Saturday, March 10, 2007


Saturday Salmagundi

Anatoly Liberman, the Oxford Etymologist, discusses the names of the months. Inter alia, he wonders why July is accented on the final syllable, and tells us that "The Old English for February was (in modernized spelling) solmonath 'mud month.'"

Fred Reed muses misanthropically:
Somehow this is not where I belong, though mysteriously I am here anyway. I seem to have missed my proper century by a couple of millennia. I don't understand life today, have little in common with the people who shape it. To me humanity, like government, is best when there is least of it.

Bill Keezer draws up an interesting taxonomy of people who commit suicide. I'm not sure in what group he would place those who destroy themselves in order to kill as many others as possible simultaneously.

One might say that the ancient equivalent of modern suicide bombers was Samson in the Bible. In a curious twist of affairs, he was a Hebrew who killed himself and many Philistines (i.e. Palestinians) in Gaza by pulling down a temple with his bare hands. Samson's story is told in Judges 13-16, his final act in 16.29-30:
And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
Milton in Samson Agonistes made splendid poetry out of this story. I read it again recently for the first time since I was an undergraduate and noted the following passages.

Retiring from the popular noise, I seek
This unfrequented place to find some ease,
Ease to the body some, none to the mind
From restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm
Of Hornets arm'd, no sooner found alone,
But rush upon me thronging, and present
Times past, what once I was, and what am now.
Whom have I to complain of but my self?
But what more oft in Nations grown corrupt,
And by their vices brought to servitude,
Than to love Bondage more than Liberty,
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty?
Nothing of all these evils hath befall'n me
But justly; I my self have brought them on,
Sole Author I, sole cause.
O that torment should not be confin'd
To the body's wounds and sores
With maladies innumerable
In heart, head, breast, and reins;
But must secret passage find
To th' inmost mind,
There exercise all his fierce accidents,
And on her purest spirits prey,
As on entrails, joints, and limbs,
With answerable pains, but more intense,
Though void of corporal sense.
Many are the sayings of the wise
In ancient and in modern books enroll'd;
Extolling Patience as the truest fortitude;
And to the bearing well of all calamities,
All chances incident to man's frail life
Consolatories writ
With studied argument, and much persuasion sought
Lenient of grief and anxious thought,
But with th' afflicted in his pangs their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tune,
Harsh, and of dissonant mood from his complaint,
Unless he feel within
Some source of consolation from above;
Secret refreshings, that repair his strength,
And fainting spirits uphold.
There is also the delightful adjective "tongue-doughty" at line 1181, to describe someone who is brave in speech but not in deeds.

Patrick Kurp talks about rereading books. Cf. C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (New York: HBJ, 1967), p. 17:
An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell or Tristram Shandy or Shakespeare's Sonnets: but what can you do with a man who says he 'has read' them, meaning he has read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter?
Cf. also J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (1903), II, 353:
Gladstone wrote in 1886 that he was reading the Iliad 'for the twenty-fifth or thirtieth time, and every time richer and more glorious than before.'
And he read it in the original Greek, mind you!

Patrick's own blog posts should be collected into a book, for easier rereading. His little essay on cedar waxwings is a gem.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer as Educator (from Untimely Meditations, tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
I know of only one writer whom I would compare with Schopenhauer, indeed set above him, in respect of honesty: Montaigne. That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this earth.

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