Sunday, September 30, 2007


Malefactors and Sinners

Hermann Usener, "Italische Volksjustiz," Rheinisches Museum 56 (1900) 1-28, described how those deprived of official justice might take the law into their own hands, by publicly insulting the malefactor in front of the door to his house, when they met him in the street, at a public gathering, or otherwise.

The best example of this custom is a passage from Plautus' comedy Pseudolus (357-369). Here is the background. The pimp Ballio promised to sell the courtesan Phoenicium to the young man Calidorus for 20 minae. But Calidorus couldn't come up with the cash, so Ballio made arrangements to sell Phoenicium instead to a soldier who made a down payment of 15 minae. When Calidorus discovered that Ballio had reneged on his agreement to sell, Calidorus and his slave Pseudolus subjected the pimp to public insult and humiliation (tr. Charles T. Murphy):
CAL. Pseudolus, stand over there on the other side and dress him down for me.
PS. Right, sir! I'll do it faster than I'd run to the magistrates to be set free.
CAL. Give him the works!
PS. I'll give you a tongue-lashing that will cut you into mincemeat. You shameless villain [impudice]!
BAL. That's right.
PS. Scoundrel [sceleste]!
BAL. Quite true.
PS. Whipping-boy [verbero]!
BAL. Why not?
CAL. Grave-robber [bustirape]!
BAL. Sure.
PS. Jailbird [furcifer]!
BAL. Excellent.
CAL. Double-crosser [sociofraude]!
BAL. That's me all over.
PS. Murderer [parricida]!
BAL. Do go on.
CAL. Church-robber [sacrilege]!
BAL. Granted.
PS. Perjurer [peiiure]!
BAL. Old stuff; try a new tune.
CAL. Gangster [legirupa]!
BAL. Very good.
PS. Seducer of the youth [permities adulescentum]!
BAL. Pretty bitter!
CAL. Robber [fur]!
BAL. Bravo!
PS. Runaway [fugitive]!
BAL. Bravissimo!
CAL. You confidence man [fraus populi]!
BAL. Certainly.
PS. Cheat [fraudulente]!
CAL. Dirty dog [impure]!
PS. Pimp [leno]!
CAL. Dung [caenum]!
BAL. What charming voices!
CAL. You beat your own father and mother [verberavisti patrem atque matrem]!
BAL. Yes, and murdered them rather than feed them. Nothing wrong with that, was there?
PS. It's like pouring water into a cracked pitcher; we're wasting our strength.

CAL. Pseudole, adsiste altrim secus atque onera hunc maledictis. PS. licet.
numquam ad praetorem aeque cursim curram, ut emittar manu.
CAL. ingere mala multa. PS. iam ego te differam dictis meis.
impudice. BAL. itast. CAL. sceleste. BAL. dicis vera. PS. verbero.
BAL. quippini? CAL. bustirape. BAL. certo. PS. furcifer. BAL. factum optume.
CAL. sociofraude. BAL. sunt mea istaec. PS. parricida. BAL. perge tu.
CAL. sacrilege. BAL. fateor. PS. periure. BAL. vetera vaticinamini.
CAL. legirupa. BAL. valide. PS. permities adulescentum. BAL. acerrume.
CAL. fur. BAL. babae! PS. fugitive. BAL. bombax! CAL. fraus populi. BAL. planissume.
PS. fraudulente. CAL. impure. PS. leno. CAL. caenum. BAL. cantores probos!
CAL. verberavisti patrem atque matrem. BAL. atque occidi quoque
potius quam cibum praehiberem: num peccavi quippiam?
PS. in pertusum ingerimus dicta dolium, operam ludimus.
Adolph Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, tr. Lionel R.M. Strachan (1927), p. 317, thought that this passage from Plautus' Pseudolus was similar to the vice-list in 1 Timothy 1.8-11:
[8] But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; [9] Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless [ἀνόμοις] and disobedient [ἀνυποτάκτοις], for the ungodly [ἀσεβέσι] and for sinners [ἁμαρτωλοῖς], for unholy [ἀνοσίοις] and profane [βεβήλοις], for murderers of fathers [πατρολῴαις] and murderers of mothers [μητρολῴαις], for manslayers [ἀνδροφόνοις], [10] For whoremongers [πόρνοις], for them that defile themselves with mankind [ἀρσενοκοίταις], for menstealers [ἀνδραποδισταῖς], for liars [ψεύσταις], for perjured persons [ἐπιόρκοις], and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; [11] According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

[8] Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι καλὸς ὁ νόμος ἐάν τις αὐτῷ νομίμως χρῆται, [9] εἰδὼς τοῦτο, ὅτι δικαίῳ νόμος οὐ κεῖται, ἀνόμοις δὲ καὶ ἀνυποτάκτοις, ἀσεβέσι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοῖς, ἀνοσίοις καὶ βεβήλοις, πατρολῴαις καὶ μητρολῴαις, ἀνδροφόνοις, [10] πόρνοις, ἀρσενοκοίταις, ἀνδραποδισταῖς, ψεύσταις, ἐπιόρκοις, καὶ εἴ τι ἕτερον τῇ ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ ἀντίκειται, [11] κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς δόξης τοῦ μακαρίου θεοῦ, ὃ ἐπιστεύθην ἐγώ.
Here are the parallels that Deissmann detected (I've changed all of the words to nominative singular):
ἄνομος = legirupa
ἀσεβής, ἀνόσιος = sacrilegus
ἁμαρτωλός = scelestus
βέβηλος = caenum, impurus
πατρολῴας, μητρολῴας = parricida, verberavisti patrem atque matrem
πόρνος = impudicus
ἀρσενοκοίτης = permities adulescentum
ψεύστης = fraudulentus
ἐπίορκος = periurus
I'm not convinced. Some of the supposed equivalents don't seem all that close to me. Deissmann himself said of ἀρσενοκοίτης and permities adulescentum that "this parallel is not certain." Ballio is permities adulescentum (the ruin of young men) because in his capacity as pimp he ruins young men financially and morally. This has nothing to do with the Greek ἀρσενοκοίτης (a man who sleeps with other men, i.e. a homosexual). Perhaps impurus would be a better match for ἀρσενοκοίτης (see e.g. Petronius, Satyricon 81). The association of βέβηλος (profane) with caenum and impurus seems far-fetched.

Deissmann pairs scelestus (wicked) with ἁμαρτωλός (sinner), but ἀνόσιος means both unholy and wicked, and I would therefore join scelestus and ἀνόσιος, especially since in the Vulgate of 2 Timothy 3.2, scelestus translates ἀνόσιος.

If I were trying to establish connections between Plautus' Pseudolus and 1 Timothy, I would also put leno (pimp) and ἀνδραποδιστής (slave-dealer) together, since pimps were engaged in what we might call the business of white slavery. Gingrich-Danker-Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, suggest "procurer" as a possible translation of ἀνδραποδιστής.

Here is a short bibliography on vice-lists. I haven't read any of the works on it.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Reading Slowly

When I was a young boy in school, speed reading was a popular educational fad. President Kennedy was one of its most enthusiastic advocates. We were actually taught, in a systematic way, techniques for reading as rapidly as possible. Fortunately, I've forgotten most of what I learned. Reading quickly is like bolting your food. You can't appreciate or savor what you gulp down in a hurry.

In the preface to Daybreak (Morgenröte, tr. R.J. Hollingdale), Nietzsche says that the essence of philology is reading slowly:
It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading....For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow — it is a goldsmith's art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of 'work', that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to 'get everything done' at once, including every old or new book: — this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Insatiable Avarice

In Aristophanes, Wealth 188-197 (tr. anonymous), Chremylus and Cario talk to the god Wealth (Plutus):
CH. Men are never tired of your gifts. They get weary of all else,
— of love ...
CA. Bread.
CH. Music.
CA. Sweetmeats.
CH. Honors.
CA. Cakes.
CH. Battles.
CA. Figs.
CH. Ambition.
CA. Gruel.
CH. Military advancement.
CA. Lentil soup.
CH. But of you they never tire. If a man has thirteen talents, he has all the greater ardor to possess sixteen; if that wish is achieved, he will want forty or will complain that he knows not how to make both ends meet.

Χρ. ὥστ' οὐδὲ μεστὸς σοῦ γέγον' οὐδεὶς πώποτε.
τῶν μὲν γὰρ ἄλλων ἐστὶ πάντων πλησμονή,
Κα. ἄρτων,—
Χρ. μουσικῆς,—
Κα. τραγημάτων,—
Χρ. τιμῆς,—
Κα. πλακούντων,—
Χρ. ἀνδραγαθίας,—
Κα. ἰσχάδων,—
Χρ. φιλοτιμίας,—
Κα. μάζης,—
Χρ. στρατηγίας,—
Κα. φακῆς.
Χρ. σοῦ δ' ἐγένετ' οὐδεὶς μεστὸς οὐδεπώποτε.
ἀλλ' ἢν τάλαντά τις λάβῃ τριακαίδεκα,
πολὺ μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμεῖ λαβεῖν ἑκκαίδεκα:
κἂν ταῦτ' ἀνύσηται, τετταράκοντα βούλεται,
ἢ φησὶν οὐ βιωτὸν αὑτῷ τὸν βίον.
Cario is Chremylus' slave. Note the difference between the things coveted by a slave (bread, sweetmeats, cakes, figs, gruel, lentil soup) and by a free man (love, music, honors, battles, ambition, military advancement). For more on the insatiable nature of avarice see:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


To Write for Oneself

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human II, I, 167 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Sibi scribere. — The sensible author writes for no other posterity than his own, that is to say for his old age, so that then too he will be able to take pleasure in himself.

Sibi scribere. — Der vernünftige Autor schreibt für keine andere Nachwelt als für seine eigene, das heisst für sein Alter, um auch dann noch an sich Freude haben zu können.
See also Joseph S. Salemi, The Illusory Audience and the Interior Audience: or Why Good Poets Write Only for Themselves.

Related post: Soliloquies.


Offensive Names

Associated Press, Family's License Plates Deemed Offensive:
MERLIN, Oregon (AP) — The state of Oregon has ordered a family to turn in the vanity license plates on its cars because their Dutch last name, which is written on the plates, is similar to an offensive word.

The plates, UDINK1 UDINK2 and UDINK3 are on the vehicles of Mike and Shelly Udink and their son Kalei. Two of the plates are five and seven years old. One was issued last year.

Last summer, Kawika Udink's application for UDINK4 was rejected and the state ordered that the other three plates be returned.

"DINK has several derogatory meanings," Yvonne Bell, who sits on the Department of Motorvehicles panel that approves vanity plates, told the Daily Courier newspaper.

DMV spokesman David House and Bell said the word can be treated as a verb, which gives it a sexual reference, and also can be a racial slur targeted at the Vietnamese.

House said the "U" in the front could be construed as "You."

The DMV denies requests for any combination of letters and numbers that may be viewed as objectionable, in any language, by use of phonetic, numeric or reverse spelling, or when viewed as a mirror image, or that would alarm or offend a reasonable person.

Intimate body parts or sexual or bodily functions are taboo, as are offensive references to race, color, gender, ethnic heritage, or national origin or to alcohol or drugs or paraphernalia.

The panel's ruling surprised Mike Udink, whose name is Dutch. He says it is a common last name in The Netherlands.

"Since when can a panel dictate whether your name's offensive or not?" asked Udink, a lineman for Pacific Power.

House said the state has the right to censor license plates, because the state owns them.
I think that the suffixes -ink and -inga in Dutch names indicate patronymics, so that Udink means nothing more offensive than "son of Udo."

I wonder what the license plate censors of Oregon would think about these names of Japanese prime ministers which suggest "sexual or bodily functions":Gail Hapke at Scribal Terror quotes another blogger as follows:
Montezuma had a nephew named Cuitlahuac, which meant "plenty of poo" or "dry excrement."
Dictionnaire de la langue nahuatl classique lists Cuitlāhuac as both a place name and a personal name, but gives no underlying meaning. On the other hand, the same dictionary defines cuitlahuaquiliztli as "constipation" and cuitlahuaquiztli as "excrément sec." I don't know what connection, if any, these words have with Cuitlāhuac.

Related post: Crappy Names.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Appointment With a Beech Tree

Thanks to Peter Watson, who responded to Beeches and Bears by drawing my attention to Richard Mabey's new book Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees, scheduled for publication by Chatto and Windus on October 4.

The European beech is a different species (Fagus sylvatica) from the American (Fagus grandifolia). John Burroughs (An October Abroad, III: A Glimpse of France) preferred the European variety:
I was glad to see my old friend, the beech-tree, all along the route. His bole wore the same gray and patched appearance it does at home, and no doubt Thoreau would have found his instep even fairer; for the beech on this side of the Atlantic is a more fluent and graceful tree than the American species, resembling, in its branchings and general form, our elm, though never developing such an immense green dome as our elm when standing alone, and I saw no European tree that does. The European elm is not unlike our beech in form and outline.
The reference to Thoreau and the instep of the beech comes from Thoreau's Journal (Nov. 7, 1851):
No tree has so fair a bole and so handsome an instep as the beech.
Thoreau also uses the word instep when describing the beech in spring time (Journal, May 20, 1853):
The beech is already one of the most densely clothed trees, or rather makes a great show of verdure from the size of its fully expanded light-green leaves, though some are later. The fresh shoots on low branches are five or six inches long. It is an interesting tree to me, with its neat, close, tight-looking bark, like the dress which athletes wear, its bare instep, and roots beginning to branch like bird's feet, showing how it is planted and holds by the ground. Not merely stuck in the ground like a stick. It gives the beholder the same pleasure that it does to see the timbers of a house above and around. Do they blossom here? I found nuts, but apparently not sound, at Haverhill the other day, — last year's. There are some slender, perfectly horizontal limbs which go zigzagging, as it were creeping through the air, only two or three feet above the ground, over the side-hill, as if they corresponded to concealed rills in the ground beneath.

[Beech leaf and bark. Photograph by Robert H. Mohlenbrock. USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester, PA. Courtesy of USDA NRCS Wetland Science Institute.]
Thoreau also describes the beech in the fall of the same year (Journal, Nov. 2, 1853):
The beech leaves have all fallen except some about the lower part of the trees, and they make a fine thick bed on the ground. They are very beautiful, fine and perfect leaves, unspotted, not eaten by insects, of a handsome, clear leather color, like a book bound in calf, crisp and elastic. They cover the ground so perfectly and cleanly as to tempt you to recline on it, and admire the beauty of the smooth boles from that position, covered with lichens of various colors, green, etc. They impress you as full of health and vigor, so that their bark can hardly contain their spirits, but lies in folds or wrinkles about their ankles like a sock, with the embonpoint, wrinkles of fat, of infancy.
In Walden Thoreau twice mentions visits to individual beech trees, first in the chapter on Baker Farm:
Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees, of kinds which are rare in this neighborhood, standing far away in the middle of some pasture, or in the depths of a wood or swamp, or on a hilltop; such as ... the beech, which has so neat a bole and beautifully lichen-painted, perfect in all its details, of which, excepting scattered specimens, I know but one small grove of sizable trees left in the township, supposed by some to have been planted by the pigeons that were once baited with beechnuts near by; it is worth the while to see the silver grain sparkle when you split this wood...
But there is a danger in splitting beech in cold weather (Journal, Oct. 23, 1858):
Minott remembers how he used to chop beech wood. He says when frozen it is hard and brittle just like glass, and you must look out for the chips, for, if they strike you in the face, they will cut like a knife.
In the chapter on Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors in Walden, Thoreau writes:
But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree...
The scientific and the popular names of this tree (fagus and beech) are actually related, despite looking so different. They are separate branches of the linguistic tree whose root is Indo-European bhāgo-.

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 17.28, wrongly derives fagus from Greek φαγεῖν (phagein = to eat), because its nuts are edible. This incorrect etymology can be found even in modern times, on some otherwise reliable web sites, e.g. on the page for Fagus grandifolia on the web site of the Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Shuncabbage and Smugbottle

Tony Augarde, The Oxford Guide to Word Games (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 117-118:
The game of word-building leads naturally to another game based on the same principle—the very well-known game called Ghosts or Donkey.

The first player thinks of a word of three or more letters, and calls out its first letter. The second player adds another letter, which continues but does not complete a word, and so on, until one player is forced to finish a word. Any player who adds a letter can be challenged by the next player to say what the word will be. Any player who loses such a challenge or completes a word becomes 'a third of a ghost'. When he loses again, he becomes 'two-thirds of a ghost' and the third time he is 'a whole ghost' and is out of the game.


SUPERGHOSTS is a variation of the game, in which letters can be added at the beginning as well as the end. James Thurber was an addict of Superghosts, and he described its agonies and ecstasies in an essay entitled 'Do You Want to Make Something Out of It?'
In the essay, Thurber took up a challenge to find words that can be made from the combination of letters sgra, such as disgrace. There aren't many in English, so Thurber invented a series of compounds, to which he added amusing definitions. Among Thurber's invented words is the following:
fussgrape. 1. One who diets or toys with his food, a light eater, a person without appetite, a scornmuffin, a shuncabbage. 2. A man, usually American, who boasts of his knowledge of wines, a smugbottle.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Beeches and Bears

Cervantes, Don Quixote, I, 12 (tr. Walter Starkie):
Not far from here there is a place where there are some two dozen tall beeches, and every one of them has Marcela's name cut on its smooth bark, and above her name sometimes a crown is carved, as if her lover intended to declare more plainly still that Marcela wears and deserves the crown of all human beauty.
Edward Hoagland, The Ridge-Slope Fox and the Knife Thrower, in Heart's Desire (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), p. 27:
Beeches possess a smooth, grayish bark, almost water-colored, which cuts as easily as the bark of paper birch, but doesn't peel as birch bark does. These were the trees that lovers carved their initials on back in the days when lovers knew the properties of different trees. The beech's skin, as tender as it is, will keep its scars right into old age, which may mean fifty or one hundred years or more...
Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of North American Trees (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), pp. 162-163:
And on the beech was written, probably, the first page of European literature. For, it is said the earliest Sanskrit characters were carved on strips of beech bark; the custom of inscribing the temptingly smooth boles of Beeches came to Europe with the Indo-European people who entered the continent from Asia. Indeed, our word "book" comes from the Anglo-Saxon boc, meaning a letter or character, which in turn derives from the Anglo-Saxon beece, for Beech. So if you find a big old Beech tree in the woods, hacked by some love-struck boy with the outline of a heart and his girl's initials in it, forgive him. He is but following a custom older than Shakespeare, who also records it:
O Rosalind! These trees shall be my books,
  And in their bark my thoughts I'll character;
That every eye which in this forest looks
  Shall see thy virtue witness'd everywhere.
And Virgil asks:
Or rather shall I the sad verse repeat
Which on the beech's bark I lately writ?
An epic line in pure American vein might have been read by all who passed that way, until about 1880, on a Beech tree on Carrol Creek, in Washington County, Tennessee, on the old stage road between Blountsville and Jonesboro.
D. Boone
Cilled a Bar
On Tree
In Year 1760
This tree fell in 1916, the scars of the inscription, but not the exact wording, still visible. It was 28 1/2 feet in girth, and 70 feet high, and its age was estimated by the Forest Service to be 365 years. So it began to grow in the year 1551, half a century before Orlando mooned about Rosalind in Arden, and was an ancient of two centuries when Daniel Boone inscribed his hunter's triumph on it.
Bears, who love to eat beech nuts, also leave the marks of their own writing on the trees, according to Hoagland (pp. 27-28):
[T]he bears, having the trees to themselves, and feeling impatient and proprietary, will climb sixty or eighty feet into the crown of the fall foliage to shake the limbs and hurry the harvest along. In doing so, they leave a ladderlike series of neat claw prints going up (going down, the bear will slide as if the tree were a firehouse pole), incised with a particular fingering that manages to create a personal image of the bear involved....These ladders up the beech tree have a logic to them and are precious for that. The bears are manlike and their marks manlike, and so carry an authority and resonance because they reach way back and yet one can ride forward on the memory of them for a good while.
Timothy Flint, The First White Man of the West: Life and Exploits of Col. Dan'l. Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky; Interspersed with Incidents in the Early Annals of the Country, chapter 5, tells the story of Daniel Boone's heroic fight against a bear that attacked him. If Boone's inscription on the beech tree was genuine and not a forgery, perhaps it recalls the less courageous killing of a bear that was simply climbing a beech tree in search of food. If so, we can date the inscription not only to the year (1760), but also to the time of year (fall).

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Quotations about Complaints

The description of this blog reads:
Complaints and quotations about this and that by a "laudator temporis acti," a "praiser of time past" (Horace, Ars Poetica 173).
Quotations about complaints are therefore not out of place. Here is one from Cervantes, Don Quixote, I, 8 (tr. Walter Starkie):
"God's will be done," said Sancho. "I'll believe all your worship says; but straighten yourself a bit in the saddle, for you seem to be leaning over on one side, which must be from the bruises you received in your fall."

"That is true," replied Don Quixote, "and if I do not complain, it is because knights-errant must never complain of any wound, even though their guts are protruding from them."

"If that be so, I've no more to say," answered Sancho, "but God knows I'd be glad to hear you complain when anything hurts you. As for myself, I'll never fail to complain at the smallest twinge, unless this business of not complaining applies also to squires."

Don Quixote could not help laughing at the simplicity of his squire and told him that he might complain whenever he pleased and to his heart's content, for he had never read anything to the contrary in the order of chivalry.
Cf. Schiller, Don Carlos, I, 4:
Great souls suffer in silence.

Grosse Seelen dulden still.
Related posts:

Thursday, September 20, 2007


My Little Zoar

Abraham Cowley's essay The Garden, addressed to John Evelyn, starts out thus:
I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life only to the culture of them and the study of nature.

And there (with no design beyond my wall) whole and entire to lie,
In no unactive ease, and no unglorious poverty.

Or, as Virgil has said, shorter and better for me, that I might there studiis florere ignobilis otii, though I could wish that he had rather said nobilis otii when he spoke of his own. But several accidents of my ill fortune have disappointed me hitherto, and do still, of that felicity; for though I have made the first and hardest step to it, by abandoning all ambitions and hopes in this world, and by retiring from the noise of all business and almost company, yet I stick still in the inn of a hired house and garden, among weeds and rubbish, and without that pleasantest work of human industry—the improvement of something which we call (not very properly, but yet we call) our own. I am gone out from Sodom, but I am not arrived at my little Zoar. "Oh, let me escape thither (is it not a little one!), and my soul shall live."
In the references to Sodom and Zoar, Cowley recalls Genesis 13.10:
And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.
Cowley expressed much the same sentiments (and even used the same phrase "a small house and large garden") in his poem The Wish:
Well then!  I now do plainly see
This busy world and I shall ne'er agree.
The very honey of all earthly joy
Does of all meats the soonest cloy;
          And they, methinks, deserve my pity
Who for it can endure the stings,
The crowd and buzz and murmurings,
          Of this great hive, the city.

Ah, yet, ere I descend to the grave
May I a small house and large garden have;
And a few friends, and many books, both true,
Both wise, and both delightful too!
          And since love ne'er will from me flee,
A Mistress moderately fair,
And good as guardian angels are,
          Only beloved and loving me.

O fountains!  when in you shall I
Myself eased of unpeaceful thoughts espy?
O fields!  O woods!  when, when shall I be made
The happy tenant of your shade?
          Here's the spring-head of Pleasure's flood:
Here's wealthy Nature's treasury,
Where all the riches lie that she
          Has coin'd and stamp'd for good.

Pride and ambition here
Only in far-fetch'd metaphors appear;
Here naught but winds can hurtful murmurs scatter,
And naught but Echo flatter.
          The gods, when they descended, hither
From heaven did always choose their way:
And therefore we may boldly say
          That 'tis the way too thither.

How happy here should I
And one dear She live, and embracing die!
She who is all the world, and can exclude
In deserts solitude.
          I should have then this only fear:
Lest men, when they my pleasures see,
Should hither throng to live like me,
          And so make a city here.
In ancient times, Horace and Martial had similar wishes. The wish of Horace (Satires 2.6.1-4, tr. John Conington) came true:
This used to be my wish: a bit of land,
A house and garden with a spring at hand,
And just a little wood. The gods have crowned
My humble vows; I prosper and abound:
Nor ask I more.

Hoc erat in votis: modus agri non ita magnus,
hortus ubi et tecto vicinus iugis aquae fons
et paulum silvae super his foret. auctius atque
di melius fecere. bene est. nil amplius oro.
Martial 10.47 has attracted many English translators. Here is Ben Jonson's version, followed by the original Latin:
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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The Crying Need of Modern Civilization

H.H. Munro (Saki), The Feast Of Nemesis:
"The trouble is," said Clovis to his aunt, "all these days of intrusive remembrance harp so persistently on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other; that is why they become so perfunctory and artificial. At Christmas and New Year you are emboldened and encouraged by convention to send gushing messages of optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom you would scarcely ask to lunch unless some one else had failed you at the last moment; if you are supping at a restaurant on New Year's Eve you are permitted and expected to join hands and sing 'For Auld Lang Syne' with strangers whom you have never seen before and never want to see again. But no licence is allowed in the opposite direction."

"Opposite direction; what opposite direction?" queried Mrs. Thackenbury.

"There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe. That is really the crying need of our modern civilisation. Just think how jolly it would be if a recognised day were set apart for the paying off of old scores and grudges, a day when one could lay oneself out to be gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured list of 'people who must not be let off.'"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007



From William Cullen Bryant, Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood (1821):
Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of Nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,
And made thee loathe thy life.


Tourist Attractions

When I lived in Florida near the beach, many friends and relatives visited me as overnight guests. Since I moved to Minnesota, I've had few visitors. But that may change, now that the Twin Cities have a new tourist attraction.

Monday, September 17, 2007


The Time Allotted

In Greek mythology the three Fates are Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. When a man is born, Clotho spins the thread of his life, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts it. We have a fixed amount of time to live, corresponding to the length of the thread.

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales I, 3891-3894 (Prologue to the Reeve's Tale), represents the allotted span of life in a different way, as the amount of liquid in a barrel. Let's suppose the barrel contains wine, because Chaucer's father was a vintner. When we are born, the spigot is opened, and the wine starts to spill out. When the barrel is empty, life comes to an end. Here is Nevill Coghill's modern English translation, followed by Chaucer's original Middle English:
Certain, when I was born, so long ago,
Death drew the tap of life and let it flow;
And ever since the tap has done its task,
And now there's little but an empty cask.
My stream of life's but drops upon the rim.

For sikerly, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drough the tappe of lyf and leet it gon,
And ever sithe hath so the tappe yronne
Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.
The streem of lyf now droppeth on the chymbe.
Can we know how long the thread is, or how much wine is left in the barrel? Horace (Ode 1.11) chides Leuconoe for trying to find out:
Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. 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, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Related posts:

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The Gift of Language

Genesis 2.19-20:
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.
Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), p. 72:
And of all God's gifts, the best one is language—the power to name and proclaim and identify, to fashion from the noisy void our lexicons for birds of the air, fishes in the seas, what grows in the greensward; and for contempt and affection, pleasure and pain, beauty and order and their absences.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Saturday Salmagundi

To the examples collected in Time to Go, add Strabo 10.5.6 (on Ceos, tr. H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer):
There was an ancient law among these people, mentioned by Menander. 'Phanias, that is a good law of the Ceans; who cannot live comfortably (or well), let him not live miserably (or ill).' For the law, it seems, ordained that those above sixty years old should be compelled to drink hemlock, in order that there might be sufficient food for the rest. It is said that once when they were besieged by the Athenians, a decree was passed to the effect that the oldest persons, fixing the age, should be put to death, and that the besiegers retired in consequence.

Alexandra Juhasz is teaching a course called "Learning from YouTube" at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Tuition, room, and board at Pitzer College cost over $45,000 a year. Maybe they should rename it Patzer College (German patzer = bungler). If I were a student, I'd be ashamed for such a course to be named permanently on my college transcript.

Fritz Rienacker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, tr. Cleon Rogers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), p. 89:
For the resumptive pronoun used after a relative, s. W.F. Bakker, Pronomen Alurdans and Pronomen Coniunctum, 39.
I thought at first this was some new exotic species of pronoun, but it's just a misprint for pronomen abundans.

Doug Harlow, Fairfield Council to OK town logo contest, Morning Sentinel (September 12, 2007):
Town Councilors will be asked tonight to allow the Economic and Community Development office to go ahead with plans for a town logo contest for the development of a new town seal.

The contest winner will receive a $50 gift certificate.


On the idea for a new town logo, [Town Manager Paul] Blanchette said, newly hired Economic and Community Development Planner Roseanna Bradley is hoping for a new look that represents the town and its growth.

"We're looking to develop a new town seal we can use, something pertinent to the town of Fairfield," Blanchette said. "We're looking for ideas and there really are no rules."
I don't know how long the old town seal has been around, but this seems to me to be needless change just for the sake of change. It's difficult for my tired eyes to make out all the details, but the old seal on the Fairfield, Maine web site appears to show a mill on a stream, a plow, and a saw cutting a log, all of which represent honest labor. Will the new seal represent the new economic paradigm, some paper pusher (perhaps an Economic and Community Development Planner) tapping keys on a computer?

To the collection of quotations on Children Who Resemble Their Fathers, add this fragment from Menander, Karchedonios (tr. W.G. Arnott):
For no one knows who his own father is—
We all assume it, or take it on trust.

αὑτὸν γὰρ οὐθεὶς οἶδε τοῦ ποτ' ἐγένετο,
ἀλλ' ὑπονοοῦμεν πάντες ἢ πιστεύομεν.

Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist (New York: Warner Books, 1995), p. 56:
I turned with growing concentration to Nature as a sanctuary and a realm of boundless adventure; the fewer people in it, the better. Wilderness became a dream of privacy, safety, control, and freedom. Its essence is captured for me by its Latin name, solitudo.

Friday, September 14, 2007



Martial 10.15:
You claim you're second to none of my friends, but I ask you, Crispus, what do you do to make it so? When I asked you to loan me a few thousand, you refused, although your heavy safe wasn't big enough to hold your cash. When did you give me a peck of beans or grain, although an Egyptian tenant farmer plows your fields? When was a short cloak sent to me in the cold winter time? When did half a pound of silver arrive at my door? I see no reason to believe in your "friendship" towards me, Crispus, other than your habit of farting in my presence.

Cedere de nostris nulli te dicis amicis.
  Sed, sit ut hoc verum, quid, rogo, Crispe, facis?
Mutua cum peterem sestertia quinque, negasti,
  Non caperet nummos cum gravis arca tuos.
Quando fabae nobis modium farrisve dedisti,
  Cum tua Niliacus rura colonus aret?
Quando brevis gelidae missa est toga tempore brumae?
  Argenti venit quando selibra mihi?
Nil aliud video, quo te credamus amicum,
  Quam quod me coram pedere, Crispe, soles.


Bad Hair Day

According to the Word Detective, the phrase bad hair day first appeared in print in 1988, in a column by Susan Swartz in the Houston Chronicle. Of course the phenomenon antedates the phrase, and I just noted a couple of examples in Euripides' Orestes (tr. David Kovacs).

Lines 225-226:
O filthy head of ill-starred hair, how savage you have become by being so long unwashed!

ὦ βοστρύχων πινῶδες ἄθλίων κάρα,
ὡς ἠγρίωσαι διὰ μακρᾶς ἀλουσίας.
Line 387:
Poor man, how wild you look with your filthy hair!

ὡς ἠγρίωσαι πλόκαμον αὐχμηρόν, τάλας.
Euripides was famous or infamous for his realism (e.g. the notorious rags of Telephus), and I imagine that the actor playing Orestes wore an unkempt wig.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Panty Raids

According to an old formulation, the goals of writing are "ut doceat, ut moveat, ut delectet" ("to teach, to move, to delight"). One web log that consistently teaches, moves, and delights me is Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence. I especially enjoyed his recent remarks on crows. Here is an amusing story about these fascinating birds, as told by Bernd Heinrich, Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds (1999), chapter 5:
Roa, Konrad Lorenz's raven, raided clotheslines to steal ladies' underwear. Roa had been exploring a neighbor's laundry hung on the line just when he was called. He came, taking a small transportable item with him, a pair of panties. When he got a reward of tasty food, he made the association of panties and food. Henceforth, as expected according to classical conditioning theory, he brought these items on his own to redeem them for savory snacks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


A New Word?

Fred Reed, Thinking About Intelligence. More Trouble Than It's Worth:
I have lived in both Mexico and China—well, Taiwan—and can report that the fellow's notions of Sino-Mexican unconcern are highly cephaloproctological.
Google hits for the adjective cephaloproctological all refer to various versions of this same sentence, so Fred Reed either coined the word or was the first to use it on the Internet. The corresponding agent noun cephaloproctologist also occurs among the following comments to an Internet forum on digital cameras:
Bret please remember that he has mistaken which orifice he should be talking from (he should have used a higher one).

I believe that he is talking through the upper one, but because of unfortunate placement, the sounds from it must pass through the lower one to be heard. Perhaps a good cephaloproctologist could help him.
Google also has a few hits for cephaloproctology, but these seem to refer back to Fred Reed.

Let's start at the hind end first, and examine -proctological (-proctologist, -proctology). One of Kipling's poems starts "There are whose study is of smells," meaning students of chemistry. There are also those whose study is of that part of the human anatomy that produces smells, in Greek πρωκτός = prōktos, in English anus. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the first occurrence of proctology in English dates from 1899, although Aristophanes (Knights 878) has πρωκτοτηρέω (to be a watcher or observer of πρωκτοί). A proctologist is a doctor who specializes in the physiology and pathology of the rectum and anus.

The first element of Fred Reed's new word, cephalo-, also refers to a part of the anatomy. Greek κεφαλή (kephalē) means head. The same root occurs in brachycephalic (short and broad headed), dolichocephalic (long and thin headed), megalocephalic (big headed), mesocephalic (with a head of an intermediate length and width), etc.

Cephaloproctology, cephaloproctologist, and cephaloproctological must all be understood in the context of the slang expression "to have one's head up one's arse." Cassell's Dictionary of Slang says that the phrase originated in the 1940s in the United States and defines it as
1 to be completely and deliberately stupid. 2 to be obsessed with oneself and one's own interests. 3 to ignore what is happening.
In French, there's a jocular word similar to cephaloproctologyendorectocéphalie, which recalls the French expression "avoir la tête dans le cul." Despite the superficial similarity, French "avoir la tête dans le cul" does not mean the same as English "to have one's head up one's arse." It is defined as "être très mal réveillé" ("to wake up on the wrong side of the bed") or "ne pas se sentir bien, un lendemain de veille ou de fête" ("to feel poorly the day after staying up late or partying"). French endorectocéphalie in English would be endorectocephaly, with the adjective endorectocephalic. I don't find these words on Google, so maybe I can take credit for introducing them into English.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


In Quiet

Thomas Hardy, A Private Man on Public Men:
When my contemporaries were driving
Their coach through Life with strain and striving,
And raking riches into heaps,
And ably pleading in the Courts
With smart rejoinders and retorts,
Or where the Senate nightly keeps
Its vigils, till their fames were fanned
By rumour's tongue throughout the land,
I lived in quiet, screened, unknown,
Pondering upon some stick or stone,
Or news of some rare book or bird
Latterly bought, or seen, or heard,
Not wishing ever to set eyes on
The surging crowd beyond the horizon,
Tasting years of moderate gladness
Mellowed by sundry days of sadness,
Shut from the noise of the world without,
Hearing but dimly its rush and rout,
Unenvying those amid its roar,
Little endowed, not wanting more.


Dalrymple Watch

Some recent writings by Theodore Dalrymple:

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Snore-y and Stinky

Michelle Obama, interviewed by Tonya Lewis Lee in Glamour magazine, speaks about her husband Barack Obama and their daughters:
We have this ritual in the morning. They come in my bed, and if Dad isn't there—because he's too snore-y and stinky, they don't want to ever get into bed with him.
Apparently Barack Obama, when asleep, behaves like the miller in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale:
This millere hath so wisely bibbed ale
That as an hors he snorteth in his sleep,
Ne of his tayl bihynde he took no keep.
Translated by J.U. Nicolson:
This miller had so roundly bibbed his ale
That, like a horse, he snorted in his sleep,
While of his tail behind he kept no keep.


Time to Go

From Goethe's Faust, Part II, as translated at Underbelly:
Once you reach 30,
You are as good as dead,
It would be best if you were timely killed.

Hat einer dreißig Jahr vorüber,
So ist er schon so gut wie tot,
Am besten wär's, euch zeitig totzuschlagen.
Cf. Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (tr. J. Coulson):
I am forty now, and forty years is a lifetime; it is extreme old age. To go on living after forty is unseemly, disgusting, immoral! Who goes on living after forty? Give me a sincere and honest answer! I'll tell you: fools and rogues.
Among certain peoples in ancient times, it was the custom either for the elderly to kill themselves or for their relatives to kill them.

Herodotus 1.216.2 (on the Massagetae, tr. A.D. Godley):
Though they fix no certain term to life, yet when a man is very old all his family meet together and kill him, with beasts of the flock besides, then boil the flesh and feast on it.
Herodotus 3.99.2 (on the Padaei, tr. A.D. Godley):
As for one that has come to old age, they sacrifice him and feast on his flesh; but not many reach this reckoning, for before that everyone who falls ill they kill.
Aelian, Varia Historia 3.37 (tr. N.G. Wilson):
There is a law at Ceos that those who are extremely elderly invite each as if going to a party or to a festival with sacrifices, meet, put on garlands and drink hemlock. This they do when they become aware that they are incapable of performing tasks useful to their country, and that their judgment is by now rather feeble owing to the passing of time.
Aelian, Varia Historia 4.1 (tr. N.G. Wilson):
It was a custom in Sardinia that the children of aged parents beat them to death with clubs and buried them, in the belief that it was wrong for the excessively old to continue living, since the body, suffering through age, had many failings....The Derbiccae kill those who are seventy years of age. They sacrifice the men and strangle the women.


Raven Locks

It was a bit of a shock to see Osama Bin Laden with a black beard in his recent 2007 video, because his beard was streaked with gray in his previous 2004 video. I'm just a kafir, but when I see an old man who dyes his hair or beard, I think of Martial 3.43:
You pretend to be young, Laetinus, with your dyed hair, so suddenly a raven, when lately you were a swan. You don't deceive everyone; Proserpina [goddess of death] knows that you are white-haired: she will rip the mask from your face.

Mentiris iuvenem tinctis, Laetine, capillis,
  tam subito corvus, qui modo cycnus eras.
Non omnes fallis; scit te Proserpina canum:
  personam capiti detrahet illa tuo.
Apparently it is lawful to dye the hair. See Yusuf al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, chapter 2 (The Halal And The Haram In The Private Life of Muslims), section 2 (Clothing and Adornment), sub-section on Dyeing the Hair:
Another aspect of beautification relates to dyeing the gray hair of the head or the beard. It was reported that the Jews and Christians refrained from dyeing the hair, regarding such beautification and adornment as contrary to piety and devotion, and not befitting rabbis, priests, and ascetics. The Prophet (peace be on him) forbade Muslims to imitate these people or follow their ways, in order that Muslims might develop their own distinctive and independent characteristics in appearance and behavior.

Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Abu Hurairah, reported the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) as saying, "The Jews and Christians do not dye their hair, so be different from them." (Reported in al-Bukhari's chapter on "Dyeing the Hair" in his book Clothing.) This is, however, not a command but only a recommendation, as is evident from the actions of the sahabah, such as Abu Bakr and 'Umar, who used to dye their hair, while others, such as 'All, Ubay ibn Ka'b, and Anas did not.

The question now remains as to what type of dye is to be used. Should its color be black or can there be other colors? Or should black be avoided? If a man is of a very advanced age, with white hair and beard, it would hardly be appropriate for him to use black dye. On the day of the conquest of Makkah, Abu Bakr brought his aged father, Abu Qahafah, carrying him until he had seated him in front of the Prophet (peace be on him). On seeing Abu Qahafah's snow-white hair, the Prophet (peace be on him) said, "Change this, but avoid black." (Fath al-Bari, in explaining the above mentioned hadith (in the chapter on "Dyeing) However, if a man is not of such advanced age or feebleness as Abu Qahafah then was, there is no harm in his using black dye. In this regard al-Zuhri said, "We dyed our hair black when the face looked young, but discarded it when the face became wrinkled and the teeth decayed."(Reported by Ibn Abu 'Asim in the book on "Dyeing the Hair.")

Some of the early Muslims, including some sahabah such as Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas, 'Uqbah ibn 'Amr, al-Hassan, al-Hussein, Jarir, and others permitted the use of black dye. Some scholars, on the other hand, do not consider the use of black hair dye as permissible except during time of war, when the enemy might be impressed by the fact that all the soldiers of the Muslim army look young.

Abu Dharr narrated the hadith, The best thing with which to dye gray hair is henna and katm. (Mentioned in Fath al-Bari.) Henna makes the hair red, while katm, a plant from Yemen, colors it black tinged with red. Said Anas, "Abu Bakr dyed his hair with henna and katm, and 'Umar dyed it with henna only."

Saturday, September 08, 2007


A Most Unclubable Man?

It was Dr. Johnson, I think, who coined the word "clubable" (sometimes spelled "clubbable") to refer to a sociable man. When Sir John Hawkins resigned from Johnson's Literary Club, Johnson branded him "a most unclubable man." If I had to choose between the two adjectives to describe myself, I would not hesitate to select "unclubable." Paul Brunton's advice, "Study everything, join nothing," seems wise counsel to me. Nevertheless, I sometimes hear about a club I would like to join.

One of these is the Diogenes Club, of which Sherlock Holmes (in The Greek Interpreter by A. Conan Doyle) says:
There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere.
The Diogenes Club sounds ideal, except for the discordant "latest periodicals." I would prefer bookshelves filled with the "oldest periodicals," The Rambler, The Spectator, The Tatler, and the like.

The essayist and novelist Christopher Morley wrote much about Sherlock Holmes. Morley himself founded a club with a delightful name, the Three Hours for Lunch Club. A civilized notion — three hours for lunch. For dinner and for breakfast, too, I say! To judge from the references to the Three Hours for Lunch Club in Morley's essays, its members did not spend the entire time eating and drinking. They also visited bookshops during the three hours.

If the Diogenes Club and the Three Hours for Lunch Club are accepting new members, I would like to apply.

Related post: Join Nothing.

Friday, September 07, 2007



Yesterday on The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor recited For My Daughter by David Ignatow (1914-1997):
When I die choose a star
and name it after me
that you may know
I have not abandoned
or forgotten you.
You were such a star to me,
following you through birth
and childhood, my hand
in your hand.

When I die
choose a star and name it
after me so that I may shine
down on you, until you join
me in darkness and silence
The image of the star in Ignatow's poem brought to my mind two short poems attributed to Plato. The first (Greek Anthology 7.670, tr. Ronald Knox) is an epitaph on Aster, whose name in Greek means star:
Once you used to shine, a morning star, among the living; now you shine, an evening star, among the dead.

ἀστὴρ πρὶν μὲν ἔλαμπες ἐνὶ ζωοῖσιν Ἑῷος·
  νῦν δὲ θανὼν λάμπεις Ἕσπερος ἐν φθιμένοις.
Shelley translated this as follows:
Thou wert the morning star among the living,
  Ere thy fair light had fled;—
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
  New splendour to the dead.
One can be a star when alive (Aster, Ignatow's daughter) and when dead (Aster, Ignatow later to be joined by his daughter).

Plato's second poem is also addressed to Aster (Greek Anthology 7.669, tr. Edward Sanford Burgess):
Stars do you gaze on, star of mine? Would that I might become Heaven, and so with many eyes look down on you in turn.

ἀστέρας εἰσαθρεῖς Ἀστὴρ ἐμός· εἴθε γενοίμην
  οὐρανός, ὡς πολλοῖς ὄμμασιν εἰς σὲ βλέπω.
The lover (Plato, Ignatow) imagines himself as a star looking down from heaven upon the beloved (Aster, Ignatow's daughter).

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Death Far From Home

Vergil, Aeneid 10.782:
And dying he remembers sweet Argos.

dulcis moriens reminiscitur Argos.
"He" is Antores, originally from Argos, who dies in battle on Italian soil. T.E. Page ad loc. says, "The beautiful thought et dulces...Argos needs no illustration." I'll provide some anyway.

Jasper Griffin, Homer on Life and Death (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), pp. 106 ff., gives Homeric variations on the theme of "death far from home," including Iliad 17.300-301 (on Hippothous, killed by Ajax over Patroclus' corpse):
He fell close to him, prone upon the corpse, far from deep-soiled Larisa.

ὃ δ᾽ ἄγχ᾽ αὐτοῖο πέσε πρηνὴς ἐπὶ νεκρῷ
τῆλ᾽ ἀπὸ Λαρίσης ἐριβώλακος.
Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), pp. 200-202, also discusses this theme. Among his examples is this lament by Ovid in exile (Letters from Pontus 1.2.57-58):
Often I pray for death, but also I pray to avoid death, lest Sarmatian soil cover my bones.

saepe precor mortem, mortem quoque deprecor idem,
    ne mea Sarmaticum contegat ossa solum.


Dangers of a Classical Education

William Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene VII):
Away with him, away with him! he speaks Latin.


The Drudge Report

William Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene II) on the Drudge Report:
And will you credit this base drudge's words
That speaks he knows not what?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007



Mark R. Peattie, Foreward to Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of North American Trees (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), p. xiii:
For there was and is, to my knowledge, no work quite like it, and it follows my father's own dictum to all aspiring writers: write the book that you're longing to read, but can't find anywhere.
The risk of following this advice is that you'll end up with only one reader of your book, yourself. But maybe that's not a bad thing. Montaigne (Essais 2.18, tr. Donald M. Frame) asks:
And if no one reads me, have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts?

Et quand personne ne me lira, ay-je perdu mon temps, de m'estre entretenu tant d'heures oisives, à pensements si utiles et aggreables?



By that prolific author, Anonymous:
There was a young curate from Kew
Who kept a tom cat in a pew.
He taught it each week
One letter of Greek,
But it never got further than mu.
Related post: Iota Subscript.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Our Scribblings

William Hazlitt, On the Conversation of Authors:
Books are in a world in themselves, it is true; but they are not the only world. The world itself is a volume larger than all the libraries in it. Learning is a sacred deposit from the experience of ages; but it has not put all future experience on the shelf, or debarred the common herd of mankind from the use of their hands, tongues, eyes, ears, or understandings. Taste is a luxury for the privileged few: but it would be hard upon those who have not the same standard of refinement in their own minds that we suppose ourselves to have, if this should prevent them from having recourse, as usual, to their old frolics, coarse jokes, and horse-play, and getting through the wear and tear of the world, with such homely sayings and shrewd helps as they may.

Happy is it, that the mass of mankind eat and drink, and sleep, and perform their several tasks, and do as they like without us – caring nothing for our scribblings, our carpings, and our quibbles; and moving on the same, in spite of our fine-spun distinctions, fantastic theories, and lines of demarcation, which are like chalk-figures drawn on ballroom floors to be danced out before morning! In the field opposite the window where I write this, there is a country-girl picking stones: in the one next it, there are several poor women weeding the blue and red flowers from the corn: farther on, are two boys, tending a flock of sheep. What do they know or care about what I am writing about them, or ever will? – or what would they be the better for it, if they did?

Monday, September 03, 2007


Dead Man Walking

Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable, 2nd ed. by John Ayto and Ian Crofton (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 2007), under dead man walking, p. 194 (via Google Book Search):
In the United States, an announcement called out by a prison guard as he escorts a condemned man to his execution. It was brought to public attention by the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, based on a book (1993) of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, which tells of her correspondence with and visits to a murderer on Death Row.
The phrase dead man walking occurs often in many different contexts, yet somehow it has avoided decline into a moribund cliché. Thomas Hardy used it as the title of a vivid poem about what a psychiatrist might classify as "major depressive disorder, recurrent - severe":
They hail me as one living,
    But don't they know
That I have died of late years,
    Untombed although?
I am but a shape that stands here,
    A pulseless mould,
A pale past picture, screening
    Ashes gone cold.
Not at a minute's warning,
    Not in a loud hour,
For me ceased Time's enchantments
    In hall and bower.
There was no tragic transit,
    No catch of breath,
When silent seasons inched me
    On to this death ....
—A Troubadour-youth I rambled
    With Life for lyre,
The beats of being raging
    In me like fire.
But when I practised eyeing
    The goal of men,
It iced me, and I perished
    A little then.
When passed my friend, my kinsfolk
    Through the Last Door,
And left me standing bleakly,
    I died yet more;
And when my Love's heart kindled
    In hate of me,
Wherefore I knew not, died I
    One more degree.
And if when I died fully
    I cannot say,
And changed into the corpse-thing
    I am to-day,
Yet is it that, though whiling
    The time somehow
In walking, talking, smiling,
    I live not now.
The idea of a dead man walking also occurs in a fragment of the fourth century B.C. comic playwright Timocles:
Money is blood and soul for mortals. Whoever does not have it and has not acquired it, that one walks as a dead man among living men.

τἀργυριόν ἐστιν αἷμα καὶ ψυχὴ βροτοῖς.
ὅστις δὲ μὴ ἔχει τοῦτο μηδ᾽ ἐκτήσατο,
οὗτος μετὰ ζώντων τεθνηκὼς περιπατεῖ.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Hemlock Again

Peter Watson responds to my post on Drinking Hemlock, in particular about the passage from Plato's Phaedo:
"What do you say about pouring a libation to some deity from this cup? May I, or not?" "Socrates," said he, "we prepare only as much (τοσοῦτον) as we think is enough." (117b)

But as much what? A reasonable case could be made for τοσοῦτον [κώνειον]. The verb translated here as 'prepared' is actually τρίβομεν, which Liddell & Scott gloss as "2. bruise, pound, knead, κεδρίδας, [κώνειον], Ar.Th.486, Pl.Phd.117b."

The association of τρίβομεν with hemlock underlies the pun in Aristophanes' Frogs 123 when Herakles and Dionysus are discussing the relative merits of different methods of suicide:
ἀλλ' ἔστιν ἀτραπὸς ξύντομος τετριμμένη
ἡ διὰ θυείας.
ἆρα κώνειον λέγεις;
μάλιστά γε.
On τετριμμένη Dover ad loc. comments: "'worn away', i.e. 'well-trodden', and also 'pounded', as hemlock was pounded in a mortar (θυεία) to make a fatal dose (Pl. Phd. 117 B)".


The scholarly consensus is that contemporary readers would have mentally supplied κώνειον with τοσοῦτον, rendering the textual absence of κώνειον largely trivial. Hence, it's something of a damp squib to say that Plato doesn't explicitly mention hemlock.
In defense of my position, I would point out that a contemporary reader might just as easily have mentally supplied φάρμακον (poison) from 117 a (where it is modified by τετριμμένον), as κώνειον (hemlock). Plato of course knew the word for hemlock, which he used in Lysis 219 e; for whatever reason, he did not use it in the Phaedo.

Mr. Watson further writes:
There is also an interesting archaeological dimension. John M. Camp, The Athenian Agora (London:Thames & Hudson, 114-5) has a photograph of thirteen clay medicine bottles recovered from a cistern in a building outside the south-west corner of the Agora.
"The identification [of this building] as the prison is strengthened by the discovery within the building of thirteen little clay medicine bottles, thrown down an abandoned cistern. In all the years of excavating in the Agora only twenty-one such bottles have come to light; thirteen in one place is a suspicious concentration. ... It has been suggested that the bottles were used to hold the hemlock with which the prisoners were dispatched, since we know that the doses of poison were individually mixed and carefully measured out. A small statuette of Sokrates himself found in the ruins of the building perhaps indicates a small memorial to the philosopher, set up in the building by the Athenians, who soon realized their mistake in executing one of the great thinkers of Classical Athens." (p.116)
I wonder if it would be possible to test these bottles for the presence of organic matter, i.e. hemlock.

My email provider, Yahoo Mail, consistently garbles Greek in incoming mail, so all Greek attributed to Mr. Watson above has been tentatively restored by me.

I am also indebted to Gary Hartenburg, who kindly searched the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae for early references to κώνειον in connection with Socrates and reports two examples from the first century A.D. The first is Josephus, Against Apion 2.263-264 (adapted from William Whiston's translation):
For on what other account was it that Socrates was put to death by them? For certainly he neither betrayed their city to its enemies, nor was he guilty of any sacrilege with regard to any of their temples; but it was on this account, that he swore certain new oaths and that he affirmed either in earnest, or, as some say, only in jest, that a certain demon used to make signs to him [what he should not do]. For these reasons he was condemned to drink hemlock, and kill himself.

τίνος γὰρ ἑτέρου χάριν Σωκράτης ἀπέθανεν; οὐ γὰρ δὴ προεδίδου τὴν πόλιν τοῖς πολεμίοις οὐδὲ τῶν ἱερῶν ἐσύλησεν οὐδέν, ἀλλ' ὅτι καινοὺς ὅρκους ὤμνυεν καί τι δαιμόνιον αὐτῷ σημαίνειν ἔφασκεν ἢ διαπαίζων, ὡς ἔνιοι λέγουσι, διὰ ταῦτα κατεγνώσθη κώνειον πιὼν ἀποθανεῖν.
The second is Diodorus Siculus 14.37:
At Athens the philosopher Socrates, charged by Anytus and Meletus with impiety and corruption of the young, was condemned and died by drinking hemlock.

Ἀθήνησι δὲ ωκράτης ὁ φιλόσοφος ὑπ᾽ Ἀνύτου καὶ Μελήτου καθηγορηθεὶς ἐπ᾽ ἀσεβίᾳ καὶ φθορᾷ τῶν νέων, θανάτῳ κατεδικάστη καὶ πιῶν κώνειον ἐτελεύτησεν.
There are also Latin examples from roughly the same time. Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 13.14, says, "Hemlock made Socrates famous" (cicuta magnum Socratem fecit), and no one doubts that the "bearded teacher" in Persius 4.1-2 is Socrates:
Imagine that the bearded teacher is speaking, whom the awful swallowing of hemlock killed.

    barbatum haec crede magistrum
dicere, sorbitio tollit quem dira cicutae.

Messrs. Watson and Hartenburg also supply some bibiography:On the medicine bottles in the prison, see:I should point out that I don't doubt that the poison which killed Socrates was in fact hemlock.

Saturday, September 01, 2007



What book (published in 1957) by what author do these words describe?
In this respect, the book is like a soap opera that reassures untold millions that the day-to-day flux of their existence is not without significance, or else why would something so closely resembling it be on television?


A passage such as this, appearing in an alleged literary classic, must encourage and delude many an adolescent keeper of a diary that his entries will one day find the appreciative audience that their immanent genius deserves.


I don't think my teacher would have let me get away at the age of ten with such a passage in the obligatory essay on what I did on my summer holidays.


Suffice it to say that this is at some remove from Proust.


Only someone who had no real interest in people, and wished to disguise the fact by expressing superficially generous sentiment, could write such drivel.


But while it is true that most great writers were tormented souls, it does not follow that most tormented souls were great writers.


The fact that his work is now being subjected to near-biblical levels of reverential scholarship is a sign of very debased literary and academic standards.
Hat tip: Patrick Kurp.

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