Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Curious Antiquaries

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy ("Democritus to the Reader"), with notes from the edition of A.R. Shilleto, Vol. I (London: George Bell & Sons, 1893), p. 129:
Your supercilious criticks, grammatical triflers, note-makers, curious antiquaries, find out all the ruins of wit, ineptiarum delicias, amongst the rubbish of old writers; 1pro stultis habent, nisi aliquid sufficiant invenire, quod in aliorum scriptis vertant vitio, all fools with them that cannot find fault; they correct others, & are hot in a cold cause, puzzle themselves to find out how many streets in Rome, houses, gates, towers, Homer's country, Aeneas' mother, Niobe's daughters, an Sappho publica fuerit? ovum2prius extiterit an gallina?3 &c. & alia quae dediscenda essent, si scires,4 as Seneca holds. What clothes the Senators did wear in Rome, what shoes, how they sat, where they went to the close stool, how many dishes in a mess, what sauce; which for the present for an historian to relate, 6according to Lodovic. Vives, is very ridiculous, is to them most precious elaborate stuff, they admired for it, and as proud, as triumphant in the mean time for this discovery, as if they had won a City, or conquered a province; as rich as if they had found a mine of gold ore. Quosvis auctores absurdis commentis suis percacant & stercorant, one saith, they bewray & daub a company of books and good authors with their absurd comments, correctorum sterquilinia7 Scaliger calls them, and shew their wit in censuring others, a company of foolish note-makers, humble-bees, dors8 or beetles, inter stercora ut plurimum versantur, they rake over all those rubbish and dunghills, and prefer a manuscript many times before the Gospel itself,9 thesaurum criticum, before any treasure, and with their deleaturs, alii legunt sic, meus codex sic habet,10 with their postremae editiones,11 annotations, castigations, &c., make books dear, themselves ridiculous, and do no body good, yet if any man dare oppose or contradict, they are mad, up in arms on a sudden, how many sheets are written in defence, how bitter invectives, what apologies? 12Epiphyllides hae sunt et merae nugae.13 But I dare say no more of, for, with, or against them, because I am liable to their lash, as well as others.

1 Morus, Utop. lib. II.    2 Macrob. Saturn. 7.17.    [3 Which came first, the egg or the hen? Whether Sappho was no better than she should be? &c.]    [4 And other things which you would try to forget, if you knew.]    5 Epist. [88. § 32.]    6 Lib. de causis corrup. artium.    7 Lib. 2 in Ausonium, cap. 19 et 32.    [8=Cockchafers.]    9 Edit. 7. volum. Jano Gutero.    [10 Omit so and so, some read so and so, my MS. has so and so.]    [11 Last editions.]    12 Aristophanis Ranis. [92.]    [13 These are a poor vintage and mere trifles.]
I recognize myself in this description. Although I never investigated where Senators in Rome went to the close stool, I was curious to find out how they wiped their bums after they had done their business there:
Stefan Mart, Don Quixote

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