Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Regum Aequabat Opes Animis

Vergil, Georgics 4.125-148 (tr. L.P. Wilkinson):
I well remember how, beneath the towers
Of old Tarentum where the dark Galaesus
Waters the yellow crops, I saw a man,
An old Cilician, who occupied
An acre or two of land that no one wanted,
A patch not worth the ploughing, unrewarding
For flocks, unfit for vineyards; he however
By planting here and there among the scrub
Cabbages or white lilies and verbena
And flimsy poppies, fancied himself a king
In wealth, and coming home late in the evening
Loaded his board with unbought delicacies.
He was the first in spring to gather roses,
In autumn, to pick apples; and when winter
Was gloomily still cracking rocks with cold
And choking streams with ice, he was already
Shearing the locks of the tender hyacinth
While grumbling at the lateness of the summer
And absence of west winds. And his again
Were the first bees to breed, the first to swarm
Abundantly and have their foaming honey
Squeezed from the combs. Plenty of limes he had
And laurestines; and all the fruit a tree
Promised in blossom-time's array to bear
It bore matured in autumn. Elms well-grown,
Pear-trees already hardened, even blackthorns
Already bearing sloes and planes already
Providing welcome shade for drinking parties
He planted out in rows successfully —
But I, restricted by my boundaries,
Must leave this theme to later generations.

namque sub Oebaliae memini me turribus arcis,
qua niger umectat flaventia culta Galaesus,
Corycium vidisse senem, cui pauca relicti
iugera ruris erant, nec fertilis illa iuvencis
nec pecori opportuna seges nec commoda Baccho.
hic rarum tamen in dumis olus albaque circum
lilia verbenasque premens vescumque papaver
regum aequabat opes animis seraque revertens
nocte domum dapibus mensas onerabat inemptis.
primus vere rosam atque autumno carpere poma,
et cum tristis hiems etiamnum frigore saxa
rumperet et glacie cursus frenaret aquarum,
ille comam mollis iam tondebat hyacinthi
aestatem increpitans seram Zephyrosque morantes.
ergo apibus fetis idem atque examine multo
primus abundare et spumantia cogere pressis
mella favis; illi tiliae atque uberrima pinus,
quotque in flore novo pomis se fertilis arbos
induerat, totidem autumno matura tenebat.
ille etiam seras in versum distulit ulmos
eduramque pirum et spinos iam pruna ferentes
iamque ministrantem platanum potantibus umbras.
verum haec ipse equidem spatiis exclusus iniquis
praetereo atque aliis post me memoranda relinquo.
Andreas Schelfhout, Farmyard

Monday, June 29, 2009


Negative Prefixes

M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 128 (on "Characteristics of divinity"):

In his Preface (p. v), West modestly states, "I have furnished myself with a working knowledge of some of the relevant languages." I know only "small Latine and lesse Greeke," but some of West's Vedic and Avestan examples look to me like series of asyndetic, privative adjectives. On sleepless gods, I would add some Greek philosophical speculation, from Walter Scott, Fragmenta Herculanensia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885), p. 198 (col. 11, l. 42-col. 13, l. 70):
Though a large part of the sentence is lost, the argument is clear. 'Sleep is like death; so much so, that the fact that the soul sleeps may be used as an argument that it will perish. Therefore sleep is a thing tending to dissolution. But the Gods must be kept free from all things tending to dissolution; therefore the Gods do not sleep.'
The remains of Philodemus' Greek on this subject can be found in Scott, p. 173.

See also West, p. 110 (on "Anaphora of first element of compounds"):

Finally, see Hollister Adelbert Hamilton, The Negative Compounds in Greek, diss. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, 1899), p. 9:

Related post: Via Negativa.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


The Language of Peasants

H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, tr. George Lamb (1956; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), pp. 230-231:
Indeed the whole Latin language seems like the language of peasants (4). So many of the words that later developed a wider meaning began by being technical agricultural terms: laetus was first used to describe well-manured ground, felix, the fertility of the soil, sincerus, honey without beeswax, frugi, the profits, egregius, a beast separated from the rest of the herd—yet these came to mean "joy", "happiness", "truthfulness," "virtue" and "fame". Putare meant "to prune," then "to mark a stick with notches", then "to calculate", before it finally came to mean "to think".
Note 4 on p. 418:
"Le Latin, langue de Paysans": see the very illuminating essay under this title by J. MAROUZEAU in Mélanges linguistiques offerts à M.J. Vendryes, Collection Linguistique publiée par la Societé linguistique de Paris, 17, Paris, 1925, pp. 251-264, which refers to the classic work by A. ERNOUT, "Les Eléments dialectaux du Vocabulaire latin", in the same collection, 3, Paris, 1909, and the valuable pages in A. MEILLET, "Esquisse d'une Histoire de la Langue latine"4, pp. 94-118, and the chronological details in G. DEVOTO, Storia della lingua di Roma (Storia di Roma), Rome, XXIII, 1940, pp. 101-103.


More on Scythes

See K.D. White, Agricultural Implements of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 71-103, on "Sickles, Hooks and Scythes."

Thanks to Dave Lull for drawing my attention to Robert Frost's poem Mowing:
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
Related post: Scythes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The Eagle and the Mole

Elinor Wylie, The Eagle and the Mole:
Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.

The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps, above the clouds,
His cliff inviolate.

When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.

If in the eagle's track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.

If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole;
Go burrow underground.

And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.
Euripides, Heracles 1157-1158 (tr. David Kovacs):
Ah, what am I to do? Where must I go to escape misfortune? Soar to high heaven or sink beneath the earth?

οἴμοι, τί δράσω; ποῖ κακῶν ἐρημίαν
εὕρω, πτερωτὸς ἢ κατὰ χθονὸς μολών;

Friday, June 26, 2009



In his poem Junk, Richard Wilbur wrote, "The heart winces for junk and gimcrack, / for jerrybuilt things / and the men who make them / for a little money..." Wilbur prefaced his poem with a motto from the fragmentary Old English epic Waldere:
Huru Welandes
                    worc ne geswiceð
monna ænigum
                    ðara ðe Mimming can
heardne gehealdan.
This is translated by Bruce Mitchell et al., edd. Beowulf: An Edition with Relevant Shorter Texts (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998), p. 209, as "Surely the work of Weland will fail not any of those men who can hold strong Mimming." Weland was a smith, and Mimming was a sword.

I thought of Wilbur's poem and the merits of fine craftsmanship recently when I read Larry Lack, "Preserving and Reviving a Timeless Technology," The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener (Summer 2009), an article on scythes. Lack's article also started me wondering about scythes in the classical world. The article on the scythe by Solomon Reinach in Daremberg-Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines, II.2 (Paris, 1896), pp. 968-971, s.v. falx, is available on the Internet. Indeed, all of Daremberg-Saglio is available.

The main Greek word for scythe is δρεπάνη (alt. δρέπανον). Scythes appear on the shield of Achilles (Homer, Iliad 18.550-551, tr. Richmond Lattimore):
He made on it the precinct of a king, where the labourers
were reaping, with the sharp reaping hooks in their hands.

ἐν δ᾽ ἐτίθει τέμενος βασιλήϊον· ἔνθα δ᾽ ἔριθοι
ἤμων ὀξείας δρεπάνας ἐν χερσὶν ἔχοντες.
In the Odyssey (18.366-370, tr. Butcher and Lang), Odysseus challenges Eurymachus to a scything contest:
Eurymachus, would that there might be a trial of labour between us twain, in the season of spring, when the long days begin! In the deep grass might it be, and I should have a crooked scythe, and thou another like it, that we might try each the other in the matter of labour, fasting till late eventide, and grass there should be in plenty.

Εὐρύμαχ᾽, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ᾽ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη.
The Latin word for scythe is falx, which is really a broad term covering many types of tools with curved blades. Cato, On Agriculture, distinguishes various types of scythes by adjectives describing what they cut, at 10.3 falces faenarias ... stramentarias ... arborarias (hay hooks ... straw hooks ... tree hooks) and 11.4 falces sirpiculas ... silvaticas ... arborarias (rush hooks ... wood hooks ... tree hooks). Cato says that the best place to buy scythes is at Cales and Minturnae (135).

Theodore Robinson, Man with Scythe

Related post: The Hoe and the Axe.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


No More Pencils, No More Books

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), Summer's Last Will and Testament (excerpt in modern spelling):
Young men, young boys, beware of schoolmasters,
They will infect you, mar you, blear your eyes;
They seek to lay the curse of God on you,
Namely, confusion of languages,
Wherewith those that the Tower of Babel built
Accursed were in the world's infancy.
Latin, it was the speech of infidels.
Logic hath nought to say in a true cause.
Philosophy is curiosity;
And Socrates was therefore put to death,
Only for he was a philosopher.
Abhor, contemn, despise these damned snares.

Out upon it, who would be a scholar? Not I, I promise you. My mind always gave me this learning was such a filthy thing, which made me hate it so as I did. When I should have been at school construing, Batte, mi fili, mi fili, mi Batte, I was close under a hedge, or under a barn-wall, playing at span-counter or jack-in-a-box. My master beat me, my father beat me, my mother gave me bread and butter, yet all this would not make me a squitter-book. It was my destiny: I thank her as a most gorgeous goddess, that she hath not cast me away upon gibridge. O, in what a mighty vein am I now against horn-books! Here, before all this company, I profess myself an open enemy to ink and paper. I'll make it good upon the accidence body, that in speech is the devil's Pater noster. Nouns and pronouns, I pronounce you as traitors to boys' buttocks. Syntaxis and prosodia, you are tormentors of wit, and good for nothing, but to get a schoolmaster twopence a week. Hang copies; fly out, phrase-books; let pens be turned to pick-tooths! Bowls, cards and dice, you are the true liberal sciences! I'll ne'er be a goosequill, gentlemen, while I live.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Early Childhood Education

H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, tr. George Lamb (1956; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), p. 143 (footnotes omitted):
The Ancients would have laughed their heads off if they could have seen our infant-school and kindergarten specialists, Froebel or Signora Montessori, gravely studying the educational value of the most elementary games. In Greece, of course, there were no infant-schools. These did not appear until quite recently—out of the barbarous womb of the Industrial Revolution, when the employment of women in factories meant establishing day-nurseries, so that mothers could be "free" to respond to the sound of the factory whistle. In antiquity the family was the centre of the child's early education.

I know that the Greeks had a few serious people among them too. Their philosophers worried about time lost in these early years. Plato wanted to make children's games an introduction to the professions, and even to science. He wanted children to go to school earlier—at the age of six instead of seven. Aristotle went one better and said five. Chrysippus went two better and said three. There was no time like the present, apparently, for these theorists! Fortunately these were advanced opinions which the average family recognized as such, and went on its own sweet way.

The old way of life went on unmoved, and throughout antiquity children were left to develop in the most delightfully spontaneous manner; their instincts were given free range; they grew up in an atmosphere of freedom. The general attitude towards them was one of amused indulgence—it was all so unimportant! To educate children for themselves alone, for the sake of their childishness, as our modern educators are determined to do, would have seemed to the Ancients absolutely pointless.


A Masterpiece

Van Meter Ames, Introduction to Beauty (New York: Harper & Bros., 1931; rpt. Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1968), p. 151:
The great yea-sayers find beauty in the most unexpected places and put it in their books where we can see it when we cannot find it elsewhere.
John Updike, The Beautiful Bowel Movement:
Though most of them aren't much to write about—
mere squibs and nubs, like half-smoked pale cigars,
the tint and stink recalling Tuesday's meal,
the texture loose and soon dissolved—this one,
struck off in solitude one afternoon
(that prairie stretch before the late light fails)
with no distinct sensation, sweet or pained,
of special inspiration or release,
was yet a masterpiece: a flawless coil,
unbroken, in the bowl, as if a potter
who worked in this most frail, least grateful clay
had set himself to shape a topaz vase.
O spiral perfection, not seashell nor
stardust, how can I keep you? With this poem.
Cf. Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (London: Heinemann, 1987), p. 21:
A healthy human bowel movement, so I was later to be told in the Royal Army Medical Corps, went 'twice round the pan and was curly at both ends'.
See also Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Notebooks (December 1803):
What a beautiful Thing Urine is, in a Pot, brown yellow, transpicuous, the Image, diamond shaped of the Candle in it, especially, as it now appeared, I having emptied the Snuffers into it, & the snuff floating about, & painting all-shaped shadows on the Bottom.
Related post: Primal Pleasures (W.H. Auden's The Geography of the House).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Homo ferox

T.H. White, The Book of Merlyn:
"Homo ferox," continued Merlyn, shaking his head, "that rarity in nature, an animal which will kill for pleasure! There is not a beast in this room who would not scorn to kill, except for a meal. Man affects to feel indignation at the shrike, who keeps a small larder of snails etc. speared on thorns: yet his own well-stocked larder is surrounded by herds of charming creatures like the mooning bullock, and the sheep with its intelligent and sensitive face, who are kept solely in order to be slaughtered on the verge of maturity and devoured by their carnivorous herder, whose teeth are not even designed for those of a carnivore. You should read Lamb's letter to Southey, about baking moles alive, and sport with cockchafers, and cats in bladders, and crimping skates, and anglers, those 'meek inflictors of pangs intolerable.' Homo ferox, the Inventor of Cruelty to Animals, who will rear pheasants at enormous expense for the pleasure of killing them: who will go to the trouble of training other animals to kill: who will burn living rats, as I have seen done in Eriu, fit order that their shrieks may intimidate the local rodents: who will forcibly degenerate the livers of domestic geese, in order to make himself a tasty food: who will saw the growing horns off cattle, for convenience in transport: who will blind gold-finches with a needle, to make them sing: who will boil lobsters and shrimps alive, although he hears their piping screams: who will turn on his own species in war, and kill nineteen million every hundred years: who will publicly murder his fellow men when he has adjudged them to be criminals: and who has invented a way of torturing his own children with a stick, or of exporting them to concentration camps called Schools, where the torture can be applied by proxy ... Yes, you are right to ask whether man can properly be described as ferox, for certainly the word in its natural meaning of wild life among decent animals ought never to be applied to such a creature."
Here is an excerpt from the letter of Charles Lamb to Robert Southey (March 20, 1799):
I love this sort of poems, that open a new intercourse with the most despised of the animal and insect race. I think this vein may be further opened; Peter Pindar hath very prettily apostrophised a fly; Burns hath his mouse and his louse; Coleridge, less successfully, hath made overtures of intimacy to a jackass, therein only following at unresembling distance Sterne and greater Cervantes. Besides these, I know of no other examples of breaking down the partition between us and our "poor earth-born companions." It is sometimes revolting to be put in a track of feeling by other people, not one's own immediate thoughts, else I would persuade you, if I could (I am in earnest), to commence a series of these animal poems, which might have a tendency to rescue some poor creatures from the antipathy of mankind. Some thoughts come across me;—for instance—to a rat, to a toad, to a cockchafer, to a mole—people bake moles alive by a slow oven-fire to cure consumption. Rats are, indeed, the most despised and contemptible parts of God's earth. I killed a rat the other day by punching him to pieces, and feel a weight of blood upon me to this hour. Toads you know are made to fly, and tumble down and crush all to pieces. Cockchafers are old sport; then again to a worm, with an apostrophe to anglers, those patient tyrants, meek inflictors of pangs intolerable, cool devils; to an owl; to all snakes, with an apology for their poison; to a cat in boots or bladders. Your own fancy, if it takes a fancy to these hints, will suggest many more. A series of such poems, suppose them accompanied with plates descriptive of animal torments, cooks roasting lobsters, fishmongers crimping skates, &c., &c., would take excessively. I will willingly enter into a partnership in the plan with you: I think my heart and soul would go with it too—at least, give it a thought. My plan is but this minute come into my head; but it strikes me instantaneously as something new, good and useful, full of pleasure and full of moral. If old Quarles and Wither could live again, we would invite them into our firm. Burns hath done his part.
Related posts:

Monday, June 22, 2009


The Athenian Ephebic Oath

During the work week, I eat lunch alone in my cubicle and read a book while I'm eating. Who can afford to eat out these days? Besides, I'd rather read a book than to listen to fellow diners discuss some television show I haven't seen.

Now I'm reading a stimulating book by H.I. Marrou — A History of Education in Antiquity, tr. George Lamb (1956; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982). On p. 106 Marrou discusses the Athenian ephebic oath. Here is a translation and text of the oath from P.J. Rhodes and Robin Osborne, Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 BC (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007):
Gods. The Priest of Ares and Athena Areia, Dio, son of Dio of Acharnae has dedicated this.


The ancestral oath of the ephebes, which the ephebes must swear. I shall not bring shame upon the sacred weapons nor shall I desert the man beside me, wherever I stand in the line. I shall fight in defence of things sacred and profane and I shall not hand the fatherland on lessened, but greater and better both as far as I am able and with all. And I shall be obedient to whoever exercise power reasonable on any occasion and to the laws currently in force and any reasonable put into force in future. If anyone destroys these I shall not give them allegiance both as far as is in my own power and in union with all, and I shall honour the ancestral religion.

Witnesses: the Gods Aglaurus, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalios, Ares and Athena Areia, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, and the boundaries of my fatherland, wheat, barley, vines, olives, figs.


Oath which the Athenians swore when they were about to fight against the barbarians.

ἱερεὺς Ἄρεως καὶ Ἀθηνᾶς
Ἀρείας Δίων Δίωνος Ἀχαρ-
νεὺς ἀνέθηκεν.


ὃρκος ἐφήβων πάτριος, ὃν ὀμνύναι δεῖ τ-
οὺς ἐφήβους. οὐκ αἰσχυνῶ τὰ ἱερὰ ὅπ-
λα οὐδὲ λείψω τὸν παραστάτην ὅπου ἂν σ-
τειχήσω· ἀμυνῶ δὲ καὶ ὑπὲρ ἱερὼν καὶ ὁσ-
ίων καὶ όκ ἐλάττω παραδώσω τὴν πατρίδ-
α, πλείω δὲ καὶ ἀρείω κατά τε ἐμαυτὸν κα-
ὶ μετὰ ἀπάντων, καὶ εὐηκοήσω τῶν ἀεὶ κρ-
αινόντων ἐμφρόνως καὶ τῶν θεσμῶν τῶν
ἱδρυμένων καὶ οὓς ἂν τὸ λοιπὸν ἱδρύσω-
νται ἐμφρόνως· ἐὰν δέ τις ἀναιρεῖ, οὐκ ἐ-
πιτρέψω κατά τε ἐμαυτὸν καὶ μετὰ πάντ-
ων, καὶ τιμήσω ἱερὰ τὰ πάτρια. Ἵστορες [[ο]]
θεοὶ Ἄγλαυρος, Ἑστία, Ἐνυώ, Ἐνυάλιος, Ἄρ-
ης καὶ Ἀθηνᾶ Ἀρεία, Ζεύς, Θαλλώ, Αὐξώ, Ἡγε-
μόνη, Ἡρακλῆς, ὅροι τῆς πατρίδος, πυροί,
κριθαί, ἄμπελοι, ἐλᾶαι, συκαῖ.


ὅρκος ὃν ὤμοσαν Ἀθηναῖοι ὅτε ἤμελλον
μάχεσθαι πρὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους.
I'm interested in the witnesses to the oath and why these particular gods and objects were chosen. I think that Reinhold Merkelbach, "Aglauros: die Religion der Epheben," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 9 (1972) 277-283, discusses the witnesses, but I haven't been able to see the article yet. Jon Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 155, has some suggestions:
Aglaurus, as we have seen, was a daughter of Cecrops, and in one version of her myth she willingly sacrificed herelf to save her country in the midst of a war. It may have been for that reason that the ephebes, who were expected to do the same, swore their oath in her sanctuary and saw themselves under her supervision. Hestia is the hearth of city-state, maintained with a perpetual fire in the Prytaneion, the state's official dining building. Enyo, Enyalius, and Ares and Athena Areia are millitary deities and, by their prominent position in the oath, reflect the primarily military orientation of the ephebeia. Zeus may be present as the protector of oaths (Horkios). Thallo (Flourishing) and Auxo (Growth) are personifications, and the nature of Hegemone (Leaderess) is uncertain. Heracles is relevant both as one who wards off evil and because these young men had, at their Apatouria, each made an offering of wine to him before the cutting of their hair. Finally the land and its agricultural products are invoked, not as gods, but, in this context, as revered objects these young men are obliged to defend and protect.
See also Josiah Ober, Athenian Legacies: Essays on the Politics of Going on Together (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 197:
The grammar of the second part of the list of witnesses is not absolutely clear. The witness list begins with the term "theoi" (gods). The gods in question are then named: a total of eleven deities, including personifications of "increase, growth, and leadership" (Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone). So far so good. The second part of the list begins with the term "horoi of the patris" and continues with five major products of arable agriculture. And here lies the crux: is this part of the list paratactic — a series of (six) separate witnessing entities, one of which is "horoi"? Or is the phrase horoi tēs patridos, like theoi, a collective noun whose elements are described by the (five) words that follow? On the second hypothesis, we might suppose that "wheat, barley, vines, olives, figs" is a collective metonym for "the horoi of the patris." Or (on an even closer parallel with theoi) that among the larger set of horoi tēs patridos, the particular horoi that will witness the oath are (again metonymically) the several products. According to the first (paratactic) hypothesis, the horoi are not defined as agricultural products; their physical form remains textually indeterminate. According to the second (metonymic) hypothesis, the horoi themselves are actually agricultural products. The metonymic reading certainly makes for better syntactic parallelism (theoi/horoi). Moreover, according to Plutarch (Alcibiades 15.4), a metonymic reading was adopted as early as the late fifth century B.C. by the politician and general, Alcibiades, who supported his policy goal of boundless imperialism with the argument that the Athenians had sworn to treat as their patris any place in which wheat, barley, vines, olives, and figs were grown.
Here is Plutarch, Alcibiades 15.4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
However, he counselled the Athenians to assert dominion on land also, and to maintain in very deed the oath regularly propounded to their young warriors in the sanctuary of Agraulus. They take oath that they will regard wheat, barley, the vine, and the olive as the natural boundaries of Attica, and they are thus trained to consider as their own all the habitable and fruitful earth.

οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς γῆς συνεβούλευεν ἀντέχεσθαι τοῖς Ἀθηναίοις, καὶ τὸν ἐν Ἀγραύλου προβαλλόμενον ἀεὶ τοῖς ἐφήβοις ὅρκον ἔργῳ βεβαιοῦν. ὀμνύουσι γὰρ ὅροις χρήσασθαι τῆς Ἀττικῆς πυροῖς, κριθαῖς, ἀμπέλοις, ἐλαίαις, οἰκείαν ποιεῖσθαι διδασκόμενοι τὴν ἥμερον καὶ καρποφόρον.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Ye Summer Souls, Rejoice!

George Meredith, The Longest Day:
On yonder hills soft twilight dwells
And Hesper burns where sunset dies,
Moist and chill the woodland smells
From the fern-covered hollows uprise;
Darkness drops not from the skies,
But shadows of darkness are flung o'er the vale
From the boughs of the chestnut, the oak, and the elm,
While night in yon lines of eastern pines
Preserves alone her inviolate realm
Against the twilight pale.

Say, then say, what is this day,
That it lingers thus with half-closed eyes,
When the sunset is quenched and the orient ray
Of the roseate moon doth rise,
Like a midnight sun o'er the skies!
'Tis the longest, the longest of all the glad year,
The longest in life and the fairest in hue,
When day and night, in bridal light,
Mingle their beings beneath the sweet blue,
And bless the balmy air!

Upward to this starry height
The culminating seasons rolled;
On one slope green with spring delight,
The other with harvest gold,
And treasures of Autumn untold:
And on this highest throne of the midsummer now
The waning but deathless day doth dream,
With a rapturous grace, as tho' from the face
Of the unveiled infinity, lo, a far beam
Had fall'n on her dim-flushed brow!

Prolong, prolong that tide of song,
O leafy nightingale and thrush!
Still, earnest-throated blackcap, throng
The woods with that emulous gush
Of notes in tumultuous rush.
Ye summer souls, raise up one voice!
A charm is afloat all over the land;
The ripe year doth fall to the Spirit of all,
Who blesses it with outstretched hand;
Ye summer souls, rejoice!


A World Apart From Man

E.R. Dodds, commentary on Euripides, Bacchae, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 186 (on lines 873-876):
'With tenseness of effort, with gusts of swift racing, she gallops the water-meadow, rejoicing in the places empty of men and in the green life that springs under the shadowy hair of the forest.' The Hymn to Demeter had compared girls running eagerly on an errand to 'deer or calves galloping a meadow in the spring season' (174 f.); Anacreon had likened a maid's shyness to the timidity of a baby fawn astray in the forest (fr. 51; cf. Hor. Odes I.23); Bacchylides had likened a young girl making for the country on a holiday to a νεβρὸς ἀπενθής (12 [13]. 87); and the chorus of Euripides' Electra had described themselves in a moment of joy as 'leaping sky-high in gaiety, like a fawn' (860). But though he is elaborating a traditional image, the poet has here enriched it with new tones: there is a hint of something very rare in Greek poetry, the romantic vision of nature not sub specie humanitatis but as a world apart from man. This new feeling emerges elsewhere in the Bacchae (cf. esp. 726-7, 1084-5), and it is reasonable to associate it with the old poet's escape from the dusty thought-laden air of Athens to the untouched solitudes of northern Greece.
Here is the Greek:
μόχθοις τ᾽ ὠκυδρόμοις τ᾽ ἀέλ-
λαις θρῴσκει πεδίον
παραποτάμιον, ἡδομένα
βροτῶν ἐρημίαις σκιαρο-
κόμοιό τ᾽ ἔρνεσιν ὕλας.
Albert Bierstadt, Forest Sunrise

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Lords of the Flies


Carol E. Lee, PETA miffed at President Obama's fly 'execution':
The president has been getting lots of kudos for a lightning-fast, Mr. Miyagi-worthy swipe he employed to slay a pesky house fly that was buzzing him in mid-interview during a taping with CNBC that aired Wednesday.

"He stopped the interview to track and kill the fly," said talk show host Conan O'Brien.

"That's some pretty impressive hand-eye coordination right there," Jimmy Fallon gushed. "Makes Obama look like a bad ass."

But now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling it an "execution," wants the commander-in-chief to show a little more compassion to even "the least sympathetic animals."

"Believe it or not, we've actually been contacted by multiple media outlets wanting to know PETA's official response to the executive insect execution," a blog on the group's website explained. "In a nutshell, our position is this: He isn't the Buddha, he's a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act."

The group has sent Obama a device that traps a fly so it can then be released outside.

"We believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals," PETA spokesman Bruce Freidrich explained.

The fly saga began Tuesday, and it was the subject of a news report on Italian TV and almost a dozen YouTube postings that have been viewed more than 750,000 times. Thousands of people also have added commentary, including one who wrote, "But can he duck a shoe?" in reference to a hugely popular video of former president George Bush ducking a shoe thrown at him by an Iraqi cameraman during a news conference in Baghdad.

"Get out of here," Obama said as the fly buzzed him during his interview. The pest persisted, and when it landed on his left forearm, Obama smacked it.

"Now, where were we?" the president said without missing a beat. Pleased with himself, he added, "That was pretty impressive, wasn't it? I got the sucker."

Several observers in the room gave congratulatory shout-outs. Obama pointed to the floor and instructed an obliging cameraman to get a close-up of the corpse.

"It's like he's got one of those fly Terminator targeting systems in his eyes," said an awed Jon Stewart.

Suetonius, Life of Domitian 3.1 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
At the beginning of his reign he used to spend hours in seclusion every day, doing nothing but catch flies and stab them with a keenly-sharpened stylus. Consequently when someone once asked whether anyone was in there with Caesar, Vibius Crispus made the witty reply: "Not even a fly."

Inter initia principatus cotidie secretum sibi horarum sumere solebat nec quicquam amplius quam muscas captare ac stilo praeacuto configere, ut cuidam interroganti, essetne quis intus cum Caesare, non absurde responsum sit a Vibio Crispo, ne muscam quidem.


What's Hecuba to Him?

Dear Mr Gilleland,

I do not know whether you are still interested in asyndetic privative adjectives, but I came across a few further examples:

Soph. Oed. Col. vs 1222

Eur Troades vs. 1186

Eur Helena, vs 1148

In her edition of Eur Hecuba, Justina Gregory says (p. 46): "strings of alpha-privative adjectives in asyndeton are a feature of both epic and tragedy", referring to verses 30, 416, 669, 691, 714. This makes the Hecuba a real Fundgrube.

But perhaps you are already familiar with many of these. Just a token of admiration for your blog!

Best wishes
Hans van der Hoeven
(A Sciolist)

Thanks very much for the examples and the kind words — I am indeed still interested in this topic. Four of these examples had escaped my attention, all from Euripides' Hecuba:In my own recent reading, I found a couple of English examples.

Arthur Hugh Clough, ἐπὶ Λάτμῳ:
As a lake its mirrored mountains
At a moment, unregretting,
Unresisting, unreclaiming,
Without preface, without question,
On the silent shifting levels
Lets depart,
Shows, effaces and replaces!
J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, III/6:
Unmarred, unstained is leaf and land
In Dwimordene, in Lórien
More fair than thoughts of Mortal Men.

Thursday, June 18, 2009



Ben Jonson, Timber, or Discoveries:
Now there are certaine Scioli, or smatterers, that are busie in the skirts, and out-sides of Learning, and have scarce any thing of solide literature to commend them. They may have some edging, or trimming of a Scholler, a welt, or so: but it is no more.
Related posts:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


A Different World

C.S. Lewis, letter to Arthur Greeves (November 1, 1916), on the difficulty of appreciating Beowulf:
Well, for one thing, remember that nearly all your reading is confined to about 150 years of one particular country: this is no disgrace to you, most people's circle is far smaller. But still, compared with the world this one little period of English is very small and tho' you (and I of course) are so accustomed to the particular kinds of art we find inside it, yet we must remember that there are an infinite variety outside it, quite as good in different ways. And so, if you suddenly go back to an Anglo-Saxon gleeman's lay, you come up against something absolutely different - a different world. If you are to enjoy it, you must forget your previous ideas of what a book should be and try and put yourself back in the position of the people for whom it was first made. When I was reading it I tried to imagine myself as an old Saxon thane sitting in my hall of a winter's night, with the wolves & storm outside and the old fellow singing his story. In this way you get the atmosphere of terror that runs through it - the horror of the old barbarous days when the land was all forests and when you thought that a demon might come to your house any night & carry you off. The description of Grendel stalking up from his 'fen and fastness' thrilled me. Besides, I loved the simplicity of the old life it represents: it comes as a relief to get away from all complications about characters & 'problems' to a time when hunting, fighting, eating, drinking & loving were all a man had to think of it. And lastly, always remember it's a translation which spoils most things.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The Fate of Old Trees

Thanks very much to David Norton for drawing my attention to William Wordsworth's sonnet Composed at Neidpath Castle, the Property of Lord Queensberry, 1803:
Degenerate Douglas! O the unworthy lord!
  Whom mere despite of heart could so far please
  And love of havoc (for with such disease
Fame taxes him) that he could send forth word
To level with the dust a noble horde,
  A brotherhood of venerable trees,
  Leaving an ancient dome, and towers like these,
Beggar'd and outraged!—Many hearts deplored
The fate of those old trees; and oft with pain
  The traveller at this day will stop and gaze
On wrongs, which Nature scarcely seems to heed:
  For shelter'd places, bosoms, nooks, and bays,
And the pure mountains, and the gentle Tweed,
And the green silent pastures, yet remain.
Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal dates the sonnet more precisely (September 18, 1803). See also John Robert Robinson, 'Old Q'. A Memoir of William Douglas, Fourth Duke of Queensberry (London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1895), pp. 207-212 (at 207-208):
As tenant for life, without impeachment for waste, and with an almost moral, if not legal, possibility of issue extinct (and similar English law sophistries for which, no doubt, the Scotch law provides, either express or implied), the Duke enjoyed a singularly favourable position. I therefore recite the means used by Queensberry to 'sweat' his estates in Scotland, to assist in piling up the magnificent fortune he left....Another procedure adopted by him was scarcely so unique as that just referred to; it was, indeed, but a mere conventional method by which impecunious noblemen and gentry 'raise the wind'—by denuding their estates of their timber. Queensberry did this with a vengeance, indeed, the wholesale stripping of his lands of centuries of growth was neither more nor less than greedy Vandalism. Burns, in his day, saw a part of this destruction done, both at Drumlanrig and Neidpath, and bewailed it in verse.
Burns' poem is Verses on the Destruction of the Woods near Drumlanrig:
As on the banks o' wandering Nith,
   Ae smiling simmer morn I stray'd,
And traced its bonie howes and haughs,
   Where linties sang and lammies play'd,
I sat me down upon a craig,
   And drank my fill o' fancy's dream,
When from the eddying deep below,
   Up rose the genius of the stream.

Dark, like the frowning rock, his brow,
   And troubled, like his wintry wave,
And deep, as sughs the boding wind
   Amang his caves, the sigh he gave -
"And come ye here, my son," he cried,
   "To wander in my birken shade?
To muse some favourite Scottish theme,
   Or sing some favourite Scottish maid?

"There was a time, it's nae lang syne,
   Ye might hae seen me in my pride,
When a' my banks sae bravely saw
   Their woody pictures in my tide;
When hanging beech and spreading elm
   Shaded my stream sae clear and cool:
And stately oaks their twisted arms
   Threw broad and dark across the pool;

"When, glinting thro' the trees, appear'd
   The wee white cot aboon the mill,
And peacefu' rose its ingle reek,
   That, slowly curling, clamb the hill.
But now the cot is bare and cauld,
   Its leafy bield for ever gane,
And scarce a stinted birk is left
   To shiver in the blast its lane."

"Alas!" quoth I, "what ruefu' chance
   Has twin'd ye o' your stately trees?
Has laid your rocky bosom bare -
   Has stripped the cleeding o' your braes?
Was it the bitter eastern blast,
   That scatters blight in early spring?
Or was't the wil'fire scorch'd their boughs,
   Or canker-worm wi' secret sting?"

"Nae eastlin blast," the sprite replied;
   "It blaws na here sae fierce and fell,
And on my dry and halesome banks
   Nae canker-worms get leave to dwell:
Man! cruel man!" the genius sighed -
   As through the cliffs he sank him down -
"The worm that gnaw'd my bonie trees,
   That reptile wears a ducal crown."

Related posts: Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Greek Prose Composition

Robert F. Murray (1863-1893), A Song of Greek Prose:
    Thrice happy are those
    Who ne'er heard of Greek Prose—
Or Greek Poetry either, as far as that goes;
    For Liddell and Scott
    Shall cumber them not,
Nor Sargent nor Sidgwick shall break their repose.

    But I, late at night,
    By the very bad light
Of very bad gas, must painfully write
    Some stuff that a Greek
    With his delicate cheek
Would smile at as 'barbarous'—faith, he well might.

    For when it is done,
    I doubt if, for one,
I myself could explain how the meaning might run;
    And as for the style—
    Well, it's hardly worth while
To talk about style, where style there is none.

    It was all very fine
    For a poet divine
Like Byron, to rave of Greek women and wine;
    But the Prose that I sing
    Is a different thing,
And I frankly acknowledge it's not in my line.

    So away with Greek Prose,
    The source of my woes!
(This metre's too tough, I must draw to a close.)
    May Sargent be drowned
    In the ocean profound,
And Sidgwick be food for the carrion crows!
Liddell and Scott = Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, authors of A Greek-English Lexicon.

Sargent = John Young Sargent, author of A Primer of Greek Prose Composition, Materials and Models for Greek Prose Composition, etc.

Sidgwick = Arthur Sidgwick, author of Introduction to Greek Prose Composition, Lectures on Greek Prose Composition, etc.

Saturday, June 13, 2009



Ronald Reagan (June 17, 1982, to United Nations General Assembly):
I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.
Barack Obama (July 24, 2008, in Berlin, Germany):
Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.
Newt Gingrich (June 8, 2009, to Senate and House Republican campaign committees):
First, we must strengthen our unique American civilization. Let me be clear, I am not a citizen of the world. I think that the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous. There is no world sovereignty, there is no world system of law - there is in fact no circumstance under which I would like to be a citizen of North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, or Russia. I am a citizen – I am a citizen of the United States of America.
Diogenes Laertius 6.63, on Diogenes the Cynic (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Asked where he came from, he said, "I am a citizen of the world."

ἐρωτηθεὶς πόθεν εἴη, "κοσμοπολίτης," ἔφη.
Meleager (Greek Anthology 7.417, tr. W.R. Paton):
Island Tyre was my nurse, and Gadara, which is Attic but lies in Syria, gave birth to me. From Eucrates I sprung, Meleager, who first by the help of the Muses ran abreast of the Graces of Menippus. If I am a Syrian, what wonder? Stranger, we dwell in one country, the world; one Chaos gave birth to all mortals. In my old age I wrote these lines in my tablets before my burial; for eld and death are near neighbours. Speak a word to wish me, the loquacious old man, well, and mayst thou reach a loquacious old age thyself.

Νᾶσος ἐμὰ θρέπτειρα Τύρος· πάτρα δέ με τεκνοῖ
  Ἀτθὶς ἐν Ἀσσυρίοις ναιομένα, Γάδαρα·
Εὐκράτεω δ' ἔβλαστον ὁ σὺν Μούσαις Μελέαγρος
  πρῶτα Μενιππείοις συντροχάσας Χάρισιν.
εἰ δὲ Σύρος, τί τὸ θαῦμα; μίαν, ξένε, πατρίδα κόσμον
  ναίομεν· ἓν θνατοὺς πάντας ἔτικτε Χάος.
πουλυετὴς δ' ἐχάραξα τάδ' ἐν δέλτοισι πρὸ τύμβου·
  γήρως γὰρ γείτων ἐγγύθεν Ἀίδεω.
ἀλλά με τὸν λαλιὸν καὶ πρεσβύτην προτιειπὼν
  χαίρειν, εἰς γῆρας καὐτὸς ἵκοιο λάλον.
Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 2.10.3:
You are a citizen of the world.

πολίτης εἶ τοῦ κόσμου.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Inexorable Death

Aeschylus, fragment 161 Nauck (tr. Andrew Lang):
Of all Gods Death alone
Disdaineth sacrifice:
No man hath found or shown
The gift that Death would prize.
In vain are songs or sighs,
Paean, or praise, or moan,
Alone beneath the skies
Hath Death no altar-stone!

μόνος θεῶν γὰρ Θάνατος οὐ δώρων ἐρᾷ
οὐδ᾽ ἄν τι θύων οὐδ᾽ ἐπισπένδων ἄνοις,
οὐδ᾽ ἔστι βωμὸς οὐδὲ παιωνίζεται·
μόνου δὲ Πειθὼ δαιμόνων ἀποστατεῖ.
The same, tr. Herbert Weir Smyth:
For alone of gods Death does not love gifts, nor by sacrificing or by pouring libations could you accomplish anything. He has no altar and the paean is not sung to him; of the gods, from him alone Persuasion stands apart.
Already in Homer, Iliad 9.158:
Hades is unyielding and not to be prevailed over.

Ἀΐδης τοι ἀμείλιχος ἠδ᾽ ἀδάμαστος.
Related post: Ineffectual Prayers.



Eliot Pattison, Bone Rattler (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008), p. 116:
With tiny cramped writing, no doubt to preserve his precious paper, Evering had written a series of disconnected words without punctuation. Lost, Duncan read, then heart and stony run, oak, then bones. He faltered at a word he could not fully decipher, written three times. Tastgua, it said, or Tashgua. It could have been Teshqua, Latin for wastelands—the kind of word Evering would use in his poems.
The Latin for wastelands isn't teshqua, but tesqua or tesca. See Lewis & Short, A Latin Dictionary:
tesca (tesqua), ōrum (the sing. v. in foll.), n.,

I. rough or wild regions, wastes, deserts: tesqua sive tescua κατάκρημνοι καὶ ῥάχεις καὶ ἔρημοι τόποι, Gloss. Philox.: deserta et tesca loca, Att. ap. Varr. L. L. 7, § 11 Müll.; v. Varr. in loc.: loca aspera, saxea tesca tuor, Cic. poët. ap. Fest. pp. 356 and 357 Müll.; so, deserta et inhospita tesca, Hor. Ep. 1, 14, 19: nemorosa, Luc. 6, 41: remota, App. Flor. p. 358, 22; cf. id. ib. p. 348, 22. Such places were sacred to the gods: loca quaedam agrestia, quae alicujus dei sunt, dicuntur tesca, Varr. l.l.—Sing.: templum tescumque finito in sinistrum, an old religious formula, Varr. l.l.; cf. Fest. l.l.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Life's Greatest Pleasure

Table talk of C.S. Lewis, from a transcription of Alastair Fowler, "C.S. Lewis: Supervisor," Yale Review 91.4 (October 2003) 64–80:
Similarly out of the blue, he proposed to dispute what life's greatest pleasure was. Great art? No. Mystical ecstasy? No: something more generally accessible. Simultaneous orgasm? But that wasn't it either. "I'll tell you," he said; "it's the pleasure, after walking for hours, of coming to a pub and relieving yourself."
For a similar sentiment, see Thomas More, Utopia, Book II (tr. G.C. Richards, rev. Edward Surtz):
Bodily pleasure they divide into two kinds. The first is that which fills the sense with clearly perceptible sweetness. Sometimes it comes from the renewal of those organs which have been weakened by our natural heat. These organs are then restored by food and drink. Sometimes it comes from the elimination of things which overload the body. This agreeable sensation occurs when we discharge feces from our bowels ...

corporis voluptatem in duas partiuntur formas, quarum prima sit ea, quae sensum perspicua suavitate perfundit, quod alias earum instauratione partium fit, quas insitus nobis calor exhauserit. nam hae cibo potuque redduntur, alias dum egeruntur illa, quorum copia corpus exuberat. haec suggeritur, dum excrementis intestina purgamus ...
Fowler's article has other charming anecdotes, including this one about Edgar Lobel ("Lobe" in the transcription of the article is a misprint):
Memory feats were common enough in Oxford then, especially among classicists. Edgar Lobel the papyrologist and fungiphage, to mention one, modestly denied having Homer by heart – but added, "Mind you, if you said a verse I dare say I could give you the next one."
Related post: Primal Pleasures.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Knee-Deep in June

My heart and mind veer toward the unfashionable and unpopular just as surely as the needle of the compass swings northward. One of my unfashionable and unpopular enthusiasms is for the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley.

Although popular in his own day, he had his fierce critics even then, chief among them Ambrose Bierce, who called dialect writers such as Riley
the pignoramous crew of malinguists, cacophonologists and apostrophographers who think they get close to nature by depicting the sterile lives and limited emotions of the gowks and sodhoppers that speak only to tangle their own tongues, and move only to fall over their own feet.
Of a stanza from Riley's poem "His Pa's Romance," Bierce wrote that "it affects the sensibilities like the ripple of a rill of buttermilk falling into a pig-trough." Again,
In the dirt of his "dialect" there is no grain of gold. His pathos is bathos, his sentiment sediment, his "homely philosophy" brute platitudes—beasts of the field of thought. He preaches with an impediment in his preach. His humor does not amuse. His characters are stupid and forbidding to the last supportable degree; he has just enough of creative power to find them ignoble and leave them offensive. His diction is without felicity, his vocabulary is not English, his—in short, Mr. Riley writes through his nose.
On the other hand, a naturalist of the stature of Donald Culross Peattie found much to admire in the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley. Peattie wrote:
There was in the past generation only one arch-poet of American Nature—James Whitcomb Riley. His fame as a versifier has helped to rob him of the title he ought to have, the poet of midwest Nature.
Here is a sample of Riley's verse, his Knee-Deep in June. The sixth stanza especially appeals to me in this month of June, when I'm cooped up in an office all day long.

Tell you what I like the best—
'Long about knee-deep in June,
'Bout the time strawberries melts
On the vine,—some afternoon
Like to jes' git out and rest,
And not work at nothin' else!


Orchard's where I'd ruther be—
Needn't fence it in fer me!—
Jes' the whole sky overhead,
And the whole airth underneath—
Sort o' so's a man kin breathe
Like he ort, and kind o' has
Elbow-room to keerlessly
Sprawl out len'thways on the grass
Where the shadders thick and soft
As the kivvers on the bed
Mother fixes in the loft
Allus, when they's company!


Jes' a-sort o' lazin' there—
S'lazy, 'at you peek and peer
Through the wavin' leaves above,
Like a feller 'ats in love
And don't know it, ner don't keer!
Ever'thing you hear and see
Got some sort o' interest—
Maybe find a bluebird's nest
Tucked up there conveenently
Fer the boy 'at's ap' to be
Up some other apple tree!
Watch the swallers skootin' past
Bout as peert as you could ast;
Er the Bob-white raise and whiz
Where some other's whistle is.


Ketch a shadder down below,
And look up to find the crow—
Er a hawk,—away up there,
'Pearantly froze in the air!—
Hear the old hen squawk, and squat
Over ever' chick she's got,
Suddent-like!—and she knows where
That-air hawk is, well as you!—
You jes' bet yer life she do!—
Eyes a-glitterin' like glass,
Waitin' till he makes a pass!


Pee-wees' singin', to express
My opinion, 's second-class,
Yit you'll hear 'em more er less;
Sapsucks gittin' down to biz,
Weedin' out the lonesomeness;
Mr. Bluejay, full o' sass,
In them baseball clothes o' his,
Sportin' round the orchard jes'
Like he owned the premises!
Sun out in the fields kin sizz,
But flat on yer back, I guess,
In the shade's where glory is!
That's jes' what I'd like to do
Stiddy fer a year er two!


Plague! ef they ain't somepin' in
Work 'at kind o' goes ag'in'
My convictions!—'long about
Here in June especially!—
Under some old apple tree,
Jes' a-restin' through and through,
I could git along without
Nothin' else at all to do
Only jes' a-wishin' you
Wuz a-gittin' there like me,
And June wuz eternity!


Lay out there and try to see
Jes' how lazy you kin be!—
Tumble round and souse yer head
In the clover-bloom, er pull
Yer straw hat acrost yer eyes
And peek through it at the skies,
Thinkin' of old chums 'at's dead,
Maybe, smilin' back at you
In betwixt the beautiful
Clouds o' gold and white and blue!-
Month a man kin railly love—
June, you know, I'm talkin' of!


March ain't never nothin' new!—
Aprile's altogether too
Brash fer me! and May—I jes'
'Bominate its promises,—
Little hints o' sunshine and
Green around the timber-land—
A few blossoms, and a few
Chip-birds, and a sprout er two,—
Drap asleep, and it turns in
'Fore daylight and snows ag'in!—
But when June comes—Clear my th'oat
With wild honey!—Rench my hair
In the dew! and hold my coat!
Whoop out loud! and th'ow my hat!—
June wants me, and I'm to spare!
Spread them shadders anywhere,
I'll git down and waller there,
And obleeged to you at that!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


C.S. Lewis on Samuel Johnson

C.S. Lewis, letter to Arthur Greeves (June 22, 1930):
I am delighted to hear that you have taken to Johnson. Yes, isn't it a magnificent style — the very essence of manliness and condensation. I find Johnson very bracing when I am in my slack, self-pitying mood. The amazing thing is his power of stating platitudes — or what in anyone else wd. be platitudes — so that we really believe them at last and realise their importance. Doesn't it remind you a bit of Handel? As to his critical judgment I think he is always sensible and nearly always wrong. He has no ear for metre and little imagination. I personally get more pleasure from the Rambler than from anything else of his & at one time I used to read a Rambler every evening as a nightcap. They are so quieting in their brave, sensible dignity.

Monday, June 08, 2009


More at Home with Trees

George Eliot, Adam Bede, chapter XXVII:
After that pause, he strode on again along the broad winding path through the Grove. What grand beeches! Adam delighted in a fine tree of all things; as the fisherman's sight is keenest on the sea, so Adam's perceptions were more at home with trees than with other objects. He kept them in his memory, as a painter does, with all the flecks and knots in their bark, all the curves and angles of their boughs, and had often calculated the height and contents of a trunk to a nicety, as he stood looking at it.
Paul Sandby, Ancient Beech Tree


Companion for Life

William Cowper, letter to Harriet Hesketh (August 26, 1792):
As to that gloominess of mind, which I have had these twenty years, it cleaves to me even here; and could I be translated to Paradise, unless I left my body behind me, would cleave to me even there also. It is my companion for life, and nothing will ever divorce us.

Sunday, June 07, 2009



John Aubrey, Brief Lives, life of Ralph Kettle (1563-1643):
Dr. Kettle, when he scolded at the idle young boies of his colledge, he used these names, viz. Turds, Tarrarags (these were the worst sort, rude rakells), Rascal-Jacks, Blindcinques, Scobberlotchers (these did no hurt, were sober, but went idleing about the grove with their hands in their pocketts, and telling the number of the trees there, or so).

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Thoughts are Free

Thomas Traherne, Thoughts I.VI:
        The eye's confined, the body's pent
In narrow room: limbs are of small extent,
            But thoughts are always free;
                And as they're best
        So can they even in the breast
        Rove o'er the world with liberty:
        Can enter ages, present be
In any kingdom, into bosoms see.
        Thoughts, thoughts can come to things and view
        What bodies can't approach unto:
They know no bar, denial, limit, wall,
But have a liberty to look on all.
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, chap. XI:
'I think of a great many things. Nobody can prevent that.'

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

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

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

And if tyrants take me, and throw me in prison,
My thoughts will burst free like blossoms in season.
Foundations will crumble, the structure will tumble,
And free men will cry: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger erschießen
mit Pulver und Blei, Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still', und wie es sich schicket.
Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand mir wehren,
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke.
Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei, die Gedanken sind frei!

Friday, June 05, 2009



Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.8 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
[1] Again, on meeting an old comrade after long absence he said: "Where do you come from, Eutherus?"

"I came home when the war ended, Socrates, and am now living here," he replied. "Since we have lost our foreign property, and my father left me nothing in Attica, I am forced to settle down here now and work for my living with my hands. I think it's better than begging, especially as I have no security to offer for a loan."

[2] "And how long will you have the strength, do you think, to earn your living by your work?"

"Oh, not long, of course."

"But remember, when you get old you will have to spend money, and nobody will be willing to pay you for your labour."


[3] "Then it would be better to take up some kind of work at once that will assure you a competence when you get old, and to go to somebody who is better off and wants an assistant, and get a return for your services by acting as his bailiff, helping to get in his crops and looking after his property."

[4] "I shouldn't like to make myself a slave, Socrates."
G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 181:
What Eutherus cannot endure is the idea of being at another's beck and call, of having to submit to dictation and reproof, without the option of being able to walk out or give as good as he got. If one is making or selling things oneself or even — as Eutherus had been doing — working for hire on short-time jobs, one can at least answer back, and at a pinch betake oneself elsewhere. To take the sort of permanent employment which most people nowadays are only too glad to have is to demean oneself to the level of the slave: one must avoid that at all costs, even if it brings in more money.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


P. Oxy. 14.1761

A Unique Indication of Longing provoked more comment than usual.

Tim Parkin sent an image of the original publication:

Ernie Moncada wrote:
I had read Mary Beard's review of Peter Parson's book, and at the time I was much taken by the "Unique Indication of Longing" that you make mention of. I tried to think of a modern equivalent of a coprophilous sentiment and could come up with only: "From the day you left, we miss the shit out of you." I too would like to read the Greek expression.
Daniel Dockery wrote:
The Perseus Project at Tufts has P. Oxy. online; their text for 14.1761 can be found here. There is also a TEI.2 tagged XML file of the entry at this location; if you read the source of that latter link in an xml aware browser, it provides extensive detail on emendations, with indications as to reasons and certainty for the same.
The notorious sentence ("Since the day you left, we are searching for your turds, wishing to see you") in Greek is ἀφ᾽ ἧς ἀπῆλθες ἐπιζητοῦμέν σου τὰ κόπρια θέλοντές σε ἰδεῖν.

Thanks very much to all.


A Unique Indication of Longing

P. Oxy. 14.1761, tr. Roger S. Bagnall and Raffaella Cribiore in Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC-AD 800 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), p. 392:
Kallirhoe to Sarapias her lady, greeting. I make your obeisance each day before the lord Sarapis. Since the day you left, we are searching for your turds, wishing to see you. Greet Thermouthis and Helias and Ploution and Aphrodite and Nemesianos. Karabos and Harpokration greet you and all those in the household. I pray for your health.
On "turds," Bagnall and Cribiore note: "A unique indication of longing."

A slightly different translation of part of the same letter in Peter Parsons, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007), p. 54:
I make obeisance on your behalf every day before the Lord God Serapis. From the day you left we miss your turds, wishing to see you.
Unfortunately, I can't find the Greek anywhere on the Internet.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009


An Octogenarian Plants a Tree

Thanks to Roger Kuin for drawing my attention to the following fable by Jean de La Fontaine (tr. Walter Thornbury):
An Old Man, planting a tree, was met
By three joyous youths of the village near,
Who cried, "It is dotage a tree to set
At your years, sir, for it will not bear,
Unless you reach Methuselah's age:
To build a tomb were much more sage;
But why, in any case, burden your days
With care for other people's enjoyment?
'Tis for you to repent of your evil ways:
To care for the future is our employment!"
Then the aged man replies —
"All slowly grows, but quickly dies.
It matters not if then or now
You die or I; we all must bow,
Soon, soon, before the destinies.
And tell me which of you, I pray,
Is sure to see another day?
Or whether e'en the youngest shall
Survive this moment's interval?
My great grandchildren, ages hence,
Shall bless this tree's benevolence.
And if you seek to make it plain
That pleasing others is no gain,
I, for my part, truly say
I taste this tree's ripe fruit to-day,
And hope to do so often yet.
Nor should I be surprised to see —
Though, truly, with sincere regret —
The sunrise gild your tombstones three."
These words were stern but bitter truths:
For one of these adventurous youths,
Intent to seek a distant land,
Was drowned, just as he left the strand;
The second, filled with martial zeal,
Bore weapons for the common weal,
And in a battle met the lot
Of falling by a random shot.
The third one from a tree-top fell,
And broke his neck. — The Old Sage, then,
Weeping for the three Young Men,
Upon their tomb wrote what I tell.
In French, with the title Le Vieillard et les Trois Jeunes Hommes:
    Un octogénaire plantait.
'Passe encor de bâtir; mais planter à cet âge!
Disaient trois jouvenceaux, enfants du voisinage:
    Assurément il radotait.
'Car, au nom des dieux, je vous prie,
Quel fruit de ce labeur pouvez-vous recueillir?
Autant qu'un patriarche il vous faudrait vieillir.
    A quoi bon charger votre vie
Des soins d'un avenir qui n'est pas fait pour vous?
Ne songez désormais qu'à vos erreurs passées;
Quittez le long espoir et les vastes pensées;
    Tout cela ne convient qu'à nous.
    —Il ne convient pas à vous-mêmes,
Repartit le vieillard. Tout établissement
Vient tard, et dure peu. La main des Parques blêmes
De vos jours et des miens se joue également.
Nos termes sont pareils par leur courte durée.
Qui de nous des clartés de la voûte azurée
Doit jouir le dernier? Est-il aucun moment
Qui vous puisse assurer d'un second seulement?
Mes arrière-neveux me devront cet ombrage:
    Eh bien! défendez-vous au sage
De se donner des soins pour le plaisir d'autrui?
Cela même est un fruit que je goûte aujourd'hui:
J'en puis jouir demain, et quelques jours encore;
    Je puis enfin compter l'aurore
    Plus d'une fois sur vos tombeaux.'
Le vieillard eut raison: l'un des trois jouvenceaux
Se noya dès le port, allant à l'Amérique;
L'autre, afin de monter aux grandes dignités,
Dans les emplois de Mars servant la république,
Par un coup imprévu vit ses jours emportés;
    Le troisième tomba d'un arbre
    Que lui-même il voulut enter;
Et, pleurés du vieillard, il grava sur leur marbre
    Ce que je viens de raconter.
Related posts:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Out of the Cold and Heavy Soil

Ruth Pitter, The Diehards:
We go, in winter's biting wind,
On many a short-lived winter day,
With aching back but willing mind
To dig and double-dig the clay.

All in November's soaking mist
We stand and prune the naked tree,
While all our love and interest
Seem quenched in blue-nosed misery.

We go in withering July
To ply the hard incessant hoe;
Panting beneath the brazen sky
We sweat and grumble, but we go.

We go to plead with grudging men,
And think it is a bit of luck
When we can wangle now and then
A load or two of farmyard muck.

What do we look for as reward?
Some little sounds, and scents, and scenes:
A small hand darting strawberry-ward,
A woman's apron full of greens.

A busy neighbour, forced to stay
By sight and smell of wallflower-bed;
The plum-trees on an autumn day,
Yellow, and violet, and red.

Tired people sitting on the grass,
Lulled by the bee, drugged by the rose,
While all the little winds that pass
Tell them the honeysuckle blows.

The sense that we have brought to birth
Out of the cold and heavy soil,
These blessed fruits and flowers of earth
Is large reward for all our toil.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Description of a Recluse

Phrynicus Comicus, fragment 19 (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
My name is Recluse. I live a life like Timon's, with no wife or slave, easily angered and unapproachable, never laughing or speaking to anyone, keeping my own counsel.

ὄνομα δέ μοὔστι Μονότροπος
                          ζῶ δὲ Τίμωνος βίον,
ἄγαμον, ἄδουλον, ὀξύθυμον, ἀπρόσοδον,
ἀγέλαστον, ἀδιάλεκτον, ἰδιογνώμονα.
This is B21 in S. Douglas Olson's Broken Laughter. Select Fragments of Greek Comedy. Edited with Introduction, Commentary, and Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Olson's translation keeps close to the Greek, except that it obscures the asyndeton (absence of conjunctions) in the original. The following slight modification makes the asyndeton clearer:
My name is Recluse. I live a life like Timon's, with no wife, with no slave, easily angered, unapproachable, never laughing, never speaking to anyone, keeping my own counsel.
Of the seven adjectives modifying the noun life (βίον = bíon), five are adjectives with alpha privative prefixes, and those five occur in groups of two (ἄγαμον, ἄδουλον = ágamon, ádoulon) and three (ἀπρόσοδον, ἀγέλαστον, ἀδιάλεκτον = aprósodon, agélaston, adiálekton). This therefore qualifies as an example of a series of asyndetic, privative adjectives.

Olson in his commentary doesn't mention the asyndeton, but he has some references to Timon, which I note for my own use:
Timon was a notorious misanthrope mentioned repeatedly by the comic poets (Ar. Av. 1548-9; Lys. 808-20 (he never shaved, and lived by himself, cursing other men); Pl. Com. fr. 237; Antiphanes' Timon (fr. 204); cf. Neanth. FGrHist 84 F 35; Luc. Timon (based at least in part on Antiphanes' play?); Hawkins, GRBS 42 (2001), 143-62). Most likely he was a proverbial character rather than a real person (despite Armstrong, G&R 34 (1987), 7-11).
Here are expanded references to the articles cited by Olson, plus more bibliography on Timon and other ancient misanthropes:Some later ancient references could also be added to Olson's citations, e.g. Alciphron, Letters 2.32; Libanius, Declamation 12; and Pausanias 1.30.4. Plutarch, Life of Antony 70 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin), gives the following supposedly historical details:
[1] Now, Timon was an Athenian, and lived about the time of the Peloponnesian War, as may be gathered from the plays of Aristophanes and Plato. For he is represented in their comedies as peevish and misanthropical; but though he avoided and repelled all intercourse with men, he was glad to see Alcibiades, who was then young and headstrong, and showered kisses upon him. And when Apemantus was amazed at this and asked the reason for it, Timon said he loved the youth because he knew that he would be a cause of many ills to Athens.

[2] This Apemantus alone of all men Timon would sometimes admit into his company, since Apemantus was like him and tried sometimes to imitate his mode of life; and once, at the festival of The Pitchers, the two were feasting by themselves, and Apemantus said: "Timon, what a fine symposium ours is!" "It would be," said Timon, "if thou wert not here." We are told also that once when the Athenians were holding an assembly, he ascended the bema, and the strangeness of the thing caused deep silence and great expectancy; then he said:

[3] "I have a small building lot, men of Athens, and a fig-tree is growing in it, from which many of my fellow citizens have already hanged themselves. Accordingly, as I intend to build a house there, I wanted to give public notice to that effect, in order that all of you who desire to do so may hang yourselves before the fig-tree is cut down." After he had died and been buried at Halae near the sea, the shore in front of the tomb slipped away, and the water surrounded it and made it completely inaccessible to man.

[4] The inscription on the tomb was:

"Here, after snapping the thread of a wretched life, I lie.
Ye shall not learn my name, but my curses shall follow you."

This inscription he is said to have composed himself, but that in general circulation is by Callimachus:

"Timon, hater of men, dwells here; so pass along;
Heap many curses on me, if thou wilt, only pass along."

A correspondent comments:
Your present post is an excellent place to discuss what we might call more transparent translations. Transparency is a kind of literalness that is at pain to reveal the resources and choices that are possible in the language we are translating. Since both English and Greek are rich in privatives, for example, and fond of stacking up adjectives without conjunctions, it is usually possible to preserve these devices in a more transparent translation. Olson's translation of the present passage does not even try, and I think this should count against it.

As just a first version, for example, we could have

I have the name of Recluse and I live the life of Timon,
wifeless slaveless choleric,
unwelcoming unlaughing unspeaking never meddling.

We need to fix the meter here, and do some other stuff, but you get the idea. I think especially a translator of poetry should at least try to show us the underlying Greek construction. It's not very hard to do!

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