Wednesday, January 31, 2007



Ben Jonson, Volpone, or The Fox, Act 2, Scene 1:
You that would last long, list to my song,
Make no more coil, but buy of this oil.
Would you be ever fair and young?
Stout of teeth, and strong of tongue?
Tart of palate? quick of ear?
Sharp of sight? of nostril clear?
Moist of hand? and light of foot?
Or, I will come nearer to't,
Would you live free from all diseases?
Do the act your mistress pleases;
Yet fright all aches from your bones?
Here's a med'cine, for the nones.
A panacea is a "cure-all." Nowadays, instead of the "oil" in Volpone, you'd need a whole pharmacopeia, including:In part I, chapter X of Cervantes' Don Quixote, the knight of the woeful countenance is suffering from a wound to his ear, and his squire offers some lint and ointment to dress the wound:
"All that might be well dispensed with," said Don Quixote, "if I had remembered to make a vial of the balm of Fierabras, for time and medicine are saved by one single drop."

"What vial and what balm is that?" said Sancho Panza.

"It is a balm," answered Don Quixote, "the receipt of which I have in my memory, with which one need have no fear of death, or dread dying of any wound."
British scientists recently proposed their own version of the balm of Fierabras, called the Polypill, a combination of six different drugs, for people over 55. The scientists claim that the PolyPill would reduce the number of deaths by heart attack and stroke by eighty percent, thereby saving 200,000 lives each year in the United Kingdom alone.

Charles Asbury Stephens (1844-1931), from my native state of Maine, was a prolific writer of children's stories for The Youth's Companion. He was also a doctor, and his medical writings include Long Life: The Occasional Review of an Investigation of the Intimate Causes of Old Age and Organic Death, with a Design to Their Alleviation and Removal (1896), Natural Salvation: The Message of Science, Outlining the First Principles of Immortal Life on the Earth (1906), and Immortal Life: How It Will Be Achieved (1920), based on research conducted at his laboratory in Norway, Maine. Stephens lived a long life, but ultimately was unable to cure himself of the disease of mortality.

The research goes on apace. Biochemist Cynthia Kenyon studies worms in hopes of discovering genes that regulate aging. She hopes that she'll still be alive at age 150. The Methusaleh Foundation sponsors the Methusaleh Mouse Prize, "designed to further the development of truly effective anti-aging interventions." The first winner, a mouse named GHR-KO 11C, lived 1819 days (the average life span of a mouse is about two years).

Far be it from me to belittle the heroic efforts of these scientists to prolong human life. Were it not for them, some people near and dear to me wouldn't be alive today. But the quest for some human invention to achieve everlasting life is a will-o'-the-wisp. The ancient Greeks thought the attempt was not only foolish and doomed to failure, but also ill-advised. Euripides, in his play The Suppliants (lines 1109-1111, tr. E.P. Coleridge), almost seems to be prophesying about the scientists of our day when he says:
Them too I hate, whoso desire to lengthen out the span of life, seeking to turn the tide of death aside by philtres, drugs, and magic spells.
The elegaic poet Callinus (tr. J.M. Edmonds) writes:
By no means may a man escape death, nay not if he come of immortal lineage. Oftentime, it may be, he returneth safe from the conflict of battle and the thud of spears, and the doom of death cometh upon him at home.
The Greeks doubted whether everlasting life would be an unmixed blessing even if it were possible, and expressed these doubts in the myth of Tithonus, who had eternal life but not eternal youth. The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (lines 218-238, tr. Hugh G. Evelyn White) describes his fate:
So also golden-throned Eos rapt away Tithonus who was of your race and like the deathless gods. So she went to ask the dark-clouded Son of Cronos that he should be deathless and live eternally; and Zeus bowed his head to her prayer and fulfilled her desire. Too simple was queenly Eos; she thought not in her heart to ask youth for him and to strip him of the slough of deadly age. So while he enjoyed the sweet flower of life he lived rapturously with golden-throned Eos, the early-born, by the streams of Ocean, at the ends of the earth; but when the first grey hairs began to ripple from his comely head and noble chin, queenly Eos kept away from his bed, though she cherished him in her house and gave him rich clothing. But when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his supple limbs.
Christians have their own panacea, their own balm of Fierabras. In the words of Ignatius (Epistle to the Ephesians 20.2, tr. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, rev. Michael W. Holmes), they find it by
breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Latin Mnemonic Rhyme

Gervais Clark writes:
I read a post on your blog regarding mnemonic Latin rhymes. I learnt one as a child, but can sadly not remember it. The rhyme started like this:

hic and ille
this and that
went to buy a cricket bat
omnis all
brought the ball

I was wondering whether you had come across it.
This rhyme is unfamiliar to me. Please send me an email, dear readers, if you remember more of it.

Related posts:



Homer, Iliad 1.494-516 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):

                    Nor did Thetis forget the entreaties
of her son, but she emerged from the sea's waves early
in the morning and went up to the tall sky and Olympos.
She found Kronos' broad-browed son apart from the others
sitting upon the highest peak of rugged Olympos.
She came and sat beside him with her left hand embracing
his knees, but took him underneath the chin with her right hand
and spoke in supplication to lord Zeus son of Kronos:
'Father Zeus, if ever before in word or action
I did you favour among the immortals, now grant what I ask for.
Now give honour to my son short-lived beyond all other
mortals. Since even now the lord of men Agamemnon
dishonours him, who has taken away his prize and keeps it.
Zeus of the counsels, lord of Olympos, now do him honour.
So long put strength into the Trojans, until the Achaians
give my son his rights, and his honour is increased among them.'
  She spake thus. But Zeus who gathers the clouds made no answer
but sat in silence a long time. And Thetis, as she had taken
his knees, clung fast to them and urged once more her question:
'Bend your head and promise me to accomplish this thing,
or else refuse it, you have nothing to fear, that I may know
how much I am the most dishonoured of all gods.'

In Ingres' 1811 painting of this scene, Thetis grasps Zeus' chin with her left hand and clasps his knees with her right hand:

But in Homer, she grasps Zeus' chin with her right hand and clasps his knees with her left hand.

F.S. Naiden, Ancient Supplication (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 43-44:
Greek gestures and words differ from Roman and Hebrew ones, which happen to resemble one another. Greek gestures begin with the knee clasp (prominent in Homer and tragedy) and include touching other parts of the body, extending hands to the supplicandus but not touching him, and depositing boughs on altars. Roman and Hebrew gestures begin with falling low, which also avoids contact with the supplicandus, and include donning mourning dress as well as extending hands.
Naiden's book also contains useful appendices listing Acts of Supplication in Greek Authors (1a, pp. 301-338) and Latin Authors (1b, pp. 339-364). I don't know if these lists are intended to be exhaustive, but Euripides, Hypsipyle, fr. 757.57-60 (tr. M.J. Cropp), could be added to the Euripidean examples on pp. 315-316:
O, by your knees I fall in supplication, Amphiaraus, and by your chin and your Apolline art, for you have come here just in time amidst my troubles: save me, for I am dying because of my service to you.

ὦ πρός σε γονάτων ἱκέτις, Ἀμφιάρεω, πίτνω,
κ]αὶ πρὸς [γ]ενείο[υ τ]ῆς τ᾽ Ἀπόλλωνος τέχνης,
κ]αιρὸν γὰρ ἥκεις τοῖς ἐμοῖσιν ἐν κακοῖς,
ῥ]ῦσαί με· διὰ γὰρ σὴν ἀπόλλυμαι χάριν.

Sunday, January 28, 2007



From Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (translator unknown).

Book III:
So little master of my understanding when alone, let any one judge what I must be in conversation, where to speak with any degree of ease you must think of a thousand things at the same time: the bare idea that I should forget something material would be sufficient to intimidate me. Nor can I comprehend how people can have the confidence to converse in large companies, where each word must pass in review before so many, and where it would be requisite to know their several characters and histories to avoid saying what might give offence. In this particular, those who frequent the world would have a great advantage, as they know better where to be silent, and can speak with greater confidence; yet even they sometimes let fall absurdities; in what predicament then must he be who drops as it were from the clouds? it is almost impossible he should speak ten minutes with impunity.

In a tete-a-tete there is a still worse inconvenience; that is; the necessity of talking perpetually, at least, the necessity of answering when spoken to, and keeping up the conversation when the other is silent. This insupportable constraint is alone sufficient to disgust me with variety, for I cannot form an idea of a greater torment than being obliged to speak continually without time for recollection. I know not whether it proceeds from my mortal hatred of all constraint; but if I am obliged to speak, I infallibly talk nonsense. What is still worse, instead of learning how to be silent when I have absolutely nothing to say, it is generally at such times that I have a violent inclination: and endeavoring to pay my debt of conversation as speedily as possible, I hastily gabble a number of words without ideas, happy when they only chance to mean nothing; thus endeavoring to conquer or hide my incapacity, I rarely fail to show it.
Book V:
Nothing more contracts the mind, or engenders more tales, mischief, gossiping, and lies, than for people to be eternally shut up in the same apartment together, and reduced, from the want of employment, to the necessity of an incessant chat. When every one is busy (unless you have really something to say), you may continue silent; but if you have nothing to do, you must absolutely speak continually, and this, in my mind, is the most burdensome and the most dangerous constraint. I will go further, and maintain, that to render company harmless, as well as agreeable, it is necessary, not only that they should have something to do, but something that requires a degree of attention.

Knitting, for instance, is absolutely as bad as doing nothing; you must take as much pains to amuse a woman whose fingers are thus employed, as if she sat with her arms crossed; but let her embroider, and it is a different matter; she is then so far busied, that a few intervals of silence may be borne with. What is most disgusting and ridiculous, during these intermissions of conversation, is to see, perhaps, a dozen over-grown fellows, get up, sit down again, walk backwards and forwards, turn on their heels, play with the chimney ornaments, and rack their brains to maintain an inexhaustible chain of words: what a charming occupation!
Book XII:
When alone, I have never felt weariness of mind, not even in complete inaction; my imagination filling up every void, was sufficient to keep up my attention. The inactive babbling of a private circle, where, seated opposite to each other, they who speak move nothing but the tongue, is the only thing I have ever been unable to support. When walking and rambling about there is some satisfaction in conversation; the feet and eyes do something; but to hear people with their arms across speak of the weather, of the biting of flies, or what is still worse, compliment each other, is to me an insupportable torment.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Saturday Salmagundi

Javier Álvarez at Edad de Oro prints a poem on sleep by Fernando de Herrera. I wish someone would translate it into English. I don't have the skill to do it, but the scholar and gentleman who translated this sonnet by Quevedo does:
Retired to the peace of this deserted place
Together with a few but learned books
I live in conversation with those passed away,
And with my eyes listen to the dead.

If not always understood, the books are ever open.
They either correct or fertilize my ideas.
And in silent contrapuntal music
To life's sleep, they speak, awake.

Great souls which death makes absent,
The learned press, the avenger of the years' insults,
Frees, O great Don Joseph!

In irrevocable flight the hour flees,
But that hour is reckoned best
Which in reading and study betters us.

Dennis at Campus Mawrtius coins misomophyly to mean "hatred of one's own race," improving on an old suggestion of mine.

Conrad H. Roth at Varieties of Unreligious Experience, in a learned disquisition on The Bat, also coins a new word, mammiptera.

He doesn't discuss the etymology of bat itself, which the Online Etymology Dictionary gives as:
"flying rodent," c.1575, a dialect alteration of M.E. bakke, which is prob. rel. to O.Sw. natbakka, O.Dan. nathbakkæ "night bat," and O.N. leðrblaka "leather flapper," so orig. sense is likely "flapper." The shift from -k- to -t- may have come through confusion with bakke "nocturnal insect," from L. blatta "moth." O.E. word for the animal was hreremus, from hreran "to shake."
Apparently there is no connection between bat and bate:
c.1300, "to contend with blows or arguments," from O.Fr. batre, from L.L. battere, from L. batuere (see batter (v.)). In falconry, "to beat the wings impatiently and flutter away from the perch." Figurative sense of "to flutter downward" attested from 1590.

Nicholas at Nestor's Cup surveys ancient execution techniques, a timely topic in light of recent executions here and abroad that did not go as smoothly as expected.

In addition to being an accomplished Greek scholar, Nicholas is a stonemason. Much as I enjoy and learn from his posts on ancient Greek, I wish he'd also write something about stonemasonry. I'm reading Charles McRaven's Building with Stone (North Adams: Storey Books, 1989), and I look with new interest on the stonework I see around town. Yesterday I drove by the elegant Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.

There is a magazine about stonemasonry entitled Stonexus. The Table of Contents of Number VI (Spring/Summer 2006) lists a section called Miscellanae. Better a misprint on paper than in stone, I suppose. It should be Miscellanea. Don't let the Google hits for Miscellanae persuade you otherwise.

According to Soldier and Scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War, edited by Ward W. Briggs Jr. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), p. 111, n. 19, Gildersleeve's tombstone is defaced by a mistake in the Greek, which is a quotation from the tragic poet Aeschylus meaning "Life's bivouac is over." The stonecutter engraved an English V instead of a Greek upsilon.

I don't have access to Briggs' book now, and I can't find the source of the Aeschylean quotation.

Update -- Professor David Whitehead writes:
Briggs's chapter on Gildersleeve in Briggs & Calder (eds.) Classical Scholarship: a biographical encyclopedia, gives the reference [but doesn't mention the mason's error]: fr.265 Nauck, preserved by Hesychius from the lost play Phrygians -- διαπεφρούρηται βίος.

I always enjoy Brandon's poems at Siris. His latest collection includes "A Graduate Student Reflects on Footnotes," with the great line "And many more have been led into folly by footnotes than by strange women."

Brandon also posts his favorite poem by Robert Burns. My vote goes to For a' That and a' That, especially this stanza:
Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.
Coof (fool) is a delightful term of abuse, one that deserves wider circulation.


The Happy Life

Dave Lull draws my attention to Peter Stothard's Gentle sex and free money, which starts out:
List the twelve things we need in order to be happy.

And which is the poem most often translated into English from another language?
Stothard goes on to discuss Martial 10.47. I doubt that it is "the poem most often translated into English from another language," but it is indeed popular, as the list provided by Stothard shows. One of the translations in his list is by Ben Johnson. I can't find it on the Internet, so I've transcribed it from George Parfitt's edition of Ben Johnson: The Complete Poems (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975). The original Latin by Martial follows:
The things that make the happy life, are these,
Most pleasant Martial; substance got with ease,
Not laboured for, but left thee by thy sire;
A soil, not barren; a continual fire;
Never at law; seldom in office gowned;
A quiet mind; free powers; and body sound;
A wise simplicity; friends alike-stated;
Thy table without art, and easy-rated;
Thy night not drunken, but from cares laid waste;
No sour, or sullen bed-mate, yet a chaste;
Sleep, that will make the darkest hours swift-paced;
Will to be, what thou art; and nothing more:
Nor fear thy latest day, nor wish therefore.

Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
res non parta labore sed relicta;
non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
nox non ebria sed soluta curis;
non tristis torus et tamen pudicus;
somnus qui faciat breves tenebras:
quod sis esse velis nihilque malis;
summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
Related Posts:

Friday, January 26, 2007


Auto-Antonym: Agony

The OED Online Word of the Day for Jan. 24, 2007 was agony. The first two definitions are:If grief and pleasure are considered opposites, then agony is an an auto-antonym, or word that can mean the opposite of itself.

Related posts:


Yet More on Sleep

Aurelian Isaïcq writes:

There is too a misanthropic quatrain from Michelangelo Buonarroti (Rima 247). For some reason I prefer the German translation (available at Gutenberg) to Symonds'. I also remember Shakespeare’s (similarly lack of) sleep sonnets xxvii and xxviii.

Rima 247:
Caro m'è 'l sonno, e più l'esser di sasso,
mentre che 'l danno e la vergogna dura;
non veder, non sentir m'è gran ventura;
però non mi destar, deh, parla basso.
John Addington Symonds (1878):
Sweet is my sleep, but more to be mere stone,
So long as ruin and dishonour reign;
To bear nought, to feel nought, is my great gain;
Then wake me not, speak in an undertone!
Sophie Hasenclever:
Schlaf ist mein Glück; so lange Schmach und Kummer
Auf Erden dauern, besser Stein zu bleiben,
Nicht sehn, nicht hören bei so schnödem Treiben.
Sprich leise drum und stör' nicht meinen Schlummer.
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tir'd;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts--from far where I abide--
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
  Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
  For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.
How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarr'd the benefit of rest?
When day's oppression is not eas'd by night,
But day by night and night by day oppress'd,
And each, though enemies to either's reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still farther off from thee.
I tell the day, to please him thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion'd night,
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild'st the even.
  But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
  And night doth nightly make grief's length seem stronger.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


More on Sleep

In response to yesterday's post on sleep, Javier Álvarez writes:
There are some remarkable Spanish and Italian texts about sleep and insomnia. Apart from a composition by Quevedo, quoted in Sonnets to Morpheus, I recommend you to read this sonnet of Giovanni della Casa. Unfortunately, I could not find the text of Fernando de Herrera's "Ode to Sleep" in the Internet. It is worth reading. Maybe I'll post it soon in Edad de Oro.
If you follow the link to della Casa's beautiful sonnet, you'll find an English translation by Laurie Stras. Among other Italian poems translated by Stras I see the anonymous Il dolce sonno (Sweet sleep).

Buce of Palookaville, author of Underbelly, also writes:
Re sleep, seems to me that no one beats Shax, in many places but particularly Henry IV:
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king?
The words immediately following in Henry IV are perhaps more familiar: "Then, happy low, lie down! / Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Roughly contemporary with Shakespeare is Sir Philip Sidney, who addressed this sonnet to sleep (Astrophel and Stella, XXXIX):
Come Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man's wealth, the prisoner's release,
Th' indifferent judge between the high and low.
With shield of proof shield me from out the prease
Of those fierce darts despair at me doth throw:
O make in me those civil wars to cease;
I will good tribute pay, if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light,
A rosy garland and a weary head:
And if these things, as being thine by right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella's image see.
Finally, Benedetto Accolti wrote an Ode to Sleep, printed in Latin Writings of the Italian Humanists. Selections by Florence Alden Gragg (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927), pp. 353-354. I can't find a translation, and I don't have time or energy to translate it myself, but here is the Latin:
Nox ruit et caelum fuscis invecta quadrigis
  umbrosam molli frigore opacat humum
atque adeo curis hominum genus omne repulsis
  languida concepto membra sopore levat.
Nulla tamen fessam reparant oblivia mentem
  et refugis nostras tu quoque, Somne, preces.
Somne, animi requies, curarum, Somne, levamen,
  huc ades et sanctum fer, taciturne, pedem,
imbutumque gerent lethaeo gurgite ramum,
  fac rore immadeant tempora victa levi.
Curarum obstantes demum propelle catervas
  et mihi securo sit tua dona sequi,
ut neque me eversi tangant incommoda saecli
  nec removent tristes tempora saeva metus.
Ipse tibi floresque feram casiamque recentem,
  dulce sonans facili qua fugit unda pede,
et tibi, purpurea insurgat cui vertice crista,
  ales dissecto gutture tinguet humum.
Nunc tua defessos tandem vis alliget artus,
  dum iuvat et caelo lucida signa cadunt.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007



Quintilian (3.7.28, tr. H. Butler) says, "Panegyrics have been composed on sleep and death." Here's a sonnet on sleep by Wordsworth:
A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
  One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
  Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky —
I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie
  Sleepless; and soon the small birds' melodies
  Must hear, first utter'd from my orchard trees,
And the first cuckoo's melancholy cry.
Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay,
  And could not win thee, Sleep, by any stealth:
So do not let me wear to-night away.
  Without thee what is all the morning's wealth?
Come, blessed barrier between day and day,
  Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!
John G. Fitch, commentary on Seneca, Hercules Furens 1065ff.:
Addresses and prayers to Sleep include Hom. Il. 14.233ff. (by Hera), Eur. Or. 211ff. (by Orestes), Soph. Phil. 827ff. (a choral ode), Hymn. Orph. 85, Ov. Met. 11.623ff. (by Iris), Stat. Silv. 5.4 (by the poet himself), Theb. 10.126ff. (by Iris), Val. Fl. 8.70ff. (by Medea), Sil. 10.343ff. (by Juno).
Related posts:See also Michael Hendry's web pages on Sonnets to Morpheus.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007



The image of the Wheel of Fortune is trite. Euripides, Trojan Women 1203-1206 (tr. David Kovacs), has an more interesting comparison:
That man is a fool who imagines he is firmly prosperous and is glad. For in its very nature fortune, like a crazed man, leaps now in one direction, now in another, and the same man is never fortunate forever.

θνητῶν δὲ μῶρος ὅστις εὖ πράσσειν δοκῶν
βέβαια χαίρει· τοῖς τρόποις γὰρ αἱ τύχαι,
ἔμπληκτος ὡς ἄνθρωπος, ἄλλοτ' ἄλλοσε
πηδῶσι, κοὐδεὶς αὐτὸς εὐτυχεῖ ποτε.
Cf. Poseidon's criticism of Athena (earlier in the same play, 67-68) for switching her favor from Greeks to Trojans:
But why do you leap about so, now with one character, now with another? Why hate and love whomever you choose so excessively?

τί δ' ὧδε πηδᾷς ἄλλοτ' εἰς ἄλλους τρόπους
μισεῖς τε λίαν καὶ φιλεῖς ὃν ἂν τύχῃς;
The same word for leap (πηδάω) occurs in both passages.


Hard Work

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (May 6, 1858):
There is no more Herculean task than to think a thought about this life and then get it expressed.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Hesiod and the Myth of Origins

Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 26-27:
The earliest surviving version of this ancient Greek myth of origins is the Theogony of Hesiod. It tells of how the original Golden Age declined to Silver and thence to Bronze and finally to the Iron of the present.
Bate is correct in naming Hesiod, but it is in the Works and Days (lines 106-201), not in the Theogony, that Hesiod relates the myth of origins and the ages of men. The Iron Age (Works and Days 182-201, tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White) is no myth but reality:
The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidôs and Nemesis, with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Life as Punishment

From Seneca's tragedies (tr. John G. Fitch):

Medea 19-20:
For the bridegroom I have a worse prayer in store: may he live.

Mihi peius aliquid, quod precer sponso manet:
Thyestes 245-248:
ASSISTANT: Let him die by the sword and spew out his hateful life.
ATREUS: You talk about punishment's conclusion: I want the punishment! Slaying is for a lenient tyrant; in my kingdom death is something people pray for.

SATELLES: Ferro peremptus spiritum inimicum expuat.
ATREVS: De fine poenae loqueris; ego poenam volo.
perimat tyrannus lenis: in regno meo
mors impetratur.
Agamemnon 996:
ELECTRA: Is anything worse than death?
AEGISTHUS: Life, if you wish to die.

ELECTRA: Mortem aliquid ultra est? AEGISTHVS: Vita, si cupias mori.
Mad Hercules 1316-1317:
This labour must be added to the Herculean labours: to live.

Eat ad labores hic quoque Herculeos labor:



Henry David Thoreau, Journals (Aug. 9, 1858):
You say that you have travelled far and wide. How many men have you seen that did not belong to any sect, or party, or clique?


Daily News

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (Aug. 9, 1858):
It is surprising what a tissue of trifles and crudities make the daily news. For one event of interest there are nine hundred and ninety-nine insignificant, but about the same stress is laid on the last as the first.

Saturday, January 20, 2007



Anthony Trollope, The Claverings, chap. 8 (The House in Onslow Crescent):
"You don't believe that he's idle by disposition? Think of all that he has done already."

"That's just what is most against him. He might do very well with us if he had not got that confounded fellowship; but having got that, he thinks the hard work of life is pretty well over with him."

"I don't suppose he can be so foolish as that, Theodore."

"I know well what such men are, and I know the evil that is done to them by the cramming they endure. They learn many names of things — high-sounding names, and they come to understand a great deal about words. It is a knowledge that requires no experience and very little real thought. But it demands much memory; and when they have loaded themselves in this way, they think that they are instructed in all things. After all, what can they do that is of real use to mankind? What can they create?"

"I suppose they are of use."

"I don't know it. A man will tell you, or pretend to tell you — for the chances are ten to one that he is wrong — what sort of lingo was spoken in some particular island or province six hundred years before Christ. What good will that do any one, even if he were right? And then see the effect upon the men themselves! At four-and-twenty a young fellow has achieved some wonderful success, and calls himself by some outlandish and conceited name — a double first, or something of the kind. Then he thinks he has completed everything, and is too vain to learn anything afterward. The truth is, that at twenty-four no man has done more than acquire the rudiments of his education. The system is bad from beginning to end. All that competition makes false and imperfect growth. Come, I'll go to bed."

What would Harry have said if he had heard all this from the man who dusted his boots with his handkerchief?

Friday, January 19, 2007


Sir Soph

William Cowper, The Conversation 91-118:
Oh thwart me not, Sir Soph, at every turn,
Nor carp at every flaw you may discern;
Though syllogisms hang not on my tongue,
I am not surely always in the wrong;
'Tis hard if all is false that I advance,
A fool must now and then be right by chance.
Not that all freedom of dissent I blame;
No, — there I grant the privilege I claim.
A disputable point is no man's ground,
Rove where you please, 'tis common all around.
Discourse may want an animated No,
To brush the surface, and to make it flow;
But still remember, if you mean to please,
To press your point with modesty and ease.
The mark at which my juster aim I take,
Is contradiction for its own dear sake.
Set your opinion at whatever pitch,
Knots and impediments make something hitch;
Adopt his own, 'tis equally in vain,
Your thread of argument is snapp'd again;
The wrangler, rather than accord with you,
Will judge himself deceived, — and prove it too.
Vociferated logic kills me quite,
A noisy man is always in the right;
I twirl my thumbs, fall back into my chair,
Fix on the wainscot a distressful stare,
And when I hope his blunders are all out,
Reply discreetly, "To be sure — no doubt."

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Asyndetic Privative Adjectives in John Clare

A song by John Clare (dated March 3, 1847) contains an example of asyndetic privative adjectives starting at the third word of the third line of the third stanza (italicized below):
I would not be a wither'd leaf
Twirled in an autumn sky
Mine should not be a life so brief
To fade and fall and die

Nor would I be a wither'd flower
Whose stalk was broke before
The bud showed bloom in springs young hour
Heart sicken'd at the core

But I would be a happy thought
With thy sweet sleep to lie
And live unknown, unseen, unsought
And keep my lonely joy

Yes I would be a ray of light
In the apple of thy eye
And watch o'er thee the live long night
In beauty, and in joy
There is no need to posit any literary influences. But we do know that Clare was familiar with Milton's Paradise Lost, which contains several examples of asyndetic privative adjectives (listed here). See Jonathan Bate, John Clare: A Biography (2003), chap. 5:
Clare said that Thomson's The Seasons and Milton's Paradise Lost formed his foundation in poetry. He discovered them early in life and read through them again and again until he was at least thirty.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Toadstools by the Wayside

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (April 2, 1852):
It appears to me that, to one standing on the heights of philosophy, mankind and the works of man will have sunk out of sight altogether; that man is altogether too much insisted on. The poet says the proper study of mankind is man. I say, study to forget all that; take wider views of the universe. That is the egotism of the race.

What is this our childish, gossiping, social literature, mainly in the hands of the publishers? When another poet says the world is too much with us, he means, of course, that man is too much with us. In the promulgated views of man, in institutions, in the common sense, there is narrowness and delusion. It is our weakness that so exaggerates the virtues of philanthropy and charity and makes it the highest human attribute. The world will sooner or later tire of philanthropy and all religions based on it mainly. They cannot long sustain my spirit. In order to avoid delusions, I would fain let man go by and behold a universe in which man is but as a grain of sand.

I am sure that those of my thoughts which consist, or are contemporaneous, with social personal connections, however humane, are not the wisest and widest, most universal. What is the village, city, State, nation, aye the civilized world, that it should concern a man so much? the thought of them affects me in my wisest hours as when I pass a woodchuck's hole. It is a comfortable place to nestle, no doubt, and we have friends, some sympathizing ones, it may be, and a hearth, there; but I have only to get up at midnight, aye to soar or wander a little in my thought by day, to find them all slumbering.

Look at our literature. What a poor, puny, social thing, seeking sympathy! The author troubles himself about his readers, -- would fain have one before he dies. He stands too near his printer; he corrects the proofs. Not satisfied with defiling one another in this world, we would all go to heaven together. To be a good man, that is, a good neighbor in the widest sense, is but little more than to be a good citizen. Mankind is a gigantic institution; it is a community to which most men belong. It is a test I would apply to my companion, -- can he forget man? can he see this world slumbering?

I do not value any view of the universe into which man and the institutions of man enter very largely and absorb much of the attention. Man is but the place where I stand, and the prospect hence is infinite. It is not a chamber of mirrors which reflect me. When I reflect, I find that there is other than me. Man is a past phenomenon to philosophy. The universe is larger than enough for man's abode. Some rarely go outdoors, most are always at home at night, very few indeed have stayed out all night once in their lives, fewer still have gone behind the world of humanity, seen its institutions like toadstools by the wayside.
This reminds me of what the poet Robinson Jeffers called Inhumanism:
The first part of The Double Axe was written during the war and finished a year before the war ended, and it bears the scars; but the poem is not primarily concerned with that grim folly. Its burden, as of some previous work of mine, is to present a certain philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007



Type Canutist into Google, and you get about 50 hits. None seems to trace its origin. Theodore M. Bernstein, Dos, Don't & Maybes of English Usage (New York: Times Books, 1977), p. 105, claims to have coined Canutist, in his discussion of the word hopefully:
Unfortunately, no parallel word that means "it is to be hoped" exists. And happily, to use hopefully in that manner in no way distorts or corrupts the first meaning of the word. But strangely, the opposition continues to grow. Bruce Bohle, usage editor of the American Heritage Dictionary, tells me that approval of the secondary sense among the dictionary's usage panel was 44 per cent in 1968, 42 per cent in 1970 and 37 per cent in 1975. But he adds this personal opinion about the secondary meaning: "Realistically, I suppose it is here." I think he is right. Those who continue to oppose that meaning are Canutists. That word Canutists was coined here just a moment ago. Can't you hear people saying, "I suppose it's related to King Canute. But what does Canute connote?" And then they will recall that Canute tried in vain to sweep back the waves of the ocean.
The Canutist would be a good name for a reactionary's blog.

This week's theme on A.WordA.Day is eponyms. By coincidence, today's word is Rip Van Winkle, defined as "One who fails to keep up with the times."

At the The 46th History Carnival, I read:
Patriarchy is further undermined by Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti with some observations on the difficulty of proving paternity before DNA testing came along.
"Undermining patriarchy" is a distressing accusation for a Canutist and Rip Van Winkle.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


The Sphinx and the Sphincter

In Milton's scatological views on the 'end times', Dr. Hodges asked for a translation of a Latin passage from one of Milton's academic exercises. Phyllis B. Tillyard, Milton: Private Correspondence and Academic Exercises (Cambridge: University Press, 1932) left the passage in question untranslated (p. 94). For an unexpurgated translation we must turn to the version by Bromley Smith in the Columbia University edition of Milton's works, volume XII (1936). Here is an extended excerpt, first in Smith's translation, then in the original Latin (pp. 226-229), with Dr. Hodges' passage in italics:
And now, my hearers, imagine that, although the first of April is not here, the feast of Hilaria, set apart for the mother of the gods, is at hand; or that a divine ceremony is due the God of laughter. Accordingly, smile and raise loud laughter from your saucy spleen; smooth your brow; yield to wrinkled nostrils, but do not be hanged on your hooked nose; let all places resound with most immoderate laughter; and let a more unfettered cachinnation evoke joyous tears, so that, when these are exhausted by laughter, grief may not have even a little drop to adorn her triumph. I, assuredly, if I shall behold anyone laughing with his jaw stretched too sparingly, will say that he is carefully concealing teeth that are scurfy and rotten and darkened with smut, or jutting out in unsightly ranks; or that in the course of breakfast to-day he so stuffed his paunch that he dare not swell out his belly with laughter, lest not his Sphinx, but his sphincter anus, accompany his mouth in its incantations, and against his will babble some riddles, which I pass over to the doctors, not to Oedipus, for interpretation; for I am unwilling that the groan of a posterior by its cheery voice should make a din in the assembly. Let the doctors who relax the bowels loosen up these questions. If anyone does not utter a loud and distinct roar, I shall assert that he breathes out such deep and deadly exhalations from his jaws that neither Aetna nor Avernus emits anything more noisome; or that he certainly has not long since eaten either garlic or leeks; so that as a result he dare not open his mouth lest he kill some of his neighbors with his stinking breath.

Et jam fingite, Auditores, quamvis non sint Aprilis Calendae, festa adesse Hilaria, matri Deum dicata, vel Deo Risui rem divinam fieri. Ridete itaque & petulanti splene sustollite cachinnum, exporrigite frontem, & uncis indulgete naribus, sed naso adunco ne suspendite; profusissimo risu circumsonent omnia, & solutior cachinnus hilares excutiat lachrymas, ut iis risu exhaustis ne guttulam quidem habeat Dolor qua triumphum exornet suum. Ego profecto si quem nimis parce diducto rictu ridentem conspexero, dicam eum scabros & cariosos dentes rubigine obductos, aut indecoro ordine prominentes abscondere, aut inter prandendum hodie sic opplevisse abdomen, ut non audeat ilia ulterius distendere ad risum, ne praecinenti ori succinat, et aenigmata quaedam nolens affutiat sua non Sphinx sed Sphincter anus, quae medicis interpretanda non Oedipo relinquo; nolim enim hilari vocis sono obstrepat in hoc coetu posticus gemitus: Solvant ista Medici qui alvum solvunt. Si quis strenuum & clarum non ediderit murmur eum ego asseverabo tam gravem & mortiferum faucibus exhalare spiritum, ut vel Aetna, vel Avernus nihil spiret tetrius; aut certe allium aut porrum comedisse dudum, adeo ut non audeat aperire os, ne vicinos quosque foetido halitu enicet.
In short, Milton is saying, "Laugh heartily. If I see someone holding back, I'll assume that (1) he doesn't want to show his rotten teeth; (2) he's afraid laughter will cause him to break wind; or (3) he doesn't want to kill those near him with his bad breath."

Saturday, January 13, 2007



Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, chap. XIV:
'Well; but what's to become of me?' urged the selfish man, who never thought of anybody else. 'It's all your fault. I'll tell you what -- I'll sit by your fire till you come back again.'

Newman cast a despairing glance at his small store of fuel, but, not having the courage to say no -- a word which in all his life he never had said at the right time, either to himself or anyone else -- gave way to the proposed arrangement. Mr Crowl immediately went about making himself as comfortable, with Newman Nogg's means, as circumstances would admit of his being made.
Almost all men are slaves, for the reason the Spartans gave to explain the servitude of the Persians, the inability to pronounce the syllable "No." Knowing how to pronounce this word and knowing how to live by oneself are the only two ways to preserve one's freedom and individuality.


Die Gedanken Sind Frei

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, chap. XI:
'I think of a great many things. Nobody can prevent that.'

'Oh yes, I understand you, Mr Noggs,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Our thoughts are free, of course. Everybody's thoughts are their own, clearly.'

'They wouldn't be, if some people had their way,' muttered Newman.
German folk song (tr. Arthur Kevess):
Die Gedanken sind frei, my thoughts freely flower,
Die Gedanken sind frei, my thoughts give me power.
No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them,
No man can deny: Die Gedanken sind frei!

So I think as I please, and this gives me pleasure,
My conscience decrees this right I must treasure;
My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator,
No man can deny: Die Gedanken sind frei!

And if tyrants take me, and throw me in prison,
My thoughts will burst free like blossoms in season.
Foundations will crumble, the structure will tumble,
And free men will cry: Die Gedanken sind frei!
This was a favorite song of Sophie Scholl, executed on February 22, 1943, at the age of 21, for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets.



Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, chap. LVII:
'Measles, rheumatics, hooping-cough, fevers, agers, and lumbagers,' said Mr Squeers, 'is all philosophy together; that's what it is. The heavenly bodies is philosophy, and the earthly bodies is philosophy. If there's a screw loose in a heavenly body, that's philosophy; and if there's screw loose in a earthly body, that's philosophy too; or it may be that sometimes there's a little metaphysics in it, but that's not often. Philosophy's the chap for me. If a parent asks a question in the classical, commercial, or mathematical line, says I, gravely, "Why, sir, in the first place, are you a philosopher?" -- "No, Mr Squeers," he says, "I an't." "Then, sir," says I, "I am sorry for you, for I shan't be able to explain it." Naturally, the parent goes away and wishes he was a philosopher, and, equally naturally, thinks I'm one.'

Friday, January 12, 2007


Classical Bravery

Richard Carter, review of R. Porter, Bodies Politic: Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain (1650-1900) (London: Reaction Books, 2001), in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 95.3 (March 2002) 157-159 (at 157-158):
Another child, Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck was of sterner stuff. Having extracted four front teeth, her kindly dentist offered '... a packet of comfits as my reward. But I drew up and said, "Do you think Regulus, and Epictetus, and Seneca, would take a reward for bearing pain; or the little Spartan boys?"'.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Home Sweet Home

One of Catullus' most engaging poems is number 31, of which Walter Savage Landor wrote, "Never was a return to home expressed so sensitively and beautifully as here."

Its simple, heartfelt emotion is the despair of translators. Let's start out with the bare prose rendition of F.W. Cornish, followed by the Latin original, and then see how various English poets have rendered it.
Sirmio, bright eye of peninsulas and islands, all that in liquid lakes or vast ocean either Neptune bears; how willingly and with what joy I revisit you, scarcely trusting myself that I have left Thynia and the Bithynian plains, and that I see you in safety. Ah, what is more blessed than to put cares away, when the mind lays by its burden, and tired with labour of far travel we have come to our own home and rest on the couch we longed for? This it is which alone is worth all these toils. Welcome, lovely Sirmio, and rejoice in your master, and rejoice ye too, waters of the Lydian lake, and laugh out aloud all the laughter you have in your home.

Paene insularum, Sirmio, insularumque
ocelle, quascumque in liquentibus stagnis
marique vasto fert uterque Neptunus,
quam te libenter quamque laetus inviso,
vix mi ipse credens Thyniam atque Bithynos
liquisse campos et videre te in tuto.
o quid solutis est beatius curis,
cum mens onus reponit, ac peregrino
labore fessi venimus larem ad nostrum
desideratoque acquiescimus lecto?
hoc est, quod unumst pro laboribus tantis.
salve, o venusta Sirmio, atque ero gaude:
gaudete vosque, o Lydiae lacus undae:
ridete, quidquid est domi cachinnorum.
Leigh Hunt:
O best of all the scattr'd spots that lie
In sea or lake, -- apple of landscape's eye, --
How gladly do I drop within thy nest,
With what a sight of full, contented rest,
Scarce able to believe my journey o'er,
And that these eyes behold thee safe once more!
Oh where's the luxury like the smile at heart,
When the mind, breathing, lays its load apart, --
When we come home again, tir'd out, and spread
The loosen'd limbs o'er all the wish'd-for bed!
This, this alone is worth an age of toil.
Hail, lovely Sirmio! Hail, paternal soil!
Joy, my bright waters, joy! your master's come!
Laugh, every dimple on the cheek of home!
Thomas Moore:
Sweet Sirmio! thou, the very eye
  Of all peninsulas and isles,
That in our lakes of silver lie,
  Or sleep enwreathed by Neptune's smiles --

How gladly back to thee I fly!
  Still doubting, asking -- can it be
That I have left Bithynia's sky,
  And gaze in safety upon thee?

Oh! what is happier than to find
  Our hearts at ease, our perils past;
When, anxious long, the lightened mind
  Lays down its load of care at last:

When tired with toil o'er land and deep,
  Again we tread the welcome floor
Of our own home, and sink to sleep
  On the long-wished-for bed once more.

This, this it is that pays alone
  The ills of all life's former track. --
Shine out, my beautiful, my own
  Sweet Sirmio, greet thy master back.

And thou, fair Lake, whose water quaffs
  The light of heaven like Lydia's sea,
Rejoice, rejoice -- let all that laughs
  Abroad, at home, laugh out for me!
Charles Stuart Calverley:
Gem of all isthmuses and isles that lie,
  Fresh or salt water's children, in clear lake
Or ampler ocean: with what joy do I
  Approach thee, Sirmio! Oh! am I awake,
Or dream that once again mine eye beholds
Thee, and has looked its last on Thracian wolds?
  Sweetest of sweets to me that pastime seems,
When the mind drops her burdens: when -- the pain
Of travel past -- our own cot we regain,
  And nestle on the pillow of our dreams!
'Tis this one thought that cheers us as we roam.
  Hail, O fair Sirmio! Joy, thy lord is here!
  Joy too, ye waters of the Golden Mere!
And ring out, all ye laughter-peals of home!
Thomas Hardy:
Sirmio, thou dearest dear of strands
That Neptune strokes in lake and sea,
With what high joy from stranger lands
Doth thy old friend set foot on thee!
Yea, barely seems it true to me
That no Bithynia holds me now,
But calmly and assuringly
Around me stretchest homely Thou.

Is there a scene more sweet than when
Our clinging cares are undercast,
And, worn by alien moils and men,
The long untrodden sill repassed,
We press the pined for couch at last,
And find a full repayment there?
Then hail, sweet Sirmio; thou that wast,
And art, mine own unrivalled Fair!
Stevie Smith:
Dear little Sirmio
Of all capes and islands
Wherever Neptune rides the coastal waters and the open sea
You really are the nicest.

How glad I am to see you again, how fondly I look at you.

No sooner had I left Bithynia -- and what was the name of that other place?
And was safely at sea
I thought only of seeing you.

Really is anything nicer
After working hard and being thoroughly worried
Than to leave it all behind and set out for home
Dear old home and one's own comfortable bed?

Even if one wears oneself out paying for them.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007



Christopher Langmuir clears up my confusion about verbs in John Clare's poem Emmonsails Heath in Winter:
Regarding John Clare's seemingly wayward verbal morphology, it is perhaps pertinent to point out that one of the most salient features of his dialect, East Anglian, is a zero marking for the 3rd person singular, which I imagine he uses as often as it suits him [see Fisiak, Jacek, and Peter Trudgill, ed. (2001) East Anglian English. D. S. Brewer, xii+264pp, hardback ISBN 0-85991].
I wish I could claim credit for the blog post title, but that too is Christopher's, from the subject line of his email.


Love Poetry

I first became acquainted with the poetry of John Clare (1793-1864) from W.H. Auden's anthology of Nineteenth Century British Minor Poets. I recently acquired a copy of Clare's Major Works in the Oxford World Classics series. Minor poets can apparently write major works.

Several of Clare's poems begin with the words I love. The index of titles and first lines in the Major Works lists about a dozen such poems. In only one of these does Clare say that he loves a person. In the rest he loves things, natural objects. Clare was infatuated with a woman named Mary Joyce and wrote many poems about her, but it is the poetry in which he expresses his love of nature that most interests me.

There are no pictures in Clare's Major Works. One could compile a interesting book by juxtaposing Clare's poems with photographs of the natural objects he describes. Furze and ling were just words to me until I found pictures of them. Gorse is another name for furze, and here is picture from Wikipedia of dwarf gorse:

As the picture shows, furze flowers can survive in at least some snow. Pictures like this make Clare's poem Emmonsails Heath in Winter more vivid to me:
I love to see the old heaths withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling
While the old Heron from the lonely lake
Starts slow and flaps his melancholly wing
And oddling crow in idle motions swing
On the half rotten ash trees topmost twig
Beside whose trunk the gipsey makes his bed
Up flies the bouncing wood cock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread
The field fare chatters in the whistling thorn
And for the awe round fields and closen rove
And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again
A couple of the verb forms in this poem puzzle me. Clare says crow ... swing (not crow ... swings, which would destroy the rhyme). Perhaps here one could supply the opening words of the poem and understand "I love to see the oddling (solitary) crow swing..." Towards the end of the poem we read the field fare chatters ... and ... rove, where chatters is singular and rove is plural. It would be easy to emend to the field fares chatter ... and ... rove, but probably unfair to Clare, who chafed at the constraints of grammar and spelling and punctuation. He once wrote (Major Works, p. 480):
A man who learns enough of grammer to write sufficiently plain so as to be understood by others as well as to understand his own consceptions himself and trys out the way to make his consceptions correct thinkings rather than the correct placing of particles and stops and other trifling with which every writer on grammar seems to be at loggerheads about with each other -- such an attainment will get the possessor an enlightened and liberal mind and if he attain not with this broad principle an excellence in composition the niceties of intricate Lectures on grammer with its utmost perfection will not attain it for him

There has been more words used and study uselessly expended in the settlement of what is grammar and what should be grammer in the argument of opinions urged and in the explanation of opinions refuted then there has been arguments and refutations hustled up in the matters of politics or even in opinions of religion

Monday, January 08, 2007


The Law of the Increasing Members

Jasper Griffin on Homer, Iliad 9.150:
Homer constantly makes the third element, in a line which lists three, longer than the other two .... That is an ancient device of Indo-European rhetoric, and it helps to explain why nouns and names which come late in the line regularly have 'ornamental' epithets. Cf. Behaghel, 'Das Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder', IF 35 (1909) 111; M.L. West in JHS 108 (1988), 155.
IF stands for Indogermanische Forschungen, JHS for Journal of Hellenic Studies. West's article is 'The Rise of the Greek Epic', JHS 108 (1988) 151-172. I haven't seen these articles.

If we translate Behaghel's title Das Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder literally as "the law of the increasing members," it has a faintly risqué, priapic ring.

G.S. Kirk in his commentary on Homer's Iliad 1-4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) uses the term "rising threefolder," but restricts it to a particular type of Homeric verse, "composed of three progressively-lengthening cola, through absence or weakness of a third-foot caesura and the presence of a strong fourth-foot one" (p. xxiii).

"Tricolon crescendo" seems to be the term most in favor with classical scholars. Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. 351, n. 1, discussing Horace, Epistles 1.13.3 (si validus, si laetus erit, si denique poscet) has an illuminating note on this rhetorical device:
Many Latin sentences built in accordance with the 'Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder' (Behaghel), i.e. so that B is longer than A, and C longer than B, are examined by E. Lindholm, Stilistiche Studien zur Erweiterung der Satzglieder im Lateinischen, Lund 1931. This device, very much favoured by, for example, Tacitus, Macaulay, and Sir Winston Churchill, is as old as European literature and probably much older. It is sometimes operative even in the arrangement of a triad of proper names, as, for instance, at Homer Α 145 ἢ Αἴας ἢ Ἰδομενεὺς ἢ δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς, or Υ 232 Ἶλός τ᾽ Ἀσσάρακός τε καὶ ἀντίθεος Γανυμήδης. Si clauses arranged in this way are fairly common, e.g. (tricolon as in the Horatian line under examination) Cic. Fam. 5.2.10 si acerbe, si crudeliter, si sine causa sum a tuis oppugnatus; Caelius ap. Cic. Fam. 8.10.5 si tempus, si senatus coget, si honeste a nobis recusari non poterit; for a kindred, if somewhat different, arrangement see, for example, Ennius, Ann. 431 si luci, si nox, si mox, si iam data sit frux; Cic. Quinct. 82 si te nihil impediret, si voluntas eadem maneret, si valeres [cf. Horace's si validus], denique si [cf. Horace's si denique] viveres. A tricolon (not crescendo) with anaphora of ubi shows once more how stereotyped were the forms of these expressions of politeness, Ter. Eun. 484 f. verum ubi molestum non erit, ubi tu voles, ubi tempus tibi erit, sat habet si tum recipitur.
In English, a good example is Shakespeare's Friends, Romans, countrymen, with one, two, and three syllables in the three increasing members.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Apollo Serving King Admetus

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (September 20, 1851):
As I go through the fields, endeavoring to recover my tone and sanity and to perceive things truly and simply again, after having been perambulating the bounds of the town all the week, and dealing with the most commonplace and worldly-minded men, and emphatically trivial things, I feel as if I had committed suicide in a sense. I am again forcibly struck with the truth of the fable of Apollo serving King Admetus, its universal applicability. A fatal coarseness is the result of mixing in the trivial affairs of men. Though I have been associating even with the select men of this and the surrounding towns, I feel inexpressibly begrimed. My Pegasus has lost its wings; he has turned a reptile and gone on his belly. Such things are compatible only with a cheap and superficial life.
Apollodorus 3.10.4 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
But Zeus, fearing that men might acquire the healing art from him [Apollo's son Aesculapius] and so come to the rescue of each other, smote him with a thunderbolt. Angry on that account, Apollo slew the Cyclopes who had fashioned the thunderbolt for Zeus. But Zeus would have hurled him [Apollo] to Tartarus; however, at the intercession of [Apollo's mother] Latona he ordered him to serve as a thrall to a man for a year. So he went to Admetus, son of Pheres, at Pherae, and served him as a herdsman, and caused all the cows to drop twins.


Resolution for the New Year

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (August 23, 1851):
Resolve to read no book, to take no walk, to undertake no enterprise, but such as you can endure to give an account of to yourself. Live thus deliberately for the most part.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Children Who Resemble Their Fathers

In Homer's Odyssey (1.206-216, tr. A.T. Murray and George E. Dimock), the goddess Athena disguised as Mentes talks with Odysseus' son Telemachus:
"But come, tell me this and declare it truly, whether indeed, tall as you are, you are the son of Odysseus himself. Wondrously like his are your head and beautiful eyes; for many were the times we consorted with one another before he embarked for the land of Troy, whither others, too, the bravest of the Argives, went in their hollow ships. But since that day neither have I seen Odysseus, nor he me."

Then wise Telemachus answered her: "Therefore, stranger, will I frankly tell you all. My mother says that I am his child; but I do not know this, for never yet did any man know his parentage of his own knowledge."
For most of human history, children did not know for certain the identities of their fathers. This ignorance may be one impulse behind those societies that defined their membership through the maternal line alone. It is only recently that blood and DNA tests have allowed children to know for sure who their fathers are (and vice versa).

In the days before blood and DNA tests for paternity, a child who obviously resembled his father was prized:On the other hand, children who didn't look at all like their fathers were suspect:In an earlier post on Aeschylus' Libation Bearers 205-210, I speculated that Electra may have recognized footprints belonging to her brother Orestes because they reminded her of the distinctive way in which their father Agamemnon walked.

Andromache in Seneca's Trojan Women (461-468, tr. John G. Fitch) enumerates the ways in which her son Astyanax resembles his dead father Hector, including his gait:
O son, true descendant of a great father, one hope for the Phrygians and only hope for our ruined house, all too famous as issue of ancient blood, and all too like your father! This countenance my Hector had, such he was in walk and bearing, so he carried his brave hands, so he squared his shoulders, so his stern brow conveyed a threat as he spread his flowing hair with a toss of his neck.

O nate, magni certa progenies patris,
spes una Phrygibus, unica afflictae domus,
veterisque suboles sanguinis nimium inclita
nimiumque patri similis! hos vultus meus
habebat Hector, talis incessu fuit
habituque talis, sic tulit fortes manus,
sic celsus humeris, fronte sic torva minax
cervice fusam dissipans iacta comam.

Friday, January 05, 2007



Seneca, Hercules Furens 735-736 (spoken by Theseus recently escaped from the underworld, tr. John G. Fitch):
What each man did, he suffers: the crime recoils on its perpetrator, and the criminal is plagued by the precedent he set.

quod quisque fecit, patitur; auctorem scelus
repetit, suoque premitur exemplo nocens.
The same notion appears here and there in Psalms, e.g. at 7.15-16:
He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
A comforting thought at first, until I remembered the pits dug not by others, but by me.


Thank You

When I arrived home after work yesterday, I found a package on my front porch. Inside was a copy of G.S. Kirk's commentary on the first four books of the Iliad, sent by a reader of this blog whom I've never met. Thank you very much, Robert. Ancient texts and commentaries are my favorite reading, and Homer tops the list. I will treasure this commentary.

Blogging can be a lonely, time-consuming pursuit. I'm often tempted to abandon it. But occasional encouraging emails from readers keep me going. This is the second time that a kind and generous reader has sent a book as a gift.

In a note accompanying the book, Robert mentioned that he enjoys the posts on asyndetic privative adjectives. I recently read Seneca's Medea and found an example at line 395 (tr. John G. Fitch):
magnum aliquid instat, efferum immane impium.

Something great is looming, savage, monstrous, unnatural.
At first I wasn't sure if the im- of immane was privative, but apparently it is. Lewis and Short s.v. immanis derive it from "in- and old Lat. mānus=bonus; kindr. with Sanscr. ma=metior, to measure; Lat. mānes, good spirits."

From the citations in Lewis and Short I see another example at Plautus, Trinummus 826 (tr. H.T. Riley):
spurcificum immanem intolerandum vesanum

filthy, unsightly, unendurable, and outrageous.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Time's Fell Hand

Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 607-615 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
Kind son of Aegeus, to the gods alone comes never old age or death, but all else is confounded by all-mastering time. Earth's strength decays, and the strength of the body; faith dies, distrust is born; and the same spirit is never steadfast among friends, or betwixt city and city; for, be it soon or be it late, men find sweet turn to bitter, and then once more to love.

ὦ φίλτατ᾽ Αἰγέως παῖ, μόνοις οὐ γίγνεται
θεοῖσι γῆρας οὐδὲ κατθανεῖν ποτε.
τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλα συγχεῖ πάνθ᾽ ὁ παγκρατὴς χρόνος.
φθίνει μὲν ἰσχὺς γῆς, φθίνει δὲ σώματος,
θνῄσκει δὲ πίστις, βλαστάνει δ᾽ ἀπιστία,
καὶ πνεῦμα ταὐτὸν οὔποτ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἐν ἀνδράσιν
φίλοις βέβηκεν οὔτε πρὸς πόλιν πόλει.
τοῖς μὲν γὰρ ἤδη, τοῖς δ᾽ ἐν ὑστέρῳ χρόνῳ
τὰ τερπνὰ πικρὰ γίγνεται καὖθις φίλα.


So You Wanna Be a Hero?

Bernard M.W. Knox, The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, chap. 2:
Immovable once his decision is taken, deaf to appeals and persuasion, to reproof and threat, unterrified by physical violence, even by the ultimate violence of death itself, more stubborn as his isolation increases until he has no one to speak to but the unfeeling landscape, bitter at the disrespect and mockery the world levels at what it regards as failure, the hero prays for revenge and curses his enemies as he welcomes the death that is the predictable end of his intransigence.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Dalrymple Watch

Here are some recent examinations, diagnoses, and prescriptions from the doctor:


Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

From an Associated Press story, dateline North Platte, Nebraska (hat tip to Jim K):
Brian Bruggeman caused a stink at the Lincoln County Jail earlier this month and will now have to answer for it in court. Another inmate, Jesse Dorris, alleges that Bruggeman's flatulence, passed in close proximity to Dorris, sparked a Dec. 14 fight between the two at the jail.

Now Bruggeman, 38, faces a Jan. 11 preliminary hearing on the state's complaint of assault by a confined person. It's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Bruggeman is accused of injuring Dorris, his cellmate, when he pushed him into cell bars. Dorris, 26, was not charged.

The two began scuffling, County Attorney Jeff Meyer said Tuesday, because Dorris was fed up with Bruggeman's flatulence.

Jail fights are common, Meyer said, but the cause of this one was rather uncommon.

"It's usually about someone hogging the newspaper or someone not happy about what's on TV," he said.

Bruggeman, of Hershey, is serving a 90-day sentence for violating a protection order.

"He compounded his problems," Meyer said.

Dorris, of North Platte, is awaiting a January trial on a charge of aiding and abetting robbery.

Brad Dawson, Bruggeman's attorney, did not immediately return a phone message left at his office.

Sheriff Jerome Kramer said the incident was a result of overcrowding. The jail was built in 1933 and has a capacity of 23 inmates, according to 2006 standards, Kramer said. As many as 65 inmates have been lodged at the jail in recent days, he said.

"You just can't get a reprieve from one another," Kramer said. "When you've got a guy causing problems passing gas, there's no way to get away from the smell."
Among the complaints in the class action suit Jones v. Goord, 435 F.Supp.2d 221 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), was that the practice of confining prisoners to double cells rather than single cells violated the Eighth Amendment probihition against cruel and unusual punishment, in part because the practice led to unsanitary conditions (at 236):
The unsanitary conditions of which plaintiffs complain are the lack of floor space (Nathan Rep. 19-20), the distance between the beds and the toilets in the cells (id. 20), the amount of personal property kept in cells (id. 19-20), the smell of "a cellmate's feces and flatulence" (id. 20), and the smell that can result from a cellmate's failure to bathe frequently (Pl. Inj. Mem. 36).
Footnote 10 of the opinion uses the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the distance between the toilet in a typical cell and the upper bunk. This distance is the hypotenuse of a right triangle consisting of lower bunk, upper bunk, and toilet. The distance between lower bunk and toilet is known, as is the distance between upper bunk and lower bunk. The problem is to calculate the distance between upper bunk and toilet, which the judge writing the opinion (Gerard E. Lynch) did in detail, showing all of his work, unlike the student who answered this examination question:

But my favorite paragraph in the judicial opinion is this (at 237):
Similarly, plaintiffs' complaints regarding having to deal with a cellmate's odors do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Sharing a cell with an individual with body odor, or an individual who does not bathe frequently, is a far cry from the "wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain" against which the Eighth Amendment protects. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. Furthermore, plaintiffs' claims that double-celling subjects them to "the stench of a cellmate's feces and flatulence" ignore the fact that even in a single cell, an inmate would be subjected to the "stench" of his own "feces and flatulence." (Nathan Rep. 20.) Plaintiffs are not so bold as to expressly claim that, to borrow a phrase, their "feces and flatulence" don't stink. Without question, shared quarters increase this problem, but plaintiffs offer no evidence that such conditions present a health risk, as opposed to a mere increased degree of unpleasantness.
I once collected some literary passages illustrating the Latin proverb Stercus cuique suum bene olet (alt. Suus cuique crepitus bene olet). I would now like to add these memorable words from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's speech In Search of the Origin of the Universe, delivered at the Family Federation for World Peace, Farewell Banquet (August 1, 1996, Washington, D.C.):
You may think it rude if I share this with you, but I would like to give you an example. You use the bathroom each morning. When you defecate, do you wear a gas mask? This is not a laughing matter but a serious one. If you are near someone else defecating, you will quickly move a good distance away. But when you smell your own feces, you do not even notice it. This is because that fecal matter is one with your body. Therefore, you do not feel that it is dirty.

When you were young, did you ever taste the dried mucus from your nose? Does it taste sweet or salty? It's salty, right? Since you can answer, you must have tasted it! Why did you not feel that it was dirty? It is because it was part of your body. Reverend Moon has figured out something that no one in the world knew.

When you cough up phlegm, you sometimes swallow it, right? What about you who are here today? Have you ever had that experience? Be honest. Why do you not feel it is dirty? Because the phlegm was one with your body. We all eat three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you go about twelve inches down from your mouth, there is a fertilizer factory. By eating three meals a day, we are providing raw materials for fertilizer factories. After knowing that, can you still take food into your mouth with a fork and spoon? We know that there is a fertilizer factory in our stomach, but we live on without feeling its presence. Why do we not feel it? It is because we are one with it.


Hardy's Cat

E.J. Moncada writes:
Hardy was very fond of his cat and very upset at its death, as his poem tells us. Accordingly, the succession of circumstances following Hardy's own death seem rather ironic. Hardy's heart was to be buried in Stinsford, England, his birthplace, while the rest of his body was cremated in Dorchester. It happened, however, that Hardy's sister who had taken pro tem possession of her brother's heart left it on her kitchen table and her cat snatched it and ran off into the woods with it.

I can only imagine the pulverous remains of the great poet being much put out and inditing, perhaps, the following plea to the felonious feline: O Catte, ne cor edito.
See here for another version of the circumstances surrounding Hardy's death.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007



E.B. White, The Winter of the Great Snows (1971):
If there's one thing people are agreed on, it's this: the snow must get removed. A century ago in New England, the approach to snow was quite different. When snow began to fly, people switched to runners. Roads were not plowed out, they were rolled down. A giant roller pulled by horses packed the surface to a fine, smooth glaze. Then the sleighs came out, with their bells. And sleds, to haul wood out from the woodlots. Wheels were laid away for the season. The old pleasure in runners hasn't died, though. The snowmobile is the new big thing -- life on runners. It pollutes in two ways: with its exhaust fumes and with its noise.


Better Blankness Day By Day

Thomas Hardy, Last Words to a Dumb Friend:
Pet was never mourned as you,
Purrer of the spotless hue,
Plumy tail, and wistful gaze
While you humoured our queer ways,
Or outshrilled your morning call
Up the stairs and through the hall -
Foot suspended in its fall -
While, expectant, you would stand
Arched, to meet the stroking hand;
Till your way you chose to wend
Yonder, to your tragic end.

Never another pet for me!
Let your place all vacant be;
Better blankness day by day
Than companion torn away.
Better bid his memory fade,
Better blot each mark he made,
Selfishly escape distress
By contrived forgetfulness,
Than preserve his prints to make
Every morn and eve an ache.

From the chair whereon he sat
Sweep his fur, nor wince thereat;
Rake his little pathways out
Mid the bushes roundabout;
Smooth away his talons' mark
From the claw-worn pine-tree bark,
Where he climbed as dusk embrowned,
Waiting us who loitered round.

Strange it is this speechless thing,
Subject to our mastering,
Subject for his life and food
To our gift, and time, and mood;
Timid pensioner of us Powers,
His existence ruled by ours,
Should - by crossing at a breath
Into safe and shielded death,
By the merely taking hence
Of his insignificance -
Loom as largened to the sense,
Shape as part, above man's will,
Of the Imperturbable.

As a prisoner, flight debarred,
Exercising in a yard,
Still retain I, troubled, shaken,
Mean estate, by him forsaken;
And this home, which scarcely took
Impress from his little look,
By his faring to the Dim
Grows all eloquent of him.

Housemate, I can think you still
Bounding to the window-sill,
Over which I vaguely see
Your small mound beneath the tree,
Showing in the autumn shade
That you moulder where you played.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Dear Bill

If I can figure out how to import chess diagrams, so can you.

I used I will not, however, be posting any of my games. My son trounced me the last time we played chess, and a public record of the debacle would be too embarrassing.



Portrait of a Pedant

Alexander Pope, The Dunciad 3.185-194:
But who is he, in closet close y-pent,
Of sober face, with learned dust besprent?
Right well mine eyes arede the myster wight,
On parchment scraps y-fed, and Wormius hight.
To future ages may thy dulness last,
As thou preserv'st the dulness of the past!
There, dim in clouds, the poring Scholiasts mark,
Wits, who like owls, see only in the dark,
A Lumberhouse of books in every head,
For ever reading, never to be read!


The Web

Alexander Pope, Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot 89-94:
Who shames a Scribler? break one cobweb thro',
He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew;
Destroy his Fib, or Sophistry; in vain,
The Creature's at his dirty work again;
Thron'd in the Centre of his thin designs;
Proud of a vast Extent of flimzy lines.

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