Sunday, January 31, 2010
And this is indeed something to marvel at: that man, who is the most afflicted and the most miserable of all creatures, should possess the faculty of laughter, which is alien to every other animal. And also something to marvel at is the use we make of this faculty, for we see many in extremely severe accidents, others in the depths of sadness, and still others who scarcely retain any love for life at all, totally convinced as they are of the vanity of every human good, almost incapable of any joy, and deprived of all hopeand yet we see them laugh. As a matter of fact, the more they know of the vanity of those goods and the unhappiness of life, and the less they can hope and the less they are suited for the enjoyment of pleasure, the more men are inclined to laughter.Related posts:
Cosa certamente mirabile è questa, che nell'uomo, il quale infra tutte le creature è la più travagliata e misera, si trovi la facoltà del riso, aliena da ogni altro animale. Mirabile ancora si è l'uso che noi facciamo di questa facoltà: poiché si veggono molti in qualche fierissimo accidente, altri in grande tristezza d'animo, altri che quasi non serbano alcuno amore alla vita, certissimi della vanità di ogni bene umano, presso che incapaci di ogni gioia, e privi di ogni speranza; nondimeno ridere. Anzi, quanto conoscono meglio la vanità dei predetti beni, e l'infelicità della vita; e quanto meno sperano, e meno eziandio sono atti a godere; tanto maggiormente sogliono i particolari uomini essere inclinati al riso.
More Travels of a Leaf
There is a fairly literal English translation by Robert Pogue Harrison in his book The Dominion of the Dead (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 152:
Detached from your stem,I also found two translations into Latin verse, the first by Léon Thiessé, in Répertoire de la Littérature Ancienne et Moderne, vol. 2 (Paris: Castel de Courval, 1824), p. 238:
Poor desiccated leaf,
Where go you?—I know not.
The storm battered the oak
That was my sole support:
With its inconstant breath
The zephyr or north wind
Has led me from that day
From the forest to the plain,
From the mountain to the valley.
I go where the wind takes me,
Without complaint or fear;
I go where all things go:
Where goes the petal of the rose
And the laurel leaf.
Ramo lapsa tuo, tristis et arida,and the second by Herbert Kynaston, in Hubert A. Holden, ed., Folia Silvulae, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Deighton Bell, 1870), p. 455:
Quò, frons, tendis iter? Nescio; concidit
Nimbos passa furentes,
Solum heu! quae columen fuit,
Quercus; nunc Zephyrus, nunc aquilo procax,
Hùc illùc, variis flaminibus, vagam
E vallo ad jugum, ab agro
Ad sylvam docilem ferunt.
Quò me ventus agit, nulla querens agor;
Quò res cuncta fluit, nulla timens fluo,
Hùc quò denique currunt
Et lauri folium, et rosae.
Avolso sitiens stipite quo fugis,
infelix folium? dicere nescio;
quae me sustinuit sola valentibus
ramis diffidit ilicem
tempestas; zephyris aut aquilonibus,
crebrescens quoties halitus impulit,
ex illo trucibus, quo ferar inscium,
ventis ludibrium volo:
a convallibus ad culmina montium,
ad rura a silvis usque patentia,
huc illuc fugio, quidlibet impotens
quo me proripiunt pati.
vado nec metuens fata nec ingemens;
vado quo properant omnia vadere,
quo frons occubuit laurea militis,
quo lapsae pereunt rosae.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Vergil, Aeneid 2
Quotations from Vergil:
65-66 (a common, if usually unfair, type of generalization): crimine ab uno / disce omnis
130-131 (the impulse to find a scapegoat): quae sibi quisque timebat, / unius in miseri exitium conversa tulere
137 (words of an exile): nec mihi iam patriam antiquam spes ulla videndi
324 (what awaits us all): venit summa dies et ineluctabile tempus
354 (if you push a man too far): una salus victis nullam sperare salutem
361-362 (a scene too often repeated throughout history): quis cladem illius noctis, quis funera fando / explicet aut possit lacrimis aequare labores?
402 (misplaced faith): heu nihil invitis fas quemquam fidere divis!
429-430 (devotion to the gods no protection against destruction): nec te tua plurima, Panthu, / labentem pietas nec Apollinis infula texit (cf. 11.843-844: nec tibi desertae in dumis coluisse Dianam / profuit)
509-511 (the pathos of old Priam arming himself): arma diu senior desueta trementibus aevo / circumdat nequiquam umeris et inutile ferrum / cingitur, ac densos fertur moriturus in hostis
594 (grief erupting into anger): quis indomitas tantus dolor excitat iras?
626-631 (comparison of fall of Troy to cutting down of an ash tree): ac veluti summis antiquam in montibus ornum / cum ferro accisam crebrisque bipennibus instant / eruere agricolae certatim, illa usque minatur / et tremefacta comam concusso vertice nutat, / vulneribus donec paulatim evicta supremum / congemuit traxitque iugis avulsa ruinam
647-648 (despair of an old man at his uselessness): iam pridem invisus divis et inutilis annos / demoror
714-715 (religious impulse to preserve a tree): antiqua cupressus / religione patrum multos servata per annos
777-778 (all things are fated to be): non haec sine numine divum / eveniunt
From Austin's commentary:
p. 50 (on 54): fata = quae dii loquuntur (Servius)
p. 58 (on 78, Argive reticence, cf. Boeotian taciturnity): "If Sinon had lived up to true 'Argive' ways, he would have had less to say; cf. Pearson's references on Soph. fr. 64, and fr. 462 μῦθος γάρ, Ἀργολιστὶ συντέμνων, βραχύς."
p. 94 (on 198 mille carinae):"The exact number of the Greek ships may be obtained by statisticians from Il. ii, or from Hygin. fab. 97: but could Helen's face have launched 1186 ships?"
p. 124 (on 263 primusque Machaon): "Absurd emendations have been made, e.g. prudensque M. (Baehrens), medicusque M. (Brandt, mentioned with approval by R. Wagner): poor Virgil. The Irish translator in the fourteenth-century Book of Ballymote solved the problem by making Primus a separate hero..."
p. 131 (on 277, interesting note on Hector's haircut): "thus the tonsura named after Hector was 'short in front, long behind'."
p. 151 (on 341), note on the Seven Sillies of antiquity, as opposed to the Seven Sages
pp. 153-154 (on 351), note on "the ancient ritual of evocatio deorum before an assault on a city"
p. 158 (on 369): "My generation cannot but be reminded of one of Winston Churchill's greatest speeches: Death and sorrow will be our companions on the journey, hardship our garment, constancy and valour our only shield." Roger Kuin recently quoted another Churchill speech, which makes me think I should read these speeches: "You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. On all sides they are guarded by masses of armed men, cannons, aeroplanes, fortifications, and the like - they boast and vaunt themselves before the world, yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts; words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home - all the more powerful because forbidden - terrify them. A mouse, a little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic. They make frantic efforts to bar our thoughts and words; they are afraid of the workings of the human mind."
p. 191 (on 488 ululant): "The verb, like ululatus, is specially applied to women (cf. Pliny, Epp. vi.20.14 'audires ululatus feminarum, infantium quiritatus, clamores virorum')," etc.
p. 194 (on 496 amnis): "For an examination of the relation of flumen, fluvius, and amnis see K. van der Hyde, Mnemos., N.S., lx, 1933, pp. 135 ff."
p. 195 (on 504 barbarico): "The Roman Ovid was disconcerted to find himself a 'foreigner' among the Goths (Trist. v.10.37 'barbarus hic ego sum, qui non intellegor ulli')."
p. 200 (on 513), note on trees inside houses, esp. quote from Statius, Silvae 1.3.59 ff.: 'quid te, quae mediis servata penatibus arbor / tecta per et postis liquidas emergis in auras, / quo non sub domino saevas passura bipennis?'
p. 235 (on 608 ff.): "the grotesque banalities of Silius' cardboard epic"
p. 240 (on 626 ff., the tree-cutting simile): "Homer has many tree-similes (e.g. Il. iv.482 ff., xii.131 ff.), and Virgil himself has others (an oak, iv.441 ff., a pine, v.448 f.); cf. Apoll. Rhod. iv.1682 ff., Catull. 64.105 ff. But no literary ancestry is needed here; Virgil must often have watched the felling of a tree in his country days (as his agricolae here itself suggests)."
p. 243 (on 638): "Virgil well understands the fear of the very old at the thought of leaving the place that they have known all their lives."
p. 245 (on 644), quotes Servius 'ut dici mortuis solet vale, vale, vale'
pp. 257 (on 691) and 260 (on 703), on distinction "in the technical language of augury" between an augurium oblativum ("sent by the gods without man's request") and an augurium impetrativum ("sent in answer to a request"), with reference to Servius on Aeneid 6.190.
p. 258 (on 694, comparing this passage, Georgics 1.365 ff., and Lucretius 2.206 ff., with Aratus, Phaenomena 926 f.): "see how fine a language Latin is in its own right when faced by a comparable piece of Greek."
p. 261 (on 708): "These two simple lines are worth pages of commentary on the meaning of pietas."
p. 262 (on 708), on caricatures known as grylli
pp. 263-264 (on 714 desertae Cereris), quoting (from Henry) Vitruvius 1.7.2 on "the proper siting of a temple of Ceres, according to the Etruscans" 'extra urbem loco quo <non quolibet> nomine semper homines, nisi per sacrificium, necesse habeant adire'
p. 272 (on 748): "Most readers of Virgil will have their private picture of a curva vallis: mine is Sheepscombe in Gloucestershire."
p. 276 (on 766 f.): "'there, all around, stand endless lines of frightened mothers with their children'. Virgil's picture of these living chattels could be paralleled easily enough from Greek drama....But it springs ultimately from his own consciousness of suffering, as if he had himself known the sight of terrified refugees, listlessly waiting in a queue, rounded up by an implacable enemy: it must be more vivid for his readers of the twentieth century than it can have been for many centuries in the past."
Friday, January 29, 2010
The most clear and ethereal ideas (Anteus-like) readily ally themselves to the earth, to the primal womb of things. They put forth roots as soon as branches; they are eager to be soiled. No thought soars so high that it sunders these apron-strings of its mother. The thought that comes to light, that pierces the empyrean on the other side, is wombed and rooted in darkness, a moist and fertile darkness,—its roots in Hades like the tree of life. No idea is so soaring but it will readily put forth roots. Wherever there is an air-and-light-seeking bud about to expand, it may become in the earth a darkness-seeking root.On Antaeus see (e.g.) Apollodorus, Library 2.5.11 (on Heracles, tr. Michael Simpson):
When he learned where they were he traveled through Libya, then ruled by Antaeus, son of Poseidon, who forced strangers to wrestle with him and killed them. Heracles, compelled to wrestle with him, raised him off the ground (for when he touched earth he became stronger, hence was said by some to be a son of earth) and crushed him to death.On the roots of a tree in Hades, cf. the idea that some trees extend as far under ground as above it, e.g. in Vergil, Georgics 2.290-297 (tr. J.W. Mackail, esp. 291-292):
The tree is sunk deeper and right into the earth; the winter-oak beyond all, who, as high as her top scales the air skyward, strikes her root as deep as hell: therefore not storms nor blasts nor rains uproot her; she abides unstirred, and outlives many children's children, and sees roll by her many generations of men; and stretching wide to right and left her strong boughs and arms, uprears the mass of her own enfolding shade.
altior ac penitus terrae defigitur arbos,
aesculus in primis, quae quantum vertice ad auras
aetherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit.
ergo non hiemes illam, non flabra neque imbres
convellunt: immota manet multosque nepotes,
multa virum volvens durando saecula vincit,
tum fortis late ramos et bracchia tendens
huc illuc media ipsa ingentem sustinet umbram.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Roland le Pettour
One Roland le Pettour, later also called "le Fartere," was rewarded by Henry II for his service, apparently a special trick of his, of making "a leap, a whistle and a fart" (saltum, siffletum et pettum) before the king on Christmas day (John Southworth, The English Medieval Minstrel [Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1989], p. 47).I don't have access to Southworth's book.
Labels: noctes scatologicae
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Travels of a Leaf
'De la tige détachée,A rather free English translation by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859):
Pauvre feuille desséchée,
Où vas-tu?' 'Je n'en sais rien.
L'orage a frappé le chêne
Qui seul était mon soutien;
De son inconstante haleine
Le zéphyr ou l'aquilon
Depuis ce jour me promène
De la forêt à la plaine,
De la montagne au vallon.
Je vais où le vent me mène,
Sans me plaindre ou m'effrayer;
Je vais où va toute chose,
Où va la feuille de rose,
Et la feuille de laurier!'
'Thou poor leaf, so sear and frail,Italian translation by Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), with the title Imitazione and without mention of Arnault:
Sport of every wanton gale,
Whence, and whither, dost thou fly
Through this bleak autumnal sky!'
'On a noble oak I grew,
Green, and broad, and fair to view;
But the Monarch of the shade
By the tempest low was laid.
From that time, I wander o'er
Wood, and valley, hill, and moor;
Wheresoe'er the wind is blowing,
Nothing caring, nothing knowing.
Thither go I, whither goes
Glory's laurel, Beauty's rose.'
Lungi dal proprio ramo,English translation, supposedly of Leopardi's Italian, but apparently also showing knowledge of Arnault's French, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882):
Povera foglia frale,
Dove vai tu? Dal faggio
Là dov'io nacqui, mi divise il vento.
Esso, tornando, a volo
Dal bosco alia campagna,
Dalla valle mi porta alla montagna.
Vo pellegrino, e tutto l'altro ignoro.
Vo dove ogni altra cosa,
Va la foglia di rosa,
E la foglia d'alloro.
'Torn from your parent bough,Some discussions, which I haven't yet read:
Poor leaf all withered now,
Where go you?' 'I cannot tell.
Storm-stricken is the oak-tree
Where I grew, whence I fell.
The zephyr and hurricane
Since that day bid me flee
From deepest woods to the lea,
From highest hills to the plain.
Where the wind carries me
I go without fear or grief:
I go whither each one goes
Thither the leaf of the rose
And thither the laurel-leaf.'
- William Norman Guthrie, "Translation: A Method for the Vital Study of Literature: Second Paper," The Sewanee Review 17.4 (Oct. 1909) 385-405
- A.E. Trombley, "A Translation of Rossetti's," Modern Language Notes 38 (1923) 116-118
- Paull F. Baum, "Rossetti's The Leaf," Modern Language Quarterly 2 (1941) 187-189
- Ellsworth Mason, "Arnault, Leopardi, Rossetti: Three Men on a Poem," Italica 30.4 (Dec. 1953) 223-226
Monday, January 25, 2010
My 25th birthday. Not very cheerful. Feel as if I had lived a long time and done very little.Id., p. 286 (1896):
Every man's birthday is a first of April for him, and he who lives to fifty and won't own it is a rogue or a fool, hypocrite or simpleton.Cf. A.E. Housman, letter to Jeannie Housman (April 3, 1929):
Many thanks for your kind attempt to cheer the gloom of a seventieth birthday.Related posts:
A Pessimist's apology. Pessimism (or rather what is called such) is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as they may, life becomes child's play.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Hunters in the Snow
Snow scenes lent themselves particularly well to Breughel's style of painting. For a snowy background has the effect of making all dark or colored objects seen against it appear in the form of very distinct, sharp-edged silhouettes. Breughel does in all his compositions what the snow does in nature. All the objects in his pictures (which are composed in a manner that reminds one very much of the Japanese) are paper-thin silhouettes arranged, plane after plane, like the theatrical scenery in the depth of the stage. Consequently in the painting of snow scenes, where nature starts by imitating his habitual method, he achieves an almost disquieting degree of fundamental realism.
John Berryman, Winter Landscape:
The three men coming down the winter hillFor more poems inspired by Brueghel's Hunters in the Snow, see here (.pdf). See also John Hollander, The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 243-248.
In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds
At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,
Past the five figures at the burning straw,
Returning cold and silent to their town,
Returning to the drifted snow, the rink
Lively with children, to the older men,
The long companions they can never reach,
The blue light, men with ladders, by the church
The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,
Are not aware that in the sandy time
To come, the evil waste of history
Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow
Of that same hill: when all their company
Will have been irrecoverably lost,
These men, this particular three in brown
Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
By their configuration with the trees,
The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
What place, what time, what morning occasion
Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
Thence to return as now we see them and
Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Xerxes and the Plane-Tree
Passing from Phrygia into Lydia, he came to the place where the roads part; the road on the left leads to Caria, the one on the right to Sardis; on the latter the traveller must cross the river Maeander and pass by the city of Callatebus, where craftsmen make honey out of wheat and tamarisks. Xerxes went by this road and found a plane-tree, which he adorned with gold because of its beauty, and he assigned one of his immortals to guard it. On the next day he reached the city of the Lydians.Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2.14 (tr. N.G. Wilson):
ὡς δὲ ἐκ τῆς Φρυγίης ἐσέβαλε ἐς τὴν Λυδίην, σχιζομένης τῆς ὁδοῦ καὶ τῆς μὲν ἐς ἀριστερὴν ἐπὶ Καρίης φερούσης, τῆς δὲ ἐς δεξιὴν ἐς Σάρδις, τῇ καὶ πορευομένῳ διαβῆναι τὸν Μαίανδρον ποταμὸν πᾶσα ἀνάγκη γίνεται καὶ ἰέναι παρὰ Καλλάτηβον πόλιν, ἐν τῇ ἄνδρες δημιοργοὶ μέλι ἐκ μυρίκης τε καὶ πυροῦ ποιεῦσι, ταύτην ἰὼν ὁ Ξέρξης τὴν ὁδὸν εὗρε πλατάνιστον, τὴν κάλλεος εἵνεκα δωρησάμενος κόσμῳ χρυσέῳ καὶ μελεδωνῷ ἀθανάτῳ ἀνδρὶ ἐπιτρέψας δευτέρῃ ἡμέρῃ ἀπίκετο ἐς τῶν Λυδῶν τὸ ἄστυ.
The famous king Xerxes was ridiculous, if it is true that he despised sea and land, the handiwork of Zeus, manufactured for himself novel roads and abnormal sea routes, and yet was the devotee of a plane tree, which he admired. In Lydia, they say, he saw a large specimen of a plane tree, and stopped for that day without any need. He made the wilderness around the tree his camp, and attached to it expensive ornaments, paying homage to the branches with necklaces and bracelets. He left a caretaker for it, like a guard to provide security, as if it were a woman he loved. What benefit accrued to the tree as a result? The ornaments it had acquired, which were quite inappropriate to it, hung on it without serving any purpose and made no contribution to its appearance, since the beauty of a tree consists of fine branches, abundant leaves, a sturdy trunk, deep roots, movement in the wind, shadow spreading all around, change in accordance with the passing of seasons, with irrigation channels to support it and rain water to sustain it. Xerxes' robes, barbarian gold, and the other offerings did not ennoble the plane or any other tree.Frank H. Stubbings, "Xerxes and the Plane-Tree," Greece & Rome 15 (1946) 63-67 (at 63):
Γελοῖος ἐκεῖνος ὁ Ξέρξης ᾖν εἴ γε θαλάσσης μὲν καὶ γῆς κατεφρόνει τῆς Διὸς τέχνης, ἑαυτῷ δὲ εἰργάζετο καινὰς ὁδοὺς καὶ πλοῦν ἀήθη, δεδούλωτο δὲ πλατάνῳ, καὶ ἐθαύμαζε τὸ δένδρον. ἐν Λυδίᾳ γοῦν, φασιν, ἰδὼν φυτὸν εὐμέγεθες πλατάνου, καὶ τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην κατέμεινεν, οὐδέν τι δεόμενος, καὶ ἐχρήσατο σταθμῷ τῇ ἐρημίᾳ τῇ περὶ τὴν πλάτανον. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξῆψεν αὐτῆς κόσμον πολυτελῆ, στρεπτοῖς καὶ ψελλίοις τιμῶν τοὺς κλάδους, καὶ μελεδωνὸν αὐτῇ κατέλιπεν, ὥσπερ ἐρωμένῃ φύλακα καὶ φρουρόν. ἐκ δὲ τούτων τι τῷ δένδρῳ καλὸν ἀπήντησεν; ὁ μὲν γὰρ κόσμος ὁ ἐπίκτητος καὶ μηδὲν αὐτῷ προσήκων ἄλλως ἐκρέματο καὶ συνεμάχετο εἰς ὥραν οὐδέν, ἐπεὶ τοῦ φυτοῦ κάλλος ἐκεῖνό ἐστιν· εὐγενεῖς οἱ κλάδοι καὶ ἡ κόμη πολλὴ καὶ στερεὸν τὸ πρέμνον καὶ αἱ ῥίζαι ἐν βάθει καὶ διασείοντες οἱ ἄνεμοι καὶ ἀμφιλαφὴς ἡ ἐξ αὐτοῦ σκιὰ καὶ ἀναστρέφουσαι αἱ ὧραι καὶ ὕδωρ τὸ μὲν διὰ τῶν ὀχετῶν ἐκτρέφον, τὸ δὲ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἐπάρδον· χλαμύδες δὲ αἱ Ξέρξου καὶ χρυσὸς ὁ τοῦ βαρβάρου καὶ τὰ ἄλλα δῶρα οὔτε πρὸς τὴν πλάτανον οὔτε πρὸς ἄλλο δένδρον εὐγενὲς ἦν.
The criticism is rational. But Aelian, who though he wrote in Greek is recorded never to have left his native Italy, could hardly appreciate the feelings of admiration and delight, even of religious awe, shown by the dwellers on the arid plateaux of Asia for large and shady trees, feelings shared by the Greeks, and by any modern traveller in Greece who on a dusty summer's day has spied far-off a whitewashed chapel with trees at hand, and known that there he would also find a spring of cold clear water and rest from the road.For similar feelings of admiration, delight, and religious awe, see Aldous Huxley, "In a Tunisian Oasis":
In the middle of the desert, suddenly, a hundred fountains come welling out of the sand; rivers run, a network of little canals is dug. An innumerable forest of date palms springs up—a forest whose undergrowth is corn and roses, vines and apricot trees, olives and pomegranates, pepper trees, castor-oil trees, banana trees, every precious plant of the temperate and the sub-tropical zones. No rain falls on these little Edens—except on the days of my arrival—but the springs, fed from who knows what distant source, flow inexhaustibly and have flowed at least since Roman times. Islanded among the sands, their green luxuriance is a standing miracle. That it should have been in a desert, with here and there such islands of palm trees, that Judaism and Mohammedanism took their rise is a thing which, since I have seen an oasis, astonishes me. The religion which, in such a country, would naturally suggest itself to me would be no abstract monotheism, but the adoration of life, of the forces of green and growing nature. In an oasis, it seems to me, the worship of Pan and of the Great Mother should be celebrated with an almost desperate earnestness. The nymphs of water and of trees ought surely, here, to receive a passionate gratitude. In the desert, I should infallibly have invented the Greek mythology. The Jews and the Arabs discovered Jahweh and Allah. I find it strange.
Friday, January 22, 2010
The Scholar's Life
Sweet is the scholar's life,The same, translated by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson in A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literatures (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 219:
busy about his studies,
the sweetest lot in Ireland
as all of you know well.
No king or prince to rule him
nor lord however mighty,
no rent to the chapterhouse,
no drudging, no dawn-rising.
Dawn-rising or shepherding
never required of him,
no need to take his turn
as watchman in the night.
He spends a while at chess,
and a while with the pleasant harp
and a further while wooing
and winning lovely women.
His horse-team hale and hearty
at the first coming of Spring;
the harrow for his team
is a fistful of pens.
The student's life is pleasant, carrying on his studies; it is plain to you, my friends, his is the most pleasant in Ireland.I don't know a word of Gaelic, but I always like to see the original, and so here it is:
No king or great prince nor landlord, however strong, coerces him; no taxes to the Chapter, no fines, no early-rising.
Early rising or sheep-herding, he never undertakes them, nor yet does he pay heed to the watchman in the night.
He spends a while at backgammon, and at the tuneful harp, or again another while at wooing, and at courting a fair woman.
He gets good profit from his plough-team when early spring comes round - the frame of his plough is a handful of pens!
Aoibhinn beatha an sgoláireThe image of the harrow as a fistful of pens reminds me of Seamus Heaney's poem Digging:
bhíos ag déanamh a léighinn;
is follas díbh, a dhaoine,
gurab dó is aoibhne i nÉirinn.
Gan smacht ríogh ná rófhlatha
ná tighearna dá threise;
gan chuid cíosa ag caibidil,
gan moicheirgne, gan meirse.
Moichéirghe ná aodhaireacht
ní thabhair uadha choidhche,
's ní mó do-bheir dá aire
fear ná faire san oidhche.
Do-bheir sé greas ar tháiplis,
is ar chláirsigh go mbinne,
nó fós greas eile ar shuirghe
is ar chumann mná finne.
Maith biseach a sheisrighe
ag teacht tosaigh an earraigh;
is é is crannghail dá sheisrigh
lán a ghlaice do pheannaibh.
Between my finger and my thumbCf. also the style of Greek penmanship known as boustrophedon, ox-turning.
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.
Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
Evidence of Intelligent Design?
It was he, after all, who noted to the Abbé Morellet "that God wants us to tipple, because he has made the joints of the arm just the right length to carry a glass to the mouth, without falling short of or overshooting the mark."Related post: Intelligent Design.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Who Is an Intellectual?
I would propose to extend the term to the person educated beyond his daily trade, whose culture is alive inasmuch as it makes an attempt to renew itself, increase itself, and keep up to date, and who does not react with indifference or irritation when confronted by any branch of knowledge, even though, obviously, he cannot cultivate all of them.Levi is reacting to what he calls a "pointlessly restrictive" definition of an intellectual by Hans Mayer, aka Jean Améry, quoted on the preceding page:
I certainly do not mean to allude to all those who exercise one of the so-called intellectual professions: having received a good level of education is perhaps a necessary condition but not sufficient. We all know lawyers, physicians, engineers, probably also philologists, who are certainly intelligent, perhaps even excellent in their field, but cannot be called intellectuals. An intellectual, as I would like it to be understood here, is a man who lives within a system of reference which is spiritual in the broadest sense. The sphere of his associations is essentially humanist and philosophical. His esthetic consciousness is well developed. By inclination and aptitude he is attracted by abstract thought.By Améry's strict definition, I'm certainly no intellectual, and I probably don't meet Levi's broader definition either. Even if I did, it's not a label I'd ever use to describe myself to my ear it sounds a bit pretentious.
Thanks very much to the anonymous reader who kindly sent me a copy of The Drowned and the Saved as a gift. I stayed up late last night reading this thought-provoking book, and I plan to read it again soon. There might be a misprint on p. 41, where "Zurüchschlagen" should perhaps be "Zurückschlagen" the word is spelled with a -k- on p. 135.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Among all the sciences, none is more haughty, more aristocratic, more disputatious than philology, and none more unmerciful against error.Thanks to Professor Michael Drout for answering a question about the source of this quotation.
Keine unter allen den wissenschaften ist hochmütiger, vornehmer, streitsüchtiger als die philologie und gegen fehler unbarmherziger.
Related post: Odium and Insults.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Topothesia and Topographia
Furthermore, when a description of place interrupts or punctuates a narrative, as characteristically in Ovid's Metamorphoses and other epics, it has available a stereotyped entry formula to set it apart from its surrounding context, often couched in a 'timeless' present. locus est or more commonly est locus is the default opening ('there is a place...'), as in the first instance of the pattern in extant Latin poetry at Ennius, Ann. 20 (reprised by Virgil at Aen. 1.530),C.J. Fordyce, commentary on Vergil, Aeneid 7-8 (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1985), pp. 161-162 (on 7.563 ff. est locus ... hic):est locus Hesperiam quam mortales perhibebantor as in a famous Virgilian instance even earlier in the Aeneid (1.159)est in secessu longo locus...typically picked up by a resumptive demonstrative or relative at the point of transition from description back into narrative (thus huc at Aen. 1.170). The initial est locus which may lurk as a(nother) metaformular pun within Horace's sed nunc non erat his locus is regularly varied by the naming of the place or object described: est specus, est nemus, stagnum est, fons erat.
the abrupt introduction of a short piece of local description which is later picked up and related to the narrative in a following clause is a piece of epic technique inherited from Homer: cf., e.g., Od. iv.844 ff. ἔστι δέ τις νῆσος...τῇ, Il. ii.811 ff. ἔστι δέ τις προπάροιθε πόλιος αἰπεῖα κολώνη...ἔνθα, xiii.32 ff. ἔστι δέ τι σπέος...ἔνθα. (So also Aesch. Pers. 447 ff.: Hellenistic epic continued the device, e.g. Ap. Rhod. i.936, iii.927.) Virgil uses the 'Homeric' opening with est again in i.159 ff. 'est in secessu longo locus...huc', ii.21 ff. 'est in conspectu Tenedos...huc', 713 ff. 'est urbe egressis tumulus...hanc...sedem', v.124 ff. 'est procul in pelago saxum...hic', viii.597 ff. 'est ingens gelidum lucus prope Caeritis amnem...haud procul hinc', xi.522 ff. 'est curuo anfractu ualles...hanc super', Geo. iv.418 ff. 'est specus ingens...his...in latebris': similarly in this book 59 ff., 170 ff., 607 ff. He has variations of the formula in iii.13 ff. 'terra procul uastis colitur Mauortia campis...huc', 73 ff. 'sacra mari colitur medio gratissima tellus...huc', 210 ff. 'Strophiades Graio stant nomine dictae...huc', 533 ff., viii.416 ff. Ovid uses the device often, e.g. Met. xi.592 ff., F. iv.337 ff., vi.9 ff., Her. 16.53 ff., Am. iii.1.1 ff.; so Propertius, iv.4.3 ff., 6.15 ff. For a prose example cf. Livy i.21.3 'lucus erat, quem...eum lucum'. On this device see E. Fraenkel, De Media et Noua Comoedia Quaestiones Selectae (Göttingen, 1912): but he does not distinguish clearly between examples of a deliberate device of literary narrative and those of a casual conversational manner of speech (e.g. Plaut. Aul. 674 ff.; Ter. Ad. 576) which is natural in any language.For another example in Vergil's Aeneid, see 1.441 ff. (lucus in urbe fuit media, laetissimus umbra, / quo...loco...hic...hoc...in luco...hic). Note to myself: prose analogues to Vergil's est urbe egressis tumulus... (Aen. 2.713), e.g. in Pausanias and in periplus authors?
K.W. Gransden, commentary on Vergil, Aeneid 8 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 158 (on 8.597 est ... lucus):
opening formula for an ecphrasis or set-piece of the kind known as topothesia, description of place. The 'est' opening (= 'there is') is normal, e.g. Ennius, Ann. 23 V2 est locus Hesperiam quam mortales perhibebant: for a variation see sbove 416n. This figure is first found in Homer (e.g. the gardens of Alcinous in Od. 7.112 ff., the uninhabited island which lies across the bay from the Cyclopes in Od. 9.116 ff.) Other exx. in the Aen. are at 1.159 ff., 4.480 ff., 7.563 ff., 11.522 ff. See Williams, TORP 637 ff. The figure also occurs in English, e.g. Hamlet 4.6.167 'There is a willow grows aslant a brook, / That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; / There with fantastic garlands did she come...'"Williams, TORP" is Gordon Williams, Tradition and Originalty in Roman Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), unavailable to me.
Heinrich Lausberg, Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, tr. Matthew Bliss et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1998) § 819, pp. 365-366:
The description of places as a digression (Quint. Inst. 4.3.12) in narratio (cf. § 342) also bears the designation τοπογραφία: Quint. Inst. 9.2.44 locorum quoque dilucida et significans descriptio eidem virtuti (scil. evidentiae (cf. § 810)) assignatur a quibusdam, alii τοπογραφίαν dicunt; Empor. p.569,25 demonstrationes vero urbium locorumque iam non demonstrationes, sed topographiae a plurimus existimantur, Quint. Inst. 4.3.12 laus ... locorum ... ut descriptio regionum.
Topography as the description of a geographical place mentioned by name is distinguished by some from topothesia as the description of a fictitious place: Schem. Dian. 11 τοπογραφία est loci descriptio, ut apud Vergilium: "est locus Italiae medio sub montibus altis, / nobilis et fama multis memoratus in oris, / Ampsancti valles: densis hunc frondibus atrum / urget latus nemoris, medioque fragosus / dat sonitum saxis et torto vertice torres..." (Verg. Aen. 7.563); ibid. 12 τοποθεσία est loci positio, cum describitur locus, qui non est, sed fingitur, ut "est in secessu longo locus: insula portum / efficit obiectu laterum, quibus omnis ab alto / frangitur inque sinus scindit sese unda reductos" (Verg. A. 1.159). Plb.Rh. iii p.109,4-13 gives exactly the reverse definitions for τοποθεσία and τοπογραφία respectively.
Introduction by means of the (also variable) formula est locus, whether the place is fictitious or real, is frequent: Verg. A. 7.563 (see above); Verg. A. 1.159 (see above); Sen. Tro. 1068; Ov. Met. 8.788; 11.592; 12/39; Rem. 549.
From French literature (cf. Mornet, Clarté p. 75) may be quoted Henriade 1.193 Non loin de ce rivage, un bois sombre et tranquille, / Sous des ombrages frais, présente un doux asile: / Un rocher...
Monday, January 18, 2010
The Disease of Introspection
Know thyself: to what depths of vain, egocentric brooding has that dictum led!Similarly, in the penultimate paragraph of the book, Douglas referred to the "disease of introspection."
I just re-read Old Calabria, and I also just re-read Elizabeth David's tribute to Douglas, "Have It Your Way," first published (February 1969) in the now sadly defunct magazine Gourmet and reprinted in her book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986), pp. 120-124. The first paragraph of David's article is:
'Always do as you please, and send everybody to Hell, and take the consequences. Damned good Rule of Life. N.' I think we must both have been more than a little tipsy the evening Norman wrote those words on the back page of my copy of Old Calabria. They are in a pencilled untidy scrawl that is very different from the neat pen-and-ink inscription, dated 21 May 1940, on the flyleaf of the book, and from the methodical list of 'misprints etc.' written on the title page when he gave me the book. 'Old-fashioned stuff, my dear. Heavy going. I don't know whether you'll be able to get through it.'Old-fashioned in a good way, and not at all heavy going. In fact, just the right medicine to counteract the disease of introspection.
Related post: An Old Saw and a New One.
The Sacrilegious Axe
List, O list my plaintive ditty,I've never set foot in Oxford, nor am I likely to in the years remaining to me, so I don't know if the bursar or city councillors heeded Godley's witty plea. How difficult it is to answer such questions even by autopsy is shown by Godley's own Letter on Matthew Arnold's Topography, in Reliquiae, vol. I, pp. 165-170, in which he tried to identify the site of "the signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs," from Arnold's Thyrsis, line 14.
O St. John's, or O the City!
For its application's to
One or other, Sirs, of you.
Tell me what's the potent reason
Why you mutilate the trees on
Which the sparrows daily perch
Very near St. Giles's Church,
Why their boughs you daily shred off,
Much endangering the head of
Any one who walks beneath
Not expecting sudden death?
E'en a Bursar—though too often
Nought bursarial hearts can soften—
E'en the sternest Bursar here
Scarce had checked the rising tear,
Had that Bursar seen, as I had,
Weeping Faun and Hamadryad
Fleeing from the rude attacks
Of the sacrilegious axe!
Is it that a builder offers
Sums to swell your ample coffers
If he may but build unchid
Where the rooks aforetime did?
City Councillors! consider
Not alone the Highest Bidder!
Make not of these sylvan spots
Eligible Building Lots!
Bursar! If you need the dollars,
Pinch your Tutors, starve your Scholars,
Cut down all expense you please
Only don't cut down the trees!
Related posts: Arboricide on the Wayne Ranch; The Woods of Bachycraigh; Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; 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; Hornbeams; 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, January 17, 2010
Vistas of Intellectual Despair
I have been dull to-day, haunted by the thought of how much there is that I would fain know, and how little I can hope to learn. The scope of knowledge has become so vast. I put aside nearly all physical investigation; to me it is naught, or only, at moments, a matter of idle curiosity. This would seem to be a considerable clearing of the field; but it leaves what is practically the infinite. To run over a list of only my favourite subjects, those to which, all my life long, I have more or less applied myself, studies which hold in my mind the place of hobbies, is to open vistas of intellectual despair. In an old note-book I jotted down such a list"things I hope to know, and to know well." I was then four and twenty. Reading it with the eyes of fifty-four, I must needs laugh. There appear such modest items as "The history of the Christian Church up to the Reformation""all Greek poetry""The field of Mediaeval Romance""German literature from Lessing to Heine""Dante!" Not one of these shall I ever "know, and know well"; not any one of them. Yet here I am buying books which lead me into endless paths of new temptation. What have I to do with Egypt? Yet I have been beguiled by Flinders Petrie and by Maspero. How can I pretend to meddle with the ancient geography of Asia Minor? Yet here have I bought Prof. Ramsay's astonishing book, and have even read with a sort of troubled enjoyment a good many pages of it; troubled, because I have but to reflect a moment, and I see that all this kind of thing is mere futile effort of the intellect when the time for serious intellectual effort is over.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The Old World and the New
Increasingly over the last maybe forty years, the thought has come to me that the old world in which our people lived by the work of their hands, close to weather and earth, plants and animals was the true world; and that the new world of cheap energy and ever cheaper money, honored greed, and dreams of liberation from every restraint, is mostly theater. This new world seems a jumble of scenery and props never quite believable, an economy of fantasies and moods, in which it is hard to remember either the timely world of nature or the eternal world of the prophets and poets.
Friday, January 15, 2010
This World's Wondering Beginner
They stand in the corner, on a shadowy shelf,Related posts:
Field Books of This, Beginner's Guide to That,
Remainders of an abdicated self
That wanted knowledge of no matter what.
Of flowers, was it? Every spring he'd tear
From their hiding-places, press and memorize
A dozen pale beginners of the year
That open almost among the melting snows,
And for a month thereafter rule his realm
Of small and few and homey in such minds
As his, until full summer came to whelm
Him under the flood and number of her kinds.
Or birds? At least the flowers would stand still
For amateurs, but these flighty alightings
Would not; and as he still refused to kill
In confirmation of his rarer sightings
The ornithologists were not his dish,
And he made do with sedentary birds
Who watched his watching as it were their wish
To check with Peterson, pictures and words.
And even so, before he got them straight
As like as not they'd not be there at all.
On the wings and wits God gave 'em they'd migrate;
"Confusing Fall Warblers" were, each Fall, his fall.
The world would not, nor he could not, stand still.
The longest life might be too short a one
To get by heart, in all its fine detail,
Earth's billion changes swinging on the sun.
His last attempt he made upon the stars,
And was appalled, so many more of them
There were since boyhood that astronomers
Preferred a number to an ancient name.
And if, as The Beginner was advised
To do, he bought himself a telescope,
The host of stars that must be memorized
So mightily increased, he'd lose all hope.
Was it a waste, the time and the expense,
Buying the books, going into the field
To make some mind of what was only sense,
And show a profit on the year's rich yield?
Though no authority on this theme either,
He would depose upon the whole that it
Was not. The world was always being wider
And deeper and wiser than his little wit,
But it felt good to know the hundred names
And say them, in the warm room, in the winter,
Drowsing and dozing over his trying times,
Still to this world its wondering beginner.
- The Language of the Trees
- The Desire for Knowledge and the Names for Things
- The Investigation of Nature
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The Leap of the Flea
PUPIL. Just now Socrates asked Chaerephon how many of its own feet a flea can jump, because one had bitten Chaerephon's eyebrow and jumped off onto Socrates' head.Primo Levi, in his essay "The Leap of the Flea," published in Other People's Trades, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1989), pp. 44-48, doesn't mention the supposed investigations of Socrates and Chaerephon, but he does discuss the research of Miriam Rothschild into the physiology of the flea, which enables it to jump up to a hundred times its own length. Levi defends such studies (p. 48):
STREPSIADES. And how did he measure it off?
PUPIL. Very cleverly. He melted some wax, then picked up the flea and dipped both its feet in the wax, and then when the wax cooled the flea had Persian slippers stuck to it. He took these off and went about measuring the distance.
STREPSIADES. Lord Zeus, what subtlety of mind!
Some readers will ask what is the use of all this research: a religious spirit might answer that the harmony of creation is mirrored in the flea; a lay mind prefers to say that the question is not relevant and that a world in which only useful things are studied would be sadder, poorer, and perhaps more violent than the world which fate has allotted us. In substance, the second answer is not very different from the first.Compare these words from A.E. Housman's introductory lecture at University College, London (1892):
While the partisans of Science define the end of education as the useful, the partisans of the Humanities define it, more sublimely, as the good and the beautiful. We study, they say, not that we may earn a livelihood, but that we may transform and beautify our inner nature by culture....So we find that the two fancied aims of learning laid down by these two parties will not stand the test of examination. And no wonder; for these are the fabrications of men anxious to impose their own favourite pursuits on others, or of men who are ill at ease in their conscience until they have invented some external justification for those pursuits. The acquisition of knowledge needs no such justification: its true sanction is a much simpler affair, and inherent in itself. People are too prone to torment themselves with devising far-fetched reasons: they cannot be content with the simple truth asserted by Aristotle: 'all men possess by nature a craving for knowledge', πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. This is no rare endowment scattered sparingly from heaven that falls on a few heads and passes others by: curiosity, the desire to know things as they are, is a craving no less native to the being of man, no less universal in diffusion through mankind, than the craving for food and drink. And do you suppose that such a desire means nothing? The very definition of the good, says Aristotle again, is that which all desire. Whatever is pleasant is good, unless it can be shewn that in the long run it is harmful, or, in other words, not pleasant but unpleasant. Mr Spencer himself on another subject speaks thus: 'So profound an ignorance is there of the laws of life, that men do not even know that their sensations are their natural guides, and (when not rendered morbid by long continued disobedience) their trustworthy guides.' The desire of knowledge does not need, nor could it possibly possess, any higher or more authentic sanction that the happiness which attends its gratification.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Classical Pickup Lines
But how do I address you? For you seemRelated posts:
Not to be a mortal, by your looks,
Nor does your voice sound like a human voice.
A goddess certainly! A sister of Phoebus?
Or perhaps one of the race of Nymphs?
o quam te memorem, virgo? namque haud tibi vultus
mortalis, nec vox hominem sonat; o, dea certe
(an Phoebi soror? an nympharum sanguinis una?)
Monday, January 11, 2010
A Rural Seat
Grant me, indulgent Heaven, a rural seat,
Rather contemptible than great;
Where, though I taste life's sweets, still I may be
Athirst for immortality.
I would have business, but exempt from strife;
A private, but an active, life;
A conscience bold, and punctual to his charge;
My stock of health, or patience, large.
Some books I'd have, and some acquaintance too,
But very good, and very few.
Then (if one mortal two such grants may crave)
From silent life I'd steal into my grave.
Hat tip: Stephen Pentz.
- What's That to My Books and Me?
- In Leisure and Obscurity
- In Calm Leisure Let Me Rest
- Pleasing, Useful Studies
- My Little Zoar
Sunday, January 10, 2010
From the ecological point of view an outbreak can be defined as an explosive increase in the abundance of a particular species that occurs over a relatively short period of time. From this perspective, the most serious outbreak on the planet earth is that of the species Homo sapiens.Related posts:
A l'entrée des allées où les arbres entrelacent le dédale ostéologique des branches, vague et blème, glabre et décharné, se dessine le Spectre.I understand this to mean something like the following:
At the entrance to the promenades, where the trees interweave the skeletal labyrinth of the branches, the Ghost appears, indistinct and pale, hairless and gaunt.Here is Odilon Redon's illustration for this passage:
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Advice from Simonides
This finest thing the Chian said:Simonides, fragment 20, lines 5-12 (tr. M.L. West):
'As is the breed of leaves, e'en so is that of man.'
Few mortals who have had that in their ears
have taken it to heart, for everyone relies
on hope; it's planted in a young man's breast.
ἓν δὲ τὸ κάλλιστον Χῖος ἔειπεν ἀνήρ·
"οἵη περ φύλλων γενεή, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν"·
παῦροί μιν θνητῶν οὔασι δεξάμενοι
στέρνοις ἐγκατέθεντο· πάρεστι γὰρ ἐλπὶς ἑκάστωι
ἀνδρῶν, ἥ τε νέων στήθεσιν ἐμφύεται.
A mortal, while he has the lovely bloom of youth,
has many empty-headed, vain ideas.
He has no expectation of old age or death,
and while in health, has no thought of disease.
They're fools who have that attitude, and do not know
the time allowed to us for youth and life
is short. Take note of this, and till your days are done
don't waver, treat your soul to all that's nice.
θνητῶν δ' ὄφρά τις ἄνθος ἔχει πολυήρατον ἥβης,
κοῦφον ἔχων θυμὸν πόλλ' ἀτέλεστα νοεῖ·
οὔτε γὰρ ἐλπίδ' ἔχει γηρασέμεν οὔτε θανεῖσθαι,
οὐδ', ὑγιὴς ὅταν ἦι, φροντίδ' ἔχει καμάτου.
νήπιοι, οἷς ταύτηι κεῖται νόος, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν
ὡς χρόνος ἔσθ' ἥβης καὶ βιότοι' ὀλίγος
θνητοῖς. ἀλλὰ σὺ ταῦτα μαθὼν βιότου ποτὶ τέρμα
ψυχῆι τῶν ἀγαθῶν τλῆθι χαριζόμενος.
Unit of Taciturnity: The Dirac
How many of us have been speaking in Diracs all our adult lives and never known it? I didn't until yesterday:
'For most physicists in Cambridge, the discovery of quantum mechanics was a non-event. Apart from his discussions with Fowler [his tutor], Dirac made no effort to draw his colleagues into the new revolution in physics that he knew was afoot. Word was beginning to spread, however, that he was 'a first-rate man' in the making, though his wispy, almost wordless, presence gave no clue as to the depth and subtlety of his thinking. It appears to have been at this time that his colleagues invented a new unit for the smallest imaginable number of words that someone with the power of speech could utter in company - an average of one word an hour, a 'Dirac'. On the rare occasions he was provoked into saying more than yes or no, he said precisely what he thought, apparently with no understanding of other people's feelings or the conventions of polite conversation.'Graham Farmelo, 'The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius' (London, Faber: 2009), p. 89.
Related post: Ich bin ein Boeotier.
Friday, January 08, 2010
Cheerfulness and Enjoyment
Cheerfulness is created for men through moderation of enjoyment and harmoniousness of life. Things that are in excess or lacking are apt to change and cause great disturbance in the soul.Democritus, fragment 200 (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
ἀνθρώποισι γὰρ εὐθυμίη γίνεται μετριότητι τέρψιος καὶ βίου συμμετρίῃ· τὰ δ᾿ ἐλλείποντα καὶ ὑπερβάλλοντα μεταπίπτειν τε φιλεῖ καὶ μεγάλας κινήσιας ἐμποιεῖν τῇ ψυχῃ.
Souls which are stirred by great divergences are neither stable nor cheerful.
αἱ δ᾿ ἐκ μεγάλων διαστημάτων κινούμεναι τῶν ψυχέων οὔτε εὐσταθέες εἰσὶν οὔτε εὔθυμοι.
Therefore one must keep one's mind on what is attainable, and be content with what one has, paying little heed to things envied and admired, and not dwelling on them in one's mind. Rather must you consider the lives of those in distress, reflecting on their intense sufferings, in order that your own possessions and condition may seem great and enviable, and you may, by ceasing to desire more, cease to suffer in your soul.
ἐπὶ τοῖς δυνατοῖς οὖν δεῖ ἔχειν τὴν γνώμην καὶ τοῖς παρεοῦσιν ἀρκέεσθαι τῶν μὲν ζηλουμένων καὶ θαυμαζομένων ὀλίγην μνήμην ἔχοντα καὶ τῇ διανοίᾳ μὴ προσεδρεύοντα, τῶν δὲ ταλαιπωρεόντων τοὺς βίους θεωρέειν, ἐννοούμενον ἃ πάσχουσι κάρτα, ὅκως ἂν τὰ παρεόντα σοι καὶ ὑπάρχοντα μεγάλα καὶ ζηλωτὰ φαίνηται, καὶ μηκέτι πλειόνων ἐπιθυμέοντι συμβαίνῃ κακοπαθεῖν τῇ ψυχῇ.
For he who admires those who have, and who are called happy by other mortals, and who dwells on them in his mind every hour, is constantly impelled to undertake something new and to run the risk, through his desire, of doing something irretrievable among those things which the laws prohibit.
ὁ γὰρ θαυμάζων τοὺς ἔχοντας καὶ μακαριζομένους ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων καὶ τῇ μνήμῃ πᾶσαν ὥραν προσεδρεύων ἀεὶ ἐπικαινουργεῖν ἀναγκάζεται καὶ ἐπιβάλλεσθαι δι' ἐπιθυμίην τοῦ τι πρήσσειν ἀνήκεστον ὧν νόμοι κωλύουσιν.
Hence one must not seek the latter, but must be content with the former, comparing one's own life with that of those in worse cases, and must consider oneself fortunate, reflecting on their sufferings, in being so much better off than they.
διόπερ τὰ μὲν μὴ δίζεσθαι χρεών, ἐπὶ δὲ τοῖς εὐθυμέεσθαι χρεών, παραβάλλοντα τὸν ἑαυτοῦ βίον πρὸς τὸν τῶν φαυλότερον πρησσόντων καὶ μακαρίζειν ἑωυτὸν ἐνθυμεύμενον ἃ πάσχουσιν, ὁκόσῳ αὐτέων βέλτιον πρήσσει τε καὶ διάγει.
If you keep to this way of thinking, you will live more serenely, and will expel those not-negligible curses in life, envy, jealousy and spite.
ταύτης γὰρ ἐχόμενος τῆς γνώμης εὐθυμότερόν τε διάξεις καὶ οὐκ ὀλίγας κῆρας ἐν τῷ βίῳ διώσεαι, φθόνον καὶ ζῆλον καὶ δυσμενίην.
People are fools who live without enjoyment of life.
ἀνοήμονες βιοῦσιν οὐ τερπόμενοι βιοτῇ.
Graves of Academe
Surely there was, at first, some love of letters
To get him started on the routine climb
That brought him to this eminence in time?
But now he has become one of his betters.
He has survived, and even fattened on,
The dissertation and the discipline.
The eyes are spectacled, the hair is thin,
He is a dangerous committeeman.
An organism highly specialized,
He diets on, for daily bill of fare,
The blood of Keats, the mind of poor John Clare;
Within his range, he cannot be surprised.
Publish or perish! What a frightful chance!
It troubled him through all his early days.
But now he has the system beat both ways;
He publishes and perishes at once.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Shadow, Snow, Frost, Hail
Nap nihtscua, norþan sniwde,With the help of the glossary in Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English, 4th ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988):
hrim hrusan bond, hægl feol on eorþan,
31 nap = 3rd person singular preterite of verb nipan (to grow dark); nihtscua = nominative singular of masculine noun (shadow of night); norþan = adverb (from the north); sniwde = 3rd person singular preterite of verb sniwan (to snow)
32 hrim = nominative singular of masculine noun (rime, frost); hrusan = accusative singular of feminine noun hruse (earth); bond = 3rd person singular preterite of verb bindan (to bind); hægl = nominative singular of masculine noun (hail); feol = 3rd person singular preterite of verb feallan (to fall); on = preposition (onto, upon); eorþan = accusative singular of feminine noun eorðe (earth)
33 corna = genitive plural of neuter noun corn (kernel, grain); caldast = superlative of adjective cald (cold)
Night's shadow darkened, from the north it snowed,Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse:
Frost fettered ground, hail fell on earth,
coldest of kernels.
When the poet wrote these lines, he was merely recording things that had happened. This was of course very strange in the ninth century, when people thought in terms of mythology, allegorical images, and so on. But nowadays when we readIt snowed from the north;there is an added poetry. There is the poetry of a nameless Saxon having written those lines by the North Seain Northumberland, I think; and of those lines coming to us so straightforward, so plain, and so pathetic through the centuries.
rime bound the fields;
hail fell on earth,
the coldest of seeds...
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
p. 67 (chapter 5: Woodland):
The trees of a wood are divided into timber trees (a minority) and underwood. Every so often an area of underwood, called a panel, cant, or hag, is felled and allowed to grow again by coppicing or suckering. Scattered among the underwood are the timber trees, which are allowed to stand for several cycles of regrowth and are felled when full-grown. Timber trees are usually replaced by seedlings. The whole wood is demarcated from its surroundings by an earthwork called a woodbank with a ditch on its outer side, traditionally set with a hedge to keep out livestock and with pollard trees at intervals to define the legal boundary.p. 79 (chapter 5: Woodland):
The wood therefore yields two products, timber from the trunks of the timber trees, and wood from coppice stools or suckers (plus the branches of felled timber trees). Timber and wood had different uses and are not to be confused; we still talk of 'timber' buildings and 'wood' fires. Wood is rods, poles, and logs, used for fencing, wattlework, and many specialized purposes but in large quantities for fuel. Timber is the stuff of beams and planks and is too valuable (and too big) to burn. Underwood was normally the more important product; woods were traditionally regarded as sources of energy.
The Anglo-Saxon language is rich in words for woodland. Some we still use, as as wudu 'wood', grāf 'grove', scaga 'shaw', hangr 'hanger'; others bearu, holt, fyrhþ, etc. are forgotten. There is no evidence as to what different kinds of woodland these meant, and etymologists' guesses are not to be believed.pp. 129-130 (chapter 6: Wood-pasture Wooded commons, parks and wooded Forests:
The mysterious word forest may in its Germanic origin, have meant a tract of trees. In Western Europe it came to mean land on which deer were protected by special byelaws. The laws and the word were introduced to England from the Continent by William the Conqueror. For many centuries Forest meant a place of deer. The Authorized Version of the Bible, published in 1611, doubtless encouraged Englishmen to connect forest with trees, but the word could still mean 'heath' more than a century later.
A Forest in this book means a Royal Forest or its private equivalent, an unfenced area where deer were kept. Here I deal mainly with those Forests that happen to be wooded, but I re-emphasize that the word Forest does not imply woodland; moorland, heath, and fenland Forests are discussed in other chapters.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Green Caterpillars at Dodona
O, what did they do at Dodona?The "green caterpillars" are probably the larvae of the winter moth, Operophtera brumata, which have an appetite for oak leaves. On Dodona, see Plato, Phaedrus 275b (tr. H.N. Fowler):
What did the Dodonians do?
(I ask as the ignorant owner
Of oaks not a few),
When the hosts of the green caterpillars
Invaded their sacred domain?
Did they call in a posse of millers,
To grind them like grain,
And bake them for feasts sacrificial,
Or spread them like butter on bread,
Or extract from them oil beneficial,
To the hair of the head?
Were they used on the farms for manuring,
Or for feeding of fowls or of pigs,
Or by doctors and barbers for curing,
And powdering wigs?
Whatever their use or their uses,
When up they had given the ghost,
What we want is the way that reduces
Their number the most.
And, if we're unable to find it,
If no remedy seems to be known,
We must make up our minds not to mind it,
And leave them alone.
But, what did they do at Dodona?
I am sure, if their story is true,
They could give to the oak and his owner,
A wrinkle or two.
They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances. The people of that time, not being so wise as you young folks, were content in their simplicity to hear an oak or a rock, provided only it spoke the truth.J.G. Frazer, commentary on Pausanias 1.17.5, gives more information about the oracle of Zeus at Dodona:
The rustling of the leaves of the sacred oak would seem to have been regarded as the voice of the god, and these mysterious utterances were interpreted by priestesses to the inquirers who came to consult the oracle. See Homer, Od. xiv.327 sq., xix.299 sq.; Stephanus Byzantius and Suidas, s.v. Δωδώνη; Schol. on Homer, Il. xvi.233; Aeschylus, Prometheus, 851. On the oracle of Dodona, see Bouché-Leclerq, Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquité, 2. pp. 277-331; and on the sacred oak, see Bötticher, Baumkultus der Hellenen, pp. 111-115. It is said that out of the wood of the talking oak of Dodona was carved a talking image of Athena, which was fixed into the prow of the Argo (Apollodorus, i.9.16). Zeus of Dodona is represented in art, especially on coins, wearing a garland of oak leaves. See Overbeck, Griech. Kunstmythologie, 2. p. 231 sqq.; Fr. Lenormant, in Gazette archéologique, 3 (1877), p. 95 sqq.More recent works include D.M. Nicol, "The Oracle of Dodona," Greece & Rome 5.2 (Oct. 1958) 128-143, and H.W. Parke, The Oracles of Zeus: Dodona, Olympia, Ammon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 1-163.
Monday, January 04, 2010
The Language of the Trees
Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees. That's done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.
The words themselves are a delight to learn,
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.
But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—
And their venation—palmate and parallel—
And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.
Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.
Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, "an average leaf."
Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;
Maybe it's not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.
Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world
Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.
Think finally about the secret will
Pretending obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,
And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.
Related post: The Desire for Knowledge and the Names for Things.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
In yesterday's post ('Elaborate Defence of Howlers') in your admirable blog you ask "Could Pound simply have made a mistake? Is it possible that the Emperor has no clothes, or at least a rip in the seat of his pants?" It seems to me you are too generous. Others have smelt a rat, most notably, Charles Harrison Wallace, who has his pound of flesh and more in the Pound Notes section of his invaluable web-site on the poem (http://www.cichw.net/essind.htm), which undertakes not so much a re-evaluation as a wholesale devaluation of some very suspect currency. Pound is kidding, conning, cunning in his cribbed coinage and Kenner too kind to quote a kenning, which The Exeter Book preserves (in Riddle 73) along with Seafarer:
Was no wiser for having swallowed words.
Stælgiest ne wæs wihte þy gleawra, þe he þam wordum swealg.
If they don't have the wool pulled over their eyes, pygmies on the shoulders of giants can see their dandruff, if not their feet of clay.
I haven't read the story in the original Italian. My knowledge of that language is slight. When I was in graduate school, I took a course in Latin palaeography, and one of the assigned textbooks was in Italian. A fellow student, bolder or more foolhardy than I, objected that he didn't read Italian. The professor responded that he had better learn the language quickly then. In my personal library the only Italian books are Grandgent's edition and commentary on Dante's Divine Comedy, another edition of the same with a facing English translation, Leopardi's Pensieri (also with a facing translation), and Leopardi's Zibaldone, this last the gift of a friend who studied in Italy. I own an Italian grammar but no Italian dictionary. So take what follows with a grain of salt.
The title of Primo Levi's story is I Mnemagoghi (the arousers of memory), a word which he apparently coined on the analogy of pedagoghi (pedagogues) and demagoghi (demagogues). The first part of the word comes from the Greek noun μνήμη (mnēmē = remembrance, memory), and the second part comes from the Greek adjective/noun ἀγωγός (agōgos = leading/guide), itself from the verb ἄγειν (agein = to lead).
In his English translation of Primo Levi's story, Raymond Rosenthal gave it the title The Mnemogogues, and English critics who discuss the story also use that spelling. The first -o- in mnemogogues apparently recalls, by analogy, the -o- in mnemonic, Mnemosyne, etc. But, in my opinion, the title should more properly be The Mnemagogues, with an -a-, which better reflects the derivation from ἀγωγός (agōgos), preserved in English pedagogues, demagogues, etc., and which is also closer to Levi's coinage.
Etymology fascinated Primo Levi, as is evident not only from his writings, but also from the following delightful anecdote about Levi the opsimath, told by Ian Thomson in Primo Levi: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003), p. 370:
At the end of 1978 Levi began to take German lessons at the Goethe Institut in Turin. He was the oldest in a class of seventeen women, whose company he enjoyed, and from the start he was a keen student. He had two teachers. The first, Jutta Pabst, found Levi dauntingly inquisitive and recalled his mania for wanting to know the precise etymology of German words: 'His hand was always going up in class: "Fräulein, excuse me, but what is the deeperI mean the truemeaning of this word?" In some ways, Levi was the teacher, and I the student.'Scents have the power to arouse our personal, individual memories. Etymologies have the power to arouse our shared, historical memories. Both, therefore, are mnemagogues.
Labels: typographical and other errors
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Elaborate Defence of Howlers
all arrogance of earthen richesHugh Kenner, introduction to Ezra Pound, Translations (New York: New Directions, 1963), pp. 11-12:
ealle onmedlan eorþan rices.
Since he doesn't translate the words, he may deviate from the words, if the words blur or slide, or if his own language fails him. 'Eorþan rices' doesn't mean 'earthen riches' but 'kingdoms of the earth'; 'kings' in the next line enforces however an alteration, and the available synonyms for 'kingdoms', such as 'realms', have the wrong connotations: 'royaume' for example implies something too settled, too sumptuous. Hence the recourse to 'riches', a sort of pun on the word in the text, which has a slightly wrong meaning but a completely right feeling.Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), p. 484:
In 1911 he had become the Seafarer-poet long enough to write The Seafarer, which, pedantry assures us, is not at all "a translation."Compared with intellectual giants like Pound and Kenner, I'm a mental pygmy, ignorant of Old English, but a small, irreverent voice within me nevertheless keeps asking, "Could Pound simply have made a mistake? Is it possible that the Emperor has no clothes, or at least a rip in the seat of his pants?"wuniað þa wacran ond þas woruld healdaþBut stop, healdaþ is plural and woruld accusative; wacran isn't "watch" but "weaker" [sc. folk]; wuniað isn't "wane" but (cf. Ger. wohnen) "dwell": "A weaker sort survive and possess the earth." Similarly Pound's splendid phrase "The blade is layed low" derives from a phrase ("Blæd is gehnæged") which sounds as if it ought to treat of blades, but means "glory is humbled." He was interested chiefly in the 9th-century sounds.
Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
Cf. Ian Thomson, Primo Levi: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003), p. 440 (on Raymond Rosenthal):
Rosenthal was a curmudgeonly if lovable seventy-three-year-old, embittered by life, thoughlike many New Yorkerswarm, wistful and open-hearted. Levi then asked him to list the howlers he had made during his early days as a translator. One of these Levi particularly enjoyed: selvaggina ('wild game') rendered as 'little savage'.No one is infallible. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), even giants. My favorite candid admission of this sort is Samuel Johnson's, as recorded by Boswell:
A lady once asked him how he came to define Pastern as the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, 'Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.'As an explanation of certain lines in Pound's translations, 'pure ignorance' seems to me more convincing than an 'elaborate defence' like Kenner's.
Friday, January 01, 2010
Next, the abstract of Elhard's article:
The Librarian (ca. 1566) is a well-known painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a court artist for the Hapsburg emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, and Rudolf II. Arcimboldo's "composite portrait" of a librarian cleverly assembled from a pile of books has been interpreted narrowly as a parody of librarianship and of intellectualism in general, due in part to Sven Alfons's identification of the librarian as the court historiographer, Wolfgang Lazius. This reevaluation of The Librarian attempts to broaden the conventional view held by art historians and librarians. Considered within the context of late Renaissance book culture (particularly, Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools), Arcimboldo's humor takes on a new signification. The Librarian may have targeted not those who love learning but rather materialistic book collectors more interested in acquiring books than in reading them.Holbrook Jackson, Anatomy of Bibliomania XV.v, discusses "Men Who Become Books: Biblioanthropus Defined," in which he quotes, among many others, Charles Lamb, Oxford in the Vacation:
I leave these curiosities to Porson, and to G.D.whom, by the way, I found busy as a moth over some rotten archive, rummaged out of some seldom-explored press, in a nook at Oriel. With long poring, he is grown almost into a book. He stood as passive as one by the side of the old shelves. I longed to new-coat him in Russia, and assign him his place. He might have mustered for a tall Scapula.(Emphasis added.) G.D. is George Dyer. Jackson concludes his discussion of men who become books with these words:
On that note I close this volume and affirm that bookmen, men of letters, students, and all manner of passionate readers are a species apart finding their sustenance in the printed word as plants imbibe air and fishes animalculae; they do not look upon life with their own eyes, but through the eyes of books as through an optical glass, magnifying, intensifying, distorting or glorifying, according as they fancy it; or sometimes they eschew all common affairs and use books as kaleidoscopes to make for their own delight fantastic patterns which they use as substitutes for life. They become natives of a world of books, creatures of the printed word, and in the end cease to be men, as, by a gradual metastasis, they are resolved into bookmen: twice-born, first of woman (as every man) and then of books, and, by reason of this, unique and distinct from the rest.
Pick a Little, Talk a Little
It is better to examine one's own faults than those of others.Related post: Motes, Beams, Lice, Ticks, Rucksacks.
κρέσσον τὰ οἰκήϊα ἐλέγχειν ἁμαρτήματα ἢ τὰ ὀθνεῖα.