Saturday, March 31, 2007


Shakespeare, Richard III

Quotations and notes to myself after reading Shakespeare's Richard III.

1.1.66 (gynecocracy):
Why, this it is when men are ruled by women.
1.1.109 (pun on subjects):
We are the Queen's abjects and must obey.
O, cursèd be the hand that made these holes;
Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it;
Cursèd the blood that let this blood from hence.
1.3.48-51 (what becomes of one who can't kiss arse):
Because I cannot flatter and look fair,
Smile in men's faces, smooth, deceive, and cog,
Duck with French nods and apish courtesy,
I must be held a rancorous enemy.
1.3.147-148 (insult):
Hie thee to hell for shame and leave this world,
Thou cacodemon! There thy kingdom is.
1.3.225 (another insult):
Thou hateful, withered hag ...
1.4.91-92 (brevity):
What, so brief?
'Tis better, sir, than to be tedious.
1.4.139-149 (could be a riddle, except answer occurs a few lines before):
I'll not meddle with it. It makes a man coward: a man cannot steal but it accuseth him; a man cannot swear but it checks him; a man cannot lie with his neighbour's wife but it detects him. 'Tis a blushing shamefaced spirit that mutinies in a man's bosom. It fills a man full of obstacles. It made me once restore a purse of gold that by chance I found. It beggars any man that keeps it. It is turned out of towns and cities for a dangerous thing, and every man that means to live well endeavours to trust to himself and live without it.
2.1.107-108 (thought crimes):
My brother killed no man; his fault was thought,
And yet his punishment was bitter death.
2.2.35-39 (heauton timoroumenos):
Ah, who shall hinder me to wail and weep,
To chide my fortune and torment myself?
I'll join with black despair against my soul
And to myself become an enemy.
2.2.124 (lectio difficilior for fetcht):
2.3.13 (paedocracy):
Woe to that land that's governed by a child.
2.4.35-41 (expect and be prepared for the worst):
When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, then winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
Untimely storms make men expect a dearth.
All may be well; but if God sort it so,
'Tis more than we deserve or I expect.
2.4.60-61 (life):
Accursèd and unquiet wrangling days,
How many of you have mine eyes beheld?
3.1.45-46 (description of myself):
You are too senseless obstinate, my lord,
Too ceremonious and traditional.
3.4.11-13 (strangers to each other):
We know each other's faces; for our hearts,
He knows no more of mine than I of yours,
Or I of his, my lord, than you of mine.
Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian,
Speak, and look back, and pry on every side,
Tremble and start at wagging of a straw,
Intending deep suspicion. Ghastly looks
Are at my service, like enforcèd smiles,
And both are ready in their offices,
At any time to grace my stratagems.
3.5.90-94 (children resembling fathers):
My princely father then had wars in France
And, by true computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot,
Which well appearèd in his lineaments,
Being nothing like the noble Duke my father.
3.6.9 (asyndetic, privative adjectives):
Untainted, unexamined ...
3.7.4-14 (children resembling fathers):
Touch'd you the bastardy of Edward's children?
I did; with his contract with Lady Lucy,
And his contract by deputy in France;
Th' unsatiate greediness of his desire
And his enforcement of the city wives;
His tyranny for trifles; his own bastardy,
As being got, your father then in France,
And his resemblance, being not like the Duke.
Withal, I did infer your lineaments,
Being the right idea of your father,
Both in your form and nobleness of mind.
4.1.102-103 (teen = grief, woe):
Eighty-odd years of sorrow have I seen,
And each hour's joy wracked with a week of teen.
4.2.76 (what to say about noisy neighbors):
Foes to my rest, and my sweet sleep's disturbers ...
4.3.121 (what to say to those who solicit charitable contributions):
I am not in the giving vein today.
4.4.1-2 (wheel of fortune):
So now prosperity begins to mellow
And drop into the rotten mouth of death.
4.4.28-30 (oxymorons):
Dead life, blind sight, poor mortal living ghost,
Woe's scene, world's shame, grave's due by life usurped,
Brief abstract and record of tedious days...
4.4.83 (insult):
That bottled spider, that foul bunch-backed toad!
4.4.88 (wheel of fortune):
One heaved a-high to be hurled down below.
4.4.130-135 (advantage of emotional incontinence):
Why should calamity be full of words?
Windy attorneys to their clients' woes,
Airy succeeders of intestate joys,
Poor breathing orators of miseries,
Let them have scope, though what they will impart
Help nothing else, yet do they ease the heart.
Bloody thou art; bloody will be thy end.
4.4.323-324 (apology):
I cannot make you what amends I would;
Therefore accept such kindness as I can.
4.4.344 (underneath the bedcovers):
The sweet silent hours of marriage joys ...
5.3.6-7 (life's troubles are inevitable):
Norfolk, we must have knocks, ha, must we not?
We must both give and take, my loving lord.
5.3.78-79 (what to reply when asked "How are you?"):
I have not that alacrity of spirit
Nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have.
5.3.183 (rhetorical device ladder):
Fainting, despair; despairing, yield thy breath!
5.3.254-256 (cf. Lincoln's second inaugural address):
God and our good cause fight upon our side;
The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls,
Like high-reared bulwarks, stand before our faces.
5.5.268-269 (cf. Lincoln's second inaugural address):
Then if you fight against God's enemy,
God will, in justice, ward you as his soldiers.

Friday, March 30, 2007


Old Age

William Butler Yeats, The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner:
Although I shelter from the rain
Under a broken tree,
My chair was nearest to the fire
In every company
That talked of love or politics,
Ere Time transfigured me.

Though lads are making pikes again
For some conspiracy,
And crazy rascals rage their fill
At human tyranny,
My contemplations are of Time
That has transfigured me.

There's not a woman turns her face
Upon a broken tree,
And yet the beauties that I loved
Are in my memory;
I spit into the face of Time
That has transfigured me.


Thursday, March 29, 2007



Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy:
Nay, if you come to that, Sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself, -- have they not had their Hobby-Horses; -- their running horses, -- their coins and their cockle-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets, -- their maggots and their butterflies? -- and so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him, -- pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?
I don't collect maggots or butterflies, but I do collect examples of asyndetic privative adjectives. Here's my latest catch, from Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 3.3.10: ἀκώλυτον ἀνανάγκαστον ἀπαραπόδιστον = unhindered, unconstrained, unentangled.



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (1828):
It is a peculiarity (I find upon observation of others) of humour in me, my strong propensity for strolling. I deliberately shut up my books in a cloudy July noon, put on my old clothes and old hat and slink away to the whortleberry bushes and slip with the greatest satisfaction into a little cowpath where I am sure I can defy observation. The point gained, I solace myself for hours with picking blueberries and other trash of the woods, far from fame, behind the birch-trees. I seldom enjoy hours as I do these. I remember them in winter; I expect them in spring. I do not know a creature that I think has the same humour, or would think it respectable.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


More on Crowds

In selecting excerpts on crowds from Seneca's 7th Moral Epistle, I omitted his denunciation of gladiatorial games (7.2-4, tr. Richard M. Gummere):
But nothing is so damaging to good character as the habit of lounging at the games; for then it is that vice steals subtly upon one through the avenue of pleasure.

What do you think I mean? I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings. By chance I attended a mid-day exhibition, expecting some fun, wit, and relaxation, - an exhibition at which men's eyes have respite from the slaughter of their fellow-men. But it was quite the reverse. The previous combats were the essence of compassion; but now all the trifling is put aside and it is pure murder. The men have no defensive armour. They are exposed to blows at all points, and no one ever strikes in vain.

Many persons prefer this programme to the usual pairs and to the bouts "by request." Of course they do; there is no helmet or shield to deflect the weapon. What is the need of defensive armour, or of skill? All these mean delaying death. In the morning they throw men to the lions and the bears; at noon, they throw them to the spectators. The spectators demand that the slayer shall face the man who is to slay him in his turn; and they always reserve the latest conqueror for another butchering. The outcome of every fight is death, and the means are fire and sword.
Phil Flemming writes in an email:
Thank you for reminding me of Seneca’s On Crowds.

For many years I’ve had a problem with listening to the moralizing of Seneca Hypocrites, but On Crowds is an especially powerful piece of writing. It is very curious that there is nothing remotely comparable in the rest of the Imperial Stoa. In vain, we look for other denunciation of the recreational butchery practiced in the arena. Epictetus, Musonius, Dio, Marcus — all offer us only the mildest reproofs of enjoying “spectacles”. So too St. Augustine!

I cannot imagine the depraving effect of regularly watching the blood sports practiced for entertainment in the arena. It is bad enough to be exposed to the carnage of war, but to see the same things offered as entertainments!

Gibbon pointed to the Games as a clear symptom of the degeneracy of the Empire and I agree. Cultures addicted to recreational savagery have no moral claim to survival, and perhaps this was a central tension of Gibbon's great work. Rome was at once the repository of all that was valuable in classical civilization, but it was also a degenerate society that deserved its end.

I shall forbear to offer comparisons with our culture and the American Empire, but I think we will live to see things offered on our television as entertainments that would excite the most jaded Roman spectator.
Phil's email prompted me to search the index to Epictetus, which led me to this passage in his Discourses as reported by Arrian (4.4.26-27, tr. W.A. Oldfather), in which the philosopher takes a much more benign view of crowds than Seneca:
"I don't like a crowd, it is turmoil." Say not so, but if circumstances bring you to spend your life alone or in the company of few, call it peace, and utilize the condition for its proper end; converse with yourself, exercise your sense-impressions, develop your preconceptions. If, however, you fall in with a crowd, call it games, a festival, a holiday, try to keep holiday with the people. For what is pleasanter to a man who loves his fellow-men than the sight of large numbers of them? We are glad to see herds of horses or cattle; when we see many ships we are delighted; is a person annoyed at the sight of so many human beings?
On the other hand, nothing causes more annoyance to a man who hates his fellow-men than the sight of large numbers of them. I recently happened on a humorous poem by Morris Bishop entitled The Complete Misanthrope:
I love to think of things I hate
  In moments of mopishness;
I hate people who sit up straight,
  And youths who smirk about their "date,"
And the dates who smirk no less.

I hate children who clutch and whine,
  And the arrogant, virtuous poor;
And critical connoisseurs of wine,
And everything that is called a shrine,
  And Art and Literature.

I hate eggs and I hate the hen;
  I hate the rooster, too.
I hate people who wield the pen,
I hate women and I hate men;
  And what's more, I hate you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Spring: Charles d'Orléans

Charles d'Orléans (1394-1465), Rondeau (tr. Sir Henry Wotton):
The year has changed his mantle cold
Of wind, of rain, of bitter air,
And he goes clad in cloth of gold
Of laughing suns and season fair;
No bird or beast of wood or wold
But doth in cry or song declare
'The year has changed his mantle cold!'

All founts, all rivers seaward rolled
Their pleasant summer livery wear
With silver studs on broidered vair,
The world puts off its raiment old,
The year has changed his mantle cold.
The same (tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow):
Now Time throws off his cloak again
Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain,
And clothes him in the embroidery
Of glittering sun and clear blue sky.
With beast and bird the forest rings,
Each in his jargon cries or sings;
And Time throws off his cloak again.
Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain.

River, and fount, and tinkling brook
Wear in their dainty livery
Drops of silver jewelry;
In new-made suit they merry look;
And Time throws off his cloak again
Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain.
Hilaire Belloc, in Avril: Being Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance, discusses this and another rondeau of Charles d'Orléans:
These two Rondeaux, of which we may also presume, though very vaguely, that they were written in England (for they are in the manner of his earlier work), are by far the most famous of the many things he wrote; and justly, for they have all these qualities.

First, they are exact specimens of their style. The Roundel should interweave, repeat itself, and then recover its original strain, and these two exactly give such unified diversity.

Secondly: they were evidently written in a moment of that unknown power when words suggest something fuller than their own meaning, and in which simplicity itself broadens the mind of the reader. So that it is impossible to put one's finger upon this or that and say this adjective, that order of the words has given the touch of vividness.

Thirdly: they have in them still a living spirit of reality; read them to-day in Winter, and you feel the Spring. It is this quality perhaps which most men have seized in them, and which have deservedly made them immortal.

A further character which has added to their fame, is that, being perfect lyrics, they are also specimens of an old-fashioned manner and metre peculiar to the time. They are the resurrection not only of the Spring, but of a Spring of the fifteenth century. Nor is it too fantastic to say that one sees in them the last miniatures and the very dress of a time that was intensely beautiful, and in which Charles of Orleans alone did not feel death coming.
Belloc prints the original as follows:
  Le temps a laissié son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluye,
Et s'est vestu de brouderie,
De soleil luyant, cler et beau.
Il n'y a beste, ne oyseau,
Qu'en son jargon ne chant ou crie;
Le temps a laissié son manteau
De vent de froidure et de pluye.

  Riviere, fontaine et ruisseau
Portent, en livrée jolie,
Gouttes d'argent d'orfavrerie,
Chascun s'abille de nouveau.
Le temps a laissié son manteau.
In modern orthography:
  Le temps a laissé son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluie
Et s'est vêtu de broderie,
De soleil luisant, clair et beau.
Il n'y a bête ni oiseau
Qu'en son jargon ne chante ou crie:
"Le temps a laissé son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluie."

  Rivière, fontaine et ruisseau
Portent, en livrée jolie,
Gouttes d'argent, d'orfèvrerie,
Chacun s'habille de nouveau:
Le temps a laissé son manteau.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Dalrymple Watch

Here are some recent writings by Theodore Dalrymple:



From Peter Armitage, "Religious Ideology Among the Innu of Eastern Quebec and Labrador", Religiologiques 6 (automne 1992) (PDF format):
Matshishkapeu is the Innu Fart Man, the spirit of the anus who converses with the Innu with great frequency especially when they are in the country hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering (Armitage, 1987). Matshishkapeu is an important character both in myth and everyday social intercourse. But he is a paradoxical character: on the one hand he is a humorous being and one of the most important sources of laughter to the Innu while they are living in the country; on the other, he is a serious character who is thought of as one of the most powerful beings in the pantheon of Innu spirits -- able to control the animal masters as well as human behaviour.


A sudden fart interrupting the tranquillity of camp life calls for an immediate translation. And, the responsibility for providing this falls to specific individuals who have reputations for being able to understand Matshishkapeu. These are usually people in their fifties or older including both men and women.


Let me conclude this section by noting that Matshishkapeu's role as a mediator means that farting for the Innu is a form of divination, a method for ascertaining the state of affairs in the realm of animal masters.


In addition, the omnipresence of Matshishkapeu makes him an especially unique mythological being: he is everywhere, both inside the tent and outside; he is always with you no matter where you may travel.
Armitage 1987 is a reference to Peter Armitage, "Tshekuan Issishueue Matshishkapeu? The Fart Man in Innu Religious Ideology," Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Ethnology Society in Quebec (May 14, 1987).

Related posts:

Sunday, March 25, 2007



Excerpts from Seneca, Moral Epistles 7 (tr. Richard M. Gummere).

Do you ask me what you should regard as especially to be avoided? I say, crowds.

Quid tibi vitandum praecipue existimes quaeris? turbam.
To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.

Inimica est multorum conversatio: nemo non aliquod nobis vitium aut commendat aut inprimit aut nescientibus allinit. Utique quo maior est populus cui miscemur, hoc periculi plus est.
Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.

Recede in te ipse quantum potes; cum his versare qui te meliorem facturi sunt, illos admitte quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines dum docent discunt.
In order, however, that I may not to-day have learned exclusively for myself, I shall share with you three excellent sayings, of the same general purport, which have come to my attention. This letter will give you one of them as payment of my debt; the other two you may accept as a contribution in advance. Democritus says: "One man means so much to me as a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man." The following also was nobly spoken by someone or other, for it is doubtful who the author was; they asked him what was the object of all this study applied to an art that would reach but very few. He replied: "I am content with few, content with one, content with none at all." The third saying - and a noteworthy one, too - is by Epicurus, written to one of the partners of his studies: "I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other."

Sed ne soli mihi hodie didicerim, communicabo tecum quae occurrunt mihi egregie dicta circa eundem fere sensum tria, ex quibus unum haec epistula in debitum solvet, duo in antecessum accipe. Democritus ait, 'unus mihi pro populo est, et populus pro uno'. Bene et ille, quisquis fuit (ambigitur enim de auctore), cum quaereretur ab illo quo tanta diligentia artis spectaret ad paucissimos perventurae, 'satis sunt' inquit 'mihi pauci, satis est unus, satis est nullus'. Egregie hoc tertium Epicurus, cum uni ex consortibus studiorum suorum scriberet: 'haec' inquit 'ego non multis, sed tibi; satis enim magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus'.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


So Much Greek

On June 27, 1813 Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) prefaced a letter to John Adams (1735-1826) with three lines of Greek from Theocritus 17.9-11 (which I can't find on the World Wide Web and am too lazy to transcribe). Here is Andrew Lang's translation, slightly altered:
When the wood-cutter hath come up to tree-filled Ida, he glances around, so many are the trees, to see whence he should begin his labour. Where first shall I begin the tale, for there are countless things ready for the telling?
Adams replied to Jefferson in a letter dated July 19, 1813:
Lord! Lord! What can I do with so much Greek? When I was of your age, young man, i.e, seven, or eight, or nine years ago, I felt a kind of pang of affection for one of the flames of my youth, and again paid my addresses to Isocrates, and Dionysius Hallicarnassensis, &c., &c. I collected all my Lexicons and Grammars, and sat down to περὶ συνθέσεως ὀνομάτων, &c. In this way I amused myself for some time; but I found, that if I looked up a word to-day, in less than a week I had to look it up again. It was to little better purpose than writing letters on a pail of water.
Adams was being modest. He was a good classical scholar. In the catalog of Adams' personal library I find Dionysius of Halicarnassus but not Isocrates. Another United States president, James Garfield, once taught Greek and Latin at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College).

You can still study classics at Hiram College, but American presidents of late haven't been too interested in Greek or Latin. Tracy Lee Simmons, "Greek Ruins," National Review (Sept. 14, 1998) told this anecdote about Yale-educated Bush XLI:
A speechwriter for Vice President George Bush once prepared a stump speech peppered with a bit of Thucydides, a Greek historian of the fifth century B.C. But after the Vice President tripped over the name one time too many, another staffer decided to avoid further embarrassment by drawing a line through the word and writing in "Plato." One dead Greek was as good as another, and who would know the difference?


The Schartz-Metterklume Method

Hector Hugh Munro (Saki), The Schartz-Metterklume Method:
"I teach history on the Schartz-Metterklume method," said the governess loftily.

"Ah, yes," said her listeners, thinking it expedient to assume an acquaintance at least with the name.

"What are you children doing out here?" demanded Mrs. Quabarl the next morning, on finding Irene sitting rather glumly at the head of the stairs, while her sister was perched in an attitude of depressed discomfort on the window-seat behind her, with a wolf-skin rug almost covering her.

"We are having a history lesson," came the unexpected reply. "I am supposed to be Rome, and Viola up there is the she-wolf; not a real wolf, but the figure of one that the Romans used to set store by - I forget why. Claude and Wilfrid have gone to fetch the shabby women."

"The shabby women?"

"Yes, they've got to carry them off. They didn't want to, but Miss Hope got one of father's fives-bats and said she'd give them a number nine spanking if they didn't, so they've gone to do it."

A loud, angry screaming from the direction of the lawn drew Mrs. Quabarl thither in hot haste, fearful lest the threatened castigation might even now be in process of infliction. The outcry, however, came principally from the two small daughters of the lodge-keeper, who were being hauled and pushed towards the house by the panting and dishevelled Claude and Wilfrid, whose task was rendered even more arduous by the incessant, if not very effectual, attacks of the captured maidens' small brother. The governess, fives-bat in hand, sat negligently on the stone balustrade, presiding over the scene with the cold impartiality of a Goddess of Battles. A furious and repeated chorus of "I'll tell muvver" rose from the lodge-children, but the lodge-mother, who was hard of hearing, was for the moment immersed in the preoccupation of her washtub.

After an apprehensive glance in the direction of the lodge (the good woman was gifted with the highly militant temper which is sometimes the privilege of deafness) Mrs. Quabarl flew indignantly to the rescue of the struggling captives.

"Wilfrid! Claude! Let those children go at once. Miss Hope, what on earth is the meaning of this scene?"

"Early Roman history; the Sabine Women, don't you know? It's the Schartz-Metterklume method to make children understand history by acting it themselves; fixes it in their memory, you know. Of course, if, thanks to your interference, your boys go through life thinking that the Sabine women ultimately escaped, I really cannot be held responsible."

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Spring: Horace, Ode 4.7

A few months before his death, Samuel Johnson translated Horace's Ode 4.7:
The snow dissolv'd no more is seen,
The fields, and woods, behold, are green,
The changing year renews the plain,
The rivers know their banks again,

The sprightly Nymph and naked Grace
The mazy dance together trace.
The changing year's successive plan,
Proclaims mortality to Man.

Rough Winter's blasts to Spring give way,
Spring yields to Summer's sovereign ray,
Then Summer sinks in Autumn's reign,
And Winter chills the world again.

Her losses soon the Moon supplies,
But wretched Man, when once he lies
Where Priam and his sons are laid,
Is nought but Ashes and a Shade.

Who knows if Jove who counts our Score
Will toss us in a morning more?
What with your friend you nobly share
At least you rescue from your heir.

Not you, Torquatus, boast of Rome,
When Minos once has fix'd your doom,
Or Eloquence, or splendid birth,
Or Virtue shall replace on earth.

Hippolytus unjustly slain
Diana calls to life in vain,
Nor can the might of Theseus rend
The chains of hell that hold his friend.
English poet and classical scholar A.E. Housman (1859-1936) regarded this ode of Horace as "the most beautiful poem in ancient literature", in sharp contrast to his contemporary Wilamowitz, who dismissed Odes 4.7 and 4.12 as "insignificant spring poems". Housman's translation is beautiful in its own right:
The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Vanity of Vanities

Samuel Johnson, Rambler 106 (Saturday, March 23, 1751):
No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a publick library; for who can see the wall crouded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditation, and accurate enquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to encrease the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavours, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists, and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power?
--Non unquam dedit
Documenta fors majora, quàm fragili loco
Starent superbi.--

                        Seneca, TROADES, ll. 4-6.

Insulting chance ne'er call'd with louder voice,
On swelling mortals to be proud no more.
Of the innumerable authors whose performances are thus treasured up in magnificent obscurity, most are forgotten, because they never deserved to be remembered, and owed the honours which they once obtained, not to judgment or to genius, to labour or to art, but to the prejudice of faction, the stratagem of intrigue, or the servility of adulation.

Nothing is more common than to find men whose works are now totally neglected, mentioned with praises by their contemporaries, as the oracles of their age, and the legislators of science. Curiosity is naturally excited, their volumes after long enquiry are found, but seldom reward the labour of the search. Every period of time has produced these bubbles of artificial fame, which are kept up a while by the breath of fashion, and then break at once, and are annihilated. The learned often bewail the loss of ancient writers whose characters have survived their works; but, perhaps, if we could now retrieve them, we should find them only the Granvilles, Montagues, Stepneys, and Sheffields of their time, and wonder by what infatuation or caprice they could be raised to notice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Hail, Hail, Plump Paunch!

St. Paul, Letter to the Philippians 3.18-19:
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.

πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν οὓς πολλάκις ἔλεγον ὑμῖν, νῦν δὲ καὶ κλαίων λέγω, τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὧν τὸ τέλος ἀπώλεια, ὧν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία καὶ ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν, οἱ τὰ ἐπίγεια φρονοῦντες.
Epicurus, fragment 409 Usener = Athenaeus 12.546f:
The beginning and root of every good thing is the pleasure of the belly; both wise things and refined things have reference to this.

ἀρχὴ καὶ ῥίζα παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ ἡ τῆς γαστρὸς ἡδονή· καὶ τὰ σοφὰ καὶ τὰ περιττὰ ἐπὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν ἀναφοράν.
Ben Jonson, Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1641):
Room! room! make room for the bouncing belly,
First father of sauce, and deviser of jelly;
Prime master of arts, and the giver of wit,
That found out the excellent engine the spit,
The plow and the flail, the mill and the hopper,
The hutch and the bolter, the furnace and copper,
The oven, the bavin, the mawkin, the peel,
The hearth and the range, the dog and the wheel.
He, he first invented the hogshead and tun,
The gimlet and vice too, and taught them to run.
And since with the funnel and hippocras bag
He has made of himself, that now he cries swag!
Which shows, though the pleasure be but of four inches,
Yet he is a weasel, the gullet that pinches
Of any delight, and not spares from the back
Whatever to make of the belly a sack!
Hail, hail, plump paunch! O the founder of taste,
For fresh meats, or powdered, or pickle, or paste;
Devourer of broiled, baked, roasted, or sod,
And emptier of cups, be they even or odd;
All which have now made thee so wide i' the waist
As scarce with no pudding thou art to be laced;
But eating and drinking until thou dost nod,
Thou break'st all thy girdles, and break'st forth a god.


Disadvantages of Education

Excerpts from Albert Jay Nock, The Disadvantages of Being Educated:
Education deprives a young person of one of his most precious possessions, the sense of co-operation with his fellows.


Education, in a word, leads a person on to ask a great deal more from life than life, as at present organized, is willing to give him; and it begets dissatisfaction with the rewards that life holds out.


An educated young man likes to think; he likes ideas for their own sake and likes to deal with them disinterestedly and objectively. He will find this taste an expensive one, much beyond his means, because the society around him is thoroughly indisposed towards anything of the kind.


The educated lad also likes to cultivate a sense of history. He likes to know how the human mind has worked in the past, and upon this knowledge he instinctively bases his expectations of its present and future workings. This tends automatically to withdraw him from many popular movements and associations because he knows their like of old, and knows to a certainty how they will turn out. In the realm of public affairs, for instance, it shapes his judgment of this-or-that humbugging political nostrum that the crowd is running eagerly to swallow; he can match it all the way back to the policies of Rome and Athens, and knows it for precisely what it is.


Again, while education does not make a gentleman, it tends to inculcate certain partialities and repugnances which training does not tend to inculcate, and which are often embarrassing and retarding. They set up a sense of self-respect and dignity as an arbiter of conduct, with a jurisdiction far outreaching that of law and morals; and this is most disadvantageous.


Again, education tends towards a certain reluctance about pushing oneself forward; and in a society so notoriously based on the principle of each man for himself, this is a disadvantage.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Enemy of the People

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (1934), p. 280:
Every man with a bellyful of the classics is an enemy to the human race.


The Word Salmagundi

Andrew MacGillivray passes on a quotation from the Prolegomenon to Michael Bywater's Lost Worlds (Granta, 2004), p. 9:
If this is - as indeed it is - a salmagundi of transience, a pot-pourri of the Vanished, a taxonomy of loss and the vanity of human wishes, does that therefore mean that it is sad, gloomy, a lowering of the spirits? No. We can leave that task to government and international politics.
Andrew cites the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for salmagundi, from which I learn that Rabelais was the first to use the word:
1674, from Fr. salmigondis, originally "seasoned salt meats" (cf. Fr. salmis "salted meats"), from M.Fr. salmigondin, coined by Rabelais, of uncertain origin, but probably related to salomene "hodgepodge of meats or fish cooked in wine," (early 14c.), from O.Fr. salemine.
There also seems to be a connection between salmagundi and salami:
"salted, flavored It. sausage," 1852, from It. salami, pl. of salame "spiced pork sausage," from V.L. *salamen, from *salare "to salt," from L. sal (gen. salis) "salt" (see salt).
Related post: Rotten Pot.


Winter Pursuits

Samuel Johnson, Rambler 80 (Saturday, Dec. 22, 1750):
The winter therefore is generally celebrated as the proper season for domestick merriment and gaiety. We are seldom invited by the votaries of pleasure to look abroad for any other purpose, than that we may shrink back with more satisfaction to our coverts, and when we have heard the howl of the tempest, and felt the gripe of the frost, congratulate each other with more gladness upon a close room, an easy chair, a large fire, and a smoaking dinner.

Winter brings natural inducements to jollity and conversation. Differences, we know, are never so effectually laid asleep, as by some common calamity. An enemy unites all to whom he threatens danger. The rigour of winter brings generally to the same fire-side those, who, by the opposition of inclinations, or difference of employment, moved in various directions through the other parts of the year; and when they have met, and find it their mutual interest to remain together, they endear each other by mutual compliances, and often wish for the continuance of the social season, with all its bleakness and all its severities.

To the men of study and imagination the winter is generally the chief time of labour. Gloom and silence produce composure of mind, and concentration of ideas; and the privation of external pleasure naturally causes an effort to find entertainment within. This is the time in which those, whom literature enables to find amusements for themselves, have more than common convictions of their own happiness. When they are condemned by the elements to retirement, and debarred from most of the diversions which are called in to assist the flight of time, they can find new subjects of enquiry, and preserve themselves from that weariness which hangs always flagging upon the vacant mind.
Related post: Cold Outside, Cozy Inside.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Death, Books, and Goose Fat

On the subject of death and books, Eric Thomson draws my attention to this engraving, from Nouveau receuil d'ostéologie et de myologie by Jacques Gamelin (1738-1803), and comments, "If true - Death, where is thy sting?"

Eric also adds another word meaning "miscellany" related to food - smorgasbord. Here is the Online Etymology Dictionary's entry for the word:
1893, from Swed. smörgåsbord "open sandwich table," lit. "butter-goose table," from smörgås, which is said to mean "bread and butter," but is compounded from smör "butter" (related to smear) and gås, lit. "goose" (and from the root of Eng. goose), which is said to have a secondary meaning of "a clump (of butter)." The final element is bord "table" (cf. board (n.1)). Fig. sense of "medley, miscellany" is recorded from 1948.


The Smell of Humanity

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Voice of the Desert (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1954):
As man moves in, the larger, more conspicuous and, usually, the most attractive animals begin to disappear. Either they "take to the hills," go into hiding, or are exterminated in one way or another. What remain, and often prodigiously increase, are the creatures which either escape attention or find in the filth which crowds of men bring with them a rich pasture. (p. 187)


To almost everything except man the smell of humanity is the most repulsive of all odors, the sight of man the most terrifying of all sights. (p. 191)


[M]an is one of those animals which is in danger from its too successful participation in the struggle for existence. He has upset the balance of nature to a point where he has exterminated hundreds of other animals and exhausted soils....From the standpoint of nature as a whole, he is both a threat to every other thing and, therefore, a threat to himself also. If he were not so extravagantly successful it would be better for nearly everything except man and, possibly therefore, better, in the long run, for him also. He has become the tyrant of the earth, the waster of its resources, the creator of the most prodigious imbalance in the natural order which has ever existed. (pp. 201-2)

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Rotten Pot

It's remarkable how many words meaning "miscellany" are etymologically related to food. The Spanish expression olla podrida and its French equivalent pot pourri, translated literally, mean "rotten pot," a kind of stew composed of whatever ingredients are handy. Metaphorically, they mean any disorganized collection. The word pot is also hidden in English hodge podge, a variant of which is hotch potch, originally hotch pot. In Latin, a lanx satura (whence our satire) means "full platter," and Italian salmagundi is a salad made of various ingredients. Italian pasticcio ("medley," "pastry cake," from pasta) is also behind our pastiche. Gallimaufry comes from French galimafrée, a hash or ragout. Farrago is a direct borrowing from a Latin word meaning "medley, mix of grains for animal feed," itself from far = "grain". Mishmash is a reduplication of mash, of which the Online Etymology Dictionary says:
late O.E. masc-wyrt "mash-wort, infused malt," from P.Gmc. *maisk- (cf. Swed. mäsk "grains for pigs," Ger. Maisch "crushed grapes," O.E. meox "dung, filth), from PIE *meigh- "to sprinkle" (cf. O.E. miscian "to mix," Skt. mehati "urinates," Gk. omeikhein, L. meiere "to urinate," Pol. miazga "sap"). Originally a word in brewing; general sense of "anything reduced to a soft pulpy consistency" is recorded from 1598. Short for mashed potatoes it is attested from 1904. The verb is O.E. mæscan, from the noun.
All are apt descriptions of the following jumble of observations and quotations.

Goethe's fictional Sorrows of Young Werther supposedly spawned several copy-cat real-world suicides. Now Dan Brown's silly book The Da Vinci Code has been implicated in suicides, too. Richard Savill, Monk's death linked to Da Vinci Code (Telegraph, March 22, 2006):
A monk may have leapt to his death from a monastery after reading The Da Vinci Code, it emerged yesterday.

Abbot Alan Rees, 64, a revered figure in the Benedictine community, fell 30ft from a second-storey balcony at Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire last October. The Swansea-born monk had suffered from depression for the past 12 years.

But at a recent inquest into his death, Fr Paul Stonham, the Abbey's replacement abbot, linked his last bout of depression to a novel. There is speculation that he was referring to The Da Vinci Code.
And now this:
A painter fascinated with best-selling conspiracy thriller The Da Vinci Code committed suicide after becoming convinced she was the subject of a real-life murder plot.

Caroline Eldridge, 38, moved to Italy to pursue her interest in Leonardo Da Vinci, but her mind became "muddled" by the mysteries surrounding his work, her father said.

She suffered paranoid delusions that she and her family were in danger "because of the knowledge that she had" of Leonardo after working on an exhibition about his paintings.

After repeatedly telling her family, "I'm not going to let them take me alive," she took an overdose of paracetamol.
Books can be dangerous in other ways, too. Composer Charles Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) supposedly died when a book shelf fell over on him. In April, 2003 the newspaper Jutarnji List published a story about a 60 year-old mathematics professor from Zagreb, identified only by the initials "DK", who was trapped for three days by a pile of books. The Associated Press (Dec. 30, 2003) reported that Patrice Moore was trapped in his apartment for two days under a pile of books and papers. If I keep acquiring books at my current rate, a similar fate is likely to befall me.

Cf. also Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 171-172:
In a tract of 1795, J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: "susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."
I may just be a hypochondriac, but I think I have suffered at one time or another from most of these ailments (except for apoplexy and epilepsy).

Books and reading may have their dangers, but this delighful painting by Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885), entitled The Bookworm, well depicts the joys of an old bookman:

From the mail bag, in response to my post on stoning and adultery:
Dear Mike,

"... and I can't recall any examples of stoning as a punishment for adultery in Greco-Roman antiquity".

How about adulterer Paris's long-overdue coat of stone - 'lainon ... chitona' (Iliad 3, 55-6)?

There's also Pausanias 6, 6, 7:

"Odysseus, so they say, in his wanderings after the capture of Troy was carried down by gales to various cities of Italy and Sicily, and among them he came with his ships to Temesa. Here one of his sailors got drunk and raped a girl, for which offence he was stoned to death by the natives".

Shades of drunken Elpenor.


Eric Thomson

The armless statue of Venus de Milo warns us against what can happen if we bite our fingernails too much. Excessive nose-picking can also be bad for one's health. See, e.g., Salman Akhtar and Brian W. Hastings, "Life Threatening Self-Mutilation of the Nose," Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Aug. 1978) 676-677, and James W. Jefferson and Trent D. Thompson, "Rhinotillexomania: Psychiatric Disorder or Habit?," Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Feb. 1995) 56-59.

But Dr. Friedrich Bischinger has this to say about the health benefits of rhinotillexis in moderation:
Sinnvoller ist es zu bohren zu popeln - und, natürlich kann man dann auch besser atmen, das hängt ja auch von der Größe des Popels ab. Das ist auch eine mechanische Reinigung.


Ja also, wenn da die Herrschaften da in der Nase bohren, dann ist das ein völlig natürlicher Reflex, den ich aus medizinischer Sicht als nicht schlecht empfinde.Diese Reflexe sind durch unsere Zivilisation absolut verkümmert und verstümmelt und tragen zu der Entwicklung solcher neuen modernen Erkrankungen wesentlich bei.
I think I'd draw the line at swallowing the products of nasal excavation, however, despite the good doctor's reassuring words:
Auch das Verspeißen der, wie sagt der Tiroler, der Nasenrammel gehört zu etwas völlig Natürlichem. Generell ist Nasenpopelessen zwar etwas gesellschaftlich verpöntes, immunologisch aber ist es eine absolut sinnvolle und, auf leeren Magen, eine ergänzende Aktion.
One of my childhood friends went on to become a respected university professor and dean. In my mind's eye I can still picture him at age 7 or 8, as if it were yesterday, sitting at his little desk in Washington Street Elementary School, contentedly engaged in Nasenbohren and Nasenpopelessen.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Crime and Punishment

Horace Jeffery Hodges at Gypsy Scholar has been following the career of "moderate Muslim" Tariq Ramadan, most recently in a post about Ramadan's arrest in France. Dr. Hodges quotes Jean Chichizola, "Tarik Ramadan brièvement interpellé à l'aéroport de Roissy" (Le Figaro, March 13, 2007, tr. Kevin Kim):
Tarik Ramadan will remember his most recent trip to France. A Swiss citizen, this Muslim intellectual who has been criticized, especially in France, for his pronouncements about stoning, found himself Sunday evening at Roissy/Charles de Gaulle Airport, in transit for London. According to a police source, Tarik Ramadan had been trying to move through an unauthorized area when a female police officer brought this to his attention. He twice insulted the young woman, who filed a complaint. Tarik Ramadan was arrested and placed under guard; he was charged with "offensive misconduct." When released, Tarik Ramadan acknowledged the facts and was summoned to appear on April 6 at the criminal court in Bobigny after prior admission of guilt.
Stoning is lapidation in French (from Latin lapis = stone), and refers here to "the stoning of adulterers, a punishment stipulated in the section of the Islamic penal code known as huddud," according to Dr. Hodges.

Arthur Stanley Pease, "Notes on Stoning among the Greeks and Romans," Transactions of the American Philological Association 38 (1907) 5-18 and Rudolf Hirzel, "Die Strafe der Steinigung," Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Philologisch-Historische Klasse 27 (1909) 223-266, are not available to me, and I can't recall any examples of stoning as a punishment for adultery in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Douglas M. MacDowell, The Law in Classical Athens (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978; rpt. 1986), p. 124, discusses sexual offences and their punishments:
It seems strange to us that the Athenians thought that sexual intercourse outside marriage was a more serious offence if the woman consented than if she did not. Seduction was worse than rape, because it implied corruption not only of the woman's body, but also of her mind; a raped woman had not ceased to be loyal to her husband.

The penalty for rape of a free woman was only financial. Solon's law fixed it at 100 drachmas. By the beginning of the fourth century the amount was assessed by the jury for each case; the offender had to pay this amount to the woman's husband or other kyrios, and the same amount again to the state....

A seducer was liable to more severe treatment. A man who caught a seducer in the sexual act with his wife, mother, sister, daughter, or concubine kept 'with a view to free children' ..., could kill him immediately, and if accused of murder could defend himself by pleading that the homicide was lawful. Or he could maltreat him; favourite kinds of treatment for a seducer were to push radishes up his anus and to pull out his pubic hair.
Ouch! A very interesting speech has survived, delivered by Euphiletus, who was accused of murder for killing his wife's seducer. The speech was written by Lysias and is entitled On the Murder of Eratosthenes. MacDowell goes on to mention other penalties for adultery, but stoning is not among them.

Stoning is prescribed as a punishment for several offenses in the Old Testament. Adultery is one of them (Deuteronomy 22.22-24), and Sabbath-breaking is another (Numbers 15.32-36). Most scholars regard the story of the woman taken in adultery as an interpolation in John's Gospel, but most Christians still subscribe to the words attributed to Jesus (John 8.7): "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Americans in Paris

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, ch. 61:
In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language. One of our passengers said to a shopkeeper, in reference to a proposed return to buy a pair of gloves, "Allong restay trankeel--may be ve coom Moonday;" and would you believe it, that shopkeeper, a born Frenchman, had to ask what it was that had been said.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The Work of Servants

In the Gospels, it is assumed to be the work of servants or inferiors to untie shoes, wash feet, and anoint with ointment.

Luke 3.16 (untie shoes, cf. Matt. 3.11, Mark 1.7, John 1.27, Acts 13.25):
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose.
John 13.5-9 (wash feet, cf. Luke 7.38):
After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
John 12.3 (anoint with ointment, cf. Luke 7.38):
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
All three of these actions also appear in a passage from Plutarch's Life of Pompey 73.6-7 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Wherefore, without waiting for argument or entreaty, he took Pompey on board, and also all whom Pompey wished to have with him (these were the two Lentuli and Favonius), and set sail; and shortly after, seeing Deiotarus the king hurrying out from shore, they took him on board also. Now, when it was time for supper and the master of the ship had made such provision for them as he could, Favonius, seeing that Pompey, for lack of servants, was beginning to take off his own shoes, ran to him and took off his shoes for him, and helped him to anoint himself. And from that time on he continued to give Pompey such ministry and service as slaves give their masters, even down to the washing of his feet and the preparation of his meals.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Grammar Is Sexy

Lucilius, Greek Anthology 11.139 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Zenonis keeps Menander the bearded grammar teacher, and says she has entrusted her son to him; but he never stops at night making her practice cases, conjunctions, figures, and conjugations.

Γραμματικὸν Ζηνωνὶς ἔχει πώγωνα Μένανδρον,
  τὸν δ᾽ υἱὸν τούτῳ φησὶ συνεστακέναι.
τὰς νύκτας δ᾽ αὐτῇ μελετῶν οὐ παύεται οὗτος
  πτώσεις, συνδέσμους, σχήματα, συζυγίας.
Cases (πτώσεις) = literally falls. In English, conjugate means not only "to inflect a verb" but also "to have sexual relations."

Call to mind also that glamour (meaning "compelling charm, romance, and excitement; especially such qualities when delusively alluring") is etymologically just a variant of grammar.

Who says grammar is dull?

Monday, March 12, 2007


Seeing Things

John Burroughs, Sharp Eyes, from Locust and Wild Honey:
Nevertheless the habit of observation is the habit of clear and decisive gazing: not by a first casual glance, but by a steady, deliberate aim of the eye, are the rare and characteristic things discovered. You must look intently, and hold your eye firmly to the spot, to see more than do the rank and file of mankind.


We think we have looked at a thing sharply until we are asked for its specific features. I thought I knew exactly the form of the leaf of the tulip-tree, until one day a lady asked me to draw the outlines of one. A good observer is quick to take a hint and to follow it up.


"Look intently enough at anything," said a poet to me one day, "and you will see something that would otherwise escape you."
John Burroughs, The Art of Seeing Things, from Leaf and Tendril:
Some people seem born with eyes in their heads, and others with buttons or painted marbles, and no amount of science can make the one equal to the other in the art of seeing things.


The eye sees what it has the means of seeing, and its means of seeing are in proportion to the love and desire behind it. The eye is informed and sharpened by the thought.


I once spent a summer day at the mountain home of a well-known literary woman and editor. She lamented the absence of birds about her house. I named a half-dozen or more I had heard or seen in her trees within an hour -- the indigo-bird, the purple finch, the yellowbird, the veery thrush, the red-eyed vireo, the song sparrow.

"Do you mean to say you have seen or heard all these birds while sitting here on my porch?" she inquired.

"I really have," I said.

"I do not see them or hear them," she replied, "and yet I want to very much."

"No," said I; "you only want to want to see and hear them."

You must have the bird in your heart before you can find him in the bush.
John Burroughs, In Field and Wood, from The Summit of the Years:
The casual glances or the admiring glances that we cast upon nature do not go very far in making us acquainted with her real ways. Only long and close scrutiny can reveal these to us. The look of appreciation is not enough; the eye must become critical and analytical if we would know the exact truth.

Close scrutiny of an object in nature will nearly always yield some significant fact that our admiring gaze did not take in.
Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading:
A post-graduate equipped with honours and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-graduate student: 'That's only a sunfish.'

Agassiz: 'I know that. Write a description of it.'

After a few minutes the student returned with a description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Portrait of Myself

Montaigne, Essais 1.25 (tr. E.J. Trechmann):
I know one who, when I question him on what he knows, asks me for a book to show it me, and will not venture to tell me he has an itchy backside without straightway consulting his lexicon to find the meaning of 'itchy' and of 'backside'.

J'en cognoy, à qui quand je demande ce qu'il sçait, il me demande un livre pour le monstrer: et n'oseroit me dire, qu'il a le derriere galeux, s'il ne va sur le champ estudier en son lexicon que c'est que galeux, et que c'est que derriere.
Itchy: Having or causing an itching sensation.
Backside: The buttocks; rump.



Goethe, Faust I, 4042-3 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
Leave the great world, let it run riot,
And let us stay where it is quiet.

Lass du die große Welt nur sausen,
Wir wollen hier im Stillen hausen.



"I grow old always learning many things," said Solon (fragment 18 = γηράσκω δ' αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος). Only yesterday I learned that the word licorice, which doesn't look Greek to me, comes from glykyrrhiza (γλυκύρριζα) = sweet root.

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.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Keeping Watch Over the Lexicographers

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 775, s.vv. who watches the watchdogs?:
These ancient words take many forms, but derive from the Roman saying Quis custodiet custodes?, which means "the shepherd watches over the sheep, but who keeps watch over the shepherds?" The expression is used to to indicate doubt about the integrity of someone in a position of trust.
The shepherd and the sheep are nowhere to be found in the Latin. The expression is from Juvenal 6.347-8 = Oxford fragment 31-2 (sed quis custodiet ipsos / custodes?) and means "Who will guard the guards themselves?" In Juvenal, it refers to those appointed to keep a watchful eye on wives, yet who turn out to be adulterers.

Related posts:

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Know Thyself

Montaigne, Essais 3.9 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself. We are all steeped in it, one as much as another; but those who are aware of it are a little better off--though I don't know.

Si les autres se regardoient attentivement, comme je fay, ils se trouveroient comme je fay, pleins d'inanité et de fadaise: de m'en deffaire, je ne puis, sans me deffaire moy-mesmes. Nous en sommes tous confits, tant les uns que les autres. Mais ceux qui le sentent, en ont un peu meilleur compte: encore ne sçay-je.


Growing Older

Montaigne, Essais 3.9 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
My first edition was in the year 1580. Since then I have grown older by a long stretch of time; but certainly I have not grown an inch wiser. Myself now and myself a while ago are indeed two; but when better, I simply cannot say. It would be fine to be old if we traveled only toward improvement. It is a drunkard's motion, staggering, dizzy, wobbling, or that of reeds that the wind stirs haphazardly as it pleases.

Je suis euvieilly de nombre d'ans, depuis mes premiers publications, qui furent l'an mille cinq cens quatre vingts. Mais je fais doute que je sois assagi d'un pouce. Moy à cette heure, et moy tantost, sommes bien deux. Quand meilleur, je n'en puis rien dire. Il feroit bel estre vieil, si nous ne marchions, que vers l'amendement. C'est un mouvement d'yvroigne, titubant, vertigineux, informe: ou des jonchez, que l'air manie casuellement selon soy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007



I subscribe to the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR) mailing list. In today's email, I received a review of Holt N. Parker (trans.), Censorinus. The Birthday Book (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) by Benjamin Stevens. As of this minute, there is no link on the BMCR web site for the review. Stevens writes:
In the Preface to his translation of Censorinus' (C) De die natali, Holt N. Parker (P) writes that he "tried to reflect something of Censorinus's range of styles while keeping within idiomatic English" (xiii). From this modest aim has come a great achievement, not to say an astonishing one: this translation, the first translation of C into English, is both exacting and elegant....It is to P's credit, and to our immeasurable gain, that C has at last spoken in English, after something like 1,770 years.
Is this really the first translation of Censorinus into English? The Library of Congress catalog contains an entry for De die natale ("The natal day") by Censorinus (A.D. 238). Life of the Emperor Hadrian by Ælianus Spartianus (circ. A.D. 300). Tr. into English by William Maude (New York: The Cambridge encyclopedia co., 1900).

I have not seen either book.

Update: The review is here. Apparently Maude omitted the first 11 (of 24) chapters of Censorinus, so Parker's is the first complete translation. Many years ago, I considered translating Censorinus, but abandoned the idea when I learned of Maude's translation. I missed my chance at fame, fortune, and the New York Times bestseller list.


Gray, Green, Gold

Goethe, Faust I, 2038-9 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
Gray, my dear friend, is every theory,
And green alone life's golden tree.

Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie,
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007



John Burroughs, Locusts and Wild Honey, VII (A Bed of Boughs):
The next eight miles we had a down grade but a rough road, and during the last half of it we had blisters on the bottoms of our feet. It is one of the rewards of the pedestrian that, however tired he may be, he is always more or less refreshed by his journey. His physical tenement has taken an airing. His respiration has been deepened, his circulation quickened. A good draught has carried off the fumes and the vapors. One's quality is intensified; the color strikes in. At noon that day I was much fatigued; at night I was leg-weary and footsore, but a fresh, hardy feeling had taken possession of me that lasted for weeks.


Home Sweet Home

Homer, Odyssey 9.34-36 (tr. Samuel Butler):
For there is nothing dearer to a man than his own country and his parents, and however splendid a home he may have in a foreign country, if it be far from father or mother, he does not care about it.

ὣς οὐδὲν γλύκιον ἧς πατρίδος οὐδὲ τοκήων
γίγνεται, εἴ περ καί τις ἀπόπροθι πίονα οἶκον
γαίῃ ἐν ἀλλοδαπῇ ναίει ἀπάνευθε τοκήων.
Theognis 783-788 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
For I have been ere now to the land of Sicily, ere now to the vine-clad lowlands of Euboea, and to Sparta the glorious town of reedy Eurotas, and all made me welcome in right friendly wise; but not one of them came as a joy to my heart, so true is it after all that there's no place like home.

Ἦλθον μὲν γὰρ ἔγωγε καὶ εἰς Σικελήν ποτε γαῖαν,
  ἦλθον δ' Εὐβοίης ἀμπελόεν πεδίον,
Σπάρτην δ' Εὐρώτα δονακοτρόφου ἀγλαὸν ἄστυ,
  καί μ' ἐφίλευν προφρόνως πάντες ἐπερχόμενον.
ἀλλ' οὔτις μοι τέρψις ἐπὶ φρένας ἦλθεν ἐκείνων·
  οὕτως οὐδὲν ἄρ' ἦν φίλτερον ἄλλο πάτρης.
Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550):
Beautiful forest, and you clear fountains,
and holy shrines of shining Nymphs,
how blest I would think myself, how favored by the gods,
if I could live and die in your embrace!
Now bitter necessity compells me to travel
to distant lands and to wear out my
poor mortal frame with toils abroad.
But you, Diana, guardian of that mountain,
if I have often chanted your praises with sweet
piping and crowned your altar with flowers,
grant me, goddess, a speedy return to your retreats.
But whether I come back or whether the Fates refuse,
so long as I remember myself, I'll live mindful of you,
beautiful forest, and you clear fountains,
and holy shrines of shining Nymphs.

Formosa silva, vosque lucidi fontes,
et candidarum templa sancta Nympharum,
quam me beatum quamque dis putem acceptum,
si vivere et mori in sinu queam vestro!
Nunc me necessitas acerba longinquas
adire terras cogit et peregrinis
corpusculum laboribus fatigare.
At tu Diana, montis istius custos,
si saepe dulci fistula tuas laudes
cantavi et aram floribus coronavi,
da cito, dea, ad tuos redire secessus.
Sed seu redibo seu negaverint Parcae,
dum meminero mei, tui memor vivam,
formosa silva, vosque lucidi fontes,
et candidarum templa sancta Nympharum.


Bird's Eye View

John Burroughs, Glimpses of Wild Life About My Cabin, from The Century 58.4 (Aug. 1899) (writing about the bald eagle):
I want my interest and sympathy to go with him in his continental voyaging up and down, and in his long, elevated flights to and from his eyrie upon the remote, solitary cliffs. He draws great lines across the sky; he sees the forests like a carpet beneath him, he sees the hills and valleys as folds and wrinkles in a many-colored tapestry; he sees the river as a silver belt connecting remote horizons. We climb mountain-peaks to get a glimpse of the spectacle that is hourly spread out beneath him. Dignity, elevation, repose are his. I would have my thoughts take as wide a sweep. I would be as far removed from the petty cares and turmoils of this noisy and blustering world.

Monday, March 05, 2007



The founder of an American dynasty, George Herbert Walker Bush, once said, "Read my lips: no new taxes." Unlike Bush XLI, the Roman emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty, was always on the lookout for new sources of state revenue. He found one source in an unexpected place, according to Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 23.3 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
When Titus found fault with him for contriving a tax upon public conveniences, he held a piece of money from the first payment to his son's nose, asking whether its odour was offensive to him. When Titus said "No," he replied, "Yet it comes from urine."

Reprehendenti filio Tito, quod etiam urinae vectigal commentus esset, pecuniam ex prima pensione admovit ad nares, sciscitans num odore offenderetur; et illo negante: Atqui, inquit, e lotio est.
Cf. Juvenal 14.204-205 ("lucri bonus est odor ex re / qualibet" = the smell of profit is good from whatever source). The proverbial phrase "Pecunia non olet" (money doesn't stink) is sometimes attributed to Vespasian, but I can't find it in any ancient source.

Vespasian's name lives on in the French word vespasienne meaning public urinal. According to Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé s.v., the word comes
Du nom de l'empereur romain Vespasien (9-79), qui avait eu l'idée, non de créer des urinoirs publics à Rome, mais d'établir un impôt sur la collecte d'urine; ces édicules furent créés par Rambuteau, préfet de la Seine [1833-1848] qui fit lancer l'expr. « colonnes vespasiennes » pour supplanter celui des « colonnes Rambuteau » (cf. J. PILISI ds Fr. mod. t. 20, pp. 111-114).
John Burroughs, An October Abroad, III (A Glimpse of France), writes amusingly about vespasiennes:
The American no sooner sets foot on the soil of France than he perceives he has entered a nation of drinkers as he has left a nation of eaters. Men do not live by bread here, but by wine. Drink, drink, drink everywhere,--along all the boulevards, and streets, and quays, and byways; in the restaurants and under awnings, and seated on the open sidewalk; social and convivial wine-bibbing,--not hastily and in large quantities, but leisurely and reposingly, and with much conversation and enjoyment.

Drink, drink, drink, and, with equal frequency and nearly as much openness, the reverse or diuretic side of the fact. (How our self-consciousness would writhe! We should all turn to stone!) Indeed, the ceaseless deglutition of mankind in this part of the world is equaled only by the answering and enormous activity of the human male kidneys. This latter was too astonishing and too public a fact to go unmentioned. At Dieppe, by the reeking tubs standing about, I suspected some local distemper; but when I got to Paris, and saw how fully and openly the wants of the male citizen in this respect were recognized by the sanitary and municipal regulations, and that the urinals were thicker than the lamp-posts, I concluded it must be a national trait; and at once abandoned the theory that had begun to take possession of my mind, namely, that diabetes was no doubt the cause of the decadence of France. Yet I suspect it is no more a peculiarity of French manners than of European manners generally, and in its light I relished immensely the history of a well-known statue which stands in a public square in one of the German cities. The statue commemorates the unblushing audacity of a peasant going to market with a goose under each arm, who ignored even the presence of the king, and it is at certain times dressed up and made the centre of holiday festivities. It is a public fountain, and its living streams of water make it one of the most appropriate and suggestive monuments in Europe. I would only suggest that they canonize the Little Man, and that the Parisians recognize a tutelar deity in the goddess Urea, who should have an appropriate monument somewhere in the Place de la Concorde!
The ancients recognized the goddess Cloacina (patroness of sewers) and the god Crepitus (or Fart, on whom see here and here), but not the goddess Urea, so far as I know. Nor should we number Uranus among these deities, despite this joke about the planet named after him:
Q: What is the similarity between the Star Ship Enterprise and toilet paper?
A: They both revolve around Uranus (your anus) and wipe out Klingons (cling ons).
These cling ons are also known as dingleberries or fartleberries.

Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 24 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, corr. Bill Thayer):
Taken on a sudden with such an attack of diarrhoea that he all but swooned, he said, "An emperor ought to die standing," and while he was struggling to get on his feet, he died in the arms of those who tried to help him, on the ninth day before the Kalends of July, at the age of sixty-nine years, seven months and seven days.

alvo repente usque ad defectionem soluta, imperatorem ait stantem mori oportere; dumque consurgit ac nititur, inter manus sublevantium extinctus est VIIII. Kal. Iul. annum agens aetatis sexagensimum ac nonum, superque mensem ac diem septimum.
It seems possible from Suetonius' account that Vespasian died on the toilet, like that other famous king, Elvis Presley. If so, it was a fitting end for the emperor who was to give his name to the vespasienne.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Lessons from Animals

Many of the sayings attributed to Gustave Flaubert in Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot (New York: Knopf, 1985) actually come from Flaubert's works or letters. But I haven't been able to find the source of this, despite its Flaubertian ring:
Let us have the modesty of wounded animals, who withdraw into a corner and remain silent. The world is full of people who bellow against providence. One must, if only on the score of good manners, avoid behaving like them.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself 32:
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
D.H. Lawrence, Self-Pity:
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.


Cold Outside, Cozy Inside

If one were to compile an anthology of writings about winter, many pages could be filled with verses on the topic by English nature poet John Clare (1793-1864), such as Schoolboys in Winter and Emmonsails Heath in Winter.

Clare's appropriately named Winter (which starts "From huddling nights embrace how chill / The winters waking days begin") doesn't seem to be available on the World Wide Web. In a couple of passages from that poem, Clare shifts the scene from the cold outside to the coziness to be found indoors.

Lines 33-40:
In winters surley depth how sweet
To meet those comforts we desire
Possesing some snug corner seat
Were blazes nigh the welcome fire
Warming ones toes upon the hearth
And reading poems not too long
While basks the cat in burring mirth
While crickets sing their winter song
Lines 265-272:
And give me now as then at eve
The chimney corners idle joys
As days cold scenes my rambles leave
To list the kettles simmering noise
And while the chimney mocks the blast
And windows quake with jarring din
Let doors and shutters tightend fast
Keep cold night out and comfort in
Eric Thomson draws my attention to Clare's The Gipsy Camp, where the scene inside is somewhat less cozy:
The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half-roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
’Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.
Clare had no classical learning, but this is a theme with classical antecedents, some of which follow here.

Alcaeus, fragment 338 Voight (tr. C.H. Moore):
Zeus sends down rain, and from the sky there falls a mighty winter storm; frozen are the streams. Break down the storm by heaping up the fire; mix sweet wine ungrudgingly, and throw round thy head sweet lavender.
Horace, Epode 13.1-6:
A wild storm has caused the sky to frown, and rain and snow are drawing down Jupiter; now the sea, now the woods echo with the north wind from Thrace. Let us seize, my friend, the opportunity which the day presents. While our knees are strong and it is seemly, let old age be erased from the clouded brow. Uncork the wine pressed when my Torquatus was consul.
Horace, Ode 1.9.1-8:
You see how Mount Soracte stands out white with deep snow, and the struggling trees can no longer sustain the burden, and the rivers are frozen with sharp ice. Dispel the cold by liberally piling logs on the fireplace, and draw out more generously, o Thaliarchus, four-year-old unmixed wine from the two-handled Sabine jar.
Horace, Ode 1.11.3-6:
How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Roadkill and Vegetarians

Carl Hiaasen describes one of the recurring characters in his novels:
Skink, who first appears in Double Whammy, the bass-fishing novel, was conceived as sort of a wild hermit who avenges crimes against Nature. He needed an interesting background so I decided to make him a former governor of Florida, an honest guy who went mad trying to cope with the corruption all around him. One day, in the middle of his term of office, he suddenly bolts from the governor's mansion -- disappears into the woods, where he lives off roadkill and calls himself "Skink."
Colorful characters such as Skink don't appear just in fiction. Guy Adams, The Roadkill Chef: Hunting for dead tasty meals, interviews Fergus Drennan:
Drennan describes himself as a vegetarian, saying he's got "issues" with animal husbandry, and won't eat creatures that are raised for slaughter. Ones killed by accident on our roads, though, are "just another resource".

Foxes, he says, are best pot-roasted in red wine, with wild mushrooms. Badger, a more intense flavour, goes well in burgers. Pheasant and rabbit can be done any way you like. Together, mangled mammals and birds make up five per cent of his diet.

"One of the few things that I tend to avoid are cats and dogs," he explains. "In theory, I'd have no problem with eating them. But they've always got name tags on their collars, and since I have two cats, it's a step too far.

"The only other thing I haven't enjoyed was an owl. Once I found a dead little owl and a dead barn owl. One was nice, but the other was vile. It tasted of urine. I was very surprised: until then I'd always been able to eat anything. I don't know, maybe it was diseased."
Thanks to my son for alerting me to the existence of Drennan, aka Fergus the Forager, who has his own web site and TV show.

Roadkill is a mostly modern phenomenon, but vegetarians were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Here is an amusing poem by Ammianus from the Greek Anthology (11.413, tr. W.R. Paton):
Apelles gave us a supper as if he had butchered a garden, thinking he was feeding sheep and not friends. There were radishes, chicory, fenugreek, lettuces, leeks, onions, basil, mint, rue, and asparagus. I was afraid that after all these things he would serve me with hay, so when I had eaten some half-soaked lupins I went off.

Ὡς κῆπον τεθυκώς, δεῖπνον παρέθηκεν Ἀπελλῆς,
  οἰόμενος βόσκειν ἀντὶ φίλων πρόβατα.
ἦν ῥαφανίς, σέρις ἦν, τῆλις, θρίδακες, πράσα, βολβοί,
  ὤκιμον, ἡδύσμον, πήγανον, ἀσπάραγος·
δείσας δ᾿ ἐκ τούτων μὴ καὶ χόρτον παραθῇ μοι,
  δειπνήσας θέρμους ἡμιβρεχεῖς, ἔφυγον.
Related post: Seneca on Vegetarianism.

Friday, March 02, 2007



I've been reading the twelfth book of Homer's Iliad, known as the Teichomachia (fight around the walls). The walls aren't those surrounding Troy, but the ones built by the Greeks to protect their ships on the beach.

A foot of snow fell here in St. Paul, Minnesota, last weekend, and close to the same amount yesterday. There are two similes involving snow in the Teichomachia. The longer of the two is at 12.278-289 (tr. Samuel Butler):
As the flakes that fall thick upon a winter's day, when Jove is minded to snow and to display these his arrows to mankind - he lulls the wind to rest, and snows hour after hour till he has buried the tops of the high mountains, the headlands that jut into the sea, the grassy plains, and the tilled fields of men; the snow lies deep upon the forelands, and havens of the grey sea, but the waves as they come rolling in stay it that it can come no further, though all else is wrapped as with a mantle so heavy are the heavens with snow - even thus thickly did the stones fall on one side and on the other, some thrown at the Trojans, and some by the Trojans at the Achaeans; and the whole wall was in an uproar.
The juxtaposition of a peaceful scene from nature with the violent actions of men is characteristic of Homer's similes.

A few lines further on, Sarpedon exhorts his comrade Glaucon to battle (12.322-328, tr. Samuel Butler):
My good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could escape old age and death thenceforward and for ever, I should neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for ourselves, or yield it to another.
Bryan Hainsworth in his commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) has a good note on Sarpedon's words:
The glorious death in battle is a notion easily abused, especially by arm-chair poets: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (Horace, Carm. 3.2.13); 'Yet do their beating breasts demand the strife, / And thirst of glory quells the love of life' (Addison, The Campaign). Homer does not pretend that any form of death is 'sweet' and his heroes do not 'demand the strife'; they enter it from a sense that it is their duty, their μοῖρα. Sarpedon's present bid for fame is ennobled by his fatalism.


Call of the Wild

Dear Mr. Gilleland,

Reading your excellent blog I was intrigued by your surname, which shares a common element with my own. Given your fondness for Thoreau and the wilderness, I wonder if you have ever been reunited with your inner wolf?

Gilleland must come from Scottish Gaelic ‘Mac Gill’Fhaoláin’ - son of the servant of Fillan, an 8th century Scottish saint. The ‘mac’ has been dropped and an intrusive <d> added after ‘n’ (like the ‘d’ in ‘thunder’ (< OE thunor)), probably a hanger-on supplied by analogy with English ‘land’. ‘Gill’ would be Scottish Gaelic ‘gille’ (from Irish ‘gilla’), - ‘boy, servant’. Zimmer (Glossae Hibernicae, 1881) relates ‘gilla’, fancifully or not, to Old Norse ‘gildr’ – ‘stout, brawny, full of worth’ in which case it would derive from the Proto-Germanic root *gelda. Fillan - the initial fricative is lost by lenition in the genitive ‘Fhaolain’ - is Old Irish ‘Failan’ = ‘fael’, now ‘faol’, (‘wolf’) + ‘an’, a diminutive suffix from Old Irish *agnas – ‘issuing from’, cognate with Latin ‘-gnus’, ‘genus’. As regards ‘fael’, here is the entry in Mallory and Adams' Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997, p.647):
*uailos ‘wolf’- OIr. ‘fael’, Arm. ‘gayl’ - ‘wolf’. Perhaps from as ‘the woeful one’ (either from the mournful cry or because the animal induces woe in the human). Though not widely attested, the geographical distribution of those attestations strongly suggests PIE status.
Forgive me if I’ve only rehearsed what you already knew but I thought that as an avowed pessimist you might be quite taken with the ‘woeful one’ root.

I'm sorry I can't use the OE thorn or a couple of diacritics, but they're not important.

Here's the entry in Black's 'The Surnames of Scotland' (p. 307):
GILLILAN, Gilliland. From G. Mac Gill'Fhaoláin 'son of the servant of (S.) Fillan,' through one of the early forms McGillolane or M'Gillelan, with omission of the 'Mac'. There was also an Old Irish family of the name Mac Ghiolla Fhaoláin, extant at the beginning of the seventeenth century , but which apparently has since died out. The surname at the present time is common in Ulster (where it is of late Scottish origin), mainly in the form Gilliland, but also as Gelland, Gilelin, Gillan, Gilland, Gilleland, Gillilan and Guilliland. The late Sir Samuel Ferguson, the distinguished Irish poet and scholar wrote a poem immortalizing one Willy Gilliland, which I have not seen.
St. Fillan is also at the root of the surname MacClellan. He's also the patron saint of the mentally ill if that's any consolation.

Kind Regards,

Andrew MacGillivray

For more on *uai ‘woe’, see J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, pp. 1110-1111.

Samuel Ferguson's poem on Willy Gilliland can be found in The Ballads of Ireland. Collected and Edited by Edward Hayes, vol. 2 (London: A Fullarton & Co., 1855), pp. 261-264, available on Google Book Search.

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?