πολυτροπωτάτη πάντων οὖσα τῶν παθῶν, καὶ τὰ μὲν ψυχῆς ἀλαζονεία καὶ φιλαργυρία καὶ φιλοδοξία καὶ φιλονεικία καὶ βασκανία, κατὰ δὲ τὸ σῶμα παντοφαγία καὶ λαιμαργία καὶ μονοφαγία.
See also 4 Maccabees 2.7:
Otherwise how could it be that someone who is habitually a solitary gormandizer, a glutton, or even a drunkard can learn a better way, unless reason is clearly lord of the emotions?

ἐπεὶ τίνα τις τρόπον μονοφάγος ὢν τὸ ἦθος καὶ γαστρίμαργος ἢ καὶ μέθυσος μεταπαιδεύεται, εἰ μὴ δῆλον ὅτι κύριός ἐστιν τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός;
Solitary gormandizing is μονοφαγία (monophagía), and the solitary gormandizer is μονοφάγος (monophágos). These Greek compounds come from μόνος (mónos) = alone and φαγεῖν (phageîn) = to eat. The superlative μονοφαγίστατος (monophagístatos) occurs in Aristophanes' Wasps (922-923, trial of the dog Labes, tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
So don't you let him off, because he's also, of all dogs alive, by far the worst man for solitary eating.

μή νυν ἀφῆτέ γ᾽ αὐτόν, ὡς ὄντ᾽ αὖ πολὺ
κυνῶν ἁπάντων ἄνδρα μονοφαγίστατον.
What's wrong with the solitary eater is not so much the mere fact that he dines alone, but that he doesn't share his food with others. Juvenal in his first satire (lines 127-146, tr. G.G. Ramsay) criticizes the rich patron for not sharing his sumptuous meal with his clients:
The day itself is marked out by a fine round of business. First comes the dole; then the courts, and Apollo learned in the law, and those triumphal statues among which some Egyptian Arabarch or other has dared to set up his titles; against whose statue more than one kind of nuisance may be committed! Wearied and hopeless, the old clients leave the door, though the last hope that a man relinquishes is that of a dinner; the poor wretches must buy their cabbage and their fuel. Meanwhile their lordly patron will be devouring the choicest products of wood and sea, lying alone upon an empty couch; yes, at a single meal from their many fine large and antique tables they devour whole fortunes. Ere long no parasites will be left! Who can bear to see luxury so mean? What a huge gullet to have a whole boar—an animal created for conviviality—served up to it! But you will soon pay for it, my friend, when you take off your clothes, and with distended stomach carry your peacock into the bath undigested! Hence a sudden death, and an intestate old age; the new and merry tale runs the round of every dinner-table, and the corpse is carried forth to burial amid the cheers of enraged friends!

ipse dies pulchro distinguitur ordine rerum:
sportula, deinde forum iurisque peritus Apollo
atque triumphales, inter quas ausus habere
nescio quis titulos Aegyptius atque Arabarches,
cuius ad effigiem non tantum meiere fas est.
vestibulis abeunt veteres lassique clientes
votaque deponunt, quamquam longissima cenae
spes homini; caulis miseris atque ignis emendus.
optima silvarum interea pelagique vorabit
rex horum vacuisque toris tantum ipse iacebit.
nam de tot pulchris et latis orbibus et tam
antiquis una comedunt patrimonia mensa.
nullus iam parasitus erit. sed quis ferat istas
luxuriae sordes? quanta est gula quae sibi totos
ponit apros, animal propter convivia natum!
poena tamen praesens, cum tu deponis amictus
turgidus et crudum pavonem in balnea portas.
hinc subitae mortes atque intestata senectus.
it nova nec tristis per cunctas fabula cenas;
ducitur iratis plaudendum funus amicis.
If I'm not mistaken, Leopardi somewhere in his Zibaldone discusses solitary eating, but I can't put my finger on the passage.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Out of Step

From the Wikipedia article on composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896):
A devout Catholic who loved to drink beer, Bruckner was out of step with his contemporaries.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


New Blog

I recently learned about a new blog with the title Underbelly and the subtitle A Journal of Soft Information. It has some interesting posts on language, e.g. I have added it to my browser's Favorites list and will be looking at it often.


Greek Characters

People sometimes ask how I insert Greek characters into my blog posts. Others probably skip any blog post with Greek characters. At any rate, here is how I do it.

First, I try to find the Greek text in question somewhere on the World Wide Web, so I don't have to type it in by myself. I usually consult Library of Ancient Texts Online, which despite its title is restricted to ancient Greek texts. When I do find a text, I often copy and paste it into a Microsoft Word file on my personal computer, using the Athena font. In this way I have amassed a collection of texts that I can look at without going on the Internet (always a pain with my slow dialup connection).

If I cannot find the text already on the Internet, I type it in myself with the aid of the Unicode Classical Greek Inputter. If you use this tool, be sure to hit the "Greek Letters" button to see all the characters available. Once text is entered with the aid of this tool, I copy and paste the text into Notepad. I always compose my blog posts offline with the minimalist Notepad editor. I also have my own local copy of the Unicode Classical Greek Inputter, to minimize time spent online.

Finally, I surround the Greek characters with some HTML gobbledygook, to help browsers render them properly. At the start of the Greek characters I place this directive:
<SPAN style="FONT-FAMILY: Gentium, Palatino Linotype, Arial Unicode MS">
At the end of the Greek characters, I insert:
I have checked the appearance of my Greek characters using both Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser and the Mozilla Firefox browser, and they are rendered properly, without any of those annoying little squares. Whether others can read them, I don't know. I find that I cannot read Greek characters on certain other classics blogs with IE. Perhaps there is some IE option I need to set.

At any rate, this works for me, and now I can simply refer to this post whenever anyone asks how to enter Greek characters into a blog. It's a cumbersome procedure, but it's the best I've been able to devise.


Motto for a Cubicle

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, chapter 13:
It's all very well for you beggars to laugh, but my immortal soul was shrivelled down to the size of a parched pea after a week of that work.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


People, Can We All Get Along?

Aristophanes, Wasps 471-472 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Is there any way we can get into a discussion and an agreement with each other, without fighting and without this shrill screaming?

ἔσθ᾽ ὅπως ἄνευ μάχης καὶ τῆς κατοξείας βοῆς
ἐς λόγους ἔλθοιμεν ἀλλήλοισι καὶ διαλλαγάς;



Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing, chapter 21 (tr. Magnus Magnusson):
He thought Latin a ridiculous and unnecessary invention, particularly the subjunctive; he believed that it was the prince of darkness who had so arranged it that one verb could have different forms by the score in Latin and by the hundred in Greek; and yet he did not hesitate to tackle all these rigmaroles, for the sake of his calling.


Death the Healer Again

Sophocles, fragment 698 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
But death is the last healer of sickness.

ἀλλ᾽ ἔσθ᾽ ὁ θάνατος λοῖσθος ἰατρὸς νόσων.
For parallels see:

Sunday, July 23, 2006



Charles Baudelaire, Les Chats (tr. Francis Scarfe):
Fervent lovers and austere scholars share the same love, in their riper years, for powerful but gentle cats, the pride of the household, who like themselves are sedentary and sensitive to draughts.

Friends of learning and sensuality, cats ever seek silence and dreadful night; Erebus would have employed them as messengers of gloom, could they lower their pride to slavery.

They assume, when their minds wander, the majestic poses of those colossal sphinxes who stretch their limbs in the realms of solitude, and who seem to be sleeping in an endless dream.

Magical sparks teem in their fertile loins, and particles of gold, like delicate grains of sand, vaguely fleck their mystic pupils with stars.

Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l'horreur des ténèbres;
L'Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S'ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.



The striking phrase "trousered apes," as a description of men, comes from C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man (1947). Duncan Williams borrowed it for the title of a book published in 1971.

Perhaps Lewis was influenced by Erasmus, Praise of Folly:
An ape is always an ape, even if it's dressed in purple.

Simia semper est simia, etiam si purpura vestiatur.
However accurate the phrase "trousered apes" might be when applied to modern men, it would not have been an accurate description of the ancient Greeks and Romans, who eschewed trousers as barbarian garb. In a collection of passages from ancient authors on trousers, I once wrote:
The Greeks didn't have a native word for trousers, so they borrowed anaxurides from Persian. The Latin word bracae (sometimes spelled braccae), whence English breeches, may also be a loan word from Gaul.
This isn't completely accurate. I recently came across a native Greek slang term for trousers, θύλακοι [thulakoi], the plural of θύλακος, whose primary meaning is "bag, sack."

The secondary meaning "loose trousers" occurs at Aristophanes, Wasps 1087. The old men of the chorus are relating how they defeated the Persians in battle (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Then we pursued them, harpooning them through their baggy trousers.

εἶτα δ᾽ εἱπόμεσθα θυννάζοντες ἐς τοὺς θυλάκους.
This secondary meaning also occurs at Euripides, Cyclopes 182, in a description of the seduction of Helen by Paris (182-186, tr. E.P. Coleridge):
The sight of a man with embroidered breeches on his legs and a golden chain about his neck so fluttered her, that she left Menelaus, her excellent little husband.

ἣ τοὺς θυλάκους τοὺς ποικίλους
περὶ τοῖν σκελοῖν ἰδοῦσα καὶ τὸν χρύσεον
κλῳὸν φοροῦντα περὶ μέσον τὸν αὐχένα
ἐξεπτοήθη, Μενέλεων, ἀνθρώπιον
λῷστον λιποῦσα.
Besides anaxurides and thulakoi, there is a loan word for trousers listed in Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. σαράβαρα [sarabara], defined as:
loose trousers worn by Scythians, Antiph.201; also = Aramaic sarbālîn, LXX, Thd.Da.3.27 (cf. 21). (Prob. Persian shalvâr or shulvâr (braccae).)

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Dalrymple Watch

Some recent writings by Theodore Dalrymple:


A Modest Proposal

From Fred Reed, A Modest Proposal To Abolish Universities:
The truth is that universities positively discourage learning. Think about it. Suppose you want to learn Twain. A fruitful approach might be to read Twain. The man wrote to be read, not analyzed tediously and inaccurately by begowned twits. It might help to read a life of Twain. All of this the student could do, happily, even joyously, sitting under a tree of an afternoon. This, I promise, is what Twain had in mind.

But no. The student must go to a class in American Literature, and be asked by some pompous drone, "Now, what is Twain trying to tell us in paragraph four?" This presumes that Twain knew less well than the professor what he was trying to say, and that he couldn't say it by himself. No. Not being much of a writer, the poor man needs the help of a semiliterate drab who couldn't sell a pancake recipe to Boy's Life. As bad, the approach suggests that the student is too dim to see the obvious or think for himself. He can't read a book without a middleman. He probably ends by hating Twain.
Fred Reed is a bit over the top, as usual. But there is a germ of truth in what he says. The whole essay is worth reading.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Make Thee Merry

Greek Anthology 11.62 (Palladas, tr. W.R. Paton):
Death is a debt due by all men and no mortal knows if he will be alive to-morrow. Take this well to heart, O man, and make thee merry, since thou possessest wine that is oblivion of death. Take joy too in Aphrodite whilst thou leadest this fleeting life, and give up all else to the control of Fortune.

Πᾶσι θανεῖν μερόπεσσιν ὀφείλεται, οὐδέ τις ἐστὶν
  αὔριον εἰ ζήσει θνητὸς ἐπιστάμενος.
τοῦτο σαφῶς, ἄνθρωπε, μαθὼν εὔφραινε σεαυτόν,
  λήθην τοῦ θανάτου τὸν Βρόμιον κατέχων.
τέρπεο καὶ Παφίῃ, τὸν ἐφημέριον βίον ἕλκων·
  τἄλλα δὲ πάντα Τύχῃ πράγματα δὸς διέπειν.
Paton's translation somewhat obscures Palladas' Holy Trinity in the last three lines:
  1. Bromius (aka Bacchus, the god of wine);
  2. the Paphian (Aphrodite, the goddess of love); and
  3. Tyche (the goddess Fortune).
Here is J. W. Mackail's translation of the same poem:
All human must pay the debt of death, nor is there any mortal who knows whether he shall be alive to-morrow; learning this clearly, O man, make thee merry, keeping the wine-god close by thee for oblivion of death, and take thy pleasure with the Paphian while thou drawest thy ephemeral life; but all else give to Fortune's control.

Thursday, July 20, 2006



Here are a couple of passages from Ralph McInerny, Slattery: A Soft-Boiled Detective (Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2004), which might interest students of the classics.

Pp. 34-35:
"I've been reading Seneca."
"What do you think?"
"Smug, self-satisfied, self-congratulatory."
She nodded in apparent agreement. I had glanced at a page or two in the Penguin edition and launched these airy judgments on nothing more.
P. 175:
"We will be rich as creases." An odd phrase, one I must look up one day, to see what it means.
McInerny is of course playing with the phrase "rich as Croesus." When I read that passage, I knew I would able to find examples of "rich as creases" on Google. Sure enough, here is one, from a transcript of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio show:
A number of very powerful techniques and facilities and forms of software exist out there that can make a very small group very powerful in this large global world in which we live and you don't have to be as rich as creases to make <a> difference.
McInerny's mysteries are full of puns and word play. Some of his characters have aptronyms. In Slattery I noticed Auvarie and Seaman (marriage counselors) and Poppe (an exophthalmic eye doctor).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


You Alone

Aristophanes, Wasps 392 (in a prayer to the hero Lycus, tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
You are the only Hero who has chosen to take his seat near a crying man.

κἀβουλήθης μόνος ἡρώων παρὰ τὸν κλάοντα καθῆσθαι.
Douglas M. MacDowell ad loc.:
μόνος is common in prayers; a god is praised especially for those qualities or functions which no other god has. Cf. Peace 590, Birds 1546, Th. 1141, Ek. 12.
Here the quality peculiar to Lycus is his willingness to put up with whining. Sommerstein ad loc.:
In general it was improper to approach a god or hero with weeping or wailing; Apollo was particularly averse to manifestations of grief in his presence (cf. Aesch. Ag. 1072-9; Eur. Supp. 971-6), but other gods too might be held to object to them.
Examples of μόνος or solus in prayers are ubiquitous. Two Latin examples come immediately to mind.

The first is the prayer to Venus at the beginning of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (1.30-31, tr. H.A.J. Munro):
For thou alone canst bless mankind with calm peace.

Nam tu sola potes tranquilla pace iuvare / mortalis.
The second is the last part of the Gloria in the Mass:
For thou alone art holy. Thou alone art the Lord. Thou alone art most high, Jesus Christ. With the Holy Ghost, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus. Tu solus Dominus. Tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe. Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Persicos Odi

Horace, Ode 1.38, paraphrased by Charles Larcom Graves (1856-1944):
Oriental flowers, my Cyril,
  (Save of language), I detest:
Cull for me no costly orchid
  To adorn my blameless breast.
Nor essay to deck my raiment
  With the blushing English rose,
For its brutal Saxon odour
  Aggravates my Scottish nose.

Me as Minister the fragrance
  Of the leek doth most arride,
With the shamrock and the thistle
  In a triple posy tied;
So, beneath my grand umbrella
  Fixed firmly on College Green
Let us deviate from duty
  In a deluge of poteen.
The leek is a symbol of Wales, the shamrock of Ireland, and the thistle of Scotland, all three opposed here to the English rose. The archaic arride means "please, gratify" (Webster's 1913); College Green is a public square (or rather triangle) in Dublin; and poteen is Irish whiskey. Charles Larcom Graves was the brother of Alfred Perceval Graves and uncle of poet and mythologist Robert Graves.

I have serious doubts about "Me as Minister" in the second stanza, because Cyril is the servant, and the Latin original has "te ministrum." I copied the poem by hand a few years ago (I think from Graves' Hawarden Horace), and I reproduce it now from my possibly faulty handwritten copy. Perhaps "Me as Minister" should be "Thee as Minister." My copy also has a note -- The Spectator, 71:872, Dec. 16, 1893.

Here is the Latin original of Horace's ode, with a closer English translation:
Persicos odi, puer, apparatus;
displicent nexae philyra coronae;
mitte sectari rosa quo locorum
  sera moretur.

Simplici myrto nihil adlabores
sedulus curo; neque te ministrum
dedecet myrtus neque me sub arta
  vite bibentem.

Boy, I dislike Persian finery; garlands sewn with bast displease me; don't try to find out in what spot the late-blooming rose lingers.

I don't want you busily embellishing plain myrtle; myrtle isn't unsuitable, either for you as you serve or for me as I drink beneath the trellised vine.


A Scholar and His Cat

Last year I posted three translations of a medieval Irish poem about a scholar and his cat. I just happened upon a fourth translation of the same poem, from Alfred Perceval Graves' A Celtic Psaltery:
Pangar, my white cat, and I
  Silent ply our special crafts;
Hunting mice his one pursuit,
   Mine to shoot keen spirit shafts.

Rest, I love, all fame beyond,
  In the bond of some rare book;
Yet white Pangar from his play
  Casts, my way, no jealous look.

Thus alone within one cell
  Safe we dwell -- not dull the tale --
Since his ever favourite sport
  Each to court will never fail.

Now a mouse, to swell his spoils,
  In his toils he spears with skill;
Now a meaning deeply thought
  I have caught with startled thrill.

Now his green full-shining gaze
  Darts its rays against the wall;
Now my feebler glances mark
  Through the dark bright knowledge fall.

Leaping up with joyful purr,
  In mouse fur his sharp claw sticks,
Problems difficult and dear,
  With my spear I, too, transfix.

Crossing not each other's will,
  Diverse still, yet still allied,
Following each his own lone ends,
  Constant friends we here abide.

Pangar, master of his art,
  Plays his part in pranksome youth;
While in age sedate I clear
  Shadows from the sphere of Truth.


God Save the King

Greek Anthology 11.395 (Nicarchus, tr. W.R. Paton):
A fart which cannot find an outlet kills many a man; a fart also saves, sending forth its lisping music. Therefore if a fart saves, and on the other hand kills, a fart has the same power as kings.

Πορδὴ ἀποκτέννει πολλοὺς ἀδιέξοδος οὖσα·
  πορδὴ καὶ σώζει τραυλὸν ἱεῖσα µέλος.
οὐκοῦν εἰ σώζει, καὶ ἀποκτέννει πάλι πορδή,
  τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν ἴσην πορδὴ ἔχει δύναµιν.
Paton euphemistically (or onomatopoetically) prints f--t, not fart.

Thomas More's Latin epigram 21 is a translation of Nicarchus' poem:
Te crepitus perdit, nimium si ventre retentes.
  Te propere emissus servat item crepitus.
Si crepitus servare potest et perdere, numquid
  Terrificis crepitus regibus aequa potest?


A Certain Pleasure in Words

Sophocles, fragment 259:
For there is a certain pleasure also in words, whenever they cause forgetfulness of present evils.

ἔνεστι γάρ τις καὶ λόγοισιν ἡδονή,
λήθην ὅταν ποιῶσι τῶν ὄντων κακῶν.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


What Song the Sirens Sang

These are excerpts from Norman Douglas, Siren Land (1911; rev. 1923).

Chapter II (Uplands of Sorrento):
Duty has become the Moloch of modern life.

An old Hebrew, who taught the pleasures of a virtuous life after exhausting those of a voluptuous one, said: Go to the ant; he forgot to remember that the ant sleeps for half the year. Man alone is a perennial drudge. Yet many of us would do well to mediterraneanise ourselves for a season, to quicken those ethic roots from which has sprung so much of what is best in our natures. To dream in Siren land, pursuing the moods and memories as they shift in labyrinthine mazes, like shadows on a woodland path in June; to stroll among the hills and fill the mind with new images upon which to browse at leisure, casting off outworn weeds of thought with the painless ease of a serpent and un-perplexing, incidentally, some of those "questions of the day" of which the daily papers nevertheless know nothing -- this is an antidote for many ills. There is repose in Siren land; there is none of that delirious massing-together in which certain mortals, unable to stand alone, can lean up against one another and so gain, for a moment, a precarious condition of equipoise.
Chapter III (The Siren Islets):
In these days, when life is so complicated as to lose all homogeneity and unity of purpose, when our fine edges are worn off by never-ending trivialities and meannesses, I often think that planting trees and reclaiming the waste places of earth are among the few occupations that still commend themselves to gentler natures -- pleasure and instruction for oneself, health and profit to posterity.
Chapter VII (The Cove Of Crapolla):
The name Crapolla has been derived from "akron Apollinis," as though a temple of Apollo had stood here. But this is pure Cicerone-etymology -- the origin of the word is the same as that of Capri, and in old deeds it is actually called Capreola. What Capri means is not quite certain; it is neither Greek nor Phoenician; there are places with similar names all over Italy and half a dozen Capri's and Caprile's within a few miles of here. Quaranta deduces it from a Tyrrhenian root signifying rocky or stony. Why not? When, nearly two centuries ago, Greek etymology could no longer explain all local names and traditions, the enlightened took refuge in Semiticism, and thus there grew up the ponderous Shem-Ham-and-Japheth literature of Martorelli and his disciples, which we have outgrown in its turn. Nowadays, the conveniently obscure Tyrrhenian language helps to solve old difficulties. But it makes new ones.
Chapter XI (On Leisure):
Everything which distinguishes man from animals is the result of leisure.

[T]he whole Iliad is nothing but a vendetta.
Chapter XIII (The Headland of Minerva):
Vengeance is mine, said the Jewish god who liked to keep all the good things for himself.
It must have been these decoying arts which induced Servius to think that "according to the truth" the Sirens were ladies of questionable reputation. This is going too far. You ungentlemanly old fellow, what maggot has got into your grammarian's brain?
In the final quotation, Douglas refers to Servius' commentary on Vergil's Aeneid 5.684:
In myth, the Sirens numbered three, and were part maidens, part birds, the daughters of the river Achelous and the muse Calliope. One of them made music with her voice, the second with the flute, and the third with the lyre. At first they dwelled near Pelorus, later on the Capri islands, and they enticed those who were enchanted by their song into shipwrecks. In truth, they were prostitutes. Because they enticed those who passed by into poverty, they were imagined to bring shipwrecks on them. By disdaining them, Ulysses caused them to die.

Sirenes secundum fabulam tres, parte virgines fuerunt, parte volucres, Acheloi fluminis et Calliopes musae filiae. harum una voce, altera tibiis, alia lyra canebat: et primo iuxta Pelorum, post in Capreis insulis habitaverunt, quae inlectos suo cantu in naufragia deducebant. secundum veritatem meretrices fuerunt, quae transeuntes quoniam deducebant ad egestatem, his fictae sunt inferre naufragia. has Vlixes contemnendo deduxit ad mortem.



William Cowper, Letter to John Newton (Jan. 13, 1785):
I too have taken leave of the old year, and parted with it just when you did, but with very different sentiments and feelings upon the occasion. I looked back upon all the passages and occurrences of it, as a traveller looks back upon a wilderness through which he has passed with weariness, and sorrow of heart, reaping no other fruit, of his labour, than the poor consolation that, dreary as the desert was, he has left it all behind him. The traveller would find even this comfort considerably lessened, if, as soon as he had passed one wilderness, another of equal length, and equally desolate, should expect him. In this particular, his experience and mine would exactly tally. I should rejoice, indeed, that the old year is over and gone, if I had not every reason to prophesy a new one similar to it.

The new year is already old in my account. I am not, indeed, sufficiently second-sighted to be able to boast by anticipation an acquaintance with the events of it yet unborn, but rest convinced that, be they what they may, not one of them comes a messenger of good to me. If even death itself should be of the number, he is no friend of mine. It is an alleviation of the woes even of an unenlightened man, that he can wish for death, and indulge a hope, at least, that in death he shall find deliverance. But, loaded as my life is with despair, I have no such comfort as would result from a supposed probability of better things to come, were it once ended. For, more unhappy than the traveller with whom I set out, pass through what difficulties I may, through whatever dangers and afflictions, I am not a whit nearer the home, unless a dungeon may be called so.

This is no very agreeable theme; but in so great a dearth of subjects to write upon, and especially impressed as I am at this moment with a sense of my own condition, I could choose no other. The weather is an exact emblem of my mind in its present state. A thick fog envelopes everything, and at the same time it freezes intensely. You will tell me that this cold gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful spring, and endeavour to encourage me to hope for a spiritual change resembling it; -- but it will be lost labour. Nature revives again; but a soul once slain lives no more.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Among the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2006 Results are a couple of examples with a classical tinge. First prize in the historical fiction category went to Christopher Backeberg for this paragraph:
While Hector and the heroes of Troy trembled behind the ramparts as cowboys below the walls raced up and down the beach, six-guns blazing and cries of "yee-hah!" filling the air, other cowboys across the sea were laboring gamely but in vain to throw a palisade around Wichita, Kansas, thereby adding veracity to the old homily of history that it is easier to cow a fortified city than to fortify a cow city.
A dishonorable mention in the same category went to Hubert Kennedy, who contributed this:
If Gilbert had known then what he knew now, he would have seen that the dilemma facing him--to do a good deed for the wrong reason or to do a bad deed for the right reason--had long ago been shown to be two sides of the same coin by the philosopher known as Theragora of Crete even though he was not from Crete at all, but from Malta, which of course was not called Malta when Theragora was there.


Latin Underwear

Dorothy King alerts us to the existence of an online store where one can buy underwear embroidered with Latin proverbs. For next year's product line, they should consider adding that famous Latin paraenetic proverb Semper ubi sub ubi (Always wear underwear).



Ralph McInerny has had a distinguished career as a philosophy professor, specializing in St. Thomas Aquinas. From 1978 to 1985 he was director of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

McInerny is also a prolific author of murder mysteries. One of them, Irish Coffee (2003), contains an acrostic poem about Isidore of Seville. The poem is available on the Internet here. According to the Internet version, the first line of the poem is "Isidore of Seville loved etymology," a reference to Isidore's work Etymologiae.

But in a hardcover copy of Irish Coffee I got from the library, the first line of the poem (on p. 56) is "Isadore of Seville loved etymology." In fact, every time Isidore of Seville is mentioned in the book, his name is spelled Isadore.

The preferred spelling Isidore better reflects the etymology of the name, which means gift of Isis (cf. Theodore, gift of God). Greek δῶρον (doron) means gift.

In another mystery, Irish Gilt, McInerny wrote the following bit of dialogue:
"Does knowing the meaning of Latin words make one a pedant?"
"Only when one parades his knowledge."

Thursday, July 13, 2006



Charles Baudelaire, Les Hiboux, from Fleurs du mal (tr. Francis Scarfe):
In the shelter of the black yews, the owls stand in a row like alien gods, their red eyes darting. They are meditating.

They will stand there motionless until the melancholy hour when, pushing down the slanting sun, the shadows settle into place.

Their attitude teaches wise men that in this world of ours all tumult and movement are to be feared, for man, intoxicated by every fleeting shadow, is always punished by his desire to roam.

Sous les ifs noirs qui les abritent
Les hiboux se tiennent rangés
Ainsi que des dieux étrangers
Dardant leur oeil rouge. Ils méditent.

Sans remuer ils se tiendront
Jusqu'à l'heure mélancolique
Où, poussant le soleil oblique,
Les ténèbres s'établiront.

Leur attitude au sage enseigne
Qu'il faut en ce monde qu'il craigne
Le tumulte et le mouvement;

L'homme ivre d'une ombre qui passe
Porte toujours le châtiment
D'avoir voulu changer de place.
For more English translations of this poem, see here.



The Oxford Etymologist discusses that unjustly maligned adjective niggardly, and Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective investigates the history of the Greek word keration (whence English carat).

Fred Reed has some provocative remarks on boys and girls in school. He mentions that his high school principal was nicknamed Chrome Dome. My high school algebra teacher had the same nickname.

Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things explains why he blogs.

Back after a month's silence, Outer Life describes himself in a way that reminds me eerily of myself:
Some people are friendly, attracted to other people. Others are charismatic, attracting other people. I am neither. Wood in a world of magnets.
Theodore Dalrymple writes on Hobbesian Soccer.

From Norman Douglas' Good-bye to Western Culture:
Curry is India's gift to mankind; her contribution to human happiness. Curry atones for all the fatuities of the 108 Upanishads.
At Kenneth Lay's funeral,
The Reverend Dr. Bill Lawson compared Lay with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ, and said his name would eventually be cleared.
From a letter to the editor of the Lewiston, Maine, Sun Journal:
We were sitting next to a Somali family for the fireworks when one member of that family asked what the fireworks were for. When someone said, "America's birthday, our independence," one of the Somali children said, "Screw America."
God bless America, I say.

David Warren criticizes a proposal to get rid of St. George as the patron of England and replace him with St. Alban. St. George is "potentially offensive to Muslims," whom we must be very careful not to offend. Warren's essay is a good piece of writing, especially the last paragraph.

Keith Burgess-Jackson claims:
We have nothing to learn from Europeans. Nothing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Excerpts from William Cowper's Letters (1783)

Jan. 11 (to John Newton):
He calls Christ his Brother and God his Father in a style of familiarity that seems to bespeak no small share of spiritual pride and vanity.
Feb. 8 (to John Newton):
You will suppose me a politician; but in truth I am nothing less. These are the thoughts that occur to me while I read the newspaper; and when I have laid it down, I feel myself more interested in the success of my early cucumbers, than in any part of this great and important subject.
March 7 (to William Bull):
Can a man be a good Christian that goes without breeches?
June 3 (to William Bull):
Tobacco was not known in the golden age. So much the worse for the golden age. This age of iron, or lead, would be insupportable without it; and therefore we may reasonably suppose that the happiness of those better days would have been much improved by the use of it.
June 17 (to John Newton):
A man thinks he is fighting for Christ, and he is fighting for his own notions.
Sept. 29 (to William Unwin):
One generation blows bubbles, and the next breaks them.
Oct. 6 (to John Newton):
Angels descend from Heaven to publish peace between man and his Maker; the Prince of Peace himself comes to confirm and establish it, and war, hatred, and desolation are the consequence. Thousands quarrel about the interpretation of a book which none of them understand. He that is slain dies firmly persuaded that the crown of martyrdom expects him; and he that slew him is equally convinced that he has done God service. In reality they are both mistaken, and equally unentitled to the honour they arrogate to themselves.
Oct. 20 (to Joseph Hill):
I have nothing to say on political subjects, for two reasons: first, because I know none that at present would prove very amusing, especially to you who love your country; and, secondly, because there are none that I have the vanity to think myself qualified to discuss.
Nov. 10 (to William Unwin):
But I have observed in your two last letters somewhat of a dejection and melancholy, that I am afraid you do not sufficiently strive against. I suspect you of being too sedentary. "You cannot walk." Why you cannot is best known to yourself. I am sure your legs are long enough, and your person does not overload them. But I beseech you ride, and ride often. I think I have heard you say, you cannot even do that without an object. Is not health an object? Is not a new prospect, which in most countries is gained at the end of every mile, an object? Assure yourself that easy chairs are no friends to cheerfulness, and that a long winter spent by the fireside is a prelude to an unhealthy spring. Every thing I see in the fields is to me an object, and I can look at the same rivulet, or at a handsome tree, every day of my life, with new pleasure. This indeed is partly the effect of a natural taste for rural beauty, and partly the effect of habit; for I never in all my life have let slip the opportunity of breathing fresh air, and of conversing with nature, when I could fairly catch it. I earnestly recommend a cultivation of the same taste to you, suspecting that you have neglected it, and suffer for doing so.
Dec. 15 (to John Newton, on flying in hot air balloons):
Should the point be carried, and man at last become as familiar with the air as he has long been with the ocean, will it in its consequences prove a mercy, or a judgement? I think, a judgement. First, because if a power to convey himself from place to place, like a bird, would have been good for him, his Maker would have formed him with such a capacity. But he has been a groveller upon the earth for six thousand years, and now at last, when the close of this present state of things approaches, begins to exalt himself above it. So much the worse for him. Like a truant schoolboy, he breaks his bounds, and will have reason to repent of his presumption. -- Secondly, I think it will prove a judgement, because with the exercise of very little foresight, it is easy to prognosticate a thousand evils which the project must necessarily bring after it; amounting at last to the confusion of all order, the annihilation of all authority, with dangers both to property and person, and impunity to the offenders.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Privative Tricolon

Greg Kindall sends a modern English example of asyndetic privative adjectives, from Ogden Nash's The Caterpillar (see the last three words):
I find among the poems of Schiller
No mention of the caterpillar,
Nor can I find one anywhere
In Petrarch or Baudelaire,
So here I sit in extra session
To give my personal impression.
The caterpillar, as it's called,
Is often hairy, seldom bald;
It looks as if it never shaves;
When it walks, it walks in waves;
And from the cradle to the chrysalis
It's utterly speechless, songless, whistleless.
I've never read Ave Ogden! Nash in Latin, translated by James C. Gleeson and Brian N. Meyer (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), but I wonder if The Caterpillar is included and, if so, how the last line is rendered.

Update: Dave Lull informs me that Ave Ogden! does not include a translation of The Caterpillar.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Forms of Address

Aristophanes, Wasps 163 (tr. Alan Sommerstein):
By Poseidon, Philocleon, never.

μὰ τὸν Ποσειδῶ, Φιλοκλέων, οὐδέποτέ γε.
Sommerstein (Warminster, Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1983) ad loc. (pp. 166-167):
[I]n Ar. slaves (with the exception of the domineering Paphlagon in Knights) do not address their owners by name, but they may so address other free men (Ach. 949, 1085) and Philocleon is no longer Xanthias' owner (see on 69 and 87). A century later in Menander we find slaves addressing by name not only their former masters (Sik. 364, 368, 377, 381, 385) but even their actual masters (Dysk. 247; Sam. 192; Sik. 135, 142) without any hint that this is presumptuous.
Cf. Servius on Vergil's Aeneid 12.652:
For it is an insult to address a superior by his name.

nam contumelia est nomine suo superiorem vocare.
According to the critical apparatus of Douglas M. MacDowell's edition of Aristophanes' Wasps (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), the attribution of line 163 to the slave Xanthias is actually a conjecture by Beer.

MacDowell in his commentary on line 143 (ἄναξ Πόσειδον), p. 150, has an interesting comment on addresses to gods in Aristophanes:
When ἄναξ or ὦ ᾽ναξ precedes a god's name in an exclamation, it marks surprise or annoyance at a sight or event which is unwelcome or unpleasant; cf. Akh. 84, Peace 180, 238, Birds 277, 295, Lys. 296, Wealth 438 (all of which have Ἄπολλον or Ἡράκλεις; there are no other instances in Ar. of ἄναξ Πόσειδον as an exclamation). When Poseidon is invoked in admiration, ἄναξ is always omitted; cf. ὦ Πόσειδον in Knights 144, Peace 564, Frogs 491, 1430.
For more on ancient forms of address, see here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006



Thoreau, Journals (October 29, 1857):
We see mankind generally either (from ignorance or avarice) toiling too hard and becoming mere machines in order to acquire wealth, or perhaps inheriting it or getting it by other accident, having recourse, for relaxation after excessive toil or as a mere relief to their idle ennui, to artificial amusements, rarely elevating and often debasing. I think that men generally are mistaken with regard to amusements. Every one who deserves to be regarded as higher than the brute may be supposed to have an earnest purpose, to accomplish which is the object of his existence, and this is at once his work and his supremest pleasure; and for diversion and relaxation, for suggestion and education and strength, there is offered the never-failing amusement of getting a living — never-failing, I mean, when temperately indulged in. I know of no such amusement — so wholesome and in every sense profitable, — for instance, as to spend an hour or two in a day picking some berries or other fruits which will be food for the winter, or collecting driftwood from the river for fuel, or cultivating the few beans or potatoes which I want. Theatres and operas, which intoxicate for a season, are as nothing compared to these pursuits. And so it is with all the true arts of life. Farming and building and manufacturing and sailing are the greatest and wholesomest amusements that were ever invented (for God invented them), and I suppose that the farmers and mechanics know it, only I think they indulge to excess generally, and so what was meant for a joy becomes the sweat of the brow. Gambling, horse-racing, loafing, and rowdyism generally, after all tempt few. The mass are tempted by those other amusements, of farming, etc. It is a great amusement, and more profitable than I could have invented, to go and spend an afternoon hour picking cranberries. By these various pursuits your experience becomes singularly complete and rounded. The novelty and significance of such pursuits are remarkable. Such is the path by which we climb to the heights of our being; and compare the poetry which such simple pursuits have inspired with the unreadable volumes which have been written about art.

Who is the most profitable companion? He who has been picking cranberries and chopping wood, or he who has been attending the opera all of his days? I find when I have been building a fence or surveying a farm, or even collecting simples, that these were the true paths to perception and enjoyment. My being seems to have put forth new roots and to be more strongly planted. This is the true way to crack the nut of happiness. If, as a poet or a naturalist, you wish to explore a given neighborhood, go and live in it, i.e. get your living in it. Fish in its streams, hunt in its forests, gather fuel from its water, its woods, cultivate the ground, and pluck the wild fruits, etc., etc. This will be the surest and speediest way to those perceptions you covet. No amusement has worn better than farming. It tempts men just as strongly to-day as in the day of Cincinnatus. Healthily and properly pursued, it is not a whit more grave than huckleberrying, and if it takes any airs on itself as superior there's something wrong about it.

I have aspired to practice in succession all the honest arts of life, that I may gather all their fruits. But then, if you are intemperate, if you toil to raise an unnecessary amount of corn, even the large crop of wheat becomes as a small crop of chaff.

If our living were once honestly got, then it would be time to invent other amusements.



Thoreau, Journals (September 28, 1857):
I see that E. Wood has sent a couple of Irishmen, with axe and bush-whack, to cut off the natural hedges of sumach, Roxbury waxwork, grapes, etc., which have sprung up by the walls on this hill farm, in order that his cows may get a little more green. And they have cut down two or three of the very rare celtis trees, not found anywhere else in town. The Lord deliver us from these vandalic proprietors! The botanist and lover of nature has, perchance, discovered some rare tree which has sprung up by a farmer's wall-side to adorn and bless it, sole representative of its kind in these parts. Strangers send for a seed or a sprig from a distance, but, walking there again, he finds that the farmer has sent a raw Irishman, a hireling just arrived on these shores, who was never there before -- and, we trust, will never be let loose there again, -- who knows not whether he he is hacking at the upas tree or the Tree of Knowledge, with axe and stub-scythe to exterminate it, and he will know it no more forever. What is trespassing? This Hessian, the day after he was landed, was whirled twenty miles into the interior to do this deed of vandalism on our favorite hedge. I would as soon admit a living mud turtle into my herbarium. If some are prosecuted for abusing children, others deserve to be prosecuted for maltreating the face of nature committed to their care.

Thoreau, Journals (October 12, 1857):
This is what those scamps did in California. The trees were so grand and venerable that they could not afford to let them grow a hair's breadth bigger, or live a moment longer to reproach themselves. They were so big that they resolved they should never be bigger. They were so venerable that they cut them right down. It was not for the sake of the wood; it was only because they were very grand and venerable.

Thoreau, Journals (October 20, 1857):
Melvin says that Sted sold the principal log of one of those pasture oaks to Garty for ten dollars and got several cords besides. What a mean bribe to take the life of so noble a tree!

Saturday, July 08, 2006



Lucretius 5.222-227 (tr. W.H.D Rouse, rev. Martin Ferguson Smith):
Then further the child, like a sailor cast forth by the cruel waves, lies naked upon the ground, speechless, in need of every kind of vital support, as soon as nature has spilt him forth with throes from his mother's womb into the regions of light, and he fills all around with doleful wailings -- as is but just, seeing that so much trouble awaits him in life to pass through.

tum porro puer, ut saevis proiectus ab undis
navita, nudus humi iacet, infans, indigus omni
vitali auxilio, cum primum in luminis oras
nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit,
vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut aequumst
cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.
In line 223 there is an example of asyndetic privative adjectives (infans, indigus).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Back to Work

Philip Larkin, Toads:
Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
  With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
  That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
  Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts -
  They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
  With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines -
  They seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
  Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
  No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
  To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
  That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
  Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
  And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
  My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
  All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
  One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
  When you have both.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The Iliad and the Odyssey

William Cowper, Letter to William Unwin (June 12, 1785):
John, once the Little, but now almost the Great, and promising to be altogether such in time, make yourself master of the Iliad and of the Odyssey as soon as you can, and then you will be master of two of the finest poems that ever were composed by man, and composed in the finest language that ever man uttered.


Milton's Teeth

I recently wrote about mistreatment of corpses after burial. Since then a couple of related items have come to my attention.

The first is J.H.M. Strube, "Cursed be he that moves my bones," in Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, edd. Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 33-59, a study of ancient Greek funerary imprecations, defined as "curses that are clearly and publicly written on the gravestone by the owner of the tomb (who does not conceal his identity) to warn any potential wrongdoer that evil will befall him in case he should violate the grave in defiance of the legitimate prohibitions to do so."

The second is a poem by William Cowper entitled Stanzas on the Late Indecent Liberties Taken with the Remains of the Great Milton. The poem itself is less interesting than the note attached to it:
This shocking outrage took place in 1790 whilst the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, was repairing. The overseers (for the sake of gain) opened a coffin supposed to be Milton's, found a body, extracted its teeth, cut off its hair, and left the remains to the grave-diggers, who exhibited them for money to the public.
There is a contemporary account of this outrage available on the World Wide Web, A Narrative of the Disinterment of Milton's Coffin in the Parish-Church of St Giles, Cripplegate on Wednesday, 4th of August, 1790, and of the treatment of the corpse, during that, and the following day, from which these are extracts:
Mr. Fountain told me, that he pulled hard at the teeth, which resisted, until some one hit them a knock with a stone, when they easily came out. There were but five in the upper-jaw, which were all perfectly sound and white, and all taken by Mr. Fountain; he gave one of them to Mr. Laming: Mr. Laming also took one from the lower-jaw; and Mr. Taylor took two from it. Mr. Laming told me, that he had at one time a mind to bring away the whole under-jaw with the teeth in it; he had it in his hand, but tossed it back again.
Elizabeth Grant, the grave-digger, and who is servant to Mrs. Hoppey, therefore now took possession of the coffin; and, as its situation, under the common-council-men's pew, would not admit of its being seen without the help of a candle, she kept a tinder-box in the excavation, and, when any persons came, struck a light, and conducted them under the pew; where, by reversing the part of the lid which had been cut, she exhibited the body, at first for 6d. and afterwards for 3d. and 2d. each person. The workmen in the church kept the doors locked to all those who would not pay the price of a pot of beer for entrance, and many, to avoid that payment, got in at a window at the west end of the church, near to Mr. Ascough's counting-house.
I guess the workmen in the church thought that "malt does more than Milton can / to justify God's ways to man."

Monday, July 03, 2006



Laura Gibbs at Bestiaria Latina Blog collects proverbs in which the Latin word umbra (shadow, shade) appears. From umbra are derived a number of English words, such as penumbra, somber, sombrero, umbrage, and umbrella.

We use the umbrella to protect ourselves from the rain (French parapluie, German Regenschirm) and also from the sun (French parasol, German Sonnenschirm). But the ancients seem to have used it almost exclusively to shade themselves from the sun. The Greeks called the umbrella σκιάδειον, σκιάδιον, or σκιαδίσκη, the Romans umbraculum or umbella. Embedded in all of these Greek and Latin words are roots denoting shade.

In some respects, the ancients would have seen nothing odd about the following picture:

First, although it's not raining, Michael Jackson is using an umbrella to shield himself from the sun, on the advice (it is said) of his dermatologist. This was also the chief use of the umbrella among the ancients, for protection against the sun.

Second, Michael Jackson is not himself carrying the umbrella. One of his lackeys is holding it for him. Similarly, in ancient times, if you were rich and powerful enough to have an umbrella, you were probably rich and powerful enough to have a slave or some other social inferior hold it over you, as the following passages suggest:

Aelian, Varia Historia 6.1 (tr. N.G. Wilson):
The Athenians committed another excess. Having had good fortune they failed to exploit their luck sensibly. They obliged the daughters of resident aliens to carry parasols to shade their own girls in processions, and similarly the wives for their own wives, while the men had to carry the trays with offerings.
Pausanias 7.22.6 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
Before you enter the city [Triteia] is a tomb of white marble, well worth seeing, especially for the paintings on the grave, the work of Nicias. There is an ivory chair on which is a young and beautiful woman, by whose side is a handmaid carrying a sunshade.
Martial 11.73.6 (a curse, tr. D.R. Shackleton-Bailey):
Lygdus, may you carry a one-eyed mistress' sunshade.
But in another respect the ancient Greeks and Romans would have found this an odd picture, because Michael Jackson is a man, and it was considered effeminate for men to use umbrellas, as the following fragment of Anacreon preserved by Athenaeus 12.534 a-b shows:
He is carrying an ivory umbrella, / like women do.

σκιαδίσκην ἐλεφαντίνην φορεῖ / γυναίξιν αὕτως.
The explanation for this is, I think, simple. It was the ideal for an ancient Greek woman to have a pale complexion, but for a man to be sun-burned. Women were supposed to stay inside much of the time, men outside. Women were supposed to wear clothes, whereas men were practically naked for some outdoor activities (athletics, farming, etc.). Umbrellas helped women keep their skin pale, and therefore a man who used an umbrella to protect his skin would end up not tanned (as a manly fellow should look), but pale (like a woman).

A passage from Xenophon's Agesilaus (1.28, tr. E.C. Marchant) makes the point:
Moreover, believing that contempt for the enemy would kindle the fighting spirit, he gave instructions to his heralds that the barbarians captured in the raids should be exposed for sale naked. So when his soldiers saw them white because they never stripped, and fat and lazy through constant riding in carriages, they believed that the war would be exactly like fighting with women.
For more on pale skin among the ancient Greeks, see here.



William Cowper, Letter to Samuel Rose (March 29, 1788):
I know so little of the world as it goes at present, and labour generally under such a depression of spirits, especially at those times when I could wish to be most cheerful, that my own share in every conversation appears to me to be the most insipid thing imaginable.


Ancient Viagra

Papyri Graecae Magicae VII.185-186 (tr. Roy Kotansky):
To get an erection when you want: Grind up a pepper with some honey and coat your "thing."

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Nix, Nox, Nux, Nyx

Sounds like the laugh of Curly from the Three Stooges, but it's really a series of Latin and Greek words, some of which have been in the news lately:


Kaare Aksnes, Chairman of the International Astronomical Union's Division III Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, Two new Pluto moons named by the IAU:
The two small Pluto moons with temporary designations S/2005 P 1 and S/2005 P 2, discovered in mid-May 2005 with the Hubble Space Telescope (Weaver et. al., IAUC 8625), have now been named respectively Hydra and Nix by the IAU.

In Greek mythology Nyx was the goddess of darkness and the night, a very appropriate name for a moon orbiting Pluto - the god of the underworld. To avoid confusion with the asteroid (3908) Nyx, the Egyptian spelling Nix was chosen. Hydra is the serpent with nine heads that guarded the underworld.
Some people transliterate Greek upsilon as y, others as u, so Greek Νύξ is normally transliterated Nyx or Nux. Stephen Carlson has this to say about upsilon and iota in Egyptian papyri:
When did upsilon start unrounding to the sound of an iota? Egyptian papyri from the 2nd and 3rd centuries show a confusion of U and I, so this indicates that around that time, possibly a bit earlier, is when the U started converging to I, and that probably is a regional variation.
Pluto now has three known moons, Charon (discovered in 1978), Hydra, and Nix. Pluto is of course the god of the underworld, and Charon is the ferryman who transports the dead across the River Styx. The Hydra is among the beasts stationed at hell's gate, according to Vergil, Aeneid 6.285-289 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
And many monstrous forms besides of various beasts are stalled at the doors, Centaurs and double-shaped Scyllas, and the hundredfold Briareus, and the beast of Lerna [Hydra], hissing horribly, and the Chimaera armed with flame, Gorgons and Harpies, and the shape of the three-bodied shade [Geryon].

multaque praeterea variarum monstra ferarum,
Centauri in foribus stabulant Scyllaeque biformes
et centumgeminus Briareus ac belua Lernae
horrendum stridens, flammisque armata Chimaera,
Gorgones Harpyiaeque et forma tricorporis umbrae.
Govert Schilling, Pluto's Twins Get Their Names, writes:
Nyx was the goddess of night and the mother of Charon, the boatsman who takes souls across the River Styx and into Pluto's grasp.
Perhaps there is some ancient author who says that Nyx is Charon's mother, but I can't track one down. Hesiod (Theogony 211-225, tr. H.G. Evelyn-White) lists the children of Nyx, and Charon isn't among them:
And Night bore hateful Doom and black Fate and Death, and she bore Sleep and the tribe of Dreams. And again the goddess murky Night, though she lay with none, bare Blame and painful Woe, and the Hesperides who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious Ocean. Also she bore the Destinies and ruthless avenging Fates, Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos, who give men at their birth both evil and good to have, and they pursue the transgressions of men and of gods: and these goddesses never cease from their dread anger until they punish the sinner with a sore penalty. Also deadly Night bore Nemesis (Indignation) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Deceit and Friendship and hateful Age and hard-hearted Strife.
But Nyx has her dwelling in the underworld, according to Hesiod (Theogony 748), and therefore has as good a claim as any to be one of Pluto's moons.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Unruly Members

Montaigne, Essays 1.21 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
The organs that serve to discharge the stomach have their own dilations and compressions, beyond and against our plans, just like those that are destined to discharge the kidneys. To vindicate the omnipotence of our will, St. Augustine alleges that he knew a man who commanded his behind to produce as many farts as he wanted, and his commentator Vives goes him one better with another example of his own time, of farts arranged to suit the tone of verses pronounced to their accompaniment; but all this does not really argue any pure obedience in the organ; for is there any that is more indiscreet or tumultuous? Besides, I know one so turbulent and unruly, that for forty years it has kept its master farting with a constant and unremitting wind and compulsion, and is thus taking him to his grave.2

2Here the 1595 edition adds: "Add would God I knew only from the history books how many times our stomach, by refusing one single fart, brings us to the gates of a very anguished death; and that the Emperor who gave us the liberty to fart anywhere had given us the power to." Suetonius reports that the Emperor Claudius had contemplated such a decree as this.
I don't have access to Vives, but here are the other passages mentioned by Montaigne.

Augustine, City of God 14.24 (tr. Marcus Dodds):
Some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing.

nonnulli ab imo sine pudore ullo ita numerosos pro arbitrio sonitus edunt, ut ex illa etiam parte cantare videantur.
I don't have a critical edition of Augustine's City of God, but there seems to be some disagreement about the text of this passage among the online editions. I see sine pudore ullo (without any shame), sine paedore ullo (without any stink) and sine putore illo (without any stink) as variants. For more on those with this God-given talent, see here.

Suetonius, Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.

dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset.

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